Volume 9, No. 6 (June 2014)
18. WORSHIP IN THE LETTER TO THE HEBREWS
Hebrews is a whole world of its own when it comes to New Testament teachings about worship. Here are some testimonies to its greatness and uniqueness:
Hebrews presents the most complete and fully integrated theology of worship in the New Testament. All the important categories of Old Testament thinking on this subject—sanctuary, sacrifice, altar, priesthood and covenant—are taken up and related to the person and work of Jesus Christ. More than any other New Testament document, Hebrews makes it clear that the inauguration of the new covenant by Jesus means the fulfilment and replacement of the whole pattern of approach to God established under the Mosaic covenant. The writer proclaims the end of that earthly cult, by expounding Christ’s work as the ultimate, heavenly cult.
In short, then, if we take Christ out of Hebrews, we are left with nothing. He is the substance of the book and without him the whole reality of the new covenant and the life of Christian belief and worship collapses. The writer, then, does not spare his readers the glory of Christ’s person and work nor the demands this places upon them. There is no ‘laid back religion’ in Hebrews. The author expects his addressees to attend to what is being said with diligence and urgency. The change of worship brought about through Christ is irreversible, and its consequences are inevitably pressing.” (Noel Due, Created For Worship, 156)
The fact that Jesus Christ is the leader of our worship, the high priest who forgives us our sins and leads us into the holy presence of the Father, is the central theme of the epistle to the Hebrews. (James B. Torrance, Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace, 57)
There is, indeed, no book in Holy Scripture which speaks so clearly of the priesthood of Christ, which so highly exalts the virtue and dignity of that only true sacrifice which He offered by His death, which so abundantly deals with the issue of ceremonies as well as their abrogation, and, in a word, so fully explains that Christ is the end of the Law. Let us therefore not allow the Church of God or ourselves to be deprived of so great a benefit, but firmly defend the possession of it. (John Calvin, Commentary on Hebrews)
Please see Worship Notes 4.9 (September 2009) for a much fuller treatment of worship in Hebrews, and more quotes. Here let us focus in on just a few of the pivotal passages.
a. The Incarnate Son: The Apex of God’s Self-Revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3a)
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed the heir of all things, through whom also He created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.
b. Christ’s Deity (chapter 1) and Humanity (chapter 2)
And again, when He brings the firstborn into the world, He says,“Let all God’s angels worship Him.” (1:6)
For He who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why He is not ashamed to call them brothers. . . . Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil. (2:11,14)
c. Jesus: the Leader of Our Worship (2:12)
(See also 8:1-2, and Worship Notes 1.8 [August 2006]; also this writer’s Proclamation and Praise: Hebrews 2:12 and the Christology of Worship [Wipf & Stock, 2007])
“I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.”
Christ is the One in whom Word and response are united [Hebrews 2:12]. (William Nicholls, Jacob’s Ladder: The Meaning of Worship, 40)
d. Jesus: Our Eternal Priest, Mediator and Advocate (7:23-27)
The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but He holds His priesthood permanently, because He continues forever. Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for His own sins and then for those of the people, since He did this once for all when He offered up Himself.
e. Let Us Draw Near (10:19-22) (with confidence and assurance)
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
That uniquely New Covenant access is made possible by:
1) the past work of Christ (“since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus,” v. 19)
2) the present work of Christ (“since we have a great priest over the house of God,” v. 21)
f. The One Way of Worship (13:15)
Through HIM [Christ] then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge His name.
“Hebrews has the theme of worship at its core
because it has the person and work of Jesus Christ at its heart.
He is the one who is shown to be both the offerer of perfect worship to God,
and the one through whom God may be worshipped by His people.”
(Noel Due, Created For Worship, 154)