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Sermon Quotes on Pentecost

RCL Year B:

October 3, 2021

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Highlighted Text: Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12

Summary of the Text

Introduction, 1:1-4:

While Hebrews is an anonymous letter, it is interesting to note that the KJV’s first verse is, “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,” almost as if the translators were trying to mimic the format of other New Testament letters (i.e.- author first) by naming God as the author.  The NASB does this as well, but the Greek actually starts with Polumenws (“many”).  So, while that’s a quirk of some translations, the Greek isn’t quite that bold.

The author of Hebrews—we’ll stick with “anonymous,” but I like the idea of Priscilla and Aquila since they were friends of Paul and would have done some of the fleshing out of his theology with Apollos (Acts 18:24-26)—begins the letter in an intriguing way.  In fact, the introduction almost sounds like the overture to John (John 1:1-18) because it identifies Jesus as being over and above all other sources of knowledge about God and talks about Jesus in the cosmic sense.  Jesus has been “appointed heir of all things” and God “made the universe” through him.  Moreover, the Son “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  That’s high Christology right off the bat.

Even though the book weaves together Hebrew and Greek philosophy and could be “Christology 101” for someone from either background, the statement in 1:1-4 addresses the specific understandings of those with Jewish backgrounds.  Without going into the whole of Jewish history, the author makes a bit of an “e pluribus unum” statement, acknowledging that God did indeed speak in many valid ways but that now He has spoken sufficiently in, through, and as Jesus.  In Acts 18, Apollos is perhaps representative of the many unnamed early Jews who were interested and even enthusiastic about Jesus, but were not quite ready to accept his lordship.

Still, one does not have to be a hesitant Jew to be in that position of, “I love Jesus, but I’m not in love with him.”  One does not even have to know the whole of Jewish history to be confronted by the assertion that God has spoken in lots of ways, but now God has spoken fully and decisively in this one way.  While the “Hebrews” receiving the letter would have had that background and baggage, the point is that Jesus is now the starting point for properly understanding it.  As such, this introduction to Hebrews is also a convenient challenge to our modern-day agnostics and “spiritual but not religious” neighbors who may acknowledge that God exists and is at work, but who are non-committal about the specific ways God has spoken.

While 1:1-4 only affirms the ways presented in Scripture, rather than any perceived and supposed ways God has acted outside of Scripture, following Jesus would turn the listener to the proper understanding, regardless of the listener’s presuppositions.  The challenge in our day, as it was 2,000 years ago, is to compel someone to start with Jesus and then learn or re-learn how Jesus, by being that “radiance of God’s glory,” elucidates all the ways that God has chosen to work and will choose to work.

Exposition, 2:5-12:

After proclaiming the divinity of Jesus, the author of Hebrews moves quickly into the importance of Jesus’s humanity.  Again, while this may be Christology 101, it was part of a methodical and compelling argument for its initial hearers and readers.  In weaving together Hebrew and Greek thought, the author quotes Psalm 8, which reminds Jews of the Hebrew understanding of the cosmos while explaining to Greeks the very real, physical connection between heaven and earth.

The theological implications are vast throughout the book of Hebrews, and the place of Jesus above angels, his condescension to unite himself with humankind, and his—and by extension, our—exaltation in his resurrection and ascension over and above other heavenly beings are important to mention.  Still, in our present context, the multi-cultural and multi-philosophical nuances in Hebrews provide great preaching opportunities for us to address issues of worldview.  We must of course proclaim Jesus in our preaching, but here the author of Hebrews provides an opportunity to consider the opportunity of that proclamation amidst many messages.

In other words, Jesus is an exaltation of creation (as he designed), of humanity (perfected in him), of suffering (completed for us in him), and of vindication (due to him and offered to us).  Hebrews articulates proper theology of Jesus’s dual nature—fully human and fully divine—but it also answers the questions of differing understandings of the cosmos.  From the introduction’s “e pluibus unum” statement to the second chapter’s use of a cosmic psalm to connect God’s majesty in the identical opening and closing verses—verses any discerning Jew of the time would recall—to the very fact of the Son enduring suffering, these two pericopes from Hebrews funnel the mysteries of the world and the problem of suffering into the person of Jesus.  Then, they present Jesus as the answer to questions and the deliverance from that suffering.

Even among a group of believers, these passages provide an excellent opportunity to address the common post-Enlightenment predilection toward dualism (i.e.- the Greek metaphysic that was growing at the time in the form of Neoplatonism).  As Neoplatonism was recovered through the course of Western philosophy, we are prone to accept a division of holy and secular, of divine and human, of things that can be known and things that cannot, and of heaven and earth.  These errors are refuted throughout Scripture, but Hebrews provides a succinct and brilliant exposition of Jesus being the contradiction (in Hebraic thought) and the reconciliation (in Greek thought), to each of them.

In other words, God is not far-off, the Son is eternal, he has truly appeared, and that appearance is consistent with God’s cosmic design.  Moreover, Jesus has corporately undertaken our sufferings and our death, and we are thus invited into his life eternal.  This is a mere reminder for the “Hebrews” to whom the letter is written, and it is an invitation to the Greeks, whose metaphysics still dominate our own.

