Saturday, July 26, 2008

Jesus our High Priest and King, part 1

As most of you know by now, I was hired to be the Children's Pastor at our local church not that many months ago. Since then, I've largely been wrapped up in the world of CM - Children's Ministry!

But recently the elders asked that I teach an adult Sunday School class for a few weeks this summer. I'm now two weeks into an eight week course on Jesus as High Priest and King, which got me to thinking...

... why not blog about the same topic here? The study is one I did some years ago for a Greek course I was taking about the book of Hebrews. It turned out to be truly fascinating, and I'm eternally grateful for Dr. Bateman's assignment (he's now at Trinity; I had him at Grace). As it turns out, my research is transitioning smoothly into a Sunday School class. From the reviews I'm getting so far, I think it's fast becoming a very profitable study for people. Perhaps I can persuade you - oh shadowy reader! - to engage the subject as well...

In this first post, let's start with this: the origins of the High Priesthood. This is a somewhat complicated subject in its details. But in broad brush strokes it's pretty straight forward. The first mention in the Bible of "high priest" is Numbers 35. The context has to do with cities of refuge - a fascinating subject in its own right! For our purposes, the important part is that people in a city of refuge could only be released to their pre-crime lives when the sitting High Priest died. Why? Apparently it had to do with the OT social justice system of "eye for an eye" and the perceived holiness of the High Priest. In other words, since a manslayer (living in the city of refuge) had killed someone, even if accidentally, only blood could atone for it. The death of the High Priest was the only that was sufficient to the task.

What this says about the holiness of the High Priest is remarkable. He (either his office or his person ... ?) was the only person in the community of faith righteous enough to give his blood for the crimes of another. Don't get me wrong - I'm not reading too much Christology into this text. The High Priest didn't actually give up his life, nor did he even have to die a bloody death. But it's still significant that only his death could atone for the manslayer. This, the earliest OT reference to the High Priest, begins immediately to lay the foundation for holiness and sacrifice that will come to fullness in Christ.

But why does the office of High Priest not show up until the book of Numbers? Didn't it start with Aaron? The answer - at least to this theologically conservative pastor - is 'yes'. Aaron was the first High Priest. In fact, it's telling that the Numbers text offers no background whatsoever to the High Priest - he just shows up in a way that makes it clear that the original readers were quite familiar with him.

So the High Priest comes from the line of Aaron and is perceived to be the most holy member of the community of faith. Even during the Tabernacle period, he's responsible for sacrifices.

In short, he's set apart. He's special. Not just anybody could be the High Priest. He has to have the right lineage and character. As a Christian, it's easy to see where this is heading. But keep in mind that to the Jew of the OT period this was simply not the case.

In the next post we'll look at the High Priest in the Kingdom period and then into the Babylonian Captivity. Until then, let me tell you the end ahead of time so you can watch for it as we go. What this study will show is that there was a gradual merging of the office of High Priest and King through the ages of Jewish history. This merger was completed in Christ, who now stands as both our High Priest and King. And, of course, that has ramifications for our lives. All this and more is spelled out in the book of Hebrews... but now I'm getting too far ahead of myself!


Please note: Due to the under-whelming response to this first post, I've decided against posting the remainder of these lessons. If you'd like to have them, email me and I'll send you the materials.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Absolute Postmodernity

As you know if you've read many of my posts on the subject of postmodernity, I maintain that when discussing postmodernity we must distinguish between "cultural postmodernity" and what I tend to call "ivory tower postmodernity".

Culturally, most younger Americans are postmodern. Yet the vast majority of them continue to believe in a set of absolute truthes. What gives?

The truth (as I see it) is that those of us who identify with postmodern cultural values still tend to understand that there are some absolutes in this world. We have a much smaller list of them, no doubt - but a list nonetheless.

The troubling part is that most cultural postmoderns (at least those that don't know Christ) tend to have trouble acknowledging this fact. They say they don't believe in universal moral truth, but when pressed they generally do have at least a limited list.

Which brings me to the motivation behind this post. Like me, you probably get a copy of Parade Magazine in the Sunday paper. It's mostly Holywood stuff - celebrity gossip, new movie releases, interviews with actors, etc... Recently they interviewed Christian Bale, in light of the new Batman film and his connection to the late Heath Ledger.

I don't know a thing about Christian Bale the man. But in this article he says he's one who has "always enjoyed the gray in life" - a pretty classic way of expressing culturally postmodern sensitivities. Yet when asked about being a father, he says:

"There’s a very hard line you find in yourself when you become a parent, an absolute belief that cannot be questioned. It’s something that you will kill and die for in a way that you never experienced before. I’ve always enjoyed the gray in life. This is an area of total black and white. This is something that is unquestionable."

That's what I'm talking about! If Christian Bale embodies cultural postmodernity as much as I suspect he does, he's (anecdotally) proving my point. Here's something he's found that is absolutely true - a father would die for his child.

There's one other absolute truth I hope he finds - a Son died for His children.


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