The Love of the Brethren

Let love of the brethren continue (Hebrews 13:1).

It is always easy to pick on “the brethren” and their problems. For as long as there have been Christians, there have been ways in which Christians have fallen short (Romans 3:23). The letters of the New Testament from Romans through Jude are all written, to some extent or another, on account of the problems of Christians, either rebuking Christians for failures or warning Christians about the dangers that come from false teaching and sin. To this day it does not take long to make a long list of problems we have experienced with “the brethren,” on an individual or “institutional” level. We Christians can always find all sorts of reasons why what “we” think, say, and do sometimes causes problems; “we” can always find difficulties with how “we” operate.

Such critiques clearly have their time and place, as can be seen in the New Testament. Yet we do well to recognize that “the brethren” were never meant to just be a punching bag. Just as the letters of the New Testament from Romans through Jude were written to some extent to deal with the problems of Christians, those same letters were also written to some extent to praise and build up those Christians in what they were doing correctly. While there will always be problems and things “we” are not doing right, we do well to recognize that there is plenty that “we” are doing that is right, and, in fact, reflects the joy, peace, and love which can be found in God in Christ.

The Hebrew author has been quite critical of the Jewish Christians to whom he writes. He is concerned about their spiritual maturity (Hebrews 5:12-6:4); the main argument of the letter presupposes a concern that some would seek to return to the old covenant and no longer persevere in Christ (Hebrews 4:1-9:27). He rebukes them for their inability to recognize God’s discipline and its benefit (Hebrews 12:3-11) as well as their frailness (Hebrews 12:12-16). Yet even here the Hebrew author does not deny the love the Christians have for one another, only insisting that it continue (Hebrews 13:1). He also commends them for their steadfastness in the former days (Hebrews 10:32-36).

The love of the brethren does continue. When Christians find themselves in great need, other Christians are there to assist financially, emotionally, and spiritually. Christians are active in serving other Christians and those in the world around them, be it through volunteering, adoption, hospitality, mentoring, or in other similar ways (Galatians 6:10). Christians remain generous in giving to those in need as well as for the support of those who preach the Gospel in the United States and around the world (1 Corinthians 9:14). Christians young and old yearn to see the Gospel message taken to more people in more places and are willing to support that endeavor any way they can. And Christians still do show hospitality to one another, sharing meals together, opening their homes to each other, and enjoying the conversations and time spent together (1 Peter 4:9).

Are there exceptions to these? Of course. Is everything well? No. But we must remember that we are not alone, that there are other Christians around the world who seek to proclaim the Lord Jesus in their lives (1 Peter 5:9). Christians do seek to apply the life of Jesus to their own lives and appreciate all encouragement, exhortation, and even rebukes given toward that end (2 Timothy 4:1-4). Christians still prove interested in spiritual matters, even among the younger generations. It is imperative that we continue to cultivate these good trends.

There are problems and will always be problems. We cannot avoid those problems nor should we pretend they do not exist. We must call out sin and false teaching (1 Timothy 4:1-4, 2 Timothy 4:1-6); we must warn against conformity to the world (1 John 2:15-17). But it is not all bad and all bleak, and if we maintain such a perspective, we might just make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, we must exhort and rebuke regarding failures, sin, and error, but we must also encourage and appreciate the good, the love, and the faithfulness, and seek to nurture it further. When we do exhort and rebuke, let us do so in love because we want to see our fellow Christians reflecting Christ more accurately so that we no longer have to make such exhortations and rebukes. In all things, let us all continue to love one another and appreciate all endeavors which lead to the glorification of God in Christ!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sacrifice

For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us: nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entereth into the holy place year by year with blood not his own; else must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 9:24-26).

For people today, perhaps one of the strangest and most foreign aspects of the Old Testament is the sacrificial system. Much of Leviticus is devoted to descriptions of various animal sacrifices: what to offer, when to offer it, why to offer it, how it should be offered, and so on and so forth. Many can become quite indignant about the whole matter: why do the poor animals have to suffer? What did they do so as to deserve such a fate?

Then again, the concept of sacrificing animals before a deity is not just found in Israel; it seems that almost all ancient societies engaged in animal sacrifices before their gods. Some, like the Babylonians, did so believing the gods would be fed through the process; if they stopped making sacrificial offerings, their gods would starve! Others believed that whereas their gods had their own food, the smell of the sacrifices would lead the gods to be kindly disposed toward those offering them.

What is the point of all of these sacrifices? We might not clearly understand the idea of animal sacrifices, but we understand what “sacrifice” is. Sacrifice entails giving up something: a suffering of loss. We talk about sacrificing some time or money for a particular person or cause; we frequently hear about those who died in war as having sacrificed everything for their country.

