Sunday, April 25, 2010

the world to come

For He did not subject to angels the world to come, concerning which we are speaking. But one has testified somewhere, saying, "What is man, that You remember him? Or the son of man, that You are concerned about him? You have made him for a little while lower than the angels; You have crowned him with glory and honor, and have appointed him over the works of Your hands; you have put all things in subjection under his feet." For in subjecting all things to him, He left nothing that is not subject to him. But now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. (Hebrews 2:5-8)

Having finished the exhortation to "pay much closer attention to what we have heard" through Christ, so that we "do not drift away from it" (and because the consequences of neglecting Christ's authoritative words are to our utter detriment), the writer of Hebrews continues the comparison of Christ to the angels (Hebrews 2:1, 3). For the moment, the author no longer speaks of the present world, but, rather, "the world to come" (2:5). In the above passage through the end of chapter 2, the author develops an argument of Jesus' supremacy over the angels even as it relates to His humanity. As we highlighted in previous discussions, the Christology that unfolds in Hebrews clearly and definitively reveals the deity of Jesus while simultaneously not minimizing the fulness of His humanity, as He was "made like His brethren in all things" (2:17). Jesus as both fully God and fully human is revealed in this epistle with perfect lucidity. However, before turning to the unique Person of Christ Incarnate, the author briefly discusses an aspect of humanity in general, as well as humanity's role among creation, that will, in turn, inform the subsequent argumentation of Christ's partaking of "flesh and blood" so that He might "render powerless...the devil," free humanity from that which enslaves us, and "become a merciful and faithful high priest" on our behalf in order to make an everlasting propitiation for our sins (2:14-17).
In order to preface Jesus' humanity and how it relates to the work He accomplished/accomplishes, the author turns to Psalm 8, wherein King David ponders God's creation, leading him to view two perplexing qualities of humankind: insignificance and grandeur. As we noted in an earlier blog, the style of introducing Scriptural quotations in the epistle to the Hebrews is remarkable, as the writer typically ignores the human author in support of the notion that God Himself is speaking through His written word. While there is here no overt attribution of these words to God (as in, for example, Hebrews 1:5, 6, 7, 8, & 13), this citation is still no exception as it is introduced by the vague description, "one has testified somewhere," reducing the importance of the human author. Though Hebrews only quotes verses 4 through 6 of Psalm 8, David introduces his question about humanity as having derived from contemplation of God's majesty revealed in the works of His hands:

When I consider the heavens, the work of Your fingers
the moon and the stars, which You have ordained;
What is man that You take thought of Him,
and the son of man that You take care for him? (Psalm 8:3-4)

