75. The End

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  75.  The End

Heb 13:23-25     I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you. Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all 

Uncertainties: The letter to the Hebrews draws to a close quite quickly and unfortunately (for the sake of our curiosity at least) gives few clues to the author, his location and his intended audience. The opening sentences of these three verses indicate he is on the same circuit, may we say, as the apostle Paul, mentioning Timothy, but if we would wish to link him via Timothy to the apostle Paul there are sufficient differences as well as few similarities to suggest this is clearly uncertain! Yet by his confident writing he must be a member of the apostolic band, probably associated with Paul. Timothy has obviously been in prison recently but is now freed and is clearly a free agent who can decide, possibly with the advice of others, where he next goes because there is that uncertain ‘If’ in the verses, and if he does come soon then the writer may also travel to see his readers.

Now those first two sentences are sufficiently imprecise that we cannot be certain of their meaning. The “If he arrives soon,” may mean, “If he gets back here where I am from his imprisonment, I will bring him with me to come and see you.” It may also mean, “If he comes to you, I will come with him.” The writer is obviously a traveling apostle and, again, someone who makes his own decisions. Beyond that, anything else is pure speculation and we have to rest with that.

The twice-used ‘all’ in respect of the Greeting suggests that the intention of this letter is that it should be read in a number of churches, which was a fairly common thing to happen to such pastoral letters. His words, “Those from Italy send you their greetings,” appears to suggest that he is writing from Italy, possibly from Rome, but again there can be no certainty about that. His concluding words, “Grace be with you all,” are traditional and may simply be taken to mean, “May the blessing of God be on you, may you be receivers of His goodness.”

Questions: The question may arise in our minds, do all these uncertainties over the origins of this letter undermine it? How did this letter get into the canon of Scripture? Rather than go into the history of that in respect of this particular letter, let us consider how the early church assessed such writings.

Answers: First of all the church checked the authority of the writers so that only known and accepted apostles and their close associates were accepted. From these closing words we’ve just been considering above, it is clear that the early church knew this writer and that he was part of God’s apostles or close contacts at that time.

Second, the church looked at what is called ‘external evidence’ so the churches had to feel they were historically accurate. Absence of any reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem indicates this was written before AD70 when it was destroyed, and the reference we’ve just seen to Timothy places it within the period when Paul’s apostolic team existed.

Third, the church considered what is referred to as ‘internal evidence’, to observe that the  contents conformed to known apostolic teaching, and that each book had to have a self-authenticating nature, as having a sense as from God. All of the exhortations that we have referred to so many times are clearly in line with the apostolic teaching that we find throughout the rest of the New Testament and there is a distinct absence of human wisdom or questionable writing here, that is so often found in non-canonical books of that period. The teaching is again and again to glorify God and glorify Jesus, almost more than any other epistle in the New Testament. It comes with a clear sense of revelation and a deep sense of understanding the will of God.

Transition: The early church clearly struggled somewhat with the transition from a Jewish-based religion to a universal world-impacting religion and we see this, for example, in the apostle Peter’s struggle to go to the Gentiles (Acts 10), and the decision-making that went on in the Council in Jerusalem, accepting the apostle Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 15), and when the apostle Paul had to counter the Jewish tendency to backtrack and rely on the Law (see Galatians), but perhaps nowhere is the transition made so clear as in this book, for example, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.”  (8:13) As we commented earlier, the priesthood and old covenant sacrifices ceased when the temple was destroyed in AD70 and have never been revived because the temple has never been rebuilt.

And so, to conclude, we have this amazing book, not always easy to understand, but which lays out doctrinal passage after doctrinal passage in order to bring exhortation after exhortation to the early church to keep on in the face of both persecution and heresies. Once we can see past its ‘Old Testament Jewishness’ we find it as a pillar truth, unique in its form and style, that calls us in our age to likewise keep on in the face of what, in the West at least, is opposition by words and ideas and ideologies, with a challenge to test all things, think through all teachings, and hold fast to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. May it be so. Amen.

74. Doctrinal Launch Pades (3)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  74.  The Doctrinal Launch Pads (3)

Heb 13:22   Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.