The idea of sacrifice as suffering loss explains animal (and grain) sacrifices in the Old Testament: it represents some level of suffering loss for God. Many such sacrifices were memorial: the first of the grain harvests and the firstborn animals would be sacrificed as a way of thanking God for the blessings of life. Yet when it comes to sin offerings, the sacrifice is not to thank God but as a request for atonement and cleansing from sin (cf. Leviticus 17:11).

This sacrifice for sin was designed for the instruction of Israel: it was costly, requiring the suffering of loss of an important piece of their property (their animal), and provided a means by which Israel could understand the mechanism of atonement. The animal’s life was given so that the one offering the animal could receive atonement, or cleansing, from their sin. This is made evident in the yearly day of atonement for Israel as described in Leviticus 16:1-34.

The Hebrew author spends much time describing the limitations of the Israelite system, especially in regards to the sacrificial system. The priests who took the offerings and presented them before God were themselves imperfect; the blood of animals could not really take away sin; animals had to be continually offered (Hebrews 7:11-28, 9:1-22, 10:1-4). But then the Hebrew author explains how Jesus of Nazareth was the ideal Priest and King: He did not offer the blood of animals but His own blood; His unique sacrifice only needed to be accomplished once in order to be efficacious for all; He was perfect and sinless in life (Hebrews 7:26-28, 9:23-27). Jesus, therefore, is the ultimate sacrifice.

Jesus suffered great loss on our behalf: all the agony He experienced through His arrest, trial, scourging, and crucifixion were not on account of His own sin or any wrong He had done (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-25). He willingly suffered the loss of His life for those whom He loved (1 John 3:16). God the Father was willing to allow such an offering because of His great love for us (John 3:16, Romans 5:6-11).

Animal sacrifices, therefore, pointed to the challenges of mankind which God addressed powerfully through His Son Jesus. Animal sacrifices are no longer necessary because of what Jesus accomplished; in fact, to think to offer animals again would be rather insulting, in a sense trivializing what God has accomplished for us through the sacrifice of Jesus His Son. But just because we do not offer animal sacrifices does not mean that we should no longer sacrifice; quite the contrary! Since God has suffered so much loss for us, we should be motivated to become living sacrifices for Him (Romans 12:1). As Jesus was crucified as a sin offering to atone for our sin, so we should reckon ourselves as crucified with Christ, no longer living for ourselves, but having Christ live in and through us (Galatians 2:20). It can no longer be enough to just suffer the loss of an animal, some other prized object, money, or any other thing; we must freely give of ourselves, mind, body, and soul, for Him and His purposes (Colossians 3:17).

Jesus was the sacrifice to atone for our iniquity and to overcome our deficiencies. We did not deserve it and never will; we should be thankful and be willing to suffer the loss of all things for the Lord. Let us praise and glorify God because He has provided the necessary sacrifice for our sin, and subject ourselves and our will to His!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Discipline

It is for chastening that ye endure; God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father chasteneth not? (Hebrews 12:7).

Discipline; chastisement: we do not like the sound of these words. They may bring back unpleasant memories from childhood. Even the Bible makes it clear that no one really enjoys discipline when it happens (cf. Hebrews 12:11). How many times have we schemed in life in attempts to avoid discipline and/or chastisement? And yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we understand the need for and value of discipline.

The word translated as chastening (or, in other versions, discipline) is the Greek paideia, which can refer to the whole training and education of children, and for adults, that which leads to correcting errors, limiting the exercise of passions, and actual chastisement for bad behavior. In 2 Timothy 3:15, Paul describes Scripture as providing “instruction” (paideia) in righteousness; in Ephesians 6:4, he encourages parents to raise their children in the “nurture” (or “discipline”; paideia) and admonition of the Lord.

We do well to keep the breadth of meaning of paideia in mind when we consider discipline, since it is very easy for us to focus on the negative. “Discipline” or “chastisement” tends to be associated only with some kind of penalty or punishment for misbehavior; that automatic association is unfortunate and a distortion. Just providing (or suffering) a penalty or punishment is not discipline: punitive acts alone do not change or alter behaviors. Instead, the aim of any kind of discipline ought to be corrective; any punishment or penalty should be designed with correction of improper behavior in mind.

We normally associate discipline and chastisement, as seen above, with raising children. This remains a most critical aspect to discipline, for children will grow up and have to learn about the boundaries of proper behavior somehow or another. The only question involves the quality of that instruction and from whom it is received: will instruction and discipline be based in the message of the Lord Jesus or not? Will the child ever learn truly proper behavior, or will they just learn to go along with the boundaries society or the law imposes upon them? How much will they be taught by their parents, and how many lessons will they have to learn through their own mistakes?

