Wednesday, February 11, 2015

HEBREWS 4:14-5:6 and Matthew 10:1, 5-8

Hebrews 4:14-5:6 > 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.1 For every high priest taken from among men is appointed for men in thingspertaining to God, that he may offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can have compassion on those who are ignorant and going astray, since he himself is also subject to weakness. Because of this he is required as for the people, so also for himself, to offer sacrifices for sins. And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was. So also Christ did not glorify Himself to become High Priest, but it was He who said to Him:
“You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.”
As He also says in another place:
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek”.

Matthew 10:1, 5-8 > And when He had called His twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease.
These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying: “Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead,[a] cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.

Today’s readings, Hebrews 4:14-5:6 and Matthew 10:1, 5-8, give us a dynamic vision of our relationship with the incarnate Son of God, Jesus, who is, at this present moment, our High Priest, and more specifically, the High Priest of our confession (Hebrews 3:1, 4:14). We “see” the person and work of Jesus Christ displayed for us. First, as “the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages” (Creed), when the Father says, “Thou art my Son, today have I begotten thee” (Hebrews 5:5; Psalm 2:7); secondly as the “One” who fulfills the Aaronic priesthood (Hebrews 5:1-4; Exodus 28:1); and thirdly as the “One” who assumes and fulfills the Old Testament priesthood of Melchizedek, being both a Priest and a King (Hebrews 7:1-21; Genesis 14:18-20). Jesus is also known to us as “the Apostle…” (Hebrews 3:1). Apostle means “sent one”. Jesus was sent by the Father (John 6:44; 1 John 4:14), and in turn, He sent the Twelve Apostles. And for what purpose did Jesus send the Twelve Apostles into the world? To carry on His ministry of preaching the Kingdom of Heaven, and healing the sick, cleansing lepers, raising the dead, and casting out devils (Matthew 10:7, 8). Let us consider “four truths to live by” that I have drawn from today’s readings.
Four Truths to Live By
Truth #1) We must “see” Jesus. We must envision, that is, see with our mind’s eye, the person and work of Jesus ever on-folding. “Seeing Jesus”, as St Basil’s Divine Liturgy enumerates, “having in remembrance his saving Passion and life-giving Cross, his three days’ burial, and Resurrection from the dead, his Ascension into heaven and Session at thy right hand, his Father and God, and his glorious and terrible Second Advent”. The person and work of Jesus Christ must ever be flooding our consciousness. The “prayer before the Gospel” in the Divine Liturgy reads, “Open the eyes of our mind to the understanding of Thy gospel teachings”. As we receive with meekness, the implanted word of God which is able to save our souls (James 1:18), let us pray that the Holy Spirit helps us to “see” Jesus. As the writer of Hebrews instructs us, “Seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…consider him (Jesus) that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest you be wearied and faint in your minds” (Hebrews 12:1-3). It is by “looking unto Jesus”, and as we “consider Him”, that our minds stay strong in the Lord. So, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (Hebrews 4:14).
Truth #2 We must hold fast to our confession of faith in the face of every temptation. Because Jesus is  our high priest, and not a sinful fellow human being as in Aaron and his sons, we have a high priest who can not only sympathize with our weaknesses, but because he never sinned, is able to help us by granting to us power over sin (Hebrews 2:16-18). In this life we will face temptations, tests, and trials from dark forces that are designed to defeat us in the spiritual warfare that we are moment-by-moment engaged in (2 Timothy 2:3, 4; Ephesians 6:10-18; 1 Timothy 6:12; 1 Peter 5:8-10). These dark forces, demons and wicked spirits, desire to wrest our grip away from the faith that we are faithfully holding on to. St Paul exhorts, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions* which you have been taught, whether by word (oral transmission), or our epistle (written text) (2 Thessalonians 2:15; 1 Corinthians 11:2). The Apostolic Faith that has been handed down to the faithful must be tightly held in our spiritual hands. Jesus gave to the Twelve Apostles His word, His truth, his gospel teachings, and His healing ministry (Matthew 10:1-42; John 17:1-26). This Faith was then delivered to the saints that followed the Twelve Apostles (Jude 3), and the Orthodox Church has preserved this Faith through the centuries by the power of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22; 1 Timothy 3:15; John 16:12-16).
Truth #3) We must come boldly to the throne of grace every time we are tempted. Every step of the way, that is, every step in our journey here and now in the midst of a twisted generation we must cry out to the Lord as we are reminded in Great Vespers, “O Lord, I have cried out unto Thee, hear Thou me. Give ear to the voice of my supplication, when I cry out unto Thee (Psalm 140[141]. “What “throne of grace” is he speaking of? That royal throne concerning which it is said, “The Lord said unto my Lord, “Sit on my right hand” (Psalm 110:1*). What is “let us come boldly”? Because “we have a sinless High Priest” contending with the world. For, says he, “Be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33); for, this is to suffer all things, and yet to be pure from sins. Although we (he means) are under sin, yet He is sinless. How is it that we should “approach boldly”? Because now it is a throne of Grace, not a