August 25, 2019

Jesus > Formulas

By Mike Adkins

If you look closely, the world has a formula for everything:

Achievement + Money = Success

Perfect Girl (or Guy) + Easy Life = Contentment

Pleasure + Adventure = Joie De Vivre, the Joy of Living! 

Christians have formulas too. Often they’re subtler, but just as deeply formative:

Obedience + Piety = Acceptance from God 

Failure + Bondage = Shame 

Giftedness + Fruitfulness = Worthiness 

Sometimes the formulas we live by have roots stretching all the way back to childhood. Maybe we learned early on that approval must be earned, so to this day we fear failure. Or perhaps years of trauma taught us that trust is foolish and isolation is safe. There are dozens of different formulas we learn to live by. 

Long ago the Israelites lived by a formula. It was ritualistic and cyclical: 

Human Sin + Animal Sacrifice = Divine Appeasement 

Once a year the high priest offered a sacrifice, first for his own sins, then for the sins of the people. They called it the Day of Atonement because it was the way the Israelites experienced forgiveness. But this ritual never actually erased sin. It was merely a covering for sin—a temporary propitiation to appease God’s wrath. That’s why it had to be performed again and again, year after year, by priest after priest.

Hebrews 2 describes a paradigm shift. God Himself takes on human flesh to fulfill the role of high priest. Verse 17 says that in order to help Abraham’s descendants, Jesus “had to be made like them, fully human in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that He might make atonement for the sins of the people.” For this reason the author of Hebrews urges, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest” (Hebrews 3:1). 

It’s as if he’s saying, “Turn your attention to the new High Priest.” Interestingly, this message is to Christians. In other words, you can be a “holy brother or sister,” destined for heaven, acknowledging the priesthood of Jesus…and still not fix your thoughts on Him. You can know all the right things and live by all the wrong formulas. 

How then do we practically fulfill this scriptural imperative to fix our thoughts on Jesus? In 2 Corinthians 10:5 Paul offers a strategy. He writes, “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” This is violent language! The implication is that our thoughts will not surrender willingly. Ancient lies are formidable enemies. They must be captured, forced into submission to Jesus. This is the rhythm of grace: always looking to Jesus, always remembering the cross in our joys and sorrows, victories and strongholds. 

Why do we look to Jesus? The author of Hebrews segues into a surprising line of reasoning. He begins to talk about Moses. After acknowledging that Moses was a faithful servant, he writes: 

Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house (Hebrews 3:3-6). 

The supremacy of Christ over Moses is one of the central themes of the entire book of Hebrews. This may surprise contemporary Christians. To many of us, Moses isn’t really a big deal. We may remember him as the reluctant leader who needed his big brother to speak up for him, hit a rock, and wasn’t allowed into the Promised Land. 

But to the Israelites, Moses was everything. He was the savior who led them out of Egyptian captivity. He was the provider who gave them manna when they starved and water when they thirsted. He was the spiritual authority who brought them the commandments of God. He was the man whose face glowed like fire with the presence of the Almighty. In so many ways the Israelites’ very lives depended on the leadership of Moses.

Yet the author of Hebrews declares that though Moses was faithful, he wasn’t the final authority. Like John the Baptist, he was always pointing to Someone greater, bearing witness to One who was to come. Moses was merely a servant among the people (or “house”) of God. Christ isn’t a servant in the house of God. He is the Son of the house. As Son, He alone has authority to expiate sin—to fully and finally get rid of it by sacrificing His life on the cross.

Not only is Jesus the Son over God’s house, verses 3 and 4 say that He is the “builder of the house,” indeed the builder of every atom in the cosmos. As such, Jesus has unrivaled authority over everything. 

Authority over fear. 

Authority over the formulas that have held us captive for years. 

Authority over upbringing and temperament, heartbreak and addiction. 

This is why we look to Jesus even when it feels impossible. Jesus isn’t another formula; He has abolished the formula of temporary appeasement through his complete and perfect sacrifice on the cross. Fix your thoughts on Jesus. Not because He will love you more if you try harder, or because He will erase all your problems. Fix your thoughts on Jesus because He is the permanent High Priest who erases the debt against you, who longs to be in relationship with you, who lives to intercede for you, and who has authority to lead you to freedom.

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