31.Hiking in Hebrews: Remember Lot’s Wife!

What do you crave at the end of a long day? If you’ve worked hard, especially if you work on your feet, you probably just want to sit down. I sure do. When I get home, all I want is a strong cup of tea and a sit at my computer. My affectionate pets snuggle round me, vying for attention. It’s a special time of day. My work—for today, anyway—is done. I can rest. (Except, as a writer, my second job is never finished!)

 
When Jesus completed his work on earth, he also sat down—at the right hand of God. The Hebrew writer notes this (four times), as do other references in the Gospels, Colossians, and Ephesians. In fact, the only specific mention of Jesus NOT sitting in heaven is during Stephen’s stoning in Acts 7, where Stephen sees Jesus STANDING by the throne, conferring honor and strength to the church’s first martyr. How comforting to imagine Jesus standing for every act of faithful sacrifice!

 
Why is Jesus depicted as sitting? In his case, it’s not fatigue, but because his work is finished. His sacrifice is all-sufficient and compete. Therefore, we can stop striving, stop trying to achieve any sort of righteousness through our own human efforts. In Jesus’ own words, “It is finished.”

 
God REALLY wants us to get this point. We can do nothing to earn or deserve our salvation. But we can show gratitude to God for his perfect gift by choosing to live in ways that please him.

 
Over and over, the Hebrew writer contrasts the endless, bloody, and ultimately pointless work of the earthly priests with the transcendent work of Christ. In chapter eight, he says this:
They {the priests} serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven. That is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded on better promises. (Heb. 8: 5- 6)

 
Copies and shadows: that’s essentially the Old Testament, next to the New. The temple, priests, sacrifices, and even the old covenant were merely shadows of the true spiritual reality found in Christ and in heaven.

 
Imagine if your whole life was spent interacting with shadows. Your spouse is a shadow, your children gray outlines of what children are supposed to be. (I know, some days they might actually seem like this, but stay with me.) Your friends, too: distorted, one-dimensional blobs, impossible to hug or see closely, or truly know. Your interactions would feel hollow, your conversations one-way monologues bouncing into space. After years of shadow-puppet play, you’d long for substance and detail. For reality. For physical counterparts to your own complex physicality. For emotional counterparts to the deepest parts of you.

 
Imagine further: you have no idea what the ‘realities’ are, yet you yearn for something beyond the shadows. Something satisfying. And one day, the shadows disappear, replaced by real people—mind, body, and soul. Your cravings are confirmed. Something far greater has always existed beyond the shadows.

 
In a sense, that’s what the Old Testament priestly functions were. While hinting at something far greater, the pomp and rituals were never meant to last or to satisfy. They were meant to tantalize.

 
You can understand, then, how frustrated the Hebrew writer is with his readers, those who want to return to the old ways, to the shadows. Everything they want and need is found in Christ—yet they want to go back to playing with puppets in the dark.

 
You might relate to this if you come from a religious background, one that focused on externals but missed the Relationship at the heart of Christianity. I certainly can. Going to the mainstream, inoffensive church of my childhood, listening to organ music, watching congregants nod off during the sermon, and attending lukewarm Sunday school classes (from which I remember nothing of substance) did nothing to warm me to Jesus or His kingdom. At 13, I attended the obligatory baptism classes and walked away, knowing any ‘act of faith’ on my part would be a sham. I’d seen only a shadowland of religiosity, and was far more enthralled by the sixties’ counterculture around me than anything I ever witnessed at church.

 
Encountering the real Jesus was a shock—ultimately, a great one. The bland religious activity I’d grown up with had blinded me to the essence of true Christianity. Discovering who Jesus is meant discovering a relationship— the Relationship I’d craved my whole life, without really knowing it. A relationship I was free to explore and develop to my heart’s content—at the cost of discipleship.

 
Imagine if I chose now to return to the church of my youth. If, growing nostalgic for the organ hymns, the padded pews, the 20-minute sermons, and the choir’s weekly performance, I opted to walk away from this Relationship and embrace the fuzzy past.
Because it was comfortable. Familiar. Not challenging. Laced with tradition and memories of long-lost family Sundays*. An easier, non-confrontational road, with little demand on my time or my heart.

 
The same reasons I imagine many of the Hebrew followers were tempted to turn back.
You’d think I was insane.

 
Yet I know people who do this—return to the shadows. Return to liturgy, tradition, and religious ‘respectability’. Choose the supposedly safe path of nostalgia over the rocky trails of following Christ through adversity and trials, the trials he promised to every true follower. Or they return to some other early version of their lives, resurrecting old hobbies and interests**.

 
When I first read Hebrews, many years ago, I was astonished anyone would contemplate letting go of Jesus to return to the Law. How irrational it seemed!

 
Now, watching friends let go of their Relationship for other, older things, I see how it happens. We can grow short-sighted with age, literally and figuratively. For some, turning back to old ways is a quest to reclaim their youth as their lives draw closer to death.

 
Of course, we can’t turn back the clock. But the pull can be strong, and our sight can be short.

 
Are you living in the light, or flirting with the shadows? Jesus, seated at the right hand of God, is avidly watching. His work is finished, and ours is nearly so. Are you holding on?

 
*These Sunday memories aren’t actually great: we always had smoked herring for lunch, accompanied with a heavy and critical dissection of the minister’s sermon.

 

**I’m not knocking having hobbies or outside interests…only if they take over our lives and become idols.

7 replies »

  1. Yes, l agree, living and trusting walking with God thru every trial and challenges makes your belief in God on a personal level. Rather than knowing the Christian traditions. God has made miracles in my life with my parents so close to me now. Plus seeing me thru emergency surgery and major unexpected relapse that has been life changi g. God’s been with me in a more personal way. Thanks for your post, it really spoke to me. How are you doing? Lots of love to you and Henry.

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    • Bev, so glad to hear God is strengthening your faith as you go thru various trials and see Him at work. Life for us continues to be interesting and challenging. Only in heaven will we see perfection! Hope we’ll get a chance to see each other some way or another. Love to you and your family, too.

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  2. To me, there is all or nothing in following Christ. Going back to old ways and traditions is pointless and ultimately futile. Thanks for expressing this point so well with the concept of playing with empty shadows rather than than the substance of true faith.

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