throne of Judgment. Therefore boldly, “that we may obtain mercy,” even such as we are seeking.” (St John Chrysostom, Hebrews, Homilies 7) This boldness we have been given is a liberty, a freedom, that comes to us who are cleansed by the blood of Jesus, whose sins are washed away. We can come boldly to God, to the throne of His Grace, as it is written, “Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus…and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast our confession…” (Hebrews 10:19-23). Take note, that during the Divine Liturgy we pray, “And vouchsafe, O Master, that with boldness and without condemnation we may dare to call upon thee, the heavenly God, as Father, and to say: Our Father, who art in heaven…”. This should be our mindset as we travel the inner path, battling the thieves hiding in the bushes of our thoughts; God loves us, accepts us in His Son, and hears our cries. “There is therefore now, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). We can rest assured that God loves us, and accepts us in the Beloved (Ephesians 1:6), and that “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love. We love Him, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:16-19).
Truth #4) We must obtain mercy and acquire grace to help us every time we are tempted.  Our text is teaching us that with every temptation we are in need of help. And help is available to us through the high priestly ministry of Jesus. If we will take God at His word (Matthew 11:28-30), and come to Him boldly, to the throne of grace, in our moment of need, we will receive two blessed realities. First we will obtain mercy. Mercy is the critical thing, and mercy is the most urgent need of the disciple of Christ. Because we are sinners, who are wounded in our souls, diseased, and brokenhearted, we must continuously be repenting, and crying out like the Publican, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Especially at the moment of temptation, when we are likely in a weakened state, we are need of mercy. Mercy is not understood in a judicial sense, that is, that you are not receiving judgment as you deserve. Mercy is to be understood in a medicinal sense, that is, you are on the receiving end of God’s steadfast love. Mercy (eleos in Greek which has the same root as the old Greek word for olive oil) is the healing oil poured into the diseased wounds of our souls (Luke 10:25-37). By obtaining mercy, that is, by receiving the healing balm (Jeremiah 8:22) for our souls, we can overcome the temptations that our weaknesses make us susceptible too (James 1:12-15). This is why we pray “Lord have mercy” with such frequency in the Divine Liturgy. And why we are encouraged to often repeat the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”. Secondly, we can acquire grace, that is, the divine energies of God Himself. This uncreated grace, will cause us to be supernaturally strengthened in the inner man (Ephesians 3:16). God imparts that part of Himself, that is, not His essence (nature), but His energies, to the child of God who calls upon Him in his time of need. God has elected to communicate his divine energies with His creatures that are in Christ Jesus (2 Peter 1:2-4).
My brothers and sisters, let us see Jesus in all His many and glorious offices; as our teacher; as our healer; as our one and only mediator (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 8:6); as our intercessor (Hebrews 7:25; Romans 8:34) and advocate (1 John 2:1); as our High Priest and Chief Minister/Liturgist (Hebrews 8:1-6); as our Chief, and Good, and Great Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4; John 10:14; Hebrews 13:20); as the Bishop of our souls (1 Peter 2:25); as the Captain of our salvation (Hebrews 2:10), and as our Great God and our Savior (Titus 2:13); Jesus is our Lord!!! By keeping our eyes upon Jesus through prayer and meditation on His word He will help us to hold fast to our confession of faith regardless of the severity of the enemies attacks. The more we grow in the knowledge of Jesus, the more we will increase in confidence and faith, and the more boldly we will trust our souls to the throne of Grace. In the Divine Liturgy six times we pray, “Help us, save us, have mercy on us, and keep us, O God, by thy grace”. This little prayer sums up all that I am attempting to explain. Let us attend, let us pay attention to what we are praying as we stand in church. May the Scriptures come alive to us as we pray the Divine Liturgy. And may the Divine Liturgy come alive as we grow in the knowledge of the Holy Scriptures.
*Tradition – Scripture speaks of two types of tradition: human tradition and apostolic tradition. On the one hand, Christians are warned not to be deceived by the “traditions of men” (Colossians 2:9; Matthew 15:2, 3; Mark 7:9). On the other hand, Christians are commanded to “keep the traditions as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2; Philippians 4:9; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:2; John 16:13; Galatians 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:20; Jude 3). (A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, pg. 646)
**Psalm 110:1 is the most quoted Old Testament verse of Scripture found in the New Testament; Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42; Acts 2:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:13. Also Romans 8:34, 1 Peter 3:22, and Ephesians 1:20 make reference to Christ at the right hand of God.
Please send questions to:
Fr. Bogdan Bucur 
Fr Stephen De Young
Michael Simmons
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  1. "Mercy is not understood in a judicial sense, that is, that you are not receiving judgment as you deserve. Mercy is to be understood in a medicinal sense, that is, you are on the receiving end of God’s steadfast love." Enlightening and comforting thought. M.K.

    1. The Truth is beautiful! God's steadfast love is beautiful!