Hebrews 3:1-6 contrasts and compares the respective stations of Moses and Messiah in the household of God in this sermon about our obligations to one another within the body of Messiah.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Nine: The Family of God
Originally presented on March 2, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series
Lancaster launched into this week’s sermon referencing the Bill Gaither Trio chart The Family of God. I don’t think Lancaster is actually a fan of country gospel music (and I know I’m not), but it must have been about the best way he could think of to introduce his topic.
Let me take a more conventional approach:
Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession; He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house. For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
–Hebrews 3:1-6 (NASB)
As always, Lancaster managed to unpack these six small verses, revealing a broad spectrum of hidden meaning.
The “family” part is first addressed in the writer of Hebrews’ use of the term “brethren” or “brothers” to address his audience, but that’s only scratching the surface.
Next, Lancaster takes on “Jesus the Apostle.” We don’t usually think of Jesus as an Apostle but this only means “sent out one” which in Hebrew is “Shalach”, a messenger representing the sender such that he possesses the same authority and identity as the sender. If Jesus were the Shalach of God, then Jesus could perform acts not only in the name of God, but acts that would normally only be performed by God.
Now Abraham was old, advanced in age; and the Lord had blessed Abraham in every way. Abraham said to his servant, the oldest of his household, who had charge of all that he owned, “Please place your hand under my thigh, and I will make you swear by the Lord, the God of heaven and the God of earth, that you shall not take a wife for my son from the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I live, but you will go to my country and to my relatives, and take a wife for my son Isaac.”
–Genesis 24:1-4 (NASB)
You can read the rest of chapter 24 to get the details, but the servant of Abraham was Abraham’s Shalach, his sent out one. It was as if Abraham himself had returned to his homeland, to the city of Nahor, to seek a bride for Isaac.
Also we see Jesus the High Priest which, according to Lancaster, links to Moses. We don’t usually think of Moses as the High Priest. That’s who Aaron was. But before Aaron was inaugurated as Priest, Moses functioned in that role: both Prophet and High Priest.
Try to keep up because all of these details are important and they are interrelated.
He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.
–Hebrews 3:2 (NASB)
Now we return to the theme of “family”. The term “house” can have two meanings: “household” such as the family members and the household servants or slaves, and “house,” meaning the physical structure.
Moreover, I tell you that the Lord will build a house for you. When your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who will be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. I will be his father and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever.
–1 Chronicles 17:10-14 (NASB)
This is God addressing David through the prophet Nathan. King David wanted to build God a house, a physical structure, the Temple, but God responded by telling David that He, God, would build a house for David, a household, a Davidic dynasty, and it would be the Son of David, Solomon, who would build God’s house, and God would be a Father to Solomon and Solomon would be a Son to God.
This is just packed with information, and I bet you didn’t think David would be entering the picture here.
Another scripture is necessary to flesh this out.
Not so, with My servant Moses, he is faithful in all My household…
–Numbers 12:7 (NASB)
Apprehending most of the rest of the verses I originally quoted from Hebrews 3 above, We see the passage from 1 Chronicles 17 also containing a double meaning of Son of David as Solomon and as Messiah. God not only builds the House of David through Solomon as the Davidic Kingship leading to Messiah, but the Messiah, Son of David will build a household for God…the body of Messiah, for that body is also the Temple of God.
It’s important to note right here that the household, that is the people living in the structure, don’t actually replace the structure. That would be insane. It would be like a family coming to their house one evening, leveling the entire building, and then trying to go to sleep that night in the hole left behind. So too does the “family of God” built by Messiah not replace the actual physical house of God, and remember, from Lancaster’s point of view, the Epistle to the Hebrews was composed while Herod’s Temple was still standing.
Now, why must Messiah be established as superior to Moses? The standard Christian interpretation is supersessionistic. The grace of Jesus is greater than the Torah of Moses and thus replaces the Torah. That’s what we’ve all been taught. But as Lancaster says, that’s not what the writer is trying to say.
We have yet again another Kal VaChomer or light to heavy argument. It’s as if the writer is saying, if Abraham, Moses, and the Angels are all highly exalted and esteemed in holiness, how much more so is the Messiah highly exalted and esteemed in holiness?
Moses is the faithful servant of the household but the servant isn’t the heir.
Sinai is tall and exceedingly awesome but Messiah is taller than Sinai. How can Messiah in the form of a man be taller than Sinai? Sounds like Midrash, doesn’t it? The answer is that Messiah is standing on summit of Sinai. All that Messiah is, if you will, is built on Sinai, built on the Torah, the culmination of Torah, the perfection of Torah. Jesus is the capstone, the stone placed at the top juncture of the structure of Torah, holding it all together and yet also being the pinnacle.
