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Called to be Heir
Winter Quarter: Call in the New Testament
Unit 1: The Beginning of a Call
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 6, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Background Scripture: Matthew 1: 1-6, 16-17; Hebrews 1
In these last days (God) has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things; and through whom he also made the universe. (Hebrews 1: 2)
To the teacher: This lesson is longer than the others. I felt a need to explore more context. I hope it helps.
Historical and Theological Context of Covenant
- Learn how the dynamic of covenant moves through the ancestry of Jesus into Jesus himself.
- Learn the importance of ancestry in Jesus messianic calling.
- Learn how God speaks to us today.
The dynamic of covenant plays a major role in how God speaks to us and what is being said. As stated in other lessons, the thread of covenant runs throughout the O.T. and into the N.T. We need to understand how the dynamic of covenant develops in the Bible. Consider the following way to understand covenant:
The O.T. begins with Genesis. This entire opening book finds its continuity in covenant. A pattern begins to emerge as we read Genesis. The pattern involves God creating and blessing all creation, especially man and woman. However, we quickly abuse his goodness. Adam and Eve in Eden quickly act in disobedience and deceit. How does God respond? God removes them from Eden but does not cut off relationship. Adam and Eve begin to have children, a great blessing, which will populate creation. However, Cain will murder his own brother.
The story quickly moves to Noah. A flood is coming to destroy the wickedness of mankind. However, God preserves creation and Noah. Noah is instructed by God to build an ark so he, his family, and creatures of the earth might survive. After the flood God established a covenant with Noah and descendants with the sign of a rainbow. The rainbow represented God’s promise to never destroy humanity again. However, Noah and his family will sin. Now the narrative of Genesis moves toward the covenant with Abraham. God promises Abraham that he will bless and multiply his descendants. He will be their God and Abraham and descendants will be obedient.
Following Genesis is the book of Exodus. The O.T. will move toward Moses in Exodus. God “fleshes out” the covenant with Abraham through the Mosaic Law. The initial covenant with Abraham called for Abraham and his descendants to be obedient. The Law lets the people of Abraham know “how to be obedient.”
The following books record the obedience and disobedience of Abraham’s tribe and God’s remarkable grace as they conquer the promised land. From there we move toward the prophets. The prophets were not “future tellers.” They were those God empowered to see the culture through the eyes of covenant. Are we being obedient or disobedient? Yes, the prophets did on occasion look into God’s future for his people. Jeremiah is important for it is the first glimpse of covenantal obedience being a matter of the heart. Jeremiah records that God desires for covenant to be “written on our hearts.” From there the Bible moves into the N.T. as Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s love and God’s covenant.
We should not forget the importance of Isaiah. Isaiah proclaims the coming of a messiah, or savior. In the latter part of Isaiah, we are given a powerful and vivid picture of a “suffering messiah.” That Messiah will be Jesus. Jesus came to transform the heart through the Shema. Going back into Deuteronomy we read in the sixth chapter the law which Jesus named the “law above all laws,” the Shema. Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus will add to the Shema “and thy neighbor as thyself.” From Genesis through Revelation, the Law of laws is the highest expression of who God is and who we are in relation to God and one another.
The pattern of God’s grace, followed by our sin, followed by God’s grace continues up to Abraham. The revelation of this progression reveals the underlying truth that we cannot stop sinning and we cannot save ourselves. God has to initiate a relationship with us if we have any hope of salvation. In Genesis, our sin is almost always followed by God reaching toward us in grace. All of the stories above lead to the most powerful covenant in the O.T. as God establishes a covenant with Abraham. We also need to remember King David and his relationship to covenant. David expresses the emotion that is present when we live in covenant. Furthermore, David establishes the “line of David” from which will come the Messiah Jesus.
Please note that covenant moves in and through every book. Each of the narratives and texts mentioned above need to be read in their entirety when studying covenant.
Background information concerning the books of Hebrews and Matthew
The book of Hebrews has led to a lot of debate. Some question whether it should be in the canon of sacred scripture. Why? Because we are not certain who wrote the book. Remember, for a book to be included it had to be directly related to the Apostles. Some, like Luke were not apostles, but so closely related to Paul and thus were included. Secondly, the faith community had to approve and believe the book was “God-breathed.” With the passing of time a book received the church’s blessing to be included. Thirdly, a book had to be consistent with the other books that were included. Therefore, no book stands alone from the others. All are related to covenant, God’s community of faith, and salvation.
Many believed Hebrews to be written by Paul. However, it is understandable why some question his authorship. The book isn’t a letter. It doesn’t read like an epistle until the ending. Paul did not use this format. Its format is rather unique. The book uses metaphors and symbols from the O.T. However, Paul was a converted Pharisee and knew well the Jewish sacrificial system and law. However, this book almost reads as one written by a Greek. The symbols and metaphors from the O.T. are used as Plato might have used them. They are shadows of that which is utterly real. The book of Hebrews includes use of the idea of “shadows.” Hebrews seems to be written by someone not well schooled in Judaism. Does this mean Hebrews should not be included in the canon?
