When the Resurrection is Assumed (Hebrews)

The resurrection of Jesus is largely missing in Hebrews. Have you noticed?

So how could a preacher so committed to making sure his listeners understand what Jesus did for them say nothing about Jesus’ resurrection? For sure, the Hebrews writer believes Jesus is big stuff. This Jesus, the Son, co-created the world and is the very image of God. He is the cosmic glue that holds the world together and he is the one who made it possible the forgiveness of our sins and now sits at the right hand of God (Heb 1:3-4). So where is the resurrection?

Jesus is greater than angels, greater than Moses, and greater than Joshua. He is our great high priest who can both sympathize with our weaknesses on earth and intercede on our behalf in heaven. This high priest is of a higher order than the levitical priesthood, compared with the mysterious Melchizedek, priest of the Most High God. So, again, where is the resurrection?

Jesus’ high priesthood ushers in a new covenant—a new and living way (Heb 10:20). Even more, this High Priest, the Son, offers a better sacrifice than the blood of bulls and goats, he offers his own blood—yet not as a dead victim but as a willing and living sacrifice. Wait a moment… Did you see it?

A dead victim now a living high priest! That sounds like a resurrection had to have happened. Yes, and nearly everything said about Jesus in Hebrews assumes the resurrection. The resurrection of Jesus is the necessary assumption that makes what the Hebrews writer says about Jesus makes sense. In other words, there is no high priest without the resurrection of Jesus

What would a life be like that accepted the resurrection of Jesus as a given—as the necessary event that makes sense of our world?

Finally at the end of Hebrews, the writer offers this prayer for his reader:

May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21)

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Sacrifice of Praise (Hebrews 13.15-16)

Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (Hebrews 13.15–16 NIV)

Throughout the sermon that we call the Letter to the Hebrews, the preacher has emphasized that Jesus is our perfect High Priest; his qualifications is that as God he can connect us with the Father and as a human he can understand and sympathize with us. Better than any of the early high priests Jesus can truly mediate the things of God to people.

Yet one of the most important functions of a High Priest was to offer sacrifices, first for himself and his family, and then for the people. Analogous to this, Jesus, while not needing to offer anything for himself, still needed, in the logic of Leviticus, to offer a sacrifice for his people. Here, the preacher offers his most significant insight: Jesus is both Priest and victim—but he is not a victim in that he is a willing and living sacrifice.

Now we are able to look back at the beginning of Hebrews to see why making purifications for sins before sitting down at the right hand of God (1.3b) is such a big deal.

Since Jesus has accomplished atonement (at-one-ment) with God, there no longer remains any useful reason for continuing animal sacrifices. They simply are not necessary since Jesus’ self-sacrifice in the heavenly temple.

However, there was one sacrifice from Leviticus that was not connected with the “forgiveness of sins.” The peace or thanksgiving offering was a free will offering just to express gratitude to God. In the passage cited above, this offering is transformed into “sacrifice of praise,” also called “the fruit of lips that confess his name.” This would include the public confession of Jesus in word and song.

Yet there is one more form of sacrifice mentioned in this text:  to do good and to share with others. Furthermore, this kind of sacrifice pleases God. Amazingly—to me—the kind of sacrifices that God is seeking through the Letter to the Hebrews are these: to love God by confessing him and by doing good to others.

And so closes Hebrews on the note of loving God and loving people.

Only Two Ways

In an age of too-many options—too many cable channels, too many brands, too many things—I’m not sure we can believe there are really only two ways when it comes to life. Now I would be quick to add that there is lots of variety within each of these ways, but would still contend with the wisdom of the past that there are only two ways to live and one leads to life and the other, destruction.

Jesus, when speaking about living in the kingdom, taught there were only two ways, one broad and wide, the other narrow and tight; he even said that only a few folks find the nar-row path of the kingdom of God. His longest-living disciple John wrote about the “two ways” to point followers of Jesus within the way of life, not death. Later, an early Christian document called the Didache (Or, the Teaching of the Twelve Apostles), begins, “There are two ways…” then repeats much from the Sermon on the Mount.

However, way before even Jesus, Psalms and Proverbs employed the “two ways.” For example, the first Psalm does this with poetic flair.

