You are hereEntry One Hundred Seventy-Eight: Don't Fall Away!
Entry One Hundred Seventy-Eight: Don't Fall Away!
178) DON’T FALL AWAY! Hebrews
- This entry, which contains three days of reading, covers topics such as the way that THE OLD TESTAMENT INTERSECTS WITH THIS BOOK, the idea that JESUS IS SUPERIOR IN EVERY WAY TO THE OLD LAW, STAYING FAITHFUL, THE IMPORTANCE OF TIME WITH GOD AND WITH EACH OTHER, FAITH, DISCIPLINE, and CHRISTIAN RELATIONSHIPS.
- As a young Christian, I was what my son would call a “Newb” when it came to reading the bible. (I think I spelled that correctly!) I had grown up neither hearing the bible at home nor attending church, so my first few years in God’s kingdom were spent in wide-eyed wonder! I loved the bible – I felt that it answered all my questions about life and its meaning. But I didn’t always understand it. I remember as a 17 year old, reading through the New Testament for the first time and not getting a whole lot out of most of it. Only when I read it through the second time did I get many of those “aha” moments. However, with the book of Hebrews, it took me even longer – I didn’t get much from it until I knew the Old Testament a bit better. After I had studied a bit about the Old Testament sacrificial system, heard some sermons on Leviticus and Deuteronomy, etc, then the book of Hebrews began to make some sense! So, if you have felt the same way, then this is the place for you!
- The book takes it title from the fact that it was obviously written for Christians with a Jewish background. There are more direct quotes from the Old Testament in this book, 43 to be exact, than any other book in the New Testament except for the gospel of Matthew, which was written to the Jews and contains 58 direct quotations, and Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, which is full of theology and contains a whopping 71 direct quotations! (I counted the quotations at the bottom of the pages to get these figures.) “Every chapter of Hebrews makes either a direct quotation from the Old Testament or refers to an Old Testament person or concept that the author assumes the reader will immediately recognize.” (from a study of The Book of Hebrews by Roger Hahn, on the website called THE VOICE, www.crivoice.org) Check out his article for interesting thoughts on who may have been the author of Hebrews. As for when it was written, some scholars speculate that it was written after Paul’s death, because the letter closes by mentioning that Timothy had been released, and Paul/Luke never talked about Timothy being imprisoned. Others speculate that it was written by Paul, but since we will never know, let’s just read it and enjoy!
- Written during a time of increasing persecution, it seems that the Jewish Christians were wistful of “the old days”, remembering back to when they had not undergone so much hardship for the sake of their religion. Some were apparently leaving the Christian faith to go back to what was more comfortable, the Law with its predictable practices and traditions. The overriding message of Hebrews to those believers was, “Christ is better” (that’s the short version. The long version is “Christ is better so don’t fall away!”) See if you can pick that up as you read the book at the outset of our study.
- Chapter One
- The book opens not with greetings, the way Paul and Peter had opened their letters, but with a dramatic declaration of the majesty of Christ, specifically in the way that the Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Son of God, was superior to Angels. It is reminiscent of the theology expressed in the gospel of John, reminding readers that the God spoke through his Son, that the world was made through him, and that “the Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” And to top it all off, this Son died for our sins and is now sitting beside God on his throne in heaven! Wow! You can’t read this paragraph without getting in a good mood! It just makes your chest swell out a bit, thinking of how awesome God the Father is, how amazing Jesus the Son is, and how cool it is that we are apart of that somehow!
- Are angels great? Of course! But have any of them ever done anything or been one twentieth as incredible as Jesus? No Way! The author of Hebrews then quoted loads of verses from the OT to prove his point! (There is also a nice aside telling us the purpose of angels – they are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation.” I like to think of angels keeping people safe until they can be saved, or arranging for people to get met so they can have a chance to be saved, such as the angel in Acts 8 in the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch.)
- Chapter Two
- The next line contains a “therefore”…because of the awesome majesty of Christ and considering that he is exalted even above angelic heavenly beings, we better make sure we don’t drift away! Remember that I said the theme of “Hebrews is Christ is better so don’t fall away”? Here is the first example of that message. The logic? Well, Jesus is superior to angels, and if disobedience to the message spoken to angels meant punishment, “how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” And just in case you forgot, you saw God’s testimony to all of this when you witnessed the miraculous signs of the Holy Spirit in the first century! Makes sense to me!
