Seven weeks ago, a Christian pastor, an American citizen, a 34 year-old husband and father of two, was sentenced to eight years in Iran’s dreaded Evin Prison. His crime? Undermining the Iranian government by creating a network of Christian house churches in an attempt to sway Iranian youth away from Islam. In other words, he was imprisoned for evangelizing and preaching Christ, something our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ commissioned us to do! Remarkably, the evidence presented against him was based on his activities in the early 2000s before Iran considered house churches a threat. Though our government has stated it is intervening for him and his family, there is little evidence to substantiate that it is really trying.
Make no mistake about it, Saeed Abedini knew the risks of a return visit from America to Iran. But knowing those risks, he went back anyway, to visit loved ones, and to pursue work on an orphanage he sought to establish. He had promised Iranian authorities who granted him a visa, not to engage in evangelism or the planting of house churches during this visit. He did not do those things. Still, he was arrested and is suffering for his faith in Jesus Christ.
One wonders why our government is so complacent? I’d like to venture a reason. I do not blame the government so much as I blame our changing culture. Our view of religion and what role it plays or should play in our system of values has changed. Most significantly the view most people have of Jesus Christ has changed, even among those who consider themselves devout Christians.
Eric Holmberg, a Christian apologist and noted documentary film maker [His work has appeared on programs like 48 Hours Investigates, and in Time Magazine] recently remarked,
There is probably no sentiment or opinion concerning Jesus of Nazereth in today’s squishy, relativistic and, yes, irrational culture more common than: “He was a great man – perhaps the greatest who ever lived – and a fantastic moral teacher and exemplar. We should place him up on a pedestal along with Buddha, Confucius, Plato, the Dalai Lama, etc. and try to follow their examples and teachings. But to say that Jesus stands somehow alone or is the only way to God or salvation is intolerant and wrong.”
Holmberg rightly characterizes that view which contributes to the kind of complacency that will allow an American pastor to rot in an Iranian prison. Is Jesus Christ worthy of no more admiration than other spiritual and religious prophets and teachers? Is evangelism respectfully done and in a spirit of love, arrogant, narrow and intolerant? If Mohammed and his teachings are as valid as Christ and His teachings, why should and why would America intervene on the behalf of what our culture regards a foolish and arrogant pastor?
Is it arrogant for us to worship one who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me [John 14:6].” Was the apostle Peter wrong to have declared, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved [Acts 4:12].”
In his classic work, Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis commented on the things Jesus Christ claimed for himself. This is what he wrote:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.” Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity, London: Collins, 1952, p54-56.
I want to ask you a question, a question that should shake you down to your boots. Is Jesus Christ worthy of worship? Is He worth dying for? Is the Christ who died for you worth living for? I don’t want to sound like an alarmist, but I must honestly tell you that we are living in a culture that says it embraces tolerance, but is increasingly intolerant of those who worship and live for Jesus Christ. Sad to say, some of that intolerance is found in many churches today. The good news is that those churches are for the most part closing their doors, because they are dead on the inside.
And that is what brings me to the first chapter of Hebrews verses one and two. The author, whose name is unknown to us, [Barnabas, Apollos, and even Aquila and Priscilla have been proposed, but almost certainly NOT the apostle Paul] writes to first century professing believers who have become complacent about Christ and are in danger of defecting back into Judaism and renouncing their commitment to Christ. He is writing prior to the destruction of Jerusalem by Tiberius Julius Alexander of Rome in 70 AD. So, animal sacrifices and rituals associated with Old Testament worship are still being practiced by those who reject Christ when this epistle is written. To engage in those practices, the writer of Hebrews warns, is to deny the faith.
So in eloquent Greek, which scholars argue is the best Greek of the entire New Testament, the author gives us in three short verses, eight reasons why we ought and must worship Christ. I want to look closely at two of them.
“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son,…”
Why should we worship Christ? The writer of Hebrews tells us first of all, that…
He is the Consummate Revelation of God to Man.
The Old Testament reveals much to us about God, does it not? But it is very much bits and pieces. Like a jig saw puzzle things begin to fill in but we never quite get the complete picture. For example, the Old Testament suggests but never actually declares that the God of the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is one God existing in three persons. We get hints of it in Genesis chapter one when God says, “Let US make man in OUR image, in OUR likeness [Genesis 1:26].” It is hinted at in the great Shema of Israel, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is ONE.” The Hebrew word for “one” allows for a compound unity, such as in a bunch of grapes, which would be composed of numerous units. The Old Testament abounds with references to the Ruach, the wind, breath or Spirit of God as distinct from God Himself. We see this clearly for example in Ezekiel chapter 37, as the Spirit breathes life into the army God raises up from dried bones. This is the nature of the revelation that came through the prophets of old. But then comes Jesus Christ!
