In review: Woven into the fabric of a beautiful tapestry portraying the superiority of Jesus Christ, is a progression of spiritual digression which the writer of Hebrews needed to confront in chapters 1-6 —a slippery slope, if you will, of neglecting so great a salvation in Christ Jesus.
The first step in this process consists of drifting away through a lack of attention. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” (2:1) This appropriate counsel is for all believers at all times and not just for the Hebrews. Any digression in our spiritual lives usually begins almost imperceptiblly—not as the result of catastrophic change, but through a lack of intentionality.
The second step in this process consists of turning way because of an unbelieving heart. “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” (3:12) The context of this section is the refusal of Israel to enter the promised land of Canaan because of their fear of the giants. Instead of trusting God and his promises, they rebelled, maligned his motives, and wanted to go back to Egypt. Thus, the writer of Hebrews applied this lesson from history to his contemporaries by warning them against failing to trust God and slipping back into Judaism in order to escape the “giant” of persecution. Failure to hold fast to their profession of faith in Jesus Christ would be tantamount to refusing to take the promised land.
Life is filled with giants. My dad used to tell me, “Every David has his Goliath.” So do you, even if your name isn’t David. And every giant comes with its own set of fears and threats and harassment. This pandemic has provided enough giants for a life-time of fear: the fear of catching the disease or of a loved one catching it; the fear of an uncertain future; the fear of economic ruin; the fear of God not caring; the fear of not seeing your kids or grandkids again…on and on we could go. Just remember, it is at the point where we are most afraid that often shows us the point at which we are not trusting God; the same point where we risk turning away from him because of an unbelieving heart.
What is the author’s antidote to turning away? “But encourage one another daily, as long as it called Today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.” (3:13) Just as drifting away is a process over time so is the hardening of heart because of the deceitfulness of sin. When we do not trust God because of a certain giant, it starts a hardening process in our hearts by deceiving us into believing lies about God—does he really love me, why did he let this happen, is he punishing me? When not dealt with properly, these lies make it easier to mistrust God for the next giant. If you look at that unfaithful generation that failed to enter the land, they didn’t become unfaithful overnight. They left a trail of unbelief all over the wilderness that culminated with the catastrophe at Kadesh Barnea.
Thus, the daily encouragement of one another to help us turn toward God is the antidote for the deceitfulness of sin and the sclerotic process of unbelief. John Piper has said, “God has appointed a means by which he will enable us to hold our confidence firm to the end….Develop the kind of Christian relationships in which you help each other hold fast to the promises of God.” Richard Phillips adds, “Like climbers roped together on a steep mountain, like soldiers teamed together on the battlefield, we must keep track of one another. We must work together if we are to reach our objective safely.” And so, the Body of Christ has been designed to protect, encourage, warn, and restore us on our spiritual journey, so that we do not becomes self-deceived and hardened by indwelling sin.
In one of the episodes in Pilgrim’s Progress, Christian and his friend Hopeful, on the way to the Heavenly City, passed through an area on the King’s Path called “Enchanted Ground.” The wicked prince had placed this there in order to make pilgrim’s sleepy and stop to rest so his soldiers would capture these sleeping pilgrims and take them all the way back to the City of Destruction. And so, Christian and Hopeful began to get very sleepy (yawn!). What did they do? They encouraged each other about God’s goodness in their lives and how he proved himself faithful to each of them in spite of their unfaithfulness. The more they talked the wider awake they became, and soon they were passed the Enchanted Ground. What an apt illustration for the power of encouragement.
Social distancing should not be a hindrance to Christian encouraging. A phone call, a text, an email; WhatsApp, FaceTime, Messenger; even snail mail cards and letters are all means of being/keeping in touch and encouraging one another while it is called Today! You may never know whether your encouragement kept one pilgrim from drifting away and other from turning away.
One of my readings this morning was Hebrews 10:4-39. The main message of this text is that Jesus Christ is both our Priest and the final Sacrifice for our sin, through his suffering and death on the cross. Thus, our salvation is finished —done, and nothing more can be added to it. The writer then makes a call for his readers to persevere in their faith by using three “let us” statements, which are insightful:
10:22 “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.” This is an encouragement for us never to hang back in coming before God because of the guilt of our sin. We have in Jesus Christ a great high priest whose sacrifice dealt once and for all with our sin and cleansed even our consciences of guilt (9:9) before God. (The part about our bodies being washed is probably a reference to baptism.) Let the certainty of what Christ has done for you draw you to him everyday. Never stay away from Jesus because of your sin—that is why he died. In this way, you will persevere in your faith.
10:23 “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who has promised is faithful.” The writer is addressing those who were being persecuted for their faith, but the call can also address any situation in which our faith is being tested. It can address you and how you are dealing with the emotional, physical, and economic impact of COVID-19. It can address those of us who are facing another round of chemo today. It can address those who are suffering from the continuing impact of abuse, or grief, or situational confusion. Hold fast to the profession of your faith without being shaken by these trials. Nothing has changed about Jesus, your great and faithful high priest who ever stands making intercession for you. Nothing has changed about God’s faithful love for you or his ability to care for you. Nothing has changed about the faithful promise of eternal life that you will one day inherit. Though circumstances have changed, and will continue to do so, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever! In this way, you will persevere in your faith.
10:24 “Let us consider (brood over, think deeply about) how we may spur (provoke, arouse, excite to action) one another on toward love and good deeds.” In the midst of our own hardship we should also be thinking of how we may encourage other believers to persevere in the midst of theirs. When we suffer, we can become curved in upon ourselves and forget the needs of others. Instead, a call to persevere also includes a call to help those who are facing difficulties that might cause them to lose their grip on faith. In v. 25, the writer indicates that this encouragement can be done through the regular meeting together of the church. While this option has been taken away from us at the moment, we can use other means in order to do this. The lost art of letter writing, as well as phone calls, emails, texts, FaceTime, What’sApp, Zoom, etc., can all be vehicles for such provoking encouragement. Think about who it is among friends and family that might need such an encouraging touch from you. I have and this is why I’m writing this and all my blogs—not to hear my self think out loud, but to encourage you to persevere in your faith and not to swerve from it, just as I’m striving to maintain my own faith. In fact, helping you persevere helps me persevere.
Let me conclude with Hebrews 10:36, 39…”You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised….But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.”
Friday is Good, but Easter is better!