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Back to the Beginning
A Slight Detour
Before I start this detour, I want to welcome those of you who are new here. I took some time off after putting together the last issue of SEND (which you should check out if you haven’t already) but I’m back now and raring to go, albeit with a slight caveat. I’m still working on my series through the book of Jude, but I’d rather take my time and do this properly than just write for writing’s sake and then make mistakes and errors. The truth is that—as I’ve mentioned previously—the book of Jude has often been overlooked and ignored which means that it feels even more important that I take the time that’s needed.
For the next month, I’ll be editing and republishing some articles I wrote a couple of years back on the twelfth chapter of Hebrews. These were originally published elsewhere for a small group my wife and I were running at the time, and so some work is needed to update and rework them for wider use. This is one of four articles I will include over the next four weeks. If you like these be sure to let me know in the comments and I’ll also edit the others at some point in the future.
Back to the Beginning
“See to it that you do not reject the one who speaks. For if they did not escape when they rejected him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven”.
Christian Standard Bible Hebrews 12:25.
Taken out of context, this verse could seem self-contained and in some ways quite obvious. With verses like these, it would be simple to jump from reading to the application, but when we do that we’re bound to miss something important. In this case, it’s that these verses hark back to the opening of the letter.
Back in Hebrews 1:1-4, the writer says the following:
“Long ago God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways. In these last days, he has spoken to us by his Son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe, through him. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high. So he became superior to the angels, just as the name he inherited is more excellent than theirs”
Christian Standard Bible, Hebrews 1:1–4.
The book of Hebrews deals with an unbelievable number of issues, but here the writer fulfils the duty he had to expound upon the very words with which he began. This is so important and yet it could be so easily missed.
Is That Your Final Answer?
It’s a standard joke that the answer in Sunday school is always Jesus, but here it really is. It hasn’t always been though. There’s the obvious reason that the old testament is written prior to the mystery of the incarnation, but it was also that in the days of old it was the commission of prophets, priests, judges and kings to carry out the work of rallying the people of God towards him. Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samson, David, Solomon, Asaph, the sons of Korah, Daniel, Malachi and many more spoke to the people through their words, lives and the words of Holy Scripture and called them to turn to God.
Solomon, knowing man’s sinful nature, pleaded with God the following after bringing the ark of the covenant into the temple he’d built:
“When they sin against you—
for there is no one who does not sin—
and you are angry with them
and hand them over to the enemy,
and their captors deport them to the enemy’s country—
whether distant or nearby—
and when they come to their senses
in the land where they were deported
and repent and petition you in their captors’ land:
“We have sinned and done wrong;
we have been wicked,”
and when they return to you with all their heart and all their soul
in the land of their enemies who took them captive,
and when they pray to you in the direction of their land
that you gave their ancestors,
the city you have chosen,
and the temple I have built for your name,
may you hear in heaven, your dwelling place,
their prayer and petition and uphold their cause.
May you forgive your people
who sinned against you
and all their rebellions against you,
and may you grant them compassion
before their captors,
so that they may treat them compassionately”
Christian Standard Bible, 1 Kings 8:46–50.
Knowing that the people would turn their faces away from God, he prepared a way for their return.
Implicit here is the fact that the people would indeed reject God. It wasn’t the first time and wouldn’t be the last. God sent messengers and the messengers were rejected. God even set aside festivals, celebrations, and signs which would endure throughout generations—even until this day—because the people could say, “well that was history what about today?” but God had seen to it that the very miracles which their ancestors had seen in Egypt would not be forgotten, these signs were landmarks of what had come to pass, the stories were to be passed down and feasts were to be held.
Once such feast we now call Passover.
A Night to Remember
Smack, the first hit, the first of the doorposts painted red, the blood of the lamb fresh from the sacrifice.
Smack, then came the second, not just the doorposts were covered now, but his hands too.
Smack, the final hit, slap bang in the middle of the two, a sign of the beginning of months.
Truly a new beginning.
A pitter-patter of others doing the very same flutters in his ears, this would be the final plague, the final straw, but tonight all who were under the sign now painted would be passed over.
