Of all the great stories told over the past few weeks during the 70th Jubilee celebrations of the Queen, the most memorable, and funniest, is told by the head of her security detail. He recounts that one time when the Queen was in her 80s, he and she were picnicking in the countryside near Balmoral, her Scottish residence.
Two American hikers came along, and stopped for a chat. They asked “the old lady” if she lived nearby, and she remarked that she lived in London, but had a place up here too, and that she had been visiting here for some seventy years. The hikers made the observation that they were near Balmoral and that the Queen’s residence was there.
The inevitable question was then asked, had either of the two picnickers met the Queen. The Queen assured them that she had not met her, but her gentleman friend had indeed met the Queen and on many occasions. Cue gasps of surprise and “wows”, and questions about what the Queen was like, to which he replied that she could be a bit gruff, but was actually quite nice.
Following the obligatory photographs with the “man who knew the queen” and a final last photo of the old lady, the two hikers were on there way, at which point the Queen turned to her employee and remarked, “Imagine what their friends will say when they show them their photos!”
Imagine indeed. Imagine failing to see the majesty before you. You’d feel a bit of a fool. There you were gushing and oohing over the bloke who said he had met the Queen, but you don’t appreciate the fact that you are standing there in her presence.
The series of sermons in our New Testament that we call the book of Hebrews, is all about failing to appreciate the majesty right in front of you, and opting for a reflection or mediating experience of it instead. God’s Majestic Son, the Lord Jesus, is presented in his full glory to the Christians to whom these sermons are written, because not only are they at risk of failing to appreciate His Majesty, but as Jewish believers they are actually preferencing the shadow of the king by considering a return to the forms and methods of the Old Testament sacrificial system.
The sermon series of Hebrews starts this way:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)
The question is why would anyone wish to do that? Why would they wish to go back to what the sermons describe as an age of lesser, insufficient shadows. Why settle for that instead of the “these last days” reality that brings them, in perfect purity and confidence, into the actual presence of the King in a way that the old cultic system could never do for them?
There are a number of reasons, but chief among them is that being Christian in he first century Roman Empire was hard. Unlike their former life in Judaism, their new life as Jesus followers was not a sanctioned religion by the state, and hence it attracted hostile attention from the authorities, and it elicited rejection from those of the Jewish faith who did not consider Jesus to be Messiah. In other words, following Jesus made life tough. Same old story!
The writer is clear: I don’t want you to miss out on His Majesty. Make sure you see it for what it is. Make sure you see HIM for what HE is:
Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3)
Pay much closer attention. Don’t take happy snaps of the bloke who can mediate the presence of His Majesty. The Christians were in danger of slowly drifting, bit by bit, from King Jesus, which is – incidentally – the way people usually leave Jesus. Over my years of ministry life I have never had a conversation with someone who was in love with Jesus one week and not in love with him the next. And no one ever drifts away from Him to nothing. Everyone drifts both away from and towards. In other words something becomes more majestic in their eyes than Jesus is. Fill in the blank for what that might be for you. And then move away from it and back towards Jesus.
And the other reason we might drift away is that sin is deceitful and it hardens us. Don’t believe me? Then keep on sinning in a particular area of life and refuse to come to the merciful High Priest and confess it in order to be purified of it, before stepping onwards in obedience. God’s gift of pure access to Himself through Jesus softens our hearts when we sin, and changes our desires. His Majestic is truly magnetic.
So whatever it might be that would cause you to drift, don’t justify it, or excuse it. Even if it is the rejection at work or university that you experience because of how Christianity is now viewed among your peers and colleagues. I’ve lost count of the number of people who were going great guns for Jesus, but the embarrassment of holding to a particular view about human nature, or the sexual ethic of the gospel, proves a bridge too far. The approval of their friendship circle proves more majestic than Jesus.
Of course you may be reading this and you are not a follower of Jesus. For you it’s pretty clear that Jesus and Christianity are “yesterday’s men” and that if we are to progress as a culture and move into we need to jettison that old idea, and find different forms of spirituality to fulfil our modern needs. Or perhaps you’re just looking for something more spectacular than the mundane song-singing, church attending Christian community with all its very obvious flaws.
Can I suggest to you that there is not one spectacular spiritual experience you might crave, even including appearances by angels and manifestations of God’s presence in the natural realm to the point where a mountain is being shredded, that Hebrews does not look at and say, “Yeah nah!” Sure, these things are impressive, but they are only so because of what – because of Who – they reveal and report to.
There’s not even one physical experience that can match the total acceptance you get from Jesus either. The intimacy of being invited into God’s very presence – the One who created you and knows you best – cannot be matched by another other intimacies, which are, if truth be told, mere shadows of that deeper intimacy anyway. Don’t settle for them, and don’t assume they’ll give you ultimate fulfilment.
And can I encourage you, that in this cancel culture, in which one wrong step can get you punished and sent to the sin-bin socially, that Jesus welcomes “sinners”, and calls them to approach his “throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). There are many powerful “thrones and courts of public opinion that you will be dragged before if you don’t play by the cultural rules. And the singular quality that every one of them lacks is grace. If it’s grace you need, then His Majesty has it in bucketloads.
Don’t get to the end of your life and when the snapshot of your 70 plus years is reviewed, the comment is made that you brushed right up against His Majesty on so many occasions, but failed to notice it because you were so distracted by other things.