(Image courtesy of Riverside Community Church, http://www.riversideconnect.com/sermons/sermon/2012-03-25/hebrews-12 Accessed 25 January 2017)
This morning marked the beginning of my series through the book of Hebrews. We have a mid-week service at 11 in the morning on Wednesday. I get to preach about every three weeks, which enables me ample preparation time. I began praying about which direction to take, and since I follow a more topical approach in our student ministry, I chose to work my way through a book.
I love Judaism and the Jewish faith. As a Christian, I honestly do not understand how one could not love it. The entire Christian faith is built on a Jewish Nazarene. The pictures presented throughout most of the New Testament are ripe with Judaism. Following my love for the Jewish context of Scripture, I chose the book of Hebrews.
Rather than load all of my study notes, I am going to present my sermon notes as I take them to the pulpit. Please forgive the grammar as I typically attempt to write the way I will speak. I hope that as you work through it and the Scripture that you will fall in love with Jesus. He truly is better.
25 January 2017 Hebrews Sermon Number One
Jesus is Better
Introduction to the book of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews is one of the most fascinating books in the New Testament. The beautiful pictures painted of the exquisite religion of Abraham, Moses, the priests, the sacrifices, the covenants, deck the halls of its corridors. The highs and lows rival that of the most majestic of Bach’s or Beethoven’s musical compositions. Mystery surrounds the book, much like a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle case of Sherlock Holmes. The author is unknown, and while some information can help piece together a snapshot, it does not yield any conclusive evidence. We remain ignorant of the recipients, while most assuredly are Jewish, in regards to their location: Are they from Rome? Are they from Jerusalem?
But the mystery of what we do not know should not rob us of what we do know (an oft recited quote from one of my former pastors). We do know that the author of Hebrews was very familiar with the rituals, sacrifices, and rules of the Jewish faith. He was also familiar with the struggles that the recipients were faced with: accept a new religion or what looked like a new, an outlawed religion, or remain and return to the legal religion of Judaism. “Is Jesus really worth it?” They may ask. And with a resounding YES! the author of Hebrews gives reason after reason, matched with sober warning after sober warning, of why Jesus is better. You see, the Jewish people felt safe in their religion. It was legal, respectable in the esteem of their friends and colleagues. It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers. Judaism, though certainly not loved by the Romans, at the very least was tolerated by them. And in contrast Jesus is seen as a risk. Here this Nazarene was rejected by both Jews and Romans. He was, in the eyes of the Romans and Jewish people, a complete and utter failure. But to the disciples who witnessed His resurrection, He was Lord, God himself wrapped in human flesh. But what were they to do?
It cost them nothing to remain in the religion of their fathers.
So the writer was aiming at two groups: completed Jewish people, or Hebrew Christians; and Jewish people who were riding the fence on whether to accept Jesus as their Messiah. The author of this letter sought to encourage the Jewish people who accepted Jesus as their Messiah to stay faithful. He or she borrows many stories found within the Old Testament of how the people of Israel oft failed in their faithfulness to God. Each story is accompanied with the disastrous results of that failure. The writer also seeks to illustrate how Jesus is better than the reasons many sought to remain in Judaism. And to the individuals who were on the fence, so to speak, the author presents a very stark contrast. Over and over again we find warnings of the severest kind.
At first glance this book may seem to be for others, not for us. We don’t have the background and baggage of Judaism to battle with Christ. We have never been to Temple, never observed the sacrifices or engaged in the many feasts. We never celebrated Passover with our forbearers rejoicing in our freedom from Egyptian slavery. But oh how pertinent it is to our lives! For you see, you and I are in a constant battle every day of whether Jesus is better, or whether Jesus is worth it. Is that piece of gossip more appealing than truth that is found in Jesus? Is that impure thought, that negative word, that harsh action worth leaving for Jesus? Are friendships worth keeping? Is my financial situation bigger than Jesus? You see, in our lives we may not have to battle against returning to Judaism, to Abraham, or to Moses. But we are struggling with returning to our previous, sin-darkened lives. We are burdened of leaving Jesus over…you fill in the blank. That is why the author writes today. It was a present battle for the Jewish people; it is a present battle for us.
