Jesus' obedience and ours
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Opening the book of Hebrews is a bit like stepping into Transporter Room on the starship Enterprise. A few verses are all it takes to beam us suddenly down into an alien world filled with angels, sacrificial purification rites and Melchizedek. Thereâ€™s very little about Hebrews that looks, sounds or feels familiar to 21st-century people, all of which makes dealing with this letter a challenge (and explains why so many of us avoid it).
I remember teaching a youth Sunday school class comparing the Levitical system of annual atonement sacrifices with the once-and-for-all sacrifice that, according to Hebrews, Jesus has made for our sins. Wrapping up the lesson, attempting to drive the main points home, I was firing questions at the kids and getting answers, call-and-response style. We were on a roll until I got to the final question. â€śAnd why,â€ť I asked, â€śdonâ€™t we sacrifice animals anymore?â€ť
A sixth-grade girl piped up: â€śAnimal rights!â€ť
Culturally speaking, thereâ€™s a lot about the book of Hebrews that gets lost in translation. The New Testament gives us many ways to talk about Jesus, but Iâ€™ll bet that â€śhigh priestâ€ť is not a phrase that appears frequently in our Christological vocabularies. I wish it did. The image is so rich, so loaded with descriptive significance: Jesus the high priest is the one who intercedes for us, who sacrifices for us, who is holy for us. Thereâ€™s a nice sermon series there for anyone willing to take it on.
When it comes to Jesusâ€™ high priestly role, however, what captures my imagination is the emphasis that Hebrews puts on his obedience. Verse seven tells us that, because of Jesusâ€™ reverent submission, God heard the prayers and supplications he offered up with loud cries and tears. â€śAlthough he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey himâ€ť (8-9).
What makes Jesus an effective high priest? His obedience. What makes him the source of eternal salvation? Our obedience.
Of all the alien, unfamiliar aspects of Hebrewsâ€”both inside and outside of the churchâ€”the central role of obedience in defining the kind of people God wants may very well be the most foreign. Thatâ€™s exactly why we need to hear more of it.