For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.
So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, "You are my Son, today I have begotten you"; as he says also in another place, "You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek."
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (ESV)
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The Easy Way?
Monday of Christmas 1
30 December 2013
Great is the mystery that God should become incarnate of Mary and be born a man among men. In the modern era, our more pragmatic minds easily devise a scheme for our redemption that is more direct and perhaps even easier. We despise what we take to be God's arcane ways of operating. Why all this hiddenness under the form of a servant (Phil 2:7)? We are willing to suggest, even demand, that God just take care of things without the incarnation. He ought to just overlook our sin by an overpowering act of His will, by divine fiat declare us right in His sight and stamp out the death that came into the world through our hands greedy to take divinity into them. We actually operate this way today. When we transgress the moral norms written into the creation by God, we just whine, "Can't we just get beyond all this?" We dream that by a fiat of will we can "Just put it all behind us." Of course, the members of the political class are past masters at this method of just ignoring failure, because they never want to be accountable for their actions or decisions, no matter how bad they were. We tolerate this excuse-mongering because we prefer it in our own lives.
Finally, we cannot sweep any more sin under the carpet. We cannot ignore that we are at fault and are guilty before God and other persons. The fig leaves of our own desires will never satisfy God's wrath because of our sin. The guilt of sin leads to the full stop at the end of life. We try to deny guilt until death parts us from what we truly love. Death should tell us that sin must be atoned for. It cannot be wished away. Wishful thinking is a dangerous mental exercise. At church potlucks caloric intake seems to be heightened, especially for pastors. The cooks often encourage overindulgence by declaring that there are no calories in food prepared for the church. I have often wished that this rule could extend to all food consumed by the clergy. But you can tell by looking at us that this truly is wishful thinking! It is dangerous, indeed deadly. We cannot wish sin away. It is deadly to do so.
Our heavenly Father declined to leave us bound by our wishful thinking unto death. He refused to wish away our sin by divine fiat. For a thing cheaply won is held cheap by those to whom it is given. God is no cheapskate. The most valuable things were exchanged for us that we might be rescued from sin and death. He gave His dearest treasure. His own Son took our flesh. He chose to be burdened by its weakness, sin, subjection to death, and him who holds the power of death (Heb 2:14). We could never just slough off sin like the snake sheds its skin. Not when the cost is so great. It is deadly to do so. In the last analysis, it is deadly to Christ Jesus who as the God-Man became obedient to death, even death on a cross (Phil 2:8). By the incarnation our flesh vindicates and redeems our flesh. The cost is born by Him who is one of us. The price is not cheap. God does not just shrug His shoulders at our sin, "Oh, well, there they go again. What ever shall I do?" No, He plans from eternity that He should hide His divine majesty in the flesh born of Mary. Our flesh has become the agent of our salvation, so that the very flesh overcome by our enemy in the Garden becomes the instrument of our salvation in the wilderness of this world. Let us revel in the wisdom and compassion of God as he discloses the cost of our salvation. For God does not take the easy way.
John of Damascus
"Man was snared by the assault of the arch-fiend, and broke his Creator's command, and was stripped of grace and lost his fellowship with God, and covered himself with the harshness of a life of labor (for this is the meaning of the fig-leaves ). He was clothed about with death, that is, mortality and the grossness of flesh (for this is what the garment of skins signifies). He was banished from Paradise by God's just judgment, and condemned to death, and made subject to corruption. Yet, notwithstanding all this, in His pity, God, who gave him his being, and who in His graciousness bestowed on him a life of happiness, did not disregard man . But He first trained him in many ways and called him back with groans and trembling, by the deluge of water, and the utter destruction of almost the whole race (Gn 6:13), by confusion and diversity of tongues (Gn 11:7), by the care of angels (Gn 18) , by the burning of cities (Gn 19), by figurative manifestations of God, by wars and victories and defeats, by signs and wonders, by many gifts, and by the law and the prophets. For by all these means God earnestly sought to free man from the wide-spread and enslaving bonds of sin, which had made life such a mass of iniquity, and to effect man's return to a life of happiness. For it was sin that brought death like a wild and savage beast into the world to the ruin of the human life.
"But it was fitting that the Redeemer be without sin, and not made liable through sin to death, and further, that His nature should be strengthened and renewed, and trained by labor and taught the way of virtue which leads away from corruption to the life eternal. In the end, He revealed the mighty ocean of love to man that is about Him. For the very Creator and Lord Himself undertakes a struggle on behalf of the work of His own hands, and learns by toil to become Master (Heb 5:8-9). Since the enemy snares man by the hope of being God, he himself is snared in turn by the concealment of flesh, so are shown at the same time the goodness and wisdom and the justice and might of God. God's goodness is revealed in that He did not disregard the frailty of His own handiwork, but was moved with compassion for him in his fall, and stretched forth His hand to him. His justice is revealed in that when man was overcome He did not make another victorious over the tyrant, nor did He snatch man by might from death. Instead, in His goodness and justice, He made him, who had become through his sins the slave of death, himself once more conqueror and rescued like with like, although is seemed the most difficult solution. His wisdom is seen in His devising the most fitting solution to the difficulty."
John of Damascus, An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 3.1
Lord Jesus, You did not take the easy way out of our sin, but embraced what You did not do and bore that for which You were not guilty. Send Your Spirit to us that we might truly repent of our sin and wickedness and believe that our flesh has been cleansed of sin and its wages by Your holy incarnation. Amen.
For Ralph Clements, that the Lord Jesus would keep him in His care and would grant healing and a full recovery to him
For all those who are suffering inclement weather, that they would be kept safe
For all active military personnel, that the holy angels would watch over them
Art: CORREGGIO Nativity Holy Night (1528-30)
© Scott R. Murray, 2013