It is easy to imagine discipline only in terms of growing up from childhood into adulthood, but discipline does not end because we have left home and are now “grown up.” We must maintain discipline within our own lives, whether through learned behavior or by external restraints. We have to live within our means; we have to conduct ourselves within the boundary of certain standards. We will be punished in various ways by not abiding within these boundaries.

If we believe in God, trust in Him, and seek to do His will, we will receive discipline and chastisement from His hand (Hebrews 12:3-11). Such a view seems sharp and harsh; too many already have a view of God as an authoritarian disciplinarian, and passages like this do not seem to help that perspective. People want to envision that God provides all the good things in their lives, but then will blame God for abandoning them when bad things happen. But let us hear out what the Hebrew author is telling us.

The Hebrew author makes it clear that the problem is with our views and expectations, not God Himself. After all, we have all seen overly permissive parents and the royal terrors and spoiled brats coming out of that relationship. Most of us can look back in our own lives and understand the value and benefit received from proper discipline and chastisement that we received from a figure of some authority. We all need to learn boundaries and understand that there are negative consequences for transgressing boundaries; there is not one of us who can live among other people and not learn this lesson. And since, as human beings, we are all fairly hard-headed, we must pay a penalty or suffer a consequence if we will ever really learn to respect certain boundaries. We did not like discipline at the time: we did not enjoy punishments, we did not enjoy homework, we did not enjoy having to put in a lot of work in order to gain some reward or benefit, but through it all we were supposed to learn to respect boundaries, that we are not entitled to receive anything without working for it, that in order to accomplish anything of value we must devote our time and energy to them, and so on and so forth.

This is exactly what the Hebrew author is saying about discipline (Hebrews 12:3-11); he shows how the example of earthly fathers and the discipline they impose upon their children is a (albeit imperfect) type of the reality of our relationship with God. Just because we have reached the age of 18 (or 28, 38, 58, 78…) does not mean that we no longer need discipline; if anything, as we reach mature adulthood, the necessity of discipline is more evident. God provides discipline and chastisement to His children precisely because He loves them and wants them to live well! Without that discipline, God would be a permissive parent– in the words of the Hebrew author, if God did not discipline us, He would be treating us like illegitimate children! If we are illegitimate, we have no share in Him! How tragic that would be!

As in childhood, so in life: we have lessons to learn in every situation. There are wholesome lessons to be learned through hard effort and success; there are wholesome lessons to be learned when things go wrong and/or when we suffer. Sometimes we might experience pain, misery, suffering, or other such difficulties so that we might learn to stay within the proper boundaries of God’s will and to develop peace and righteousness. It is rarely enough to just intellectually grasp such things; we need to experience them if we will learn from them.

Therefore, in times of difficulty, let us not assume that God has abandoned us. We might be experiencing a moment of chastisement. Even if it is not some kind of punishment or penalty for our excess or transgression, we can still learn discipline through the experience, having our faith refined and developing the characteristics of self-control, peace, patience, and faithfulness, which seem to only develop through suffering. Even if it is unpleasant, let us be willing to endure discipline; without it, we cannot be children of God!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Sabbath

Six days shalt thou labor, and do all thy work; but the seventh day is a sabbath unto Jehovah thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, thy man-servant, nor thy maid-servant, nor thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates: for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day, and hallowed it (Exodus 20:9-11).

The weekly Sabbath observance is one of the hallmarks of Jewish religion and identity. The Jews were known for their Sabbath observance; foreign generals would exploit the opportunity to gain advantage against them. When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, such was sufficient for many of the religious authorities to declare that He was a sinner, for He did not keep the Sabbath as they expected (cf. John 9:16). The Sabbath was quite important to the Jews.

To this day many people make much out of the Sabbath. Some believe that the Sabbath should still be observed every Friday evening through Saturday evening. For many others, the “Christian Sabbath” is now Sunday, and for hundreds of years, governments forbade work to be done on Sunday because it was reckoned as the Sabbath. The situation is not improved by continued emphasis on the Ten Commandments even in the new covenant.

At first, the logic that we should still keep the Sabbath as the Jews did might seem compelling. After all, Moses grounds the Sabbath not in Israelite custom but in the creation itself– God worked six days and rested on the seventh, and therefore Israel should also (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-10). Since we believe that many of the principles based in the creation are still in force– God’s intentions for marriage and relationships between man and wife (Genesis 1:26-27, 2:24, 3:10-16; Matthew 19:3-9, 1 Corinthians 11:2-16, 14:34-35, 1 Timothy 2:10-15), man’s sinfulness going back to Adam (Genesis 3, Romans 5:12-18), and the like. Therefore, if the Sabbath is rooted in the creation too, should we not observe the Sabbath?

