Eventually the reason came to light. Nearly a hundred years before, the Empress at the time - the Czarina - had been delighted to find some flowers unexpectedly in bloom. Deciding to pick them herself, she called a guard from the entrance to the palace and told him to make sure the flowers were not disturbed. She went off to find a knife to cut the flowers. However, she was called to other duties, and flowers and guard were forgotten. But the guard stuck to his post. A hundred years later his successors were still guarding the spot - faithfully but pointlessly.
As Christians we can so easily slip into the same kind of pointless faithfulness. Too often movements have been started by people of faith and vision - and later continued with diligence and deadness. Continued, not because a new generation is fired by the same faith and vision, but because an activity has become the "accepted thing".
We have been plagued with the myth of relevance - seeking this elusive quality in politically-correct theology, in experimental worship, in activism on behalf of anyone seen to be "marginalised"
Yet relevance is not to be found in the "latest new thing", but in the presence, purpose and power of God. Our lack of relevance is directly proportional to the lack of this vital experience of God in the life and mission of his people.
In Hebrews 13.8, we read, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever". This does not mean that he is static and useless, nor that he is outdated and obsolete. It is an affirmation of his relevance and power.
Note the immediate context of these words. They were being called to a life of genuine love - expressed in hospitality, care for those suffering in prison, faithfulness in marriage, trust in God to supply their needs Just as Jesus had died outside the city, so they were to live "outside the camp", not depending on the security of a permanent earthly city.
In this the early Christian leaders had set them an example to follow - "Remember your former leaders, who spoke God's message to you. Think back on how they lived and died, and imitate their faith" (v. 7).
Yet almost by contrast they are not simply to emulate past leaders - leaders who in fact lived by faith in Jesus Christ. They are to "imitate their faith" - trusting for themselves in Jesus Christ, not just as the model par excellence from the past, but as their present Saviour whose presence and power are always available now, as the coming Lord whose glory will be fully seen at the end of time. To quote from the previous chapter, "let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends from beginning to end" (12.1b-2a).
These words sum up in a broad sense the view of Christ that is so clear in the whole of this letter.
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were under strong pressure to return to Judaism. However, to give in to this pressure would in fact be a denial of their Jewish heritage. At every point, that heritage was looking forward to, and received its completeness in, the Person and Work of Jesus Christ. To forsake Christ and return to Judaism would be to forsake the one who is the crowning fullness of the revelation and purpose of God. It would be to accept what was merely the foreshadowing and preparation for his coming and ministry. Judaism was by nature incomplete, since it could only find its completeness in him!
Consider God's self-revelation "to our ancestors many times and in many ways by the prophets" (1.1). It had come in many instalments and by many different methods, but it was God speaking - the message was valid and disobedience led to due penalty (2.2). God's self-revelation doesn't end with the prophets' words, however - "but" God has now spoken "in these last days", not now in part or by a merely prophetic messenger (as in the Old Testament), but in one who is both Son and heir, in whom the glory and nature of God are clearly seen (1.2-3). Having now received this "Word", we must now "hold on all the more firmly" - it has come from the Lord - "How, then, shall we escape if we pay no attention to such a great salvation?" (2.3)
Consider Moses, that great law-giver and leader of the Israelites. Under him they truly became a nation. Both Christ and Moses were absolutely faithful to God (3.2). Yet, great as Moses was, he was but a servant of God whereas Jesus was his Son. Moses was part of God's house (God's people) as a faithful servant, whereas Jesus is set alongside God, "the Son in charge of God's house" (3.3-6).
Consider Moses' successor, Joshua - that man of faith who led the people in to occupy the promised land. The rebellious generation who died in the wilderness were unable to enter God's promised "rest". But even Joshua was not able to give those who entered the land with him "the rest that God had promised" (4.8-10). For us, as for them, this rest still lies ahead (vv. 9, 11), and we, like them, are to pursue our earthly lives as God's pilgrim people who have a permanent home - but not yet and not here. Who then is God's Joshua to lead us there? It is Jesus, "the one who leads them to salvation" (2.10b), the "forerunner" who has gone on ahead on our behalf and has entered the very presence of God (6.20), the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (12.2). The old Joshua had spied out the land and later led his people through to victory. Our heavenly Joshua has gone ahead. By faith in him our entry into God's rest is certain. He leads us throughout our pilgrimage.
Consider the Levitical priesthood - ordained of God to represent the people in presenting their gifts and sin-offerings to God (5.1-4). This priesthood was of necessity limited because of the sinfulness of the priests (v. 3) and because of the limitation of the offerings. But Christ is the perfect priest forever, prefigured by Melchizedek whose priesthood depends, not on human genealogy (7.3), but on the appointment and power of God (7.15-16).
Consider the old covenant - that sacred contract binding the Lord and his people. The old covenant was conspicuous by the number of times it was broken. In Jeremiah 31, the Lord had promised a new covenant to replace it. In Christ the new covenant has already come. The first is obsolete "and anything that becomes old and worn out will soon disappear" (8.13).
Consider the tabernacle - God's tent pitched in the midst of his people's tents, the reminder of God's promise to be with them and be their God. Just as the old covenant was ready to disappear, so too God was providing a new tabernacle - described in 8.2 as "the real tent which was put up by the Lord, not by human hands." In 9.11 we read that "The tent in which he serves is greater and more perfect; it is not a tent made by human hands, that is, it is not a part of this created world." This tabernacle is not some heavenly sanctuary, but the body and person of Christ himself (note 9.11,12 and 10.19,20). In John 1.14 the literal sense is "The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us." Jesus Christ is the God-with-us - earlier symbolised by the tabernacle.
Consider the sacrifices of the old covenant - needing constant repetition, unable to cleanse the conscience. But Christ has presented "once and for all" the perfect sacrifice of his own blood to secure "eternal salvation" (9.12). "The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a burnt calf are sprinkled on the people who are ritually unclean, and this purifies them by taking away their ritual impurity. Since this is true, how much more is accomplished by the blood of Christ! Through the eternal Spirit he offered himself as a perfect sacrifice to God. His blood will purify our consciences from useless rituals, so that we may serve the living God" (9.13-14).
Consider the great men and women of God and their lives of faith (ch. 11). For them life was a pilgrimage. They continued trusting God, even though his promises to them were not fulfilled during their sojourn on earth. But the goal of God's purpose in the history of his people has now been achieved in the coming of Jesus "on whom our faith depends from beginning to end" (12.2).
Consider all these things. Not one of them finds its completeness apart from Jesus Christ. To forsake him is to walk away from the crowning fullness of the revelation and purpose of God. It is to accept the preparatory and transitory instead of the one of is "the same yesterday, today and for ever" - the one who is the grand climax who can never be superseded, the one who is always relevant because he is God's final Word.
Jesus Christ is relevant. Apart from him, all our efforts are irrelevant. Neither traditional nor contemporary forms of doing things can be relevant unless they flow from him and point to him. Let us believe in him! Let us follow him! Let us boldly share him with others!
"God has raised from death our Lord Jesus, who is the Great Shepherd of the sheep as the result of his blood, by which the eternal covenant is sealed. May the God of peace provide you with every good thing you need in order to do his will, and may he, through Jesus Christ, do in us what pleases him. And to Christ be the glory for ever and ever! Amen" (13.20-21).
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