Hebrews 9: The True Sanctuary

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
March 7, 2021
Hebrews 9 

Taped at Bluemont Church on Friday, March 5, 2021

At the beginning of worship: 

So far, in the book of Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to everything. He tops angels and folks like Moses as well as the temple priests. He’s divine, having come from and returned to God’s heavenly throne.

Last week, the author returned to a previous topic, Jesus as High Priest. This week and next, we’ll see what this means in terms of the sanctuary and the need for a sacrifice. 

Journey to the holy lands 

This past week I read a book that was part devotional and part historical. Lisa Deam, a medieval historian, authored 3000 Miles to Jesus.[1] She follows several pilgrims to the Holy Lands in the 13th and 14th Centuries. 

Traveling to the Holy Lands was quite a journey in those days. Think about someone coming from England. They’d cross the channel and walk or ride a horse across France. They had the Alps to climb. Then they’d head to Venice, where they’d secure passage on a boat to the Holy Lands. 

During this era, it goes without saying, there were no plush cruises. No umbrella drinks on the veranda. Sea travel was tough. And then, once they arrived along the coast of Palestine, they had deal with customs and hire a guide. They usually rode a donkey to Jerusalem. At this time, the Holy Lands were under the control of Muslims, which also created challenges. 

It goes without saying that many died on this journey, but a many made it and they inspired others.  

These pilgrims in the medieval era put up with all kinds of hardship for an opportunity to walk where Jesus’ walked. Some of them had euphoric experiences in Jerusalem, others were disappointed. I can understand such disappointment. They had this hope of connecting in a tangible way to Jesus. But 12 or 13 centuries after Jesus, Palestine wasn’t what they expected. 

We are pilgrims

Deams, throughout this book, reminds her readers that our lives are a pilgrimage. We long for an encounter with the divine. But we have to have faith and realize that such an encounter may only occur in the next world. We do not live in a perfect world. We are not called to be citizens here. We are not called to set down roots for sooner or later, we’ll have to move on. Instead, we’re called to live out our pilgrimage, whatever shape our journeys might take, knowing that our eternal destination is within another kingdom.  Even the church is transitory.[2] It’s a vehicle to help us reconnect with God. 

Today, in our text, we’ll see that while there is a purpose in earthly sanctuaries (like this one), the perfect sanctuary where Jesus works is beyond the present.

After the reading of Scripture: 

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone. 

This mantra came from Walter Hilton, a 14th Century Augustine monk, who wrote what might have been the “Lonely Planet Travel Guide” on pilgrimages, had such things existed back then.[3]

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.

Remember this mantra. How many of us live up to it? We only come to such faith by believing in the superiority of Jesus. Even then, it’s hard. But, sooner or later, our pilgrimage on this earth will come to an end and we’ll stand before the throne of God. At such a time, we’ll be naked. I’m not talking about the lack of clothes so much as being totally exposed. Our only hope will be in Jesus.

The old tabernacle 

In our passage today, we learn of a comparison between our earthly sanctuaries and the true sanctuary in heaven. When the covenant was made with Moses and the Hebrew people at Sinai, God gave them instruction on how to create a tabernacle.

This was one large tent. Portable, they could take it with them as they journeyed in the wilderness. The plans for this “tent-shrine”[4] is laid out in the 25th through the 27th chapters of Exodus. I encourage you to read through this at some point. The detail is exact. The type of wood to be used in construction is detailed. The “furniture” that occupied the tent, and the fabric that adorned the walls are specified. 

The design called for a curtain created out of blue, purple and crimson yarns and twisted fine linen. Woven into this curtain was a cherubin. It hung by golden hooks from a gold clad acacia wood rod, held up by silver posts.[5] Behind this was the “Holy of Holies,” which was only to be entered by the High Priest, once a year. 

An imperfect image of a perfect reality

But this tent/sanctuary was only an imperfect image of a perfect reality. That holy chamber, where earthly priests sought forgiveness for our sin, with dried blood of animals all around, wasn’t able to make them good or perfect. According to verse 7, its effect was only on unintentional sin. But the heavenly counterpart to the early tabernacle is able to provide, not a once-a-year cleansing, but eternal redemption because Christ himself offered his own blood for our behalf.

Now this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive not to sin because Christ has forgiven us. In the next chapter, our preacher will strongly condemn such thoughts.[6]

Thankfully, our hope is not in the tent of the first covenant, but in the new covenant. We need access to this truer tent, which Christ supplies. We also need to be aware that when we accept the first tent, the early one, to be the real tent, “our human hopes are misplaced.”[7] The tent, like the church, can become an idol. 

The Church

This passage has something to say to the church, of which we’re a part. Like the tent of the first covenant, the church we see on earth has been created by humans. It started with the Apostles being sent out by the resurrected Jesus to tell world of the good news. And it’s done a lot of good in the world, but our slate isn’t exactly perfect. Our ancestors fought wars over what Jesus meant by one statement or another. We are often quick to condemn those who don’t see things like we do.  Sadly, our churches often lack grace. 

We need to take ourselves less seriously. And we need to realize that salvation isn’t from the church itself. Jesus provides salvation. The church is just a messenger, and an imperfect one at that. However, our marching orders are important. The church is the vehicle Christ instituted through the disciples to continue his work in the world. 

The Church isn’t to be worshipped

So, while it is important for us to be in the church, we must not worship the church. We should acknowledge that there is no perfect church on the earth. This goes for Bluemont and Mayberry and all other churches in our neighborhood. 

Sadly, we don’t have to look very far to confirm the church’s imperfection. After all, look at all the major ministries that have shown us such truth: In the last few years, there’s been Mars Hill in Seattle, Willow Creek outside of Chicago, Hillsong in the northeast, Menlo Park out West, among many others. 

We need to realize that this side of glory, we’re never going to be perfect. And we need to be thankful that our salvation isn’t in our doing but in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. 

A longing for God

At best, the church gives people a longing for God. God’s book, the Bible, must be central. Our lives must be gracious and godly. If we can give people a taste of God, God’s Holy Spirit can take care of the rest. While our worship fails to live up to the heavenly glory we read about in Revelation,[8] that’s not a reason for us to give up. Instead, we help people have a small taste of what’s to come. We know Jesus has gone before us, pulling back that curtain that shielded us from coming into God’s presence.  

Baseball and being close to the action

Let me tell you a story. Baseball season is almost here. Spring training is underway. When I was a seminary student in Pittsburgh, I enjoyed going to the old Three Rivers Stadium and watching the Pirates. Wednesday night games were a favorite. If you were willing to sit up in the nosebleed section, where you actually had a good view of the whole field, it was only a buck. A buck to watch the Bucs.[9] This was back in the ‘80’s. 

One Saturday afternoon, I was willing to pay the big bucks. The Dean’s secretary and I were going on a date to a game. Back then, the Pirates were so bad, you didn’t have to buy tickets in advance. When I picked her up, she asked if I had tickets. “No,” I said. “We’ll get ‘em at the stadium.” She smiled and handed me two tickets. I looked down and couldn’t believe it. The seats were right behind home plate, just five rows up. These seats weren’t available to just anyone. I was shocked, humbled, and impressed. 

Her brother, who was in management at the William Penn hotel in downtown Pittsburgh, heard we were going to the game. Since the hotel had these seats reserved for the season, and nobody had claimed them, he gave them to us. It was exciting to be brought so close to the action. 

As a church we are to bring people closer to God. Just as I was brought close to the action that Saturday in Pittsburgh, in our own limited ways, we are to help people come closer to Jesus. But we will still remain separated until that time, to continue with this metaphor, when we find ourselves not just inside the park but on the field with Jesus.  


So, don’t worry that your church is not perfect. Jesus will take care of it. The same goes with us. Don’t worry that you’re imperfect. Jesus will take care of that, too. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to be better. Yes, we are all to strive to be better while we depend on the love of Jesus. For in the end, when our pilgrimage is over, we must strand there exposed before the throne. Hopefully, at such a time, we can say (can you say it with me?):

I am nothing.
I have nothing.
I desire nothing except the love of Jesus alone.  Amen. 

[1] Lisa Deam, 3000 Miles to Jesus: Pilgrimage as a Way of Life for Spiritual Seekers (Minneapolis: Broadleaf Books, 2021). 

[2] See Revelation 21:22. There is no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem with the presence of God. 

[3] Deams, 20, 68.

[4] The term “tent-shrine” is used in the footnotes for this passage in The New Interpreter’s Bible: NRSV. 

[5] Exodus 26:15-37. 

[6] See Hebrews 10:26. See also Hebrews 6:4-6 and Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville: WJK, 2006), 223. 

[7] Johnson, 225. 

[8] See especially Revelation 7:9-17.

[9] The nickname for the Pirates, “Bucs,” is shortened from Buccaneer.

The New Covenant

Jeff Garrison  
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 28, 2021
Hebrews 8 

Recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, February 26, 2021

At the beginning of worship

Today, as we’re continuing our work through the book of Hebrews, the author turns toward a topic he mentioned in the previous chapter: a new covenant. A covenant is a contract between two parties, in this case, between God and humanity. 

The Covenant of Works

The author of Hebrews also speaks of the earlier covenant, one of works, made with Moses and the Hebrew people at Sinai. The covenant of works required obedience. But it didn’t work. The Israelites couldn’t live up to the covenant. As the Westminster Standards states, “God freely offered a second covenant, the covenant of grace.” Even while we’re in sin, God offers us life and salvation. Our requirement is that we respond with faith in Jesus Christ.[1]

The Covenant of Grace

In the covenant of grace, we witness God’s good intention for humanity. God provides a way for us to reconnect to our Creator and restore the relationship that was broken at the fall. Such an act by a gracious God fulfills John 3:16, “for God so loved the world.” Think back to the image I used two weeks ago. God has us on belay. Even if we fall off the cliff, God holds the rope. 

Of course, a covenant requires the approval of both parties. God offers us a covenant, but do we accept this offer? Do we agree with the terms that we trust fully and only in Jesus Christ? Today, our scripture will be Hebrews 8.

After reading the scripture: Trying to impress others

How often do we do things to earn the approval of others?  There may be a few people who are so disconnected from what other people think who don’t, at least occasionally, try to earn the approval of others. But most of us are like Charlie Brown, trying to get the attention of the Little Red-Haired Girl. 

Sometimes we do silly and stupid things. The kid in school who gets in trouble as a way to be seen by a girl or get a laugh from friends. Who would do that? These kinds of attempts to earn approval are a gold mind for sitcoms and humorous movies. It rings true. We’ve all been there. 

Trying to impress God

On the one hand, it would be nice if we spent such energy trying to impress God. After all, God has created us with great potential. We should want to make something out of that potential. In a way, if we do, we have something to give back to the Almighty. But that’s the wrong approach. 