Platforms of belief: So we continue with these launch pads of belief from which the many exhortations in this book flow. We have got to the beginning of chapter 8 so far. We have recently seen how Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Levitical Priesthood by the fact that he is eternal and has his ministry by the promise of God and now exercises it at his Father’s right hand in heaven.

Introducing the New Covenant: I concluded the last study by calling what follows a ‘world-shattering’ change. Let’s see why. In chapter 7 the writer introduced a word he has not used previously: “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (7:22). It is the word ‘covenant’ and he will use it a further eighteen times in the following chapters. From verse 6 of chapter 8 he now introduces this idea that the Old Covenant – the Sinai Covenant based upon the Law – has been superseded by a NEW covenant, which was first referred to by the prophet Jeremiah (see 8:8-12) Be quite clear, “he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (8:13) [It disappeared with the destruction of the Temple in AD70]

The Effect of Christ’s Sacrifice: This is a turning point in history, when Jesus went to the Cross and died for us, for he was doing what all the sacrifices of the old period could not do – take the punishment for our sins, once and for all. Guilt, shame, isolation, failure, all dealt with! The writer reiterates this in 9:1-15,  reminding us what happened in the Old Testament times and then explaining how it looked forward to what Christ would do. He  goes on to use the example of a will which is in existence but not fully operative until after the death. He explains how Moses spelled it out (v.16-22) but the reality of the will only came through Christ’s death.

The Inadequacy of the Old: In chapter 10 he explains how the Law was only a shadow of what was to come and was inadequate to cleanse our consciences (v.1-4) but Christ came to do God’s will and offer his body once and for all (v.5-10).  He continues to explain that again and again, that the old Levitical priest offered sacrifices that couldn’t ‘take away’ their sins (v.11) but when Christ brought in this new covenant, as Jeremiah said, it would involve God’s law coming into our hearts and we be changed from the inside (v.15-18) so there is no longer any need for continual offering of sacrifices.

The Reality of the New: It is because we now have access directly to God in heaven by what Jesus did on the Cross (v.19) and that by his work he has given us this access (v.20), and because Jesus IS this eternal high priest speaking for us (v.21) that we come to a whole salvo of exhortations; let us draw near to God…. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess….And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together…. let us encourage one another.” (v.22-25) We do all these things BECAUSE of the assurances we have of this new covenant, where Jesus has done it all so that all we have to do is believe it and receive it.

An Awful Alternative: The alternative is then painted – our refusing to do these things and in fact continuing to sin – and this comes with a warning that all of what we have considered as the goodness of the new covenant would then not apply to us (v.26-31). He reminds them of how they had previously stood in the face of persecution so they should continue doing that (v.32-39).

The Gallery of Faith: The next big platform from which to launch these exhortations is the whole of chapter 11, the wonderful ‘gallery of faith’ as it is sometimes called. Their testimonies are there to encourage us. That launched a further salvo: 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. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart,” (12;1-3) and then a little later, “Endure hardship as discipline,” (v.7) which is shown to be launched off the teaching about discipline (v.5-11) and which in turn acts as a platform from which to fire a further large salvo of exhortations (v.12-17)

Unshakable Heavenly Jerusalem: The final substantial platform of belief, or of doctrine, is about the unshakability of the heavenly Jerusalem, compared with the shaking that had occurred at Mount Sinai (v.18-27), which launches the final double salvo of being thankful and worshipping (v.28). As we commented previously chapter 13 is more a series of instructions as to how to live out the Christian life, rather than a series of encouragements, yet even within that is a mini-section of doctrine (13:9-14) that identifies us with the rejected Jesus and so because of that we should keep offering praise (v.15)

And so we come to the end of these three studies where we have sought to accentuate the platforms or sections of belief or doctrine that form the backbone of this letter and from which all the many exhortations follow. The point needs to be emphasised again and again: we do what we do because of what we believe, and we believe what we believe because it has been conveyed to us by the writers of the New Testament. Ultimately, perhaps, we might suggest that all the exhortations might be summed up as “Hang on in there in the face of opposition or difficulties, and keep going all out to do the will of God as He reveals it to you.”  And the reason? Because of the sheer wonder of who Christ is and what he has done for us in leaving heaven, coming here, revealing the Father and dying for our sins. Hallelujah!  Go for it!

