Primitive Christianity Revived, Again
Judith 9 – Judith throws herself to the ground, scatters ashes on her head and cries out to the Lord. This is her prayer:
“[Y]ou have made the past, and what is happening now, and what will follow. What is, what will be, you have planned; what has been, you designed” (9:5).
“See the Assyrians, boasting in their army, glorying in their horses and their riders, exulting in the strength of their infantry. Trust as they may in shield and spear, in bow and sling, in you they have not recognized the Lord, the shatterer of war, yours alone the title of Lord” (9:9).
“Break their violence with your might, in your anger bring down their strength” (9:11).
“Your strength does not lie in numbers, not your might in violent men; since you are the Lord of the humble, the help of the oppressed, the support of the weak, the refuge of the forsaken, the savior of the despairing” (9:11). The numbering of the verses in this book is very chaotic – probably different texts having different orders, so it is not easy to note verse numbers. That is why this is a repeat of 9:11.
“Give me a beguiling tongue to wound and kill those who have formed such cruel designs against your covenant, against your holy dwelling place, against Mount Zion, against the house belonging to your sons. And demonstrate to every nation, every tribe, that you are Yahweh, God almighty, all-powerful” (7:18-19).
Hebrews 10 – The fact that the sacrifices of the Old Covenant were repeated annually is a sign to this writer that they were not successful in eradicating sin, or at least the consciousness of sin. This is where Christ’s sacrifice is seen as superior. It happened once, and it effectuated the elimination of sin once and for all time.
Quoting Psalm 40, the writer notes that God was not pleased with the holocausts or sacrifice for sin that were offered. What God wanted was obedience to His will (10:7). “And this will was for us to be made holy by the offering of his body made once and for all by Jesus Christ” (10:10).
It is probably a good thing to note that the psalm, believed to have been written by David, contains the same perspective we still bring to the whole question of religious practice. What we seek in the rituals is an experience of the “inward” reality of overcoming sin, transience, meaninglessness. Good Jews sought this throughout their history; superficial Jews settled for the routines. I think the language here can make Christians feel a little superior – carelessly superior. If you think you can enter into the “power of God” without some spiritual “work” even as you read that it’s all been done “once and for all” then I think you are not getting it. The writer of Hebrews will emphasize this towards the end of this chapter.
From this point on in history – post-Jesus - we are dealing with a New Covenant. “By virtue of that one single offering, he has achieved the eternal perfection of all whom he is sanctifying. The Holy Spirit assures us of this; for he says, first: This is the covenant I will make with them when those days arrive; . . .I will put my laws into their hearts and write them on their minds” (10:15-17). No more sin offerings are to be made.
Through the blood of Christ we will be able to enter the Sanctuary – through the curtain that is his body.
The generation that lived during the time this book was written did not know how much time would come, how many generations would pass before the end of time would come; we still do not. They saw it all as DONE. Their job as they saw it was just to remain faithful to Christ, and remain perfect in His sight, until the promised end arrived. And it isn’t really any different for us. The END arrives for all of us pretty quickly – as promised. We still must be patient in our faith, and the fact that Christ put an end to all the Old Covenant sacrifices and offerings DOESN”T MEAN believers can assume it’s all been done without any effort.
The writer of this epistle reminds them that if they “fell away” there was no second chance. “If, after we have been given knowledge of the truth, we should deliberately commit any sins, then there is no longer any sacrifice for them” (10:26). It is interesting to remember that the earliest Christians did not think they could “fall away” [deny their Christian faith] and then repent and return to Christ. That is why a good many did not become baptized until late in life. If you fell away after being baptized, that was it – you could not return – even if you fell away because of persecution. Hebrews reflects this severe message.
They are reminded of the vengeance of the Lord at this point – “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31). The writer reminds them of the sufferings believers endured in the early years, and he encourages them to remember that the time will not be long: “Only a little while now, a very little while, and the one that is coming will have come; he will not delay” (10:37).
There is a whole lot of George Fox in this book. In Jesus we have the fulfillment of all “types and figures” of God’s presence that emerged over the centuries of worship; he is both sacrificial lamb whose blood does wash away sin and the obedient servant whose only desire is to do the will of Him who sent him. What my own heart tells me, however, is that this was a community that believed the end of time was very near and that the Son/Sun whose presence did away with all the shadows would not descend again over millennia. But we will not remember this Son if we do not keep a connection with the latter-day “types and figures” that contain His story – rituals, reminders, scriptural narratives, and Christian lives that inspire us.