In Psalm 1, there are only two kinds of people: the righteous and the wicked. There is no gray here. Life here comes only in black and white. We, with all our options, bristle at the no-tion but deep down most people are willing to admit that one can live either wisely or fool-ishly.

The Psalmist describes the righteous in three main moves. The righteous does not keep bad company, is devoted to God’s law, and is fruitful as a tree by a river. Conversely, the wicked will not be found in good company (when it really counts), doesn’t care about God’s law (notice that this should be vs. 4 ½ but the psalmist is silent on this point), and is like fruitless chaff from the wheat harvest.

The psalm ends with a final contrast showing God’s perspective: God is attentive to those in the path of righteousness but the way of the wicked can only lead to destruction.

The Psalms were the songbook of ancient Israel. So I think we should give notice that the first song in the book contains instructions for wise living. Is there a connection to be made here? Perhaps it is that worship has something to do with the kind of people we are become. If that is the case, then let me ask you once again to consider: there are only two ways. Pick carefully, ok?

Where were You on August 29, 2005?

Within American history, there have been several events that qualify as “conscientious altering.” Among these one might list the Civil War, the Great Depression, the Great Wars (I and II), the assassination of Kennedy, 9-11, and, I would class with these, Hurricane Katrina.

Of this level of event, you can ask people, “Do you remember where you were that day?” and they can tell you exactly where they were. While I’m too young to remember Kennedy’s assassination, I remember the impression the event left on my parents and grandparents. They would tell stories about where they were at the exact moment they heard the news.

I remember 9-11 vividly. I was in New Orleans, more precisely, I was getting ready to take Rachel to school. We were watching the morning news and watched, along with millions of other viewers, as the first place crashed into the World Trade Center. The scenes are forever sketched on my mind.

For me, Katrina was much more personal. I knew people who were forever affected by the storm. I was in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada when Katrina struck but my family, but because of our ties to New Orleans, we helplessly watched CNN for a month because it felt like it was happening to us, too. We gasped as reporters showed us places we knew. Now that we are back in this area, I understand what people mean when they say things have changed—alot.

Katrina and aftermath had an enormous impact on the life of the Tammany Oaks Church of Christ. On August 28, 2005, the building where we now worship was to be formally dedicated to God’s purpose. The church numbered over 200 in regular attendance; things looked up. That is a far cry to where the church finds itself today, but that dogged determinism remains and though the times have been hard, we are still here. And that signals hope.

It is not unusual for someone who has survived a terrible car accident to believe they are still here because God has a mission for them. I wonder if that is the same attitude we should take. God has preserved us to this day, thus, he must have a purpose for us. We are here; we have survived.

Long ago, when the Judeans were forcefully exiled to Babylon, they experienced an event as soul-shaking as our Katrina. When they finally returned home, they thought it would never be the same. They looked at the once magnificant Temple which now seemed only a shell of its former self.  When they thought that things could never be as good as they once were. God announced through his prophet Haggai:

‘The silver is mine and the gold is mine,’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8–9 NIV)

Perhaps that is what God has in mind for us, too. In Christ, we have to believe that the best days are yet to come.

Copied from Tammany Oaks Church of Christ Bulletin, 29 August, 2010.

Jonah: Missional Misdirection

“I worship the Lord, the God of heaven,
who made the sea and the land”

(Jonah 1:9 NIV)

Once I was looking for a fun way to introduce Jonah and thought that showing adults the VT version of Jonah might be the ticket. According to Veggie Tales (VT), Jonah is a story about a prophet who got a second chance. After viewing it, I chose not to use it because the book of Jonah is not really about second chances.

Jonah may be the oldest critique of tribalism and prejudice we have. But I’m jumping ahead of the story.

The Jonah story comes in four scenes: on the sea, in the sea, in the city, and near the city. Furthermore, there is a symmetry to the story with chapters one and two paralleling chapters three and four (compare 1.1 with 3.1).

In chapter one, Jonah hires a boat to take him to Tarshish which is about as far as one can get from Nineveh. Nineveh, in the context of Jonah’s time, was the capitol of the imperialistic empire Assyria. To Jonah, the people of Nineveh was the enemy.

