Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 21 November 2017

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Hebrews 13, verse 12.

Yesterday I mentioned that Jesus was killed, buried, and rose outside the city walls of Jerusalem.  That happened to fulfill Scriptural prophecy.   Being criminally punished outside the city was a common practice in ancient days for a number of reasons.   It dishonored the accused and it accorded them unique, public status to be despised.  It sent a message to the public:   don’t mess with the authorities.   Burying bodies outside the city limits also was a health issue; it still is.   Indeed, removing decomposing corpses from the places where we live is still our practice today; it’s why cemeteries are usually found at or outside the original boundaries of most towns.   But most of all, it happened because God used the lowest among us to perform the highest function.

It gave God “street cred.”  We give great honor, glory, and social status to the pretty things.   That’s the foundation of street credibility.  It’s all about being perceived as “legit,” about being respected, about being able to walk the walk and talk the talk.  On the streets, honor and status are (supposedly) earned, and glory is taken.   In the way Jesus died, He earned real street cred.

So did His house.  The Jewish Temple was one of the great marvels of antiquity.   The Second Temple, renovated by Herod, rivaled any building in Rome, Thebes, Athens, or Babylon for its beauty, architectural wonder, and impact.  The original Temple of Solomon had been the actual “house of God:”   the place where His presence physically resided.   Its location was on the very spot where Abraham had bound Isaac, where Jacob had his famous dream, and where David purchased the threshing floor.  Tradition held that it was even the spot where God first touched earth after creation.   Solomon’s First Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians but was rebuilt as the Second Temple by Zerubabbel.   This Second Temple, however, lacked God’s presence as well as many of the original artifacts (like the Ark of the Covenant) that traced their origin back to Moses.  Those have been lost to the ages.  Still, the Second Temple stood for nearly 600 years, and had been greatly renovated and expanded by Herod the Great just before the time of Jesus.  You would have been able to see it for miles around as it was the tallest building in the city and stood at the top of Mount Moriah (later called Mount Zion).  It’s massive size, glistening gold, and snow white stone would have made it shine brilliantly in both sun and night.

By the time Jesus arrived, the Temple had become the focal point of the Middle East.  It was the focus of Jewish life, the singular place to which Jews made annual pilgrimage.  Jesus Himself would spend much time in the Temple as the building represented God’s promise to His people and His continuing magnificence.    As mentioned, it was the most prominent building in the city, more visible and ostentatious than any of the city’s palaces or government buildings.  Great glory and honor was accorded to being in the Temple and especially to those who worked there and maintained the religion there.

For Jesus to have worshipped and taught in the Temple gave credence to His status as Messiah.   In our time, it would have meant He earned that ‘street cred.’  All through His life, Christ honored the practices and traditions of God’s people, including honoring the Temple.  Repeatedly during His ministry Christ taught at the Temple and challenged the political and ecclesiastical authority of the men who ran it.  Immediately after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus went to the Temple and cleared out the merchants who had set up shop.  He did this to cleanse out God’s home.

And when the conspirators of the Jewish Sanhedrin determined to murder Him, they wanted to do so in a way that would both reinforce their status and power AND consign him to the lowest place in society.   That meant Jesus would die outside the city.   He would be tried inside Jerusalem, but when it came to His actually killing, that was to take place away from the honored Temple Mount.  Christ was crucified on Golgotha, which ancient tradition (even then) held was the burial spot of Adam, the original man; how ironic is that?  How ironic it was, too, that, at the moment of Jesus’ death, the veil on the Holy of Holies was miraculously torn asunder.

What’s the point in all this history?   It’s a sign for us.  It’s interesting that God used human history to give His story honor and credibility but getting wrapped around the archaeology of it misses the central point.   It’s not where God performed His salvation of us but WHAT He did that matters.  The focal point of all human history is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.   It’s the real street cred.  That happened in the places we’ve discussed and was made credible to humanity by the fact that it happened where it did.  Yet it is the resurrection itself – God’s saving atonement of our sins – that matters and not the place where God did it. We study the history of the location to help us better understand the context of the time and place for the life of Jesus.   Yet it is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that is the ultimate street cred on which we all can and should depend.

