Note: the blog was posted Sunday evening after we lost power in a thunderstorm. We are loving visiting by candlelight tonight but realize how hard it would be to live without electricity daily. Timely message in many ways.
This month is officially the start of Summer. The first day and even month, is celebrated in many countries as May Day which stems from many different traditions. The Puritans banned it; the Jews forbade it, at least during Sabbath. The earliest writings show that it came from the festival “Floralia” which celebrated the Roman goddess, Flora. The people celebrated by offering a sacrifice, throwing beans into the crowds, and releasing rabbits and lambs into the street. They also had dancing and athletic competitions. “Maiouma” was celebrated until the 2nd Century A.D and the nightly revelry were also called wild parties (another word is used but not appropriate for a Christian website). The revelry continued every three years and the reason we have detailed descriptions of these events is because receipts were kept for all the decorations and expenses. Constantine stopped it, but years later, it resumed. Other nations celebrate this day under various names to bless animals, chant to keep fairies from stealing milk and practice Maypole dancing. It is fascinating to research all the countries that have picked up this “holiday”. In the United States it would be similar to trick-or-treat. People fill baskets of flowers and goodies and leave them on people’s doorsteps. Festivals morph and change in meaning over time.
What does this have to do with Hebrews? Actually, quite a bit. The Jews and even early Christians had many traditions that impacted their daily lives. The blending of these two cultures was anything but easy. The book of Hebrews contrasts old traditions and rituals with heart issues. It is a clear description of the New Covenant. When this was written, confusion was at its height and leaders made a huge impact on the culture. Many of the historical writings have been lost, burned, or were never finished. Many of the saints were martyred. In the midst of that, many of the Jewish families that were converted took on Christian traditions. There was also a group that tried to maintain their Jewish ones. Like today, families became syncretistic and celebrated their own unique family holidays. The origin of many things got covered and even forgotten. This theological book would point out what was the best “system” or covenant approved by God Himself.
When the author of the Hebrews wrote this letter is was not readily accepted in the Canon. It seems that the politics surrounding its inclusion was so intense they just left it nameless. Paul, the great apostle was possibly already dead. Now the author reminds the remnant that The APOSTLE sent from God, is still living, active and lives forever. There’s a new high priest that reigns supreme and his name is Jesus. That would have been comforting to those who recently lost many loved ones. It would have lifted their eyes from the murders, the imprisonments and the theological arguments that had come about after Jesus, was crucified, risen, and then seen by over 400 people.
Great leaders leave big “shoes to fill” when they pass. I’m thinking of Billy Graham, Elizabeth Elliot, Hollis Gause. These were giants of the faith in my eyes. This past year some Christian leaders have transitioned to other denominations following what they believe is a call to follow Christ. Younger ministers look to the future and question what it will look like for them. It can feel like a time of uncertainty. Two superstar church leaders have been allegedly exposed for living double lives and their young sheep are starting to scatter. It can feel like a time of darkness and confusion. Whenever Paul did pass, it would have been a huge loss to the early church. Paul was the one who set things in order and made sense of the new, early church. They would have felt lost without him. He was the minister par excellence. The author of Hebrews wisely directs us to One greater >>>> than any leader. We are reminded that THE Apostle, that Paul encountered on the Damascus road was now walking the Heavens, interceding, faithful and forever – Jesus. We are pointed to a better Apostle and challenged to look Upward. The greatest minister, the greatest priest -was, is and shall be Jesus. Kol Yom – Every day. Olam Ed – Forever and Ever.
If I picked one thing to impress on you for this blog, it is this: Hebrews tells us that Christ is better. Better Defined: Superior in social class or ability; of a more excellent or effective type or quality. BEST.
The law could not do what Christ could. The priests could not do what Christ could. The sacrifices were not as good as Christs blood that was once for ALL. The offerings were not as excellent as Christs offering. Christ is greater, better, higher, and able to minister longer than ALL others. Every sentence, all 13 chapters lead us to the superiority of Christ. He is greater, better than, every offeror or offering. That’s the message of the book of Hebrews.
