Good Friday – Epistle

by Bear Wade

Hope For The Human Race
Good Friday
Hebrews 10:16-25
Analysis by Carolyn Schneider

[15And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying,]16″This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,” 17he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. 19Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, 20by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh), 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.


DIAGNOSIS: Letting Go in Hopelessness

Step 1: Initial Diagnosis (External Problem) – Giving Up on Others
Although no one can say for certain who the first addressees of the Book of Hebrews were, it is clear from the contents of the book that they were Christians who had experienced a persecution that was disheartening them (10:32-35). It was the kind of suffering that made some of them give up and stop meeting with one another (v. 25), the kind of suffering that makes a person say, “I’ve lost faith in humanity.” When there is an abuser and an abused, something is wrong with humanity. But, then, why not continue to encourage and support the abused? It seems that those who were giving up on the community had decided that being Christian was not worth laying one’s life of the line. The word from God was that God had crowned human beings with glory and subjected all things to them. But, even the author admits, “As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them…” (2:8). It seemed that Jesus had accomplished nothing by his suffering. Therefore, at best, following Jesus was useless, since it was not at all self-evident that God’s promises regarding humanity had come true in Jesus.

Step 2: Advanced Diagnosis (Internal Problem) – Giving Up on One’s Self
At worst, following Jesus was harmful. Christians were suffering on account of what they were claiming was true: namely, that Jesus had honored humanity to the highest degree. But those who were leaving the community do not appear to be the only ones discouraged. Those who stayed seemed to have concluded that sinning was safer than confessing their hope in the forgiveness of sin (v. 23). Discouraged, they could not bring themselves to brag that somehow they had been “glorified” in Christ. They were sinners. That was all. These demoralized Christians who remained may even have inadvertently precipitated the departure of the others.

Step 3: Final Diagnosis (Eternal Problem) – Giving Up on God
As our author warns, however, when we consign ourselves to sin, and humanity to abuse, then God will be nothing but a menace to us. If suffering indicates only human depravity and divine unfaithfulness for us, then, look out! When the Day comes on which our suffering reaches its peak (as it will for each one), we will be alone and unable to experience God’s salvation (10:26-31).

PROGNOSIS: Holding On in Hope

Step 4: Initial Prognosis (Eternal Solution) – Confidence in God
Our author uses all his persuasive power to show that this kind of abandonment is not necessary. God has not abandoned humanity, and Jesus is God’s faithfulness in person. Jesus is both a sacrifice for sin and a sacrifice for the sealing of a covenant. (Once a year, Jewish people brought animals to the temple to put their sin to death vicariously. The priest would then sprinkle the people with the blood of the sacrifice to mark them as free from sin in front of God. In sealing a covenant, animals were split in half and those making promises would walk in between the halves to acknowledge how serious the consequences of breaking their promises would be.) In Jesus God says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them…: I will remember their sins…no more” (vv. 16-17). For this covenant, God uses no vicarious sacrifice and does not make promises conditioned on anyone else’s response. Rather, in Jesus God remains in the flesh between two other broken human beings hung on crosses at Golgotha (John 19:17-18). God-and-a-human-being in one person, Jesus’ flesh becomes the “curtain” that opens up to allow humans into God’s presence with their consciences sprinkled clean by his blood (vv. 20-22). Pointing to this promise, the writer to the Hebrews says, “Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful” (v. 23).

Step 5: Advanced Prognosis (Internal Solution) – Confidence in One’s Self
This puts a new spin on suffering for those who stand inside the curtain, that is, in Christ. Living with a firm belief that one’s sin is forgiven, and confessing that this is true for others as well, is a living way–even if others respond that it brings suffering. Living with the possibility of suffering is better than living with no relief from sin. When God raised Jesus from among the dead, God raised with him all those who by faith flee gladly into the Holy of Holies through Jesus’ flesh. Faith in the risen Jesus raises humanity up very high. And because Jesus is our high priest, who represents human beings to God, we live in confidence that: “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (11:16). Furthermore, God the Holy Spirit has begun to implant God’s Law in our hearts so that we will no longer prefer sin, even if it seems safer than love (v. 16).

Step 6: Final Prognosis (External Solution) – Confidence in Others
This assurance that our present suffering does not detract from our dignity in any way is not an obvious truth, however. It is one that needs to be continually reinforced. One of the tangible ways it is reinforced is in baptism, where through a community of faith we are brought into God’s name, and God’s faithfulness is declared in the presence of all. Remembering human dignity despite suffering is also why, in the midst of his agony, the Psalmist groans and sings “in the midst of the congregation” (Ps. 22:22), and the author of the book of Hebrews urges mutual encouragement (v. 25). Because we live in the assurance of God’s faithfulness, we need to hold others in honor and inspire each other to love. We do not abandon brothers and sisters in their need, but instead care for them, and allow them, in their turn, to remind us that God has not abandoned us.

Author

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