God's House

Text: Hebrews 3.6
In a number of homes we see a plaque which reads, "Christ is the Head of this house, the unseen Guest at every meal, the silent Listener to every conversation". By these words the home is declared to be Christian.

Of course, for the words to have real meaning they must be matched by a corresponding manner of life. They words would be both meaningless and false if regard is not given to the will of Christ in the decisions and affairs of the family, if meals are riotously gluttonous affairs, if conversation is sharp and biting. The plaque is a mockery unless its truth is acknowledged by a particular quality of life.

The writer to the Hebrews in affirming that "we are God's house" has a definite quality of life in mind. It was not enough that a person liked to regard himself as a Christian or felt that this was a nice expression - "we are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope". But what is God's house? and what are the moral demands on those who constitute God's house?

God's House

"We are God's house". The phrase, "God's house", was often used to refer to a place of worship, such as the temple. The meaning here, however, is that "we are his household". This is a family word. One writer has said that the condition of being God's house "has nothing to do with human ordinances in the church., however useful they are in expressing the inner genius of various groups. There is nothing here about apostolic succession, valid sacraments, a well-decorated clergy, purity of doctrine, a socially correct membership, large endowments, imposing buildings, inspiring music, or brilliant preaching".

The Israelites are described as God's house. He had chosen them and called them. He had entered into covenant with them. Through his divine action they had become his people, his house - but as such they had to show his character among the nations of the world. "I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy... For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt, to be your God; you shall therefore be holy, for 1 am holy" (Lev. 11.44-5).

Here, perhaps, we may be inclined to see some stern demand of legalism, but we should remember that the idea of the Fatherhood of God in relation to his people was developed in the Old Testament - "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him" (Ps. 103.13). Beside the picture of God's people, there are other pictures in the Old Testament describing the relation of God to His chosen people, but it is this aspect on which our attention is focussed here. In the book of Numbers (12.7), Moses had been described as having a special relation to God in conveying God's will to His people. Moses was his servant, a servant entrusted with all his house.

But although the people of Israel were the house of God, a distinction is made by the writer of Hebrews. God had called and chosen a new people, with whom he had entered into a new covenant. Moreover, Moses, faithful though he was, was nonetheless but a servant in God's house - the mediator of the new covenant, Jesus Christ, was over God's house as Son. The work of Moses is not depreciated here - indeed, in his faithfulness he is compared to Jesus Christ himself - but he was merely a faithful servant within the household, a person who did God's will in the affairs of the household - a servant who was used greatly and who fulfilled a key place in the old covenant, yet a servant. Christ, however, is seen as superior, both in the function he has fulfilled in God's house and in his nature and status.

Who is this Jesus? - the Apostle, the one sent by God to do his will; the High Priest, establishing and maintaining our right standing before God; the one who built the house, as God's agent; the one who is in fact Son over the house. What did he do?

Down by the Lake Gennesaret we see two brothers mending nets, fishermen. The one is a rough old salt with a hasty tongue. The other has shown his deep religious convictions in following the prophet from the wilderness of Judaea, John the Baptiser. Jesus calls, "Follow me" - they leave all and follow him. Nearby are two brothers, working in their father's fishing business, "Follow me" - they leave all and follow him. Or in the customs office of a Galilee we spy a tax collector, member of a hated group in society, traitors to their fellow-countrymen - shrewd, sharp and shifty. "Follow me" - he leaves everything and rises and follows him.

They follow him, hear him, watch him. This is no ordinary man - sick are healed and the dead raised, even the forces of nature obey him - "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God". But now, he seems determined to go to Jerusalem. The fool! Can't he see what lies ahead, in that city of his bitterest enemies? There's the puzzle - he seems to see just that, and still goes on!

The city greets him with wild enthusiasm, but as he refuses to be crowned king and head a military revolt popular opinion is stirred against him. He is crucified as a criminal on false charges by permission of a Roman judge who finds no fault in him.

But the story of this amazing life cannot end there - he rises from the grave and appears in their midst - not a gloomy spectre but their victorious Lord! But more, he fulfils his promise to send upon them God's Spirit - a promise which they realise is for all, near and far, a promise as all-inclusive as God's call. And in the power of the Spirit they go out declaring the mighty works of God.

Jew and all, Peter must have seen his own words as applying to himself - "you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that you may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were no people but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy" (1 Pet. 2.9,10).

God's house? No cause for human pride - we have not deserved to be his house, we have not made ourselves his house, we are not his house because of some choice of our own. God has made his house through Jesus Christ - through the ministry of his life, through his death for our sin once for all, through his continuing ministry as our great High Priest. A child becomes part of a family and home by the will and activity of his parents, not by his own choice. Yet being part of that family, he must live as part of that family. So too with God's house - if indeed by God's creative act we are his house, then we must continue to live as his house.

The Moral Challenge

"We are his house," says the writer, "if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope." Sometimes we may wish the condition wasn't there - we like to do this with a great number of Biblical texts. However, we cannot take it upon ourselves to rewrite the text to suit our own convenience. It stands written with a condition, this condition - "if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope".