73. Doctrinal Launch Pads (2)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  73.  The Doctrinal Launch Pads (2)

Heb 13:22   Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.  

Platforms of belief: We have started to recap this book looking at what we have called the launch pads or platforms of belief from which the many exhortations in this book come from. In two studies we recapped those exhortations.  However the thinking behind them, we said, is equally important and so that is what we are now considering. In the previous chapter we only managed to recap chapters 1 to 4.

Overview: To catch what happens in the next four chapters, a quick overview might help, because whereas we have seen chapters 1 & 2 and then 3 & 4 go together, we are about to embark on a lengthy section (which is interrupted by a pastoral concern in chapters 5 & 6) which goes on for four chapters:

  • Chapter 5 mentions a priest, Melchizedek, but the mention of him makes the writer despair that his readers will understand because there is so much immaturity in the church and so chapter 5 digresses onto this concern.
  • This continues into chapter 6 and it is only at the end of chapter 6 that Melchizedek is mentioned again.
  • The fully theology of him is only opened up in chapter 7.
  • The practical outcomes of this are then seen in the beginning of chapter 8 which will lead into a bombshell of theological change

So, let’s now work our way through this overview of chapters 5 to  8 inclusive.

The Priestly Jesus & Pastoral Concerns:  Chapter 5 presents Jesus as our eternal high priest, the Son appointed to be high priest after the order of Melchizedek – having no beginning or ending as we see later – but he digresses from this concept (5:11-14), almost despairing, in his concern for them, over the poor level of teaching that the Christians at that time  appeared to have taken in. This flowed over into Chapter 6 with a call to leave elementary teaching and grow up (6:1-3).

But then comes a severe teaching (warning) that there cannot be a second repentance (6:4-8), although he is sure that won’t apply to them (6:9) but that is immediately followed by show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (6:11,12) The implication is that the exhortations flow out of the danger of apostasy that prevents a second repentance. Perhaps to balance this out, this in turn leads into considerations of God’s promises first to Abram and then about Melchizedek that tells us that we, “may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” (6:18,19)

Melchizedek, a picture of Jesus: When we enter Chapter 7 we find an exposition focused on Melchizedek, a priest of God of which his beginning and end is unknown. By receiving a tithe from Abraham essentially meant that the subsequent Hebrew family, including the Levites (and thus the Levitical priesthood) were subject to him and this his priesthood was superior to the Levitical priesthood. Thus Jesus brings a superior priesthood in the likeness of Melchizedek (7:1-17). His superiority rests, first on the fact of his indestructible life (7:16), but also on the fact that God made an oath, a promise that this is what Jesus would do (7:18-22) and then on the nature of what he has done, offering himself (7:23-28)

Chapter 8 explanation: So what was the point of all that about Melchizedek? (8:1) It is that WE have a high priest, one who stands between us and God who is utterly different from the priesthood that still existed then and had existed since Moses. That priesthood relied on gifts and a place in which to offer them (the Tabernacle and then the Temple) but Jesus (implied in these verses) was different having offered his own body and had now entered the true ‘Temple of God’ – heaven! (8:1-5)

Recap chapters 5 to 8: Now what is coming is so enormous that we need to take more space on it and will continue this in the next study. So let’s remind ourselves what has been in these chapters 5 through to 8:

  • Christ did not simply choose to be a high priest, God appointed him after the order of Melchizedek by a promise (5:1-10)
    • (ASIDE) However this is difficult to explain to an immature church (5:11-14)
    • So let’s leave elementary teaching (6:1-3)
    • A problem (lurking in the background that needs to be addressed) is that (implied) if you do drift away fully you cannot be brought back because of all that means and you can’t have a second repentance after apostasy (6:4-8)
    • But surely this isn’t you so be diligent & imitate those pressing on (6:9-12)
  • Now picking up on that promise (of 5:5,6), God’s promise to Jesus, as His promise to Abraham, is a sure guarantee, so Jesus IS a Melchizedek-type priest (6:13-20)
  • Melchizedek is clearly a picture of Jesus and the Levitical priest is inferior to and subject to Melchizedek’s priesthood and so to Jesus, so Jesus is superior to and over the old Levitical priesthood – and the Law (7:1-17)
  • The fact that God promised this by an oath guarantees this (7:18-28)
  • The point of all this (implied) is that Jesus is superior to the old priesthood having offered himself once and for all, and is now residing in heaven (8:1-6)

The world-shattering change follows but we’ll consider that again in the next study.