It is in the context of this question that David understands the role of humanity among created things, as being "over the works of [God's] hands" (8:6). Still, clearly Psalm 8 concludes by not over-exalting humankind; instead, the psalmist leaves us with the all-encompassing greatness of God: "O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is Your name in all the earth!" (8:9). We ought to keep in mind, that, whatever our role is as it pertains to other entities within the created realm, the defining characteristic of our relationship should be the realization that God's name, not ours, be glorious in all the earth.
For the writer of Hebrews, the main purpose in referring to this particular psalm is to establish a framework from which to discuss the Incarnate Christ and what He accomplished by being "made for a little while lower than the angels" so that He might be "crowned with glory and honor" because of His suffering and death on our behalf that resulted in Him reentering into a position of exaltation over all things (Hebrews 2:7, 9; 1:2-3; Philippians 2:5-11). Yet, the author mentions this passage because how it pertains to humanity in general informs the role of Christ and, furthermore, the Person and work of Jesus Christ and the principles of His Kingdom set the standard for the role of humanity put forth in Psalm 8, which Hebrews associates with "the world to come" (Hebrews 2:5). As a result, before proceeding to the subsequent verses that pertain to the Incarnate Christ and His priesthood (2:9-18), I would like to dwell for a moment on Hebrews 2:5-8 in the hopes that we might arrive at a right understanding of how this applies to humankind, including our purpose in this world and the world that is to come.
Misapplication of this verse, along with the biblical principles that underly the relationship between humanity and other created beings, leads to an incorrect conceptualization of our role in both this world and the next. Furthermore, misapplication can lead us to misunderstand God and His will for the whole of creation, and this can cause us, as Christians, to misrepresent God to the world. Additionally, since, as we see in Hebrews, this subject relates intimately to Jesus, misapplication can also engender in us a wrong view of Christ, His redemption of the world and the Kingdom He ushers in.
The creation of humankind by God was the culmination of initial creation before God declared all that He made to be "good" and then rested on the seventh day (Genesis 1:26-2:3). Crucially, we repeatedly read that God created humanity, both female and male, "in His own image" (1:26, 27). After repeating this notion, we find God's command to "be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it" (1:28). Moreover, humanity was given the command to "rule over" all of the created realm on earth (1:28-30). The point that I wish to convey here is that perhaps we ought to interpret the command to "rule over" in light of having been made in God's "image" and "likeness." When David penned what we now refer to as Psalm 8, he was reiterating, in a sense, the command given by God to humanity to exercise "rule" over "the works of [God's] hands" (Psalm 8:6). Thus, we find in Psalms and in Hebrews that humanity is, despite our seeming insignificance, "crowned with glory and majesty" since God has "put all things under [humanity's] feet" (Psalm 8:5-6; Hebrews 2:7-8). The present world is that in which we experience partial realization of the "subjection" that God has ordained, even though "we do not yet see all things subjected to [humanity]" (2:8). With this in mind, we can ask the following, "Is the manner in which we 'rule over' God's creation in accordance with His Person and nature?" If not, then are we acting in the role that God has bestowed upon us in a way that is truly consistent with the fact that we are made in His own image and likeness?
I don't want to dwell too long on an aspect that, apparently for the original audience, the writer assumes to be understood. But, from our present point in history we risk exponentially exacerbating problems that we have created that surround these concepts. Although such activity is not necessarily exclusive to any persons, groups, or times in history, the last centuries in human history have witnessed unprecedented exploitation and destruction of the creation of God. Sadly, in the "Western" nations and cultures, imperialism and colonialism (often characterized by exploitation) were/are frequently justified under the pretense that this is what God desired of humankind when He commanded us to "rule over" His creation. Many Christians today support both past and present ventures that are blatantly against basic Christian principles because they are interpreted to be in fulfillment of the subjection of creation to humankind by God. The problem, I believe, that we all too often fail to discern, is that we accept ideologies that have a hint of biblical truth while they are additionally imbued with, for example Enlightenment ideologies that may or may not run counter to Christian doctrine. As a result, when we try to understand the relationship between humanity and the rest of creation, we import ideas that not only dilute the original concepts - they distort and pervert them, as well. The end consequence of all this is that when we apply our "rule over" parts of creation, we do so in a way that dehumanizes, forcefully dominates, exploits, controls, and consumes. Yet, which of these actions was/is characteristic of the Incarnate Christ?
As we read on in Hebrews, we learn of Christ's humble condescension to redeem and reconcile humankind. Is not Christ the one who rules and reigns over all things, and the one to whom all things are in subjection? Nonetheless, despite His deity and sovereignty, this act of condescension is what (in a sense) characterizes the God in whose image and likeness we are made. Therefore, the manner in which we apply and obey God's command with regard to our position "over" the works of His hands ought to resonate with the manner with which He exercises rule, expressed through Jesus Christ by humility, love, and servitude. And, yes, He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and His Kingdom will have no end, but as we desire and long for Jesus to usher in His righteous Kingdom wherein we will rule and reign with Him, we must remember that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). As Hebrews mentions, we do not yet see all things in subjection to humanity. When we do see this, the glory of the Incarnate God who humbled Himself unto death for the sake of His creation will be the chief attribute that permeates all things. May God help us (who believe in Him) in this present world to reflect and display the beauty of the one to come, for the praise and glory of His name throughout all creation.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

contestante Deo

After it was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will. (Hebrews 2:3-4)

Having exhorted the reader to give heed to what God has spoken through Jesus, and having reminded us of the utter futility of returning to "what was spoken through angels," the writer confirms the efficacy and substance of the salvation that Jesus brings. Here, in verses 3-4, the author proceeds upon this thought and reaffirms to the reader both the validity and authenticity of the great salvation referenced beforehand. This supreme salvation originates with no less than the Person of Jesus Christ, and it was faithfully communicated by those followers who knew and walked with Him. And, while God entrusted this glorious message to the disciples of Christ so that they might begin to proclaim His gospel to the ends of the earth as Jesus commanded (see Matthew 28:19-20), God did not (and does not) stand afar in the process: contestante Deo, "God also testif[ied] with them" (Hebrews 2:4, Vulgate; 2:4, NASB).
If we stop and think about it, the statement in 2:3-4 is an unabashed admittance that what is proclaimed by the author is second-hand information. Yet, rather than weakening the force of the argument, the writer portrays God's faithfulness in being actively involved in the communication of the gospel as it is transmitted from generation to generation. When we approach this passage, we must take care not to import the present tendency (especially prevalent in Western culture) to disdain oral history, assuming that it inherently lacks precision and legitimacy. Hebrews reminds us that, prior to the production and compilation of written texts, the apostles of Christ faithfully transmitted Jesus' words to subsequent generations. Moreover, if we are still in need of verification, what greater proof can we find than God Himself bearing witness to the words of Jesus' followers with "signs and wonders and and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (2:4)?
Not just for the early Christians who knew the apostles, but for our sake, as well, these events have been passed down, and many of them are recorded in Scripture, for example throughout the book of Acts. Turning there, we encounter case after case after case of God bearing witness to the validity of Christ's life, death, and resurrection through manifold signs, wonders, and miracles "at the hands of the apostles" (here I merely provide a brief citation for some instances, but I encourage you to read each of these passages, along with what they refer to, in their entirety):

Everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place at the hands of the apostles. (Acts 2:43)

At the hands of the aposltes many signs and wonders were taking place among the people. (Acts 5:12)

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. (Acts 6:8)

Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3)

The book of the Acts of the Apostles is replete with records of speaking in tongues and diverse languages, healings, casting out of demons, and raising people from the dead. When I read these accounts, I cannot help but see manifest the love of God toward us in that He meets us in our needs (misguided as they may be). For, all too often, we are of the mindset that, unless we see signs and wonders, we will not believe (see John 4:48). But, just as Jesus lovingly admonished Thomas: "Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed" (John 20:29).
This latter truth from Jesus holds for us today just as it held for those to whom Hebrews was written. The distance between us and Jesus (that is, from now until when He spoke on earth) is diminished by the faithful and accurate transmission from generation to generation of the words that Jesus spoke. For this reason, we have no fear in giving ourselves wholly to the words of Jesus Christ and the great salvation that is found in His words of life (see John 6:63). As Peter profoundly declared, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life" (John 6:68). The author of Hebrews ensures the reader that what is entrusted to them is the same as what the apostles preached, with God testifying with them, and it is the same as what Jesus Himself declared "in the days of His flesh." The message of the gospel originates from Christ and declares Christ as its substance. What the apostles taught, and what Hebrews proclaims, is no fabricated story - these people were moved forever by the Person and work of the divine Christ, they were motivated by the reality of Christ and the necessity (compelled by love) of communicating that reality to all of humankind for the glory of God and for our salvation.

Great is the LORD, and highly to be praised, and His greatness is unsearchable. One generation shall praise Your works to another, and shall declare Your mighty acts. On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wonderful works, I will meditate. Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts, and I will tell of Your greatness. They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness and will shout joyfully of Your righteousness. (Psalm 145:3-7)

Sunday, April 11, 2010

so great a salvation

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-2)

Continuing the practical exhortation begun in verse 1 of chapter 2, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews invites the reader to consider with pressing urgency the grave consequence of neglecting salvation through Jesus Christ. One interesting feature of this epistle, in terms of style, is that the writer repeatedly interweaves orthodoxy and orthopraxy, or right belief/worship and right action/praxis. So here (i.e., Hebrews 2:1-2), following the (in a sense) culmination of Jesus the Son of God's supremacy over angels, we encounter words that encourage us toward a right response. A correct response that accords with Jesus' reality is wholly appropriate in light of who Christ was/is and what He did/does. The clear expectation is that we Christians, who bear the name of Christ, not only "pay much closer attention to what we have heard" from and through Him, we must strive to not neglect these things (2:1; see also 1:1-2). Though we can do nothing outside of God's grace and strength (see Philippians 2:12-13; Hebrews 13:20-21), there is a strong burden on the hearer in these verses, and this theme of a right response is inculcated throughout chapters 2 through 4 especially (as well as throughout the entire epistle; see, for example, 3:1, 6, 12-14; 4:1, 11, 14, 16; 6:1-2; 10:19-29, 35-36; 12:1-3, 12-14, 25, 28-29; 13:1-9, 13, 15-19). The very reason that the consequence of neglect is so severe is that in such an action we treat with indifference "so great a salvation" in which God Himself condescends to our sinful estate in order to reconcile us to Him through Jesus Christ and His cross (Ephesians 2:16; 1 Peter 3:18; Colossians 1:19-20). God has gone to great lenghts, and with great sacrifice, to offer us the highest good, that of Himself; Jesus perfectly reveals God to humanity, which is why we cannot afford to neglect Him.
The second verse in this chapter has a unique phrase that relates to our understanding of the greatness of salvation through Jesus. Namely, the phrase "the word spoken through angels" is somewhat enigmatic. From this passage, we know that this word has the following for its attributes: it is "unalterable," and "transgression" of and "disobedience" to this word resulted in "a just penalty." There are, it seems, two potentially valid interpretations that can each receive biblical support.
The first of these interpretations is to take the phrase at face value. Under this sense, the author could be referring to the multiple times that God sent angels to humankind in order to communicate a particular message or messages. Thus, it could be said that the word spoken through them is "unalterable" since it ultimately has its origin as God. Notwithstanding, it may be odd to speak of these instances in the manner we find in Hebrews 2:2, wherein we would be predicating that "transgression" of and "disobedience" to the word spoken through angels (in the sense just mentioned) necessarily resulted in "a just penalty." However, we could cite examples such as Zacharias (the father of John the Baptist) losing the ability to speak because he did not believe Gabriel's words concernign the birth of his son (see Luke 1:8-20).
A second interpretation holds that the phrase "the word spoken through angels" is a more or less unique reference to the law that Moses received on Mt. Sinai (and perhaps extended more broadly to the Old Testament as a whole). If correct, this use may seem counterintuitive to us, but it is also not without biblical support. St. Stephen, who is regarded as the first martyr in the Church, mentions of Moses that he was "with the angel speaking to him on Mt. Sinai" in addition to noting that God spoke to Moses directly (Acts 7:38, 44; see also the role of the "angel" spoken of in Acts 7:35). Furthermore, Stephen rebukes his audience's disobedience to the law of God by saying: "[Y]ou who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it" (7:53, emphasis added). Notably, the phrase that Stephen employs is unique even in the New Testament, but it is clearly in reference to the Mosaic law. Moreover, predications of this word/law as being "unalterable" and receiving "a just pentalty" for every act of "transgression" and "disobedience" are abundant throughout Scripture (see, for examle, Psalm 119; Matthew 5:18). If this second interpretation is correct, it also fits in well with the theme in Hebrews that "Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant" now that the "former commandment because of its weaknesses" has been set aside, so that the strength may be found in Jesus, "according to the power of [His] indestructible life" and His ability "to save forever those who draw near to God through Him" (Hebrews 7:18-19, 22, 25). As Paul, inspired by God, crucially notes, the law (for our present purposes we might say either the law itself or the word of angels recorded in the law) could make no one perfect - it was only "a tutor to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24). Similarly, the author of Hebrews later argues that while "the law made nothing perfect," there is, "on the other hand...a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God" (Hebrews 7:19). This "better hope" is only entered into through Jesus Christ.
I mention these two options (and here I must apologize for those readers whose interest does not lie in hermeneutics!) because, while it may for us be unclear which is better, it is inconsequential to the larger point of how much greater the salvation that Jesus offers truly is. Regardless of what came beforehand (though keeping in mind that obedience in times past was justly required), the words spoken from and through Jesus are of infinitely greater significance and import than "the word spoken through angels." Not suprisingly, then, Jesus rightfully declares:

Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. (John 5:24)

Whatever "the word spoken through angels" ends up being, it is definitively clear that the word spoken through Christ, and the salvation that in Him is found, is unsurpassable in its greatness. This is the point to which we need to give all our focus and attention, and indeed our very lives with pure obedience by the grace of God.
As we consider this, let us turn then to the entire question with which we are confronted: "[I]f the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" If "the word spoken by angels" brought with it "a just penalty" for disobedience, of how much more severity ought we to consider it when we neglect "so great a salvation" that is offered by Christ, who is in every way better than the angels? This all-important question is one of three similar questions and statements put forth in Hebrews that necessitate reaction on behalf of the hearer. Elsewhere, we read:

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of Grace? (10:28-29)

See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven. (12:25)

In each of these passages, the conclusion is that to neglect what God offers through Christ is to neglect the greatest opportunity that humanity has ever received. Because of the greatness of what is offered (which is nothing less than God Himself), the consequence for our rejection is of the utmost severity. As John Piper sums up the insight of Puritan writer Jonathan Edwards, "Degrees of blameworthiness come not from how long you offend dignity but from how high the dignity is that you offend" (Piper 2003:122). Neglecting the Divine Christ and His salvation is so detrimental and results in grave consequence because, as Edwards writes:

"Our obligation to love, honor and obey any being is in proportion to his loveliness, honorableness, and authority...But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he hath infinite excellence and beauty." (124)

Yet, in Christ there is endless mercy. In Christ there is forgiveness of sins. In Christ there is "so great a salvation," for He is our salvation.

There are countless examples of seemingly insignificant events in our lives that, if we fail to give heed to them, our action is essentially one of neglect. And here I have in mind basic and mundane things, such as washing dishes and clothes, cleaning the house, eating and drinking, or even car maintenance. Nevertheless, we would never consider neglecting them, or at least neglecting them for too long, in part because we are aware of the consequences. Isn't Jesus (and His "so great a salvation") of much, much more importance than these temporal things to which we give so much care? If we will but consider our actions, we will find how we truly answer this question, though our answer may disturb us. May God help us each to realize the enormity of our indifference, so that we do not neglect so great a salvation that He lovingly offers to us.

Piper, J. (2003). Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions (2nd ed.). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.

Monday, April 5, 2010

what we have heard (to us in His Son, part 2 of 2)

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)

As they were going up to Jerusalem for Jesus' triumphal entry into the city, Jesus began explaining to His disciples (though they did not initially comprehend) things pertaining to His death and resurrection (see Matthew 20:17-19). Afterward, the mother of the two disciples James and John came to Jesus and requested that her sons be granted high positions in Jesus' kingdom, one on His right hand and the other at His left (20:20-21). Because of this request, and the discussion which followed (20:22-23), the "other ten [disciples] became indignant with the two brothers" (20:24). With tenderness and wisdom, Jesus gathered His disciples to Himself and made clear some of the fundamental principles of His kingdom:

You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to become first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many. (20:25-28)

Not too long after this event, in the same night and in the same room that Jesus would gird Himself as a servant and wash His disciple's feet (see John 13), and during the meal we commonly refer to as the Last Supper, "there arose [another!] dispute among [the disciples] as to which one of them was regarded to be the greatest" (Luke 22:24). Again, Jesus gently instructed them in the ways of His kingdom: "the one who is greatest must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant" (22:26).
Though eventually the disciples did (by God's grace) understand Jesus' teaching, I would, with these events in mind, like to propose a relevant question that relates to the exhortation we find in the first verse of chapter 2 in Hebrews: Why were the disciples so hard to hear the words that Jesus spoke the first time? And, turning the attention to ourselves, why are we so obstinant, failing to give heed to what we have heard from and through Jesus?
The tendency that was initially in the disciples then and is often found in us now is one which the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews warns us to guard against. After expounding upon the glorious nature of Jesus Christ, we read, "For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it" (Hebrews 2:1). The motive we have (or should have) to "pay much closer attention" derives from the very Person and work of Jesus, who is the divine Son, Creator, Sustainer, Savior, High Priest, and King. In light of the Christ, who He is and what He did (which we have seen from His attributes and work), it is not surprising that God would speak through Him. Christ's nature is at the root of why He is the final authoritative means by which God has spoken to humanity (see Hebrews 1:1-2).
In accordance with this, we find that twice in the Gospels (at Jesus' baptism and at His transfiguration) God definitively testified to the authority of Christ, saying unambiguously and emphatically, "This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased," and, "This is My Son, My Chosen One; listen to Him!" (Matthew 3:17; Luke 9:35). Moreover, Jesus spoke to His disciples before His death regarding the great import of both listening to His words as well as the nature of the words themselves, saying, "He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word that you hear is not Mine, but the Father's who sent Me" (John 14:24; see also John 8:38). So, the question still stands for us: If God has spoken, why don't we listen and obey?

The answers to this are manifold, but the ultimate consequence of this action for Christians is the same: we begin to drift (Hebrews 2:1). This drifting is so dangerous to our spirituality and vitality because it takes us away from the sole Source of life and salvation. Furthermore, this all too common phenomenon is much more subtle than, for example, outright denial or idolatry, and, therefore, can be difficult to recognize, especially as we stray farther and farther from what we have heard. Yet the remedy is simple, by God's grace and strength, and because of His indwelling Spirit, we must "pay much closer attention to what we have heard." Instead of drifting, God will hold us in His bosom, gently instructing us as Jesus did His disciples.
One basic way in which we are able to begin to listen to God is by exposure to what He has said in the Holy Scriptures, speaking through the prophets, who point to Christ, as well as ultimately through Christ Himself (who is the perfect revelation of the Father; see John 1:18; 14:9). What we "have heard," then essentially comes directly from the mouth of Christ, the eternal Word, who during the "days of His flesh" (Hebrews 5:7) declared:

For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice. (John 18:37)


If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. (John 14:15)

Considering these quotations in conjunction, we see that there are (at least) two significant aspects to the intentional act of "giv[ing]...earnest heed" (Hebrews 2:1, KJV) to what Jesus says: 1) hearing, and 2) obeying. In a sense, it is not enough to "hear" God's words (though indeed "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" [Romans 10:17, NASB]); even when Jesus lived on this earth, many "heard" the divine words that He spoke without ever obeying what He taught. That which the words convey necessarily dictates a response on our part (and, in this case, to not respond is a response in itself). By "paying much closer attention to what we have heard," God transforms and renews our minds as we, by His ability, obey Him and submit our lives to Him (see Romans 12:1-2; Philippians 2:13).
As we seek to obey God by "paying much closer attention" to what He has spoken, perhaps we need to admit to God our need of Him in this aspect of our lives. I encourage you to read the following prayer and, if you agree with what it states, sincerely offer it to God, who is always ready and willing to lend an ear to His children:

God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
I confess to You that I am at times unfaithful
in giving earnest heed to what You have spoken,
though I have truly heard from You;
Affect my being by transforming me from within
by Your Holy Spirit whom You have sent,
so that I can by obedience to Your Word worship You,
giving heed to what you have spoken through Your Son;
As Your Holy Scripture says, may You work in me
both to will and to do Your good pleasure,
so that I may glorify You
in the life that You have given and bought
by the precious blood of our Eternal High Priest. Amen.

We may be, like Martha, doing many things in our lives, but what are we really accomplishing if we are not obeying Christ? May God give us the heart of her sister Mary, who sat "at the Lord's feet, listening to His word" (Luke 10:39). This is the "one thing [that] is necessary;" this is the "good part" that, if we choose it, will "not be taken away" from us (10:42).

Photo by Michael "Mike" L. Baird,

Sunday, April 4, 2010

alithos anesti!

(note: today's posting is a brief departure from our current study of the Epistle to the Hebrews in honor of the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ)

A few years ago, we were invited by friends to attend an Orthodox celebration of Pascha (often known in the West as "Easter"). The celebration was beautiful, and we especially enjoyed the procession outside the building as we all sang:

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

Another point in the liturgy that I considered quite profound was the reading of the Prayer for the New Light, penned by St. John Chrysostom (d. 407 a.d.). During this time, candles are distributed to all who are present and, in the darkness the priest reads the prayer aloud. Behind a veil in the iconostasis, the priest lights a single candle to signify Christ, the True Light, and afterward those who are present come and light their candle to that of the priest while the choir sings: "Shine, shine, O New Jerusalem, for the glory of the Lord has shone upon you!" This prayer of the Divine Liturgy is rich in its Christology and, in honor of the Resurrection of Christ, I invite you to contemplate its depth in reverent worship of Jesus, the Light of the World:

"Lord Jesus Christ, our God, Source of Life and Immortality, Eternal Light born of Eternal Light, Immortal Light, invisible, incomprehensible, unchanging and unchangeable: You are the True Light who dwell in the Unapproachable Light and shine forth from Him; You are the Light of the Father's glory and its radiance; You are the Light of the heavenly hosts and of every man who comes into this world. O Saviour, You established a law for the first man who lived in the state of light, in order to guide him and lead him to the new world of heaven and incite him to grow in the love of eternal life. But he transgressed that law, and fell from that great glory in which You had established him, and by his fall he dealt death to himself and estranged himself from You, O Glorious Light! But You, O Lord, the Lover of Mankind, in Your great bounty and infinite mercy, submitted Yourself to death and condescended to share the lowliness of us wretched sinners, in order to lead us back to that former glory and light from which we had fallen away. For the sake of us transgressors of Your divine law, You accepted to be buried, to go down into Hades, to the depths of the earth. Then, O Lord, You destroyed the gates of death, delivering and raising up those who had been chained in its darkness; You filled our human nature with the light of Your resurrection, bestowing upon the world a new life and a new light brighter than the sun. Merciful as You are, You restored our human nature to its former beauty and to that glorious light from which we had been exiled.
Now, O Lord and God, our Saviour Jesus Christ, grant spiritual and physical light to our minds and hearts that had been blinded with worldly errors; enlighten us as You enlightened the holy Marys and the holy women who came to Your tomb with spices, so they could sprinkle Your holy body, the Source of Life. Fill our hearts with Your joy; fill our souls with Your tranquility, with Your peace, with the happiness that comes from You. Since You have raised us up and delivered us from the stain of our sins and the darkness of our transgressions, make us worthy in Your loving kindness to kindle our lamps with today's light, the symbol of Your radiant and glorious resurrection.
Bestow this perfection of light upon Your holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church; grant to us sinners, Your servants, that we may enkindle our own souls with the light of Your divine commandments, and that You may fulfill Your holy will in us every day of our life, so that being pure and undefiled, we may be able to receive You on the day of Your awesome resurrection, and that as the Wise Virgins, with lit candles in our hands, we may come to You, O King of Glory, into Your heavenly bridal chamber, to enjoy the light of the indivisible Trinity, sending up glory to the Eternal Father, to You, O Lord, and to Your All-Holy Spirit, now and always and for ever and ever.

Christos anesti! ("Christ is risen!")
Grace & peace,