Follow-up from our Sunday Night Sermon Series
Hebrews Part 1: August 5th, 2012
Sometimes our smile isn’t real. Let’s be honest, we live in a broken world. Betrayal and suffering are very real, even in a land where food is plentiful and housing is generally affordable. Money does not provide safety, and comfort can’t insulate us from difficulty, no matter what our culture tries to teach us. As a pastor, (I hope this is ok for me to admit) I sometimes get disheartened and disillusioned by what I experience. There have been several times in my life with the Lord over the last 17 years that I have seen people divorce, or commit serious moral sin with huge consequences, or deny their faith, or tear someone else down over a perceived slight in the Body of Christ, and it hurt me to watch and experience those events. I went to my prayer time and questioned the Lord about why He allowed those events to happen. Why He didn’t intervene. I expect, if you’ve been a follower of Christ for a period of time longer than a couple of months, this has happened to you as well. It has been my life experience, as well as my Biblical experience that this is common to those who follow the Lord. We are not exempt for betrayal and suffering. Abraham and Lot come to mind, Joseph and his brothers, David and Saul, Jesus and Peter, Jesus and Judas……. or even Jesus and me. Why do I bring up betrayal and suffering? Because I believe the Letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of folks that were experiencing just that, and it is uniquely positioned to encourage believers, all believers, but especially those who have walked with the Lord for a while, when the newness of our faith has worn off, and we, to quote the author of Hebrews, “have need of endurance” (Hebrews 10:36)
The Letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of people in exile. Most early Hebrew believers were dispersed from Jerusalem beginning with Stephen’s martyrdom in Acts 7. The Jews from that point began to be increasingly unfriendly to their brothers, cousins, and neighbors that followed the Way of Jesus. Meanwhile, the Romans became increasingly unfriendly with the Jews. In 57 or 58 all Jews were banished from Rome, which means all Christians were banished from Rome as well. Romans viewed Christianity as sect of Judaism until the beginning of the second century. So Hebrew believers were being pressed from both sides, without a country, misunderstood, enduring persecution from their close relatives and their governors. In fact, if the dating of the Letter to the Hebrews is correct (and I believe it is) it was written between 64 and 67 AD. In 64 AD Nero burned half of Rome to the ground and blamed it on Christians there. This letter is likely a response to a new, intense round of persecution that begins some of the worst in the history of Christianity.
The author of the letter is concerned that due to these circumstances some are beginning to drift away “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1) It is evident from the text of the letter that some of the early Hebrew believers had proven to be unauthentic, and had fallen away from the faith, choosing to return to the Judaism. Listen to chapter 6:4-6, “For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
The author of the Letter wants these true believers to “hold fast” their “boasting”, to dig their heels in, to remember the Lord Jesus Christ and to stand firm in their faith in His finished work and power. To guard their hearts from unbelief, and not follow in the paths of their early Jewish forefathers. Who, when God gave them the promise land, upon the return of the 12 spies, they refused to enter that good land because of what they perceived to be a war with giants they couldn’t win.
Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your fathers put me to the test and saw my works for forty years. Therefore I was provoked with that generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’ As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’” Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. (Hebrews 3:7-14 ESV)
I expect most of us have had a moment or a period of time in our walk with the Lord in which the land (our life) appeared to be inhabited with giants. When we felt like we were in a losing battle, and we struggled to take that next step forward. Maybe a brother you knew went back to the world, maybe a loved one or a relative was taken suddenly, or maybe you lost your physical possessions, and maybe you had done all the right things. Maybe you had even been through this sort of trial before and you had become weary in battle. Maybe you wondered when Jesus would come back and settle all these injustices. Listen to Hebrews 10:32-37,
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay;
The reality is that nothing that you are going through currently has not been endured by faithful believers in the past. In fact much of the message of Hebrews is about Jesus as a “Great High Priest” who had been tempted and tried in the exact same way as us, who was matured through suffering just like us, and who, because of this, is able to empathize, support, and minister to the disheartened and disillusioned. I am really looking forward to expositing the rest of the Letter to the Hebrews, because, just like you, I need to be reminded about the “grace” available to me in the Lord Jesus Christ. I need to know that there is mercy for me, that there is help in my time of need.
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16 ESV)
Here is a great old hymn for those struggling forward with the Lord in His grace