October 10, 2010
I love a good mystery story. I think I have read nearly every Agatha Christie book that is in print. But even more, I like Perry Mason. I love reading the Perry Mason novels. (Some of you are old enough to remember them.) I love the original Perry Mason television shows in black and white. One of my favorite possessions is recordings of these old shows.
If you have ever seen one of these, you will notice that while Perry Mason, (the world’s greatest defense lawyer), is speaking in the courtroom, the camera is pointing to each of the possible suspects. And we are trying to figure out which one of them committed the murder. “Who done it?” That is what I am dying to know: In the words of the genre: “Who dunnit?!”
New Testament Bible Scholars will tell you that there is a bit of a “Who dunnit?” to go with the Book of Hebrews. Who wrote the book of Hebrews? – that is the mystery. We don’t know the answer, and we are dying to find out. Through the years, approximately 13 different people have been suggested as the author. Let me focus the camera on a few of the main suspects.
First, there is the Apostle Paul. The King James Version even goes so far as to stick Paul’s name at the top of it. But the King James Version did not come until nearly 1600 years after Hebrews was written. The earliest Christians, who first used Hebrews, did not say that Paul was the author. The ancient Church Fathers did not believe that Paul wrote it. The great majority of modern Bible scholars do not believe that Paul wrote it. But, I have read at least one strong article still making the case for Paul as the author.
A second suspect is Peter. He is not a very strong suspect, but he may have been working in the area where Hebrews was written. And yet, where Hebrews was written is something of a mystery itself. I think the mindset of many Christians, down through the ages, is to say: “Well, if you pick either Peter or Paul for the author, you can’t go wrong.
Barnabas may be the strongest suspect. Did he squirm, just now, when the camera focused on him? Hebrews was written to the early Jewish Christians, the very people that Barnabas worked with. Otherwise, we don’t really know enough about Barnabas to say one way or the other.
There are two other suspects worth mentioning. One is Apollos. Apollos was known to be an articulate speaker, well versed in the Greek language. Whoever wrote Hebrews had this type of knowledge of Greek.
And the final suspect is Priscilla, who was one of the early women leaders in the church. Do you remember that she had to correct Apollos on matters of doctrine? So, it is argued that if she was smarter than Apollos, she was more capable of writing the Epistle to the Hebrews.
Well, there they are! Did you pick a favorite suspect? I hope you did! Unfortunately, it may be a long time until we know the answer to this mystery. We probably won’t find out “who dunnit” until we get to heaven and meet the author in person. Meanwhile, we can sympathize with all those Bible scholars who simply say that the author is anonymous.
We may not know who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews, but we know why it was written. It was written to teach us about atonement. Atonement is God’s remedy for sin. Sin separates us from God, because God is holy. And God hates sin. The word atone is made up of 2 small words at one. Atonement is what takes away our sin and makes us at one with God again.
The doctrine of atonement goes back to the Old Testament. The Old Testament law set out various animal and grain sacrifices as a means of repentance and atonement. In Judaism, the holiest day of the year is the Day of Atonement. In most years it occurs in October. After a week of prayer, meditation and atonement, comes the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.
By the way, scholars calculate that the original New Year’s Day, of the Jewish calendar, occurred on October 8. That was the day on which the great scribe Ezra read the entire Law of God, after the people returned from the Babylonian captivity. But the Day of Atonement is still the holiest day.
In the Old Testament, no one could enter into the Holy of Holies in the Temple except the High Priest. And the High Priest could only go in one day a year, on the Day of Atonement. By the way, ancient Jewish historians tell us that the High Priest wore a rope tied around his leg, so that, if he died while he was in the Holy of Holies part of the temple, they had a way to get him out. They needed the rope because no one else could go in there!
This is the Old Testament way, but Hebrews tells us that things have changed: In the olden days, God spoke to us through laws and prophets and sacrifices and High Priests, but now God speaks to us through His Son. [Amen!]
In the first place, Jesus is our sacrifice: He laid down his perfect life to be the Lamb of God, the atonement for all sins, for all people, for all time. In the second place, Jesus is our High Priest. He intercedes for us. And because he intercedes for us, the veil has been torn down! And we can enter into the Holy of Holies, and commune with God directly, in the presence of the Holy Spirit!
Hebrews goes to great lengths to teach us how Jesus is the High Priest. I have just been reading a book about the world in which Jesus lived: It says that, in Jesus’ day, the High Priest was the one who ran Jerusalem and Judea. Except for special circumstances or problems, Pilot and the other Roman governors, just stayed out of the way, took their taxes, and let the High priest run it.
And so, if you wanted anything, or needed anything done, the High Priest was the one you went to. He could get things done. He had the authority. This tells us something about the Book of Hebrews’ concept of Jesus as our High Priest. Christ is the one who has all the authority and all the power of God. And when he intercedes for us, and helps us, and empowers us, just think about what that means!
or who is descended of Aaron. Hebrews says that the most memorable High Priest in the Old Testament was Melchizedek. God sent him to Abraham long before the temple was even built. And now, long after the temple is gone, God has sent us a High Priest in the “order of Melchizedek.” And that is Jesus Christ, our savior. By the way, Melchizedek, in Hebrews, means, “My king is the righteous one.” That will preach! My king is the Righteous One Jesus!
And Jesus is not going anywhere. Hebrews says that he is “the same, yesterday, today, and forever!” (13:8) Our reading from Chapter 1 reminded us about the divinity of Jesus: He is the Son and heir of God, the creator and sustainer of the universe, the Radiance and the Image of God. He is the Redeemer and Sanctifier, who is sitting on the right hand of he Father. So we “look to Jesus as the Author and Finisher of our Faith.” (12:2) By His grace, we can enter with boldness into the holy presence of God. (10:19)
But Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is also very human. He was tempted in all points just as we are. (4:15) But he did not sin. So, he can help us as we face temptation. (2:18) And we are equipped with the “Word of God, which is sharper than any two-edged sword.” (4:12) “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (11:1) When we have that faith, the Lord God is with us, He will not leave us or forsake us.” (13:5)
Hebrews says that the church is important: “We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses” (12:1), both those who have gone before us, and those who are with us now. We should live a holy life, (12:14) continue in brotherly love, (13:1) and obey our leaders. (13:17) Hebrews warns us not to neglect getting together for worship, so that we can be sure to encourage one another. (10:25) Our worship is a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. (13:15)
And Hebrews ends with a benediction: Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (13:20-21)
Well, we may not know much about who wrote Hebrews. But, from this great epistle, we learn a lot about our faith. Hebrews was a “general letter,” circulated to help fellow Jews understand the message of the salvation of Jesus Christ. God was doing a new thing. (Hebrews quotes that fact from Jeremiah.) And what God was doing was almost too wonderful to understand.
I wonder if this message doesn’t apply to all of us. God sent his son! Are we ready for that?! We are so much more comfortable trying to keep the rules, or stick to reading the Good Book. Have we really considered what has happened?! What Christ has done for us! Have we dared to go thru the door He has opened? Have we dared to step, with boldness, into the very presence of God?
Dear Jesus, You, our high priest, have opened the doorway to God. Let us dare to step through it. Amen.