Lawrence O. Richards has it right when he says,
Yet, only when Jesus came and taught, “I and the Father are One” (John 10:30) was truth about God as three Persons fully disclosed. When it was disclosed, and Jesus began to explain that “no one comes to the Father except through Me” (14:6), it became vitally important that believers learn to rest their full confidence in Him. Richards, L., & Richards, L. O. (1987). The Teacher’s Commentary (987–988). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
And there is something very different about the way the prophets of old spoke and the way Jesus spoke. 131 times in the Old Testament, we find the phrase,
“the word of the LORD came to” and then the name of a particular prophet. It begins with Abraham, and then Samuel, Nathan, Solomon, Elijah, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, Haggai, and Zechariah. Not so with Jesus Christ. No, He spoke self authoritatively.
Even at the outset of His preaching ministry in Capernaum, the Scriptures record, that “The people were amazed at His teaching, because He taught them as one who had authority, not as the teachers of the law [Mark 1:22].” Jesus didn’t pepper His messages with footnotes to the Rabbis of His day. Though He sometimes cited the Scriptures of old, we don’t read that “the word of the LORD came to” Jesus. No, instead we find Him saying mind boggling things like:
“I am the bread of life;” “I am the light of the world;” “Before Abraham was born, I am;” “I am the gate, whoever enters through me will be saved;” “I am the good shepherd;” “I am the Son of God;” “I am the resurrection and the life;”“I am the way, the truth and the life;” and “I am the true vine.”
The writer of Hebrews wants us to understand, some twenty years before the prologue to John’s Gospel was written, that Jesus Christ is God’s consummate revelation of Himself to us. He is saying, in the words of Lawrence O. Richards, “We can come to know Jesus better, but we can never find anything better than knowing Jesus.” Why, because Jesus Christ is God in human flesh, because Jesus Christ is the self revealing God of the universe. This is precisely what John the apostle declares to us in the very first chapter of his Gospel. Think through these words! Meditate on them!
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:1-5 & 14
To become complacent about Christ and to demote him to the status of other moral philosophers and teachers is to reject what God longs to give us in Christ, light and life for the mind and spirit, the hope of resurrection, and intimate fellowship with God for eternity. Jesus is far greater than ALL. He is consummate revelation of God to man, because He is God in human flesh, therefore worthy of worship.
But there is a second reason we must worship and live for Him. The writer of Hebrews boldly declares that…
He is the Son of God.
On the surface, we look at verse two of Hebrews chapter one and wonder, how is the designation of Jesus as God’s Son a statement of His deity? But that follows from a misunderstanding of what sonship is about. The term “son” emphasizes relationship not nature or being. I am my father’s son. He is Ed senior, and I am Ed junior. Both of us are human and equally so. Legally we are both adults and citizens of the United States on equal footing. But I am and forever will be his son.
God’s Son took on human flesh through the miracle of the virgin birth. He subsequently died for our sins, the just one for the unjust. And, he rose bodily from the dead. He lives and reigns at the Father’s right hand. He always has been and forever will be the Son in relationship to God the Father. And the writer of Hebrews carefully states that in verse eight, where he quotes from Psalm 45.
But about the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.” Hebrews 1:8
It is striking that Pharisees of Christ’s day recognized that in claiming to be the Son of God, Jesus was claiming that He was God, and equal in essence to the Father.
For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God. John 5:18
To be complacent about Jesus is serious business. It is difficult not to understate how serious it is to deny that He is worthy of worship and loyalty and obedience because He is the Son of God. To impugn the Son is to insult the Father. To ignore the Son is to ignore the Father. The writer of Hebrews is distressed that Jewish converts to Christ would even think of going back into a system that rejected God’s Son, a system of worship that became an embarrassment to heaven.
There was a day when certain illnesses were treated with blood letting, a day when barbers performed surgery. Today, hypertension is treated with medication and diet with good effect. What would you think of a physician who opted for blood letting over current medical treatment? Who would go to a barber to have a tooth pulled or an abscess removed? Abandoning Christ for a religion without Christ is like asking a barber for medical help. It is akin to crawling back into the darkness and rejecting the light. And, when that light is God Himself, the self revealing God in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ, how great is the darkness to the one who rejects Him?
Let’s not be complacent about Christ but grant Him the worship to which He is worthy, and let us serve Him, follow Him for all we are worth. May I suggest something practical you can do, to demonstrate your loyalty to Christ and love for those He loves?
Log on to the FaceBook page for Pastor Saeed Abedini, and pledge your prayers and support for his safe release from the Iranian prison to his wife and two children.