Sunday, September 20, 2009

Distorted Images

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need ... During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-10, NIV)

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If you study the Old Testament, particularly the book of Leviticus, you learn of the original pattern God set down for His people, the children of Israel. Leviticus lays out the specifics for feasts and offerings, worship and sacrifice, service to God, and responsibility to man. It is a model of precision and, if followed, was not only a structure with a promise of blessing, but a picture of what was to come for Israel and, ultimately, for us.

The Aaronic priesthood played a major role in all of this. God had anointed Aaron, his sons, and specifically the tribal clan of Levi to serve Him by leading the people in their daily worship, their sacrifice and offerings, and the appointed festivals and celebrations. Each one of these acts, as originally prescribed by God, was a picture of what was to come and of the promised Messiah. It would have worked well for everyone, except for one small detail.

The men serving as priests, dedicated though they may be, were sinful themselves. The sacrifices, the offerings, and the feasts were merely a reflection of who God truly is … and they were a distorted image at that. Over time, the people would go through the motions and rituals just because that is what they were accustomed to doing, and they lost much of the connection (cloudy as it was) to the magnanimous nature of the Eternal God. They came to see them as the “real deal” rather than just reflections designed to point them forward.

As I listened to Hebrews a while back and heard chapters 4 and 5, it began to dawn on my that God’s provision of the Aaronic priesthood and all the festivals, offerings, and feasts was never meant to replace the image of Jesus as our ultimate high priest. It struck me that Jesus is called a high priest “in the order of Melchizedek” and not identified with Aaron. Then again, Jesus wasn’t a Levite either. I reflected on the limited Biblical account of Melchizedek … a man with no recorded beginning or end. And then it made sense … Jesus is not only our High Priest, but our King as well, just like Melchizedek. God gave us all the rest the images to point us to the One, True, and Perfect Revelation of His character and being. We cannot substitute what we see for what we are promised because the images are intentionally clouded with the trappings of this fallen world. Only Jesus will break the final veil between us and God and bring perfection.

C.S. Lewis said it best in his final Chronicle of Narnia. We live our lives in the “shadowlands” and we must always remember that. What we see and experience is not permanent and is not, in fact, reality for us. The problems come when we begin to view what we have as the answer and end up missing God’s Answer. And I don’t say this as some kind of fatalist either. It is the harsh reality of life in our fallen world.
But, even though the pain and distortion of the crooked path is all around us, we have a Great High Priest who has also walked where we walk. He has already broken through to the other side and is making it ready for us. He will (and one day soon) call out to us to leave the shadowlands and, along with Aslan’s character in Narnia, lead us on calling out “Farther up and further in!” Knowing that, I can endure for a little longer on this current crooked path.
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  1. Have you come to view the current “images” around you as the real thing, rather than as mere reflections of something better?
  2. Do you find it hard to comprehend that Jesus experienced life in this world fully and completely, so that He can understand everything that you struggle with?
  3. Are you ready to look beyond the “shadowlands” and reach out to the One True High Priest who is like no other we have ever known? What in this world can possibly hold you back?

NIV - Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

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