Hebrews as a bridge

These reflections come from Gareth Lee Cockrill’s book titled “Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Heavenly City”

Have you ever thought of using the book of Hebrews to bridge a Muslim’s Hajj? Guidebook for Pilgrims to the Heavenly City does just that. The author of Hebrews uses language and analogies for a journey, or reaching a city (The New Jerusalem, Heaven). What a great way to attract people whose tradition compels them to take such a journey. This method is unique, because it so easily contextualizes the entire book of Hebrews into the Islamic culture. Cockrill’s rendition of this bridge is written primarily to an audience bent on one day going to Mecca, or have already taken the Hajj. Here is a short overview; use this to be intrigued, but read the book if you want to use the strategy.

Part One: The Pilgrim Road (Hebrews 10:32 – 12:29)


Introduction to Part One
(Hebrews 10:32-39)
This section of Hebrews clearly describes the life of faith as a pilgrimage to heaven. The writer of Hebrews assumes that we are asking the question, “Why should we continue in this pilgrimage when we face suffering?” Introduces Part One

Called to be a Pilgrim (Hebrews 11:1-22)
True pilgrims trust God’s promises of future blessing and believe that He is active in their daily lives. By his example Abraham calls us to have this faith and make our pilgrimage to the Heavenly City. From his life we learn that pilgrimage means leaving the things of this world and pursuing the heavenly goal. Like Abraham we may face opposition, but it is vital that we persevere to the end of our journey.

Endure Suffering (Hebrews 11:23-40)
Moses, like Abraham, was a pilgrim to the Heavenly City. Since Moses was willing to leave the horded treasures of Egypt for the eternal homeland, he reminds us of the unsurpassed value of our destination. His courage in face of opposition inspires us to be courageous . God’s deliverance of many encourages us to persevere. Our resolve is strengthened by remembering those faithful pilgrims who have had to suffer persecution and death for their faith. We know that victory will be theirs in the resurrection. Because of Jesus the Messiah our resources are much greater than theirs.

Follow Your Guide (Hebrews 12:1-17)
Jesus is both the founder of this pilgrimage and our mutawwif [guide] along the way. By his suffering he has opened the way for us to enter the Heavenly City. By keeping our gaze on him we are strengthened to meet the challenges of the pilgrim way. Indeed, suffering is a mark of the true pilgrim. God uses this suffering to train His faithful pilgrims and prepare them for His blessing just as a loving father disciplines his beloved children. We must not let suffering turn us away from the great blessings that are within our reach.

At the Mount of Mercy (Hebrews 12:18-29)
Through what Jesus has done for us we are able to through prayer and worship to enter the Heavenly City and stand joyfully in God’s presence with the angels around His throne. For us that City is on the Mount of God’s Mercy. Those who have rejected Jesus the Messiah stand in condemnation before the Mount of Judgment. Just as those who stand at the Plain of Arafat on the 9th of Dhu-l-Hajjah anticipate the Judgment Day, so our present experience at God’s Mount of Mercy anticipates the mercy we will receive on that Day if we do not shrink back from following Jesus

Part Two: The Pilgrim’s Helper
(Hebrews 1:1 – 12:29)

Introduction to Part Two (Hebrews 5:11 – 6:20)
This part of Hebrews explains in greater depth the significance of Jesus as the founder of the Pilgrimage to the Heavenly City and as mutawwif along the way. It shows us how Jesus and Jesus alone is the one who enables us to reach our destination. The writer of Hebrews prepares his readers for his teaching about Jesus’ High Priesthood, which they found difficult or objectionable. Gives special attention to the reality of his death and resurrection and the significance of his being called “Son.”

Around the Ka’bah (Hebrews 1:1 – 2:4)
Pilgrims to Mecca anticipate the time when they will gaze on the Ka’bah. For them it is the point of contact between heaven and earth. Jesus is the Ka’bah or focal point of heavenly contact for pilgrims to the Heavenly City. He is God’s embodied Eternal Word and thus brings us a revelation that fulfills and surpasses all revelations given through prophets and angels. It is vital that we remain loyal to what God has revealed for us in Jesus.

