Formations 12.30.2018: The Last Word

Hebrews 1

As the son of a high school basketball coach, I didn’t exactly grow up with the most positive opinion of sports referees. Dad has mellowed in his retirement, though. In recent years, I have even heard him admit—to the shock of my teenage self—that referees get a lot more calls right than they get wrong.

It’s hard to be the person with the final say, especially when many of your decisions make half the people watching you angry. As referee David McNamara recently learned, even a seemingly innocuous decision can land you in hot water.

Two months ago, McNamara accidentally left his coin in the dressing room before officiating a televised women’s soccer match between Manchester City and Reading (UK). He needed that coin for the coin toss to decide which team started with the ball and which side of the pitch the teams played on.

Realizing his oversight, McNamara quickly improvised by having the two team captains play rock, paper, scissors. Unfortunately, the Football Association suspended him soon after for not following the rules and “acting unprofessionally.”

While some have reacted to the absurdity of being punished for something so seemingly trivial, several referees decided to use rock, paper, scissors the following week to protest McNamara’s suspension.

McNamara took heat for a call he made before the game even started. Should he should be punished for breaking the rules or applauded for showing initiative? Of course, the deeper question is: Who has the last word, the referee or the Football Association?

Who has the last word in matters of faith? For the author of Hebrews, God has always been speaking through the prophets. Now, however, God has spoken a final, definitive word through the Son.

Like many a referee, God has taken heat for speaking this last word. After all, the Son doesn’t conform to our understanding of how God works. He challenges our biases. He demands that we open our eyes to unwelcome truths.

It’s surprisingly easy to get sidetracked on the journey of faith. We can miss the point. We can spin our wheels debating how to even get started. We can leave something important behind in the dressing room. What then?

Then, it’s especially important that we listen to the God who has spoken and take God’s final say to heart, even when it leads us in surprising and seemingly unorthodox directions.

Zac Ogden, “Soccer Referees Play Rock, Paper Scissors in Protest,” Tuscson Weekly, 16 Nov 2018 .

Discussion

• When have you needed to hear a definitive word on a difficult issue? Making a key decision at work? Confirming a hunch? Settling a factual dispute?
• Where did you turn for that word? What gave that source the right to have the final say?
• What does it mean for the author of Hebrews to claim that God has spoken through Christ?
• How does this divine Word bring us into relationship with God?

Reference Shelf

God’s Self-Disclosure

Common to the Judeo-Christian traditions is the belief that God takes the initiative to make himself known to human beings. Since God as creator is different from creation and responsible for its origin, the Bible speaks in varied ways of God’s transcendence. He is mysterious, hidden, and different from humanity in his holy nature (Job 11:7; Isa 40:18; 40:25; John 1:18). Only because God desires to disclose himself and his will can there be knowledge of who he is and communion with him. However, God is never under human control: he is not a created thing or object. He is Lord. Therefore, the Decalogue prohibits equation of the one God with lesser deities: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod 20:3). God’s uniqueness is also the basis for the prohibition of making graven images of God’s likeness in creaturely representations.

In distinction from some religions in which the deity remains hidden and basically unknowable, the Judeo-Christian traditions affirm that the mysterious and hidden God, the “maker of heaven and earth,” intentionally discloses himself and his purpose to his human creatures. When those to whom God chooses to reveal himself respond in faith and obedience toward him, communion is established between them. Thus God’s making himself known always calls for the appropriate response of those receiving his self-communication, Israel’s fundamental confession is found in the Shema. It speaks of God as Lord and of Israel’s appropriate response. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deut 6:4-5).

David L. Mueller, “Revelation, Concept of,” Mercer Dictionary of the Bible, ed. Watson E. Mills et al. (Macon GA: Mercer University Press, 1990), 761.

The Fullness of God’s Revelation

In vv. 1-2, God’s relationship to the Son is described. Three assertions about Christ are made with God as the subject: (1) God has spoken by a Son; (2) God has appointed him heir of all things; and (3) through the Son God created the worlds. The contrast and the continuity between the old and new dispensations are noted in the first two verses. “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors, …but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son.” This comparison foreshadows the comparison of the old and new people of God (3:7–4:11) and the contrast between the old and new sacrifices and covenants (8:1–10:18).

The “many and various ways” that God spoke long ago to the ancestors by the prophets are not specified. The Old Testament is witness of a variety of form and content—stories, oracles, commandments—and a variety of human receptions—visions, dreams, theophanies, and still small voices. These diverse revelations and receptions were real, but they contrast with the eschatological speech of the Son—his speech is singular and final. Yet the author of Hebrews continually refers to and interprets the Old Testament. What God says in the prophets has contemporary and not merely ancient relevance. For Hebrews, however, this relevance grows out of the fact that the Old Testament speaks of Christ and is spoken by Christ (see 2:12-13; 10:5-7) as well as by God and the Holy Spirit.

God spoke through the prophets in appropriate language. God spoke through prophets who fitted their messages to their age. Each of the prophets addressed a glaring need and is characterized by one idea. Amos, for example, called for social justice. Isaiah stressed God’s holiness. Hosea understood the forgiving love of God through his own experience. No prophet grasped the fullness of God’s revelation as it was expressed in Jesus. The fullness of God’s revelation at the end of the ages was made known in the Son.

Edgar McKnight, “Hebrews,” Hebrews–James, Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary (Macon GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2004), 28–30.

Darrell Pursiful is the editor of Formations. He is an adjunct professor at Mercer University and an active member of the First Baptist Church of Christ in Macon, Georgia.

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