Tuesday

30 December 2014

“For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.” (v. 11)

Psalm: Psalm 96:1-10


Background

The 19th book of the New Testament is not well served by its title (which was attached to it from the third century and probably earlier). 'The Letter to the Hebrews' is not in the form of a letter (as the other epistles are) nor does it seem to have been directed at Jewish Christians particularly. The idea that it does was apparently drawn from its subject matter as this is a book which seeks to interpret what God did in Christ through some of the language and ideas of the Jerusalem temple. Central to this is the double image that we meet in verse 17: Jesus is both high priest and sacrificial victim.

Before we reach that point, the (anonymous) writer explores the meaning of the incarnation in different terms with a reflection on the humanity that Jesus took. The book begins (in a lection that is read in many churches on Christmas Day) with a bold statement about how God has chosen to speak through God's Son ("the exact imprint of God's very being [who] sustains all things by his powerful word" (Hebrews 1:3)). Yet this Son is pleased to identify with many "children" (v. 10) (the Greek uses the same word - sons - and any difference in capitalisation is the decision of English translators) whose condition he shares.

The condition that the children share is mortality. The writer to the Hebrews understands the incarnation as a cosmic battle between God and the power of death, which Christ defeats by suffering death himself. By this means, the children are made holy - both by being freed from sin and by their association with the perfect Son. It is a complicated and subtle idea; but in the last verse the writer draws a very practical implication. It means that when God's children are tempted to do wrong, they have a perfect brother who assists them because he also has experienced temptation.


To Ponder

  • Hebrews draws on a series of Old Testament images and quotations to explain why the Son of God became a human being, presumably because these ideas were easily understood by his or her first readers. What ideas might we want to use today to explain why it was 'fitting' that Jesus was mortal?
  • A few days after Christmas, we are already asked to talk about death. Many people find Christmas a painful time because they remember and miss loved ones who have died during the year. How might the recognition that Jesus shared the pain of death help them?


Bible notes author: The Revd Dr Jonathan Hustler 

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