No doubt many groups have slugged their way through Hebrews trying to make sense of all the illusions to the old testament. At the end of the day, the author (unknown to us) is trying to make a comprehensive (and apparently orderly) argument for the authority of Jesus as messiah. His audience is comprised primarily of Jews who accepted christ as messiah but are back tracking into their jewish roots. Now we meet this guy with a funny name, Melchizedek which is roughly translated king of righteousness. There is a lot of debate about who this guy really is, where did he come from and how does he fit in the overall biblical narrative. We don’t have a ton to go on. We are introduced to Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18 “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, 19 and he blessed Abram, saying,’Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth.20 And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.’ Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything.” Then David mentions this priest of God Most High in the messianic psalm 110, “‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.'” So the Author of Hebrews takes what little is known about Melchizedek (his family line, origin, how he became priest, death) and positions him as a Messiah “prototype”. Here we have a high priest who was also a king without a beginning or end who is not a Levite (which is the family clan where priest only came from). Jesus also not coming from the line of Aaron (levite) who has no beginning (co-eternal with the father) is being linked to this messiah “prototype” for the purpose of establishing his authority as eternal king and high priest replacing the old system of sacrifices with his once and for all sacrifice. At the end of the day the author of Hebrews is using Melchizedek to build an exhaustive case for the superiority of Christ and the messiah that was sent to rescue his people once and for all.
There is plenty of debate around Melchizedek, but this at least drives at the heart of the authors intent for using him in his case for Jesus.
On this Sunday morning the church enters a new season. It is a season of waiting, anticipation, hope, longing and ultimately celebration. Advent provides the church with the sacred opportunity to remember the waiting of those long ago for the movement of God to set things right while at the same time refreshing our own hopeful longing for God’s final movement with the second advent of Christ’s return.
Advent is a season of light returning as we retell the story of God presence returning to his wandering people. We begin with the prophet’s candle as our introduction to this season of hopeful anticipation.
The prophets offer the first flicker of hope that despite the darkness of our world and the void of God’s presence a new light is dawning off the horizon. God redemptive DNA is about to be revealed in a most unexpected way.
“The people walking in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
a light has dawned.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
And so we light the first candle of hope. Not the hope that “wishes” something will happen” but a hope that knows it will happen.
On Page 288, we see a confusing text in the 27th chapter of Matthew. It reads like this…
“50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:50-53)
One small group asked, “who were they (holy people), were they really physically raised and what happened to them.” This is a great questions. Commentators and scholars scratch their heads a bit in large part because there isn’t much in scripture to compare this passage to.
The quick answer is…. we don’t know for sure. : )
The longer answer is….here is an idea. D.A. Carson (In his commentary on Matthew) suggests that the language implies that those who were raised were well-known Old Testament and intertestamental (the time between the old and new testament about 400 years) Jewish “saints” or spiritual rock stars in the history of Israel and the resurrection was to supernatural bodies and not to natural bodies.
The significance of this whole scene emphasizes the access of people to God (through the earthquake and breaking of the veil) and Jesus sacrificial death/resurrection which blots out sins and defeats death. The resurrection of the “Holy People” at the resurrection of Jesus symbolizes the final resurrection of those who die in him.
Many small groups have stumbled on 1 Corinthians 11:2-10 and what Paul meant when he mentions women’s praying with their head covered. This entire passage is filled with comments and commands that are difficult to understand in large part because we weren’t there. Imagine if Paul was writing a letter to EUM and talked about things like MDO, SHOUT, Third floor activities, kids being dismissed at the 11am service but not the 9:45am service, etc. Someone reading that letter two thousand years later would be scratching his or her head, trying to figure out what was happening in this church called EUM. So all we are left with are clues and we do our best with the clues we are given.
Clue # 1: This entire passage (from 1 Corinthians 11) is about public worship. So what where he goes from here is filtered through the lens of a public place where Christians are gathering to worship together.
Clue # 2: This is an early church that is trying to figure out how to live out the gospel. What do I mean by that? As Paul traveled around the Mediterranean he is taking the Gospel and starting churches where he feel the spirit is leading. These churches are taking the powerful story of Christ’s life, his teachings, death and resurrection and trying to figure out how to adopt this way of life in light of their current culture. Paul’s letter then, is an attempt to recalculate the churches understanding and application of the Gospel.
Clue # 3: Current culture of this early church included a Patriarchal understanding of roles. The men are the “head”. Men with short hair and going uncovered (there is some debate on the exact meaning of the word) because to do otherwise (grow out hair) sends ambiguous signals about their sexuality or religious commitment. For women the concern was the ambiguous signals sent with short hard and a head uncovered in worship.
So when Paul talks about head covering as well as other issues such as women speaking in public he is suggesting a “yes, but” way of thinking. Yes the gospel provides freedom from oppressive systems and new opportunities that were previous unavailable to Christians, especially women “BUT” cautions Christians (especially women) from going to far to fast. This was specifically a concern of Paul’s in the public space of worship. Reading between the lines one gets the sense that Paul is protecting the early church from becoming to “radical” (sending the wrong message, especially when it came to gender roles and sexuality) within its existing culture so that it wouldn’t unnecessarily be dismissed.
