What I Learned From Hebrews — Jon Mitchell

There is so much that this wonderful book has taught me, so much so that I cannot share it all within the space allotted to me here.  Therefore, let me share with you the lessons which stand out from my most recent studies of chapters 10 and 12.

God gave the early church a serious warning in Hebrews 10:26-27, a warning all who would profess to follow Christ would do well to heed today.  It is a warning often overlooked by many in the religious world, especially those of the Calvinist persuasion.  After all, if the Hebrew writer’s cautioning words to his fellow Christians in verse 26 is true — and it is because all of God’s Word is truth (John 17:17) — then the concept of “once saved, always saved” is proven false.  A saved Christian could indeed sin unrepentantly and thus be in danger of losing their salvation.

Verses 28-31 expound on this theme by citing Old Testament precedent as a comparison.  There’s a popular notion that the God of the Old Testament is the vengeful, punishing God, as opposed to the God of the New Testament who is the God of love and grace.  Yet the Old Testament cites God’s love and mercy repeatedly in the Psalms and elsewhere (Jonah 4 is a prime example).  Furthermore, the New Testament frequently refers to the wrath and vengeance of God (cf. Acts 5:1-11; Rom. 2:4-11; 2 Cor. 5:10-11; et al).  God is both love and wrath, mercy and vengeance, forbearance and justice.  In these verses the Hebrew author cites Old Testament passages like Deuteronomy 17:2-6, Deuteronomy 32:35-36, and Psalm 135:14 to remind us that one does not want to slap away the hand God extends to them out of his love and grace.

Yet that is precisely what we do when we “go on sinning deliberately.”  We “spurn the Son of God” (v. 29a), which a study of the Greek terms used here would show that we would pretty much kick and stomp all over Jesus.  We also “profane the blood of the covenant by which (we were) sanctified” (v. 29b), meaning that we look at the agony Jesus went through for us and say, “Eh, it’s not as important as what I want to do.”  We also “outrage (literally, insult) the Spirit of grace” (v. 29c), which is not a good thing to do if we want God’s grace to save us.  This is why a humble, penitent heart which motivates us to continually and faithfully obey God is a necessity.

Endurance is also a necessity.  Like Christians throughout the world for the past two thousand years, American Christians are not immune to persecution and hardship that comes because of our faith (cf. 2 Tim. 3:12; Matt. 5:10-12).  Yet many, perhaps most, Christians in this country cannot say that the hardships we undergo as a direct response to our faith in Christ can compare to the hardships experienced by our brethren in many other countries and cultures.  It certainly does not compare to the tribulations undergone by the early Christians to which Hebrews was written.

In Hebrews 10:32-36, we read of the hardships Christians went through back then because of their religion.  The author describes “a hard struggle with sufferings” and “being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction” (vs. 32-33).  While some of us can relate to that, how many of us can say that we were thrown in jail (v. 34a) or that we “joyfully accepted the plundering of our property” (v. 34b)?  The author would later tell them, “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (12:4), implying that the persecution they were experiencing would later turn fatal for them.  How many of us have had our lives literally on the line because of our Christianity?

In many ways our current culture is becoming more and more inclined to view the Christian faith in a negative light.  We see this in the political realm, in the business world, and in entertainment.  Time will tell if our nation will one day get to the point where those among her who follow Christ will be at risk of prison, the loss of their homes, or even their lives, as was the case with the early church.  Yet regardless of whether that day comes or when it comes, and regardless of whatever hardships come into our path in this culture currently, the exhortation God had for the early church is what he would tell us today:  “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” (vs. 35-36).

It’s noteworthy that God would say, “You have need of endurance,” to people who apparently reacted with joy when their very homes were taken from them because they knew they had a better home in eternity.  The bar is indeed high, brethren.  Yet God also wanted them to know that in “a little while…the coming one will come and will not delay” (v. 37), a likely reference to the judgment soon coming upon the Jews through Rome for rejecting his Son and persecuting these Christians (cf. Matt. 23:29-38; 24:1-34).  In the meantime, God reminded them (and us) that “my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him” (v. 38).  Would we be able to say with the inspired writer, “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (v. 39)? 

With this in mind, let’s go to chapter 12.  After spending chapter 11 giving many examples of strong, unwavering faith from the Old Testament, Hebrews now points us to Jesus, “the founder and perfecter of our faith,” reminding them and us today that we are running a spiritual race (vs. 1-2; cf. 1 Cor. 9:24-27; 2 Tim. 4:7-8).  While running this race, we need to “lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely” (v. 1).  The weights of sin, whatever sin it may be, must be cast off so we can run with greater endurance and speed towards the prize of eternal life with God.

Jesus, the “founder and perfecter” (i.e., source or leader and finisher or completer) of our faith, is the greatest example of faith which results in endurance through suffering.  His faith was in the origin of “the joy that was set before him,” the confident trust that sitting “at the right hand of the throne of God” as our King and Savior was what waited for him at the end of his suffering.  That’s what gave him the motivation he needed to “endure the cross” and “despise the shame” which came with it.  By doing so, he shows us the way (John 12:32).  As the following verses show, the Lord disciplines us through the hardship and, yes, persecution that comes in our lives so that we will learn from it and grow to not only have more endurance, but also more righteousness (12:3-13).

Think of the struggles you face because of Christianity.  Perhaps it’s mockery or ostracism.  Perhaps financial difficulties, maybe a loss of a job or a promotion.  Perhaps your family despises you and has deserted you.  Whatever it is, keep running the race.  Keep enduring.  Keep your eye on the joy set before you which is eternal life in heaven.  These lessons, more than any others, are what Hebrews has taught me.

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