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Hebrews 4:12-16

The book of Hebrews is a book astonished by the great mystery of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the Son of the God of Abraham and Moses. The book goes to great pains to affirm both (1) that Israel is indeed God’s chosen people, that the law administered by the priests of Israel was indeed God’s gift to the world, and (2) that neither Israel nor its law, neither the angels nor priests that cared for Israel, neither Abraham nor Moses, is more than a shadow of what for them was yet to come. God’s work in Jesus, Hebrews tells us, not only exceeds God’s work in Israel, it ruptures it, it removes from it every foundation other than the one to which it was called to look in hope. Israel, for the book of Hebrews, is to be no more—though also no less—than a gesture to the coming new creation that irrupts in, through, by, and for the short life, agonizing death, and shockingly glorious resurrection of Jesus (see 10:1).

What is perhaps most startling about the Jesus to whom Hebrews bears witness is the extent to which he is faithful to his Father. When Hebrews declares that that he “in every respect has been tested as we are,” it is saying that he, too, has been slapped around, betrayed, treated unjustly, swept off the stage, beaten, cut, humiliated, rendered despicable, and above all robbed of well being, robbed of health, robbed of integrity of body, soul, and spirit. What is pried off the cross and thrown into a grave, is a mutilated body that has had violently cut from it everything anyone could ever desire. This is the way he was “tested,” i.e., tempted, tried, tortured. That is, he was tempted to deviate from the way of God into the world. He was tempted to make himself conform to an image of uprightness, wholeness, integrity, beauty, and honor, rather than conforming to the image of the God who is with the poor and broken people of this world—the bent down, the broken in body and spirit, the dis-integrated, the ugly, and the dishonorable. He is the very image of this God and thus his love broke his body, too.

And yet his faithfulness to the God who is with the despised and rejected of the world meant that none of his afflictions counted as sins. It is important to keep in mind that sin is finally a lack of shalom, a lack of peace, a lack of wholeness. The act of sin is one that removes the sinner from the peace of God. In the mainstream stories of Israel, faithfulness to God meant that peace in every sense would follow. Certainly, there are exceptions to this vision. However, none of them went so far as to suggest that all peace could be lost as one lived faithfully to the God of promise. Even Job, who came before the whirlwind to trust in God in spite of his agony, received shalom in the end. But Jesus dies with all peace ripped from his very body—all peace except the peace that exceeds the understanding, the peace that lives as trust in the unsearchably mysterious Father Jesus loved.

When he is raised from the dead, it is revealed that all the brokenness of his crucified body counted as nothing against his sinlessness. Rather—and this enticed every child of Abraham and Moses to offense—it counted for his sinlessness. All of the absence of shalom from his tortured body, his humiliated body, his forsaken body, counted as nothing against his holiness, against his righteousness, against his conformity to the very will of God. It is because he gave himself to become an empty place to be filled by the God who is love that it is to be shouted from the rooftops that he is the very image of God! He is that one toward whom all creation was from the first set loose to move.

That he is the one through whom we have access to the God who filled him with glory, with holiness, he is our great high priest. Jesus, tested the way the most battered among us is tested—crucified, mutilated—Jesus at the low point of his defeat is there to carry us to the hope of all the world. That is, Jesus is the hope of all the world. His glorified, mutilated body says, “You are loved!” It says, “Do not be afraid! When God embraces me, God embraces you!” “Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

This is the word of the gospel. It is the word of the gospel, because Jesus is the word of the gospel and Jesus is “living and active.” Jesus is “sharper than any two-edged sword.” Jesus divides the world in