Paul and the Hebrew author do not share this same logic. In Colossians 2:14-17, Paul explains that Christians are not to be judged on matters like the Sabbath, for they are the shadow of which Jesus is the substance. What precisely Paul means by this is made more evident by the Hebrew author in Hebrews 4:1-11.

The Hebrew author compares Genesis 2:1-3 with God’s later declaration in Psalm 95:11 that the Israelites in the wilderness would not enter His rest (Hebrews 4:1-5). The Hebrew author then considers Psalm 95:7, where God through David exhorts the people “today” not to harden their hearts since the generations before did and therefore did not enter God’s rest (Hebrews 4:6-7).

This may seem puzzling, but consider how the Hebrew author puts it all together: if the Sabbath enjoined upon Israel in the Ten Commandments was the full and complete rest promised by God, how could David later say that the first generation of Israelites did not enter into God’s rest, and that there remains a day– today– upon which we should heed God so as to enter His rest? Joshua, therefore, when bringing the people into the land and establishing the Law of Moses, did not give Israel the true rest (Hebrews 4:8). The Hebrew author makes the final conclusion:

There remaineth therefore a sabbath rest for the people of God. For he that is entered into his rest hath himself also rested from his works, as God did from his. Let us therefore give diligence to enter into that rest, that no man fall after the same example of disobedience (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Even if one observed the weekly Sabbath of Israel, there still remains a sabbath rest for the people of God. The Sabbath is only a shadow of God’s rest, for on the eighth day– the first day of the week– Israelites are to return to work. It is not a complete and final rest. When God rested from the work of creation on the seventh day, He did not start up creating again on the eighth day– the work of creation was completely, thoroughly, and utterly finished (Genesis 2:1-3).

This is why there remains a sabbath rest for the people of God– we have not entered God’s rest, for we still have work to do. We must therefore “give diligence,” as the Hebrew author tells us in Hebrews 4:11, to enter that rest. One cannot “give diligence” to enter into the seventh day observance of the Jews; it comes whether one expends much effort or quite little. The true Sabbath which the Hebrew author describes is quite different.

For Christians in the new covenant, therefore, the Sabbath is not a weekly observance from Friday evening until Saturday evening. The Sabbath is also not Sunday; nowhere in Scripture is the first day of the week so described, and we have no indication that early Christians considered it as such. Instead, the Sabbath of Christians is the final rest that comes with death and the resurrection of life (Hebrews 4:1-11, Revelation 21:1-22:6).

God wanted Israel to enter into His rest, but their disobedience hindered them from doing so– that is what David is saying in Psalm 95, and that is the warning the Hebrew author wants to apply to Christians in the new covenant. Israel had a secondary rest and never achieved the true rest. If we follow the same pattern of disobedience we will reach the same end. That is why it is critical for us to exhort one another while today still exists to advance God’s purposes and follow Him (Hebrews 3:12-4:11). As long as we have breath in our body we must find ways to serve God; there is no “retirement” from Christianity while we walk the earth.

Focusing on the weekly Sabbath observance is to miss the point: God wants us to enter His true Sabbath rest. We can only do that by standing firm until the end; let us do so, live, and receive the ultimate rest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Jesus the High Priest

Wherefore also [Jesus] is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them (Hebrews 7:25).

What is a priest?

It seems like a very easy question, but it might take us a minute. It is a lot easier to describe what a priest does, particularly in the Old Testament, than it is to actually define him. He is the one who offers the sacrifices, maintains the Tabernacle/Temple, and instructs the people (Leviticus). How can all of these be brought together?

We can settle on a fairly basic definition: a priest is a designated man who stands between God and the people. The people bring their sacrifices for God to the Temple; the priests offer them. The priests enter the places the “regular people” cannot go.

In that sense, Jesus, by definition, is the ultimate priest– He is the Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He stands between God and us in a most powerful way.

The Hebrew author describes Jesus as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek (Hebrews 5:10) based on the prophecy found in Psalm 110:4. Jesus, like Melchizedek before Him, is both King and Priest (cf. Genesis 14:18, Hebrews 7:1-3), itself an extraordinary matter and responsibility.

Yet Jesus fulfills this task to an extent not seen before. Priests, by virtue of their work, sacrifice animals. They themselves cannot be the sacrifice– in fact, the high priest must first sacrifice for his own sins before he can enter in and make sacrifice on behalf of the people (Leviticus 6:6, 11; Hebrews 7:27). Jesus, on the other hand, offers up Himself, the perfect, unblemished Lamb who can take away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29, Hebrews 7:27-28).

He is able to do this because He was sinless, holy, undefiled, and separate from sinners, but is not really distant– He can sympathize with our weaknesses, having been tempted Himself in all points, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15) and having learned obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).

