Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Hebrews: the cure for shaky saints

Sunday past I finished teaching through Hebrews in our adult Sunday School class. The study and preparation has been immensely rewarding. I once heard R.C. Sproul speak at a conference where someone asked him what one book of the Bible he would take with him to a desert island. I expected him to say Romans or one of the gospels, but he said Hebrews. Now I know why.

The author of Hebrews refers to his (probably -- though Priscilla of Corinth has been proposed as a possible author) letter as a "word of exhortation" -- something very like a sermon -- which in all likelihood would have been read to its original recipients. I imagine they must have at several points thought the sermon was wrapping up only to find out there was more to come. There are several "false" climaxes, but I think the climactic exhortation is 12:1-2.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Every Christian should have those stirring words memorized. One could also argue that the clinching truth to anchor our lives on comes at the end of chapter 12, verses 28-9.

Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

Notice it's not up to us to go out and build this kingdom. Thank God for that! As participants in the awesome realities of the new covenant mediated by Jesus -- as opposed to the first one mediated by Moses -- we're simply to receive. Though, as Hebrews makes clear, this doesn't mean passively sitting on our hands. This letter is full of forward-thrusting, action-oriented imperatives. Here are a few that come to mind.

We're to pay close attention to what we've heard (2:1)

We're to strive to enter the final Sabbath rest (4:11) -- interesting language juxtaposition there -- strive to rest

We're to go on to doctrinal maturity (6:1)

We're to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (6:12) -- for examples see chapter 11

We're to hold fast the confession of our hope (10:23)

We're to stir up (incite) our fellow believers to love and good works (10:24)

We're to strive for peace with everyone and for the holiness without which no one will see God (12:14) -- if you want to see what that holiness looks like in practice read the final instructions of chapter 13.

And there are many more. Yes, we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken while all around the kingdoms of man totter on their foundations. Read the newspaper, watch the news. Are things looking shaky? The New Testament predicted it. Hebrews is more relevant than ever.

One final thought -- which is that tucked away in this book is perhaps the best answer to the question, "How do I know if I'm saved?" Hebrews 9:28 gives the answer.

. . . so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Get it? Saved people are those who are eagerly waiting for Christ's return. The NIV isn't as good here because it doesn't add the word "eagerly" which is justified by the strong nature of the Greek verb. Look around you. Do you see many people living as if they are eagerly waiting for Jesus to appear a second time? Am I? Are you?

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