The suspense of the story is built around contradictions and ironies. Jonah knows he can’t flee from the God because God made the sea and the land, still he tries. Jonah is asleep while the pagan sailors are seeking to save him. The sailors even feel guilty in throwing Jonah overboard. They care more about Jonah than Jonah cares about the people of Nineveh.

In the second scene (and chapter), Jonah cares more about his salvation than that of the Ninevites, which becomes clear in v. 8: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:8 NIV). No point of wasting ones time on the Ninevites, then! Jonah proves the maxim: “you will never evangelize those whom you hate or fear.”

With the third scene, Jonah seems to be repent, but a closer reading reveals that he does the bare minimum to warn the city. In his fire and brimstone preaching, Jonah leaves no room for the people to repent, yet, they do.

Finally, in the last scene, Jonah seeks a comfortable place from which to enjoy the destruction of the city. When God takes away his comfort, he remains more concerned about his fate than he does for the city below.

The story concludes with punch line: “Should I [God] not be concerned about that great city?”

Well, should he? Should we?

If you are interested in a more detail investigation of Jonah, see my friend Bobby Valentines’ blog: http://stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/2010/07/jonah-gods-heart-his-struggle-with.html#links

New Opportunity among Old Manuscripts

Forgive this intrusion into my own blog for a little announcement:

The Center for New Testament Textual Study (CNTTS) at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary has offered me a fellowship to work with them in the coming year. The CNTTS is a research center devoted to the study of the New Testament text in the Greek manuscripts.

My primary activity with the center this fall will be “collating” hand-written Greek manuscripts. Collating is the process of comparing the manuscripts letter by letter, word by word, with a base text. When there is a difference between the manuscript and the base text, I will note that on my copy of the base text. This past summer I worked on a ninth or tenth century manuscript of Matthew and Mark; currently working on Luke now.

Additionally, I will be working on a project sponsored by the Institut für neutestamentliche Textforschung to “index” some of these manuscripts. On the top of each page of your Bible, there is a reference alerting you to what is included on the page below. As you can imagine, handwritten manuscripts did not come with this aid. Also, these manuscripts were written before the versification we use today was added. My job will to be to find the first and last verse on each page so scholars and students in the future can find their way around these ancient Bibles. If you are really interested, you can find some of my work at:

http://intf.uni-muenster.de/vmr/NTVMR/viewer/viewerWolkenkratzer01.php

Then scroll down to manuscript 1014.  Don’t do this unless you are really nerdy!

Along the way, I will share some of what I discover with you.

Leaning into Life

Readers,

I would like to introduce you to Jordan Gervais. I met Jordan while working at Western Christian College and High School in Regina, SK (Canada). I did not know Jordan well because he was in the high school division and I worked for the college. After my family and I moved back to the states, Jordan sent me a facebook message. What follows are excerpts from our conversation.

 Jordan Gervais December 10, 2009 at 5:45pm

Hey stan it’s Jordan i am just messageing you too say hi and ask if i could possibly be prayed for because i have cancer and have two brain tumors it has been pretty hard for me i have known about this for three months now and i seem too be getting better but i just thought i should ask anyway thanks alot stan and i hope too hear from you soon take care and god bless.

Stanley N. Helton December 11, 2009 at 9:45am

Wow. Jordan, that is some heavy news. I will be glad to pray for you and have already when I read this the first time. Also our church here in Louisiana has a prayer email list that we send to people to pray. I will add you to our list.

Thanks for letting me know and I’m so sorry that someone so young is facing this. I do know this that God can use your suffering to bless others. I don’t know how this works, but have lived long enough, to have seen it several times.

Where are you now? Send me your address, phone number and email address so I can stay in contact with you.

Jordan Gervais December 12, 2009 at 8:11pm

well i am doing good right now with everything i havent been too sick for two weeks now i have i think two or three more cycles of chemo and then i get a week off then i start radiation so that will be alright they already made a mask for me for the radiation part of the treatments so everything is in order for now

Just today, I received this note from Jordan:

Jordan Gervais August 6 at 11:50am

hey stan how have you been i just wanted to tell you that i am healing very quickly and i start back in school so that i can finally graduate. (Thank You Lord.)