Have you ever had a picture which drew you back into the memory it captured and made you live there again? Or a toy you used to play with as a child you hadn’t seen since you went off to Uni, and it just filled you anew with joy? I think that we like to think today—for whatever reason—that we’re beyond symbols and beyond the hold of tradition, that it’s somehow beneath us culturally. Yet, we’ll often be drawn to the logo of our favourite brand, the music we trust will satisfy us, the saucepan we have in the cupboard which barely works anymore—but will probably work a little bit longer right?
Whether we mean to or not we place importance on objects and symbols and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
I don’t think you need to pay someone like Marie Kondo to come and help you clear out your flat, but one element of her practice I think is truly profound is the fact that she gets her clients and viewers to take the items they once loved but are now letting go of and thank them for the joy they’ve brought and say goodbye.
This may sound silly, but the reason I think it’s actually profound is that it speaks to our capacity to have our minds electrified by an inanimate object, a photo, or an item of clothing. Objects themselves don’t do this, our experience with them does.
God understands this too.
If you know anything about Jewish culture, you know they love to get together, celebrate, dance, and remember and this comes from the bible. Though we may feel Christmas or Easter celebrations have lost their roots and grounding in the story of our Lord, the festivals of the old testament are so linked to the stories they hark back to that it would be almost impossible to divorce them from what they are trying to remind us of. That’s why, just as the slaves of Egypt sacrificed a lamb, ate unleavened bread, and the bitter herbs and lived through the Passover, their descendants were to do the same. Unlike the physical objects which take us back through the years and decades of our own lives, this festival and its elements take the ones partaking in it back millennia. Back to a man who led the people of God out of Egypt, into the wilderness and taught them how they were to live in the promised land.
Many refused. They refused Moses. They refused God. Many through the ages refused to trust in the God of their people and turned their faces to other gods.
Then came a saviour.
The Final Lamb
So, before we end, let’s go back to the beginning, like the writer of Hebrews.
Let’s go back to our ‘Sunday School Answer’.
See to it that you don’t refuse Jesus.
The people of God have often rejected words given to them by messengers, or even rejected miraculous signs performed by them. If it was ridiculous to reject these, prophecies and signs given by meer men sent by God, how much more ludicrous would it be to do so to God himself. God is God, summed up in that perfect statement of his name “I AM”. This is an eternal truth and will not and can not be stolen from him by any power in heaven nor on earth. Therefore, those who have sought to do so, those who have taken his name and awarded it to objects of stone, carved images, men and women, animals and tokens, rulers and spouses or—in more cases than there are courts to settle them— putting themselves in his place, for these things there is no justification.
When Jesus came and revealed himself. When Jesus came in flesh and died for our sins as a propitiation for us when he spoke to us, and ascended to heaven. When people rejected him then. That is foolishness.
Spurgeon puts it like this:
“He that will not accept the propitiation which God hath set forth must bear his own iniquity. Nothing more just, and yet nothing more terrible, can happen to such a man than that his iniquity should not be purged by sacrifice nor offering for ever. I care not what your supposed righteousness may be, nor how you think to commend yourselves to God, if you reject His Son.”
Charles Haddon Spurgeon – Treasury of the Old Testament Vol I
What happens to those who place other things and ultimately themselves in his place? They get exactly what they ask for, the place the Lord Jesus will take for us on the day of Judgement, which they will themselves have to bear. Where he has answered for all of our sins, they will have to do so for themselves.
It is a fate I would wish on no one and therefore I pray all will come to know the love of God in all of its fullness.
We though, seeing to it that we do not reject him, should not just do so in the privacy of our secret life. That which was forged within our hearts and has set it aflame should burn through our entire being.
After the exodus, the feast of unleavened bread was instituted and a lamb would be sacrificed for each of the firstborn sons of the land. The words:
“You shall tell your son on that day”
Exodus 13:8 ESV
“And when in time to come your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’
Exodus 13:14 ESV
Speak quite a measure about the passing on of the story of the Passover, but more than either of these, the following words:
“It shall be as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes, for by a strong hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt.”
Exodus 13:16 ESV
These speak far more.
What does it mean to you to bear the mark, not of the first Passover, but the last Passover upon your hands and before your eyes?
What would it mean to display the Glory of God to yourself and others?
Grace and Peace,