For further reading:  John 19:17, Ephesians 5:26, Romans 3:25.

Lord, thank You for using these places and events in history to point to Your Son.

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Practical Proverbial, from Hebrews, 12 October 2017

But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.  Hebrews 12, verses 22-24.

One of my favorite Christian songs is “Days of Elijah.”   There’s a particularly good version of it by Twila Paris that’s not saccharin, not too rock & roll, not too corny.   It’s just uplifting, and one of the verses in the song says “out of Zion’s hill salvation comes.”  Look up the geography of Jerusalem and you see that Zion is the hill on which the first and second temple’s were built.   It was literally God’s home address on terra firma.  It’s where the Temple was located, where King David reigned and is buried, where the Last Supper was held, and it’s not far from Calvary.   In contemporary usage, Zion refers to the land of Israel itself, and to the cause of establishing the modern nation of Israel.  Yet in days of old it was where God lived.

That’s a lot to draw from just a few verses.  Then again, Jerusalem has been ground zero for most of human history, and Zion is the spiritual heart of Jerusalem.   There’s a lot to consider with it.

The writer of Hebrews invoked Zion to symbolize heaven made possible by Jesus.   It is the new heaven, the new dwelling place of the living God.   You and I get to go there, to worship in His true temple, to make our home with Him (to tabernacle with Him).   Where Sinai symbolizes our need for Jesus before heaven, Zion symbolizes our heaven with Jesus both here in this world and in the next.  Sinai was a place of power and fear:   Zion is a place where the greatest power in the universe – God’s love – took root and grew.   Sinai was law:  Zion is love.   Sinai was remote:   Zion is connection.

I can hear Twila singing about “righteousness being restored.”

Read, too, about Abel.   The writer recalls Abel, invoking that the sacrifice of Christ means more than the sacrifice of Abel (both the blood of the animal Abel sacrificed as well as his own as the victim of history’s first murder).  Abel gave a representation of divine blood in a sacrifice about his personal faith; Jesus actually gave His own blood as the faith sacrifice for all persons.

Read, too (again) about the firstborn.   Recall the story of Esau and Jacob (or, for that matter, Cain and Abel, or any of the first-born sons of the patriarchs).   Jesus makes us all as if we are first-born.   We ALL get to inherit the best of the family.   We all get to be treated as special because of what Jesus did in dying on that rugged cross.

“These are the days of Elijah declaring the word of the Lord.”   Elijah declared God’s word to an unbelieving world.   You and I get to do the same, thousands of years after Elijah, thousands of years after the Word of the Lord Himself.

Finally, there is the new covenant.   We’ve discussed how a covenant is more than just a contract or an agreement.   It’s a blood oath, a God-affirming vow made in faith and justice.  God had made covenants with humanity all through the age of the patriarchs yet all of them were made to point us to our need for His redemption.   When Jesus came, He delivered that redemption and made it possible for men to speak directly with God.   He restored balance by making the perfect atonement.   He made a path for us to spend both now and eternity in God’s presence.  The Old Testament covenants pointed us to our need for God, yet the covenant made by Jesus points us to God in our lives.  God has always judged all people yet now we get to see His judgment more clearly, more as an act of loving justice instead of punishing vengeance.   We get to see that God’s holy law from Sinai was made perfect by His holy sacrifice from Zion.   That the covenant Jesus made by Zion is one to which we can still be bound today.

Go download Twila’s song.   I guarantee you’ll like it.

For further reading:  Isaiah 24:23, Revelation 14:1, Galatians 4:26, Exodus 4:22, Revelation 20:12, Genesis 18:25, Psalm 94:2, Philippians 3:12,Galatians 3:20, 1 Peter 1:2, Genesis 4:20, Hebrews 11:4.

Lord, thank You for so many messages in so few words.   In these days of Elijah, help me to declare Your Words to those around me.