My favorite line from Paul though is verse 11…. “Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.” Paul concludes this section on headship and hierarchical roles between genders with a beautiful statement about interdependence that leave us with God as the ultimate source.
Luke 14:25-35, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father or mother, wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”
This text stands in the middle of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem. He is shifting from his confrontations with the Jewish leadership to preparing the disciples for his crucifixion. The main point of the text is that successful discipleship requires Jesus to be a priority in one’s life.
The word “hate” catches us off guard and is often a cause for confusion. Howard Marshall reminds us that the Semitic sense of this Greek word has connotations “to love less than,” or “to leave aside,” to “abandon.” N.T. Wright gives us a modern day example. What if we were on a dangerous expedition taking urgently needed medical supplies to a snowed in village and the leader of the expedition tells us to set aside our backpacks in order to accomplish our task. The chances of us finding, or seeing, our backpacks (think material possessions) again would be slim to none. In order to accomplish our important mission, it may be necessary to send our last postcards home because we may not see our family again. We may not like the sound of it but we understand our mission is dangerous, but extremely vital, and the request makes sense.
Jesus goes on to give examples of this cost of discipleship. First, do a cost benefit analysis; are you willing to pay the price? What if someone starts to build something but doesn’t have the finances or fortitude to complete the task? How foolish a half built structure looks – and what a waste of resources that never saw its completion. During the time of Jesus’ statements, Herod was doing major renovations on the Temple, would it ever be completed? Were the resources being wisely used…after all Jesus already stated that God was no longer restricted to the Temple (Luke 13:35). Or does a King go into battle without first considering the cost of potential lives that would be lost? Is Jesus speaking to the Jewish Zealots who wanted to start an uprising in order to over throw Roman rule? Is he reminding his listeners that if you are going to start a battle; you need to remind people upfront of what the consequences could be? How sad it would be to see someone start in the faith but step aside part way through their spiritual journey because they did not understand the potential price of being a disciple of Jesus.
In Jesus’ day, and in our own, to follow Jesus one might be ostracized or ridiculed…even to the point of loss of life. Jesus is reminding his followers that the cost of discipleship may mean “setting aside” our love for material possessions, for comfort, or even at times relationships because we love the mission of Jesus more than anything else.
In Luke 9, Jesus tells his disciples not to tell anyone who he was. This raised a number of questions for small groups as they discussed the readings for this first week of CBX. Why would Jesus restrict the disciples in spreading the new of who he is? It seems counterintuitive for the savior of the world to hide his identity from the world he came to save.
Jesus gives us a hint in the early and middle chapters of the gospels when he says, “My time has not yet come.” He says it numerous times. It appears that Jesus has an instinctive sense of timing to his life, and ultimately his death and resurrection.
So when Jesus says, don’t tell anyone, he is actually preserving his timeline and protecting his plan from being undermined. But what would undermine his timeline? Here are a couple of contextual elements to consider. The first is Roman occupation. Israel, during the time of Jesus, is not a sovereign state but a province of the Roman Empire. Rome was very sensitive to unrest within its territory so if the Roman authority caught wind of a movement of the masses it had the likely potential to bring more aggressive oversight and response from the occupying force. The second contextual element to consider is the idea of being messiah. In the previous verse, Peter says, “You are the Messiah” (Luke 9:20). Messiah is an extremely loaded term and means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For many in Israel it meant God’s movement to save Israel by kicking out the Romans. There was a common expectation that the Messiah was a military leader called to rally Israel against Rome. Jesus is on a timeline of reshaping peoples’ (Jews and Gentiles) mental model of a Messiah. His version of Messiah is more in line with “bring good news to the poor He has sent me to proclaim that the captives will be resealed, that the bling will see, that the opposes will be set free, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.” (Luke 4:18) Rome was also going to respond unkindly to the rumor of a messiah or military leader being raised up to fight the oppressing occupation.
In the end Jesus wants to define his identity as messiah, savior and Son of God on his own terms, and on his own timing, without drawing too much attention or perpetuating a distorted view of God’s movement to restore a broken world.
Are you ready to go on a journey? EUM is starting an eight week journey through the entire New Testament. We are calling it Community Bible Experience or “CBX”. We believe this journey has the potential to make a real difference in your life, and we can’t wait to get started. We call it Community Bible Experience because it is designed to be done in community. Similar to a book club, you will do the reading on your own. However, the heart of this journey is to meet weekly with others to discuss what you’ve read. When groups meet to discuss the weekly reading, they will work through the following five questions:
What’s something you noticed for the first time?
What did you learn about loving God?
What did you learn about loving others?
Was there anything that bothered you?
And finally…What questions did you have?
We know our congregation is going to ask great questions, but we also realize our small group leaders are not necessarily biblical experts. So, we are asking our small group leaders to collect those questions and submit them to the EUM staff. The staff will then process through those questions and respond with helpful insight through posts to this blog.
Responses will be posted twice a week – so check back often! We hope this will be a blessing to you as we journey through this amazing experience!