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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + January 4, 2017

Hebrews 5:11-6:8
Luke 21:5-7, 10-11, 20-24

Hebrews 5:11-6:8 (NKJV)
Of whom, brethren, we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame. For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned. 

Luke 21:5-7, 10-11, 20-24 (NKJV)
Then, as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see – the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down." So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences; and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."

Commentary 

Today's Scripture readings contain warnings aimed at us as Christians. Though both many of the Fathers and many modern scholars debate the exact origins of the Epistle to the Hebrews, most agree that it is Pauline. While some may dispute whether or not it is from the pen of St. Paul himself, there is no doubt that the ideas therein come from St. Paul's theological mind and experience, and so that it emerged, if not directly from him, then from a member of his close circle of fellow-workers and apostles. One reason for the differences that so many readers have noticed between this epistle and St. Paul's others is that the Epistle to the Hebrews is not an epistle in the proper sense. It does not represent a letter composed as such, but is rather in form and structure a sermon or homily that has been transcribed and circulated as the body of a letter. Taking all of this into account, the book has always been utilized in the Church as specifically, "St. Paul's Epistle to the Hebrews".

In today's reading, the Apostle is addressing an audience that, spiritually speaking, has remained in childhood rather than coming to maturity. Though they should be ready for solid food, they are still at the level of needing the milk of very basic instruction in the Faith. He describes what these basic matters are. This community of Christians has heard the proclamation of the Gospel, of Christ's death and resurrection, and His victory over the powers of sin and death and hell which had held His creation hostage for so long. They have heard that Christ is coming again to judge the living and the dead. They have received Baptism and the Holy Spirit and become Christians. However, puzzlingly to St. Paul, they have not moved past that level of development. They should, by now, he says, have come to some level of maturity in knowing for themselves what is right and wrong, and in actually pursuing life in this world as a Christian for themselves.

These men and women have joined the Church, they have become Christians. They have, opened up before them, a path which leads to eternal life in the Kingdom. They have before them the potential to share in the life of God Himself. Rather than pursue these things, however, they are content merely to have gotten in the door. They are perfectly happy with their status as infant Christians, and seem to have no desire to progress farther and become something more. Just as being chosen from all the nations of the Earth to receive the revelation of God in the Torah did the people of Israel no good when they failed to put it into action and to obey it, so also, the Apostle must now warn us, will our having heard the Gospel, and even being baptized with water and the Spirit avail nothing if we do not continue to live a life following Christ.

Worse, with such a great salvation opened up before, a salvation purchased for no less a price than the blood of Jesus Christ offered for us, if we ignore this opportunity or take it lightly, there will be no other chance in the future of which we might avail ourselves. The Grace which we have received was far from 'cheap', and if we belittle it through our apathy, we who have come to know Him belittle and slander Christ Himself. The possibility of our salvation, and the Grace which works with us in order to work to accomplish it are the gift of God, like soil that receives the rain and nutrients in their season, we must still bring forth fruit of repentance and holiness.

We cannot, as the hearers of the Epistle of the Hebrews seemed to desire, get our foot in the door of the Church and consider this 'sufficient'. We cannot hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ, be baptized into the Name of the Holy Trinity, and then go back to living life as usual as if nothing has changed. The new birth that comes to us in Baptism is, in fact, the beginning of a new life; a life which must proceed from infancy through childhood and into maturity. It represents being placed on a road which leads to the Kingdom, and taking the first important steps, but there are many, many steps more on the journey.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us not be content to remain spiritual infants, passive and dependent. Let us work to come to maturity as we pursue God and follow Christ with all of our hearts, souls, minds, and strength. Let us remember the price that Christ was willing to pay out of His profound love for us, and never belittle it through apathy or indifference. Let us be prepared to carry our cross when the path becomes difficult, knowing that we walk the path that was trod by Christ Himself on the way to His Glory, a Glory in which we all hope to come to share in His Kingdom.

Questions to Ponder

  1. In today's epistle reading St. Paul speaks of coming to spiritual maturity, and the fact that too many of his hearers have still not reached the point where they are able to discern for themselves what is right and what is wrong both in theology and morally. Children, of course, are not expected to make their own decisions, but to obey the instructions given them by others. When one becomes an adult, he or she has to take responsibility for his or her own decisions. When you look at your spiritual life, is maturity something you pursue? Are you content to be spoon fed small amounts of the Truth on Sunday morning, or do you seek to learn and understand the things of God for yourself? Are you making an effort to grow closer to God, and to reform your life through confession and repentance, or are you passively waiting for something to happen?
  2. In today's Gospel reading, Christ speaks to us concerning the destruction of Jerusalem's temple, and much of the city and surrounding villages, which took place in 70 A.D. He uses this prophetic image, however, as a sign, to point us to the sufferings which were to come to His followers in this world, culminating in the final Judgment which is to come when this world reaches its end. Does the reality that our life in this world, and ultimately this world itself, will one day end factor into your thoughts and awareness from day-to-day? Do you live your life in this world in light of the fact that it will not last forever? Do you spend time in prayer preparing to one day meet our Lord face to face?
  3. Today's reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews contains a dire warning. If we neglect the salvation that God has offered us in Christ Jesus our Lord through His death and resurrection, there is no other salvation waiting for us. If we receive the Eucharist and the other mysteries of the Church and remain unmoved in our hearts and souls, if we hear the call to repent and ignore it, if we have the Gospel presented to us plainly, and we do nothing but shrug and nod our heads, there is not some further hope for us. As you examine your heart, do you hear and follow through on what you hear and experience in the services of the Church? Do you take receiving the sacraments seriously by preparing yourself as the Church teaches? Do you hear only, or do you hear and put into practice in your life?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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