Paul’s letter to the Hebrews can be difficult for 21st Century readers…Since it is addressed to the Israelites who lived after Christ, the letter assumes a familiarity with ancient Temple practices & customs…We are much less aware of these old ways and need to try harder to understand what Paul is saying.
The one thing we cannot do is to read Paul’s words as being anti-Semitic…On the contrary, Paul’s argument specifically honors and includes the Jewish heritage from which Jesus comes…In fact, if we go back to the beginning of his letter, we hear: “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son…He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Paul wants the Israelites – and us – to understand that we share in the revelation of God through the prophets and through Jesus Christ…He identifies Jesus as the ultimate communicator of God’s will and places him firmly within the Jewish tradition…This is cause for celebration, not division. Paul helps us to see how Jesus fulfills the work of the priests of Israel…Jesus offers us a new way to encounter God that is marked by grace and freedom…Jesus is uniquely able to take us with him and through him into the real presence of God…The ancient practice of the priest taking sacrifice to God on everyone’s behalf is replaced by the sacrifice Jesus made one time. Thanks to what Jesus did, our salvation doesn’t need to be renewed over and over again…It is accomplished once and for all.
I believe it is most important for us to think about what Paul’s comments mean for us…When we accept Jesus in his fulfilling role, we benefit from the consequences of his once for all sacrifice. First, because we are part of the one Body of Christ, we can experience eternal reality in its fullest sense…Life without our relationship with Jesus is shallow at best…In relationship with Christ, we enjoy a deep spiritual vitality that is expressed through our service to others…Working alongside other believers we help to meet real-world needs and welcome others into the presence of God.
Second, our salvation in Christ removes any anxiety we might have about our relationship with God…Why should we worry about being good enough or not measuring up top God’s expectations for us? God isn’t worried about these things because our relationship has been established in Christ…Without fear or anxiety we are free to live in Christ’s presence now and forever, knowing that our relationship with God is secure.
Finally, we know that Christ will return one day to those who are eagerly waiting for him…We should imagine and live out what it means to “eagerly wait” for Jesus…It’s not a self-satisfied complacency, it is people and a church engaged in expectant waiting, super-charged with Christ-like service.
I think the church spends way too much energy worrying about judgment and not nearly enough time focusing on grace…This leads us to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to make ourselves acceptable for Judgment Day…How can we possibly be “good enough”? – We can’t!
Today’s Scripture promise makes the “Judgment Jitters” moot…Jesus’ sacrifice “removed sin”…His 2nd Coming is not so much to “deal with sin,” as it is to gather together those who are “eagerly waiting.” This is a message of redemption and hope, not one of cowering in fear of the Sword of Judgment. Does that mean we can simply go about doing whatever we please? – NO! What it means is that salvation in Christ has secured the forgiveness of our sins…We no longer need to dread God’s future judgment…It means that Jesus has made us right with God and we are now to follow through…Because of Jesus we are now free to work confidently for justice and mercy and peace…We are now empowered to live in the gospel and engage in expectant waiting…This is not a “get out of jail free” card, it is a stay out of jail because you have been made free – grace card…The real promise is that God in Christ is coming back to renew all things – once and for all! In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…Amen