This ought to leave us breathless, really. A perfect mixture of holiness and humility, righteousness and love, separation and sympathy. Jesus is never sanctimonious, for He upholds the right while being willing to suffer with people, sympathizing with their plight. His ministry is all the more excellent because He was willing to suffer death so that we might be reconciled to God and live (Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 5:6-9)! Thus Jesus is able to save us to the uttermost, inaugurating a new and superior covenant!

It is immediately apparent that no matter how righteously we might live we will never be anywhere near reaching the perfect ministry of Christ. That high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is properly suited for One and only One, and we are not Him! We ought to thank God continually for such a perfect and wonderful High Priest!

Nevertheless, in establishing the new covenant and being the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, Jesus changes the nature of priesthood entirely (cf. Hebrews 7-9). Much is often made of the description of all Christians as priests in 1 Peter 2:5, 9, but consider what is being said in those passages. In 1 Peter 2:9, Peter uses many descriptions of physical Israel to describe the spiritual Israel– Christians are as much an “elect race” and “holy nation” as a “royal priesthood.” Furthermore, what do we find in 1 Peter 2:5? Christians are being built up into a holy (spiritual) Temple, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices. And what is that spiritual sacrifice but ourselves (Romans 12:1)? A strange priesthood this is– we are as much the sacrifice as the priest!

This is all because of Jesus’ example. Jesus did not offer up some other person or animal; He offered up Himself, and thus established Himself as the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek. The New Testament does not emphasize “priesthood” at all– servants, disciples, brothers and sisters are more appropriate images– but when it does, it focuses on that idea of the priest offering up himself as the sacrifice like Jesus did.

Therefore, as we are able, we do well to follow Jesus’ example. Today He is the only One who stands between God and the people (1 Timothy 2:5); we point to Him to show people the face of God and how to live as redeemed believers made in His image (Genesis 1:27, John 1:18). Our ministry is to offer up ourselves, spiritual sacrifices well-pleasing to God. Let us praise God for and serve our Risen Lord and High Priest!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Messiah: King and Priest

The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek” (Psalm 110:4).

It is important for us to remember that while “Jesus Christ” is used as a name today, it was not always so. His name was Jesus. His title, or His office, is that of Christ– the Messiah. Both words (“Christ” is Greek; “Messiah” from the Hebrew) mean “Anointed One.” David was anointed by Samuel as God’s choice for King of Israel (1 Samuel 16:12-13); his promised Descendant would thus also be anointed (Isaiah 61:1, Luke 4:17-21). But Aaron, the High Priest, was also anointed by Moses to reach his office (Exodus 30:30, etc.). The image of the two “anointed ones,” one king, one priest, seems to be behind Zechariah 4:11-14. It also seems to have impacted the author of the Damascus Document, writing within the hundred years before Jesus, who seems to speak of two Messiahs– one of Aaron, one for Israel (CD 9b:10, 29, 15:4, 18:7).

It seems that most Israelites in the first century looked forward to the Messiah who would come as king to defeat the Romans and re-establish the glory and power of Israel. Not a few Israelites also sought some kind of divine reformation and restoration of the priesthood and the Temple, imagined by some as a “Messiah from Aaron.” But there does not seem to be the expectation that the Messiah in the line of David would have the concern for ministry or the priesthood that belonged to the Aaronic line. Furthermore, the Jews had recently experienced the reign of priest-kings with the Hasmoneans– but they certainly were not the fulfillment of the predictions of the prophets, since they were not of David and Judah, but from Aaron and Levi!

Then we come to Jesus of Nazareth. He is without a doubt a descendant of David and Judah according to the flesh (Matthew 1:1-17). The throne of His father David is promised to Him (Luke 1:31-33). But in His life He never raises so much as a finger against Rome and its authority. Instead, He preaches a message of the imminent Kingdom of God and dies on a Roman cross– an event His followers understood as the sacrificial offering for the atonement of sin (Matthew 4:17, 23, Romans 5:6-11, Hebrews 9:1-15). He certainly does not fulfill the expectations of the Jews in terms of the rule of the son of David, but He certainly is engaged in functions of ministry, sacrifice, and atonement, the realm generally reserved for Aaron and his descendants.

This challenge was understood by the author of the letter to the Hebrews. He understood that Jesus was of Judah, a tribe concerning which Moses spoke nothing about the priesthood (Hebrews 7:13-14). But he also understood that the Aaronic/Levitical priesthood was imperfect, offering up animals that could not really atone for sin (Hebrews 7:11, 10:4). Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself, however, was perfect, able to atone for any and all sin, and thus speaks of a better ministry, a better mediation, and thus a better priesthood (Hebrews 7:15-28, 1 Timothy 2:5). But how could Jesus be a priest when He was not from Aaron but from David through Judah?