 

72. The Doctrinal Launch-Pads (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  72.  The Doctrinal Launch Pads (1)

Heb 13:22   Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.

Platforms of belief: Over the past two studies we have been considering all the exhortations that flow through this book and the context or background that made them necessary, but as we go to conclude this series I realise that for these past two studies we have focused more on the exhortations and little on the reasoning for them, and so we may yet have to do more studies picking up on what I referred to as the platforms of belief or launch pads from which all these exhortations come from. There are always theological reasons for everything we do in the Christian life, so let’s start checking them out in this letter.

The exhortations that we have considered are important as they give us practical matters that we are to work out in our Christian lives today (and so if you are unsure of those matters you may wish to reread the last two studies). However the thinking behind them is equally important and so we need to recap the book again but this time observing the theological platforms from which all those exhortations sprung. We should not rush this because the nature of this book, the Jewish-Christian, Old Testament basis of it, means that it is likely that first time round we did not fully take in or understand all of the ‘theology’. So, pray for grace and here we go.

The Greatness of Jesus: Chapter 1 started us off with a mini condensed ‘prologue’ all about the wonder of who Jesus was and is (1:1-3) and the rest of the chapter expounded on how he was greater than the angels being God’s Son who now sits reigning at the Father’s right hand (1:4-14). That then in Chapter 2 opened up the first exhortation to ensure we did not drift in our faith (2:1-3a). This was followed by more doctrine about Jesus being crowned with glory through his death, sharing in our humanity as he suffered to bring our atonement (2:3b-18).  Whereas chapter 1 exalted Jesus in a general way as the divine Son of God, chapter 2 exalts him as the human Son who has done the Father’s work but in a way with which we are easily able to identify.

Two Grounds for Worship: When we worship the Lord we have two platforms from which to launch our worship. The first is worship of the divine Son of God who has existed in heaven with the Father from beginning of time, and who was involved in creation, and who now upholds this world by his word of power, and who left heaven to bring about the work of redemption. We worship a divine Son who is all glorious. But then, second, we praise and thank the human Son who left his glory in heaven and who came and lived on earth and who identified himself with us and experienced all we experience, including rejection, suffering and death, before he was raised from the dead and then ascended back to heaven. These two aspects of the Son are worthy of our worship, praise and thanksgiving, and are the essential ‘two sides of the coin’ of the Son of God who is our Saviour.

Moses, Rebellion & a Warning: In Chapter 3 we saw Jesus contrasted with Moses, the hero of the Jewish faith, for Moses was a servant in God’s house but Jesus was the Son in God’s house (3:1-6). That led into the first serious warning because mention of Moses reminded the writer that the Israelites with Moses had failed to enter the Land (3:7-11, 16-18) which led on to an exhortation not to follow their example (3:12-15).  Chapter 4 opened up and expounded more on that rebellion, considering the concept of ‘the rest of God’ that He intended for His people (4:1-11). In doing this he referred first to the ‘rest’ that God entered into when he finished Creation (4:4), and then the ‘rest’ that was the Land of Israel (4:6) and then yet a third ‘rest’ that is held out as a possibility for all God’s people, that will be heaven.

Failure & Hope: In the same way that chapter 1 (the divine Son) contrasted with chapter 2 (the human Son), so there is a contrast between chapters 3 & 4. Chapter 3 is all a warning about the possibility of failure to believe, chapter 4 presents the possibility of a ‘rest’ being the reward for believing – which is what we enter into as believers today and look forward to for eternity.

Recap: Very well, before we rush on and find ourselves embroiled in the complexity of the next three chapters, let’s simply recap what we have just seen and then deal with subsequent chapters in the next study.

The Full Jesus Focus: Almost more clearly than anywhere else in the New Testament, we have a picture painted of Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God who existed in heaven before he came to earth, and then the human Son of God (although they are both one and the same) who came and redeemed us. We always need to hold his greatness and glory and then his meekness and humility before is when we worship and as we seek to understand his work and our salvation. That is all about the ‘belief’ side of our lives.

