Horizons Bible Study 2017-2018
“Cloud of Witnesses: The Community of Christ in Hebrews”
Lesson 6: In Community with the Reality of the Present (Hebrews 2:10-18)
A woman, Lydia, was hiking on a trail near the Blue Ridge Parkway in Virginia. She came to a path with a sign pointing to a lookout where she could see to the mountains beyond. Wanting to see more, Lydia walked to the edge of the clearing, where the mountain fell away to a steep slope below. She sat on the edge of the rock face and was mesmerized by the gorgeous view. When she finally got up to leave, she unexpectedly slipped, rolled and landed on a small shelf a third of the way down the mountain. Bruised but with nothing broken, Lydia tried to climb up but the rock face was too steep.
After a time, Lydia heard other hikers.
“Help,” she called.
The voices replied, “Where are you?”
“I am in a hole below the overhang. Can you get me out?”
A face appeared over the edge of the overhang. One of the hikers said, “It looks like we will need some ropes to pull you up. We will hike back and call the forestry service for help.”
“Okay, I will be right here,” the woman said, attempting humor.
An hour went by and Lydia heard people talking on the path. Thinking rescue was near, she shouted, “I am down here!” But the people did not hear her and moved on.
Another hour went by and Lydia heard voices again.
“Help! Help!” she shouted, “I am down here!”
A different face appeared. Then small rocks and pebbles rained down as two feet appeared, then a body as a man slid down the precipice towards her.
“Goodness,” Lydia exclaimed, “Why did you come down here with me? Now neither one of us can get out!”
“Ah,” said the man, “Oddly enough, I have been in this very predicament before and I know how to get out.”
The Letter to the Hebrews affirms that Jesus knows our entrapment in sin and death and can show us the way out. Jesus was exactly like us, having his share of tumbles and scrapes. Like us, he knew loneliness, hunger and days full of sadness. Handed over and denied by those who loved him most, Jesus experienced enormous emotional and physical suffering on the cross.
The Son became fully human and therefore knows everything that we experience: anger, joy, laughter, temptation, isolation, betrayal and feeling forsaken by God. He had to become like us, his sisters and brothers, in every detail of human frailty. Thus, he sees us with the eyes of compassion and becomes a “merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Hebrew 2:17-18).
Jesus’ trust in God was tested. We are not tested by the loss of our homes or property as were the Christians to whom Hebrews was written. We do not face persecution or the threat of death, though there are many Christians in the world who do. Our testing is far more subtle. Will we forgive, as Jesus did, those who have hurt us? Will we live out Christ’s command to love our enemies? Will we work to bring down the dividing walls of hostility that human beings so constantly erect? Will we welcome the stranger and cast out fear with love? Every time we face and turn away from our own desires to hurt, hit back or run away from Christ, we gain strength as those who follow Jesus.
In his full humanity, Jesus becomes our big brother and we his sisters and brothers. Jesus as brother is not like the big brother who sees us as pests or tries to get us in trouble. Jesus is not like the big brother who is distant or the one always trying to get one up on us. Jesus sympathizes with our every weakness (Hebrews 4:15-16). Jesus is the pioneer who clears the way for us.
When my brothers and I were growing up, there were woods behind our house. There were five-foot blackberry brambles, thorny bushes and dense growth everywhere, making it impossible to get any distance at all. My older brother went out and over the course of several weeks hacked out a path.
In like manner, Jesus clears out all that separates us from God. Jesus cuts down the power of sin. With forgiveness and mercy, we are set free from our own self-destructive behavior. When we are stuck in a steep hole of self-condemnation, Jesus comes down to us and says, “I know the way out.”
Rosalind Banbury is the interim pastor of Tinkling Spring Presbyterian Church in Fishersville, Virginia.
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