God’s great plan for salvation was predicted before the events took place, and the Hebrew author highlights a psalm of David to demonstrate how Jesus is a priest– Psalm 110.

That this is a “Messianic” psalm, written by David and inspired by the Spirit is without a doubt; Jesus asks the religious leaders about Psalm 110:1 and how David can say that “YHWH said to my lord…” if the Messiah is David’s son (Matthew 22:41-46/Mark 12:35-37/Luke 20:41-44). And then we have the promise in verse 4: God has sworn, and it will not be revoked– David’s Lord would be a priest forever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek?

Who is Melchizedek? We read of him in Genesis 14:18-20, and the Hebrew author describes him in Hebrews 7:1-10. His name means “King of Righteousness,” and he was king of Salem (“peace”; the city is later named Jerusalem) and priest of God Most High. Abraham gives him a tithe of everything carried back from the victory over the foreign kings, and the Hebrew author points out that thus Levi and the Levites, still in the “loins of Abraham,” gave tithes to Melchizedek. He did not receive his position as priest by genealogy or nepotism, and in him the roles of king and priest were truly intertwined.

Even if the Jews believed that there would have to either be two Messiahs or that the Messiah would focus entirely on his role as King of Israel, David in the Spirit knew better– the Messiah would mean the end of the old system (cf. Hebrews 7:12). The Messiah would be King, yes, but also a priest in the order of Melchizedek. The Messiah would be the King of Righteousness over the City of Peace (cf. Isaiah 61:1-4, Hebrews 12:22-24, Revelation 21:1-22:6). He would accomplish this through His priesthood– the High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, providing Himself as the perfect offering, a ministry in every way superior to what came before (cf. Hebrews 7:11-28).

There would be only one Messiah, and He would provide the satisfaction for everything. Yes, He would reign as King, but only after He accomplished His ministry and His priesthood on the cross. In the resurrection He receives the authority and the throne promised Him, and the message of the prophets is satisfied. Let us praise God for Jesus the Christ, King of Righteousness over the City of Peace, High Priest, our Advocate!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Perfected Through Suffering

But we behold him who hath been made a little lower than the angels, even Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God he should taste of death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings (Hebrews 2:9-10).

The ways of God are certainly inscrutable, and His judgments are unsearchable (Romans 11:33). This is most certainly made evident through His Son.

After all, if humans were in charge, how would someone be perfected? We could probably come up with many answers, but the idea that perfection would come through suffering humiliation, dishonor, and death would likely not come up. In fact, we humans do pretty much whatever we can to avoid pain and suffering.

So how can it be that anyone could be perfected through suffering?

Jesus, the Word made flesh, had all knowledge and insight– He was active in the creation (John 1:1-3), and was present throughout the days of Israel (John 8:58, 1 Corinthians 10:4, 9, Jude 1:5). Yet, as God, He did not personally experience the life humanity experienced. Therefore, in order to be made perfect, He had to go through the one thing that God had not gone through– the human experience.

And it would not be just any human experience. What defines the human experience more than suffering? While we like to focus on the pleasantries of life– the beauty of creation, our successes, our prosperity– it is not as if such truly satisfies and they are always punctured at some point by suffering, pain, misery, or failure. Many can sympathize with Jacob; while they may not have lived 130 years, they can say that “few and evil have been the days of the years of my life” as he did (Genesis 47:9).

We can think about it another way. What would we think if Jesus had lived a charmed life? What if He never knew need, was never maligned, lived an entirely sheltered and prosperous life, and was transported back to Heaven unscathed? It might have made for an interesting story, but it would not be nearly as compelling. We would not believe that Jesus really experienced the true human condition!

And, as the Hebrew author explains in Hebrews 2:14, 17-18, this is why Jesus came to earth to live and experience suffering and temptation. No one can honestly say that God never condescended to know “what it’s like” to be human. Instead, Jesus is completely able to sympathize with the believer in distress. Are they reviled? He was reviled. Are they weak, downtrodden, or humiliated? Jesus experienced the same. Are they sorely tempted to give up and return to the world? Jesus was also. And yet He proved faithful as a Son (Hebrews 5:7-9), and through His suffering was glorified and honored and made perfect!

We see, therefore, that Jesus is made perfect through suffering, and He can now sympathize with the believer. Yet, in saying this, the Hebrew author re-affirms the fact that perfection can only come through suffering. Paul demonstrated that believers will be co-heirs with Christ only if they suffer with Him (Romans 8:17); Peter describes the suffering of Christians as the trial of faith as by fire for purification (1 Peter 1:6-8). James tells Christians to rejoice when experiencing trial on account of the fruit it bears (James 1:2-4). These truths are not convenient, pleasant, or according to our desires, but they remain firm and established. If we want to grow into the fulness of Christ and receive the inheritance, we must partake of the sufferings of which Jesus partook. We must experience that baptism with which He was baptized, to drink from the cup that was poured for Him (Mark 10:38-39).

