Monday, May 12, 2008

The Sun [of Righteousness] and the Cloud [of Witnesses]

This week I'm reading and re-reading with my Bible study buddy Hebrews 11 and 12:1-2.

Why not just stop at the end of Hebrews 11? Because the next two verses wrap up neatly the prior chapter. Let's take a look:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
The prior chapter was filled with a great "cloud of witnesses" but in each and every case their faith was in a sovereign God and in His purpose and plan of salvation. The author of Hebrews makes clear that they never realized in their lifetimes the fulfillment of the promise: the coming of the Messiah, but they believed and acted on that belief and it was credited as righteousness.

How much more shall we, having the testimony of the apostles to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, all the more look to Jesus, "the founder and perfecter of our faith"?

To read the prior chapter as a pep talk in faith by looking at the "heroes of faith" would be to "cloud" up the point. The real Hero is Christ, while the "heroes" of chapter 11 are "commended" for their faith but serve us as "witnesses" to the surprassing glory of Christ.

While that point is mostly tacit, the author does draw readers to the hope of Moses in Christ in his keeping of the Passover (vv. 24-28):
By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.
At no other point in this chapter are the words "Jesus" or "Christ" invoked, but in this case, drawing the original readers of Hebrews (Jewish Christians) to the truth that Christ is the Lamb of God, foreshadowed in the Passover. His blood doesn't merely cover sins like that of sheep or goats, His blood satisfies God's wrath and cleanses from sin, as the author of Hebrews made clear earlier in his letter (9:22-28):

22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

And so let us eagerly wait, but await him as ones running towards him joyfully:
12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

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