When I was younger and doing ministry in Haiti, we would join the women washing clothes in the creek. They used washboards and soap, then rinsed with creek water. It was 104 degrees some days. It was unbearable to do anything in that weather. Air conditioning was only a rainstorm with wind. The only thing that could be worse than that, was not having soap or having to wear sweaty, dirty clothes two days in a row. Now that my sweet husband has bought us a new washer, it is a breeze. My washer plays a melody when it is done. So much better! It weighs the clothes and measures the water. I just want to tell others what a relief it is, what a joy it is and what my husband sacrificed to get me that washer. I love him and I enjoy my new washer. Seriously, when we first got it, we watched it spin and felt like royalty. My kids think we are nerds. lol. My clothes have never been cleaner. The New Covenant was promised, it is better than the Old sacrificial system, it was bought with a price. To really appreciate the new, we first must understand the old.
If I went back to doing the way I did laundry while in Haiti, that would be an example of legalism. It would be offensive to my husband who diligently worked to provide a better “way”. Sweating in the hot sun may feel like penance but it would not accomplish anything long lasting. Now when I use the new washer, I am fully grateful, appreciative of hubby’s sacrifice and all the extra steps I no longer have to take. Remembering how things used to be, makes me want to sing a melody! New and improved should be that – new and better, not old, and worse.
We can’t fully grasp that unless we know where we came from, what has changed and how that impacts us today.
The new Priest, the new offerings, the new covenant should bring more freedom, more joy, more rest. Drudgery, effort, striving are replaced by relationship and rest. What does our devotion or fellowship look like? Does it reflect the better covenant?
My family enjoys inviting others to our table and celebrating communion – not to fulfill some law but to celebrate the covenant Jesus provided. Martin Luther said, “Sola Christus- Christ alone” is the source of our salvation. St. Augustine once said, “For grace is given not because we have done great works but in order that we may be able to do them. Ministry flows out of that relationship from people who are grateful for what God has done in their lives. We do not rest or celebrate to get filled up to pour out – that would still be about us and our effort. We draw close to God, celebrating that relationship. Because we are joyful, loved, utterly adored and grateful — we pour out to God and then others.
Festivals are celebrations of people with common belief systems. We rejoice and rest. Celebrations are easier than being still. People are terrified that if they don’t “do” something they will be unproductive or not needed. Some even resist the topic of rest because it scares them. Some seem to believe that rest is only for the slothful and elderly in our society. The author of Hebrews tells us that there “remains” a rest for the people of God. New Testament rest is not just fulfilled in Christ full stop. It is the beginning of fellowship with the Godhead- entering in HIS rest.
After I was finished writing this blog, my family had communion and a meal. We broke bread, prayed and as we lifted our glasses filled with grape juice, the washer melody began to play, and I was reminded of the enormous sacrifice Jesus made for our sins. In that moment only God understood my tears. I was grateful for being adopted into His family and loved with an everlasting love. Aaagh, so much better. Such a gift, undeserved, full of grace and mercy. No more bulls, goats or mediators.
May I encourage you to dig deeper in history, your heart, and Gods word to understand this power packed book. May I exhort you to pause, rest and wait on the Lord to hear His voice. Only the mature can eat solid meat. It takes time, research, rest, and diligent seeking of God to discern Him and His ways. Do not harden your hearts.
Coming out of Egypt (sins, your past) and entering into the promises of God is only the beginning. It is a foundation. Training diligently to know God, to stand firm and rest in God– is a sign of the mature. Do you know what Pharaohs favorite word was? Tomorrow (See You Tube: Tomorrow by the Winans). Many plan tomorrow to seek God and know Him. Today – draw closer to God, today secure your hope and faith, today encourage one another, because tomorrow, may very well– just be to late.
Diligently pursuing God with you,
Ps. Come and Dine and New Wine are also beautiful songs you may like.