Scripture: Hebrews 5:1-10
Marion Robert Morrison was accepted into Southern California University on a football scholarship in the mid 1920s. That all came crashing down when he severely injured himself in a surfing accident. Losing his scholarship led him to dropping out of college and seeking a job. This was the golden age of Hollywood, and the young movie industry was booming. With his strong athletic build Morrison was able to get a job for a studio on a “swing gang”, the crews that do the heavy lifting of moving props and equipment on set. A director, John Ford, was in need of an actor for a very minor role and he thought Morrison’s big build would fill the role of Geese Herder perfectly. Morrison and Ford became friends, and Ford who became known for directing low budget westerns, kept casting his friend Morrison in small parts. Through Ford, Morrison was introduced to other directors including Rauol Wash who casted Morrison in his first leading role. However, the director also decided that Marion Robert Morrsion was not a suitable name for a leading actor and suggested that Morrison adopt a stage name. His initial choice was rejected, and a stage name was chosen for him. Morrison’s first starring role was in the Western The Big Trail, and he was credited as the lead actor under the name John Wayne. John Wayne became an actor and, by extension an American icon, kind of by accident. He did not really set out to be a film star, he kind of found himself there because he was friends with the right people.
The famed acting career of John Wayne is proof to the truthfulness of the modern day proverb: “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” In today’s job marketplace, where it is has become increasingly harder to get one’s foot in the door for professional careers, this saying is proving even truer than ever. Today networking, intentionally meeting the right people, has become an important element of the job search. The idea of knowing the right people has increased in importance recently, but the story of John Wayne shows it has always paid off to know the right people. In fact, I think this is an element that is fundamental to the human experience. Our relationships are more important than our skills. In fact in biblical times, this was also true. As this morning’s scripture eludes to, in that time one’s connection with the divine was all based on who you knew. This might still be true, because this scripture makes the point that those who know Jesus have inside connections with God the Father.
As Americans with a Protestant Christian tradition, this morning’s scripture deal with a concept and viewpoint that is foreign to us. It is our background and cultural ethos to put a lot of emphasis on the personal and individual experience of faith. We can see this in the way that we worship. Song lines like “amazing grace how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like ME” and “My lighthouse, my lighthouse, I will trust the promise. You will carry me safe to shore” tend to resonate with us. These song lyrics, and countless other examples, speak about our individual faith in personal, direct terms. This is radically different from the understanding in the first century. In this morning’s scripture author of Hebrews attempts to use the first century viewpoint to argue for a more personal understanding of faith.
Hebrews, as the title implies, was written to Jewish converts to Christianity. As a whole the letter makes the case for how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Jewish faith, and one of the major arguments that it makes is that Jesus functions as a high priest. This morning’s scripture is one segment of that detailed explanation. For us to better understand this scripture requires us to better understand the concept of the priest. We tend to think of priest as a synonym for preacher or pastor, but priest has an altogether different connotation. The priest was the intercessor before the people and God. The people could not go directly to God to make their sacrifices, they were too impure, rather the priests stood between the people and God and made the sacrifices on their behalf. The priest was also to act as a sort of ambassador for God on earth. In both ways, the priest is the conduit that connect people to God. In other words, in this system the priest was the person you had to know if you wanted to know God.
However, this morning’s scripture is quick to point out that this system was somewhat imperfect because even the high priest was imperfect and had to make sacrifices on his own behalf to stay right with God. The author of Hebrews then goes on to cast Jesus as the perfect high priest, because Jesus does all of the same tasks for us that the priests performed. Jesus is the one who connects us to God the Father. Jesus, being fully human but also God’s very son is a person that we can relate to. However, Jesus is not a flawed human like the high priest. Jesus as the high priest does not need to offer up sacrifices on our behalf to pay the penalty of sin, because Jesus interceded for us by making himself the ultimate sacrifice on our behalf- he became the source of our salvation. The argument that the author of Hebrews is making in no uncertain terms, is that there is no need for the ancient priesthood and sacrifice system because Jesus is the ultimate high priest that fully connects us to God once and for all. We no longer would need to go to the temple to connect with God, because Jesus forever provides those who accept and believe in him with inside connections to God the Father.