Word study

Pastors in ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians will recognize 10:24 and its association with the denominational value of “our mutual spurring.”  In v.24, “spur” is the Greek word παροξυσμός, which means “incitement” or “irritation.”  The only other use of this word is the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:39).  While the use in Hebrews 10:24 is obviously more positive and is even translated as “stimulate” by the usually more literal NASB, it is a reminder of the discomfort than can often happen when we live in community and hold one another accountable, or when we try to get one another off our couches and into the world.

Allen Thompson

Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina.  Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.)  His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.

Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music.  He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now.  As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.  

Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).

Sermon Resources

Key Quote

Throughout the Old Testament this was always the idea of a sin-offering – that of a perfect victim; without offense on its own account, taking the place of the offender; the transference of the offender’s sin to that victim, and that expiation in the person of the victim for the sin done by another.

Charles Spurgeon

Superficial views of God and His holiness will produce superficial views of sin and atonement. God hates sin. It is His uncompromising foe. Sin is vile and detestable in the sight of God . . .The sinner and God are at opposite poles of the moral universe.”

Billy Graham

Key Illustration

Covered by the Blood

On a Saturday in September, 2013, one of the most deadly terrorist attacks in history took place in an upscale mall in Nairobi, Kenya. Four Gunman, part of the Al-Qaeda affiliate al Shabab, took the lives of 67 people, with over 200 injured. It was by all accounts a horrible disaster. But one story of the shooting ended up receiving media attention. It was the story of a young mother named Sneha Kothair-Mashru. Sneha was at the mall having coffee with a friend when the gunfire began.

Having dropped to the floor she heard a cell-phone going off near her. Not wanting the gunmen to come closer, she reached under the person next to her to silence the phone. It was at this point that she realized the man next to her was bleeding heavily.

“When I put my hand under him that’s when I realized that this guy had been shot because he was bleeding,” she told NBC News. “He was bleeding heavily. There was a lot of blood there.”

At this point, the woman made a difficult, life-changing decision. She decided to smear the blood of the man on her own body, in hopes that the terrorists would assume she was dead and they would “pass over” her body.

Her grisly camouflage probably saved this woman’s life.

“I’d love to know who he was, because I think his blood protected me, saved my life,” she said.

Stuart Strachan Jr., source material from NBC News

Other passages

Mark 13:1-8 is Jesus’s proclamation on the Mount of Olives that the temple will not have one stone left upon another.  The Hebrews passage simply refers to the curtain, but the point is the same: that the temple and its sacrifices are replaced by Jesus.

Daniel 12:1-3 refers to Michael and the time of distress upon the earth—also in Revelation 12:7-12—and ends with the encouragement to “lead many to righteousness.”

Psalm 16 has some great relevant lines, including “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup” (v.5) and “nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”  This psalm is a miktam about seeking refuge.

1 Samuel 1:4-20 includes Hannah’s prayer and vindication in the birth of Samuel.  Interestingly, Hannah was provoked and “irritated” by other women because she was childless.  This may not quite be the positive spurring to which Hebrews 10:24 exhorts us, but it did compel Hannah to pray within earshot of Eli (and of course of God).

1 Samuel 2:1-10 is Hannah’s prayer of praise, joy, and thanksgiving, and notably includes the line, “The Lord brings death and makes alive” (v.6).

Liturgical Elements

 Call to Worship

Adapted from 1 Samuel 2:1-10*

 My heart rejoices in the Lord;
    in the Lord my horn is lifted high.

 “There is no one holy like the Lord;
    there is no one besides you;
    there is no Rock like our God.

 “The Lord brings death and makes alive;
    he brings down to the grave and raises up.
The Lord sends poverty and wealth;
    he humbles and he exalts.

The Most High will thunder from heaven;
    the Lord will judge the ends of the earth.

“He will give strength to his king
    and exalt the horn of his anointed.”

*Can be arranged to suit the congregation’s tradition

Allen M. Thompson

Prayer of Confession

Lord God, the grace and mercy, that You express to us through Jesus Christ is almost impossible to understand. How, in Your holiness, could You possibly cancel the debt incurred by our sin? But that’s exactly what You have done through the miracle of the shed blood of Christ. You have provided us with the ultimate example of forgiveness. Yet, we often look at our own opportunities to forgive as a duty rather than a privilege. At times, we forgive others with reluctance and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes we “forgive” with conditions. Teach us more about humility, Lord. Help us to show others the same compassion that You have shown us. Everything we have, we have only because of Your mercy towards us. We receive Your gracious forgiveness, Father, and commit ourselves to pass the torch of total forgiveness to others. In Christ’s Name, we pray. Amen.

Allen M. Thompson

Assurance of Pardon

Isaiah 53:1-5

He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Benediction 

Hebrews 10:21-25

Since we have a great priest over the house of God,  

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings,

having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,

not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing,

but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.