Hebrews 10:11-25 – Don’t Give Up!

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. 

“We can all see God in exceptional things, but it requires the culture of spiritual discipline to see God in every detail.”

Oswald Chambers

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

“No one can have God as his Father who does not have the Church as his Mother.”

Cyprian (210-258 C.E.) Bishop of Carthage

“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

The Church:

  • 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)

Conclusion

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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).
  3. 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).
  4. 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).
  5. The Partner. Coming alongside one another daily so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13).
  6. 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.

John 13:31-35 – Love One Another

Stained glass by Edgar Miller (1899-1993)

When he was gone, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is glorified, and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once.

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” (New International Version)

The Church was formed to represent Christ on earth. The Church is a new community of believers in Jesus, called and empowered by the Holy Spirit for mission.

Christianity was never intended to be just a personal faith; it was designed by God to be the community of the redeemed. Christian community is vital to every individual’s faith.

“No one can have God for his Father who does not have the Church for his Mother.”

John Calvin (1509-1564)

Loyalty and commitment to God translates to having a dedicated and devoted spirit to one another in the church. 

One of the last commands Jesus gave to his disciples before he went to the cross was to “love one another.” The Old Testament instructed the Israelites to love each other (Leviticus 19:18). Yet, Jesus gives new meaning to the command through four distinctions of loving one another.

A New Model of Love: Jesus

Our Lord’s life and teaching gave new meaning to the command to love each other. Notice what Jesus did in the Upper Room just before giving the command to love one another:

It was almost time for the Jewish Passover festival. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go back to the Father. Jesus had always loved the people in the world who were his. Now was the time he showed them his love the most.

Jesus and his followers were at the evening meal. The devil had already persuaded Judas Iscariot to hand Jesus over to his enemies. (Judas was the son of Simon.) The Father had given Jesus power over everything. Jesus knew this. He also knew that he had come from God. And he knew that he was going back to God. So while they were eating, Jesus stood up and took off his robe. He got a towel and wrapped it around his waist. Then he poured water into a bowl and began to wash the followers’ feet. He dried their feet with the towel that was wrapped around his waist. (John 13:1-5, ERV)

Jesus modeled a service-oriented love of compassionately meeting the need of another, regardless of who that person is. It is instructive to us that Jesus washed the feet of Judas Iscariot, along with all the other disciples. 

Christ died for us while we were still sinners. This demonstrates God’s love for us.

Romans 5:8, GW

We are to love everyone in the community of saints, and not just our friends or the ones we like. Loving one another also means we will be realistic in understanding that community is messy and downright hard work.  

A New Motive: Christ First Loved Me

Jesus has loved us with a love that took care of our brokenness once for all. Because of that love, we are now motivated to love each other. John would later say in his first epistle: 

God showed his love for us by sending his only Son into the world, so that we might have life through him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven. Dear friends, if this is how God loved us, then we should love one another. (1 John 4:9-11, GNT)

Love is an attitude and a frame of mind. The motivation for the Christian is different than anyone else’s motive:  We are so thankful for Christ’s love to us, that we cannot help but extend that same love to one another in the church. 

This kind of love transcends human willpower. This is love as a grateful response for the grace shown us in Christ.

A New Motivator: The Holy Spirit

The Spirit energizes and enables us to love each other. Jesus also said in the Upper Room: 

If you love me, you will do as I command. Then I will ask the Father to send you the Holy Spirit who will help you and always be with you. (John 14:15-16, CEV)

There are times when we may lack the ability or spiritual energy needed for the work of loving each other. It is in those times that we need to check our spiritual electrical box to make sure we haven’t tripped a breaker by trying to live the Christian life on our own strength. 

We need the Spirit. The Spirit gives us the zeal we need to love one another. 

We typically don’t do anything in life unless we have the motivation for it. The Spirit is like the Christian’s personal trainer – encouraging, exhorting, getting in our face, comforting, and spurring us – toward the new way of love. 

A New Mission: World Evangelization

All people will know we are Christ’s disciples if we love one another. The way we treat each other in the church is foundational and fundamental to the mission of loving our neighbors who don’t know Jesus.

“Mission is putting love where love is not.”

St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)

When the church has a healthy and even supernatural dynamic of loving one another, they joyfully proclaim the good news to every person that Jesus is the answer to the terrible brokenness of this world.

