“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” Hebrews 13:8 (and part of today’s reading, Hebrews 13:1-8, 15, 16). Often seen – on posters, outside churches. But what does it mean? Can we just “not bother” with all the changes in the world around us, and toss them aside as irrelevant? Or will that leave us as sad momentos of a bygone age. My impression of buildings displaying this text is not always of sympathetic welcome – in fact, sometimes, rather the opposite. Defiant archaism, proclaiming the music, and the social patterns, of a generation or two ago.
It might help us understand to look at the context, and the experience of the people to whom this letter was written. We don’t know who wrote this letter, but we do know a good deal about the people who received it. The knew their old Jewish faith well, but had become Christians. Tempted to go back to their old ways, they are encouraged to continue in the new covenant of Jesus. The argument is well supported with quotes from the Old Testament, and the description of Jesus as the proper High Priest, who does what the Jewish temple High Priest could never do, and makes a once-for-all sacrifice for sin. So there’s continuity, but a real (& necessary) step forward.
That’s probably applies to us, too. Continuity, but a step forward. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” What do we mean?
- Jesus remains the same: with a welcome for sinners, rich and poor; a sympathy for all sorts of people in trouble; his welcome is not exhausted, his promises not finished, his love not out of date.
- Jesus is the Son of God who was present before Creation, became a man as the son of Mary and the Holy Spirit, rose from death, and will return at the end of time as Judge
So there are some very important things which are the same:
- Jesus himself, and the God he reveals
- the qualities of God which he looks to see reflected in us: qualities like honesty, love, integrity, justice
- and on the other hand the things which take us away from God: selfishness, manipulation of other people, pride, obsession with comfort & status, greed . . .
The Church has a continuity. We, too, read and learn from the Bible, and the stories passed on from each generation. We learn how to live as Christians, and model Christian living for the next generation.
But some things change – our society, our technology, our culture. We can rejoice in the stability of God, but must not be lazy and avoid engagement with the real world. We can make use of the Christian heritage, but faithfulness now demands we sing a new song to the Lord – one that relates to the needs and issues of today – and probably to a new tune, as well.
If it was good enough for my parents and their parents – it probably needs rethinking to be useful today. If the Nicene Creed was produced by the best Christian minds of the fourth and fifth centuries, it is worth taking very seriously – but it may not communicate to the twenty first century, or answer the questions of today.
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and for ever.” It’s good news, serious and true. But the fact that God has continuity, doesn’t get tired and give up does not mean that we needn’t bother with keeping the presentation of the gospel up-to-date. The greatest effort in research and development worldwide is applied to Temptation. Our job is to show that God is still at least one step ahead with the answers, and they still work better and cost less.