Wednesday

21 October 2015

“We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchizedek.” (vv. 19-20)

Psalm: Psalm 114


Background

What happens if someone backslides and falls away from the faith to which they have committed themselves? The writer to the Hebrews argues that there is no hope for them - they are like cultivated ground which only produces weeds. This difficult passage may best be understood as a hypothetical, 'what-if' exploration rather than a definitive statement of Church policy.

In any case, the writer quickly moves on. Those who receive this letter are in a very different position, and the writer reassures them of God's faithfulness and justice. They have already been reminded (verse 1) (link) that their foundational teaching centred on faith, and thus their faith responds to God's faithfulness and underpins their service (diakonia) to others. This diakonia is very different from the 'dead works' (v. 1) which characterise faithlessness.

The writer encourages them in this service by reassuring them that God's promise is unshakeable, and draws on the example of Abraham, as Paul also did (Galatians 3:16). God's oath to Abraham (Genesis 22:16-18) follows on from Abraham's utter obedience to God in preparing to sacrifice his only son Isaac (Genesis 22:1-15). This is the 'patient endurance' described in verse 15, and those who share Abraham's endurance will also share in God's promised inheritance.

We can be sure that God is like this - infinitely faithful to us - because we have the evidence, revealed through that commitment to Abraham. Thus we can take the risk of putting our faith in God with confidence, and the writer ends this passage of reassurance with three beautiful images. First, God is our refuge, a stronghold where we can find comfort (verse 18) - the word translated 'encouragement' here is that used by Jesus to describe the Holy Spirit, the Comforter (John 14:16 - King James Version, translated as "Advocate" in NRSV). Secondly, the picture of the anchor, part of the DNA of the Boys' Brigade, evokes the scene of a ship at journey's end, riding serenely in the calm of a harbour. Finally, the writer returns to the picture of the Temple, where Jesus has the right to enter the Holy of Holies as God's appointed high priest, wiping away sin through his atoning sacrifice.

One of our basic needs for fullness of life is a sense of security, and this passage reassures us that if we hold fast to God, we are safe, because God is faithful and will never abandon us.


To Ponder

  • What do you think Christians can hope for?
     
  • What pictures come to your mind when you think about our safety with God?


Bible notes author: The Revd Caroline Wickens 

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