10/15/2000, P18, Year B
Knows Our Pain
he King James translation named it "Paul's Letter to the Hebrews," but Paul may not have written our text; many scholars say. The main reason that they assume this, is that the style and vocabulary do not read like our familiar Saint Paul, who wrote so many other cyclical letters. However, it does sound like some first century scholar and theologian trying to explain to a Jewish or Hebrew Christian, congregation that Jesus Christ is indeed the long expected Messiah; and thus, the full and final revelation to humanity. I feel that Paul probably did write this critical epistle and was using an in-house, Jewish, form of writing; therefore utilizing words that Jews did not use when addressing a gentile audience. As far as we know, Paul was the only early Christian who was highly trained academically and capable of writing such a treatise. However, authorship is not our main need; what we need is to hear this theological review of the main points of Christianity that has shaped our faith tradition.
The Bible is God's way of entering into our souls. Verse 12 of our text describes the process of reading the Word as, "a living power.. sharper than any knife.. cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires.. it exposes us.. we cannot hide from the Spirit.. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done." (see NLT).
Yet, many do not avail themselves of this power of communion with God who flung the stars into space. We ignore His voice by ignoring His means of communication. Surveys reveal that although most church members believe that the Bible is God's Word, very few can name the four Gospels, or quote any Scripture verses, or even retell the basic story line.
I have enjoyed encouraging folks to read the Bible and watching them fall in love with it. I recall a neighbor in our seminary apartment complex who told me one day at the pool that he had never read the Bible. Since he was an English major in college I used the logic that he could not teach Shakespeare without reading his material, and thus, he could not preach the Gospel without first reading the Bible. He was convinced and started reading his coffee table edition that his Grandmother had given him. Soon after, he excitedly told me that, "Its a great book, I wish I had begun reading it sooner!"
Let us let the Holy Spirit operate on our souls as we read God's Word with great vulnerability, allowing our sins to be exposed: it's a practical form of therapy. When we read and study it, we find that we must have a means to perpetually have our many sins forgiven-- we need an advocate to represent our dark, but repentant, hearts before the purity of God.
The connection between the two, seemingly unconnected, parts of this lectionary reading is at the point in verse 14 where the author introduces Jesus as our "Great High Priest" who represents us and cancels our sins before God.
A Jewish audience would know the Old Testament importance placed on the need for a sin bearer. The High Priest would go into the Jerusalem Temple's Holy of Holies once each year to perform a sacrifice of blood which would bring forgiveness to God's repentant people. The custom was that since only the High Priest could enter this holiest place, and a new High Priest could not go in for a year, they would tie a sacred rope around the ankle of the High Priest, so that if he became ill, or died, behind the veil of the Altar, they could pull his body out. Sacrifice was a major part of Jewish life.
Paul says that Jesus becomes our Great High Priest of the New Covenant. Furthermore, "This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same temptations we do, yet he did not sin." (v.15). In other words, "Jesus Knows Our Pain!" He has been there and faced up to whatever we face in life. He enjoyed a feast at the home of his dear friends, Lazarus, Mary and Martha; but later, he wept at the news of Lazarus' death. Finally, he suffered an extremely painful agony upon the Cross. Hebrews 2: 18 says that, "Since he himself has gone through suffering and temptation, he is able to help us when we are being tempted." A similar theme is found in Paul's letter to the Church at Corinth where he said, "For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ." (5:21).
Back to today's text in Hebrews 4:16, we hear the Good News that whenever we "come boldly to the throne of our gracious God.. we receive his mercy, and find grace to help us.." Thus, through giving ourselves to this process of forgiveness, we are able to have a friendship with God. The ongoing key to a Christian life is daily prayer and Bible study.
Jesus not only "Knows Our Pain," but he is able to cure our pain by removing our problem. Here again the analogy between a sharp knife operating on our souls is important because while the Holy Spirit is inside our souls, he is able to cure what ails us.
Later in our letter to the Hebrews, and to us, we hear the author encouraging us to continue to grow spiritually; "do not be like babies, but grow up in the faith." (see ch. 5). In chapter 10 we are called to "persevere;" or, to "hold tightly" and move on. 12:12 tells us that we may at times need to "take a new grip." I like that expression used in the New Living Translation. "Try to live at peace with everyone, and seek to live a clean and holy life. Look after each other so that none of you will miss out on the special favor of God" (12:14,15). "Share the sorrow of those being mistreated, as though you feel their pain.." (13:3).
We are called to not only identify with Jesus on the Cross, but to become a reflection of Christ for others as we feel their pain within the fellowship of believers. Additionally, each of us are called to share in the evangelistic extension of Christ to all people everywhere. Each of us shares in the privilege of a Priesthood of All Believers and has a calling to minister to others. The challenge to us is that as we hear His nudging, will we begin to say yes?
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor