Last Thursday we began a series in Hebrews 10-12. Throughout, the writer has been urging his readers to persevere in following Jesus, despite the fact that they were being persecuted and shamed by their families and community. So far, he has contrasted the great benefits of following Jesus with the terrible consequences of falling away. Today, he returns to a more positive theme.
We persevere – because that’s who we are
Yesterday was the negative motivation. But you’ll notice that it’s sandwiched in between two bits of positive motivation. The first point was that we persevere – because of what we have in Jesus. And the final point: we persevere – because that’s who we are; that’s what we do.
And to kick this point home, the writer appeals to a whole range of examples of those who remain faithful despite hardship. Their Israelite ancestors. The forerunners of the faith. In chapter 11, he drags out the OT hall of fame. Or rather, hall of faith. (We begin that tomorrow.)
But he begins this series of examples with perhaps the most persuasive example of all. Their own.10:32-34 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.
Not so long ago, he says, you proved yourselves faithful. You endured everything that got thrown at you, and did so with joy. Why? Because you knew that what you have in Jesus is far greater than anything the world offers. Far greater than anything you’ve lost.So all you have to do is live up to your own reputation; your own example. Remember what you’ve already resisted. Because if you don’t, your previous courage will be forgotten. The sacrifices will have been for nothing. Don’t waste it all by throwing it away now:10:35-36 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.
As the fourth-century preacher John Chrysostom comments on this passage:‘Powerful is the exhortation from deeds [already done]: for he who begins a work ought to go forward and add to it… And he who encourages, does thus especially encourage them from their own example.’
In fact, there’s an example of this from about the time Hebrews was written. The historian Tacitus quotes a famous general motivating his troops in this way. The general said: “I would quote the examples of other armies to encourage you. [But] As things are, you need only recall your own battle-honours…”
Remember your past deeds. Don’t let them go to waste. Keep going. Live up to your reputation.
And it’s what God would say to us, too. You’ve come this far. Don’t let it be for nothing. I know that some in my church have given up a lot for the sake of the gospel. Some have been rejected by parents because they’ve followed Jesus. I know someone whose parents didn’t go to their wedding, because they were marrying a Christian. Someone whose parents tried to hide their car keys every Sunday afternoon, so they couldn’t go to church. Someone who got treated as an outsider by their family, for deserting the Orthodox faith. And the list could go on.
Others have faced rejection at work. Loss of promotion opportunities. Loss of friendship and community at work. Loss of respect of their peers.
Many others have faced financial loss, because they’ve heard the call of God to work full-time for the kingdom. Maybe to go overseas to share the gospel. Or maybe to give sacrificially so that others may go.
As a follower of Jesus, you’ve probably already given up some of the comforts and respect of this world for the sake of the gospel. Don’t let that go to waste now. Don’t shrink back, just because it might be seeming that little bit harder at the moment. Remember what you have in Jesus, meeting together regularly to gain strength. Remember the alternative – and how terrifying that is. And live up to your reputation.
The writer concludes the chapter a bit like a primary school teacher before an school trip. Or somewhere the kids have to be on display, and on their best behaviour. You know the technique. After warning the class in a stern voice about the fearsome punishment that awaits those who misbehave, the tone suddenly changes. ‘But we’re not going to be like that, are we year two?’ And the kids all go ‘no….’. Give them a reputation to live up to, and then show you’re confident they can do it.
Not much has changed in two thousand years:10:37-39 For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” And “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.
Live up to who you are. It’s not much longer, and Jesus will return. So keep going.
Put up with the fact that the unrighteous seem to prosper – for now. Put up with the fact that you might be giving up wealth and success in this life. There is another one to come.
Put up with the ridicule you get for following an ancient book that isn’t always straightforward to interpret. Put up with the patronising attitude you encounter whenever you’re bold enough to suggest that maybe there are right and wrong answers to the great questions of life.12:1-3 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
We persevere – because of what we have in Jesus.
We persevere – because the alternative is unthinkable.
We persevere – because that’s who we are.