• The BaptistWay lesson for Sept. 1 focuses on Hebrews 1.
While in seminary, I pastored a rural church of about 20 people. One of its most faithful members was Dorothy Wilson—a short, white-haired, spunky lady in her 90s. She drove 30 minutes to worship with the small congregation. In one of our initial conversations about the church, I asked her what made her start driving all that way to worship.
“Well,” she said, “one day, my husband and I were wondering around, exploring an old area where we grew up together, and we were surprised to see that this church was still standing. He had vague memories of going here when he was a boy, so out of curiosity, we decided to visit one Sunday. We knew after that first Sunday that we would be back.”
Their experience is not uncommon, except for the fact Dorothy and her husband were Lutheran. “We didn’t know all the differences between the two denominations, but we were certain that the people in this little church knew and loved Jesus.” While denominational differences are important, Dorothy realized what was most critical in the life of any church—the place it gives Jesus. This is chief concern of the book of Hebrews.
Interesting and mysterious
Hebrews is one of the most interesting and mysterious books in the New Testament. Its author is unknown, its form is ambiguous, and its audience is broad. Its conclusion confirms it is some sort of written communication from one party to another, even though its introduction lacks a greeting and jumps directly into a theological discourse—much the same way the Gospel of John does. Because of its great many references to Old Testament passages, people and Jewish custom, it is assumed the audience for its message is of Hebrew origin.
Hebrews 1:1-6; 14
The overall message of Hebrews is focused on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and the opening chapter wastes no time in jumping into the heart of the matter. It presents Jesus as God’s final revelatory word, the “heir of all things” and the one “through whom also (God) made the universe” (v. 2). As such, the author wants to stress Jesus is more than another prophet, or even one of “ the sons of God,” a title angels were collectively given in the Old Testament (Genesis 6:2; Job 1:6; Psalm 29:1). Rather, he is “the son,” a title that links him directly to God and indicates he is “the exact representation of (God’s) being” (v. 3).
It is likely some Hebrews for whom this was written had heard about Jesus, chose to believe in him, but struggled putting their newfound belief in to practice. Perhaps it was tempting for them to recognize Jesus in the way they wanted, or in the way that felt most comfortable, instead of the way he is revealed in Scripture.
In the movie Talladega Nights, there is a scene where the rich racecar driver, Ricky Bobby, is sitting around the dinner table with his family. As they all bow their heads to pray, he begins: “Dear little baby Jesus … .” His wife stops him in the middle of the prayer, informs him Jesus is all grown up, and demands for him to stop praying that way. “I like the Christmas Jesus best, and I’m saying grace” he tells her, as if that gives him the right to approach the Lord on his own terms.
We may not pray with such overtly flippant attitudes, but that does not mean we never deny Jesus his rightful place in our lives in more subtle ways.
I struggle with how to teach my 2-year-old daughter how to pray. I want her to feel comfortable approaching Jesus, but I do not want her to see him as a magical genie. As she repeats the short phrases I pray over her at bedtime, I try to make a point to begin with thanksgiving (for our day, school, food, church, house, etc.), follow with petition (for a restful night, a good day tomorrow, help in behaving, etc.), and end with a declaration of love and confession.
I think it is important to teach her to express her love to Jesus and desire for forgiveness from him, because those two things are not dependent on circumstantial details in our lives. They are possible because of who Jesus is and what he already has done as our Lord and Savior. When we lose sight of that, Jesus becomes what we want instead of who he is.
Regardless of our heritage or upbringing, it is possible to drift away from an authentic understanding of Christ. This is what the second chapter of Hebrews goes on to warn about. The phrase “drift away” in verse 1 means more literally “to flow by.”
Consider the way a river or a drifting boat effortlessly moves along a current. It is not driven by what it does but by what it is failing to do. The author of Hebrews is concerned with a failure to recognize Christ and the full implications his salvation brings (v. 3).
If Jesus is real to us, then we must take an active role in recognizing him for all that he is in our thoughts, prayer and worship. What place does Jesus have in your life?