Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again, and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice, he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:
“This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, 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 and with the full assurance that faith brings, 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, 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. (New International Version)
The book of Hebrews was originally a sermon preached to a group of struggling Jewish Christians who were discouraged. They were a congregation in decline. The preacher’s approach throughout is to demonstrate that Jesus is better and superior to anything or anyone ever.
With this high view of the person and work of Christ, the preacher comes to the punch line of his sermon. He insists that what the believers need is perseverance to keep going – no matter what adversity they face. For without the ability to endure hardship, the sagging congregation would continue to decline and eventually give up.
Yet, giving up is not an option when it comes to the Christian life. The Christians may not have been going through a Job-like experience, but they needed to get some spiritual spine to them so that they could stand up for Jesus.
Sometimes, because most of life is lived in the mundane, we can slowly drift from our spiritual moorings and just go through the motions of Christianity without really living for Jesus. Boring and repetitive work; the monotony of caregiving; the tedium of busywork; and the continual grind of it all can be an effective tool in the devil’s workshop.
When we begin sleepwalking through life, we are in danger of wandering from faith. We then need some stout spiritual stamina. “I didn’t sign up for this!” can be the cry of both the person who is downtrodden with hard circumstances, as well as the person who is simply living a dull life.
We all have our quitting point – that point where we say, “enough is enough” and we give up and cry uncle. Those times usually come when the pain or inconvenience of what is happening overcomes the resolve to persevere. The devil keeps detailed notes on everyone’s quitting points, and he tries to get us to that point of being ineffective and giving up on the Christian life.
It easily begins with some minor irritation or complaint against from another. Then moves further along by the loss of someone close. Frustration mounts if financial hardship happens. After a while, if things do not markedly improve, living day in and day out with missed expectations and disappointing situations may lead to bailing out, blowing up, or binging on a sinful desire.
At the quitting point, we throw up our hands, wrongheadedly believing others don’t care and that God is indifferent to our situation.
The preacher of Hebrews knows that the one real measure of a person is the learned ability to push through the quitting points of life. We need endurance and perseverance. But how will we get it? How can we endure, living for Jesus for the rest of our lives?
There are three indispensable elements of the Christian life, necessary to persevering. Perseverance is a privilege, and not some drudging duty to slog through. Following Jesus for a lifetime comes as we embrace our spiritual privileges.
Faith is the privilege of continually approaching the Lord with confidence
We possess the incredible privilege of approaching the throne of grace with confidence because Jesus has opened the way to God. No longer do we need the elaborate Old Testament sacrificial system in order to approach God. So, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
We need faith to keep going in the Christian life. Faith is more than doctrinal confession; it is something we experientially live by every day. By faith, we come to God through Jesus – not only soaking in more information but also drawing near to Christ.
Jesus, when on this earth, drew near to the Father. We are to follow Christ in his example. Jesus practiced solitude, silence, and extended times of prayer. Our Lord oriented his teaching and healing ministry around his relationship with the Father by engaging in basic spiritual disciplines that put him in a position to hear and listen so that he could then do the will of God.
A successful student orients her life around certain study disciplines in order to learn and reach graduation day. A winning athlete orients his life around certain daily practices in order to develop the skills needed to face the upcoming competition. Likewise, if we want to follow Christ and draw near to God, we need to reorient our time and commitment in order to take advantage of the privilege of growing and maturing in Jesus.
The perspective of Hebrews is that we must orient our lives around basic disciplines of faith and put our hands out in order to receive the gift of faith God wants to give us. Faith is a muscle that must be exercised, or it will atrophy and become useless. And with puny weak faith muscles, it is easy to give up because we have no “umpff” for the Christian life.
Hope is the privilege of living for Jesus with a confident expectation that God keeps divine promises
Perseverance requires hope. Hopelessness happens without the continuing practice of faith expressed in drawing near to God. Hope in Scripture is not wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God is good for his promises.
Hope enables us to bank on the words and ways of Jesus. In those times when we feel hopeless; when there is negativity in the air that brings us to the quitting point; when we sense a season of blessing is not going to come; it is in those very times the preacher of Hebrews says to hold unswervingly to your profession.
We will not always squint our spiritual eyes, looking for the least little hope. Just as young mothers must remember that constant lack of sleep and caring for a needy infant is not always going to be the status quo; just as kids must remember that they will not be in school for the rest of their lives; in the same way, we must remember that God will accomplish everything he sets out to do; that there is an end and a goal to Christianity; and we will be richly rewarded if we keep going and do not give up.
Love is the privilege of encouraging fellow believers
We are to pay thoughtful attention to one another. Believers are to take an interest in each other’s welfare, and put some significant thought into how to spur, incite, cajole, and provoke others into keeping up with Jesus.
A major opportunity for encouragement is corporate gatherings. Attendance is not an end in itself. Worship services, small group Bible studies, and other ministries of the Church are important because they are moments for us to encourage other people.
Let’s play good response/bad response to this. Bad response: “I feel guilty about what you just said, so I will try harder to love and encourage others.” That’s a prescription for frustration and failure. It ends in reaching the quitting point because we are focusing too much on the strength of our own will, or lack thereof.
Good response: “Wow! God wants to use me to love other people! I’ll seek to know Jesus better so that I can learn to live and love, just like him. I can’t wait to encourage someone and build them up in the faith.”
Church is not optional equipment for the Christian life. We need each other. We need the Church.
“Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. ‘Outside the church there is no salvation’ is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience.”Eugene Peterson
“May Christians be guided by the Church’s maternal care until they grow up to maturity and attain the perfection of faith…. To those whom God is a Father, the Church must also be a Mother.”John Calvin
- Creates a unique presence with God. (Matthew 18:20)
- Provides the nurture, guidance, and encouragement necessary for spiritual development. (Romans 12:4-5)
- Helps form our identity as Christians. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
- Enables endurance through suffering and brings comfort and encouragement in difficult times. (James 5:14-15)
- Nourishes with the Word in preaching and sacrament. (Acts 2:46-47)
- Lifts up godly examples to imitate. (1 Corinthians 4:16)
- Intervenes when sheep go astray. (Colossians 3:16)
- Fosters spiritual transformation. (Philippians 2:12)
- Brings maternal care and help. (1 Thessalonians 2:7)
Let’s be encouragers – loving others with the grace of Jesus. The following are six types of encouragers displayed in the book of Hebrews for us to emulate:
- The Promoter. Cheering others on to endurance. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and promoting us to push through the quitting points. They did it, and so can we (12:1).
- The Professor. Affirming others’ work as valuable and important. God will not forget your work and the love you have shown God’s people and how you continue to help them (6:9-10).
- The Preacher. Rebuking and admonishing in love (Proverbs 27:5). We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. How shall we escape punishment if we ignore such a great salvation? (2:1-3).
- The Prayer Warrior. Approaching the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (4:16).
- The Partner. Coming alongside one another daily so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13).
- The Pastor. Shepherding others through the confusing situations of life. Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Together, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore, as we look forward to the heavenly city to come (13:12-14).
It’s our privilege to persevere through the spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and love. Use them for building up one another so that together we can endure for a lifetime.