April 25/26: The Fourth Sunday of Easter (But We’re Meeting Saturday Evening!)

We will not have a worship service Sunday, April 26, because of the Memorial Marathon completely shutting down the streets several blocks out from the church building. Instead, we will worship this Saturday evening, April 25, at 6:00. There will be nursery available, but we will not have Sunday school this weekend.

Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. –Hebrews 6:1-3

Some of the hallmark doctrines of many modern Evangelicals expose an anti-intellectual heritage: a second “baptism of the Holy Spirit,” continuing miraculous verbal gifts, the pre-tribulation rapture, entire sanctification, and the whole altar call system. You don’t have to look very hard to find Evangelicals who mistrust educated pastors and feel strongly that uneducated but sincere pastors are far more trustworthy. Plenty of examples could be cited of good reasons for this, but of course the real issue is whether or the Bible has this view.

In the verses just prior to the passage above, the writer has rebuked the original audience strongly for not digging in much further to the meat of the Word. He tells them that they don’t even know the basics. They have not devoted themselves to “constant practice” so that they can be trained (passive) to discern good doctrine from evil doctrine. We might assume what the basics are, but we don’t have to.

In the passage copied in above the writer commands that we leave the “elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity.” Then he names some of those elementary doctrines and essentially says he’s not going to go over them again. I find it a little shocking.

He mentions “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.” This could, for some readers, refer to the religious practices of paganism (idols and such), but for the original audience it speaks of the continuation of the Jewish temple rituals, which, after Jesus’ work, are weak and useless. Then he mentions washings and the laying on of hands. This double action was, from the earliest times, associated with admission into the Christian community. It started with John the Baptizer and had continued to their day in the baptism of new converts followed by the laying on of hands. This was the sign and means of their sharing in the new common life of the Christian family.

Then he brings up “the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” It might better be translated “the judgment of the coming age.” It has always been a central Christian doctrine that a time will come when God will judge the whole world and usher in the age to come. It is about resurrection to a physical New Heavens and New Earth rather than “the sweet by and by.”

These are the basics? These are the ABC’s of the Christian faith? Frankly I don’t find too many professing believers who know much about these things. How many people do you know who can tell you biblically why we baptize people? How many can speak precisely to what the resurrection is and the new age to come? Could they explain with understanding of how temple practices inform the Christian faith but should be otherwise obsolete forever?

Just hearing that seems pretty hopeless to me. Generally speaking, Christian education and service in worship have been replaced by hyper-emotionalism and “experience times.” This is not going to help anyone “go on to maturity.” But then there is a line at the end of verse 3, “And this we will do if God permits.” Ultimately it’s in God’s hands. His sovereignty is a place of rest for us. That’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this SATURDAY!

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. –Hebrews 5:11-14

The writer to the Hebrews has so far exposed his deep concern for the original audience that they consider well the supremacy of Christ so that they do not draw back or drift away. He wants them to draw near and hold fast. In all of this concern, though, he has not scolded or rebuked them. That changes in the passage above when he calls them “dull of hearing.” He goes on to tell them that they are immature and unskilled. It is unbecoming for them.

What really strikes to me is that this rebuke doesn’t come because of bad ethics or morals. It comes because their understanding of the “oracles of God” is so bad that they need remedial classes. Not only that, but they’ve had time to learn and mature and train “their powers of discernment.” They “ought to be teachers,” but they are “dull of hearing.”

This sounds an awful lot like today. We have what are called mega-churches and they dominate with their presence. There are many small churches, as well, who are old and have a long history dotting the streets of our fair city. In my comings and goings I meet people almost daily who attend (sort of) these churches and as we talk, I find that their understanding of Christian basics is embarrassing. What is this?

We all need to hear what the writer to the Hebrews has to say. Everyone should repent of experience-based worship and the philosophy that we have to keep it simple so we can be attractive to worldly people who may happen by. Inside the churches, it should not be true that there is an extraordinary ignorance of who Jesus really was and is, what Christians have believed and should believe about God and the world, how the entire Christian story makes sense, what the Bible contains, and how individual Christians fit into God’s bringing his kingdom to bear upon the world.

The writer wants them and us to know the gospel. We should want to be skilled “in the word of righteousness.” For those who are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil, we will know our way around the whole message of scripture, be able to handle this message in relation to our own lives, our communities and the wider world, and know the supremacy of the high priest who is God’s Son who has secured eternal salvation for us. That’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. –Hebrews 5:7-10

We’re in this lengthy section in Hebrews where the writer is focusing powerfully upon the great high priesthood of Christ. The verses above are a little hard to understand, but also some of the most beautiful when you get into them.

God the Creator, who is the Father of Jesus, made the world perfect and, even though it has become wayward and corrupt, he remains deeply committed to it. If Jesus is to be the Promised Son, he must learn what creation is about and what it will take to remedy the mess in which we and creation find ourselves. Jesus may well know the heights, but he also must get to know the depths. He must learn obedience, which means suffering. This is not because God likes hurting people, but because this world is dark and hideous and the Son, to be the true Son, must suffer the sorrow and pain of it in order to rescue it.

When the verse says that Jesus was “made perfect” it doesn’t mean that he was at any point imperfect. It does mean that he needed to attain the full sonship through suffering the pain and grief that God the Father himself suffered over his world corrupted and cursed. In other words, he became truly and completely what he already was in his nature.

He did this and “became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” What other religious leader in all of history in all of the world makes such a claim? When we think of the garden of Gethsemane and how Jesus prayed in increasing agony, he learned what the full extent of obedience would mean. Though God could have saved him, he did not. The answer to Jesus’ prayer with “loud cries and tears” for rescue was “No.” This is how he became the ultimately High Priest for us ever living to make intercession for his sons and daughters. That’s the gospel!

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!