Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vii. Our Great High Priest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:14-5:10

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The word ‘better’ occurs some seventeen times in the New Testament, thirteen of which occur in Hebrews alone.  Whilst in one sense the majestic Jesus is incomparable being the unique Son of God, God through him “planned something better for us” (11:40).  The passage before us describes Jesus as a better high priest.  The writer draws on the history of Israel in the wilderness and the role of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement offering sacrifices on behalf of the people and himself in the Tabernacle.

 The focus is not simply on the person and work of Jesus on earth, the empty cross and the resurrection, but the ongoing work of Jesus as high priest, having passed through the heavens as the human high priest passed through the curtain in the Tabernacle into the holy of holies to make atonement for sin.  This is the main point of the passage, indeed the whole of the book: Jesus’ ongoing work presenting the fruit of his sacrifice before the Father and interceding for his people on earth.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - vi. Entering God's Rest

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 4:1-13

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The writer of Hebrews often uses the word ‘better’ to describe Jesus.  In one sense Jesus is incomparable.  He is unique: the majestic Christ supreme over everyone and everything.  However, in terms of salvation history Jesus is indeed ‘better’: better than angels, Moses, Joshua, a better high priest sacrifice, and rest to name but a few.

 And now the writer invites us to reflect on our relationship with Jesus in what has been described as ‘one of the most fascinating, enigmatic and tightly argued sections of Hebrews’.  The Israelites of old failed to enter God’s rest through unbelief and disobedience.  However, rest is more than a metaphor for the Promised Land.  The inclination to enter God’s rest still stands millennia after that event.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - v. The Danger of Hard Hearts

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 3:7-19

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The writer exhorts his readers (and us) to attend to one’s heart.  Having warned about the danger of drifting in chap 2, he now addresses the matter of hard hearts by way of examples from Israel’s history.  He uses the familiar synagogue call to worship from Psalm 95 “Today if you hear his voice” to arrest our attention.  He places his finger on a two-fold problem: rebellion against God and testing his patience in the face of his provision and patience.   

History is a humbling exercise.  By ignoring the mistakes of the past, we are prone to repeat them, just as the Israelites did.  After 430 years of slavery in Egypt, God delivered them through Moses “by his mighty hand”.  Pharaoh’s army was destroyed and the people had miraculously crossed the Red Sea.  Having “plundered the Egyptians”, they had provisions and resources, a sign of God’s generous providence.  And then the most amazing thing happened.  As they entered the wilderness an immense pillar of cloud formed in the sky before them to lead the way and at sunset it transformed into a pillar of fire.

 

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - iv. Free Indeed

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 2:5-18

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The writer of Hebrews once again addresses the person and work of Jesus.  He has exhorted his readers not to drift away from faith (2:1-4).  Having highlighted the divinity and supremacy of Jesus in chapter one, he now stresses the humanity and humility of Jesus (2:5-18).  His concern is both theological and pastoral lest one succumbs to mere pragmatism or the passing facts of the day.

 Two errors were faced by the early church which still remain today.  The full divinity of Jesus was questioned by Arias a presbyter in Alexandria.  On the other hand Docetists (from the Greek dokeo ‘to seem’ or ‘appear’) argued that it was unworthy for the divine to take human flesh, much less to die in shame and weakness upon a cross. 

 

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - iii. The Danger of Drifting

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 2:1-4

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Hebrews is quite different from other books of the New Testament: a sermon in the form of a letter.  It is addressed to second generation believers who face circumstances they cannot control.  They are in danger of falling away from Christian commitment.  They are weary and their faith is sagging.  Accordingly, the writer offers a sensitive pastoral response.  Before he resorts to exhortation, he highlights sound theology, always good pastoral practice.  Chapter one underscores the majesty of Jesus in a profound way: supreme over creation and the cosmos by way of seven arresting statements (1:1-4) and supreme over angelic revelation by way of seven quotations from the Greek version of the O.T. (1:5-13), seven being the number of perfection.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - ii. The Supremacy of Jesus

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 1:5-14

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The first four verses of Hebrews are like an Overture to a Symphony where the melodic theme introduces the composition.  The writer is anonymous, more than likely an associate of Paul, concerned that Jewish believers faced with opposition were being tempted to revert to Judaism.  He wrote from an urban context prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  He presents a high view of Jesus in a pluralistic age similar to ours.  Indeed, the classical scholar E.M. Blaiklock argues that the 20thC, of all past centuries, is the most similar to the 1stC by way of religious pluralism.  This is equally true of the 21stC. 

