January 1 – January 8

Friday, January 1

Hebrews 5:5-10: It is possible that the earliest extant version of the Agony in the Garden comes to us, not from the Gospels, but from the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is here that we read of Jesus, “who, in the days of His flesh, when He had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of His godly fear, though He were a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered” (5:7-8).
In this precious text, the reference to ”vehement cries and tears” explains how the early believers knew about this event. There were witnesses to it, some of them only “a little farther” off (Matthew 26:39), “about a stone’s throw” (Luke 22:41). These disciples could hear those “vehement cries,” and they were able to see his kneeling posture (Mark 14:35).
All this happened, says Hebrews, “in the days of His flesh,” an expression indicating Jesus’ condition of human weakness, willingly assumed so “that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).
The object of Jesus’ “prayers and supplications,” Hebrews tells us, was deliverance from death. This feature of His prayers corresponds to the Gospel accounts in which Jesus prays that He be spared the “cup” of His coming sufferings (Matthew 26:39,42) and that “the hour might pass from Him” (Mark 14:35).
It was in this hour, says Hebrews, that Jesus “learned obedience by the things which He suffered,” a parallel to the Gospel accounts in which Jesus, in His Agony, submits His own will obediently to that of His Father (Matthew 26:39,42; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). Similarly, the Apostle Paul preserves part of a hymn that speaks of Jesus’ obedience unto death, “even the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:8).
These prayers and supplications of Jesus were themselves sacrificial, because Hebrews says that he “offered” them (prosenegkas). They are priestly prayers. That is to say, Jesus’ sacrifice has even now begun. The Lord’s Passion is a seamless whole. Already we perceive in His prayers and supplications the true essence of sacrifice, which is the inner oblation of oneself to God.
The Book of Hebrews insists, furthermore, that these “prayers and supplications” of Jesus were heard on high, precisely because of “His godly fear,” which is to say His godly piety and reverence (evlabeia; reverential in the Vulgate). Jesus’ obedient reverence is exactly what we find in the Gospel accounts of the Agony.
In what sense, then, was Jesus “heard” when he offered these prayers and supplications? Properly to answer this question, it is useful to remember a principle of all godly petition: “Now this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14). Now Jesus prayed explicitly according to God’s will; indeed, it was the very essence of His prayer. Therefore, His prayer was heard according to God’s will. He was not delivered from death in the sense that He avoided it, but in the sense that He conquered it, that He was victorious over death, that in His own death He trampled down death forever.
This is to say that Jesus’ resurrection and glorification were the Father’s response to His prayer in the Agony. It was in answer to this prayer, “Thy will be done,” that Jesus, “having been perfected, . . . became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9). This was God’s will, the will that Jesus prayed would be done. He was thus “made perfect through sufferings” (2:10). It was because Jesus became obedient unto death that “God also has highly exalted Him” (Philippians 2:9). The Paschal victory over death was the Father’s reply to the prayers and supplications offered by the true High Priest in the days of His flesh.

Saturday, January 2

Hebrews 5:11-14: These verses of Hebrews recognize a distinction well known in moral philosophy—the distinction between the milk of the beginner and the solid food of the proficient.

The Christian begins with mild teaching: doctrines easy to digest, the simple doctrines of the catechism. At the beginning of the next chapter our author gives a list of these: “The foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.”

There are examples of this simple catechesis in the New Testament. For instance: “Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately’ (Acts 18:24-26). In this text there is elementary teaching about Christian Baptism, in the course of which it is distinguished from John’s baptism of repentance. This teaching is what Hebrews 6 refers to. Another example is found in Acts 19:1-6, about baptism and the laying-on of hands, another theme to which Hebrews refers. Such things are called “milk”; they form the Christians’ introductory food.

Both Paul and Peter mention such “milk”. Thus, we read in First Corinthians, “I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ. I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able” (3:1-2). And Saint Peter wrote, “As newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, unto salvation “ (1 Peter 2:2-3).

If Christians spend their whole lives consuming baby food, however, they will eventually grow anemic. Indeed, such spiritual anemia is not uncommon. It is not rare to find Christians who have done no serious study of the Christian faith after age 12. Such Christians are no longer infants; they are malnourished and even starving adults, whose spiritually empty bellies are swollen with famine. This is a serious but widespread pastoral problem.

St. Paul warns the Corinthians: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

For a Christian, a day without Bible study can be written off as a wasted day. We know that during his whole time at Ephesus, St. Paul taught Christian doctrine to his Ephesians every single day. When Paul and the other Christians were expelled from the synagogue, St. Luke tells us, “he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, discoursing daily in the school of Tyrannus. And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks” (Acts 19:9-10). The great Fathers of the Church followed suit, from John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, through Gregory Palamas, all the way to Alexandr Men. Daily instruction in the Sacred Scriptures is the long tradition of the Church, very much for reasons similar to those prompting us to eat daily meals.

Sunday, January 3

Hebrews 6:1-8: This work, apparently a sort of sermon (logos parakleseos—13:22), was composed for a congregation in fairly dire straits. This work contains several warnings about the dangers of apostasy. To find anything comparable to this in the New Testament, we must go to the letters to the Seven Churches of Asia in the Book of Revelation. Certainly we don’t find this level of warning in any of Paul’s letters to the churches, not even in the epistles to the Galatians and the Corinthians.

The author, however, adopts a tack that may appear surprising: Instead of reviewing the fundamentals of the Christian faith, he determines to take the congregation into deeper waters. He says to them, “let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (ESV). He explains what he means by referring to the earlier catechesis offered to the congregation at the time of their reception into the Christian Church.

He does this by way of reminding them of the components of that catechesis: “repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” In the Acts of the Apostles we find all these subjects as matters of instruction when people were brought to the Christian faith.

Our author refers to them here just in passing, as it were, by way of reminding the congregation briefly of things they already know.

He then reminds them of the sacred mysteries by which they were received into the Christian Church. He reminds them of their enlightenment in Baptism—indeed, he actually uses this ancient expression for Baptism: “those who were once enlightened.”

Likewise, he mentions the Holy Communion, which was part of their reception into the Church: “have tasted the heavenly gift.” He speaks of the gift of the Holy Spirit, conferred by the laying on of hands: “have become partakers of the Holy Spirit.” He briefly mentions the understanding of God’s Word imparted to those who join the Church: “have tasted the good word of God.” And finally, refers to all of these experiences as a foretaste of heaven: “the powers of the world to come.”

The author intentionally does not dwell on these things; it is sufficient merely to mention them. Indeed, he mentions them to support a warning against apostasy. He says that those who have experienced such abounding grace must not come short, because it is unlikely they will ever get such a chance again. In fact, he does not even use the word “unlikely.” He says “impossible.”: it is impossible . . . to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.”

This is a very strong warning, obviously. Indeed, some readers of Holy Scripture have taken this warning in a very literal sense, interpreting it to mean an actual theological impossibility.

I do not read the text this way. The interpretive Tradition of the Church understands this “impossibility” in an exhortative sense, indicating the author’s intention to put the fear of God in his listeners.

We recall that Jesus also used rhetorical expressions of this sort, referring to cutting off one’s hand, gouging out one’s eye, and even making oneself a eunuch. Rhetorical expressions of this sort have the merit of gaining the full attention of the listener, which they certainly do.

In short, those original listeners to the Epistle to the Hebrews knew themselves to be hearing a final warning, before it was too late.

The author presses the point home: “For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.” There is only one possible meaning
to this warning: the author is reminding his listeners that the fires of hell remain a distinct possibility, if they do not take his admonition seriously.

One suspects that some of them were unhappy with this sort of talk; there have always been Christians who resisted being told of the possibility of eternal damnation. Yet, when there is a clear danger of apostasy, the Christian preacher has the strict moral obligation to mention the matter to those who are in that danger.

So what does our author propose? He proposes what he calls “going on to perfection,” “going on to maturity.” Rather than return to subjects they already know, he determines to take his listeners into deeper waters, to consider things they have not yet considered, to meditate on a subject of great moment: the more profound significance of the mystery of Christ.

This sermon, or logos parakleseos, accordingly, deals with the mysteries of the Incarnation, the Redemption purchased on the Cross, the exaltation of Christ to God’s right hand, and the dynamics of history.

In the face of a possible defection from the faith, our author resolves to make his listeners familiar with more profound dimensions of the faith. This is the substance of the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Monday, January 4

Hebrews 6:9-12: Christians here are exhorted to “show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end.” Leaving our consideration of hope to the next section of this work, two words here deserve special attention:

First, “diligence”—spoude. This word, which has the sense of earnestness and seriousness, also conveys some sense of speed and promptness. It was with spoude that Mary arose, after her encounter with the Angel Gabriel, and hastened south to visit her cousin Elizabeth. Perhaps it should be translated, in many New Testament texts, as “alacrity.”

In the present context, spoude is contrasted with sluggishness. The author of Hebrews goes on to urge “that you do not become sluggish.”

St. Paul regarded this alacrity as a proper mark of Christian leadership (Romans 12:8). The last thing the Christian people need is a sluggish leader.

Understandably, spoude often appears in the Bible’s exhortatory sections. Thus, when St Paul wrote to the Corinthians about certain problems in their congregation, he did so with spoude (2 Corinthians 7:12). And when the Corinthians received that admonition, they also exercised spoude (7:11).

This alacrity, which the New Testament clearly perceives as a proper mark of the Christian life, is often used in connection with deeds of charity and kindness. Paul wrote to the Romans about “not lagging in spoude (Romans 12:11).

Thus, too, when Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the collection for the poor in Jerusalem, he used this noun three times: “But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all spoude, and in your love for us—that you abound in this grace also. I speak not by commandment, but through spoude for others I am testing the sincerity of your love” (8:7-8). Finally, in respect to this collection, Paul wrote, “But thanks to God who has put the same spoude for you into the heart of Titus” (8:16).

Second, our text speaks of “full assurance”—plerophoria. This is one of the most important words descriptive of Christian consciousness. It appears a second time in this work: “let us draw near with a true heart in plerophoria of faith” (10:22).

The importance of this expression is suggested by the fact that it appears within the first five verses of the earliest extant work of Christian literature: “For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in plerophoria polle” (1 Thessalonians 1:5). In this text we observe that this “full assurance” is related to the Holy Spirit. This expression descriptive of Christian knowledge, plerophoria polle is contrasted with “in word only.” That is to say, this “complete certainty” in the Holy Spirit is not described as information about but as knowledge of. It is not merely referential; it is real, not only notional. It is not merely nominal (“in word only”). It consists, not simply in discerning the meaning of the words proclaimed, but in perceiving the truth of that meaning. It is not simply an assent to what is declared, but the reality of what is perceived. Plerophoria polle is the knowledge of the truth of the gospel.

A later text in the Pauline corpus perhaps renders this meaning of “complete certainty” even clearer. In Colossians 2:2 the apostle speaks of our attaining to “all wealth of the plerophoria of the understanding, the knowledge of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

About the year 95, Clement, writing to the church at Corinth, used both this noun and the passive participle of its cognate verb in a single sentence: “The apostles, having received their orders and filled with certainty [plerophorethentes] through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and entrusted with the Word of God, went forth with the certainty of the Holy Spirit [meta plerophorias pneumatos hagiou], preaching the good news that God’s Kingdom was to come” (Ad Corinthios 42.3). In this text, too, we observe that this “full assurance” is given by the Holy Spirit.

Here in Hebrews, nonetheless, “the full assurance of hope” is related to the Christian’s alacrity, his diligence unto the end.

Tuesday, January 5

Hebrews 6:13-20: What was certainly the best fiction work in English in the 19th century was also, perhaps, one of the best treatises in philosophy during that century. It is a lengthy account of a sea voyage on a ship called the Pequod. This whaling vessel set sail on Christmas Day, manned by an international crew. The tone of the story is that of protest. Indeed, it is almost nothing but the account of a protest, even a rebellion. The protest is theological, and the great protester is Captain Ahab, a metaphysical rebel against the divinely appointed conditions of existence. In fact, like so many thinkers of the 19th century, Captain Ahab had in mind to kill God.

I submit that that book was also prophetic, inasmuch as the final result of Ahab’s voyage foreshadowed the dreadful terrible international tragedy known as the 20th century, when more people died of starvation and violence than in all other periods of history put together.

Acting as foils to the maniacal Captain Ahab were the three mates of the Pequod: The first mate, Starbuck, was a quiet, conservative Christian, who he relied on his faith to determine his actions and interpretations of events. The second mate, Stubb, was a sort of fatalist, persuaded that things happen as they are supposed to, so there was little that he could do about it. The third mate, Flask, avoided all such questions and simply enjoyed life, especially the excitement of hunting whales.

Near the end of this long story, there was a brief discussion between Stubb and Flask about anchors. In the course of that discussion, Stubb inquired, “I wonder, Flask, if the world in anchored anywhere; if she is, she swings with an uncommon long cable, though.” I submit that the entire history of philosophy in the 19th century consisted in various attempts to answer that question.

It is the same question I want to consider today: Is the world anchored anywhere? We will address this question under three headings.

The first is hope. In response to the query Stubb put to Flask—“I wonder if the world in anchored anywhere”—today’s epistle answers,: “This [hope] we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters behind the veil, where the for
erunner has for us entered—Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Christian theology insists that the true anchor is hope. This is the reason the depiction of the anchor appears everywhere in Christian art. Alone among the peoples of the Greco-Roman world, the early believers knew the origin of stability and the source of hope. In the words of this text, they “laid hold” on the hope set before them. This is why the anchor—along with the cross and the fish—portrayed everywhere in the Christian catacombs. It symbolized the hope that held Christians in place in the midst of a tempestuous and unstable world. Near the end of the second century, Clement of Alexandria mentioned the anchor as one of the few symbols a Christian might legitimately have on ring on his finger.

Second, Hebrews describes this anchor of hope as “firm and secure”—asphale kai bebaia. The first of these adjectives, asphale—which means “firm”—is the root of our English word “asphalt.” As an adverb we find it in the first Christian sermon: ““Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly [asphale] that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

The second adjective describing this anchor of hope is bebaia, meaning “secure.” Our author used it earlier to describe the Christian conviction: “we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence [bebaia] to the end” (3:14).

The entire efficacy of the anchor depends on the ship’s not losing contact with it. Hope cannot be hypothetical. We must be tied to it.

Third, the anchor here in Hebrews 6 is actually a kedge, an anchor used to advance the movement of a vessel and maintain its direction. This process, in fact, is called kedging. To kedge a vessel is to place the anchor at some distance from the ship and pull towards it. A kedge anchor is carried out in a suitable direction by a tender or a boat to enable the ship to be winched into a particular heading and to be held steady against a tide or obstructing current. The kedge anchor holds the vessel fast in the proper direction. Sailing ships use the kedge anchor when becalmed or drifting.

Observe in this text from Hebrews that the anchor of hope has already been carried out ahead of us. It is already “behind the veil, where the forerunner has for us entered.” Jesus is this anchor. He has already gone where we hope to go. We maintain our proper direction by pulling on Him, keeping the prow of the ship ever pointed toward Him.

Let me suggest that fervent and constant prayer is the winch we use to maintain our direction and advance our course. That by which we progress is also that by which we maintain our true course. It is the hawser by which we are joined to Christ.

Otherwise, we will lose our sense of direction; indeed, this is the danger envisaged all through Hebrews.

So let there be no slack in the line. The anchor itself is secure. All we need to do is pull on it through prayer. By constant prayer and communion with Christ we guarantee our voyage will be steadfast and secure.

Wednesday, January 6

Matthew 2:1-12: 285 Among the notable features proper to the Gospel according to St. Matthew is the way it includes the verb “to adore” (proskyneo) in stories where that verb does not appear in parallel accounts in the other Gospels. Thus, Matthew describes various people falling in adoration before Christ in scenes where they are not said to be doing so in the other versions of the same event. These instances include the accounts of the cleansing of the leper (8:2), the petition of Jairus (9:18), the walking on the water (14:33), the prayer of the Canaanite woman (15:25), and the request of Zebedee’s wife for her two sons (20:20). A pronounced emphasis on Christward adoration, then, is a distinguishing characteristic of Matthew’s narrative.

There is, furthermore, a special parallelism between the first and last instances of this verb in Matthew’s composition. These are the two scenes of the coming of the Magi, near the beginning of the Gospel, and the Great Commission to the Church at the very end. In the former of these—one of today’s Gospel readings—the verb proskyneo, “to adore,” is found three times (2:2, 8, 11), which is Matthew’s highest concentration of that word in a single scene.

A literal reading of the Great Commission passage makes it appear that the Eleven Apostles are actually bowed over in adoration before the risen Jesus at the very time when the Great Commission is given to them (28:9). Thus, not only does Matthew portray various individuals adoring the Lord, but his entire Gospel can be said to begin and to end with that picture in mind.

There is a further important parallelism between the Christmas story of the Magi and the account of the Great Commission; namely, the theme of the Church’s universal calling. Whereas Matthew ends his story with the Apostles being sent forth with the command, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations” (28:19), he begins his whole account with a kind of foreshadowing of that final mission by the arrival of the Magi, those wise searchers from the East who come to adore the newborn King of Israel. These two passages, then, thus embrace Matthew’s entire story of Jesus.

There is more suggested by the juxtaposition of these parallel texts, however, for the very purpose of the Great Commission is to transform the whole of humanity as the rightful heirs of the Magi. Like the stars themselves, the Apostles are sent forth to lead all nations into that path first followed by the wise men from the East.

Indeed, St. Paul compared the Apostles to those very heavens that “declare the glory of God,” quoting in their regard the Psalmist’s affirmation that “Their line has gone out through all the earth, / And their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 18[19]:4; Romans 10:18). The stars and the Apostles proclaim the same universal message, and that message is the Gospel.

These Magi have come to the Messiah, moreover, precisely because they are star-watchers. “For we have seen His star in the East,” they affirm, “and have come to worship [or adore] Him” (Matthew 2:2).

Likewise, the mission of the Apostles is to bring all nations even unto Bethlehem, that “house of the Bread” (for such is the meaning of “Bethlehem”), where all who eat the one loaf are one body in Christ, to join with the Magi in their eternal adoration.

This adoration takes place within the “house,” which is the Church formed by those who break and share the one Bread: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped [or adored] Him” (Matthew 2:11).

For this reason, it was entirely proper that the Apostles, as they were being commissioned for the great work of universal evangelism, should manifest in their very posture the Christward adoration which is the final goal of that evangelism (Matthew 28:9).

Finally, while the Magi were instructed by what they read in those heavens that declare the glory of God, they did not pursue their quest among the stars but upon the earth. They found the answer to their quest, that is to say, in a particular place and at a particular time. They accepted the spatial/temporal, fleshly limitations that God Himself assumed.

Thursday, January 7

John 2:1–12: We come now to Cana, the third Galilean town mentioned in John (cf. 1:44–45) and the place where Jesus did “the first of His signs.” In this way “He manifested His glory, and His disciples came to believe in Him.” That is to say, Cana is the place where the Church was first formed, that initial body of believers to whom the Lord revealed His glory.

We observe that His Mother, His relatives, and His disciples were all present (verses 11–12; compare Acts 1:13–14
). These gather at Capernaum, the fourth Galilean city named by John (verse 12).

In this story of Cana, John introduces the Mother of Jesus. She appears only here and at the foot of the Cross (19:26–27). Thus, John places Mary at both the beginning and the end of Jesus’ public ministry. These two portrayals, both found only in John among the evangelists, have several things in common.

First, Mary does not appear in John's Gospel outside of these two places. She frames the Lord’s public ministry.

Second, in both places she is called only "the mother of Jesus" and is never named. Uniting John's portrayal of Mary at the wedding at Cana (the beginning of Jesus' earthly ministry) and at the foot of the cross (the end) is what we might call "the theme of the royal mother." John stresses Mary's maternal relationship to Jesus; his use of the term "mother of Jesus" seems to convey a certain reverence, much as it does in Luke's portrayal of the nascent Church gathered in the upper room, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Third, in each instance Jesus addresses his mother as "Woman" (gyne). This, too, unites the two stories. Though this bare expression strikes the modern ear as impolite, perhaps even harsh, it was in fact a formal and decorous way for women to be addressed in biblical times (see, for example, Matthew 15:28 [Canaanite woman]; Luke 13:12 [crippled woman in the synagogue]; John 4:21 [Samaritan woman]; 8:10 [woman taken in adultery]; 20:13 [Mary Magdalene]).

Fourth, in both cases a "new family" is formed—in the first scene by the wedding itself, and in the second scene by a kind of adoption in which the beloved disciple "took her to his own home."

John's "mother of Jesus" thus plays an important part near the beginning of his account of the Lord's ministry, in "the first of his signs," wherein he "manifested his glory" at Cana (John 2:11). In the dialogue leading up to this manifestation, Jesus seems at first to bridle at his mother's hint that He should relieve the shortage of wine at the wedding feast. He explains to her, "My hour has not yet come" (2:4).

These words closely tie this scene at Cana to the scene at the cross later on. When the "hour" of the passion does finally come, it will once again be in reference to the manifestation of Jesus' glory: "Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may also glorify you" (John 17:1).

John uses similar language of Jesus' mother, telling us that it was "from that hour the disciple took her to his own home" (19:27). When the hour arrives for the King to be identified upon the throne of the cross (19:19), John is the only one of the evangelists to speak of the King's mother standing beside it (19:26; cf Psalms 45 [44]:9).