- The beauty of Christianity is painted on these pages – the exalted Christ is not a “Zeus” raining fire down from heaven but a deity who redeems sinners and then reaches down and calls them “brothers”. This can be seen in Christ’s humanity which beings hope. 17For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
- How marvelous that this Saviour went before us and set us free from the fear of death. As Paul said in I Cor 15, quoting Isaiah, that because of Christ, death has lost its victory! That is true freedom!
- Chapter Three
- Another “therefore” – because Jesus is able to relate to us so closely, we should be grateful for our heavenly calling and to fix our thoughts on Jesus. (I hate to beat a dead horse, but remember what I have been saying about the importance of our “thought life”? ha ha)
- Next the author shows us Christ’s superiority from another angle – Jesus is greater than Moses. Yes, Moses was a servant worthy of honour in God’s mansion, but Jesus is the Son, the Heir, of the Mansion owner! If we stay faithful, we as Christians, are members of his body, and by design, “we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.”
- We are told to be on guard against letting our hearts get hard. Moi? Oh yes! We are all susceptible – look at the how the people led by Moses botched it! What is the solution? 12See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. 14We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. 15As has just been said:"Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion."
- The solution is first of all to recognize that your heart CAN get hard – people who don’t think that they will ever get skin cancer don’t wear hats or sunscreen! The second step is to protect yourself, not with sunscreen, but with sinscreen! Have you ever noticed that you need help to put on sunscreen? You can’t do it by yourself. Sure, you can put the lotion on some parts without help, but if you don’t have assistance from another person when it comes to your back and some tricky parts, you are gonna burn! We all need daily encouragement and interaction with other disciples. Make sure you are part of a small group whose desire is to “serve one another in love” and where people “speak the truth in love”. Have you got your daily dose of “sinscreen”?
- (Side point – look at this passage in chapter three to see how “disobedience” and “unbelief” are two sides to the same coin.)
- Chapter Four
- Not only is Jesus greater than the angels and Moses, his “rest” is superior to the “rest” given in the Old Testament (heaven is greater than the Promised Land). Therefore, we better make sure we believe, obey, and enter it! The guys in the OT were supposed to obey Moses, and Joshua. Who are we supposed to listen to now? God’s word!
For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
- Oh baby – I don’t know about you, but that makes me sit up and take notice! God sees everything! And there will be a day of reckoning!
- And, once again, the writer of Hebrews makes us pay attention with a “therefore”. This time he is bringing our attention to the fact that Jesus is the great high priest, so therefore, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
- Our Saviour is so merciful and personal and understanding that we can have confidence in our time of need – now THAT’S comforting!
- Chapter Five
- As just introduced in the previous verses, Jesus is our GREAT HIGH PRIEST. The writer is building his case of the Superiority of Christ, wanting to show that Jesus as High Priest is greater than the High Priests of the old Jewish faith. The number one reason why Jesus is superior – he didn’t sin! However, even though he never sinned, he still relates to us – During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.
- The Hebrew writer interrupted his teaching on Jesus and took a few moments to address his readers on the state of their spirituality -
- 11We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. 12In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
- Wow, that was a bit of a rebuke. Sometimes, we just need to be honest.
- Ask yourself:
- Am I quick to learn?
- Am I more mature now than I was two years ago?
- Has my bible knowledge (the teaching about righteousness) improved over the past year?
- Do I train myself to distinguish good from evil?
- If you can’t answer YES to most of those questions, then ask your small group to help you apply some sinscreen (3:12-13), get to reading your bible (4:12) and let God bring you to maturity!
- Chapter Six
- As the writer continues addressing the readers directly, he spoke emphatically about the dangers of heresy, of losing one’s faith, and of leaving God forever. Many people stop coming to church and say, “I am not leaving God, I am just leaving the church.” My thoughts on that are that I know everyone approaches these things differently. Sometimes there has been abuse or some kind of behaviour that makes it very difficult for a person to continue to worship God at a particular congregation. If all avenues of Matthew 18 have been exhausted and there is still no satisfaction, it is usually possible to move to a different geographical location, deal with things personally, and then eventually come to some sort of agreement or at least forgiveness. My only fear for people who have separated themselves off from others is that it seems the scriptures teach that we need others in our lives in order to stay faithful. And if we can only love God who we can’t see, but not our brothers who we can see, is that really love? I don’t want to be judgmental – I am just offering my “two cents worth”. But I would hope it is every disciple’s long term goal to be a part of a thriving body of Christ on earth as we prepare to be with his body in heaven.
- The reason I inserted this here is that, without help from others, a person’s heart might get hard and what started out as “just leaving church” might eventually become “falling away from God”. The danger pointed out by the writer of Hebrews is immense – it is crucifying Jesus all over again! That’s why this whole book was written – to get us to not “fall away!”
