Church Write-Up: Hebrews 5:1-10; Mark 10:23-34; Ecclesiastes 5

Here are some items from this week’s LCMS Bible study:

A. Our first text was Hebrews 5:1-10.

The pastor said that one reason that the author of Hebrews was discouraging his audience to go back to Judaism, in an attempt to avoid persecution, was that they would find no assurance in Judaism. In the Old Testament, the priest went into the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement, and there as no guarantee that he would come out. Because of Jesus, however, Christians can come boldly before the throne of grace, knowing that God hears them. There may be something to that. I wonder how this view would account for passages that suggest that God will not hear certain prayers. Most of them appear to be in the Old Testament, so one can perhaps say that God operated that way in the Old Testament but now, in this age of grace, God hears the prayers of those who trust Christ’s grace for salvation, period, as flawed as they may be. Yet, there is I Peter 3:7, which warns Christians against hindering their prayers through family discord. There are also New Testament passages about God not giving people what they request (James 1:6-7; 4:3), due to certain moral or spiritual issues. But could one say that God at least hears their prayers due to God’s grace, even if God does not give them what they want?

Hebrews 5:5 states: “So also Christ glorified not himself to be made an high priest; but he that said unto him, Thou art my Son, to day have I begotten thee” (KJV). The pastor said that this is quoting Psalm 2, which was a coronation Psalm. God, by begetting David, was essentially anointing David to be king. Similarly, God’s begetting of Jesus at baptism was God anointing Jesus to be priest.

Someone in the class asked about Melchizedek. The pastor said that the rabbis had a tradition that Melchizedek was an eternal priest and showed up when Abraham needed him. I checked the Jewish Encyclopedia, the Anchor Bible Dictionary, and the Lexham Bible Dictionary. My impression from the last two is that Qumran interpreted Melchizedek to be a heavenly eternal priest, but later rabbinic literature largely repudiated that idea and was responding to the Epistle to the Hebrews by contending that Melchizedek was Shem, son of Noah, not a supernatural figure.

The pastor tossed in the historical detail that, by Jesus’ day, the high priest was elected for a year or so. The Sanhedrin elected him, and Pilate had to approve.

The pastor drew contrasts between Lutheran/Protestant views of the priesthood and Roman Catholic views. Lutherans see Jesus as the high priest, whereas Catholics believe that priests somehow continue the Aaronic priesthood by conveying God’s forgiveness to people. The pastor said that he does something different from that when he pronounces the church people as forgiven every Sunday, for he speaks forgiveness under the authority of Christ. The pastor also said that Catholics see the mass as a nonbloody sacrifice for sin, whereas the pastor consecrates the Eucharist rather than treating it as a nonbloody sacrifice.

B. The second text was Mark 10:23-34, the story of the rich young ruler. The rich young ruler thought that he was blessed of God due to his many possessions, and that he was righteous because he had kept the commandments. He thought that, naturally, he would be a good follower of Jesus. He was too full of himself to be full of God. Jesus said it was easier for a camel to enter the eye of a needle than for a rich man to inherit the Kingdom of God. The pastor rejected the idea that the eye of a needle was a narrow gate in Jerusalem, saying there is no archeological evidence for this. But the pastor had a spiritual problem with this view as well. Seeing the eye of a needle as a mere gate implies that a camel can get through with enough effort. Similarly, we might think that we can get into the Kingdom of God by being humble enough. But that is impossible, for we can never be humble enough. That is why salvation is about what God does. The pastor said that the saying about the eye of a needle may be based on a Persian saying about an elephant being unable to fit through the eye of a needle; the Hebrews adapted that saying to an animal in their own setting, the camel.

Peter told Jesus that he and the disciples left everything to follow him. On first sight, the pastor said, one might think that Peter was making salvation about himself and what he did rather than what God does. Alternatively, though, Peter may have been shedding light on the practices of the early Christian community. Jesus said that those who leave family and lands for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel will gain family and lands, along with persecution, in this life, as well as eternal life. When one becomes a Christian, one enters a new family. Christians back then shared their possessions, pooling them together and using them for the needs of people in the community (Acts 5). In that sense, Christians gained lands. Someone in the class drew a parallel between that and today’s Christian health insurance plans. Jesus mentions persecution, the pastor said, to bring Christians down to earth so that they do not get caught up in earthly possessions. Christians may have earthly possessions, but they view them from the perspective of their life in Christ. I thought of I Timothy 6:17-18, which exhorts rich Christians not to be highminded but to do good and to be rich in good works.

C. The third text was Ecclesiastes 5:18-20. The pastor commented, though, on Ecclesiastes 5 as a whole. Ecclesiastes 5 opens by telling people to hear from God rather than making vows. They are trying to make a deal with God, to impress God with their vows; that differs from what Hebrews has, namely, being confident on account of what Christ has done and is doing. Ecclesiastes is also about the futility of wealth. One may work hard all his life and leave his wealth to a foolish son. Or one may work hard and at the end of the day be tired, as his employer gets most of the profit. You can’t take it with you. What is the source of happiness? Seeing God as one’s provider. At the beginning of the class, a lady read a note about how the life of faith includes being so full of joy that one is preoccupied with that and not one’s problems.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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