The First Pilgrim (Hebrews 2:5-18, 4:14 – 5:10)
By the “Great Pilgrimage” of 632 A.D. Muhammad established the pattern of pilgrimage to Mecca. In 622 he left the city only to return victoriously in 630 and open the way for pilgrims. God’s Eternal Word has opened the way to the Heavenly City by what was surely a “Great Pilgrimage.” According to the will of God he established this pilgrimage by leaving the Heavenly City, becoming a human being and offering himself for the sins of all humanity before returning in triumph to the Heavenly Homeland. By his offering he freed us from the impurity of sin which kept us from God’s presence and liberated us from the fear of condemnation on the Day of Judgment. Thus he is our High Priest who invites us into the God’s holy presence and fulfills the picture of High Priesthood which God has given in the Tawrah of Moses.

The Apostle of God and the Pilgrims who Rebelled (Hebrews 3:1 – 4:13)
Jesus is the Apostle or Rasul of God because he has brought the final revelation of God and because he leads us into the promised Heavenly Homeland. He is as much superior to Moses, the great prophet and apostle with whom God spoke so intimately, as “the maker of a house is greater than the house.” Thus if the people who followed Moses failed to enter the “rest” of God’s Eternal City because they refused to trust God’s power and promises, how much more will we fail if we do not obey in faith? Let us be diligent to enter because the Heavenly City they sought is still available to those who trust and obey. God holds us accountable.

An Intercessor Before the Day of Judgment (Hebrews 7:1-28)
Even now Jesus sits at God’s right hand as our Intercessor who cleanses us from sin, brings us into God’s presence, and mediates to us the grace we need to be faithful pilgrims. He can do this because he is a “priest according to the order of Melchizadek.” As the obedient embodied Eternal Word of God he has replaced the Mosaic priesthood of sinful, mortal men. Since his High Priesthood is backed by God’s oath, he can guarantee us perpetual access into God’s presence. Since he is eternal he can completely deliver us from sin. He is exactly the kind of High Priest we need and we are invited to draw near to God through him every day of our pilgrimage.

The Feast of Sacrifice (Hebrews 8:1 – 10:18)
Discusses the themes of sanctuary, sacrifice, and covenant. Jesus’ sacrifice is superior because it alone provides access to the true heavenly sanctuary and establishes the new and adequate covenant. Thus pilgrims to the Heavenly City have three reasons to rejoice in the sacrifice of God’s Eternal Word embodied in Jesus. First, through his perfect obedience and willing sacrifice of himself he has cleansed us of the impurity of sin. Second, by this cleansing he has established a new covenant or din in which our sins are forgiven and we are given obedient hearts. Third he has opened the way for the purified people of this new covenant to enter the presence of God in heaven. No animal sacrifice was sufficient. Only the willingly self-offering of Jesus in perfect obedience to God was adequate for our sin. He expressed this obedience in his talbiya: “Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God.”

Stoning the Devil (Hebrews 10:19-31)
Pilgrims to Mecca attest their determination to resist temptation by stoning the three pillars that represent Satan’s temptation of Abraham in the valley of Mina. Pilgrims to the Heavenly City are invited to take refuge from Satan and his temptations by drawing near to God through the sacrifice of Jesus. He has opened a “new and living” way into God’s presence by cleansing us from sin within and without. He welcomes them when they enter. They are to be unswerving in their pilgrimage and encourage one another because Jesus their High Priest is faithful. This passage closes with a solemn reminder that anyone who professes to experience the blessings of Christ and then turns away will suffer eternal separation from God.

Conclusion: The Way of Ihram (Hebrews 13:1-25)
Hebrews concludes with instructions on how to live in the state of heart ihram provided by Jesus. This purity is not a matter of rituals or of keeping a number of rules. It is the offering of two sacrifices–praise to God and doing good and sharing with others. We do good by sharing with both friends and strangers, helping those in need, being sexually pure, and by being generous and relying on God to supply our needs. We praise God by confessing our loyalty to Jesus and identifying with those who worship him. Hebrews ends with a blessing that the God who raised the Lord Jesus, our caring Shepherd, will bring us to the end of our pilgrimage.

– Taken from Appendix Two: A Quick Reference (pp.171 – 175)

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