If Jesus could not attain perfection without suffering, how can any disciple of His expect to avoid it? This is not the way of the world, certainly, but it is the way of the Kingdom. We only come to a strong measure of faith when we are emptied of self, weak, humiliated, and sorely distressed– the training ground that leads to patience, endurance, and true focus on the divine (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, James 1:2-4). Let us stand firm in the midst of trial, knowing that as Jesus experienced suffering in order to receive glory and honor, we look forward to our day of glorification!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Endurance

Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us (Hebrews 12:1).

Sporting events featuring displays of endurance are rarely as glitzy as their faster counterparts. It is much harder to keep the audience’s attention for a 26 mile race than it is for a 100 meter dash. Preparation and training for the two types of events are also entirely different. One cannot use the same strategy to win a marathon as he or she would in order to win a 100 meter dash.

Our life of faith is comparable to the endurance walk or run– a long hike or a marathon (cf. 1 John 2:6, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, Hebrews 12:1-2). Those who burst out of the gate with an unsustainable pace tend to burn out (cf. Matthew 13:20-21). We are supposed to understand Christianity as the long haul– there will be ups and downs, moments of happiness and distress, peaks and valleys in faith and strength. That is why we must hike the path or run the race with endurance!

The key to any long-term hike or run is setting the appropriate pace. If one goes too fast, one will lose energy, and will not be able to finish. If one goes too slow, it is easy to get bogged down, and victory will be out of reach. God calls upon Christians to set their pace– not to attempt to grow or progress so quickly so as to lead to burnout, but not so slowly so as to lead to atrophy and complacency (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

While we are on the path, nothing is as important as the need to just keep going. Dory, in Finding Nemo, kept telling herself to “just keep swimming,” and that sustained her.

In previous days I did a lot of hiking, including 20 mile hikes. Yet few hikes were as memorable as one particular 10 mile hike. I and a few others had hiked ahead of the main group but lost the trail after a few miles. We stopped and waited for the rest of the group to catch up. When we did continue hiking I began to experience terrible cramping and pain. The rest of the hike was miserable, and I was not sure that I was going to be able to complete the hike!

It was by no means the longest hike I ever attempted. Had we just pressed on I probably would have been fine. It was the stopping and then trying to continue that caused the duress!

So it is in Christianity. It is imperative that we never stop growing– never stop pressing on to the goal (cf. Philippians 3:13-14). As in anything that requires endurance, very short periods of rest may be in order. But if we rest for too long, we will find continuing to be that much harder, much harder than it would have been had we continued progressing without fail.

We must run the race, or follow the path, with endurance. As long as we are in the flesh there is further to go. Paul was still striving, despite being an Apostle and a Christian for thirty years (Philippians 3:13). We must never believe that we have reached the summit of the faith. Growth is often painful. Growth often costs us. Growth may lead us to have different troubles than we had at the beginning. But God makes it clear that if we are not growing we are dying (cf. Revelation 2-3). Let us press upward toward the goal with endurance!

But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and for ever. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

Ethan R. Longhenry

Maturity

But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

Physical development, for the vast majority of people, is a given. Most children, as long as they are continually nourished, will experience physical maturation. Those are trying times for themselves, their parents, and everyone else who has contact with them! Nevertheless, the maturation process is essential if life will continue. Ideally, the child will be mentally and emotionally maturing while he or she is physically maturing. This is the process by which small children become responsible adults.

Spiritual maturity has the same imperative but is not a “given.” In fact, the Hebrew author is chastising the Hebrew Christians for not maturing spiritually as they should have– even though they should be teachers by now, they still need someone to teach them the basic truths of the faith (Hebrews 5:12-6:4)! It is entirely possible for a believer to live 20, 30, 50, or even 60 years without spiritually maturing.

But this is not what the Lord wants! We are commanded in 2 Peter 3:18 to grow in our knowledge of Jesus Christ. The servant who did nothing to advance his Master’s purposes in Matthew 25:14-30 was cast into the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth– who wants to experience that fate?

Therefore, it is important for us to grow and mature spiritually. Unlike physical maturity, we must make the determination to mature and to grow in our faith. On the other hand, this means that a believer can mature more rapidly, and reflect a spiritual maturity “greater” than his spiritual “age” as reckoned by human time!

Spiritual maturity is a challenge. It requires us to know God’s Word (2 Timothy 2:15, 3:16-17). How can we grow if we do not know how to grow? How can we learn to do the will of our Lord if we remain ignorant of His will? The growing and maturing believer in Christ will truly be His disciple, sitting at his Master’s feet, learning what he or she should do (cf. Luke 10:38-42).