Overview of the book of Hebrews
The book of Hebrews is a fascinating book filled with types from the Old Testament. It is a testament to the many contributions to both the Jewish and Christian faith. The author mentions the prophets (1.1) as being the spokesmen for God, calling his people to repentance and sole allegiance to him. But he also mentions that Jesus is better, because Jesus is the express or exact image (representation of God) (1.3). He mentions the angels (1.5), those who carried out the will of God on numerous occasions. Our time could be filled this morning looking at all of the service rendered by the angelic hands and feet of God. But Jesus is better, he is the Son, not merely a messenger (1.4). And while the angels are ministers for us (1.14), Jesus is better, in that he calls us his brothers and sisters (2.11-12).
The author of Hebrews then moves on to the religious history, focusing specifically on the sacrificial system. He mentions perhaps the greatest man in Hebrew history, Moses (3.1-2). One rabbi speaks of Moses in glowing terms when he writes, “Along with God, it is the figure of Moses (Moshe) who dominates the Torah. Acting at God’s behest, it is he who leads the Jews out of slavery, unleashes the Ten Plagues against Egypt, guides the freed slaves for forty years in the wilderness, carries down the law from Mount Sinai, and prepares the Jews to enter the land of Canaan. Without Moses, there would be little apart from laws to write about in the last four books of the Torah.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 28] It is a mistake to underscore Moses’s importance to the development of both Judaism and Christianity. As the writers of Hebrews describes him, “Moses indeed was faithful in all his house as a servant…” (3.5) But Jesus is better, and “counted worthy of more glory than Moses” (3.3). John 9.28-29 addresses how the Jewish people revered Moses. The Pharisees are arguing the Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing a man of his blindness. And they say to the man born blind, “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses; as for this fellow, we do not know where he is from.” (John 9.28-29, NKJV)
We are then taken to view the High Priest, the only one who only once a year could enter the Most Holy Place (9.7). He had to offer sacrifices for his own sins and then for the sins of the people. But Jesus is better, he is infinitely aware of our weaknesses (4.15). And because Jesus never sinned, his sacrifice provided salvation for everyone who would believe (5.9).
We see Abraham, that Great Patriarch, is presented in the book (6.13). The “three founding fathers of Judaism are Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 11] As with Moses, the importance of Abraham to the Jewish people is insurmountable. We have a glimpse of how revered Abraham was in the interchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. (Read John 8.33-59) Jesus is greater than Abraham, because he has provided “an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast” (6.19).
The priesthood, the way Israel knew God and offered to him praise and sacrifice, is brought up (7.11-19). These who knew the law and the intricacies attached to the sacrificial system were essential to the Jewish faith. But Jesus is better, because whereas “the law made nothing perfect; on the other hand, there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” (7.19) Jesus was better, because death prevented other priests, especially the high priest, but “He continues forever” (7.24). “Therefore, he is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him” (7.25).
The covenant, that Mosaic covenant upon which the entire religious system of Israel is built, is brought up by the writer (8.1-5). The significance of the covenant is described by a Jewish Bible scholar, “Because God’s commands cover both ritual and ethical spheres, ‘any crime committed is against God, whether it be ritual or civil.” [Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History (San Francisco: William Morrow, 2001), 39] But Jesus is better, because unlike the first covenant that failed due to the inability of the people to keep it, this new covenant will be a complete and awesome work of grace. (8.7-13, quoted from Jeremiah 31.31-34).
The sacrifices, meant to atone for the sins of the people (see Leviticus 1.4; 4.20, 26, 31, 35; 5.6, 10, 13, 16, 18; 6.7; 7.7; 8.34; 9.7 x2; 10.17; 12.8; 14.18, 19, 20, 21, 29, 31, 53; 15.15,30; 16.6, 10, 11, 16, 17 x2, 18, 24, 27, 30, 32, 33 x3, 34; 17.11 x2; 19.22; 23.27, 28 x2; and 25.9). But the author of Hebrews reminds us how limited the atonement offered by the sacrifices are (9.12-14) and how Jesus is better than those sacrifices, because his sacrifice was made once and for all for all who believe.
The author moves toward the ‘hall of faith’ where character after character of Hebrew history is brought to describe the amazing benefits of simply faith in God. But even in the midst of that, Jesus is better, because we look to him who is “the author and finisher of our faith” (12.2).
The ending section again reminds us that Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep, who makes us complete in every good deed and at the same time is the power through which we do it (13.20-21).
My hope and prayer as we journey together through this incredible book is that we leave no doubt that Jesus is better. It is my goal, as we enter the halls of Hebrew history, that we see the perfect picture of Jesus and relish in our footing. I want our love for Jesus to explode as we gain a deeper understanding and appreciation for the Messiah.