Hebrews: Persevere to the End

November 6, 2006

The following is a condensed version of a class I taught recently on the book of Hebrews. I suspect that this topic touches on a need that all churches share in common, regardless of their different views on other matters.

The book of Hebrews carries a message that is highly relevant to the church today, and in particular to this congregation. The message of this book is an admonition to persevere to the end. That is a very appropriate message for a shepherd to bring to a church, since a primary responsibility of a shepherd is to help the church persevere to the end.

The writer of Hebrews is not identified. Some believe it to be Paul based on the style as well as on the possible reference to the book of Hebrews found in 2 Peter 3:15. It was written to encourage Jewish Christians who were apparently considering returning to Judaism. Internal evidence indicates that the book was written prior to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, when the daily sacrifice came to an end (Heb 10:11). It is thought by many that the letter was written in the mid 60’s.

Hebrews contains a message from God to people who are not continuing to thrive in the Lord as they should. We would do well to pay attention to it!

The writer argues that Jesus is greater than angels; that he is greater than Moses; that his priesthood is greater than that of Aaron and the Levites, and that the covenant of Christ is greater than the law of Moses. We will not go into any of these topics in depth in this class. Instead we will focus our attention on the admonitions to persevere in Christ,

Hebrews 3:5-6 introduces the theme of holding fast to the hope we have received. In the following verses he points out that the Israelites did not hold fast to the hope of entering the promised land as they left Egypt, and thus were denied entry to the promised land. He goes on to say:

Heb 3:11-14 So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ 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.

We are warned not to be like those Israelites, so that we will not also be prohibited from entering God’s rest. We are to “see to it” that none of us has the kind of heart that can lead one to fall away from the living God. We are commanded to encourage one another daily. Without that encouragement, our hearts can become hardened by sin, and therefore may lose our share of Christ by turning away.

In chapter 4 he continues:

Heb 4:11-13 Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will fall by following their example of disobedience. 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. Nothing 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.

We will be held accountable in judgment based on the Word of God. That Word will make everything visible and will penetrate to the very motives of our hearts. There will be no hiding from it. The obvious message is that we must examine ourselves now so that we can be ready for that day.

In chapter 5, as he begins to address the subject of Jesus’ priesthood (order of Melchizedek), he pauses to admonish them about their lack of understanding.

Heb 5:11-6:8 We have much to say about this, but 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! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Are we progressing in our understanding of God’s word? Have we even read all of it? If not, what are we doing about that? He urges them to master the elementary teachings and to move on to maturity. The alternative is to risk falling away and reaching a state where repentance is impossible. Learning God’s Word is not optional, but essential to survival as a Christian! If we continually receive the nourishment God provides but remain immature and therefore do not produce the results God seeks, we are in danger of being cursed, like the worthless land that is eventually burned.

Heb 6:9-12 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God 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. 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.

The writer proceeds with a word of encouragement. They were not yet fallen beyond recovery. But they needed to be diligent and not lazy, to continue to serve and love to the very end.

After going into more detail about the superiority of Jesus’ covenant to the old covenant (chapters 7-10), the writer says:

Hebrews 10:19-25 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.

Here we are called to draw near to God, forgiven and full of hope. Are you near to God? Do you speak with God constantly in your thoughts throughout the day? Are you constatnly trying to do things for God, both small and great, for the simple purpose of pleasing Him? Do you feel close to God? Would God agree?

Again we are instructed to encourage one another. There is a purpose in the church assembly. Each of us has a mission given to us by God, to encourage our brothers and sisters. Do you come to church with a mindset that you are on a mission from God? Do you live as someone “on a mission” to care for your brothers and sisters outside of the church services? Remember we are to “see to it” that nobody is being hardened by sin. We are responsible for one another. If we reject that mission and live our lives for our own selfish purposes, we are in dire danger, as the next verses state:

Hebrews 10:26-31 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. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Jesus said we are either with him or against him. We are either gathering or scattering. If we are not active in building up the church, we are in danger of falling into verses 26-31. This is not a game! We all know of people who are not coming to services on midweek, or even not regularly on Sunday. We need to encourage them, to share what we have learned, and to see to it that they are not being hardened by sin. That is a mission from God, for which each of us will be held accountable by God.

Chapter 11 illustrates how our faith must be put into action to have any value. In each of the examples of faithful men and women in that chapter, we see their faith put into action. How active has our faith been recently?

Heb 12:1-4 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Again, he points out that we need to persevere to the end, and to fulfill the mission we have been given. Consider Jesus, who did not shrink away from the most difficult test but endured to the end. We have not (yet!) been called upon to shed our blood as Jesus did. However, some of the original readers of this letter might very well have had to shed their blood. Are we as devoted as they were?

We must throw off everything that hinders. What hinders you from being everything God called you to be? We have only one mission. We may have to “make tents” for a living, but serving Jesus must be our life. If church is just something you do a couple of days a week, can you really call Jesus your Lord?

Heb 12:32-30 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face 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 sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 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. For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay.But my righteous one[f] will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

Think back to the time when you were closest to God, when your Christian faith was strongest and your life in Christ was vibrant. What was different then? What were you doing then that you are not doing now? As the writer says, we need to persevere to the end so that “when you have done the will of God” (there is more of that to do!) then you can receive what has been promised. Talk to your spouse or a good friend, and find out how to get back to being a strong and healthy Christian.

Heb 12:25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.

Under the new covenant, we need to be all the more careful to obey!

Heb 13:7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

If this was written in the mid 60’s, it is quite possible that Peter and Paul had recently been martyred when this book was written. If not, then it was about to happen. In any case, they were being called to imitate the faith of men who would literally give up their lives for the gospel. And we are called to imitate that same faith.

Heb 10:17 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.

Leaders will be held accountable for caring for the flock. But all Christians will be held to account for what God called each of us to do (Remember Heb 4:13). We have looked at our common responsibility to encourage one another and to help get or brothers and sisters to the finish line. Let’s take that accountability seriously, and “see to it” that none of us turns back from following the Lord!

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