Jesus is God’s final word in the midst of a plethora of voices claiming ultimate allegiance.  The prophetic witness of the O.T. (v1) in all its variety of genre and context is but a prelude to Jesus “in these last days” (v2) i.e. the time frame ever since the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Hebrews for Today: The Majestic Jesus - i. God's Final Word (including Bible Study notes)

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Hebrews 1:1-4

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The first four verses of Hebrews are like an Overture to a Symphony where the melodic theme introduces the composition.  The writer is anonymous, more than likely an associate of Paul, concerned that Jewish believers faced with opposition were being tempted to revert to Judaism.  He wrote from an urban context prior to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  He presents a high view of Jesus in a pluralistic age similar to ours.  Indeed, the classical scholar E.M. Blaiklock argues that the 20thC, of all past centuries, is the most similar to the 1stC by way of religious pluralism.  This is equally true of the 21stC. 

Jesus is God’s final word in the midst of a plethora of voices claiming ultimate allegiance.  The prophetic witness of the O.T. (v1) in all its variety of genre and context is but a prelude to Jesus “in these last days” (v2) i.e. the time frame ever since the death and resurrection of Jesus.

The Baptism of John and Jesus

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 3:15,16,21,22

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John the Baptist burst on the scene in AD27 after four hundred years of prophetic silence.  He stirred Israel to its roots with his summons to repentance and baptism.  Hitherto baptism had been restricted to Gentile converts to Judaism and now he was treating the chosen people as mere Gentiles.  No wonder the religious authorities were outraged.  However, his call resonated with the longing of the human heart for a fresh start and many thronged to the Jordan to be baptised by him.

3rd Sunday in Advent - Rugged Repentance

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 3:7-20

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Occasionally I find myself driving, my mind elsewhere, keeping an eye on the road but heading in the wrong direction.  So, I turn around and head back the way I came.  In this regard psychologists speak of two kinds of attention: primary and secondary attention.  Primary attention is that which is at the forefront of our thoughts.  Secondary attention enables us to do familiar things whilst our thoughts are elsewhere. 

Both these things, changing direction and paying attention is what Advent is all about.  John the Baptist interrupts our meandering thoughts with the call to repent, to turn around.  His language is harsh and arresting.  “You bunch of snakes!”.  Hardly the greeting we place on Christmas cards!  “Who told you to flee from the coming wrath?”  What’s good news about that you may well ask.  John’s stern proclamation is good not because it is nice but because it is true.

1st Sunday in Advent - Watch and Pray

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Luke 21:25-36

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Advent marks the start of the Christian calendar.  It’s a time of preparation, not simply preparing for Christmas and trying to avoid the so-called ‘silly season’ of the year end functions, but preparing our hearts and lives in anticipation of the return of Christ.  For return he will, not in the manner of his first coming, incognito born in humility, rather his return will be dramatic and majestic. 

Highly descriptive words are used in Scripture to depict the return of Jesus.  Pictorial language sets the scene, designed to capture our imagination and attention, rather than providing mere factual information by way of a chronological blue print of what we will see when it happens.  Three words by way of theological shorthand are noteworthy in this regard:

      i.        parousia, the word means ‘presence’ or ‘arrival’ in connection with a royal visit.  We live in expectation of a royal visit by our living and risen Saviour. 

     ii.        apocalypse, literally an unveiling of Jesus.  At the moment his majesty and dominion are veiled.  On that Great Day the veil will be drawn aside and the whole world will see Jesus as he truly is.

    iii.        epiphany, an unmistakable appearance.  “We wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13)

Strength Through Weakness : Distinctive Discipleship

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1

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Jesus is both Saviour and Lord.  Paul addresses this in the passage before us.  The temptation faced by the Corinthians, and all subsequent believers is to evade what Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly calls “the cost of discipleship”.  True belief, is never mere passive acknowledgement of the truth, it involves active engagement: “Only the one who believes obeys, only the one who obeys, believes “.

