Jesus is the supreme messenger sent by God, the Messiah, to be his one and holy Son. Jesus beholds all majesty and authority above all heavenly beings. Jesus is the pioneer of our salvation and the one who sanctifies us. For us to truly understand the role that Jesus plays in the story of salvation we must begin with understanding the role of the Old Testament as the Word of God brought to the people through God’s prophets. Then we must understand the role of angels/demons in the creation order of things. Finally, we must comprehend role of humanity in the story of salvation history.
The epistle begins with an affirmation of faith (1.1-4). The passage reaches back to the Old Testament to grab hold of a foundational truth. Long ago God spoke… the foundation of our faith is belief that God speaks to us. God speaks even today. He has always been speaking to us, but the challenge is to listen closely to his voice. In the past God spoke through many forms angels, voice, weather, events, visions, dreams, and storytelling. Now God speaks to us through his Son Jesus.
When we hear God’s word from the epistle of Hebrews, we are most likely hearing the encouraging words from Paul or one of his disciples – Barnabas, Luke, Silas, Priscilla, or Apollos. Timothy is a companion to the writer and is still active in ministry (13.23).
It seems that Clement of Rome quoted from this writing from 95-96 C.E. So we can assume this letter was written in the later half of the first century. The letter is stylized much like the writing of Moses last sermon captured in what we call Deuteronomy. As we read through the epistle, we discover the writer’s instructions, warnings, exhortations, and encouragements to support the believer’s. There are many uses of metaphors – athletics, agriculture, education, architecture, seafaring, courts of law, etc.
The believers had stalled out in their growth. They were 2nd generation believers who had been baptized and instructed. They had become teachers of the Way. Now they were falling away from the faith, or at least at risk of falling away (6.4-8). The believers had become lax in their attendance (10.25). Their commitment was waning.
These are the words written for believers in crisis who are struggling to maintain their beliefs in a hostile environment. In many ways the epistle is a kind of “life support” for the believers at Rome who heard this message. They were facing death every day because they followed the Name of Jesus. The letter is understood as a letter of exhortation to a church in crisis. The church is in critical condition. They are hurting.
They have been imprisoned, and have suffered the loss of their property (10.34). They have not shed their blood, but they have experienced persecution, hostility, and torture at the hands of their enemies (12.4, 10.33, 12.3, 13.3). And, on top of all the physical troubles, they were publically ridiculed and abused (10.33).
“In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, (Old Testament prophets spoke and wrote only what God gave them)
“…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe (Creator).
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being (created in the image of God the Father without blemish), sustaining all things by his powerful word (Jesus became God’s perfect spokesperson).
“After he had provided purification for sins (Savior/High Priest), he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven (King, being seated meant that his work was finished). So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs (not only is he the supreme being, his name is supreme).” (Heb. 1.1-4)
“It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking. But there is a place where someone has testified: “What are mere mortals that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You made them a little lower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honor and put everything under their feet.” In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them (unseen reality of angels).
“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone (complete sacrifice of God).
“In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered (suffering was necessary for perfection). Both the one who makes people holy and those who are made holy are of the same family (we become children of God). So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters. He says, “I will declare your name to my brothers and sisters; in the assembly I will sing your praises.” (Heb. 2.5-12)
An ancient poet once wrote, “Millions of spiritual creatures walk the earth unseen.” Our culture often seeks to relate to these heavenly beings through various unholy means but for believers we understand that the spiritual realm is not something to be toyed with. It is this time of year that folks across our culture prepare for celebrations that take our focus away from Jesus.
Our passage today discusses the concept of angels – both good angels and bad angels or demons as we read about in the New Testament. John Wesley in his sermon entitled “Of Good Angels” points out the Scripture understanding of such beings in the created order (Sermon #71). Wesley noted that all angels – whether good or bad – are sent to minister to all believers. Angels are all spirits and not material beings like humanity; they operate in an unseen reality just beyond our senses (Psalm 104.4). Angels have great understanding and insight into the things beyond human capabilities. Angels have knowledge of our words and actions in space/time a well as access to our thought life. Angels have access to space/time from the very beginning of created order gathering the knowledge and wisdom of how humanity works as well as God’s salvation plan for they continually have access to the throne room of God. Angels behold astonishing strength even to shut the mouths of lions, destroy families and hold back the winds from the four corners of the earth. Angels protect and guard people and territories (Dan. 10.13). Angels can inquire about harming people (Job 1). Angels are indeed powerful to heal or destroy.
Angels help God’s people by ministering salvation grace. Angels empower humans to overcome evil thoughts and interject the mind of Christ. Angels protect from dangers in this world. Angels care for those who are sick with diseases. Angels interject divine dreams to encourage and guide humanity. Angels protect us from evil people and the snares of the ungodly. Angels provide wisdom and knowledge to God’s people. Angels have great power and influence over God’s created order. God is pleased to give angels charge over humanity for our sake that we might love God better, care for ourselves more, and love our neighbor with our whole heart.
The writer draws our attention to Jesus who is seated in a position with God that is supreme to that of the heavenly beings. The writer points out that God has spoken to our the Jewish ancestry through the prophets. Jesus has been appointed heir of all things on earth and in the heavens – even the heavenly beings must submit to his rule. Jesus shine the glory of God being created in the imagine of God. Humanity is a little lower than the angels but when we believe in God we are seated with Jesus in the heavenly realm to rule along side him over heavenly beings and his created order. For a moment in time God became lower than the angels through Jesus the Son. God narrowed his view – got down on our level – to our perspective.
What is the human condition?
Our fallen nature has been restored to right relationship with God. But it’s difficult to understand that there’s no such thing as standing still in the Kingdom of God. We are either moving toward God or moving away from God. Going on to perfection means that we are continually moving toward an ever-deepening relationship with God so that we are personally maturing and maintaining well-being which causes us to truly love God and our neighbors.
What is Christian Perfection?
When United Methodist pastors are ordained, they are asked an historical questions that John Wesley asked even of himself. That is… “Are you going on to perfection? Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life? Are you earnestly striving for it?” When Wesley asked these questions, he didn’t limit the idea of “going on to perfection” to a select group of people on this earth nor did he intend this experience to happen at the time of death. And, Wesley wasn’t even talking about going to heaven or becoming an angel.
When we think about the Hebrew word “tam” or “tamim” or “perfection,” it doesn’t mean without flaw. Perfection doesn’t mean flawless but a continual experience of personal growth. It draws from the ideal of maturity and well-being.
John Wesley defines Christian Perfection as …loving God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength. This implies that no wrong temperament that is contrary to love remains in the soul – all thoughts, words, and actions are governed by pure love (A Plain Account, 51). Pure love does not exclude infirmities, ignorance, or mistake but these shortcomings are not intentional sinfulness. When someone is living in pure love, there is still need for repentance and the atoning blood of Jesus for our shortcomings. We may make mistakes in judgment and practices, but they are not intentional sins. Christian Perfection is grace that arms our whole self with attitudes and behaviors toward unselfish motives of gain and pleasure. We no longer seek our own desires or plan our own lives, but give ourselves fully to the outward expression of the inward Holy Spirit.
Our aim is pure love in heart and deed. Let us go on with Jesus to attain this perfection in our hearts through prayer, worship, and good deeds toward one another. And, when we make mistakes and fall into wrong thinking that comes from a heart filled with love toward God and neighbor, we repent and grow toward God once more. For we are never standing still in the Kingdom of God. We are either moving toward God or away from him. Let us endeavor to make our paths straight!