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2021: Back to Normal, or Better?

When the clock strikes midnight to usher in a new year, celebrations and excitement abound. Many of us might seize the moment and seriously consider the opportunity for a new beginning and make New Year’s resolutions. The most common New Year’s resolutions involve getting healthier, making better financial decisions and striving to make better use of our time.

But ringing in 2021 has been anything but typical. I wonder, given the uncertainty of the past year, did any of us actually make a New Year’s resolution? Potentially, there is a certain amount of fear or concern that 2021 may not provide opportunities to even fulfill a resolution. Rather than making a resolution that involves a different mindset or a changed schedule, perhaps we just want things back to normal? Ahhh . . ., wouldn’t it be nice to go to the store without a mask—at least this is the current required protocol for those living in Northeast Pennsylvania. This is the question I intend to explore with you for a few minutes: do we want life back to normal? Or should we want life in 2021 to be better? The Letter to the Hebrews encourages us to look for “the better” for the new year.

The author of Hebrews admonishes his readers to consider something better, their relationship with Christ. Admonition by the author is not an uncommon occurrence in Hebrews, for he desires to strengthen the discouraged and weak believers of a small community (13:22) so that they might stand fast (4:14; 10:23) in their faith during times of affliction. He writes to a congregation in crisis (10:32-33) pointing them to something “better or “superior,” and that something better is the great high priesthood of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews uses the term “kreitton (better) 12 times, and according to “Louw & Nida’s Greek-English Lexicon,” means “pertaining to being superior to something else in characteristics or function—“better, superior.”[1] There are three uses that are of particular importance for our thinking as we enter 2021, Hebrews 1:1-4; 7:11-28 and 9:23-28.

Jesus is Better than the Angels

In the prologue (1:1-4) of this letter, the author establishes the fact that God spoke through “His Son,” and what God spoke through the Son clarified the intention of the word spoken to the fathers through the prophets. The Son is not only described as God’s final mode of revelation, but He has also been appointed as heir over all of creation, the agent by which God created the universe and the one who made purification for sins (1:2b-3)—God’s final means of redemption. Therefore, He was exalted to the right-hand of the Father. Two reasons support Jesus’ position as heir, creator and redeemer: He is the perfect, visible representation of God, that through His powerful Word carries the universe forward in perfect harmony, and He is better than the angels—for God appointed Him as heir and Son (1:4).

This small introductory paragraph speaks to the sacrifice and exaltation of the Son, and for us, it presents the Son as: the one who provides a once for all remedy for our sin and assures us of a right relationship to God; the one who sustains everything through His Word and assures us that in times of stress and difficulty He too can sustain us; and finally, the Son is the one who sits in the place of chief honor alongside of God, assuring us that He will make intercession for us. Based on this description, Jesus is better than angels who many might venerate.

Jesus is Better than the Levitical Priesthood

In the paragraph 7:11-28 that is steeped in the middle of the author’s lengthy argument presenting Jesus as the superior high priest (5:1-7:28), the author establishes another fact positioning the Son and His priesthood as superior, or better, than the Levitical priesthood (cf. Ex. 28) established through the Mosaic law.

The author’s point is that the Levitical priesthood was insufficient to bring one to God because the sacrifices offered by the priests only covered sins, they did not cleanse one from sin. But another priest who was not after the order of Aaron, rather of the tribe of Judah, and who has an endless life, brought in a better hope that assured quality access to and a relationship with God (7:11-19). Jesus Christ is the great high priest because of God’s oath, not the law and not the line of Levitical priests. He saves completely and makes intercession on behalf of His people; and because His sacrifice of Himself was definitive and complete, a priest no longer needs to administer it daily (7:20-28).

This paragraph states the insufficiency of one priestly office to the superiority of another. It presents the Son as one who offers us assurance that we have an effective and hopeful approach to God that is guaranteed, for Jesus is the security of a better covenant. As a matter of fact, Jesus staked his life on it!  He is also one who saves completely and intercedes continually on our behalf. He is certainly better than the old priestly system.

Jesus IS the Better Sacrifice

In comparison to Jesus the Old Testament sanctuary worship was insufficient because it was established under the ordinance of the first covenant, the Law, and was in an earthly tabernacle (9:1-5, cf. Ex. 25-27). These two elements restricted access to God because only the high priest went in the inner compartment of the temple once a year and did so with blood. And this blood never cleansed the people’s consciences (9:6-10).

But it is Christ who entered the heavenly tabernacle and did so by the means of his own blood (9:11-14), as a one-time sacrifice that is not necessary, nor possible to repeat. It is through His blood then, that our conscience is purged, and our sins forgiven (9:16-22). It is also through Christ’s entrance to heaven, in the presence of God, that not only is He the better sacrifice, but our sins have been removed once and for all (9:23-24). What is more, Christ will come again to bring salvation to those expectantly waiting (9:25-28). The author, therefore, presents the Son as our eternal and effective access to God, while assuring us that we have a secure and better hope because Jesus will bring complete salvation to us when he comes again.

A Challenge for Your New Year, 2021

While a pandemic certainly has impacted our lives in 2020; COVID shouldn’t negatively impact the year ahead of us. Rather it should motivate us to consider something better – Jesus. Stop looking at COVID and whether or not to put our hope in a vaccine. Consider Jesus. As the author begins to conclude his letter, he urges us “to fix our eyes on Jesus,” or “to have a concentrated attention on Jesus” that turns away from all other distractions and focuses on him (12:2).

So why look to Jesus? Because Jesus has endured heartache, pain, suffering – the cross! He’s our example, so, “by all means consider him,” or “seriously think about him,” and do so in such a way that we evaluate and assess our own life with the utmost care (12:3a). Are we focusing on something better that God has already given us – a relationship with Jesus? Or are we too focused on getting back to normal? By considering Jesus, we will not grow fatigued and discouraged; rather we will press on in the Christian life (12:3b). Will you consider something better this year – Jesus?

by Wayne Slusser, Ph.D., dean of Baptist Bible Seminary

 

[1] Louw, J. P., & Nida, E. A. (1996). Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament: based on semantic domains (electronic ed. of the 2nd edition., Vol. 1, p. 622). New York: United Bible Societies.

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