God only knows! It’s true. Take the book of Hebrews. This letter takes on the task of explaining faith.
The date of this writing is somewhere around AD 67-69 during the onset of the Christian persecution under Nero ’s madness before the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. Scholars do not agree who wrote it. It is commonly thought as being in the autograph of Paul, but the writing style (higher Greek) isn’t one he usually wrote. Other considerations of who the inspired authorship extends to his circle, to either Barnabas, Apollo (who was mentored by Priscilla and her husband, Aquila) and even Priscilla. A female author is feasible (she could have written in the masculine tones) because in that era it would not have been considered to be put in canon if it were so. It’s the only book in the NT without an overwhelming consensus of who wrote it. God only knows!
The author of Hebrews was most certainly a Jewish Christian who knew their audience. He was not unsympathetic to the Jewish Christian thought process and knew they were possibly contemplating returning to Judaism for fear of persecution that was befalling onto the new Christians. It’s been noted that this letter reads more like a sermon, perhaps is an oral presentation that was recorded for others to read in their churches and house meetings. Making a commitment or declaration of belief about Jesus the first century was more than a faith statement, it would mean a matter of life or death.
There is a lot of reference in Hebrews to the book of Leviticus’s sacrificial system. This letter is written to a Hebrew audience who fall into one of the following three camps: the Jewish Christian believers, unbelievers who were only intellectually convinced and the unbelievers that were attracted to Jesus, heard the message but still lack total conviction (chapter 9). Enough time has now passed that it was a second or third generation since Jesus who heard the Christ-event message. It was customary for their Christian introduction and edification to start slowly, like a babe receiving liquid (milk) first and not meat (Heb. 5:12) for their spiritual nourishment in the first steps of their faith walk. Hebrews 9:28 is a reminder of Jesus’s return with another verse further down the address list, Hebrews 10:24-25, saying, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
The writer of Hebrews admonishes the Jewish Christians not to turn away from their only hope of salvation. One scholar surmises that the letter was written by a Hebrew to other Hebrews telling the Hebrews to stop acting like Hebrews. The never-ending sacrificial system in the OT was inadequate. Hence Jesus, the final sacrificial lamb, is the culminating and superior atonement for all who accept him in faith. The new covenant about Jesus is the “superior” way (Heb. 8:6). I don’t diminish the Old Testament as it is our Christian heritage, and it leads to the new covenant. It is part of the progression in preparation for Jesus Christ.
For the Jew, Abraham revealed the nation for a Messiah. Through Jacob, the tribe of the Messiah is depicted. Through David and Isaiah, we see the family of the Messiah. Micah tells us the town where He would be born. Daniel tells of the coming of Jesus. Malachi tells of a forerunner to precede the Messiah. In Jonah, His resurrection was symbolized in the three days. Every one of those parts plus more from each book of the Bible come together to point to Jesus Christ (Col. 2:9-10). The Bible is a circular story, woven into a divine tapestry. Or perhaps another metaphor is Jesus can be seen through the spiritual kaleidoscope viewfinder of complex mirrors, shapes, event, and circumstances.
It was extremely difficult for the Jews to accept the superiority of the new covenant, over the old, which can be true for all of us when it comes to transitions. Once as the butt of a joke, I was told a lie. It was innocent enough of a falsehood that even when I figured out it was a joke, I keep reverting back to it as if it was a truth. I so believed the tease that it was part of my reference to whom this person was. I was surprised how often I had to intentionally remind myself and reverse my train of thought, remembering it was a false prank. The Old Testament is not a joke or a lie; however, I share this antidote to give a minor comparison to the concept of wholeheartedly believing something and then to discover a new revelation that shines a light on it, takes faith to adjust the new belief.
The Gospel is a new build on an old idea. Some think the gentiles don’t’ have the problem of previous teachings because they had never been a part of the old Jewish ways. It needs reminding that most of the New Testament authors were Jewish, to begin with, so that is the backstory to it, giving context and richness to the message of Christ. Repeatedly the Bible shows the Israelites had lost the knowledge of the true God often enough, an example of what all of humanity does. They resorted to worshipping idols. Their idols may have been statues, but people are still people, and today idols can be found or made by titles, by the status of income, or whatever occupies the heart. Today, how we spend personal finances and a look at our planning calendar is a good indicator where our heart is, what is important to us.
What is faith? Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” St. Mother Teresa said to be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies. We only need faith the size of a mustard seed (Matt. 17:20) so says Jesus. “ Faith makes all things possible…love makes all things easy” says Dwight L. Moody.”
“Faith does not eliminate questions. But faith knows where to take them” says Elisabeth Elliot. One definition of faith is “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. In this chapter (Heb. 11) is where the entrance in Hebrews is to Faith’s Hall of Fame with the listing of names of the Old Testament faithful.
I think about the faith of the patriarchs which seems almost unfathomable at times. They saw God’s miracles. Musician Peter Mayer challenges in his sacred creation song Holy Now, not to look for miracles but try and finding where there isn’t one.
However, the Old Testament endless sacrificial system could never make them holy or good enough to enter into God’s presence. For current-day believers, we don’t shine in much of a better light of having to repeatedly confess our sins (sometimes the same ones which were forgiven in our first confession) or to trust in God’s process. Maybe it’s because we have gotten used to the immediacy of obtaining our desires thanks to technology and medicine today that if God’s answer to our prayers is not as instantaneous, we waver, believing it did not or will not happen.
One of the overwhelming blessings of knowing and trusting Jesus is that he is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). In this letter, the intended audience is beyond the second generation of Christians. Like them, none of us have seen Jesus. Like them, we believe in Him (1Pt. 1:8). It’s an organic living hope for and in us.
Is there anything God can’t do? Reading the Sacred Scrolls shows God’s long-suffering and patience never tires out (Isa. 40:28) when working with man. God cannot be contrary to His own character and nature. Go back to Titus 1:2, where it says He cannot lie. He cannot sin because He is holy (cf. Isa. 6:3; 1Pt. 1:16). He cannot overlook sin because He is just. Christ paid the penalty for sin; He is now able to forgive those who will turn to Him (cf. Isa. 53:1-12; Rom. 3:26). God is unchanging, eternal, unlimited, majestic, in all knowledge of wisdom, love, and mercy. When life spins out of control, that is of great comfort to know.
I do not have the kind of faith that some have to be their own person without God. Gordon Liddy (legally convicted in the Nixon Administration’s Watergate scandal that led to the president’s resignation) said, “I found within myself all I need and all I ever shall need. I am a man of great faith, but my faith is in George Gordon Liddy. I have never failed me.” After his shorten prison sentence Liddy capitalized (a testimony to the sign of our times) on his arrogance and went on the speaking circuit.
I can only go so far before I quickly come to the end of myself, to my limitations. But with God, I can go further, and the future becomes limitless. It has taken me awhile to quit trying to always steer my story or to not take the steering wheel from God. When I sit on the passenger side and go where God, the master pilot or driver takes me, I find the adventure exceeds my expectations. Life becomes more extraordinary in its ordinary when God’s the pilot.