Philip Casmer

Start with Who

by Philip Casmer on January 28th, 2024
Hebrews 3:1-6

As we move from the River Jordan to the Mountain of Transfiguration in this Epiphany season, Jesus really shines. In a particular way, as you heard, as he stopped and stayed in the town called Capernaum. Those people there heard him as a guest pastor in worship. And his teaching struck them – here was one who sounded and taught differently than their own leaders; he spoke with authority. And he operated that way too – driving out the demon from the possessed man. Mark relates how when the Holy One of God is at work, the demons obey with fear, and the people take note… 

On the basis of Mark 1 alone, it should be no surprise who the writer of Hebrews starts with in ch.3. Nor that he calls you, like those people of old, to fix your thoughts on him. However you want to translate it – this is what we’re doing in Epiphany – taking a good, hard look at this Jesus so that, focusing our attention on him and taking him under consideration, you can envisage him in your mind’s eye…

Who is he? If I were picking the main picture in this text, I might call him “faithful”… and, in comparison. For a local reference – two of your pastors now have received calls to serve in other settings – perhaps you saw that in the email or the bulletin. Now, we hope any time those who serve in ministry here receive a call to another ministry, you here would say, “We would prefer that you didn’t go…” And, among any other reasons, most important would be, “They’re faithful…in their work, to the Lord, with his Word, etc. etc.” 

And, in that way, you might be able to relate to the audience of Hebrews, who surely valued their pastors but might have compared any leader to Moses… I’d bet most weeks you never think of Moses at all, but they did. Because he was good; the chief shepherd of the congregation of Israel – as a pastor / leader / prophet – nobody was like Moses. God even said about him, “With [Moses] I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.” (Nu 12:7–8) He had a relationship with God like no human since Adam. And, as you heard today, the writer’s characterization: “‘Moses was a faithful servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future…”

And that’s the thing with any servant in God’s house – your pastors, previous ones, even heroic servants like Moses – they’re all part of pointing to someone else. In our first lesson, you heard God say he would raise up a prophet like Moses. (Dt 18:17) Peter, years and years later called the Jews to repentance saying that God would forgive their sins and send comfort through the prophet Moses promised  who would faithfully speak God’s Word – that’s Jesus. (Ac 3:20-25) Which is why the writer of Hebrews can say that Moses was faithful as a servant in the house of God. But Jesus? He’s the one to whom all the servants look. He has even greater honor than Moses. He isn’t a servant, he’s the Son; he isn’t in the house, he built it… No one more faithful, no one better… Fix your thoughts on him.

But just stop for a moment. Perhaps that’s not what you’re asking most – not most who but why. Like, why should our focus be on this one instead of anything else? He may be good but you have a lot going on. How many things are vying for your attention, after all? And that changes seasonally and by circumstances – your job, your health, your busyness – how good or bad you feel. In fact, you might agree that sometimes focusing on any one thing might be difficult. To put it differently, if you had to share the focus of your life, you might have a hard time doing it. And that can turn out into thoughts and actions that are focused on all kinds of things and that might even look at a call like the one from Hebrews with a bit of disdain or disregard… Why focus on Jesus – who he is – when I have so much I can’t even focus…

That’s a very natural question – even a good one. The popular studier of culture, Simon Sinek, put out a book some years ago that addressed that question: said every business really ought to Start with Why – should address, pursue, and communicate why their company exists — and that will direct what they do and who they hire, and draw in customers and business. In fact, that why question has blossomed out from there to common parlance — people like us are directed all the time by friends or online to “find your why”. Stop and take a good hard look at your life and your work – assess your values, motivations, passions, strengths – fix your thoughts on what gets you excited, what moves you to action, what types of work and activity give you satisfaction, effortlessly drive your curiosity, etc. And the claim is usually – that then you’ll find some peace and some satisfaction, direction, purpose…

I think it’s striking, in a world like that, that the writer of Hebrews’ makes a claim like this. Reaches out to you with all the why questions and unabashedly starts with who. He bids us fix our thoughts on who this faithful Jesus is: the Apostle, the one sent by God with authority to announce his good news. As Mark said earlier in his gospel, Jesus came proclaiming, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (1:15) And later on in Mark’s gospel, whether it’s Jesus coming to eat with tax collectors and sinners or caring for a man who can’t see, he speaks God’s Word, “Your sins are forgiven.” He comes from God with good news of forgiveness for people whose distractions have brought them sins of all kinds.

Yet, at the same time, he serves as High Priest. As the writer of Hebrews will later argue – not like any of those other high priests of old like Moses’ brother Aaron, who were sinners, who brought sacrifices, who died and had to be replaced. This Jesus brought the sacrifice of himself at his cross and, risen from death, his sacrifice lives forever. To what end? “[We have a High Priest who is able to empathize with our weaknesses] who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” For what? So that we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hb 4:14-15) Jesus doesn’t just come from God but goes into his presence for us, so that when we go into his presence it is for love and forgiveness. In fact, that access is reflected in that we can be called “holy brothers and sisters”

Brothers and sisters is a family word – speaks of familiarity and place and honor and privileges – mostly of love and security. That’s pretty consistent with the way the writer talks about you and me too. In v.6 he mentions a couple interesting words. First, our “confidence” – his word is really like “freedom of speech.” That’s something we prize as Americans, isn’t it? The ability to talk about politics, disagree with our overlords, and express ourselves? Better though is the kind you have in a family – an openness and honesty and ability to say what is on your mind with people you love. Jesus the High Priest gives you access to a Father whose throne you can approach anytime, straightforwardly, with anything… The other interesting word is that “hope in which you glory” – literally, the “boast of our hope”. Maybe that’s like how, in a family you have something to be proud of – the love of parents, the camaraderie of siblings, the care of a home – and that gives you direction and a sense of the future – like, as a place you’ll get to and that is bright. And Jesus the Apostle guarantees that for you, that because of God’s saving work, you’re his family with an outlook of forgiveness and love and peace for eternity, something you can be proud to put your hope in. 

If you had a family like that, why, you’d cherish it and you’d talk about it, wouldn’t you? No wonder either then that the writer calls you to hold fast, really grasp onto and not let go of the openness of speech you have about the proud hope of heaven you’ve found in Jesus – hold on to it like it’s part of your being, the very center of you. He also says that you confess. That’s what that word “acknowledge” in v.1 should say. We don’t just acknowledge Jesus, do we? We confess him, like we will do moments from now in the creed. Where we acknowledge, yes, who Jesus is, but with boldness and pride we put our faith in him and speak freely about who he is before the world by our choices and our confidence and in our kindness and in what we put our hope and in what we actually say… In fact, it excites us and moves us and fills us up with a sense that all this is more than just all the distractions that call for our focus – that’s all just the venue for something greater… Because it is. After all, the writer does call you people who “share in the heavenly calling…”

Now that’s interesting, I think – “a calling…” If you told me you had a calling, that’s not just like a job. That’s like – you found your thing – the thing that drives all the other things, that holds you fast in the midst of all the distractions, help you shed them in fact. That almost sounds like your why… As though, looking at Jesus, you find your purpose?  

Start with why says you need to find the center that bypasses all the useless questions to give you direction. And then life will be just a little less iffy. And it’s true. But this is better. Start with who shows you the one at the center who bypassess all the iffyness and gives you direction – to follow him. Walk with the Apostle from the river to the mountain, go with the Priest to his cross, from his grave – focus on Jesus and you’ll know ever better, with increasing confidence and hopeful certainty your own calling – the why that will take you to his glorious end.

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