- The writer is obviously someone who loves his audience, and ends his personal comments with positive observations and hopeful warnings:
10God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
- I can’t read verse 12 without thinking about James Lloyd’s sermon on sacrificial giving, back in 1984. He quoted the KJV, which uses the antiquated term, “slothful” for “lazy”. Then he went into great detail about sloths – how they are the slowest animals on earth, how they have almost no reaction to danger, and how they stink! Yuk! We sure don’t want to become slothful!
- The other verse I love so much in chapter six is verse 19: We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. As long as we don’t fall away, we can hold onto hope in hard times, cause even during the storms of life, it will anchor us to safety, firm and secure. Amen!
- Chapter Seven
- Already the character Melchizadek has been mentioned three times, and now the writer of Hebrews begins specifically to show his readers that another reason the Christ is greater than the High Priests of Judaism is because he was a priest in the order of Melchizadek – one that had special properties, so to speak. Melchizadek, a “priest of God Most High” (Gen 14:18) was barely mentioned in the Old Testament, but he must have been seen as very important, since Abraham gave him a tithe. David later wrote about him, prophesying that the Messiah would be “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizadek.” (Psalm 110:4). As our High Priest, Jesus has no need to sacrifice for his own sins first, because he doesn’t sin, and he need not be replaced by another High Priest when he dies, because he lives forever! As the writer shows, totally superior! 26Such a high priest meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Amen!
- Chapter Eight
- Not only is Jesus better, but the covenant he brings is better! The whole of chapter eight is devoted to showing us the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old. Quoting from Jeremiah,
This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
- Chapter Nine
- This chapter is perhaps the most complicated, and it helps if you know a bit about the Old Testament sacrificial system to get something out of it. (If you are really lost, go back to Entry 25, The Law of Moses in my earlier entries of the Chronological Bible for Hot News, or read a concordance on Hebrews). All the same, this is the chapter that really helped me to fall in love with Hebrews, cause once I got this one, I really understood it!
- One insight we can get is how the writer of Hebrews saw things in the Old Testament sacrificial system as being outer representations until “the time of the new order.”
- The main gist of what is written is about BLOOD & DEATH – Jesus’ blood and sacrifice is so much superior to the blood of goats and calves! And his blood is able to cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! Amen!!
- By the way, the analogy of the “will” in verses 16-22 is great for explaining to people who get confused about the story of “THE THEIF ON THE CROSS”, found in Luke 23:39-43. Sometimes when we are studying the bible with someone about conversion, they may become confused over whether or not a person needs to be baptized to have their sins forgiven. Of course, Jesus had authority on earth to forgive sins (Mark 2:10) and could forgive anyone at any time. However, this passage in Hebrews 10 helps to explain that the New Covenant didn’t come into effect until Jesus died, therefore when Jesus was on the cross, the thief wasn’t technically under the New Covenant. However, as far as we know, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, everyone who “got saved” was baptized as a part of that process. Hope this helps…
- Back to the idea of the Superiority of Christ, Jesus is a better high priest cause he doesn’t have to go back into the Holy of Holies year after year to sprinkle the blood!
27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
- The closing verse of this chapter not only illuminates the thoughts of the Hebrew writer on how Jesus is better; it is also a good verse to show how we will all face judgment after we die (there is no such thing as “reincarnation” or “channeling past lives”) and Jesus will come back (the second coming).
- Chapter Ten
- The main thrust of this chapter can be summed up in the first verse - 1The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. As he did earlier, the writer of Hebrews wanted his audience to understand that when they read the Old Testament (or heard it read in the synagogue, as it were), they should think of the sacrifices or whatever as a shadow of what had come in Christ. If we understand that, it opens up a whole new way of understanding the Old Testament, and it makes reading it a lot more fun!
- Here comes another “therefore” passage – because we have a superior sacrifice and a superior priest, we can have confidence to enter God’s Most Holy Place in fellowship with him! (If you tried that in under the Old Covenant, you would drop dead!) We are not supposed to see God as an entity somewhere off in the distance, but rather we are urged to draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Reading this passage should give us hope over and over again! We should be clamoring for our time with God everyday as we draw near to him, and we should also be eager for our time with one another. The writer of Hebrews says it better that I ever could: 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
- So, back to the “therefore”, since we have these things all mentioned above, and since Christ is obviously superior, we better appreciate our salvation and we sure as heck better not fall away!!!!! After all, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
- The next section is so wonderful, I have to print it in full:
- 32Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 33Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38But my righteous one will live by faith.