Even if someone else wrote it, it contains truth that is consistent with other sacred books. Though authorship may be questionable, it does negate the other criteria to be included in the canon. The church found it of great spiritual value and approved its addition and it does not conflict with the truth revealed in the other writings. Therefore, since the church has claimed that Hebrews is sacred writing, I accept their judgement.
This is one of the synoptic gospels along with Mark and Luke and is the opening book of the N.T. canon. Matthew was a former tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. Though Matthew was a Jew, he wrote his gospel in Greek. This was undoubtedly done to speak to a large audience. He uses a large percentage of the gospel of Mark in writing his gospel. Matthew’s Jewish heritage is very much alive and plays a role in the way he wrote. One of the major marks of Judaism in Matthew’s gospel was the patriarchal slant. Whereas Luke allows us to read of the nativity through the eyes and words of Mary, Matthew let us see the event through Joseph. For our study we concentrate on the genealogy he uses to open his gospel. The genealogy reminds us the story of Jesus is grounded in real history through real people. It also ties Jesus to the Davidic line of the coming messiah and lays the foundation to understand Jesus is the fulfillment of the covenant.
Other important considerations for our lesson
1. Role of Women in Covenant and Redemptive History
Our lesson includes Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth. Women are important to the biblical witness of God’s grace and love. Many of the men God used to express his love and forgiveness through covenant married women who were not of Israelite origin. They
reveal God’s great love of the world and EVERYONE in the world. In these marriages we have the wedding of Jew and Gentile. Rahab is the second of four women listed in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus. As we see in the body of the lesson, they are important in the progression of covenant and the genealogy leading to Jesus.
2. Christology in Hebrews
Who is Jesus? Is he divine or human? He is presented as both human and divine. We cannot intellectually wrap our minds around Jesus being both. However, we are a people of faith who accept the biblical truth handed down by the church through faith. Therefore, what we cannot fully grasp intellectually we can grasp by faith. Accepting the Bible’s truth by faith is not a feeble response to that which is difficult to understand. Everyone lives by faith. Everyone arises from bed and puts their feet on the floor without having to see if the floor is there. We do not question it. History and experience have led us to “believe without seeing.” Biblical truth is foundational to us. Though I cannot see or intellectually grasp Jesus’ humanity and divinity, I can accept by faith for it has sustained Christians and the Church for more than 2,000 years. Furthermore, the book of Hebrews wants us to understand that Jesus is over and above the angels. The angels were God’s messengers and intermediaries in the Bible. We will understand why Hebrews wants us to understand Jesus’ superiority over the angels in the next paragraph.
3. How Does God Speak?
The Bible is a sacred account of “progressive revelation.” We should not be wary of the term. Progressive revelation simply means God speaks to us in a manner we can understand at the time. Why did Jesus not enter our life until after the O.T. era? They would not have been able to understand Jesus’ teaching and mission in Abraham’s day. The Bible is an expression of progressive revelation. Jesus was the perfect culmination of God’s revelation, for he was divine truth in human form.
Some are puzzled by early revelation in the O.T. People were not allowed to hear, speak to, touch or see God directly. Only through other means. We were not capable of looking upon the eternal God with our human eyes. In the O.T. one did not cross the boundary into the realm of the eternal. The O.T. people believed if you saw, heard, or touched God without invitation from God one would die. Therefore, angels served as messengers and intermediaries. We could look upon angels and hear their instructions or warnings. When people believed they were looking directly upon God their first response was of fear. We often read the response, “Woe is me” when they believed they crossed the line into the eternal. When Isaiah entered the temple in Isaiah 6 and saw the Lord high and lifted up, his first words were “Woe is me.” Angels play a major role in the nativity and in the book of Revelation. Yet, outside of these moments, angels are rarely mentioned after the nativity. They are no longer necessary, for the eternal God has come to us as a man in Jesus. The humanity of Jesus allows us to gaze upon the eternal without fear.
Does God speak to us today? Certainly! God speaks through our relationships, the wonder of creation, the Bible, the Church and mystically in the heart. However, God does not say anything today that contradicts the truth revealed in Jesus. So, there is no “new revelation,” there is only a deeper and broader understanding of the truth in Jesus. Again, we must understand that journey is important to our faith. As we walk with Jesus through life, we are able to comprehend more of his light, love, and truth.
Bringing it all together
Jesus was called to be Messiah. He answered that calling during his baptism. In the narrative he audibly hears the Father speak from heaven. He is heir to the Kingdom of God and all creation. He then redeems us and fills with the Holy Spirit; thus, we become coheirs as we walk in the spiritual reality of God’s Kingdom. It is important to realize we, too, are called. We are called by God to be the Body of Christ in the world. As we walk in the Spirit and embody the love of Jesus, we continue God’s purposes in redeeming the world.
As members of the Body of Christ we have heard of our need to fulfill our calling. However, we have heard so often we can easily forget how remarkable our calling is. Imagine, God chose to speak to us and through us! It is God who initiates our involvement in his desire to redeem. Thus, our calling itself is an act of grace.