This maternal relationship of Mary to Jesus is linked to John's emphasis on Jesus' kingship, particularly in the context of his passion. John goes to some length to stress that Jesus died as a king. Unlike the other evangelists, John shows how Jesus' claim to kingship was made a major component of his trial before Pilate (18:33, 36-37). The Roman soldiers mock Jesus with the words, "Hail, King of the Jews!" (19:2)

At the last it is Jesus' assertion of his kingship that becomes the decisive charge leading directly to his condemnation (19:12-15). Although the other gospels do speak of the sign over Jesus' cross identifying him as "King of the Jews" (Matthew 27:37; Mark 15:26; Luke 23:38), only in John does this designation become a point of controversy between Pilate and Jesus' accusers (John 19:18-22), thereby drawing more explicit attention to it. In John's account Jesus is even buried in a garden (19:41), like His royal ancestors, the covenanted kings of Judah (2 Kings 21:18, 26). Jesus' cross, then, is inseparable from his kingship.

Now it is in connection with Jesus' kingship on the cross that John speaks of "the mother of Jesus" (19:25). In placing this description of Mary in this context of kingship, John summons to mind the biblical tradition of the queen mother. Biblical kings sometimes had numerous wives, but they had only one mother, and she was a person of considerable prestige and power. Described as wearing a crown (Jeremiah 13:18) in the royal court (22:26; 29:2), the king's mother, the gebirah, was regarded with reverence by his subjects.

John records that Jesus spent some days in Galilee with His family and disciples, but he does not develop a narrative here about the Lord’s Galilean ministry. He doubtless presupposes the readers’ familiarity with the Synoptic stories.

Friday, January 8

Hebrews 7:1-10: One of the most obvious features of the Bible—and most noticeable to its new readers—is the presence of what are called the “begats.” We are told, for instance, that Adam begat Cain and Abel, that Joshua begat Eleazar, that Hezron begat Pheres, and so forth.

These “begats” are not just occasional parts of Holy Scripture. Not only are they sometimes lumped into lost lists, but they likewise appear to provide continuity to the Bible’s narrative structure.

Thus, the uninitiated reader, informed that the Holy Scriptures are very interesting and important, comes to Genesis 5, for instance, rather early in his pursuit of God’s Word. Here he finds his first list of begats. Unaware that this is only the first of many such parts, he plods on and manages to finish chapter 5. Interest in the story picks up for the next four chapters, which deal with Noah and the Flood, but then he arrives at Genesis 10, which is simply one, long, solid list of begats. It is arguable that many a newcomer to the Bible completely breaks down at this point, never getting past chapter 10.

It seems that many such readers, faced with this dilemma, decide to jump ahead to the New Testament, perhaps with the resolve to come back to the Old Testament at a later date. The person who takes this step, however, suddenly finds himself with the first chapter of Matthew, which commences with a list of 42 more begats. Many early efforts to read Holy Scripture simply die and are buried at that point, and the Bible is closed forever.

Fortunately, this pattern among new Bible-readers is not universal, and some brave souls do manage to survive the begats of Genesis 10. For such as these, it must come as something of a relief to arrive at Genesis 14 and discover a character who is not into a list of begats.

His name is Melchizedek, and he appears as though out of nowhere: “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High” (Genesis 14:18). We are not told where Melchizedek came from, nor does he ever again appear in the biblical narrative; there is not a word about his death or his descendents. He shows himself just this brief moment, but in this brief moment he is described as greater than Abraham: “Now consider how great this man was, to whom even the patriarch Abraham gave a tenth of the spoils.” In the person of Abraham, even the Old Testament priesthood of Levi paid tithes to Melchizedek.

Thus, Melchizedek “without father, without mother, without begats, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, remains a priest continually.”

Melchizedek’s kingship and priesthood stand outside the begats. The very brevity of his appearance in the biblical story—which forms but an instant in the narrative, and not an element of sequence—becomes a symbol of eternity, inasmuch as eternity is an unending “now,” an instant without sequence. Our experience of eternity in this world is always an instant—a “now”—
not a sequence. Thus, the “now-ness” of Melchizedek’s kingship and priesthood represents the eternal “today” of the sonship of Christ: “ You are My Son, / Today I have begotten You” (Psalm 2:7; Hebrews 5:5).