SHOPPING FOR FAITH in AmericaŐs Spiritual Supermarket
(Theological Cafeteria in the 21st Century)
ŇThe United States is one of the most religious countries in the world and has been for a long time. What has changed is the environment in which we hold and practice our faith. American religion flourishes in a consumer culture and presents us with a bewitching array of choices as we navigate the shopping mall of faith.Ó (Richard Cimino and Don Lattin, Shopping For Faith (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1998).
While the audience of the Hebrew letter was the second generation of Jewish Christians (See Acts 1-12), this generation is abandoning their original faith in Jesus, the Jewish Messiah, the only expected man in history.
As we hurry over the centuries from the first century Jewish community to our American heritage and then ultimately to our post modern world, let us take note of some cultural indicators.
THE STATUE OF LIBERTY--towering over New York harbor. For over one hundred years that stately lady with FreedomŐs torch held high, has beckoned millions of people who are choking from the stifling air of tyranny and oppression. They have been drawn to what that monument symbolizes--FREEDOM! Inscribed on Lady LibertyŐs pedestal are the deeply moving words by Emma Lazarus:
ŇGive me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore--send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.Ó
I. In this magnificent passage Christ is related to mankind, the universe and the Father. A different monument towers over all history--the Roman cross where Jesus Christ hung during the crucifixion over 2000 years ago. Jesus offers spiritual freedom to enslaved people throughout the world. At first the scene repels us but then we see the sinless Son of God dying in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.
From His cross we hear, ŇFather forgive them!Ó (Luke 23.34) and ŇIt is finished!Ó (John 19.30) As we trust in Christ as our Saviour, the heavy burden of guilt rolls from our sin-weary souls. We are free of sin and death. It is hard to believe so great a thing! His cross is our Statue of Freedom!
The author of Hebrews plunges straight into the theme of the person and function of Jesus Christ. While God (the Father) is the subject of the first sentence the prophets were agents of GodŐs word in the Old Testament. Prophets included man of God who preceded them, such as Abraham (Genesis 26.7) and Moses (Deuteronomy 18.18), Aaron (Exodus 7.1) and Elijah (I Kings 18.22).
The message of Hebrews was that the age of fulfilment had arrived, as foretold by the prophets. Hebrews starts rights out with a series of testimonies taken from the Old Testament. Yet, these testimonies were incomplete because it contained promise, not fulfilment.
II. The earlier revelation was given the Fathers (Israel) with the entry of Jesus Christ into the world, a completely new era has begun. The message of Hebrews is not a contrast between natural and revealed religion or special revelation, but between GodŐs Word of Promise spoken by the prophets and his final word of fulfilment spoken by His Son.
Through the scriptures God reveals Himself by speech. Christ has been appointed the rightful owner of all things; He has not been given something He previously lacked nor has He received a lawful inheritance, which would have suggested the passing of ownership from the Father to the Son.
The universe, since its creation, has always belonged to the Son, for it was through this agency that all forms of created existence came into being (I Corinthians 8.6; Colossians 1.16, John 1.3). In the incarnation Jesus was made a little lower than the angels (2.7), his subsequent exaltation to the highest honors of heaven did not involve a new status for Him, but His re-entry into that which had always been his lawful place (Philippians 2.6-11).
III. After relating Jesus to mankind and to the universe, next we encounter His relationship to The Father. He is the reflection of GodŐs glory. The present tense denotes His eternal nature. The Greek word apaugasma means either reflection or radiance, the passive form of the Greek noun. Light is a common image in most religions in their description of God but here it is used not only of God but also of His Son.
The glory of God is His divine nature as manifested to men (John 1.14). In the Old Testament the divine glory comprises the radiance, righteousness and power of God. In the New Testament glory suggests GodŐs eschatological glory, since His glory will not be fully revealed until the last day. Christ reflects the FatherŐs character, the exact representation of GodŐs being (Incarnation is GodŐs self limitation).
IV. The SonŐs exact representation affirms that He is Himself divine.
a. In virtue of His divine nature the Son sustains all things.
b. The Son is the providential government of the universe, which is the function of God Himself.
c. The Son governs the universe by His word of power. His power is expressed on His utterance of command. Word (logos) is used in Hebrews to describe Revelation (2.4; 4.12). While utterance (rema) designates rather divine activity (eg. 11.3). As the universe was called into existence by the utterance of the Father, so it is sustained by the utterance of His Son.
The superiority of the SonŐs revelation is demonstrated by seven great descriptive statements about Him:
I. APPOINTED HEIR OF ALL THINGS--The incarnate Son, having performed the work of redemption, was gloriously exalted to the position of firstborn heir of God, i.e., He received the inheritance of GodŐs estate, the universe/creation.
II. THROUGH WHOM HE MADE THE UNIVERSE (John 1.3; Colossians 1.16; Philippians 2.5-11)
III. RADIANCE OF GODŐS GLORY--As the brilliance of the sun is inseparable from the sun, so the SonŐs radiance is inseparable from God, for Christ Himself is God (second person of The Trinity (John 1.14-18)
IV. EXACT REPRESENTATION OF HIS BEING--Jesus is not merely an image or reflection of God, because the Son is Himself the Incarnate God. He is the absolutely authentic representation of God (John 14.9; Colossians 1.15).
V. ŇSUSTAINING ALL THINGSÓ--Christ is not like Atlas, the mystical Greek god who held the world on his shoulders. The Son dynamically holds together all that has been created through Him. (Colossians 1.17).
VI. PROVIDED PURIFICATION FOR OUR SINS--Through His redeeming death on the cross (e.g. Sin after Freud was reduced to neurosis; sin is now only a disease in our nation of victims. An 18-year-old girl killed a child she was caring for. The case will soon be visible in the court and on media. Her lawyer claims that she was not responsible because she just had an abortion and could not be guilty of criminal charges. Sin has been reduced to disease and removed from the ChurchŐs hands and placed before lawyers, judges (courts) and doctors.
VII. HE SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MAJESTY IN HEAVEN--This indicates that His work of redemption is complete and that Christ is actively ruling with God as Lord over all (Hebrews 1.13; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; I Peter 3.22; Mark 16.19) In the Dead Sea Scrolls Michael the Archangel was expected in the time of the Messianic kingdom--(no angel could claim the name Son; Christ reigns; angels minister as those sent to serve). ChristŐs superiority to angels is documented by seven Old Testament quotation in Hebrews 1.7-14.
James D. Strauss