St Peter’s Cathedral Evensong
Sunday, 7 October 2018
Dr Baden Teague
Readings: Hebrews 3: 1-6.
Prayer: May the words of my lips and the thoughts of all our hearts
be acceptable to Thee, our Lord and our Redeemer.
Jesus is greater than Moses
The Letter to the Hebrews is an important stand-alone part of the New Testament. It is placed after the Letters of St Paul and before the Letters of St Peter. It has a unique style with a structure similar to a synagogue sermon. It is not clear who the author was. It is an important letter because it lists Hebrew heroes, Hebrew institutions and quotes the Hebrew Scriptures in order to point out that all of the “old” revelations of God have now been fulfilled through “new” and better revelations about God. The old Hebrew truths have been transformed by the Christian truths. And the new expressions about faith and grace are better than the old expressions about faith and law. There is now in Jesus Christ a new freedom that replaces the old exclusiveness and the old inflexibility. The Letter to the Hebrews examines the old tradition as being a preliminary tradition. The “old” has now become greatly extended to all people by being transformed into the “new”, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, The Messiah.
Our reading tonight from chapter three of Hebrews is a good example. This sets out a comparison between Moses, the greatest Hebrew prophet, and Jesus, the son of God. Our text says that Moses is valuable but Jesus is far more valuable. This is because Jesus brings healing and grace which fulfil the Law of Moses. The old law is but the schoolmaster to bring us to Jesus Christ. Moses has not been abolished: rather, the hope of Moses has now been fulfilled. Moses is the servant of God, but Jesus is the Son of God. In Jesus, God is Himself fulfilling what God’s message in the earlier period had been pointing towards. Whereas Moses is the messenger of God; Jesus is God. Let me then read from Hebrews chapter three, the first six verses:
- Jesus was the apostle and high priest of our Christian confession. Jesus was faithful to God who appointed him. This greatly extends the work of Moses who also had been faithful in God’s house.
- Jesus is much greater than Moses. Jesus is worthy of much more glory than Moses. After all, Moses was faithful in God’s house as a servant. But Jesus Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son.
- And we ourselves now are part of this house of God if we hold fast with confidence and faithfulness to accept the promises of God. These promises are our constant hope.
It is in the light of Scripture readings like this that the Christian Church many centuries ago distinguished the Old Testament from the New Testament. The Old Testament is a library of 39 books, all written in Hebrew and all written before the coming of Jesus Christ. But the New Testament is a library of 27 books, all written in Greek and all written after the coming of Jesus Christ. The Hebrew Scriptures, including Moses, are preliminary to the coming of Christ: they point to the future fulfilment of the hope of God. But the Greek Scriptures are the new covenant or the new testimony that sets out the fulfilment of the original hope. Thus, the hope of Israel in the Old Testament has become fulfilled in the Gospel of the New Testament.
At this point there arises a huge potential mistake that some Christians make and which I urge you to avoid. The mistake is this: ‘Because the New Testament is better than the Old Testament, perhaps we only need to read the New and maybe we can discard the Old.’ Well, may I urge you not to make this mistake. Rather I urge you to read every week, every year, both Old and New.
To be quite specific, may I recommend that we all read the book of Genesis every year of our lives. If you haven’t read it recently then sit down this coming week and read the whole book of Genesis. Of course, read all the four Gospels every year as well. But why do I emphasize Genesis? This is the first book of the entire Bible and the first of the five books of Moses. Genesis begins with the two Creation stories, which are positive and distinctively different from all the other ancient attempts to describe the world’s origins. Genesis continues with the sin of Adam, the murder of Abel, the confusion of the Tower of Babel and the destruction arising from Noah’s flood. Genesis then becomes even more essential to read with the exciting accounts of the lives of Abraham, Isaac his son, and Jacob his grandson, leading to the gripping paradoxes in the life of Jacob’s son, Joseph, and his eleven brothers. These 12 brothers became the heads of the 12 tribes that make up the family of Israel. We learn an immense amount about God’s nature and message by simply reading about God’s dialogue with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Time now only allows me to take up one aspect of this Genesis story, and that is the fundamental truth that God is the God of promise and hope. For every generation in Genesis we read that God calls, God promises and God gives hope. Abraham, for example, is called by God to leave his boring and unenlightened home to make a journey. The journey has a beginning, a middle and an end. He is called to make a change and to gain a sense of progress. His destination becomes God’s promise and Abraham’s hope. Abraham learns to trust in God’s promise. His talking with God becomes his inspiration to learn from God. His actual experience of the journey reinforces his faith. He makes mistakes but he learns to handle risks and set-backs. But ultimately he learns about success and sees this as not only his own human endeavour but also the achievement of God. Thus Abraham learns not only faith but also thankfulness. God’s promise becomes God’s covenant with Abraham. Later his grandchildren actually reject the idols which have absorbed all the cultures around them. Instead, they accept the one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. This is the one God who gave them the promises, who gave them hope. In their own life time they went on to experience the fulfilment of many of the promises. This strengthened their hope that eventually all the promises of God would be fulfilled.
We need then to read the whole Old Testament to see how the promises of God work out in practice, and to see too what happens when people become hard hearted and they neglect being in dialogue with God. About 300 years after Abraham, there is the emergence of Moses and his receiving the Law of God which we know as the Ten Commandments. Moses too is called to make a change and to save his people from slavery and to gain redemption. Moses learns a great deal from his dialogue with God.
Ultimately, the learning experience of the people of Israel taught enough of them to trust the one God who gives promises. This trust, this faith lead to a confident hope. And this hope endured despite the later Captivity and Exile. The hope endured and it was finally fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the Messiah, in the healing of God who is the God of forgiveness, resurrection, life and power. This fulfilment was witnessed by Simeon in Jerusalem when Jesus was presented in the temple by his parents as a baby, and we sing Simeon’s song, the Nunc Dimitis, every Sunday at Evensong. When a Christian is asked, “Why do you believe in God?” part of the Christian’s answer is that he fell in love with Jesus and became the follower of Jesus. But the other part of the Christian’s answer is the same as for Abraham and for Moses: “I heard the promises of God and I then somehow gained the faith to believe those promises.” Yes, God can be trusted. I am a believer. The New Testament is essential to know about Jesus. The Old Testament is essential to prepare the way to accept the promises of God.
In conclusion, may I turn back to our reading from Hebrews Chapter 3:
- Both Moses and Jesus were faithful. They had faith in the promises of God. But Jesus is greater than Moses because Jesus fulfils Moses’ hope.
Moses was the servant of God but Jesus is the Son of God.
- Now, for our own part, let us also be faithful to accept the promises
of God. Our hope is in God who empowers the present and enlivens
the future. We hold this hope with confidence because it has
firm foundations in Jesus the Christ. Amen