Sunday, May 29, 2011

Christ: Apostle and High Priest

Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus, who was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was faithful in all His house. (Hebrews 03:01-02, NKJV).
Chapter 3 in Hebrews begins by addressing believers, holy brethren. In this exquisite epistle it is important to keep the specific audiences in view in order to enable proper interpretation with some ostensibly troubling passages, that is, troubling from the sense of instilling fear in us. But we are not there yet.

These verses call to mind not fear, but continued contemplation of the excellence of the Lord Christ. Because He has become one of us, to suffer for us, and transform our unworthiness into his impeccable worth, we are to therefore consider Him in such a way as to contemplate His faithful and obedient character. 

This exhortation is addressed to those who are partakers of the heavenly calling. The same word translated partakers is used later in Hebrews in the context of sample or taste. But here, in conjunction with holy brethren, it is best to view it as a reference to those who are become wholly committed to that specific heavenly calling, the gospel message.

In that regard, Christ Jesus is the Apostle of that calling, the One sent out from heaven itself with the invitation to believe and be saved from sin. He is also the High Priest, the intermediary between fallen mankind and a Holy God for those who are of the confession of truth within the whole counsel of God. And not for those only, but High Priest for the whole world, for as Old Testament priests rendered judgment for disobedience, so too one day will the Son.

The first two chapters of this marvelous book was spent examining Christ's superiority to the angels, and now we begin looking at Him in comparison to Moses. Mosaic reverence by the Jews bordered on worship. Recall from the gospel accounts how the Pharisees claimed allegiance to Moses while accusing Christ-followers of blasphemous treachery in venerating Jesus over the Law-giver. Falling back into the old ways was a great temptation for Jewish members of the early church, and the writer of Hebrews wanted them (and us) to know how much greater Jesus is in every way.

How gracious is it of God to take such care in revealing the truth to combat those areas wherein we are the weakest. Where we have the most doubts, He provides the greatest assurance. Where we are are the most likely to stumble, He provides the greatest exhortations to be steadfast.

Yet, we are to believe nothing without examining the evidence, and reasoning from the Scriptures is as natural as breathing. In presenting Moses to the world 1400 years before the Incarnation, God showed us a foreshadowing of the ultimate Deliverer, His Son, but the danger is the tendency to discard the new in favor of the old and safe. For Jews, leaving the comfortable and familiar system of Judaism for Christianity is fraught with peril on many levels, but only by according Christ His rightful place is the Law really fulfilled.

Note how gently the argument begins, attributing the same kind of faithful obedience to Christ as to Moses, yet the writer cannot stop there. He must go on in his exposition of the superiority of Christ, and he will do so masterfully in the following verses. For now, though, we are concerned with looking a bit more deeply at three additional points in this passage.

The first is again the phrase, our confession, which is homologia (hom-ol-og-ee'-ah) in Greek. It literally means to say the same thing. In this context it means to say the same things about God and man and salvation that is conveyed  by the Holy Spirit-inspired Biblical authors. God is holy. Men are fallen. Salvation is through faith alone in Christ alone. The works of the Law do not save, they condemn, for the requirement is perfect obedience, and failing at any one point is failing all.

This is why Jesus' statement in His Sermon on the Mount was so very radical. “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, NKJV). All of Jewish culture and history, its very existence as a nation, was founded on obedience to the Law, which was given to both confirm God's perfect holiness, and man's utter inability to satisfy  that holiness. The Law was a tutor to bring its pupils to Christ. The apparently radical graduation from that venerable centuries-old classroom into the solemn world of complete dependence on Christ's finished work is a deeply significant challenge to all mankind, but especially to those who have a long history of trusting in their own works.

Part of this confession then is a precedent-shattering admission of helpless and hopeless guilt. Without it, there is no true faith in the Savior because total reliance on Him is obstructed by stubborn self-reliance; an eternally fatal mistake, yet a remarkably strong temptation nonetheless.

The second follow-up point is this: Christ was appointed Savior. He was the only One worthy and capable of fulfilling that role, but He did not take it upon Himself for it was the Father who gave Him the command, and in profound filial obedience and love, He carried out the directive flawlessly and at immeasurable personal expense.

And the final point is embodied in this phrase, in all His house. Moses, we will discover, was a servant in the household of God. Christ is the Son and heir, a far more significant position.

In fact, a position so much more significant that once accepted, it would be logically impossible to account them equal ever again.