In becoming members of God’s Kingdom, we, too, become a part of the lineage. Our connection to the genealogy is spiritual. Jesus made us “children of God.” So, we can remind ourselves that we are an important part of a holy lineage and purpose. God speaks to us through the Spirit of Christ, and God in turn fills us with the Spirit that we might become the light, truth, and love of God in the world.
Though Jesus heard the Father audibly, most of us do not have this experience. We hear God in the heart, through creation, through others, through the Bible, and through worship. We must be very careful when we say, “God told me . . .” I have encountered people who share that God told them to buy a business or go to a particular destination and so on. When we introduce what we feel with, “God told me” we are placing what we say on the level of Holy Scripture. It is best to say, “I sense that God wants me to . . .” What we “sense” must always be checked out as we interact with others, read Holy Scripture, and pray. John Wesley introduced the manner in which we should ensure what we are saying is biblical and true. It is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. When we encounter a statement that emerges from “God told me,” we must move it through the quadrilateral. The quadrilateral is as follows:
- Is it biblical? Is it consistent with the message of Holy Scripture?
- Next we ask “What has been the tradition of the church in handling this issue or question?
- What does my reason tell me?
- What does my experience in life teach me about the matter?
As stated above, God continues to speak to us. He speaks through creation. I love to find a place of peace and comfort. I can sense the wonder of God. I can sense God’s power. I can witness his incredible design as all things are related. I can awaken to the reality that life is a beautiful gift!
God speaks through the Bible. The Bible has endured every attack and touched lives for thousands of years. It is true that life is constantly in a state of flux. I walked my granddaughter around the block in our neighborhood twice. During the second time around, I told her, “Nothing you see is exactly as you saw it the first time.” Plants grow a microscopic amount, items erode a tiny amount under the weather, and we now know more than we did when we began. Life is always changing and we are always changing. However, the Bible is unchangeable. I have never encountered a moment in life that the underlying truth of Scripture did not address.
God speaks to us through prayer. Personally, I am moved more by quiet prayer. When I attempt to express what I feel and sense I often am at a loss for words. In Romans 8, Paul said, “We do not always know how to pray.” Yet, Paul continues, “The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groaning and uttering too deep for words.” Therefore, I simply sit quietly and focus on God’s love in Christ and God’s desire to redeem everyone. God speaks to us in our awakened heart. There are moments we just sense God is speaking to us. For example, many times over my 40+ years I have sensed I should phone someone. The message comes out of the blue but I audibly hear nothing. It has amazed me how often I called and was met with the words, “I can’t tell you how glad I am you called.”
The other manner through which God speaks to us is through others. No one has the same background or sees life through the same eyes. Everyone is standing at a point in life with a wealth of past experiences. I want to know how they know, how they feel, what they think. When we discover we have to battle an illness, the people who comfort us most are those who have had the same experience. Those who have lost loved ones helped me in times of loss and grief. Often the answer to our prayers is in someone we will encounter as we walk through life.
And, God speaks to us through worship. We can hear the Word through singing, the ritual, the prayers, and sermon. Always enter worship with a seeking heart.
As stated above, God’s ultimate word to us was in and through Jesus Christ. Yet, we must always be aware God’s truth is inexhaustible. We never reach a point of knowing everything nor will we ever. God and his truth are deeper, broader and often incomprehensible. Thus, what I know has been a gift. I close out this section with God’s conversation with Job. Near the end of Job, this suffering man begins to question God. God does not answer his question. Instead God responds with a rhetorical question: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the world?” Of course, Job knows he wasn’t there. In other words, there is truth that only God knows, and actions of God that are too high and deep for us. For some reason many have been led to believe that God owes us an answer. God doesn’t owe us anything. Again, what we know is a gift of God’s grace. There comes a moment when it is difficult to hear God or understand what is occurring in our life. What are we to do after futilely seeking an answer? We drop to our knees before God, acknowledging his omniscience and that mystery is a vital part of faith. Mystery keeps us seeking and praying.
Do we listen for God’s word in our daily life? Make a list of how we can effectively listen. Once we believe we have heard God say something, what is usually our next step or steps? Do we understand God’s speaking to us an act of remarkable grace and profound love? Have we made the mistake of assuming God owes us answers? What can the church do to create meaningful, authentic interaction among the members? Can you make a list of those moments when you believe you heard God speak? What role does mystery play in your faith? Why would the church proclaim Jesus is God’s final revelation? Is it inconsistent to claim that God has said all in Jesus Christ and also claim God speaks to us today? Do you see yourself as one whom Jesus has spiritually grafted into the covenantal genealogy?
Almighty God, the truth that you, who stands over, above and beyond the cosmos, would choose to speak to us is humbling. Awaken our entire being to ways you speak to us every day. Teach us to pray with our eyes open to your divine presence. Give us ears to hear that sacred Word that transcends all other words. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.