The author of Hebrews tries to really make this point in a highly technical way to connect with the Jewish audience. That is what all of the business about being a priest in the order of Melchizedek is about. Those who were Jewish priests were priests by their birthright. As verse 4 states about the priests, “no one takes this honor on himself but he receives it when called by God as Aaron was.” The Jewish priests, were Levites, descended from Aaron. They were priest in his tradition, in the order of Aaron. This was a tradition based in the Old Testament law, a tradition that required a priests to intercede and make sacrifices for the people. It is a priesthood based in the law, and the only way to God is through following the law. The tradition of Melchizedek is older though. Melchizedek is a priest found Genesis 14, and Melchizedek has a lot of unique and interesting things about him. The upshot is that he is a priest of God before God makes a covenant with Abraham, centuries before Moses, and before God gave the Israelites the law to follow. Melchizedek is a priest that is before the laws, before the regulations, and before the rules. By declaring Jesus is a high priest in the order of Melchizedek what the author is declaring is that Jesus connects us to God the Father without the law being needed.
From our viewpoint today, this is not a major declaration, but to a first century believer who grew up Jewish this was a paradigm shifting revelation. Being in good standing with God no longer required following a list of rules, it no longer required someone else making the appropriate sacrifices on their behalf. Now, being in good standing with God only required one thing: relationship. Relationship with Jesus is what connects with God and saves us eternally. The primary point that Hebrews is making is simple. When it comes to salvation and the forgiveness of sins, it does not matter what you have done, it matters who you know. And who you need to know is Jesus. Jesus is the single person who fully connects us to God the Father, or as Jesus himself put it “I am the way the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
In John chapter 14 Jesus tried to explain exactly how Jesus gives his followers inside connections to God. In John14:20-22 Jesus states, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father and you are in me, and I am in you. Whoever has my commands and keeps them is one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by Father and I too will love them and show myself to them.” I think we sometimes, a lot of time honestly, take for granted just what Jesus did for us on the cross. Before the cross, people’s connection with God came from having someone else make sacrifices on their behalf. After the cross, we are directly connected to the Creator and Sustainer of all things through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It used to be that connection with God was distant but now because of Jesus it is personal. We can know and be known by God. How amazing it is that through Jesus, God- the maker of stars and the author of all reality- loves us personally and is known to us.
In modern day networking, the hope is to get an inside connection with someone that will be professionally beneficially. Spiritually speaking, Jesus is our inside connection with God the Father. However, I think two other elements of modern networking apply. First, networking is meant to go two ways. The idea of building one’s personal network is not just about finding people who can help you, but also being available to help others. Jesus connect us to God the Father, which means that Jesus also connects God the Father to us. Our relationship with God should not be all about what we can get from God but also how we can be of help to God. We do this by keeping the commands of Jesus, to love God with all of our being, to love our neighbors as ourselves, and to love one another. When we do those things then our attitudes and actions serve God in this world and we join with God in transforming this world.
The other element of modern day networking we should consider is that a good personal network is always growing. I have had the privilege to meet a couple of people are incredible at networking. They seem to know everyone and be known by everyone. One of the things these people are best at is introducing people to one another, or inviting others to tap into the network they have developed. In our faith we should do the same thing. For those who are Christians Jesus fulfills the ultimate function of a high priest and connects us to God once and for all. There are a lot of people in this world who are looking for God. There are a lot of people who want to know there is more to existence than this finite life. It is our job to introduce those people to the way, the truth, and the life. It is our job to invite them into our spiritual network and introduce them to Jesus, the one who connects us to God the Father. The way we do this is the way the gospel has always spread, through relationship. We are not going to introduce people to Jesus by leaving little tracts on tables or yelling from bullhorns on street corners. We are going to do it by investing in the lives of others and through the course of living life together telling them what the source of our hope is, the source of eternal salvation. Christianity is a faith based on relationship, it is based on our relationship with Jesus who connect us in relationship with God the Father, and we can only share that good news by being in relationship with others.
May you know Jesus. May you know that he is the one who serves as our high priest, the one who connects us to God the Father. May you be willing to be in perfect relationship with God, a relationship that goes two ways. May you have a relationship with God where you trust God and God can trust you. And may you not be afraid to invite others into the spiritual network of the family God. Because it is in this way that we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.