- And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him." 39But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
- The writer of Hebrews was reminding his audience that they had done some pretty amazing things for God! And in light of all the ways they had persevered in the past, he didn’t want them to throw away what they had! “Don’t give up now, you guys, we’re almost there!”
- Chapter Eleven
- This is the famous “Faith Hall of Fame”. After defining what faith is, and impressing on us how important faith is, the writer of Hebrews began running through the “Who’s Who” of the Old Testament. There are some great insights here – we learn about Abel, Enoch, and Noah from this account. Following that is a very long passage about Abraham, which is appropriate for someone known as The Father of Faith. These verses are so majestic – you almost have to read them standing up! (and don’t you just want to start singing “There Is A Habitation”?) I am reminded of a sermon on “pilgrimage” by Jim Blough. Abraham was just passing through until he got to heaven! He had faith to have a son when he was “as good as dead”, and was even willing to offer his promised son to God, if that’s what it took. All of this was by faith! (I also can’t help but sing Brian Craig’s song, “By Faith” – write to Hot News and ask them to post that song, cause I couldn’t find it on the internet…)
- One of my favourite verses from this whole chapter is this:
- Therefore GOD IS NOT ASHAMED TO BE CALLED THEIR GOD! That’s what I’m talking about! Let’s live lives of faith – let’s amaze God with our faith! Oh Lord, help me to live and walk by faith every day!
- Abraham passed it down, and we saw Isaac and Jacob live by faith, and then his great-grandson, Joseph. What a blessing – to know that your faith/conviction is so strong that it will pass down through the generations! How is your faith getting passed down? What can you do today to pass your faith down to someone else?
- The writer of Hebrews began to was lyrical about what Moses did by faith – look at him go – he was BORN by faith! And his faith was so strong, he chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. Now that’s putting your money where your mouth is, amen?!
- Verse 29 reminds me of the joke about the young Christian and the atheist sharing a park bench. The young Christian is zealously reading his bible, and shouts a loud “wow, it’s a miracle!” when he gets to the part about God parting the Red Sea and the Israelites crossing on dry ground. The atheist asks him what he was so excited about, and after listening, dismisses the enthusiastic convert with, “dear boy, don’t you know that most scholars believe that the Red Sea at that time was less than a foot high?” To which the young man cries out, “Hallelujah, it’s a miracle!” The perplexed unbeliever says, “Now what are you shouting about?” and the Christian replies, “God drowned the whole of Pharoah’s army in only a few inches of water!”
- Ha ha, yeah I know it’s not the greatest joke, but I can’t help but think of it! And verse 30 reminds me of the Veggie Tales movie – “Josh and the Big Wall”. It’s great!
- The writer had gotten carried away, and didn’t have time to include heroes like David and others (at least he stuck in one woman’s name – go Rahab!!), but he does recount some of their more noble feats of the prophets – through faith (they) conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies. 35Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.
- These stories are wild – and scary! I better not complain about ANYTHING! God, shut my mouth if I complain about anything in my easy life. Help me to be someone who lives by faith. You better believe these folks were commended for their faith. The cool thing is that, by faith, we will be made perfect along with them. Well, I guess it’s time to make sure I am walking the talk.
- Chapter Twelve
- Allright, now we’re getting personal – the next paragraph has been a favourite of mine since my second year as a Christian! (I’ll be 30 in July!) And guess what? It begins with a “therefore”. So, since we have the Faith Hall of Famers cheering for us, we better not only NOT FALL AWAY, but we better get rid of everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. These two verses have helped me through many discouraging moments, and spurred me on to repentance over and over again. And, seeing as how I HATE discipline (I know, in Proverbs that means I am stupid!), I have had to brainwash myself over the years with verse 11, but I totally believe it!
- 11No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
- After this lesson on discipline, the writer of Hebrews gave some good practical advice to all of his readers -
Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.
See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.
- Then he painted a picture of holiness for his audience that is riveting:
- 22But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." 27The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29for our "God is a consuming fire."
Wow, what a vision!
- Chapter Thirteen
- In this final chapter, the writer of Hebrews continued with the advice:
- Keep on loving each other as brothers.
- Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.
- Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
- Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
- Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
- Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
- Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.
- Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.
- And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
- Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
- God also spoke through the writer of Hebrews to add in some last minute theology, that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, and that we should imitate Jesus’ willingness to bear disgrace for God. It is sweet that the writer begged his audience to pray that he would see them soon.
- I will close this long entry with the writer’s last words of this long letter (even though the writer apologizes for writing a short letter, which might have been a joke!):
20May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought
back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21equip you
with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to
him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.