Maturity requires much more than just “book learning.” Christianity is not a mere intellectual exercise– it is designed to be a lived belief. We demonstrate that we are of Jesus Christ by walking as He walked (1 John 2:6). As the Hebrew author demonstrates, we train our senses to discern good and evil “by reason of use.” It is one thing to know that Jesus teaches us to love our enemy, to turn the other cheek, to do good to all men, and so on (cf. Matthew 5, Luke 6); it is quite another to practice such things and to be enriched through our experience. Just as “hands on” work experience has practical value and provides lessons unable to be fully gleaned through “book learning,” so practicing Christianity has value and provides deeper understanding of what can be gained from studying the Scriptures.

Let none be deceived, however: spiritual maturity has its cost, just as physical maturity does. We grow in faith when our faith is tested– when we are called upon to defend our beliefs in front of a hostile audience (1 Peter 3:15), when we must decide whether we will succumb to temptation or escape (1 Corinthians 10:13), when we experience persecution or suffering (James 1:2-3, 1 Peter 1:6-8), and other such challenges. Sadly, many times we will fail (1 John 1:8); we must then get up, confess our wrongs, learn from them, and allow those experiences to help us grow (1 John 1:9). Furthermore, just as we obtain greater responsibilities as we mature physically, so more is expected of us as we grow spiritually (cf. Matthew 25:14-30, Romans 15:1). As we grow, we can see just how much more growth and maturity is required– there is never a point in this life when we can feel as if we have matured enough or grown up enough, for we can always abound more and more in the work of the Lord (cf. Philippians 3:13-14, 1 Thessalonians 4:1-9).

Growing and maturing in the faith is a challenge, indeed, but failure to grow and mature might very well lead to eternal torment. Growth and maturity come at great cost, but so did our salvation (Philippians 2:5-11)! Let us seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, constantly striving to be more conformed to His image!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Immanuel

But when he thought on these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. And she shall bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name JESUS; for it is he that shall save his people from their sins.”
Now all this is come to pass, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet, saying, “Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, And they shall call his name Immanuel;”
which is, being interpreted, “God with us” (Matthew 1:20-23).

The Incarnation is one of the most profound and challenging truths found in the pages of the New Testament. The One through whom all creation came forth now as a human being. God humbling Himself by taking on the form of a man (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). How amazing! How unbelievable!

For many years men pondered over the Incarnation. Many of the heresies of the first millennium came about because of such speculations: was Jesus born the Son of God, or did He become the Son of God in baptism (adoptionism)? Was He truly a man, or did He just appear to be a man (docetism)? Did Jesus have two natures or one nature, and how did those natures work together (Nestorianism, monophytism)?

The Scriptures make it clear that Jesus was God from the beginning, the Word made flesh (John 1:1, 14). In Him is the fullness of the Godhead in bodily form (Colossians 2:8-10). Matthew affirms that Jesus’ birth fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, and that Jesus is the Immanuel child– God with us. In the flesh. In a man that can be seen, felt, and heard (cf. 1 John 1:1-3).

How can this be? We cannot understand exactly how it came about, but we can be sure that it was accomplished through the power of God. The Incarnation is another reminder that the “foolishness” of God is wiser than the wisdom of men, and that in Jesus Christ God has made void the “wisdom” of the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-25). To the unbelieving world, the idea of God in the flesh is pure folly. To those of us who believe in God, His power, and His wisdom, it is part of a wonderful plan to save mankind (Ephesians 3:10-11).

The implications of the Incarnation are astounding. It is easy to look at Jesus and think about Him as God the Son, as the great and powerful Lord who quiets the sea and casts out demons (cf. Matthew 12, 14, etc.). Yet He is also human, learning obedience through the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:7-10). This is the profound reality of the Incarnation: God the Son needing a diaper change. The Word made flesh babbling as an infant, crying and needing the tender care of His mother Mary. The Lord learning how to walk and move about.

The Bible does not reveal a whole lot about Jesus’ early life and upbringing, but the very fact that He is both God the Son, the Word made flesh, and a growing child is quite amazing. It ought to remind us how Jesus is not so removed from us as to not be able to understand our difficulties (cf. Hebrews 4:15-16)!

To think that God the Son took on the form of flesh in order to live, suffer, die, and be raised again so that we could have eternal life is beyond humbling (cf. Philippians 2:5-11). When we think about all that Jesus would go through as Immanuel, God with us, it should lead us to greater appreciation of the Incarnation and His life and a renewed zeal to serve Him and His purposes. Let us praise God that Jesus is our Immanuel and obey Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry