Saturday, September 4, 2010

of our confession

"Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession..." (Hebrews 3:1)

Before having first read (or just read) the above verse, How would you have filled in the blank for the following?:

Jesus is the Aposlte and High Priest of our __________ .

There are several quite reasonable (and perhaps many more quite unreasonable) responses, but again let me turn to the question, What would we answer? Consider a few options, such as:

1) Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our salvation
2) Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our lives
3) Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our faith
4) Jesus is the Apostle and High Priest of our God

Perhaps there is a good degree of truth in some or all of these options, but we must consider why these (or any others) are not chosen by the author of the epistle to the Hebrews. When I read the verse Hebrews 3:1, though this may be due to my more nondenominational, Evangelical background, the answer there provided is, to me, rather striking. In much of the Evangelical world the main emphasis is on initial conversion (though this is, of course, not the only truth proclaimed), and therefore, confession is frequently associated with this single event, often referred to as "salvation" (though, this indeed has processual and transformative elements and is not merely a distinct point in our own past). In all honesty, not having read this at some prior point, I doubt I would have answered the aforementioned question by placing "confession" in the blank. I would most likely be apt to answer (1) above, sort of in line with an important thought already expressed in Hebrews, namely, that Jesus is the "author" of our "salvation" (2:10). I have to admit that in certain ways this concept of "confession," of which Jesus Himself is "the Apostle and High Priest," is very foreign to my life in Christ (in the sense that it is typically not a primary emphasis for me), though in reality it ought to be central to it.
There are several meanings of "confession" that are both in use today and have more traditional, historical roots. For example, in the 4th century, Augustine inaugurated a sense of writing that is typified by a more personal journal/diary style (e.g., Augustine's Confessions). Prior to that, within the Church there were several applications of the term that were not unrelated to one another: confession of sin(s) in either a public or private manner (e.g., the Confiteor, or confessing our sins one to another [James 5:16], or confessing our sins to God [1 John 1:9], or what some consider the sacrament of penance, or confession and renouncing of sins at baptism, etc.), or confession as a statement and assertion/articulation of belief(s) (e.g., the Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed) that was held individually and corporately, and often expressed publicly. These two aspects, confession of sins and profession of belief/faith, are quite related because any true confession of sins is always a confession of Christ, for in Him and through Him alone is there forgiveness and remission of sins. This is why in many Christian traditions, for example, one both renounces sin and confesses Christ at baptism.
Interestingly, confession in the Christian framework has an inherently personal dimension, and we can see this in the following four elements: 1) we often confess to one another or in the presence of one another as members of the Body of Christ, 2) we ultimately confess to the Person of God who hears us through Christ, 3) the nature of our confession places (in a sense) some burden on the one who confesses, and 4) the value of our confession relates to the One whom we confess. These last two points are especially relevant to the content of the one we are exhorted to "consider" in Hebrews 3:1. That is, again (as discussed beforehand in other posts) we should bear in mind as we read the entire epistle how many instances of encouragement and exhortation we come across, for it is evident that the author wishes that the reader remember the foundation that was laid upon the Person and work of Christ, and their belief in Him. So we read:

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard (2:1)

[C]onsider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession (3:1)

Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God (3:12)

[L]et us be diligent to enter into that rest, so that no one will fall (4:11)

[L]et us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find help in time of need (4:16)

[L]eaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity (6:1)

[S]ince we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus [...] let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith (10:19, 22)

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering (10:23)

[D]o not throw away your confidence (10:35)

[Y]ou have need of endurance (10:36)

Though we could include a wealth of other exhortations in Hebrews, these help us to understand that the concern of the writer was to constantly remind these believers of the confession that they had made. Thus, it makes sense that here we find it said of Jesus that He is "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession," because this places to some degree the burden on those who have and do confess in order to remind them of the firm foundation and anchor that stabilizes their souls, Jesus Christ (3:1; 6:19; 10:39).
As alluded to above, the second point we might note about this verse, which itself actually has primacy, is that our confession is deeply rooted in the One whom we confess, who presides over it as "the Apostle and High Priest." When we consider confession in the sense of "confession of sin(s)," as Christians we cannot separate this action from the very Person from whom we expect forgiveness of sins (and our expectation is predicated upon and validated by His faithfulness; see 1 John 1:9). Jesus is the One who was sent by God (thus, Jesus is the Apostle) to mediate (as High Priest) between God and humankind so that He might voluntarily offer Himself for the life of the world as the propitiation for our sins. Moreover, when we consider confession in the sense of "profession of faith," neither can we truly separate this from the One in whom all faith is placed. This type of confession is not merely intellectual assent to a set of abstract principles, nor is it purely a past event. Confession can and does refer to a past event, but it is also an ongoing process; it is something we actively and continually participate in and engage. Our admission of "the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints," that is, our confession of that faith, is rooted deeply and intimately united to the very Person who Himself serves as the substance of that faith (Jude 1:3).
The value of our confession, therefore, is no greater than the value of the One confessed. And we know that Christ, who is Himself fully human and fully divine, is by virtue of His deity the highest being that exists. We rest in the derived value of our confession that is conferred by His intrinsic value, rooted in His eternal nature. When we, as Christians, maintain and declare that, among other things, we believe that "for our sake and for our salvation" Jesus "came down from heaven" to become incarnate, we profess His Apostleship. When we, as Christians, maintain that we believe that He was born, lived, died, crucified and was buried, but rose again and ascended into heaven, "for the remission of sins," we acknowledge His role as the Great and eternal High Priest, who, "[w]hen He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (Hebrews 1:3). He is the Apostle because He was and is God's most perfect messenger, revealing the things that the Father spoke and taught with utmost fidelity (John 8:28, 38; 20:21). He is exalted as High Priest because, having been seated, His work of defeating death and sin is forever and definitively finished, forever and definitively established - it is indeed "once for all" (Romans 6:10; Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:10; 1 Peter 3:18). With all this in mind, then, if we find ourselves in the circumstances like those to whom Hebrews was written, we, too, can be encouraged by the exhortation to "consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession."

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