UPCSA Month of Mission: All People Need God's Love

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: Acts 16:11-34

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How does God guide his church to the right place and time for mission?  The passage before us provides important principles for our consideration.  There will be sanctified common sense and planning (Acts 15:36).  There will be “closed” as well as “open doors” (Acts 16:7,8).  There will be guidance by way of circumstances, sometimes extraordinary (Acts 16:9,10), given to individuals as well as the whole team.  Discernment and receptivity are the keys.  Specific guidance comes to these already on the road as it were, living out the Great Command and Great Commission.  Being able to say God sent us with the wind of the Spirit at our backs and his indwelling presence empowering us is a great incentive to mission.

UPCSA Month of Mission: Seeing God’s Heart for the World

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses:

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The New Testament scholar Stephen Neill once quipped “If everything is mission, then nothing is mission”, to which the Old Testament scholar Christopher Wright responded “If everything is mission, then everything is mission”.  Little wonder that the missiologist David Bosch retorted, “Ultimately mission remains undefinable”. Since the 1950’s there has been a remarkable broadening of the term.  Caring for the environment is mission.  Community renewal is mission.  Blessing our neighbours is mission.

Strength Through Weakness : Paradox and Power

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

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The Apostle Paul counters his Corinthian opponents’ love of power with the power of love.  He contrasts their preoccupation with style and personality with gospel and character.  Having pleaded for reconciliation he urges the Corinthians “not to receive God’s grace in vain” (v12).  His plea is not to take God’s goodness for granted.  As C.K. Barret put it, “The Corinthians had indeed been reconciled to God, but it was for them to receive the reconciliation more effectively”. 

As a missionary Paul saw hardships and conflict as part of the territory.   He took it squarely on the chin without flinching or complaint.  He was no masochist.  He did not see suffering itself as a mark of spirituality.  However, linked to mission and the cause of Christ it is redemptive.  He had no romantic notions about suffering.  He had suffered too much for that!

Strength Through Weakness: Ambassadors of Christ

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: 2 Corinthians 5:10-6:2

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Preaching has rightly been described as ‘letting texts talk’.  The text in this instance is both surprising and challenging.  It reminds us that not all fear is bad.  There is healthy fear (v11a), a timely reminder that all of us will render an account to God on that great day (v10).  Accordingly, Paul is motivated to “persuade others” by appealing “to [their] conscience” (v11).  Unlike his opponents in Corinth he does not resort to manipulation or rhetorical excess.  He simply states gospel facts: all face judgement (v10), equally, Christ died for all (v14).  There is paradox and mystery here, responsive to ‘faith seeking understanding’ as opposed to philosophical speculation about God’s character and human merit.

Strength Through Weakness: New Creation

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: 2 Corinthians 5:16,17

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Alistair Sparks depicted our transition to democracy and beyond in two books: ‘Tomorrow is Another Country’ and ‘Beyond the Miracle’.  Hindsight has taught us that we did not miraculously change overnight and ‘another country’ has morphed into something very different than that envisaged by our founding fathers who drafted our constitution.  So how do we address the creeping cynicism in our hearts fueled by factionalism and populist rhetoric?  I would suggest that the answer lies in an ancient letter written by Paul to the church at Corinth.

Strength Through Weakness: Life After Death

Preacher: Alan Cameron

Verses: 2 Corinthians 4:18-5:10

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A contemporary writer has described death as a “conspiracy of silence... the universal repression of our day muffled up in illusion”.  Part of the problem is confusion.  People are not sure what happens when we die, so in the words of Shakespeare’s Hamlet “death doth make cowards of us all.”

 

In stark contrast to this, Paul moves life after death from the realm of conjecture and confusion to established fact.  Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of our resurrection to follow in time.  For Paul this is no pious myth, escapist superstition, but historical fact attested to by hundreds of eye-witnesses including Paul himself.  Granted the passage before us is a difficult one, its interpretation disputed: is Paul dealing with the ‘intermediate state’ of believers upon death or the “Parousia’, the great day when Christ returns?  However, the difference is a matter of degree about which we can afford to be agnostic.