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.

1. Introduction to Hebrews

Meditations in Hebrews 1: 1. Introduction to Hebrews

Heb 1:1-4  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

A little while ago I started writing a series of short meditations here in Hebrews. I write ‘short meditations’ when I feel under pressure and don’t want to spend quite so long each morning reflecting in depth. The ‘short meds’ are also, I realise, easier to read and so some prefer them to wading through a much longer study in God’s word. So, I started doing this series on Hebrews and got about half a dozen verses through and thought, “This is wrong, this area of Scripture is so full of truth this doesn’t do justice to it, this ‘short’ approach,” so I stopped. The point I would wish to make is that I believe Hebrews is  one of the ‘mining areas’ where you find you are stumbling over gem after gem in every paragraph (Ephesians is also like that). It cannot, indeed it must not be rushed!

But there is a danger in approaching passages like this, passages that are so full of specific truths and it is that as we focus in on one little phrase and then a next little phrase, we can so easily miss the big intent of the writer. For instance, as I quickly peruse these four verses above, I can see there are at least ten gems there to be put under the microscope.

Several years ago, our local jeweller introduced me to diamonds and told me there was a whole range of colours for diamonds and showed me a small spectrum of ten diamonds, I think it was, in a small display box and said, “Tell me what you see.” I peered at these diamonds for a minute or two. My instant respond was, “They are all the same,” but as I studied these stones that appeared the same I came to realise the range was from lighter to darker, hardly discernible but lighter to darker, more yellow at one end. When I made this comment his assistants applauded me. “Let me tell you,” he said, “what a trained jeweller who deals in diamonds has to do. They have to take a test whereby 360 stones are poured out on a table ad you have to order them in colour hues. The last time I did it, I got four wrong, which is considered quite good.”

If a jeweller takes that amount of trouble learning about diamonds, can we not take equal time in discerning the truths of God’s word?  So be warned, we are going to put each one of those gems above under the microscope and ask the Holy Spirit to teach us and enlighten us, to challenge us and feed us. Now over the years I have built up a testimony and it is this: every time I do a study and pray and ask for the Lord’s help, I come away at the end going, “Wow, that was amazing!”  Every time. Now your problem if you read these notes is that you are getting them second hand and if I am honest I have to say I write for my benefit first and last. If, somehow, you can be blessed by them being here, then I am glad, but  the best way is to do it yourself and let God feed you directly. So, read these notes by all means, and if you get blessed by them, I am pleased – but there is a better way.

OK, back to these verses. They are history laden with revelation. If we have read them many times before we may take them for granted but the level of revelation here is immense. They are staggering. In no other world religion will you find such a compressed package of revelation that says so much and makes such staggering claims. If you ever wonder what makes Christianity unique among the world religions, these four verses will give you the answer several times over; in fact I count eight things here about Jesus Christ that mark him out from any other person in all of history. That is how powerful these verses are.

Hebrews, I find, is a bit scary, if that is the right word. It is very Jewish and was clearly written to early Jewish Christian believers and it is packed with Old Testament information. Indeed, in the following remaining verses of chapter 1 there are seven quotations from the Old Testament. In the whole book there are more than 80! I once heard someone say, “Oh, we Christians don’t need the Old Testament.” Well ‘need’ might be quite an emotive word in this context but this book shows us that our understanding of our faith is greatly enhanced by our knowledge of the Old Testament.

But the clue to the thrust of chapter 1 is given away in verse 4 as the writer, speaking of Jesus, says, So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.” There was clearly a cult who were focusing on angels and so in chapter 1, after the ‘Prologue’ of verses 1-4, the rest of the chapter goes on to show how Jesus is greater than angels. The rest of the book is about how he is greater than anyone or anything shown in the Old Testament. As a book it is fascinating as it does this.

The writer?  For quite some time it was thought to be Paul but there are so many differences in style so that is generally rejected.  One of the early Church Fathers, suggested Barnabas, and Martin Luther suggested Apollos but generally it is agreed we just don’t know, but that won’t detract from it. Whoever it was, was someone who had deep insight into the wonder of the person of Jesus Christ, a level of revelation that is incredible!

To conclude this first introductory note, we can do no better than suggest you read through these first four verses several times before you finish, and then you can finish by worshipping the One that this is all about, for we will get no further than these verses in the coming week:

In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.