“Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house…
Hebrews 3:5-6 (NIV)
When I was trained as an actor in college, I was taught that I won’t really portray my character well unless I truly understand that character. This includes learning everything about my character’s life and background. When I played Daddy Warbucks in Annie, I did a lot of study into New York at the time of the play complete with maps and photos to locate and picture what it looked like. I looked up every person, place, and thing referenced in the script. I even made choices about Daddy Warbucks’ own life story, things that weren’t known or referenced, in order to better understand his life, his character, and how he relates to other characters and events on stage. I looked up what kind of Limo he would have had, what life was like for a business and social elite in the stock market crash and during the Great Depression.
Okay, stick with me here.
In my experience, the book of Hebrews, also known as The Letter to the Hebrews, is one of the least read and studied in what we call the New Testament. And, I understand why. The author (who wrote Hebrews has been hotly contested since the Reformation). is writing to a very specific audience (Jewish/Hebrew followers of Jesus) at a very specific point in time (the first century as the Jesus movement was rapidly growing), with a very specific purpose (to explain how/why Jesus changes everything for the Hebrew people).
Because of this, a casual 21st-century reader fails to understand much of the letter, how crucial it was to those reading it, and how important it is in fully understanding how Jesus fit into the larger Great Story.
Sometimes I apply my actor’s training in character study to my reading of texts like Hebrews. I learn about what life was like for a Hebrew believer in the first century. What I discovered is that, when I read the text wearing those sandals, Jesus has radically transformed everything I was raised to believe.
I was taught that the Temple in Jerusalem is the center of my religion and worship. Jesus is telling me I, my body, is the Temple.
I was taught that there are certain foods that are clean, and other foods that are unclean. Jesus is telling me that all foods are now clean.
I was taught to make regular, ritual sacrifices at the Temple so my sins would be forgiven. Jesus is telling me that the entire sacrificial system is now on the scrap-heap of history and that Jesus was the once-and-for-all sacrifice that forgives my sins and makes me holy.
I was taught that the Hebrew people were God’s chosen people and everyone else should be ignored and shunned because they’ll make me unclean in God’s eyes. And, if I’m honest, I’ve been taught to be smug about this. Jesus is telling me that I’m to love, accept, and be in relationship with all people regardless of their nationality, race, gender, social standing, or religious background. I’m to love those I’ve been forever taught to hate.
All of a sudden, I begin to understand why Hebrews was such an essentially needed text for these Jewish believers. The author is helping me bridge the radical paradigm gap. He is helping me understand how to wrap my head and spirit around what seems like such extreme changes to what I have lived, breathed, learned, known, and practiced my entire life.
For this first-century Hebrew transformed into Jesus’ follower, Moses has been forever held up as the key figure in the history of my faith. Through Moses, the Law was given (all the rules that dictated my life). Through Moses, the sacrificial system, the tent/temple-centered worship, and the arrangement of priests as God’s go-betweens were instituted.
In today’s chapter, the author of Hebrews is explaining that Jesus, who is the author and creator of Moses and the old system, is a higher authority of Moses. Jesus isn’t denying Moses, the Law, and the system that has been in place for over a thousand years. Jesus, the original programmer and author of the code, is finally introducing a massive upgrade to Version 2.0. Most of us know how it feels when our familiar old, foundational, software gets upgraded and suddenly everything is different. That’s what the audience of Hebrews was feeling. That, on steroids.
In the quiet this morning, I find myself thinking about the changes I have experienced as a follower of Jesus in my 40+ year journey. The pomp, main-line, high-church ritual, and corporate worship of my childhood upbringing feel ancient to me now. At times, it is the source of sentimental nostalgia. At times, I can see in retrospect the spiritual metaphors which were completely lost on me while I was religiously entrenched in it. Yet, Jesus was always about growing, expanding, and transforming. My faith is continually updated as I journey forward and add new layers of both information and experience. I don’t even know what version I’m now! This is the way.
And, that I think that was one of the things I most loved about Daddy Warbucks as I stood in his wing-tips on stage. It was the transformation he makes each performance from his first entrance to his final bow. That’s how I’ve experienced my spiritual journey as a follower of Jesus. When I make this life’s final bow, I will be a completely different version of the person who entered the journey.
If you know anyone who might be encouraged by today’s post, please share.