Let me tell you a story. When I was working for the Boy Scouts in Eastern North Carolina, we were trying to create more support for the program within the African American community. The funeral director in this town was a leader of that community and I approached him for help. Beyond the funeral home, he’d gotten Amway and saw me as a potential target for another member of his team. He swore to me that once he made a million dollars, he’d send every kid in this community to camp. I quickly realized I was not going to change his mind. 

The idea that we have to “make it” to be able to give back is flawed. First of all, we will never make it which is why there are so few self-proclaimed rich people in America. We will always be pushing for more and more. 

We have to learn to use what we have. When it comes to impressing God, it’s not about making and sacrificing a big fortune. Instead, as we’re told by the prophet Micah, God wants us to do justice, love kindness and to walk humbly with him.[2]

We can’t impress God

On the other hand, instead of trying to impress the Almighty, we should know we can’t impress God. To attempt to impress God is the wrong way to approach the being that knows all and sees all. Instead, our approach to God has to be with humility, gratitude, and kindness, not just toward God, but to those whom God has created. 

It’s okay, we have Jesus

Furthermore, we don’t have to impress God. We have a high priest who, as Tom Long describes, “is placed on the heavenly altar, once and for all, not only for his life but—astonishingly—ours, too.” Jesus “gathers up our hunger for approval and lived a life truly pleasing to God.”[3]Jesus takes us off the hook for having to impress God. 

As the Preacher of Hebrews proclaims, everything about Jesus is superior to what we can do. Not only does Jesus sit “at the right hand of the throne of Majesty in the heavens,” he ministers in a sanctuary that is greater than what we could have constructed. 

Today’s text

In the opening of today’s passage, the Preacher briefly goes over what he has just concluded teaching in the previous chapter. Jesus wouldn’t have been a priest on earth as we saw last week.[4] His ministry is more excellent than that. Earthly priest, who at the time labored in the temple, were mortals and limited in what they could do. They were bound by the old covenant, the covenant of works, which means that over and over again they’d have to offer sacrifice for sin. There were flaws in the first covenant. We, the human race, couldn’t hold up our end of the bargain!  

New Covenant grounded in the Old Testament

So, Jesus offers a new covenant.  But this covenant isn’t one out of thin air. The Preacher quotes a passage from Jeremiah which shows this new covenant has long been a part of God’s plan.[5]

I find a lot of meaning on these words from Jeremiah. Years ago, in an article I wrote for the Presbyterian Outlook, back when our nation battled over having the 10 Commandments posted on public property, I referred to this passage. If we let God write his law upon our hearts and instill them within our minds, no one can take them away. 

Don’t make an idol out of the law

Furthermore, by internalizing the law, we can be constantly reminded of what God wants from us. Otherwise, we just are reminded by this when we look at a chiseled granite monument.[6] We’re not to make an idol out of the law, as it happened at times with Israel. The law is to be living internally within us. 

Also, a new relationship with God

But the greatest promise in Jeremiah’s word isn’t about the law, but a new relationship with God. Because of the work of Jesus, we can know God. It’s not a matter of teaching us what to do that is important, but us having intimate knowledge of God. Then, we can experience God’s mercy and forgiveness. Then we can live in a way that’s honorable, just, and kind. This new promised covenant provides us the freedom to live up to our full God-given potential. When we accept this covenant, we no longer need to fear the vengeance of God.

What we have with this new covenant is a shift in how God relates to the human race. And the good news is that the whole tragic history of the human race, the sin and shame, the guilt, the broken promises and the torn relationships are not the last word. In this new covenant, God promises a new day of mercy.[7] As one theologian sums up this chapter, “The age of the prophets and law is past; the age of the Son is here.[8]

What were the problem with the old covenant

Let me say a little about the old covenant. It’s easy for us to walk away and to think there was something wrong with it. The only wrong thing with the old covenant was our inability to abide by it! The cliché from a Pogo comic, “we have met the enemy and he is us,” once again rings true.

But the old covenant wasn’t bad. As Scripture points out, the new rises out of the old.[9] We shouldn’t condemn the old. In fact, God’s law (which was revealed in the old covenant) helps us in several ways. The law shows us our need for a Savior. And once we accept the salvific work of Jesus, the law shows us how we are to live in a way that’s pleasing to God.[10]

What does it mean to live in the new covenant?

So, we give thanks for both covenants as we live into the new. This covenant provides us freedom to grow in Christ. To grow in Christ means that our hearts are tenderized so that we are gentle and gracious, loving and kind. In other words, we are Christ-like. And our lives will bring him glory and praise. Amen.

[1] Presbyterian Church USA, “Westminster Confession of Faith,” Chapter 8. See Book of Confessions, 6:037-039.  The Westminster Confession refers to the first covenant being with Adam, while the author of Hebrews is referring to the covenant made after the Hebrew people left Egypt and were in Sinai. 

[2] Micah 6:8.

[3] Thomas Long, Hebrews (Louisville, JKP, 1997), 90.

[4] See https://fromarockyhillside.com/2021/02/hebrews-71-22-christ-as-high-priest-part-2/

[5] The quote is from Jeremiah 31:31-34. Hebrews is quoting from the Greek Old Testament (the Septuagint). See Long, 92. For a difference between the Septuagint and the Hebrew text, see Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2006), 206-207. 

[6] See Jeff Garrison, “What Commandments Mean Is More Important than a Slab of Granite,” The Presbyterian Outlook, September 29, 2003.

[7] Long, 92. 

[8] F. F. Bruce (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 179.

[9] See Presbyterian Church USA, Book of Confessions, Second Helvetic Confession, XII, “The Law of God” (5.080-5.085)

[10] John Calvin speaks of three uses of the law: 1. Brings us to repentance, 2. Helps our sanctification by showing us what’s pleasing to God, and 3. The fear of it keeps the reprobate from becoming worse and being a menace to society. 

Hebrews 7:1-22, Christ as High Priest, part 2

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 21, 2021
Hebrews 7:1-22

Recorded at Bluemont Church on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021

Thoughts at the beginning of worship

Today as we continue working through the Book of Hebrews, I want to get off on the right foot and remind you of the doctrine of Total Depravity. There’s no place better to start than at the bottom. We can work our way up. This doctrine of the Reformed Tradition helps us understand our need for a High Priest. 

I’m reminded of the old theologian who had enough humility to thank God for the doctrine of total depravity. His students were shocked, especially when he acknowledged it to be the only doctrine of the church he could admit to having lived up to. 

We are flawed with sin which breaks our relationship with our Creator. We need of someone to plea our case and represent us before God, the best advocate we can find. That’s why it’s good to have Jesus as our High Priest. Think of Jesus as our lead counsel in a high-profile legal proceeding.  

What is Total Depravity?

That said, the doctrine of total depravity doesn’t mean we’re as bad as we can be. Sadly, we can always be worse as is often demonstrated. What this doctrine means that sin has tainted everything in our lives and world.

Paul, in his letter to the Romans, acknowledges this when he speaks of creation itself groaning from the bondage and decay it’s under because of sin.[1] Our only hope to get out of the mess we’re in is to have a Savior like Jesus. Jesus pulls us up out of the muck, pleas our case before God, and covers us with his own righteousness. This sums up the message of Hebrews. It sums up the gospel. Our faith is all about Jesus. We trust in him. We follow him. 

Insight into Hebrews

In today’s text we learn about several things which have already introduced. 


First, we have this dude named Melchizedek, a mysterious figure who takes up a few verses in Genesis. He also appears once in the Psalms.[2]That’s all we know about him until we get to Hebrews.[3]

Perhaps because much of Melchizedek’s history is shrouded in the past, he’s an intriguing character. We know from literature of the New Testament era, Melchizedek was frequently mentioned in Jewish rabbinical teachings.[4] This means, those who first heard this message, would likely to have been familiar with him. In Hebrews 7, the author spends a third of the chapter writing about old Mel. But even here, this isn’t a chapter about Mel. The author wants to exalt Jesus and Mel becomes an archetype for Jesus’ priesthood.

The second theme already introduced to us earlier in this book is Jesus’ role as a high priest (Click here to read the first sermon on this topic). We might recall that the author mentioned this earlier (in the 4th chapter[5]). But the topic was lightly covered. Think of it like drinking milk[6]. Now he develops this role of Jesus more fully. He’s grilling steak. We’re getting into the solid food, now.

High Priest

Today we’re looking at the first two-thirds of Chapter Chapter 7. I’m going to read the text from The Message translation, to give you a new way to hear this passage. I would encourage you to listen to it being read. If you think about it, Scripture was first heard as most people couldn’t read. So, listen. As we get into the text, use you Bibles or the sheets in the bulletin to follow along.   

Click here to read Hebrews 8:1-22 (The Message)

After the Reading of Scripture

One day, Calvin (the boy who used to be in the comic strips) stood before a mirror. Wearing only underpants, he admires his physique. Pumping his biceps, he proclaims, “Made in God’s own image, yes sir!” Hobbes, lounging on the floor, looks up and mutters, “God must have a good sense of humor. 

I like Hobbes. He keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. The truth is, although created in God’s image, we have digressed from God’s original intention.  Thankfully, God provides a way for the stain of sin to be removed through the saving work of Jesus Christ.

Christ: Prophet, Priest, & King

As I’ve shared before, the church teaches that Christ has three positions: Prophet, Priest, and King.[7] As King, he has ultimate authority over our lives and the world. The other two positions, Prophet and Priest, complement each other. 

Think of it this way. The prophet is like God’s transmitter, broadcasting God’s word to the people. The priest is like God’s receiver, collecting the people’s concern to present to God. As prophet and priest, Jesus is like a transceiver, a radio that does both functions. Today our focus is on Jesus as priest.

Jesus as High Priest

As I pointed out at the beginning, this is the second time the Preacher in Hebrews delves into the role of the High Priest. On January 31, the sermon you had to watch or read online because of the snowstorm we were experiencing, I spoke about how as High Priest, Jesus was our advocate. Because he’s lived among us, he knows our weaknesses and identifies with us. 

The Non-Linear Nature of Hebrews 

As we’ve already heard about Jesus as High Priest, let me say more about the structure of Hebrews. The author often introduces a subject, sometime even deals with it on one level, then returns to it later for a more detailed treatment. 

We see this at the end of today’s passage with the mention of a better covenant. But the author doesn’t pick up this theme until the next chapter. This scattered style can drive those of us educated in the West crazy. We’re used to linear arguments. This book, to us, seems scattered. One theologian writing on Hebrews makes this useful analogy:

Hebrews has been compared to an intricate crocheted piece which picks up a new thread again and again, but then carries all the threads through the piece, weaving them into the pattern. Thus, to take hold of one thread is to have hold of the whole piece. Those schooled in the ways of Western literature and seeking an ordered progression of ideas will seek in vain in Hebrews. What is always true of the Bible is emphatically true here: texts must be read in context.”[8].  

