Not too long ago, I presided over a family wedding. The bride and groom chose that classic line from Israel’s leader, Joshua. I mean the one where they’re about to enter the promised land and he’s encouraging Israel and he says, “…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” That bride and groom like many others were marking out what they intended their future home to be like – they liked Joshua’s lead. And we do that too. Sometimes it’s a discipline sort of question with parents, “In this house, we don’t use language like that…” or “In this house, we share our toys.” Sometimes it’s a marker of separation, “I don’t care what Eric’s mom does, in this house we don’t allow phones in the bedroom.” It’s not all negative though. Sometimes it’s an aspiration, a family goal: “In this house, we serve the Lord and show his love to one another.” Whatever the way, fairly regularly, we recognize the value in characterizing who we are at a certain place in time.
That’s the writer of Hebrews this morning. He’s marked out from the beginning of his sermon/letter the superiority of the Son of God. The writer concluded that Jesus is superior to mankind and angels, winner of salvation, ruler over creation. He also concluded that this glorious message isn’t too majestic for us. No, that would be a terrible miscalculation. In fact, this Word from God is worthy of our careful attention. Because this Son of God atoned for the sins of the people and suffered under temptation, all to help us – those tempted, those with sin, those needing salvation – those who are in God’s house… In chapter 3, the writer forges ahead: since we’re ones in God’s house, we must consider what’s important, what’s distinctive, what’s necessary for us. What do we do?
We Fix Our Thoughts on Jesus
That’s a great question for us – perfect timing, in fact. Today we have our Annual Meeting at CTL. We’ll be making reports of ministry activity and how things went in 2020. We’ve been very blessed as a congregation again in so many ways. It’s fun to prepare those reports (at least in this part) and consider all God’s blessings on this house of God. Of course, there are other parts of our consideration. I haven’t written a pastors’ report with so many “our normal such and such had to be cancelled” and never before something like “for some time we were able only to worship together online.” It was a strange year with lots of difficulties. In point of fact, there’s a lot that vies for our attention right now – strident political feelings, black/white disagreements about what constitutes medical truth, personal choices about how to worship and what to do and what’s right for others to do. And, each of those things call our attention with this temptation: to divide us, to characterize ourselves as distinct and “different from those others” or “better/smarter/more righteous than those others”. This is one of those times in history when many things God has not commanded tempt and vie for all our attention, our identification – and they can result in sinful division.
So, instead, the writer reminds us this morning: In this house, we fix our thoughts on Jesus. He uses a word there that means to “direct one’s whole mind to” something. With so many things that tempt to consume our attention, we are called to “direct our whole mind to” Jesus. More than that, that “fix your thoughts” word can carry meaning like to consider or to meditate on, with the intent that this meditation brings spiritual insight.
So, fix your thoughts on him with me for a moment. Consider Jesus as the writer presents him. Literally, the “apostle and high priest of our confession.” Hold the “confession” off for a moment and keep to the consideration… Meditate on Jesus the apostle. An “apostle” is a technical term. It means: one sent out by God with a message – the 12, that’s the ones sent out by Jesus himself with the good news of salvation in him. Jesus the apostle? I don’t think of him that way most often, but how fitting if I’m thinking about what characterizes us! Jesus is the one sent from God himself with a message – not of destruction or damnation or judgment for all our own sinful preoccupations, but primarily of the way God loved the world by sending his own Son for our rescue. What an insight! When we occupy our minds with Jesus, we see the message from God about our lives however they are – God loves us.
Now meditate on Jesus the high priest. The writer of Hebrews will get deep into it in later chapters but, for right now, the high priest was the only one who could offer the sacrifice for sins for Israel the nation and enter into God’s presence in the temple and sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice in God’s presence. And Jesus? When the writer describes him as priest he says things like, that Jesus is “a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, [who makes] atonement for the sins of the people.” (2:17) And that he “He sacrificed for [our] sins once for all when he offered himself.” And so, he “meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.” (7:27, 26) What a sight to hold in our minds! One day, everything we are tempted to be occupied with here will be ablaze, and will be realized as just the prelude to standing in God’s fiery presence. And everything we’ve done here will not be enough to merit being safe there. But if we’ve meditated on this high priest, he supplies everything we need to walk confidently into God’s presence – so that the promise is that we belong with God.
