Yesterday we began a series in Hebrews 10-12, and saw that the writer was speaking to a group of Greek-speaking, probably Jewish Christians (a double minority group). He urged them to persevere in following Jesus, despite the fact that they were being persecuted and shamed by their families and community. And throughout Hebrews he uses every possible means to persuade them to keep going and not to shrink back into conformity (i.e. into Judaism). The first nine chapters show, in painstaking detail, how Christ is far superior to anything Judaism had to offer (angels, Moses, the priesthood and sacrificial system) – indeed, that Christ is the fulfilment of what Judaism foreshadowed. Now in chapter 10, he starts to bring those arguments home.
We persevere – because of what we have in Jesus
The first reason to persevere we’re given is what we have in Jesus. Or to put it more bluntly, because of the advantage we gain from following Jesus. This was one of the big motivators used by first-century speakers: to persuade people to do something because it was to their advantage. To their gain.
And the writer to the Hebrews is no exception. In fact, the overarching theme of his sermon is this very idea: that following Jesus brings far more advantage than sticking with Judaism; that fearlessly identifying ourselves with Christ brings far more gain than fitting in with whatever our society tells us to do.
And he gives kind of a recap of his arguments so far. The summation of all those complicated arguments about Jesus being greater than angels, greater than Moses, than the Levitical priests; that his sacrifice is greater than those of the OT. The recap begins at v19. So let’s take a look at the advantage we have in following Jesus.10:19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,
What’s the Most Holy Place? For the Jews it was the inner shrine of the temple, where the ark of the covenant was kept and where God symbolically ‘lived’ among them. It was cut off from the rest of the temple by a thick curtain, just like the first class seating on a plane. And no-one was allowed in, except for once a year, on the day of atonement, when the high priest could go in. And only after an elaborate ritual of purification and sacrifice. It symbolised the fact that God is holy, and we’re not. We’re not fit to be in the presence of the almighty God. That’s the truth which lies at the heart of the Jewish sacrificial system.
So why would anyone want to go back to that? I mean, when Jesus has made it possible for us to enter not just an earthly sanctuary, but the heavenly one. We have direct access to God himself! Not just once a year, but whenever we like!
And how did this happen?10:19b-20 since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,
It happened through Jesus’ sacrifice of himself, for us. His death in our place. He opened up a new way for us with his own blood. He put his body on the line for us. In fact, there may be a military background to this expression; the idea of ‘opening up a new way’.
In Greek history, there’s the story told of an heroic military commander Decius Mus, about 300 years before Christ. The battle was getting nowhere, so Decius decided instead to lead from the front. The historian Florus records that he went out ‘hurling himself where the enemy’s weapons were thickest, [so that] he might open up a new path to victory along the track of his own lifeblood’. Like a lead blocker in American Football, he went through clearing a path for his army to follow: a new way through his blood.
That’s what Jesus did for us. He opened up a new way, at the cost of his life. A trailblazer, or a ‘pioneer’ as it’s put in chapter 12. Jesus has cut through the defence, he’s made the hard yards—all we have to do is run through the gap. (You didn’t expect to hear Jesus compared to a prop forward, did you?)
But it’s not just what he’s done in the past. He’s still on our side in the present.10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
We have Jesus acting on our behalf right now, interceding for us to the Father. He’s our advocate, our defence attorney; which gives us confidence and assurance.10:22 let us 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.
We’re no longer unclean before God. We no longer have to shrink back from his presence because of our sin. We’ve been cleansed of guilt, because of Jesus’ sacrifice in our place. We’ve been washed clean in his sight, by Jesus’ lifeblood given for us.10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.
Added to all this is the very character of God himself. ‘He who promised is faithful’. He’s trustworthy and reliable.
Why, then, given all this advantage would you want to go back to your old ways? Why return to the old sacrificial system; the old barriers that kept God at a distance? Why would you shrink back from following Jesus, when there’s so much to gain?
You wouldn’t, would you? That’s how the writer wants us to respond. Instead of being held back by fear of public opinion, he urges us to ‘draw near’ to God. To hold unswervingly to the hope we have in Jesus. To publicly identify ourselves as his followers, no matter what the cost, as an act of trust that God will look after us if we do.
Don’t be drawn back into the life everyone around us is living. Because there’s no advantage, no gain. And now, we have everything already in Christ! Why would we want to fit in with a society that’s alienated from God, guilty and without forgiveness, and with no hope for the future? Instead, be out and proud (so to speak) that you’re different. Be unashamed of being identified with Jesus.
And part of that, the writer continues, is being identified with Jesus’ followers: meeting together with fellow Christians.10:24-25 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We meet together as believers for the primary purpose of encouraging one another to live God’s way, not the world’s way. It’s insulation against the lure of the world.
We ‘spur one another on toward love and good deeds’. The word ‘spur’ here can be translated as ‘provoke’ or even ‘irritate’. So as Christians we can irritate one another?? We’ll, I’m sure you can all testify to that. But the idea here is that we urge one another to keep living God’s way. We prick one another’s consciences. And sometimes that might be irritating. But it’s for our good.
One of the keys to perseverance, one of the ways in which we’re reminded of how good we’ve got it with Jesus, is meeting together. We remind ourselves of what Jesus has done for us. And how anything else that the world might throw at us is inconsequential in light of what we now have.
Don’t give up meeting together. Because I think this is a particular danger for this present generation, for two reasons.
Firstly, if you went back only 30 years ago – back to when I was a kid – you’d find a very different attitude to church attendance. If you were a serious Christian, it’d be two services on a Sunday. Unless you were away, sick, or dead. Church attendance was an outward measure of your spirituality.
These days, we see that as legalistic. God looks at the heart, not at how many services you turned up to. Big tick for us. Except I think we’ve now swung too far the other way. In exercising our freedom from being under law, we’ve allowed other things to crowd it out. For many across the Western world, church has become something we fit in when we can. A movie session time we pick and choose from, if there’s nothing better on. An option, rather than a commitment. Our retreat from legalism has to some extent become lawlessness.
This is made more acute by a second factor: the increasing pace of life. Our society demands more and more from us, just to keep up with it. In most parts of Sydney, two incomes are now a necessity. So households have less time to get things done around the home. Getting to work takes longer. There’s more and more stuff to do. So as well as being less committed to meeting together, we tend to have less time as well.
I’ve seen it happen with my own friends. They slowly drift away from God, they shrink back into the world – initially because they didn’t make time to be with God’s people.
Yet the Bible tells us to make church community a priority. Not so we can count big attendances and pat ourselves on the back. But because it’s a vital part of how God intended us to persevere. Not to shrink back, but to stay the course. We draw near to God, by drawing near to his people. Because it’s only when we’re with his people that we’ll be constantly reminded of all that we have in Christ. And how much greater that is than what the world has to offer.
We persevere – because of what we have in Jesus.
To think about
What tempts you to “shrink back” from following Jesus?
What tempts you to be less committed to meeting regularly with fellow believers (whether in a traditional church setting, or some other grouping)?
Make a list of all the benefits you have because you’re a follower of Jesus. (Or at least, as many as you can think of.) Put the list somewhere where you can read it regularly, as an antidote to the temptation to “shrink back” little by little.