Stanley N. Helton August 6 at 1:52pm

Praise God. I would love to hear more. Did you lose memory; did it change your personality any? What challenges are you now facing, etc.

Thanks for the note.

Jordan Gervais August 6 at 2:08pm

Yes i did lose my short term memory and i have found that it is getting better but i still forget quite a bit of stuf which is to bad but it is coming i’m not sure what personality means but i really find myself listening to ruls more and i also find myself coming closer to the lord i read my bibly everyday and i pray as much as i can as well so thats a good thing and some of the challenges that i am facing now are thing like i still forget alot of things and it upsets and frustrats me so then i just go to the lord in pray and just ask him to help me to just not be upset or frustrated anymore and it seems to help but it just bothers me i guess because i think that i should remember them but i don’t so i think thats why i get so upet you are very welcome for the note and i will talk too you later

I decided after reading this, that today is not such a bad day after all.

The Motherly Side of Ministry

When Paul wants to talk about how ministry cares for people, he compares ministry to the work of a mother. In 1 Thess 2:6-8 Paul wrote,

As apostles of Christ we could have been a burden to you, but we were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well, because you had become so dear to us.

Since all genuine ministry is rooted in the nature of God, it might be instructive to think of how God is like a mother. This may come hard to some as we tend to think of God as Father, and thus male. However, most of us—in our more introspective moments—know that gender probably isn’t a defining characteristic of God.

For example, Genesis 1:27 reads

So God created man in his own image,

in the image of God he created him;

male and female he created them.

Somehow out of God’s image, comes both male and female; it takes both together to capture something of God’s total nature.

Consequently, along the way, God can use feminine images to help us understand God’s nature. For example, when Moses once complained to God, he whined,

Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? (Numbers 11:12 NIV)

Of course, the truth was that God was the one who “birthed” Israel and God carried infant Israel.

Likewise, Jesus will assume a motherly role in relationship to the city of Jerusalem, when he weeps for the city:

…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. (Matthew 23:37 NIV)

Therefore, this Mother’s Day, we can look to our moms as examples of what Christian ministry should be but even more our mothers are windows into who God is.

Matthew’s Christmas: For the Sake of the World

Imagine that we had a chance to hear the old tax collector-turned apostle Matthew tell his story.

As we knocked on the door, we would have waited as the old man moved his fragile body to the door. We would have been warmly received, as Matthew was well known for giving the best parties back in the day.

As we entered the house, we would have noticed the pictures hanging in the entryway. These pictures honored the ancestors who had paved the way for God’s mission to the world. Among the pictures were those of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, David, Solomon, Zerubbabel, and lesser-known personalities, like Akim, Matthan, and finally a Joseph.

The few women among the pictures were somehow out-of-place: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and then one picture simply read: “Formerly Uriah’s wife.” Next to the picture of Joseph was that of very young woman named “Mary.” Had we the courage to ask Matthew about this very small but odd collection of women, Matthew might have reminded us that in God’s story there is always room for the outsider.

Once we finally entered Matthew’s living room and after he stoked the fire to make sure we were all comfortable, he would begin his tale. Unexpectedly, we would be jarred by the Christmas story beginning in a bit of a scandal. Joseph actually wanted to divorce Mary because she was pregnant—maybe the women in the collection have more in common than previously thought.

Matthew would regale us with the story of the “magi,” stargazers from a far away land who came to worship Jesus. Again Matthew reminds us, there is always room for outsiders. Against the backdrop of this story, Matthew would tell us about Herod’s deceitful plan to “worship” Jesus and how Herod’s envy set in motion the incident in Bethlehem.

Matthew himself is visibly shaken as he recalls the events the day Herod sent troops to exterminate the baby boys of Bethlehem to ensure there would be no contenders for his throne, not now, not ever. Not exactly what one expects to hear as part of the Christmas story.

Now we are visibly shaken—not understanding why God would let this happen and why God did not intervene. Matthew responds to our uneasiness. “Don’t you see God entered our world just as it is.”

* If you found this take on Matthew’s version of the nativity intriguing, you might enjoy this: http://www.wineskins.org/filter.asp?SID=2&co_key=1962.