Jesus doesn’t complete Torah by replacing it but by perfecting it, by living a perfected life through Torah.
Recall earlier sermons that said the intent of this letter was to warn the Jewish audience who were in danger of losing access to the Temple in Jerusalem that they were not to let that distract them from what is greater than the Temple, Messiah. The letter’s audience were also the household, the Temple of God built by Messiah, gathered together, as family, as brothers and sisters, as sons and daughters.
Again, the household does not replace the house but what good is there in an empty house? The house needs a household. They go together. And even when the physical Temple doesn’t exist, the family is still together, but the structure, if the household didn’t exist, is just an empty shell.
What Did I Learn?
Lancaster’s sermon reminded me somewhat of what I wrote about recently in Fellowship: What I Learned in Church. Part of who we are in Messiah is united, we’re family, even when we fuss and feud with each other, we defend each other when threatened by those outside the family. That’s what fellowship means. It’s more than having friends at church, it is our family in Messiah, we are brothers and sisters through our faith.
I always thought Christians calling each other “Brother Fred” or “Sister Sally” sounded kind of dumb, but it’s an expression of what Lancaster is trying to say, and what I believe the writer of Hebrews was trying to say to his audience. Family members encourage each other when there are hard times, and the Hellenistic Jews in and around Jerusalem were going through hard times in the years just before the Temple’s destruction.
Lancaster said that being a disciple of the Master was like getting married. You may become a believer because of who the Messiah is, kind of like falling in love, and in this way it’s just like a man and woman getting married. But you don’t just marry the person, you marry their family. Anyone who’s been married for more than a few weeks or a few months (and I’ve been married for almost thirty-two years) knows what I mean. Even if you love your spouse, if they have “problem” family members, you can’t just treat those people like strangers or acquaintances. They’re family whether you want them to be or not.
That’s probably one of the most difficult things about church for some people, loving God and worshiping Jesus at church (the structure) but having to put up with some pretty pesky “family members” in church (the household).
The second of the two greatest commandments of the Master (Matthew 22:39 citing Leviticus 19:18) is to love your neighbor as yourself. According to the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), just about anyone is your “neighbor,” so we are called upon to love everyone.
But there is another love the Master mentions and even commands:
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
–John 13:34 (NASB)
How did Jesus love his disciples? How did Jesus love the world? By giving his life for them. It is this heightened commandment to love that we are to have for each other as believers, as disciples, and as brothers and sisters.
That’s a tall order for people who sometimes don’t even like each other.
A little over four months ago, I wrote on the topic of apostasy, particularly criticizing those in our little corner of the blogosphere who feel perfectly free to rake anyone over the coals publicly who have dared to leave the faith for any reason whatsoever.
Lancaster mentioned in the closing moments of his sermon that when family leaves us or is taken from us…if we lose a brother or a sister, it’s incredibly painful. If you have a brother or a sister in your actual family, imagine if that person died. How would you feel losing a member of your own family, someone you grew up with, someone you fought with, someone who, in spite of everything, was part of you and you were part of them?
How would you feel if they got fed up with the family and left, or they became incredibly discouraged by the family and left? Would you be hurt? Would you be angry? Would you be insulted?
I think that’s part of what inspired the tremendous backlash I witnessed a few months ago when a brother left the family. Sure, he had reasons, probably very good reasons. He’s found or rediscovered a family and I’m not writing to debate his decision.
The writer of Hebrews was addressing what Lancaster believes to be a profoundly discouraged group of Jewish believers in Jerusalem who were at severe risk of leaving the faith of Messiah. From their point of view, they probably had good reasons for moving in that direction as well, but the letter’s writer was begging them not to.
“Consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession,” he said. Consider Jesus. Consider who he is and who you are in him. Sure, times are tough. You love the Temple and it is being taken from you by those who do not love our Master. But consider Jesus. Don’t give up. Don’t give in. Persevere for the sake of he who is greater than Abraham, greater than Moses, greater than even the Angels through whom the Torah was delivered to the Israelites and ultimately to mankind.
Moses was the faithful servant in God’s House, and Messiah is the faithful Son over God’s House. They both gave their lives for the sake of God’s household, God’s people, God’s family. Though we are not exalted to the level of the Master nor to the level of Moses, yet are we not also asked to give all that we have for the sake of our Father in Heaven and for each other as family? Are we not the Bride of Christ?