Old Testament background

To fully understand Christ’s role as our High Priest, we must spend some time in the Old Testament and grasp what the priesthood meant to the Hebrew people. We almost get the idea that someone spoke during this sermon, asking how Jesus could be a High Priest. After all, Jesus was from the tribe of Judah. The priests were Levites (which, by the way, had nothing to do with wearing jeans).

The Levites received the assignment of all priestly functions for Israel.[9] So, Jesus, who was not from the Levite clan, the preacher insists, belongs to a higher priesthood. This is where King Melchizedek comes in. He was identified in Genesis as a priest of the God Most High.[10]  

Melchizedek’s role

Melchizedek becomes an archetype for Jesus’ priestly role for several reasons. First of all, he received a tithe from Abraham, a tenth of the spoils of war that Abraham had collected after he had released Lot and his family who were hostages of war. Second, the author points out Melchizedek’s name, which implies righteousness. And his city is named for peace. Peace and righteousness are attributes of Jesus. And he notes that he has no genealogy. 

You know, genealogy is important in Scripture. Even Jesus, at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, has a genealogy.[11] This may seem to conflict with what we are told in Hebrews. But the preacher in Hebrews, at this point, is focusing on the divinity of Christ. He’s already made the case for the timeliness of Jesus, who was at creation.[12] We have seen throughout this book how Jesus leaves heaven and comes to earth and then returns, which emphasizes his eternal reign, instead of his life as his earthly son of Mary and Joseph. 

The role of the tithe 

Interestingly, the preacher in Hebrews even shows how this priesthood of Melchizedek is superior to the Levite priesthood because through Abraham, Levi gave a tithe to Melchizedek. We may see this as a stretch. Levi’s father is Jacob, which makes Abraham his great-grandfather. In other words, Levi won’t be born for a couple of generations. But since he comes from Abraham’s line of descendants, the author makes the case that Levi was in Abraham’s loins.  

Limitation of Levite Priests

The second reason for the superiority of Christ’s priesthood is the limitations of the Levite priests. They die and have to be replace. They are sinful and have to make extra sacrifices for their own sins before they can take care of others. But Jesus, as our High Priest, is eternal and sinless. He can focus on our needs. 

What this has to do with us:

Sooner or later, we’re all going to die and will have to answer for our lives and what we’ve done with them. We have a choice. We can defend ourselves, but you know the old adage, “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” 

Or, we can try to find some ambulance chaser, but remember, they’re only in for the money. They won’t have a reason to help us after death. Our only hope is to accept the gracious offer of the best counselor available. We let Jesus him defend us with his own righteousness. His offer is the only one that makes sense. 

Let us pray:

Almighty God, we know we are sinful. Sin has crept into our world and taints our lives. Unable to pull ourselves out of this state, we depend on Jesus Christ, our lead counsel, our High Priest, who covers us with his righteousness. Freed of sin, help us to we live for him. Amen. 

[1] Romans 8:22.

[2] See Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalms 109:4. 

[3] He’s already been introduced. See Hebrews 5:6, 5:10 and 6:20.

[4] Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, WJKP, 2006), 181-183. In Excursus 4, Johnson provides detail into the Jewish writings on Melchizedek. 

[5] See Hebrews 4:14-5:6. 

[6] See Hebrews 5:12-13. 

[7] Westminster Confession 8.1, Westminster Larger Catechism questions 41-45,  Westminster Shorter Catechism questions 23-26.

[8] Stanley N. Olson, “Wandering But Not Lost,” Word and World, 5/4 (1985) St. Paul, MN: Luther Seminary, page 429.  Seehttp://wordandworld.luthersem.edu/content/pdfs/5-4_Gender/5-4_Olson.pdf

[9] Numbers 3:5-13.

[10] Genesis 14:18 (and this reference to the God Most High occurs twice again in this short passage about Melchizedek. 

[11] Matthew 1:1-17.

[12] Hebrews 1:2

Hebrews 6: Motivation

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
February 7, 2021
Hebrews 5:11-6:12

With the possibility of more bad weather tomorrow, I am posting this earlier and including an outline of the bulletin along with announcements for both churches. -Jeff

Sermon taped on Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 at Bluemont Presbyterian Church

At the beginning of worship

In our worship today, I want you to ponder a question. What does it take to be motivated? And I want us to grapple with this question in light of a Christian truth. As Christians, we’re called to move.[1] We’re not to be couch potatoes. 

In the Book of Acts, one of the early names of our faith, even before being called Christian, is “The Way.”[2] In the Gospel of John, Jesus speaks of himself as the way, along with the truth and life.[3] The Christian life is a journey. John Bunyan named his classic allegory of the faith, “Pilgrim’s Progress.” As Christians, it’s not enough to just be “born again,” and to leave it at that. We are called to grow in faith. 

In our Reformed Tradition, the theology of the Presbyterian Church, we speak of “reformed yet always reforming” as we’re guided by scripture and the Holy Spirit.[4] As Christians, living in this world, we’re not to rest on our laurels. We’re to strive to better ourselves and to strengthen our connection to God. As long as we’re in this life where sin is prevalent, we can improve. So how do we get motivated to grow in our faith? 

How do we motivate?

We motivate dogs with treats. We speak of dangling carrots to encourage someone to reach a goal. Some people use fear to motivate others, which may get results and may also cause resentment. Employers use bonuses to motivate employees. Groups call for teamwork to get everyone doing their part. There’s lots of ways to motivate people, but what’s the best way to get us focused on “the Way of life?” 

We’ll see in the Book of Hebrew this morning that motivation isn’t a new problem. The preacher in this book uses what we might call “reverse psychology” to encourage his listens to get their butts in gear.  This week, I’m reading the scripture in The Message translation. Read Hebrews 5:11-6:12

After the reading of scripture: 

One of the proudest moments of my life occurred at Camp Tom Upchurch, which I attended when in Boy Scouts. The Wednesday night campfire was a big deal. As the light drained from the sky, a staff member would light an arrow that had been wrapped in cloth in the campfire. He’d then draw back a bow, sending it flying up in the sky only to fall like a meteor into the waters of the lake. Then, in the distance, we’d hear drums. Out on the lake, as if coming out of a mist, appeared a canoe. An Indian chief stood in tall in the center, illuminated by a lantern in the bottom of the canoe. Two braves paddled. Everyone wore native ceremonial dress. We watched, spellbound. 

When the canoe pulled ashore, the chief danced into the crowd of scouts. Turning quickly, he tapped on a shoulder of a boy and lifted him up. One of the braves took him out front to stand. This happened a number of times. When the chief got to me, I was startled when he turned and tapped on my shoulders. He lifted me up off the bench and one of the braves whisked me to the front with the others. We had been selected to become a part of the Order of the Arrow.

I wasn’t really sure what was happening. I didn’t know I had been chosen from all the scouts in my troop until the moment the chief turned in front of me. But this was only the beginning of a journey. Yes, we had been chosen. But to be inducted in this fraternal organization, we had to endure an ordeal.  

The Ordeal 

A few weeks later, I was back at camp. The ordeal started Friday night with a campfire. Those of us who were to undergo the ordeal could only bring a blanket, poncho, and knife with us. We were put under an order of silence, for 24 hours, then taken out into the woods where we spent the night by ourselves, accompanied only by mosquitoes. We were ordered to stay at our assign spot till morning. And before we were picked up, we had to carve an arrow. 

It was a miserable night with mosquitoes swarming and the distant flashes of lightning threatening rain that never came. 

The next morning, they gathered us. We were given a string for our arrow to be tied around our necks. If we talked, a notch was carved into the shaft of our arrow. Three notches and you were out. They served us a runny egg on a piece of white bread for breakfast, along with some juice. Then it was time to work. 

Somehow, I ended up on the crew to repair some gullies along the lakeshore. We hauled old mattress springs and staked them into the gullies to deter erosion. Then half of us went to a sand pit where we shoveled dirt into the back end of trucks. The other half of the group unloaded the dirt into the gullies. 

Occasionally, we had a water break. It was hot. Lunch was a slice of bologna between two pieces of bread. There were no condiments. 

The Reward 

That evening, after the work was over, we were allowed to shower and put on our dress uniform. Starved, I enjoyed the best meal I ever had in a scout dining hall. We still couldn’t talk, which was fine because our mouths were busy being stuffed with food. Then there was another campfire. We were given our sashes and welcomed into the fellowship. I was proud. 

Our Order of the Arrow Lodge Flap

When I got back home, I told my mom about the ordeal. She couldn’t believe it. “You mean, all I have to do to get you to work around here is to promise you a reward if you keep your mouth shut and work hard? My pride was tempered. 

Ongoing progress

But you know, there was motivation involved because I wanted to be a member of the Order of the Arrow. I still look back fondly on that experience, but like the Christian journey, it didn’t stop there. There were further levels to go as I moved up in the organization and was able to shepherd others into the fellowship. 

Exploring the text: Reverse psychology 

The preacher in Hebrews has a problem. How can he encourage his audience, some of whom are tempted to leave the faith? How can he rally the troops? You know, we should all desire to please God, but it doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes we need motivation. 

The writer of Hebrews knew this.  He first tries a form of reverse psychology, shaming his listeners. He knows they can be better but suggests that they’re just like infants. They need milk, not solid food. To borrow a term from boxing, that’s a low blow. But as he berates them, he also notes they should, by now, be teachers. They should have the foundation of their faith in Jesus Christ laid and be building up it. So, he encourages them to get busy because he has high hopes for them. 

A warning

But then, after encouraging, he lays out a warning in verses 4 to 8. If they have experienced God’s goodness, if they have a taste of heaven, and then turn their backs on the faith, they will be lost. As a shepherd of the faithful, the preacher of Hebrews undoubtedly knows the tragic feeling of having those who are under his care and guidance, lose their faith and slip away. It hurts. He realizes this just doesn’t burden him, as they metaphorically “re-crucify” Jesus. 

The preacher then moves to a new topic, at least for him. Agriculture metaphors are common in scripture. Jesus speaks of how we’ll be known by the fruit we bear.[5] If our harvest is of weeds, God’s not going to be impressed! We get the sense here of a warning that is similar to the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit.[6] If we ignore God’s call to turn around, sooner or later it’s too late. We won’t have a harvest to show for our discipleship. 

The Preacher’s hope

The good news in this passage is that our author/preacher doesn’t think this will be a problem for his listeners. He senses that the God who knows all will see their love as shown in how they care for the needy. For this reason, they should have hope and continue on the course they’re on. 

The need for truth about our condition 

This passage may seem harsh, in places, but we need to understand the truth about ourselves and about God if we want to enjoy life to its fulness. The Russian writer Anton Chekov, in his notebooks wrote, a person “will only become better when you make him see what he is like.”[7]

There are times when we need to hear the truth. The wake-up call that the preacher gives his audience in Hebrews hopefully is enough to make them sit up in bed and ask, “What should I do.” Not only is the wake-up call harsh, but there is also a high expectation. However, this is tempered with a confirmation that the preacher believes they rise to the occasion. The judgment is tempered with encouragement and hope. 

Hopefully when we hear the truth from someone, it will be done as gracefully as we have in these verses. Furthermore, if there is someone whom we need to give a truthful message to, we should make sure our message is as gracious as the preacher from Hebrews. Amen. 

[1] Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville: WJKP. 1997), 72. 

[2] In Acts 9:2, those following Jesus were said to belong to “the Way.”  The use of the word “Christian” is first mentioned in Antioch in Acts 11:26. 

[3] John 14:6.

[4] See https://www.presbyterianmission.org/what-we-believe/ecclesia-reformata/

[5] Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-45. 

[6] See “The Second Helvetic Confession,” Chapter XIV, “Errors” (5.102)in Presbyterian Church USA, The Book of Confession. 

[7] Ideas and quote from “William H. Willimon, Sinning Like a Christian: A New Look at the Seven Deadly Sins (Nashville: Abingdon, 2013), x-xi. 

Bulletin outline

Announcements Bluemont Church

  • Sunday School is each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. in Fellowship Hall.
  • Calendars for February are in the narthex.
  • Continuing on Monday, February 8, at 1:00 p.m., the pastor will hold the “Zoom” Bible study of the previous week’s sermon along with the upcoming week’s scripture readings. It will only be available virtually.  On Monday mornings, you will receive an email with an invite for the Bible Study.  To attend, please send an email to the pastor at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com
  • The Session will meet following the worship service on Sunday, February 14.
  • Communion will be observed on Sunday, February 14. Everyone is invited to participate.
  • Note: The date for the Souper Bowl collection for Carroll County Social Services, which provides medicine and fuel for the elderly, will be rescheduled.


For bulletin announcements, please contact Lil Puckett by Thursday of the week at 276-398-2238 or email her at lillianpuckett@outlook.com.

If you have a need to contact Rev. Dr. Jeff Garrison, you may reach him on his cell number 269-804-9793 or email him at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com.  His mailing address is:   P. O. Box 140, Laurel Fork VA  24352.   Visit Pastor Jeff’s blog at https://fromarockyhillside.com . 

Announcements Mayberry Church

Today’s bulletin insert describes God’s Souper Bowl “Multiplication Miracle” … Please take a moment to read about its … Presbyterian beginnings, astonishing growth, remarkable impact upon hunger across America, and history here at Mayberry … Then join with members and friends of Mayberry who have generously supported this effort for 20 consecutive years.  Please use the envelopes found in today’s bulletin … and make it 21 yearsa!

Monday (2/8) – Zoom Bible Study – 1:00-2:00 pm

Tomorrow, Pastor Jeff … will be leading our second “Zoom” Bible Study.  Each Monday participants receive an invitation from Jeff that enables them to make the “Zoom” connection.  The invitation also includes questions that will guide discussion of … 

(1) yesterday’s sermon and (2) next Sunday’s scripture passage.

What’s unique about this approach? Well, we receive a deeper understanding of Sunday’s sermon, and we get ready to receive next Sunday’s sermon messages.             

The “Zoom” discussion begins at 1:00 pm and lasts up to an hour. To sign up … please send an email to Pastor Jeff at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com indicating you’d like to be involved and you’ll be “good to go”! Those who signed up for last week’s study … need not send an email.                                

Monday (2/8) – Addiction Recovery Support Group – 7:00 pm

Persons fighting addictions gather on Monday evenings for prayer and mutual support to strengthen their use of the AA’s 12-step discipline.  Somebody you care about may be fighting an addiction that is limiting the blessings their life with the Lord will bring them.  Call Deborah Reynolds, at 276-251-1389, for more information. 

Tuesday (2/9) – Session Meeting – 1:00 pm

Lots to do for the Lord   See the next announcement for the kinds of things that your session will be grappling with as it continues to deal with balancing our health and our spiritual needs.  Please share thoughts you may have with Pastor Jeff, 

or any of our elders – Richard, Mary, Shep, Martha, or Rick.

February’s Calendar – Lenten/Easter Season

February’s Calendar is included in this morning’s bulletin.  The Lenten Season begins next Sunday (2/14) … Ash Wednesday follows on (2/17) … Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week on (3/28) … and Easter Sunday on April 4th.  

The Session has not yet mapped out our full set of plans for 2021’s Lenten/Easter Season, and is considering how Covid will impact our Easter celebrations.  For example, do Covid restrictions prevent our normal Imposition of Ashes service on Ash Wednesday?  Can we add an Easter Sunrise Service to our Easter Sunday celebrations?  Stay tuned … decisions are on the way!   

 Meadows of Dan’s January 27th Blood Drive Results 

A nice turnout at our January 27th Blood Drive produced 34 units of Blood.  We’re told by the Red Cross that those donations will have a lifesaving impact on 102 persons needing medical care.

The Red Cross also tells us that they have received nearly 300,000 fewer donations since Covid infections surfaced last March.  Our next blood drive will be March 24th.  We hope you will join us that day.  More important we hope you will call 

1-800-RED-CROS and schedule your time for donation.  You can do that beginning as early as March 1st.


Fishes & Loaves
God’s Multiplication Miracle

This morning … for the 21st consecutive year Mayberry is again participating in the Souper Bowl of Caring’s hunger offering. Over that span of time, $6,234 has been received from folks who worshipped at Mayberry on those Super Bowl Sundays.  And, again this year, gifts received today will shared with hunger ministries right here on the mountain.   

This nationwide “one–Sunday-only” hunger relief effort has Presbyterian roots. 26 years ago a prayer by Brad Smith, the youth group leader at Spring Valley Presbyterian Church in Columbia, SC, gave birth to the idea to use the Super Bowl weekend to collect gifts of food and money for hungry neighbors.  Spring Valley’s youth group invited 22 other church youth groups in Columbia to join their effort. And … “Fishes & Loaves! … God’s Multiplication Miracle !“ 

Those kids raised $5,700 to fight hunger.    

Since then, the idea of fighting hunger on Super Bowl Sunday has become a nationwide movement.  Today church youth groups are joined by entire congregations, unions, businesses, and more; and, in its 29 years of existence, the Souper Bowl of Caring has raised over $100,000,000 for local hunger charities such as back pack programs, food banks, soup kitchens, food box distributions and more.

As we have done in the past, won’t you share your blessings today with nearby neighbors in our mountaintop communities?  Envelopes are in today’s bulletin; and your gifts may be placed in the offering plate as you leave worship.     

Jesus, the High Priest

As we are expecting bad weather tomorrow, with snow overnight topped by freezing rain early in the morning, worship services at Bluemont and Mayberry Churches are cancelled. I have included copies of the bulletins and announcements from each church at the bottom. Stay safe!

Sermon recorded on January 29 at Mayberry Church

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
January 31, 2021
Hebrews 4:14-5:10 

At the beginning of Worship

We’re continuing our study of the Book of Hebrews today. As I have reinforced each week we’ve been in this book, its central theme is the superiority of Christ. Today, we will read that Christ is our high priest, but this is just a way to say that Jesus is superior to the priests of the temple during Jesus’ day. Priests served as the link between a holy God and a sinful people. But as the High Priest, Jesus replaces the need for other priest and opens the door that we all might be in fellowship with the divine. To say this another way as we’ve seen in Hebrews, Jesus adopts us into God’s extended family. 

Let me say give you another tidbit about how Hebrews is constructed. I’ve talked before about how the author builds on what’s already covered to make his case. Another trick the author uses is to drop hits as to where he’s going. While this section is about the role of Jesus as a high priest, he’s already mentioned this role of Jesus twice before.[1]Furthermore, in this section, with Melchizedek, the author drops hints about where he’s heading. He’ll come back to him in the 7th chapter. 

After the reading of the Scripture

Let me start with an interesting footnote on this section of scripture that I just read. I’ve pointed out before that chapters and verses were not originally a part of the scriptures, that they were added centuries after the text were written as a way to help us find things. Because of this, verses and chapters can be somewhat arbitrary. This section, which begins with the 14th verse of the 4th chapter is such a case. Some older translations including Tyndale’s English translation and Luther’s German translation began Chapter 5 with verse 14.[2]  This is a reminder that the new chapters don’t always mean new thoughts, as we see here. 

A True Story

Let me tell you a true story. When I was sixteen, four months after passing the driver’s test and getting my license, I was in an accident. It was early Sunday afternoon. My father was working this day, so mother took us kids to church. On the way home, she let me drive. I felt so big. It was also a blessing that mom was with me, right beside me in the front seat. This mean she knew I wasn’t to blame for the accident. Had she not been there, I’m sure it would have somehow been my fault. 

We were driving down Shipyard Boulevard, which had three lanes heading east. I was in the far-right lane as my turn was only a few streets ahead. Suddenly, a car in the far-left lane made an immediate right-hand turn. The woman driving must have realized she was about to miss her turn. She cut across two lanes of traffic. 

I slammed on the brakes and T-boned her car in the front quarter-panel. This was in 1973. I was driving a car built in 1969, before cars came with shoulder straps. I remember flying through the air, then the waist belt caught me. I was then thrown forward and hit my head on the steering wheel hard enough to crack it. See, I now have an excuse. Any mental challenges I can blame on that accident. 

I was knocked out. A policeman and an ambulance came. I was whisked away to the emergency room. With me gone, our neighbors who were leaving their church, happened to drive by. They gave my mother and siblings a ride home. My mother called my father where he was working. He came to the hospital to check on me. As we were leaving, the police officer came to the hospital with a citation. He charged me with “following too close.” I was furious. I told the cop he was crazy. My father immediately grabbed me and told me to be quiet. 

Dad then asked the officer about the accident and the position of the cars. After explaining that I hit her car in the front passenger quarter panel, my father, very calmly said, “Jeff’s right. There’s no way he could have been following too close.” The officer said, “Well, that’s my findings.” My father response was, “We’ll see you in court.” 

The Neighbor to the rescue 

Now, remember the neighbors who picked up my mother and siblings. The father just happened to be a State highway patrolman. When he heard I was charged with the accident, I think he was even more incensed than my father. That afternoon, he took my father and me to the scene and we measured everything off and took pictures. Then we went to where they’d towed the cars and took more pictures. Then he drew up on a large sheet of paper the accident and wrote up his findings. Because he worked for a different agency, he did not feel he could take this information to the police department. Instead, he told my dad to give to an attorney. And he said if the attorney had any questions, to call him. 

Now, I was a bit upset over the reason he told my dad to obtain an attorney. “You don’t want a sixteen-year-old on the witness stand by himself,” he said. “The DA and the officer could get him (that’s me) confused and the trial might not go well.” So, my father hired an attorney. We met with him for maybe 15 minutes. He took all the drawings and photos and said, “I think I can take care of this.” I didn’t even have to appear in court. Her insurance paid for the accident and the citation was thrown out. 

The Need for an Advocate

While I was a cocky 16-year-old, who didn’t think I needed an attorney, there’s something good about having an advocate, one who can help plea your case. This goes both in a courtroom and before God. That’s why, in the Old Testament, you had a high priest. This dude was to take the petitions and our confessions of the people to God. The high priest was to seek mercy on our behalf.  

Last week, we learned that the Book of Hebrews encourages us to “take a break.” We have the Sabbath which serves as a foretaste of paradise, an eternal rest. We can rest because God is active in our lives and world. Where this activity is best seen is in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Not only can we trust ourselves to take a break because Jesus watches over us, but Jesus has us eternally in his hands. 

What is our confession? 

Because of whom Jesus is and what Jesus has done, the author/preacher of Hebrews calls on us in the first verse of our reading to hold fast to our confession. Now, when we think of our confession, we might think of the Apostles’ Creed, or the even older Nicene Creed. While these creeds flesh out our knowledge about Christ, especially our understanding of the incarnation (God with us) and the Trinity, there’s an even older creed that we see in the writings of Paul. “Jesus is Lord” is perhaps the first basic Christian Creed.[3] Such a creed fits right into Hebrews emphasis on the superiority of Jesus Christ. 

By affirming this creed, that Jesus is Lord, or Jesus is superior, we acknowledge our relationship to Jesus, but we are also acknowledging that Jesus does something for us no one else can do. We get into this special work of Jesus as we look at the work of the High Priest. 

Jesus as the High Priest

There are a number of essential characteristics of the High Priest that’s outlined in the first ten verses of Chapter 5.[4] Such a priest must sympathize with our weakness. This highlights the importance of the incarnation. Jesus had to become one of us, in order for him to understand what we must endure in this life. The High Priest must be a mortal. Jesus, by becoming human, fulfills this. But unlike the High Priests of the temple, who had to do special sacrifices to purify himself before he could offer the sacrifices for the people’s sin, Jesus sinless state allows him to make that sacrifice for us. The author will go into more detail about the sacrifice later in the book. 

Another characteristic is that High Priest position isn’t something for which one can strive. It is a position that must be chosen by God. The Preacher of Hebrews highlights this with two quotes from the Psalms. The first quote, from Psalm 2:7, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” We’re already heard this quote in the opening paragraph of Hebrews and the opening of this quote is similar to what was heard from heaven when Jesus was baptized by John.[5] In the second quote, from Psalms we’re told that Jesus is a priest forever and we’re reintroduced to this guy from way back at the time of Abraham, Melchizedek.[6] The author of Hebrews doesn’t make a big deal out of Melchizedek at this point. Instead, he’s drops a teaser. We’ll learn more about Melchizedek later, but for now we are shown that Jesus’ role as High Priest was bestowed on him by God the Father. 

Our Need for a High Priest 

The important thing we learn from this passage is not how Jesus became high priest or his qualifications for the assignment. For us, the important thing is that we have a high priest. We have someone who has been where we are in life and knows what we endure, someone who empathizes with our struggles. Because Jesus is our high priest, we can approach him honestly in our prayers, laying our burdens and concerns out before him. We can be assured that Jesus will listen to us and represent us before God the Father. But unlike an earthly advocate, like that attorney my father hired for me, Jesus doesn’t just make sure our side is told. As we dig deeper into this book, we’ll see that Jesus covers us with his own righteousness and pays any penalty we own for our transgressions. 

As a high priest, Jesus offers us more than any earthly priest. Jesus is Lord. That’s our confession. Believe in him. Follow him. Love and worship him.  Amen. 

[1] See Hebrews 2:17 and 3:1

[2] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle of the Hebrews (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964), 84 n. 1.  

[3] Romans 10:9 and 1 Corinthians 12:3. 

[4] Different scholars outline these characteristics differently. Bruce, 94, splits it into two: 1. Divine appointment and 2. Ability to sympathize with His people.  Johnson breaks it down into 12 parts: 1. Taken from among humans, 2. Behalf of humans, 3. In matters pertaining to God, 4. To offer gifts and sacrifices, 5. For sins. The High Priest must also 6. Deal gently with ignorant and wandering people, 7. Share their weakness, 8. Offer gifts for himself, 9. As well as the people. The High Priest must also 10. not chose himself, 11. But be chosen by God, 12. As was Aaron.  See. Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2006)), 137.  

[5] Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:12-13, Luke 4:1-13. At the baptism, the word from heaven is “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.  

[6] Genesis 14:18. Melchizedek was this mysterious “King of Salem” to whom Abraham offered a tithe to. 

Bluemont Announcements

  • Starting Monday, February 1, the pastor will be holding a “Zoom” Bible study looking at the previous week’s sermon along with the upcoming week’s scripture readings. The study will begin at 1 p.m. and last up to an hour.  It will only be available virtually. To attend, please send an email to the pastor at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com.  On Monday mornings, you will receive an email with an invite for the Bible Study.  
  • The Souper Bowl offering for the Carroll County Social Services for medicine and fuel for the elderly will be taken on Sunday, February 7.  Envelopes will be provided.                               

If you have a need to contact Rev. Dr. Jeff Garrison, you may reach him on his cell number 269-804-9793 or email him at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com.  His mailing address is    P. O. Box 140, Laurel Fork VA  24352.   Visit Pastor Jeff’s blog at https://fromarockyhillside.com . 

Mayberry Announcements

This Morning – “Two Cents-A-Meal” Offering 

Mayberry’s monthly hunger offering (which addresses hunger right here in the mountains of southwest Virginia) will be received this morning.  Based on Mayberry’s grant applications, the Meadows of Dan Back Pack Program, and Harris Chapel’s Food Distribution ministry have previously received grants from the Presbytery’s “Two Cents” hunger program.  Gifts may be placed in the offering plate using the envelopes found in today’s bulletin.    

Monday (2/1) – Zoom Bible Study – 1:00-2:00 pm  

Something Brand New … Tomorrow, for the first time, Pastor Jeff will be holding a “Zoom” Bible Study looking at the previous week’s sermon … and … the upcoming week’s scripture readings. The study will begin at 1:00 pm and last up to an hour.  

It will only be available virtually. To sign up … please send an email to the pastor at parkwayrockchurches@gmail.com.  Then each Monday morning, participants will receive an email from Jeff with the “invite” for that afternoon’s Bible Study.  

Monday (2/1)  Addiction Recovery Support Group 7:00 pm

Persons fighting addictions gather on Monday evenings for prayer and mutual support to strengthen their use of the AA’s 12-step discipline.  Somebody you care about may be fighting an addiction that is limiting the blessings their life with the Lord will bring them.  Call Deborah Reynolds, at 276-251-1389, for more information. 

Thursday (2/4) – Ruritan Meeting – Via Zoom – 7:00 pm   

February’s Calendar – Ash Wednesday – Lent – Easter, etc.   

February’s Calendar is included in this morning’s bulletin.  The Lenten Season begins on the 1st Sunday in Lent (2/14) … Ash Wednesday follows on (2/17) … Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week on (3/28) … and Easter Sunday on April 4th.  The Session has not yet mapped out our full set of plans for 2021’s Lenten/Easter Season – it is considering how Covid will impact our Easter celebrations.  For example, do Covid restrictions prevent our normal Imposition of Ashes service on Ash Wednesday?  Can we add an Easter Sunrise Service to our Easter Sunday celebrations?  Stay tuned … decisions are on the way!   

Meadows of Dan’s January 27th Blood Drive Results 

A nice turnout at this past Wednesday’s Blood Drive produced 34 units of Blood.  We’re told by the Red Cross that those donations will have a lifesaving impact on 102 persons needing medical care.  The Red Cross also tells us that they have received nearly 300,000 fewer donations since Covid infections surfaced last March.  Our next blood drive will be March 24th.  We hope you will join us that day.  More important we hope you will call 

1-800-RED-CROS and schedule your time for donation.  You can do that beginning as early as March 1st.  

Bulletin Outline for Both Churches

Hebrews 4:1-14: Let’s Take a Break

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Churches
Hebrews 4:1-14
January 23, 2021

Sermon recorded on January 22 at Bluemont Church

Thoughts at the Beginning of Worship

Earlier this week, Tim Keller, the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, posted a photo of his vaccine record on Twitter. Keller, who I think is around 70, recently retired to battle cancer. He has a compromised immune system. 

I was shocked by many of the comments to his tweet. One woman questioned his faith, telling him (and the world) that only Jesus can save. She went on to say she can’t believe so many so-called Christians are putting their trust in a vaccine. Jesus never told us to be vaccinated. I was tempted to respond with sarcasm, noting that Jesus never told us to use Twitter or the internet, either. I refrained, but her comment bothered me.[1] As Christians, we need to show grace to others, even those with whom we disagree.

If someone doesn’t want to get vaccinated, it’s their decision. But they also have to bear the consequences, as we do for all our actions. It will mean there are places they’ll be excluded. At some point, we need to learn to trust others as well as God. We have been endowed in God’s image and we share with God the ability to build and to create, including things that help us overcome illness and disease. We’re called to live in community, to share the earth we inhabit, which means we must not only look out for ourselves, but for one another.

Is COVID a time to learn rest? 

Having said that, I wonder if COVID is a time we should use to learn how to rest. I will not assign this as a reason why God allowed COVID to run amuck in the world.  I believe, with Abraham Lincoln, that the “Almighty has his own purposes.”[2] Often, God’s purposes are a mystery to us.

The sin of wanting to be like God

To attempt to describe God’s reasons is to commit the first sin all over again. Remember why Eve took that bite out of the fruit? It was because the serpent told her she could know as God knows. Wanting to be like God led to Adam and Eve’s fall and expulsion from the garden.[3]

That expulsion came with a curse. From then on, we had to work and struggle and sweat.[4] But God is faithful and provides us with rest.[5]

Perhaps we, as humans, who are unable to do all we use to do before during the pandemic, should give thanks for the break we’re given. Sometimes it’s a manner of looking at things from a new perspective. 

I saw a meme this week with lobsters. The text pointed out that the lobsters in the kitchen on the Titanic experienced the ship’s sinking as a blessing. Ever thought of that? Perhaps this is a time for the church and for us as individuals to catch our breath and learn to trust God. Such trust is not shown by avoiding vaccines, but by knowing we’re in God’s hands. 

4th Chapter of Hebrews: Rest

Today, we’re moving into the 4th chapter of Hebrews. Throughout this letter, we have a sense that its original recipients were exhausted and ready to throw in the towel. In the 3rd chapter, the preacher of this letter/sermon reminds them that they are a part of God’s household. In the 4th chapter, we learn of one benefit of being a part of God’s house is a time of rest. That’s our theme for today, “rest.” 

After Scripture Reading

Those who first heard this letter/sermon are exhausted. And that’s often true for those of us who make up God’s church on earth. We’re tried. Yet we place heavy burdens on ourselves, believing that it will help bring about God’s kingdom. But will it? 

You know, this sense of burden we bear leads us to be testy when others don’t carry their weight. It also causes us to challenge those who are not on the same page as us. Much of this comes from us rushing around thinking it’s all up to us to do stuff. We think it’s up to us to save the world.

C. S. Lewis: The distractions of church  

I highly recommend, if you haven’t already read it, C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters. It’s a fictional book of letters from an older and wiser demon named Screwtape, who is mentoring Wormwood. In one of the letters, Screwtape suggests that the church on earth can be an ally. We might think that’s nonsense. Why would the devil want anyone in church? But the old demon is on to something. He writes:

I do not mean the church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners… But fortunately, it is invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is a half-finished sham…

Screwtape goes on to encourage the younger demon to have his patient reflect on lofty words like “the body of Christ,” and then spend time considering his neighbors. He’s to think especially hard on those who sing out of tune, have squeaky boots, a double chin, or odd clothes. In other words, anything that helps distract Wormwood’s patient from God is useful to the enemy![6] Think about it! When we’re tired, it is easy for us to be distracted by trivia.

God’s cure for our exhaustion 

But God has a cure for such exhausted feelings: Rest. We were first introduced to rest in the last chapter where we learn that the Hebrews who revolted in the wilderness were not able to enter it. We may think that this is only about heaven or paradise or what happens at the end of our lives. But this rest that is promised is more than that. In the fourth chapter, we learn it’s also about the Sabbath, which should serve as a foretaste of paradise. 

This should be a reminder that we’re not waiting for heaven’s benefits at the end of life. We can begin to enjoy them, to experience the kingdom, here and now. 

Rest and the Sabbath

Let’s talk about rest and the Sabbath. There is a classic book titled The Sabbath by the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, an American rabbi. Heschel notes the different understanding of rest between the Bible and Aristotle, the Greek philosopher. Aristotle saw rest as something good for it allows us to work harder. If you’re an athletic, you know this. But the Biblical concept of rest is that it’s the climax of life that’s blessed and hallowed by God.[7] We don’t rest just so we can work harder. 

Jewish evening prayers during the week include a petition that God will “guard our coming out and our coming in.” In other words, protect our busyness. But on the Sabbath, the prayer is for God to “embrace us with a tent of God’s peace.”[8] Do you sense the promise of the Sabbath? The first prayer is a necessity, the latter seeks a taste of paradise. 

Rest and judgment 

While rest is the subject of our text this morning, there is also a considerable amount of discussion about judgment and failure to do what God expects from us. But it’s not just doing good God is after, it’s living a life by faith. It’s trusting that God is also working things out, which means that we, as Christians, don’t have to bear the burden for the world’s salvation on our shoulders. The failure of those in the wilderness, those who were led first by Moses and later by Joshua was a lack of faith. They failed to trust God.

Hebrews is a book on faith

Hebrews is a book that builds on the idea of faith. As the author comes to the pinnacle of his case for the superiority of Christ, he’ll return to the idea of faith, as has been seen in the past starting with Abel.[9] But here, he encourages us to live by faith, which means that we can find rest, not just at the end of our lives, but now, in the present. For God has things under control, even when it doesn’t appear that way to us. 

This passage ends with a warning that God’s word exposes our sin and there is no way we can avoid God knowing of our misdeeds. Again, we got to live by faith. If we think we can work ourselves out of the mess we’re in, we’ve got it all wrong. Only by faith, can we live and trust and find rest in God. 

The World is Not Ours to Save

As I was thinking about the sermon, I pulled out a book I read back in 2014 titled The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good. Listen to this quote: 

“There is nothing God needs us to do so badly that it warrants neglecting some aspect of Christlikeness in our lives. It is in and through Jesus Christ, and him alone, that God has saved and is saving the world.”[10]

As with those who first heard the message of Hebrews, we need to learn to rest and to trust God. We need to experience the Sabbath in this way, as a time created for us to foretaste paradise. Doing so, we honor and show our faith in God. But if we don’t think we have time to take a break, we show our lack of faith, for God is alive and well even when we rest and sleep. 

So, don’t work too hard. Have faith. Enjoy life, creation, and God. It’s all a part of the Almighty’s intention. Amen. 

[1] See https://twitter.com/timkellernyc/status/1350893493783322625  This was posted on Jan 17 and I saw the comment later that day. When I went back and looked, it appears the comment has been taken down, but there were still plenty of others that suggested this as the mark of the beast, etc. There were also plenty of comments defending Keller and probably a dozen that had been removed. 

[2] From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address given on March 20, 1865. 

[3] Genesis 3:1-6.

[4] Genesis 3:17-19.

[5] Exodus 20:8-11 and Deuteronomy 5:12-15.

[6] C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, (New York: MacMillan, 1982 edition), 12-14.

[7] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (1951, reprinted 1998), 14. 

[8] Hershel, 23. 

[9] See Hebrews 11. 

[10] Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, The World is Not Ours to Save: Finding the Freedom to Do Good (Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2013), 40. 

Pastoral Prayer   (Psalm 92:1-5)

As the Psalmist proclaims, it is good for us to give thanks to our Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning and your faithfulness by night. For you, O Lord, have made us glad by the works of your hands. We sing with joy, recalling how great are your works, O Lord. Your thoughts are deep, and we cannot fully comprehend them. You, O Lord, are upright. You are our rock, and our hope is in you. 

Continue, O God, to hold us close and to give us the energy we need to do your work, the knowledge to see good and evil and the wisdom to choose the right path. As we live in faith, may we be a beacon for others. Use our witness, along with the prodding of the heart by your Holy Spirit, to reach those who do not know you. Help us to be gracious in our lives as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps. 

We give you thanks for our world, as troubled as it may be. We pray for our new president and his administration, asking that his leadership might help us get a hold on the COVID virus that is killing so many people around the world. We long for a time when we can meet and be close to one another, but until then, help us use this time as a Sabbath, as a period of time when we can rest and be restored as we trust what we cannot do to you. We pray for the members of Congress and the awesome task before them, asking that you might guide their conscience so they can rule in a just manner that will benefit all people, not just the elite or the members of their party. 

We pray this weekend for the people of Russia who seek relief from the heavy-handed repression of their government, and we lift up people everywhere who long to be free. Yet, we know true freedom can only be found in Jesus Christ. Help us to trust in him and not in our own abilities. 

Remember those who are struggling in life. The poor, the sick, those in jails and prisons. Help us to be compassionate to all, and to love people with the love of Jesus Christ. This we pray in his name as we say together the prayer he taught: OUR FATHER…. 

Hebrews 3: “Reach Up”

Jeff Garrison 
Beaumont and Mayberry Churches

January 17, 2021
Hebrews 3

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, January 15, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of Worship

       Today we’re exploring the third chapter of Hebrews. At the beginning of this series, I spoke about how this book draws on Greek rhetorical arguments and Old Testament quotes. Throughout the book, the author flows back and forth from discourse to exhortation. And each section of the book depends on the previous.


       Remember that chapters and verses were added to scripture centuries after the text were written. Despite this, almost half of the chapters in Hebrews begin with a “therefore.”[1] Those who added the chapter and verse numbers realized a new thought was coming, so they made a break at this point. However, therefore means that we have to look back to see what the author has said in order to understand how he comes to his conclusions. Out text today, like last week, begins with a “therefore.” 

This means we’re not starting anew but must keep in mind what has already been covered. Last week, we learned of Jesus’ salvation journey, from heaven to being like us, a little lower than the angels. Once he atones for our sins, he’s exalted. While Jesus was human, he lived a perfect life that puts him in more honor than anyone. Today, we’ll see this includes the greats of the Hebrew faith, even Moses.   

After the reading of the Scriptures

We have no written account of what Jesus did between his visit to the temple when he was 12 and the beginning of his ministry. But it’s often assumed Jesus followed in the trade of his father, as a carpenter. Building things, whether houses or furniture, is noble work. Those of us who are not as handy depend on those who are! 

The Nobility of a Construction Worker

The author of Hebrews acknowledges the nobility in building. After all, as Creator, God is the master builder. The author also credits Jesus as the builder of the house, but what does this mean?

House of… 

       Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were often called “the House of Israel.” House, here, is used in a metaphorical manner. The “house of” was a common way of referring to those under the head of the house, the one in authority. In the Old Testament, we also find reference to the “house of Pharaoh.”[2] Pharaoh was the top dog in Egypt and those in his house were subject to him. We also read about the House of Eli.[3] Eli’s sons, who disappointed the prophet greatly, were subjected to their prophet father. 

But the House of Israel carries extra weight. The term refers to all of God’s people. What the author of Hebrews wants his hearers to understand is that the church is now the household of God. 

As I’ve said over the past two weeks (and I’m sure I’ll say again, many times, before this series is done), the audience of this book appears to be on the verge of leaving behind their faith in Jesus Christ. They’re thinking of returning to their old ways of worship. Perhaps they think they have it all wrong and are no longer in God’s house, but the Preacher of Hebrews assures them they are still within God’s house. 

In addition to referring to Jesus as the builder of this metaphorical house of God, the author compares Jesus to Moses. 

Comparing ourselves to others

I want you to think about this for a second. If we want to look really good, to whom do we compare ourselves. When I was a kid, trying to justify my behavior or my grades to my mom, I never compared myself to Nicky Pipkin. He was the brain in the class. I don’t ever remember him getting in trouble. Instead, I’d say, “I’m not as bad as Billy or Mark, Bobby or Stacy…” And my mother would respond with a sermon about how it’s always easier to find someone worse than you, and how I was still responsible for my behavior. 

The argument that we’re better than someone else has the unfortunate consequence of accelerating the race to the bottom. Don’t ever accept a defense of someone’s behavior who says they’re not to be as bad as so-in-so.

By the way, this argument is used way too often in politics. It drives me nuts. Always be aware when someone tries to look good by tarnishing the looks of others. 

Reach up

We’re to reach up, not down. Let’s compare ourselves with those who cause us to reach higher. If I had strove to be like Nicky, I may never had become as smart as him. After all, he became a heart surgeon. But I would have probably done better in school and gotten in far less trouble. Even if we don’t obtain the status of the other, we’ll certainly improve our status by reaching up.  

The author of Hebrews picks out the stellar example from Israel’s past, Moses, for his comparison with Jesus. His audience would have known about Moses and how God used him to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery. When it comes to the leaders of the past, Moses ranks up at the top. He’s used as a comparison to Jesus, not to denigrate Moses, but to elevate Jesus. 

Yes, Moses was a great servant in God’s house, we’re told. But he’s only that, a servant. He’s like us. His special skill was his faithfulness, not his ability. God provided what he needed to do the task he was assigned. As the Psalmist reminds us, “It’s better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in the tents of the wicked.[4]

Jesus more than a servant

Jesus surpasses all servants. He’s the builder of the house. If we want to compare ourselves to anyone, we need to compare ourselves to Jesus.

A warning against harden hearts

This text continues with an exhortation that we must not harden our hearts. After introducing Moses into the discourse, the preacher recalls the behavior of Moses’ contemporaries. I’m sure you remember the story. Those led out bondage in Egypt, through the parting of the water, were nourished by manna in the desert. But it was never enough. They always complained. They blamed God for a bland diet and for bringing them into the desert to die. They kept forgetting the mercies they enjoyed. Don’t be like that, the Preacher warns. You’ll miss out on God’s rest. 

Encourage one another

Instead, what the Preacher encourages the congregation to do is for each of them to encourage one another not to forget such mercies. For they, as a part of God’s house (God’s family), need to be encouraged and to encourage others. We gotta believe. The text tells us so. Part of the benefit of being in a family is that when we’re down, another can lift us up. That’s what the Preacher is suggesting here. 

First takeaway

Two things you need to take away from this passage today. First of all, if you want to compare yourself to someone else, reach high. Compare yourself to Jesus. Sure, you’ll going to come up short, but that’s okay. You’ll be a lot better off than if you compare yourself to Jessie James or Jack the Ripper. It’s easy to go low, but don’t. Reach up! We follow Jesus.

Second takeaway

Our second takeaway is to remember that our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ, not from our actions and doings. And we need to encourage one another to believe. It’s easy to be discouraged, but a family should promote one another to hold fast to Jesus. Furthermore, we’re to open our hearts to what he’s doing in the world. We’re to trust him as we move into a future that may contain surprises. While our life on earth will be uncertain, we can be certain of God’s rest promised through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] This depends on the translation. In the NRSV, chapters 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 begin with “therefore.”  Therefore is also used 15 other times within the chapters

[2] See Exodus 8:24, 1 Samuel 2:27. 

[3] I Samuel 3:14. 

[4] Psalm 84:10.

Hebrews 2: Christ’s Work of Salvation

Jeff Garrison
Beaumont and Mayberry Churches

January 10, 2021
Hebrews 2

Today’s sermon as it was taped on Friday, January 8, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of Worship

A lot has changed in our world since last Sunday when I announced we’d be exploring the book of Hebrews for the next few months. After the events in our nation on Wednesday, this is still a good book for us to explore. 

I suggested last week the overarching message in this book is that it’s all about Jesus. As a Christian, our allegiance is to him alone. Jesus trumps Presidents, political positions, and even your favorite sports team. If Jesus is foremost in our lives, it makes a difference in how we act. I will come back to this in my sermon, but I want to state up front that its blasphemy to suggest that Jesus is with you if you’re willfully breaking the law, destroying property, and endangering lives.

Last week we explored the first chapter of Hebrews, where the author informs us that God is speaking in a new manner, through a Son. Then, the author makes the case that Jesus is superior to all the angels. It was important for Christ’s relationship with the angels to be established so that the author could make his next point, which we will get to in today’s passage. 

Insights into Hebrews

Let me say a bit more about the Book of Hebrews. It’s a mystery. We don’t know who wrote it nor do we know its intended audience. A traditional letter would have given us such insights. Instead, from what can be induced from the text, it appears it was written to a congregation of Jewish Christians who are discouraged and may be considering returning to their former religious practices. In other words, they’re drifting away. 

In the second and third century, it was suggested that Paul was the author, but even then, there were those who said that he couldn’t have been author.[1] However, the author of Hebrews, or the Preacher as I’ll refer to him, was familiar with Pauline theology.[2]

Parabola of Salvation[3]

Both Paul and Hebrews outlines a parabola of salvation. You see this most clearly in the second chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, where he cites the “Christ Hymn.” To summarize: Christ being the very nature of God, didn’t consider equality with God something to be used for his advantage. He humbles himself, taking on the role of a servant, becoming obedient even unto death, and for this reason he is now exalted and given the name above all names. 

Hebrews has a similar outline. Christ starts in heaven (he was at creation as we saw last week). He lowers himself to our level (lower than the angels) and now because of his faithfulness, he is at the right hand of God the Father and is to be worshipped above all. 

After the reading of the Scriptures

I have known several families who have adopted children from overseas: from China, Russia, and Vietnam. Today, there is less such activity, but back in the 90s, a lot of people were adding to their family through such adoptions. The parents would have to leave the United States and travel overseas. In many cases, they had to stay in the country for several weeks. There was paperwork. They had to be investigated. They had to demonstrate their abilities to support and care for the child. Only then were they able to take the child home with them, where they raised the child as their own.  

Our adoption

While I would never suggest you think of these parents as Jesus, even though the ones I know are believers, I tell you this story as an analogy to the flow that the preacher in Hebrews uses to show the salvific work of Jesus Christ. He comes from heaven, from the throne of God, and assumes a position lower than the angels. Psalm 8 is quoted here, where we’re reminded that we’re created a little lower than angels.[4]  

Like these parents who made the trip to adopt a child, Jesus makes the descent from heaven to earth to adopt us (the descendants of Abraham). He destroys the power of death and breaks the power of the devil. Now he can serve as our “high priest,” (which is a recurring them within this book[5]).

Because Jesus knows the troubles we face; he can help us in our trials and tribulations.

Now, if we look back to the beginning of this chapter, we’re reminded of the task at hand for the Preacher of Hebrews. He tells his audience not to drift away, but to pay attention. It’s all about Jesus. Our only hope is in the work God is doing in the world. 

A Peek at the Work of the Trinity 

In the first four verses, the Preacher references the activity of all three persons of the Trinity. While he’s talking about what Jesus has done through the incarnation, by coming in the flesh, he links this to God the Father, who sends the Son. Following the Son’s work, the Holy Spirit steps up to provide us with the gifts we need. While it doesn’t say so here at the beginning, later in the book, we’ll see that the purpose of our calling is to participate in God’s ongoing work in the world.[6]

Jesus’ work

But to be able to do our work in the world, Jesus has to first do his work. And Jesus’ work is to save. But we should ask “save us from what?” The end of this chapter tells us that Jesus saves us from the fear of death and the bondage of the devil.[7]

Furthermore, it’s telling what we’re not saved from. We’re never told that Jesus saves us from hardship or pain or disappointment. Instead, because Jesus experienced all those things, he’s in a position to help us. 

You know, if you were lost out in the woods, who would you want as your companion? Would you want the smartest person in the world or one who has lived in the wild? I think most of us would pick the later. We’d want firsthand knowledge. Jesus is like that; he knows what we’re facing.

Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen

There is a wonderful spiritual titled Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen… It’s slave music. The lyrics cry the blues. There’s troubles and sorrows and pains. The singer longs for glory in heaven. That’s where he or she finds hope. But there is one line in the fourth verse of Mahaila Jackson’s arrangement of this spiritual that I want you to hear…  It goes, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen. Well, no, nobody knows but Jesus.” 

Nobody knows, but Jesus. He knows our troubles. He knows what we endure because he’s also endured it. 

The Events at our Capitol on Wednesday

Now let me say something about the idea of Jesus’ saving. As it was with many of you, Wednesday afternoon, I was sad watching the invasion of our national Capitol. But I was even more offended by a few who carried signs invoking Jesus’ name and at least one person waving a Christian flag.  

One of the signs read “Jesus Saves.” I found myself wondering what such a statement means in riot. And furthermore, I wondered what such a sign said to those watching the event? If a non-Christian witnessed that event, would they see the sign and think, “Oh gee, I got to get right with Jesus.” I don’t think so. Instead, it probably helped inoculate them against the faith. “I don’t want to be one of them!” they’d think. 

Jesus and Insurrections 

We need to remember that in his earthly ministry, Jesus refused to take part in an insurrection. He told Peter to put away his sword. He didn’t call on the angels to take him off the cross. He was willing to endure everything we might endure, this passage suggests, so he could have empathy with our situation. 

As Christians, we do not get to co-opt Jesus to our side. To suggest Jesus is only on our side of an issue is to commit blasphemy.  When it comes down to it, what is important is not that Jesus is on our side but that we’re on Jesus’ side.  We don’t get to pick Jesus, we can only be chosen by Jesus. 

Where Goodness Still Grows

This week I finished reading a good book. Where Goodness Still Grows, by Amy Peterson, is a critique of how parts of the evangelical church have shifted away from a Biblical foundation. Having grown up in such a setting, she draws on her life’s experiences. One of the stories she tells is an attempt by her and her husband to help a troubled young woman whom they allowed to live in their home for a year. She was disappointed that this woman only attended church with them once or twice. She writes: 

“Again and again I had to confess to God how much I wanted to save her—to make everything right for her. Again and again God reminded me that saving people was God’s job. My job was to open the doors of my home and my heart.[8]

This part of the book of Hebrews is steeped in theology. But the Preacher of this sermon, that we know as the Book of Hebrews, will later bring his argument back to what we should be doing because of what God through Jesus Christ has done for us.[9] Yes, Jesus saves. We do not save! However, our lives must be lived in a manner that points to Jesus and helps people to understand what God has done in his life, death, resurrection and ascension. 

If you’re like those to whom this message was originally addressed, drifting away from the faith, you need to catch, once again the vision God has for us and for our world. For there is only one way, as is pointed out in verses two and three, to keep from having to the pay the penalty of our transgressions and disobedience. That way is through Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Pastoral Prayer

God of the ages, you have watched nations and empires rise and fall. You have witnessed our attempts to do what we think is right and good, only to fail and to hurt others and dishonor you. We want to be in charge. We fail to realize that history is in your hands. 

Those of us who claim to follow Jesus are outraged by the violent attacks on nation’s Capitol, along with many of our state Capitols. Yet, we know there have been times we’ve failed to live up to your standard. Forgive us and help us to avoid hateful and inciteful rhetoric in our speech. Give us the understanding to seek the truth in all things, the boldness to stand for justice, and the humility to be gracious to those with whom we disagree. 

We are concerned for the well-being of those who serve in Congress as well as members of their staff, and the police officers who are charged with keeping them safe. We pray for our nation as we move through this rocky transfer of power. We ask that the violence stop, that rational minds prevail, and that those who hold political offices might use their position of authority to offer hope during this dark time in which there is so much distrust and fear. 

Amidst the trouble we’re facing is the pandemic. The numbers of those who have died and those who are in the hospital are no longer forefront in our eyes as we focus on our nation’s political trouble. But the numbers continue to rise, even in our community. We pray, O God, for this to end, for the vaccine to become available more quickly, and for all of us to do what we can to protect others. Comfort the many who grieve over the death of love-ones. Bring healing to those who suffer from this disease and all other illnesses. Give solace to our stressed and overworked health-care workers. Keep those on the front lines of this pandemic safe.

With all the uncertainty, our economy continues to suffer. After months of job growth, we lost jobs last month as more industries suffer from the effects of the pandemic. Be with those who are struggling economically and help us all, Lord, to compassionately do what we can to help our neighbors in need. 

Yet, despite the troubles we face, we are grateful for your love and for the beauty that surrounds us. We have been blessed this week with incredible sunrises and sunsets. We give you thanks for friends and family and for Jesus, who adopts us into his family. We are blessed by the church. Help us, O God, to count our blessings and to live gratefully and graciously. This we pray in the name of Jesus Christ… Amen. 

[1] While the letter was accepted into the canon as Pauline, there were those from an early date, such as Origen, who accepted the letter into the canon, but didn’t think Paul was the author. See Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews (Louisville, KY: WJKP, 2006), 3-4. 

[2] The idea of referring to the author of the book belongs to Thomas G. Long, Hebrews (Louisville, KY, JKP, 1997). 

[3] Long, 26-28. 

[4] While the author of Hebrews only says, “someone testified somewhere”, the quote is from Psalm 8:4-6.

[5] Starting with Hebrews 4:14 and continuing for the next six chapters, the author discusses the role of the high priest. 

[6] See especially Hebrews 13. 

[7] Hebrews 2:14.

[8] Amy Peterson, Where Goodness Still Grows: Reclaiming Virtue in an Age of Hypocrisy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020), 61. 

[9] Chapter 12 and 13 focuses on following Jesus’ example and serving in a manner that is pleasing to God. Throughout the book, the author mentions the need of us to persevere in the faith.  See 2:1-4, 6:1-12, 10:19-39.

Hebrews 1: Why Jesus Came

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches
Hebrews 1
January 3, 2021

Sermon recorded on January 2, 2021

At the beginning of worship, in preparation: 

Today, I’m beginning a series of sermons on the Book of Hebrews. My plan is to preach through this book, with a break around Easter, and complete the study in April or May. I enjoy preaching through longer sections of scripture, for each sermon builds on the previous one. We can dig deeper into scriptures and to catch passages ignored by the lectionary.[1]

Role of Hebrews 

 Hebrews is an important book within the New Testament cannon. Sadly, in over 35 years, I have only preached from a half a dozen of its passages. Yet, this book grounds our Christological, our understanding of Jesus Christ. While the writing seems somewhat complicated, the message is simple. It’s all about Jesus Christ. Through him, God is doing something new and wonderful in the world. Prophets and priest and angels played an important role in how God communicated in the past, but now God has spoken in a new way, though his Son.

 It is essential for us, as Christians, to understand that if we have Christ, we don’t need to have anyone or anything else. Too often, even the faithful succumb to the temptation of looking for a savior in all the wrong places: a political figure or party, a spouse, a friend, a job, or even a hobby. The book of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus is all we need. Any other want-a-be saviors will result in disappointment. 

Importance of Christology 

As Christians and as the church, if we long to be faithful, we must have a solid Christology. We must be grounded in an understanding of what God has and is doing in Jesus Christ. I hope you’ll enjoy this journey through his interesting book.   

After the reading of Scripture 

A Story of Christmas

This is the second Sunday of Christmas, there’s time for another Christmas story. 

There was a farmer who was a good man, but he had a hard time accepting the faith. That’s okay, you don’t have to have faith to be good. This man allowed his wife to attend church with the kids. He enjoyed his Sunday mornings at home, putting around the barn.

One Christmas Eve, his wife tried to get him to attend church with her and the kids, but he refused. I’ll just sit and read a book and wait for you to return, he said. When she insisted and wanted to know why he wouldn’t attend, he said it is because the story is nonsense. “Why would God lower himself to come to earth as a man?” he asked.

The family left, disappointed, as he began to read his book. Outside it snowing and cold. The light was draining from the gray sky. Immersed in his book, he was shaken when he heard a thump. Then another thump. He looked out the window and saw a flock of birds around the house and realized they were flying into the window in an attempt to escape the cold. 

“They must have been migrating,” he thought, “and got caught in the storm.”  

He worried about the birds. Finally, he had an idea.  Pulling on his boots and putting on his coat and hat, he went into the storm that was becoming a blizzard. He made his way over to the barn and opened the door thinking that the birds could seek shelter there. But none of them would fly in that direction. He tried to shoo them into the barn, but they scattered. He went back inside and grabbed some bread and crumbed it up and sprinkled it on the ground. The birds began to eat, so he made a path toward the barn, but they stopped short.

There must be another way, he thought. 

“Do you want to just sit out here and freeze to death,” he asked the birds in desperation. “Why don’t you follow me?”  Of course, the birds didn’t answer. They sat in the snow, their feathers puffed out for warmth, picking at whatever crumbs were left. 

“If only I was a bird,” he thought. “I could come among them and guide them into the barn.”

The story’s conclusion: knowing why Jesus came

            As soon as he said this to himself, the distant church bell began to ring. He could hear it faintly above the wind, but it was clear enough that he recalled how he questioned why God would come to us in the flesh. Suddenly he understood what Christmas was about; why Christ had to come.[2]

            It would be a mistake to see ourselves as the farmer in this story; we start out as one of the birds. We need a savior, like us, to come and show us the way into the barn. 

Jesus is God’s revelation 

Jesus is the complete revelation of God. He came to show and display divine love. He came to help us understand who God is and who we are in relationship to God.  Jesus came to cleanse us from sin so that we might come into God’s presence without fear. Jesus came, as the Gospel of John reminds us, to show us the way to the Father.[3]

The “Letter” to the Hebrews

This passage is from the “Letter to the Hebrews.” But this isn’t a letter or an epistle like others in the New Testament. The writings of Paul and Peter, James and John, have the hallmarks of letters. Hebrews is different. Some suggest it may have originally been a sermon,[4] for instead of beginning with the greeting and niceties of a letter, the author starts with the one premise that makes all the difference in the world: God has spoken! 

The author of this sermon reminds his readers that God had been speaking to their ancestors all along, through prophets. But now God has spoken in an even better way, through a Son. God realizes, like that farmer, that the way to reach people is to come as one of them. This is the purpose of Jesus coming.

Superiority of Christ

One of the themes of Hebrews is the superiority of Jesus Christ to both human servants of God (prophets) and divine servants or messages of God (angels). While Jesus is a messenger, showing us the way, he’s more than that!   

Historically, the church has spoken of Christ holding three offices: prophet, priest and king. In all three, Christ surpasses human prophets, human priests, and human kings.[5] Throughout this book, the author goes into great detail to show Christ’s preeminence which he proclaims here at the beginning with a sevenfold confirmation of Jesus superiority: 

1. He is appointed heir of all, 
2. The is the creator of the world,
3. He is the refection of God’s glory, 
4. He is the exact imprint of God, 
5. He upholds all things by his power, 
6. He purifies our sin and 
7. He sits at God’s right hand.[6]

Revealing the Divine Nature

God, by coming to us in Jesus Christ, reveals the nature of the divine in a way we can understand. That’s why Jesus name is more excellent than all other names, as we’re told in verse 4. Jesus Christ, our prophet, our priest and our king, came to show us God’s glory. Christ also forgives and frees us to be God’s agents in the world.  

The role of angels 

After this elegant opening of this book, the preacher begins the first of his polemics. The Son, Jesus Christ, is superior to angels. Now, we hear a lot about angels during the Christmas season. They inform Mary and Joseph of the plans, they call the shepherds to the stable, they warn the wisemen to avoid Herod. So just what is an angel? In the biblical sense, angels are messengers, nothing more.

In a sermon about the angel who met the women at Jesus’ tomb, Alyce McKenzie, a professor at Perkin’s School of Theology, relates the angels in Matthew’s gospel to her UPS man. They’re both focused on their job: delivering a package or delivering a message. Think of your UPS driver. He’s not there to be your buddies, or to sell you something, or open your package. He hands you the package and, if needed, obtains a signature, thanks you, and goes on his way. Angels are like that. They give their message and then it’s up to us.[7]

Jesus’ superiority to angels

Now, any message from God is important, but we are not to make angels out to be the end-all. The preacher’s first task in Hebrews is to make this clear. Jesus, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, is superior to the angels. He’s worshipped by angels. The son is eternal. Everything else (and we can infer this includes angels) are created beings. Angels weren’t there at the beginning, they have no status over our savior, and they won’t have that cherished seat at the right hand of the Father. 

However, angels have an important role to play in God’s plan of salvation. As the last verse indicates, God uses them to lead the chosen into salvation.

So, while God may speak to us through an angel (and the preacher later admits that sometimes we entertain angels without knowing it[8]), they themselves are not nearly as important as the message they bring.   

Knowing God

So how do we know God? While angels may give us insight into what God wants us to do, or point us in the right direction, their message is limited. The way we know God, as pointed out in the beginning of this book, is through God’s divine revelation in Jesus Christ. Jesus, the more excellent way, is how God makes himself known. 

During the Christmas season, which is coming to an end, we celebrate what happened at the stable in Bethlehem so long ago. God came into the world and through Jesus showed the world his love. 

Knowing God means…

But the story doesn’t end in Bethlehem or at the cross or even at the empty tomb. With Jesus now in our hearts, we are to be the ones reflecting his love to the world so that all people might experience the joy of salvation and have hope.

I will end with a poem by Howard Thurman, titled, “The Work of Christmas.”

When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people,
To make music in the heart. [9]. Amen.


[1] As an example, the lection links the first four verses of Hebrews with the opening of the second chapter and omits the section (1:5-12) on angels. 

[2] I’m not sure where I first heard this story.

[3] John 14:6.

[4] See Hugh Montefiore, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), 33 and Thomas G. Long, Hebrews(Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 2-3. Another thory is that it was written as a letter to be read to congregations. See Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews (Louisville: WJKP, 2006), 10, 33. .

[5] See the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 7 and the Westminster Larger Catechism, Questions 152-155.

[6] F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964), 3-8.

[7] Alyce M. McKenzie, Novel Preaching: Tips from Top Writers on Crafting Creative Sermons (Louisville: WJK, 2010), 137-138. 

[8] Hebrews 13:2.

[9] Poem published in The Mood of Christmas and Other Celebrations, published by Friends United Press. I found the poem at https://mypastoralponderings.com/2020/12/31/the-work-of-christmas-by-howard-thurman/?c=1119#comment-1119