We’ve come to the end of our story so it’s almost time to stop pretending you’re in the sixth decade of the first century. You’ve been walking around in the Holy City during the time that is over thirty years after the ascension of the Christ and the beginning of His church and now it’s time to go home. But we have three things we need to do before you take off your sandals and put on your Nikes. We need to read the last chapter of that letter, we need to talk about the author one more time, and I have to tell you about Jarrod’s dream.
First, for those of you who’ve stuck with me from the beginning, thank you. I had no idea where we were going and I hate to be alone. Thanks for keeping me company on a trip to a place where I’ve never been. You even let me drive…how kind.
I threw myself into Hebrews and this story popped out. The last chapter, chapter 13, was a big part of the inspiration for it. It ends on the most personal note shared in the entire letter: Timothy has been released. Imagine the significance of this to the recipients. Who knew him? Who cared? How’d he get in prison in the first place? Between what was recorded and what was rumored, we really don’t know. But there are some intriguing clues. Do me a favor and read this last chapter and I’ll catch up with you in a minute.
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.
Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.
Grace be with you all.
I can’t read Hebrews now without thinking about how dramatic the times were for the author and the first readers of the letter. They didn’t just have to contend with people leaving the church because the preacher talks too much or because they don’t like the music. It was life or death sometimes and the pressures to return to ‘normal’ religion were intense.
The end of the letter seems hurried to me. The writer says a lot of things quickly; it’s a little different rhythm than the rest of the letter. Some of the things that stand out most to me are the mentioning of prison, marriage, leaders and, well, prison again. I imagine the whole letter as a long conversation between an imprisoned preacher dictating to someone who he needs to record the message for him and pass it on to the churches. Someone who loves the Jews in a very special way and understands the culture better than most. So, Chapter 13 just reminds me of the rushed last words of a man condemned to die, a man who is desperate to get all of his thoughts out before the end. I picture the guards telling the one being dictated to, “You have to go now. Your time is up,” and ushering him away as the prisoner/author follows him out with his voice, shouting even after his scribe has disappeared from his view. And I picture the scribe leaving the prison, crying and writing; writing and crying.
Only heaven knows who wrote the book of Hebrews but my choice is John Mark. If I’m wrong they’ll straighten me out in heaven. If I’m right…wow. Imagine getting that 2000 year old mystery right.
The Gospel of Mark is the only other new testament book unsigned…well, there’s Matthew, but the story goes that when it circulated the early church it had “Matthew” on the title and that was one of the reasons Origin and others persisted in insisting that Matthew wrote it.
But attributing the gospel of Mark to John Mark has a lot to do with early church fathers who lived years later saying that he wrote it from Peter’s sermons. It was unsigned just like Hebrews. And just like the Gospel of Mark sounds a lot like Peter, Hebrews sounds a lot like Paul. Maybe that’s because Paul either told Mark what to write or Mark wrote it from the sermons he had heard the apostle preach.
Maybe that’s why Paul sent for him through Timothy and maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said that Mark was useful for him. He neededMark to write Hebrews for him like Peter needed Mark to write the gospel (Maybe that’s what Peter meant when he said in 2 Peter 1:15 “And I will make every effort to see that after my departure you will always be able to remember these things.”). No one knows, so I can think what I want.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, in the movie in my mind; Timothy and Mark leave from Ostia on a boat bound for Caesarea where they disembark intent on getting to Jerusalem. But in Caesarea a messenger from the church tells them everyone is heading for Pella; so they head there, too. And I can’t leave a good love story out of it. Mark’s left his wife in Jerusalem and now she’s fled with the rest of the saints to Pella and when Timothy and he get there…oh what a reunion they all have. Ishmael and Susanna have everyone over to their house for the biggest communion they’ve ever had.
And that night, after leaving the Sicarii and leading the church to Pella, Jarrod was finally baptized. He never had been before. Not in John’s baptism before Christ’s resurrection or the new baptism in the new church Jesus started in Acts 2. No, Jarrod never made it to Pentecost like Exad had, along with Nicodemus, maybe Zacchaeus, the Samaritan woman, a centurion or two. I mean, after the apostles, the seventy, some women and Jesus family, who were the120 in that room in Acts 1? It could have peopled with many of those lives touched by the master in the Gospels. Healed blind men baptizing healed lepers baptizing Jairus’ daughter.
So in my imagination, Jarrod didn’t make it until years later, in Pella. baptized at the hands of Ishmael. I love irony.
But when he did finally make it, the night he was baptized…
… coming into his private quarters, Jarrod gave the embers of the glowing fire one last poke and stretched out on his mat. He was a man who hadn’t slept in 36 years. At least not without that troubling dream. The dream that wouldn’t go away. The dream that stole his rest and burdened his soul.
But this time when he drifted off, yes, he could still see the tombs and hear the voices in his head and see the blood on his arms. At first the images are all the same; they haven’t changed. They still flow from one to another: a torrent of demon-like creatures shrieking and flying past him, only now he sees Legion..Exad…standing calm and amazed as the dark vermin flee from him into a herd of pigs that then rush down a steep bank into the sea. And as chains fall from his own arms he sees that last image…the happiest, most peaceful, laughing eyes he’s ever seen.
This time they change from the eyes of Jesus to the eyes of Ishmael to the eyes of Exad. Then they transform again, back to being the Savior’s eyes. Even in his sleep he is aware of a presence unlike any he’d ever felt. Even in his sleep he knows these eyes took a stand between light and darkness for him.
And this time the eyes talk directly to him and say, “Well done good and faithful servant,” and Jarrod starts to cry, to sob. “Well done, Jarrod.” And as he sobs, on the beach and in his sleep, he knows that this time he’ll remember the important thing. The thing that came like a warm wave of understanding. This time he knows that when he’s awake he’ll remember. He’ll remember and never again forget what he first felt on the beach in the presence of the Lord.
He’ll wake up remembering and living in…love.
1 John 4:7-8 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.