Monday, December 1, 2014

Hebrews 1: Supremacy of Jesus' Teaching

Heb 1:1-9 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. For to which of the angels did God ever say, "You are my Son,today I have begotten you"? Or again, "I will be to him a father,and he shall be to me a son"? And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, "Let all God's angels worship him." Of the angels he says, "He makes his angels winds,and his ministers a flame of fire." But of the Son he says, "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions."

In this first chapter of Hebrews, the writer establishes the supremacy of the Son as the divine Spokesperson over human (prophets) and the angelic ones. Unlike the human and angelic intermediaries, the Son is "the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power" (v.3a). Jesus spoke as God, the Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. But having completed his work of "purification for sins" at the Cross, he now "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (v.3b).

Jesus as God "has spoken" to us in the Gospels and continues to do so through His Spirit indwelling the church. No longer does God have to use angelic or human intermediaries--we all have direct access to what the Son has spoken (Gospels) and what He continues to speak (Holy Spirit).

Unfortunately, Jesus' teaching in the Gospels have not been given the same weight as Paul's epistles. In some cases, we interpret Jesus' teaching through the lens of Paul's theology of grace, instead of interpret Paul's teaching through the lens of Jesus' theology of the kingdom. It's like looking through the wrong end of the telescope and wondering why Jesus' teaching is so obscure and irrelevant. But if God has spoken through His Son, it behooves us to take Jesus' teachings in the Gospels seriously. Jesus' teaching makes some preachers uncomfortable because of his emphasis on doing rather than just hearing or believing:

  • Matt 7:21-22 "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." 
  • Matt 7:24,26 "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock... And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand."
  • Matt 7:19-20 "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits."
But if God has spoken in the "last days" through his Son, then we have to take the above words seriously and use them to interpret Paul's teaching on grace. And surprisingly, Paul says the same thing once we use Jesus as the lens to interpret Paul. For example, in exhorting the Galatian believers to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh, he gave his warning: "I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things [i.e. indulge in the works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal 5:21). True grace is demonstrated in our doing, not just our believing. As the apostle James has said, "Faith without works is dead" (Jas 4:17). It is wrong application of grace when someone says that because I'm saved by grace, it doesn't depend on my works. 

If we take Jesus' teaching seriously and use it as the lens to interpret the rest of Scriptures (both the Old and New Testaments), we will be able to hold both testaments together without the temptation to throw one out (usually the OT) in favour of the other (usually Paul's letters). Jesus in the Gospels re-interpreted the OT Scriptures and provide the moral and spiritual framework to support Paul's grace teaching. Remove the Gospels, and we have this unnecessary antithesis between Law and Grace. 

As any good Lutheran would affirm: it is not Law or Gospel and Law and Gospel. And Jesus is the One who joined these two together: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished" (Matt 5:17-18). 

As Jesus himself has said, "Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old." The hermeneutical key to interpret the Old and New Testament is the kingdom of God. When we focus on the Gospels, we begin to understand fully what Jesus preached, viz., the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And this is the key that unlocks the OT and Paul's teaching. If we don't have this key, we go into all kinds of errors in interpreting scriptures.

Father, grant us a greater understanding of the Gospel of the Kingdom as taught by Your Son in the Gospels. Amen.

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