The Christian Life: But then belief leads to action, to change our lives now empowered by the Spirit of Jesus. As soon as we start to consider this we are in the realm of beliefs, attitudes and decision making, and because we have free will, we are able to choose to go on with God, receiving all He has for us in His plans for us, or of drifting into complacency and inactivity which, if left unattended, can develop further into positive backsliding, unbelief and even apostasy.

But the Bible doesn’t leave us to wonder about this, for it presents us in these chapters with clear warnings of the example of the Israelites who came out of Egypt and who had observed such wonders with God but who, nevertheless, failed to have faith to go in and take the land. The Lord uses an analogy of the Land, calling it ‘their rest’, a target He had for them which they failed to hit. Now, in our salvation received from Jesus, we too have a place of ‘rest’ which is simply the goal of our salvation which the Holy Spirit leads us into and which culminates in heaven. The warning that had gone before suggests that it is possible for us to drift and become complacent and fail to enter that ‘rest’ in this present life, all that God has for us now. It is a challenge to consider our lives and ask ourselves, are we open to all that the Lord has for us and check that we are being obedient to all He says. There are very practical and very vital outcomes to these first four chapters that we need to heed. May it be so.

71. A Final Encouragement? (2)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  71.  A Final Encouragement? (2)

Heb 13:22   Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.

Previously, chapters 1-6: We have been looking at this verse and seeing that the writer is referring to the whole letter as ‘a word of exhortation’ and as we have started to work through it viewing this as an overview we have being seeing that again and again our writer used each piece of theology as platforms on which to urge faithfulness, which was needed to stand against the persecutions and heresies that early Christians faced.  Each theological platform launches an exhortation.  We had come to chapter six, so let’s continue seeing how this works out in the rest of the book.

Now, chapters 7-10: Chapter 7 was all about Melchizedek and how Jesus brought a similar priestly activity, a permanent priesthood, confirmed by an oath of God, that no longer needed to keep on offering sacrifices because the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross was a one-off sacrifice. Chapter 8 built on that using the prophecy of Jeremiah about a new covenant. Chapter 9 expands on the contrasts between the old and new covenants and this flows on into Chapter 10 showing how Christ had come to present the one-off offering of his own body on the Cross, doing away with the need for any more sacrifices, i.e. removing the need for all the functions under the Law of the Old Covenant.

In the first six chapters of the book the exhortations were spread out. Chapters 7 to 10 present one great platform from which a salvo of exhortations are now launched. The salvo starts with the doctrine that God’s dwelling place is now open to us and Jesus is our intermediary:

Salvo no.1: “Therefore, brothers, 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, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 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. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let 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.” (10:19-25)

Do you see there, there are five exhortations in this first salvo and each one comes off or is followed by a mini-platform of belief or theology.

Salvo No.2: This salvo comes first more by way of implication rather than direct exhortation, e.g. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (v.26,27) This principle comes as an implied warning or implied exhortation, and so it continues in the following verses with even stronger warnings down to verse 31. The verses that then followed were about how they had stood their ground in the face of suffering (v.32) and had stood supporting others in prison for their faith (v.33,34). This is then followed by two short, sharp exhortations: “So do not throw away your confidence…” (v.35) and “You need to persevere (v.36) and then anther implied warning-exhortation in prophetic scripture: “But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (v.38)

Chapters 11-13: Chapter 11 is the famous ‘gallery of faith’ and that is seen to be a platform from which the next salvo of exhortations is fired: “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. Let 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. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3) Again, four fairly obvious exhortations

In Chapter 12, the following section about discipline acts as a platform for, “Endure hardship as discipline,” (v.7) and another ‘salvo’: “Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. 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. 12:12-15).

This was followed by the analogies of the two mountains which included, “See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks,” (v.25a) and which acted for a platform (v.18-27) to launch, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (v.28) When we came to Chapter 13 we noted that there were at least twelve of these instructions or exhortations for practical Christian living, and the whole thing concludes with those simple words, Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.” (v.22).

