Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost

In this commentary, we pursue the heavenly and divine office of Jesus.

The Widow's Mite
JESUS MAFA. The Widow's Mite, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn.

November 8, 2015

Second Reading
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Commentary on Hebrews 9:24-28

In this commentary, we pursue the heavenly and divine office of Jesus.

In Hebrews 9:24-28, readers, exegetes, interpreters, teachers, and preachers are presented with the Christological atonement function of Jesus (verses 26b), and this once-and-for-all sacrifice has a Greek perfect tense attached to it. This means that the effects of the so called “Christ Event” were not for that particular historical moment, but the results of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection are still in force today, tomorrow, and into the eternal future. While this is difficult to explain to lay people, preachers have the obligation to explain and teach on the framework of faith, its origin as well as its role, function, and place in the life of a believer (2 Corinthians 1: 19-22). It is only in Hebrews that Jesus Christ is directly given the authentic title of “High Priest” and in that manner he stands above and beyond the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 8:1-13).

Also of theological faith and spiritual potency is the underlining theme that the offering that Jesus made was not from a distance or in the vicinity of any human tabernacle. Rather, he appeared before God on behalf of all believing humanity (Hebrews 9:24), and he completed the sacrifice once and for all. All that is required of humanity, whether non-believing or believing, is to accept what Jesus did and by so doing begin to experience the benefits of the sacrifice. In Hebrews 9:24-28, readers are informed of two theological issues, namely the sphere of heaven, and functional place of Jesus. First, we are privileged to know that God’s throne is located in heaven and that is from where God addresses us, and it is also a place where Jesus is empowered to function. Heaven is a place where the presence of God is manifested and as such the names of those who have been claimed via death are documented (Hebrews 12:23; Revelation 3: 12).

While Roman Catholics have a well-articulated theology of heaven, Protestants and probably Pentecostals seem to have little theological perceptions of heaven. In any case, Hebrews articulates heaven as a sphere of the efficacious atonement, one that could not be done in any earthly temple, or church. Preachers must attempt to address issues of death, heaven, and life after death in ways that are formational to all Christian believers because the reality of heaven is inescapable.

Thus, questions of reflection and faith formation must be raised and addressed in either Sunday school/Bible study classes or from the pulpit. I have always doubted whether many Christians grasp the meaning of partaking in the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. The reason underlying this hypothesis is that preachers tend to separate the Lord’s Supper from atonement. Yet, the meal as it is celebrated in many congregations is a reminder of the implications, meaning, and function of the “Christ Event,” which is in essence, the inauguration of the new covenant. In fact, Jesus makes it a point at the Last Supper, when he lifted the cup and says, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you” (Luke 22:20; Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24). It is only in Hebrews that readers would fully understand the magnitude of Jesus’ words, and consequently help Christians to appreciate the partaking of the meal as a celebration of the new covenant.

The message of Hebrews 9:28 points to the nature of the atonement that Jesus did while he was on earth. In that time, he came down to the level of humanity and went through every experience, and later died once and for all in sacrificial ways. The sacrifice was a one-time event and after that he went to be with God. In the eschatological moment, Hebrews informs readers that Christ will come for the second time and when he comes, there will be no repeat of the sacrifice but it will be a time to usher in salvation to those who have remained faithful, whether in the sleep of death or in their physical life (verse 28). The effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection runs through chapters 9 and 10, and what the Christ event meant and means for today, is that believers are allowed to have heart and mind transformation (Hebrews 10:15-16). What then are the implications of Hebrews 9:24-28? The answer to this question lends itself in a variety of ways depending on where one is in terms of her/his faith journey. Because the “Christ Event” provides for the transformation of the believer’s heart, mind, and soul, the Lord expects those who profess faith in Jesus Christ to live a life that exhibits grace, love, and humility. This should be lived out in external life, inner life, and spiritual disciplines. In other words, Hebrews summons Christian believers to enter into a “Christ-formed” path of faith, spiritual practice, and formation into a Christ-like image.

If Hebrews is a sermon, the passage before us seems to be the punch line of the homily, because we read the proclamation of who Jesus is and his expected return and what he will do when he returns (Hebrews 9:23-28). Themes such as theology, ethics, faith, belief, response to God’s Word, creed, Christian life, and grace are mutually energized and valued by the preacher of Hebrews. As such, 21st-century preachers and Christian believers should strive to observe these themes in the everyday Christian living, and failure to do so would render our profession of faith obsolete. The themes listed in this paragraph alerts readers and interpreters to the uniqueness of Hebrews. From the beginning of the sermon, the preacher does not put the spotlight on herself, but rather, she makes God, Jesus Christ, and Scripture the center of the homily (Hebrews 1:1-4:13). As such, Hebrews allows readers to view their faith life in the same way. I will be remiss if I fail to mention that Hebrews reminds 21st century preachers and Christian believers about the importance of a vital Christian community, whose role and function is to assist people in their pursuit of mature discipleship. In the same manner, Hebrews seems to challenge the modern day view of Christian education programs in our congregations because most Sunday school classes are made of people who are friends. Yet, in Hebrews, the preacher calls on congregations to remember one another.

Finally, the irony and humor of Hebrews is that preachers are invited to emulate the unidentified evangelist who does not emphasize herself, but rather allows God’s voice to take center stage through Jesus Christ who makes our faith perfect, and one who through the Holy Spirit empowers believers on their faith journey.