Do you know anyone who really, really looks up to a particular person? When I visited India, leaders like Gandhi and Abraham Lincoln were highly respected. Maybe you know someone who looks up to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I think that many people (although perhaps not all) would agree that these leaders were pretty significant in recent history, and that they achieved good things.
Or, maybe a friend of yours looks up to a pop culture icon, political candidate, religious leader, or business figure in society today, and hangs on every word that person says. You know that you’d better not say anything bad about that person in front of your friend, and – even when their idol (being a human being) is wrong – whatever they say is still treated as a fact.
In the Jewish faith, I’m pretty sure that you don’t insult Abraham, Moses, or David to a devout Jewish person and expect to get away from it. So, when the author of Hebrews (written to Jewish people, although it’s OK for the rest of us to learn from it) drops Moses’ name, and claims that someone is greater than Moses, this is big time.
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.
Hebrews 3:3-4 NIV
Now, of course, the author isn’t being offensive about Moses here, but any comparison to Moses is a pretty high bar (especially for the initial audience). After all, God called Moses to free the Hebrew people, lead them out of slavery in Egypt, and deliver the Law to them. Moses led the chosen people of God into visibly becoming the chosen people of God, all the way to the edge of the Promised Land (twice, actually).
As a result, in verse 2 (just prior to the verses above), it’s a pretty significant comparison to say that both Jesus and Moses were faithful to God the Father. Then, in verse 3, it might seem like fighting words to say to a Jewish audience that a rabbi named Jesus merits more honor than Moses. However, the author of Hebrews doesn’t seem to be picking a fight. He or she takes the time to explain why Jesus deserves even greater honor than Moses.
And, this explanation is given without having to tarnish Moses’ reputation. In fact, in verses 5-6, by quoting from the book of Numbers (when God rebuked Aaron and Miriam for trash-talking their brother Moses), the author reaffirms Moses’ faithfulness. Jesus’ work doesn’t reduce the character of Moses. Instead, Jesus built something far greater than Moses was able to.
Moses’ role was important. Still, like John the Baptist and other prophets, his role was leading up to something even greater. Moses was a servant, while Jesus (even though He gave us a great example of service) is the firstborn Son in God’s family.
(How do we know that Jesus and Moses were faithful? A commentator [Girdwood] pointed out that this is best measured by the one who sent them, and God attested to the faithfulness of both of them.)
There may be a character lesson here: If we want to be better, we won’t get there by tearing other people down. Instead, by working to become more like Jesus (and seeking the help of the Holy Spirit to do so), we can improve ourselves, and perhaps even bring other people up with us.
Beyond lessons for our own growth, though, I think that this is a great example of how to tell others about Jesus. It seems that some “outreach” begins by telling someone that their esteemed hero, their preferred social group, or their current faith (or, for that matter, anything else that they aspire to emulate) is wrong.
Now, sometimes idols need to be torn down, but this is generally only successful when the person getting rid of the idol realizes that there is something better. Everyone worships something, and merely making them disillusioned with someone they respected – by pointing out flaws or inconsistent messages, even if these are a minor part of the respected person’s character – isn’t going to necessarily lead anyone closer to the truth.
Sometimes, I think that it is quite reasonable to compare Jesus to other figures, whether in faith or culture, without tearing down others’ heroes. We don’t have to agree that everyone who is put on a pedestal is correct (or that they are even an honorable person, in some cases), but starting a conversation with insults to an individual’s heroes probably isn’t going to make them want to listen to the good news about Jesus Christ.
After all, Jesus’ record can handle comparisons. Just as Jesus’ accomplishments held up against those of Moses, I’m confident that they can be shown superior to anyone and anything else on this earth that we may look up to. In addition, Jesus continues to be alive and active in this world, and His offer to ask, seek, and knock (see Matthew 7:7-8, Luke 11:9-10) remains open to anyone who wishes to take Him at His word.
Hopefully, your heroes are pretty good examples for you to follow. However, so are other many other people’s heroes. Rather than arguing whether or not that’s the case, though, let’s talk about Jesus, and continue to confirm that He is indeed superior to all of them.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for September 5, 2021
- The Lookout, September 12, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Hebrews, by Jim Girdwood and Peter Verkruyse. College Press Publishing Company, © 1997.