Community is necessary to mission. Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) was a British missionary to India for forty years. After retiring and returning to Britain, he found his homeland was very different than when he left. He was astounded to find Britain had become very less Christian and was now predominantly un-Christian. It was clearly a post-Christian society. What to do about it? Here is Newbigin’s response:

“I have come to feel that the primary reality of which we have to take account in seeking for a Christian impact on public life is the Christian congregation.  How is it possible that the gospel should be credible, that people should come to believe that the power which has the last word in human affairs is represented by a man hanging on a cross? 

I am suggesting that the only answer, the only hermeneutic of the gospel [the only way society can discern who Jesus is] is a congregation of men and women who believe it and live by it. I am, of course, not denying the importance of the many activities by which we seek to challenge public life with the gospel – evangelistic campaigns, distribution of Bibles and Christian literature, conferences, and even books such as this one. But I am saying that these are all secondary, and that they have power to accomplish their purpose only as they are rooted in and lead back to a believing community.”

Conclusion

The implications of community for our faith are significant. If we keep other Christians at a distance and give them the stiff arm, we are really giving God the stiff arm. Jesus identifies so closely in love to his people, that to love them is to love him.

The late African-American preacher E.V. Hill told the following story about an experience with a white Christian leader in the 1950s:

“As a freshman at Prairie View College (part of the Texas A&M system) I was actively involved and was one of two students selected to go to our denomination’s annual meeting in Memphis. The trip through the South was by car—three whites and two blacks traveling together. I had no idea how we’d eat or how we’d sleep. So great was my anxiety and hatred over how the trip might turn out that I almost backed out entirely …. In all my experience I had never seen a white man stand up for a black man and never felt I would. 

But then Dr. Howard, the director of our trip and a white man spoke up. ‘We’ll be traveling together,’ he said. ‘If there isn’t a place where all of us can eat—none of us will eat. If there’s not a place all of us can sleep—none of us will sleep.’ That was all he said, but it was enough! For the first time in my life, I had met a white man who was Christian enough to take a stand with a Christian black man.” 

May the Spirit give us the courage together to love one another.

Gracious Lord, I pray for those who will believe in you through the good news of forgiveness in Christ. I pray that all of them may be one just as you are one. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent the Son, Jesus, and have loved them even as you have loved us. Righteous God, may you help us make you known in the world so that the love you have for us may be in them through the cross of Christ. Amen.

Hebrews 9:1-12 – Remembering Christ Together

Photo by Krivec Ales on Pexels.com

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.

When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (New International Version)

A healthy approach to looking at the whole of the Bible is to see it as an unfolding drama of redemption in six acts: 

  1. Creation of the world.
  2. Fall of humanity.
  3. Israel and the law.
  4. The earthly ministry of Jesus.
  5. The Church. 
  6. Return of Christ.

We are presently in act five, the church age. The previous four acts were all important in leading up to this act, just as the scenes in a play all build upon one another.

So, then, Israel and the law had their place in this drama of redemption. But we are no longer in that act. This is one reason why we do not hold to all the ceremonial and sacrificial stipulations of the old covenant because it has been superseded by the new covenant.

The previous act of the law had its limitations. It was never designed to completely clear the conscience of the worshiper. Its purpose was to be a reminder of sins that points forward to a better time when the sin issue would be settled once and for all. That time has come. 

The person and work of Jesus has completely cleared the conscience of the worshiper because his sacrifice is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Christ’s finished work is both thoroughly pervasive and completely permanent.

Therefore, there is no longer any need to languish in guilt as though we were stuck in act three of God’s redemption drama. 

We do not need to be reminded of our sins anymore. Instead, we are to be reminded of Christ’s finished work on the cross, and that his blood has washed away our sins. We are to remember rightly and have Jesus before us continually. Our redemption is not temporal, but permanent. 

Taking some time each day to remind ourselves of this new reality and enjoy act five of the drama is both sage and necessary in order to live a successful Christian life. Here are some wonderful privileges to remember together of being united with Christ contained within the book of Hebrews:

  • Church connects to other like-minded people who help us live for God.

Encourage each other every day while you have the opportunity. If you do this, none of you will be deceived by sin and become stubborn. (Hebrews 3:13, GW)

  • Church creates a sacred space for us to relate to the divine.

So, whenever we are in need, we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness, and we will find help. (Hebrews 4:16, CEV)

  • Church enables us to reflect on gratitude.

Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. (Hebrews 12:28, NIV)

  • Church provides opportunities to serve and give to others.

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (Hebrews 13:1-3, NIV)

  • Church teaches us forgiveness.

“I will forgive their sins and will no longer remember their wrongs.” (Hebrews 8:12, GNT)

  • Church gives us purpose and meaning.