And these both to the fullest extent… Meditate on this too. As the writer says in v.2, “[Jesus] was faithful to the one who appointed him…” The writer goes on in vv.2-5 to make a comparison with Moses who was a faithful servant in God’s house. Moses was Israel’s leader and he was great, without compare, frankly. Think about those who lead the “Israel of God” here. Recently we’ve had calls for pastors and teachers. Those are times when you think on and, hopefully, cherish and desire to keep those who have been serving among you. And those who serve in this house have generally said, “This is a blessed place to be,” where God’s people love and care for and respect them. You may love Pastor Free’s sermon illustrations or Ms. Scheer’s way in the classroom. In later years, you’ll consider it too when others receive calls to other places. But for as much as you love them or respect them, we’re failures at times, and imperfect, and heated, and opinionated and we’re in like company. And it’s good that we have one here who is absolutely “faithful”. And not just “in God’s house” among us, but faithful “over God’s house” as the Son of God himself.
Here’s an insight for us: the work of Jesus Christ is so good it makes God’s house. He doesn’t dally in the house, he dreamt it! He is the architect. He builds it and fills it with believers, those called to be his own. As the writer of Hebrews calls us, “holy brothers and sisters” with a “heavenly calling”. Fixing our thoughts on Jesus, we see, v.6 “We are [God’s house]…” And that means that in this house… we hold fast our confidence.
We Hold Fast Our Confidence
Frame it this way: to what other conclusion could we come? We are God’s house… but only if we hold to (go back to v.1) the confession of this Jesus who made it so. In fact, how could we do anything else? How could anything else take up pre-eminence in our hearts, in our view of one another, and of life itself? Isn’t this exactly what we have to say? This Jesus, he is our confidence and our hope.
We do have to say it. And in the writer’s Greek language, that “confidence” is a beautiful idea. It’s something like “freedom of speech” – the kind of thing you have with your wife or husband or a really close friend – where you’re so close that you can say anything you need, you can just be “you” as you are… In ch.10 the writer uses this same word when he says “we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus.” (10:19) This is our confidence: I don’t have to be ashamed before God because Jesus purified me and forgave my sins. This “confidence” is you being “you” before God – with prayerful access to him, authority to enter his presence, openness to live as his people, freedom to serve him – because you’re part of his house…you belong.
And had this sort of effect: there are many things that I might take pride in – my accomplishments, my operation in life, my family – but the writer reminds that, in this house, this hope of confidence with God that Jesus has made – this is my pride. My pride is in Jesus’ promise that by his work, I will see the house of God perfected into a beautiful temple, soaring heaven-high, where every day will be praise and everything will be perfect, and that there I belong…and also with you.
In this house, we hold fast this boast, this confidence in Jesus… This is what we confess – the truth we cannot simply deny or repress. It won’t always be pleasant or easy but we will seek to confess this in how we behave with one another and speak to one another. In words and actions emphasizing, not that we’re making all the right choices or following the right people or doing the right work, but that we together are his work. We’ll confess we’re brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, family made holy in his sight, understanding that these around us God loved just as much as he loves me. And, rather than having to fend for ourselves, so-loved we are able to show and share this love for one another and for our world. We confess that, more than our own preferences or purposes, we’ve been architected just for displaying our confidence in everything Jesus Christ has done, far more than anything we could ever do.
In whatever’s coming next, it’s valuable to characterize ourselves like this: because of Jesus, we are God’s house, and in this house, the one who built us here occupies our whole mind, and to the confidence of his brilliant work we hold fast. God grant this Jesus, ever and only be our confession.