In the letter to the Hebrews, Jesus is pictured as, among other things, a “forerunner” or “pioneer” whose obedience unto death, resurrection, and ascension paved the way for his new brothers and sisters to follow him into glory. This is clearly expressed in, for instance, 2:10: “For it was fitting for him, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through suffering.”
There are several themes densely packed that make this verse, and the letter to the Hebrews in particular, worth close meditation. For instance: my understanding of the phrase “in bringing many sons to glory” leads me to believe that the author, here and elsewhere, believes that this was one of the main reasons for Jesus’ death and resurrection. Its purpose was eminently for the creation of a glorious people. This is purposed by the God of creation, “for whom and through whom all things exist,” and to whom you and I are not anonymous or worthless but are, on the contrary, worth his Son’s life, death, and resurrection. This is declared right here (and elsewhere in Hebrews and in the New Testament generally).
My focus is, however, drawn to the word “pioneer.” This can be translated several different ways, all containing some idea of one who goes before, blazes a trail, for the purpose of leading others along that same trail in a way that wasn’t previously possible. From my study of Hebrews I believe this “trail” to be a life of obedience through suffering and persecution that ultimately leads to glorious vindication by the Father.
I’ve written here before about worship (part one of three is here). At this point in my journey, I understand New Testament teaching on worship to be, at its core, that worship is a life of obedience and growth that finds expression in the various ways you and I use our freedoms and fulfill our responsibilities through the power of the Spirit and in community with one another. This sometimes happens on Sunday mornings and this sometimes (most often) happens elsewhere, through activities that we don’t normally immediately consider “religious” or “worshipful” but that are, in all their glorious mundane-ness, conduits for the Spirit’s transformative power in our lives.
In Hebrews Jesus is pictured as the one who has blazed the trail for us to live such a life. He did it; he was faithful to the Father through suffering and death and is now crowned with glory and honor; this is the destiny that awaits those who follow him in perseverance. So there is a very real sense – considering what I sketched about worship above – in which Jesus is our worship leader. He is the one whom we follow in a life of Spirit-enabled growth in obedience. He did it first, and he makes it possible – both once-for-all and also through the ongoing work of the Spirit – for us to follow him as our pioneer.
I often lead musical worship on Sunday mornings in my local church. I love it and find it to be very satisfying and fun. But I find that many people who do this enjoy what I consider to be an exaggerated level of prominence in the eyes of many believing communities. My role as facilitator of musical worship is put in proper perspective when I consider the portrait of Jesus sketched in Hebrews, because according to that portrait Jesus is the only one who truly is our “worship leader,” and it is only because of him that any form of Christian worship is possible at all. This does give my musical participation a sort of importance, because it is part of my life, and he valued my life, and the lives of all believers, enough to live and die and be raised for them. But it also works against the idol of self-importance and pride, and helps me hold my commitments and gifts with open hands, even as I learn to do these things with greater excellence.