Because Jesus lives forever, his priesthood lasts forever. Therefore, he is able, once and forever, to savethose who come to God through him. He lives forever to intercede with God on their behalf. (Hebrews 7:24, NLT)

Saving God, you sent your Son, the Lord Jesus, to take care of the sin issue once for all through his blood. I give you unending thanks for your grace. May your Holy Spirit press this reality of forgiveness and clarity of conscience firmly into my mind and heart so that I will always live for you in all things. Amen.

1 Corinthians 11:27-34 – The Body

But if you eat the bread and drink the wine in a way that isn’t worthy of the Lord, you sin against his body and blood. That’s why you must examine the way you eat and drink. If you fail to understand that you are the body of the Lord, you will condemn yourselves by the way you eat and drink. That’s why many of you are sick and weak and why a lot of others have died. If we carefully judge ourselves, we won’t be punished. But when the Lord judges and punishes us, he does it to keep us from being condemned with the rest of the world.

My dear friends, you should wait until everyone gets there before you start eating. If you really are hungry, you can eat at home. Then you won’t condemn yourselves when you meet together.

After I arrive, I will instruct you about the other matters. (Contemporary English Version)

The body. The body and blood of Christ. The Body of Christ. Throughout the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Church at Corinth he employs the full literal and metaphorical understanding of the word “body.”

“Body” is an important word for Paul. He consistently and insistently uses it to convey a message of solidarity, unity, community, and responsibility.

Christ identifies with his people closely. This relationship is so intimate that it is like a head connected to a body. Jesus is committed to the Church.

God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. (Ephesians 1:22-23, CEB)

Believers in Jesus are connected to one another closely. They are vitally linked, like the parts of a body all unified together, acting in concert.

God handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christ’s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christ’s body, the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christ. (Ephesians 4:11-13, MSG)

The Church, believers in God and followers of Christ, are the community of the redeemed. They serve and share together as if they were one body, not many bodies.

Christ is like a single body, which has many parts; it is still one body, even though it is made up of different parts. In the same way, all of us, whether Jews or Gentiles, whether slaves or free, have been baptized into the one body by the same Spirit, and we have all been given the one Spirit to drink.For the body itself is not made up of only one part, but of many parts…. As it is, there are many parts but one body. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 20, GNT)

And so, Christians have a responsibility to one another, They must work together as one Body of Christ, paying attention to each other and caring for all the members. There are not to be divisions of special interest groups or a separation of class, ethnicity, race, or gender.

Unfortunately, when the Corinthian Church gathered around the Lord’s Table, their eating and drinking didn’t eliminate barriers but instead maintained and created obstacles between each other.

Paul would have none of that kind of thinking or behavior. He cited it as a reason why many of the individual physical bodies of persons were sick, weak, and even dead. We are holistic people, so whenever there is a spiritual illness in the Body of Christ, it effects the physical bodies of members with sickness.

So, what to do about this malady of both body and soul? Wait for each other. Be patient with one another. Show deep concern for the Body because we are all truly one in Jesus Christ.

Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves…. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. (Romans 12:10, 16, NIV)

And all of this is rooted in grounded in the body and blood of Jesus. Whenever believers come to the Table, their eating and drinking is meant to be an outward display of the inward reality of our collective redemption.

Christ gave his literal body so that we might be redeemed from old empty ways of living selfishly and independently from other people. He gathered believers together as the Body. The Church is to reflect Christ’s concern for humanity. The Spirit is given, so that together as one people of God, we will be the continuing presence of Jesus to a fragmented world in need of kindness, justice, and deliverance.

As the Lord’s Body, we are to understand our special purpose on this earth – to bless the world by demonstrating a different and better way to live. Proclaiming this good news in both word and deed is what we are about.

If we look, speak, and act no different than everyone else, we will all be lumped together at the end of the age when Christ returns. And it won’t go so well for us.

Yet, I am confident of better things with you and me.

Our coming together at the Lord’s Table needs to be a genuine celebration of redemption. Examining ourselves does not mean unnecessary navel gazing. Because whenever we go trying to find sin inside us, we will never be disappointed. Instead, the examination is to be communal – ensuring there is room at the Table for everyone, and that each person is connected and participating.

In short, we are to love one another, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us.

Help carry each other’s burdens. In this way you will follow Christ’s teachings. (Galatians 6:2, GW)

May it be so, to the glory of God.

Lord Jesus, who prayed that we might all be one, we pray to you for the unity of Christians, according to your will, according to your means. May your Spirit enable us to experience the suffering caused by division, to see our sin, and to hope beyond all hope. Amen.