This letter was written against a background of impending persecution. Possibly the recipients were Jewish Christians under strong pressure to return to their former faith. Wasn't Moses the servant of the Lord and the people of Israel the house of the Lord? Hadn't God ordained the sacrifices as the acceptable means of approach to him? Hadn't God set over them the priesthood "to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins" (5.1)? "And", the writer would say, "so he had". But these things were "figures", "copies", "shadows", pointers to greater things to come.

Moses indeed was faithful - as a servant; Christ was faithful as a Son over God's house. The sacrifices could do no permanent work - they had to be repeated continually, while none dare enter the inmost sanctuary except the High Priest, and he only once a year. Christ by his death once for all has secured an eternal redemption and has opened for us a new and living way into the sanctuary. The former priesthood knew indeed the sufferings and temptations of men, but, being sinful themselves, had to offer sacrifices for themselves as well as for the people; Christ knows our sufferings and temptations, though without sin, but belongs to a higher priesthood, an eternal priesthood - "he ever lives to make intercession for them".

But would they in fact be true to Moses by turning back to Judaism? Would they be better than those who, in the time of Moses, had rebelled against God in the wilderness although they had seen his mighty acts of deliverance? No indeed! This desire to turn from Jesus to Moses would be no more a turning back to Moses than was the action of the ancient Israelites, who had Moses and yet did not prove faithful to him. Despite their reverting to Moses, they would only repeat what the Israelites had done under Moses, repeat it in a way that was still worse because Jesus is greater than Moses. By their rebellious unbelief, the Israelites had not entered into God's rest - the promised land of Canaan. Their descendants had entered into Canaan - yet there remains a rest for the people of God into which we shall enter unless we fall by the same sort of disobedience.

How the words of exhortation and encouragement ring out - "pay closer attention", "consider Jesus", "hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope", "take care", "let us fear lest any fail to enter", "let us strive to enter", "let us hold fast our confession", "let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace" - and so we could go on. God has done so much for us in Christ and promises great things yet to be - how terrible if we treat his promises lightly and let them slide, if we fall away into disobedience, rebellion and unbelief!

"We are his house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope". We may feel inclined to say, What a self-righteous attitude to encourage! Yet the Bible nowhere despises confidence and pride, except where they are misplaced. The apostle Paul said, "We glory in Christ Jesus, and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3.3). Or again, "Let him who boasts, beast in the Lord" (1 Cor. 1.31).

In the epistle to the Hebrews "confidence" is set out as a quality which ought to characterise Christians, but always on the basis of God's character and gracious deeds (cf. 4.16; 10.19-23,35). It is the attitude which knows the divine promises and does not doubt their realisation, but presses forward in faith, such faith as God's faithful people in the Old Testament had shown (ch. 11). "Our pride" seems to refer, not to some feeling of pride which we may have, but to the object of our pride. Our lives as Christians are solidly grounded in Jesus Christ. We must hold fast our assurance together with the ground and basis on which it rests, namely Christ, the Pioneer of our salvation, the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess, all that we have in him, his expiation for our sins - all that forms and ever should form the content of our boast and our hope.

We often hear it said that someone in "walking in his father's footsteps". By this it is usually implied that he is entering or has entered the same occupation as his father. It is common enough also for a person to be called "a chip off the old block" meaning that he resembles his father in some way - perhaps in appearance, in outlook, or in manner. These phrases are by no means true of all children particularly with the present-day breakdown of family life. Yet it is true - for good or for ill- that children do pick up mannerisms, habits, attitudes and other characteristics of their parents. The exceptions at least prove to us what we think the rule should be. You know what we say - "I can't see why he should be like that with a father like his!"

Jesus taught very definitely that a person's spiritual parentage would be plain by the life he lived. The Jews thought they were descendants of Abraham, but they did not have the faith of Abraham. By their attitude to Christ, they were showing that they belonged to the devil's family, not to God's (Jn 8).

"We are God's house if we hold fast our confidence and pride in our hope". Do we see ourselves as God's house? How presumptuous if we think there is something of our own merit to boast about! How blasphemous if we are not pressing on in faith, showing by our lives something of the character of our heavenly Father! Do we feel that we are not God's house? - because we feel we are not good enough? - because we have ceased to live by faith and have fallen back to the religion (or irreligion) of our former lives? - because our religion has become centred on outward forms rather than on the inner realities of Christ to which these forms once pointed?

God calls us to reaffirm our faith in Christ, the one whom he sent, the one who is our constant help. God will make us into his house.

This week our attention is to be focussed on home and family. We need Christian families, families where the children in following their parents can learn to follow God, families which are part of God's house. Parents can establish a family, but only the recognised presence and activity of God can make that family a Christian family. The individual's response to God's call will channel the divine grace into our homes, making them indeed Christian homes, where Christ is Head and his presence acknowledged and manifested.

© Peter J. Blackburn, Chapel Hill Methodist Church, 5 July 1964
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the Revised Standard Version, © Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America, 1952.

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