And So: So, yes, there is much theology wrapped up in Old Testament language but this only goes to show, as the book develops, that this all gave way and pointed towards Jesus. The lessons of the Old Testament (chapters 1 to 12) should challenge us in our relationship with the Lord, to hold firm to our faith despite oppositions and wrong teaching coming from the enemy. The package of the New Testament leaves us with a faith based upon and focused upon Jesus, out of which clear expressions of behaviour are revealed (chapter 13),  the understanding and adherence of which may be seen as part of our growth process as we take note of the challenge (Ch.5,6) to grow up. The theology coming out of the Old Testament may be tricky at times but I hope we have shown in these last two studies that we are left with plenty of guidance and instructions to work upon in our lives today.

Addendum: Summary of specific direct exhortations (We have omitted those that were implied. Where there are more than one in a verse or verses we have inserted Roman numerals to clarify them.)

  • We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away (2:1)
  • fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess (3:1)
  • See to it, brothers, that (i) none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But (ii) encourage one another daily (3:12-13)
  • let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it (4:1)
  • let us hold firmly to the faith we profess…. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence (4:14-15)
  • let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity (6:1)
  • We want each of you to (i) show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do (ii) not want you to become lazy, but (iii) to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (6:11,12)
  • let us (i) draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith…… Let us (ii) hold unswervingly to the hope we profess…… let us (iii) consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us (iv) not give up meeting together…..but (v) let us encourage one another (10:19-25)
  • So do not throw away your confidence…. You need to persevere (10:35,36)
  • (i) let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and (ii) let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (iii) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus…. (iv) Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (12:1-3)
  • Endure hardship as discipline (12:7)
  • (i) strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. (ii) Make level paths for your feet…. (iii) Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy…. (iv) See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that (v) no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. (vi) See that no one is sexually immoral.” (12:12-15).
  • See to it that (i) you do not refuse him who speaks … (ii) let us be thankful, and (iii) so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.” (12:25,28)
  • I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.” (13:22).

70. A Final Encouragement? (1)

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  70.  A Final Encouragement? (1)

Heb 13:22   Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.  

Purpose of his writing: And so we come to the final verses of this thirteen-chapter book. At first glimpse verse 22 looks like a further encouragement, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation,” but then when we read the whole verse we see it is not about this particular verse, but about the entire book: “for I have written you only a short letter.”  He calls this book a short letter; I wonder what a long one would be, for this is one of the longer letters of the New Testament?

Theology to launch exhortations: As I have looked up a couple of overviews of Hebrews I note that both place the emphasis on Christ’s superiority – over angels (chapters 1 & 2), over Moses (chapters 3 & 4), over the Old Covenant Priesthood (chapters 5-10) – and I can accept that this is true, and yet our writer calls this book his “word of exhortation” and so we find that those examples are, in context, used as platforms on which to urge faithfulness. Each theological platform launches an exhortation. I will underline each exhortation as we work through the book to catch the reason why he has described his writing like this.

Christ’s superiority over angels: Chapter 1 serves as a platform  from which he then launches his first exhortation: We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?” (2:1-3) i.e. what we have seen of Christ shows us that  this salvation is vastly superior to anything seen elsewhere in the world so we need to make sure we hang on to the truths of it. Chapter 2 expands on this concluding with, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess… we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast.” (3:1,6)

The Desert Failures: In Chapter 3 he then presses it on even further with a reference to the Old Testament failures in the desert, See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.” (3:12-14) i.e. what we have today is so much better than that which the Old Testaments saints experienced so we have a greater responsibility to hold to what we now have.

The Rest of God: in Chapter 4 he builds on this idea of comparisons with the Old Testament experience: “Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (4:1) Still developing the superiority of Christ and his work we next find, “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For 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. Let 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.” (4:14-16) Twice we have the formula, a) because of this, b) then let’s do that,  c) so this will follow. Let’s take it in more fully:

Exhortation 1:

  1. because of this: “since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God,
  2. then let’s do that: let us hold firmly to the faith we profess
  3. so this will follow: we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,

Exhortation 2:

  1. because of this: we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.
  2. then let’s do that: Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence
  3. so this will follow: so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

In Chapter 5 he opens up the idea of the Old Covenant Priesthood and mentions Melchizedek and in so doing launches, first a challenge“it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In 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!” (5:11,12) and then the preliminary exhortation: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation….” (6:1) which in Chapter 6 he follows with a warning about the impossibility of a second repentance, which then is followed by the main exhortation: “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” (6:11,12)

Theology leads to Exhortation: Now we are only part way through the book in this listing so we will continue with the rest in the next study. The point we are making is that this ‘letter’ came to the early church that was almost comprised initially of only converted Jews, and although the writer was extensively using what we call the Old Testament, he was using it to reveal Jesus more fully for who he was and what he had done, particularly contrasting him with the ministry of the Old Covenant. He did this to strengthen the believers in the face of persecutions and heresies arising in that century, and all of these exhortations, specific and implied, primary or secondary,  were to stir the church and challenge them not only to hold on to what they had received but to go deeper with it in terms of understanding and experience. He faced the problems confronting the early church and used his theological explanations to launch salvo after salvo of these exhortations to stand firm for Christ. That was their need and it is still our need today.

69. God working in me

Meditations in Hebrews 13:  69.  God working in me

Heb 13:20,21   May 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, equip 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.

As we have often commented, it is so easy to pass by words or phrases in Scripture and ignore them or skim over them so that we do not take in the wonder of them.  I was about to do that with the end of verse 21 when I believe He arrested by attention with the words, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him.”

Now throughout recent studies we have been noting the fact that God works in us to change us to become like Jesus in both character and service and so you might be forgiven for wondering why I should pause up with these words that just accentuate what we have covered already a number of times recently.  Well, I believe the reason for doing this is that whenever we have noted this recently it has been as part of others things and looking at them means we haven’t focused on these words.

Throughout this book the writer has been bringing warning after warning to hold to the faith and hold to the plan of God for our lives as laid out in the apostles’ teaching. All of these things speak about our lives being changed. Now, yes, I am aware that this has come up more than a few times but as we draw near to the end of the book we need to hold to this focus, that the Christian life is all about change, and it is change, as we saw in the previous study, because He equips us to conform to His will, His plans and purposes for us. All that follows below is an expression of that.

Change of Perspective: At various times within this book we have had put before us, by this Jewish-Christian, the fact that there are major differences between the Old and New Covenants. The Old Covenant was all about keeping to the Law, but the Israelites had found it impossible to do that and so law-keeping is always accompanied by a sense of failure and guilt. Keeping to the rules, abiding by and following various religious rituals just doesn’t bring about transformation of being, a holy person. No, the New Covenant isn’t about keeping rules, about trying to be good, about trying to impress God, it is about simply receiving His love and His goodness, receiving His Holy Spirit and the Lordship direction of Jesus as the head of his body, the Church, as he rules from beside of his Father in heaven. It is now all about receiving his love and goodness and knowing the joy of being one of his children. The first change therefore is of a change of perspective, which brings a change of life and behaviour.

Change in thinking about God: The second change which flows out of his must be in respect of how we think about God and how we respond to Him in daily life. We have already spoken about receiving God’s love and goodness and implied within that must be that we appreciate and understand it more and more. Many Christians just don’t take in and absorb the fact that “God is love.” (1 Jn 4:8,18) and everything He thinks, says or does in respect of us is an expression of love. When we truly come to understand this, then whenever we need help we will all the more eagerly come into His presence in prayer, all the more will we seek understanding of Him and His ways through His word, and all the more find ourselves expressing worship in respect of Him.

Change in thinking about others: The third change that takes place in us, that God  is working in us, is in respect of everyone around us. His word is very clear on this and so His Holy Spirit will be working in us in this area. Suddenly we start seeing people in new ways and we find such things as compassion and care or patience and tolerance where we had not known them previously. We find ourselves listening to people rather than wanting to hear only our own voice. Where once we were selfish and purely self-concerned we find a strange warmth, love and concern rising in us for others.

All of these things are “pleasing to him”, pleasing to God, because they are His heart for all people and He delights when He sees His children expressing the same characteristics as His Son, Jesus Christ, and as we live our lives like this, so we will glorify Him as well as blessing others. Change in us, bringing change into the world, all these things are the things on God’s heart that brings Him pleasure as He works in us and through us to restore people to Himself and bring more and more love and goodness into His world.