I’ve been reading through the book of Hebrews, trying to grasp the truths that are there, and thought I’d share what I found. Your input is always appreciated and even more, your grace is coveted for my mistakes, both in style AND substance.
The idea of moving forward can be a little scary. It carries with it a multitude of emotions and worries. Even if you plan a road trip down to the last mile, you can’t know what might happen going forward. Whether an accident, flat tire, or traffic jam, any of these things can take your plans and wreck them. When you worry about these things, you can sometimes freeze up and do nothing as a result. Because of a fear of moving forward, and the uncertainty it brings, sometimes we turn back. We turn back to something that doesn’t look as risky. Something that’s familiar, even if it’s not the best thing for us. I think of old habits that I still struggle with, so much so that I feel like I’ll never get rid of them. Just my love of eating for example. As bad as I know it is, I still do it. Its simply easier than the alternative. It’s not that I don’t try to eat better or exercise, but I eventually return to it. It’s not good for me, I know. I will continue to strive for better, because I know there are better choices for sure, but sometimes I take what I like, and what I like is usually the path of least resistance.
As I study the book of Hebrews I see the author addressing a group of people possibly looking for the easy path. Historically, whether alienation from their fellow Jews or persecution that came as a result of following Christ, these people would have had a tough life. This is why the book was written. It was an encouragement to the Jews to not go back to their old religious laws and customs but to stay firm in following Christ.
Hebrews chapter 1 starts with no greetings, no introductions, it just gets right to the point:
Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, – Hebrews 1:1-2a
A few years ago, I had a friend that I tried to encourage to not turn his back on Christ. His marriage was broken, and ended in divorce. He seemed to always be fighting to see his kids, and it felt like all his prayers fell on deaf ears. It was all too much for him and last I heard, he returned to the comfortable statues of the catholic saints. This is not to say Christ and him crucified can’t be found there, but there is so much added to Christ’s work, that to go back to it, was seeking something other than Christ. I can even remember pleading with him over lunch to not give up. I’ve lost touch with him since, but my hope is that he did not lose his faith. My hope is that he remembers to hold on to what was good, which is Christ.
This story is to make the point that the author immediately reminds the readers of how God spoke to his people in the past, compared to how God speaks to us now. Whether through prophets or high priests, God had many avenues for making his message known, including the very law and rituals set forth for cleansing and repentance. It was all part of God’s plan to communicate with his people and to clear a path for those people to be in communion with Him. Now, in the last days, he speaks through one AND ONLY ONE, Jesus. Jesus is the embodiment of every law set forth, every ritual instituted and every prophecy fulfilled. It’s not that most of the readers didn’t have an idea of this already. This is a letter written to believers, but the turmoil going on around them sought to draw them away from the Messiah, who was the One who came to fulfill all the Old Testament “pictures” that pointed to him. The pictures they were now looking to return to. I imagine there were also people on the fence, not fully following Christ, watching the developments, wondering if it was all worth it. They were probably attracted to what was being preached, but maybe not fully sold on the message and the “baggage” that it brought.
The author begins to elaborate on who this Jesus is, and why he is better than going back to the old pictures, types, and shadows. This reminded me of Matthew 24:13, when the recently risen Jesus made this exact point on the road to Emmaus, explaining to the two disciples, who he didn’t immediately reveal himself to, that all scripture pointed to him. This is what the author of Hebrews starts to do in the next section of scripture:
His son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world, He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high: Hebrews 1: 2b-3
As the author establishes how God speaks now, he begins to show us why it’s Jesus, and what it is that makes him so special to carry the voice of God to the world. The first thing he tells us is that Christ is the heir and creator of the world. This is establishing his authority as greater then the vessels that God previously used to deliver his message. The prophets were people God used, but Jesus being named as heir establishes a familial connection. So great was this relationship that he is attributed with creating the world. Now, we know only God does that. Only God is the creator and sustainer of life, and has authority over all things. As such, Jesus is called the radiance of God’s glory, the very presence of God displaying his many attributes. He is called the exact imprint of his nature. If you take a key and make a wax mold of it and use that mold to create a new key. That key, is intricately carved to the exact shape of the original. It’s no different. When you use that key, you know that it performs the same function as the original. It’s like having two original keys. The author is saying if you have seen Christ and follow him, you have seen, and are following God.
The author is making a point in the opening verses of this book, that not only is Jesus better than the prophets but that he is better because as creator, he gave life to these prophets, he gave the words to these prophets, and put in place every rule, law and system that they previously followed. Finally, as the one who makes purification for sins, he fulfills everything he put into place.
Despite that, the Jews at the time looked back at the old way of doing things and for whatever reason, sought to make it more precious than Christ. If we had to put ourselves anywhere in this story, that’s where we’d be. I wouldn’t say we are settling for easy and simple, instead of serving him and doing great big things. This is not about “stepping up in faith”, but stepping back from it. Everyone has struggled with trusting God in the most difficult of times. Like my friend who couldn’t seem to hold fast to Christ as his world fell apart, we all have moments that challenge our faith. God calls us, gives us faith, sanctifies us, makes us to persevere, but we can turn from him and start to doubt. I can’t tell you if you hold fast to Christ every desire to sin will go away. God never promises us that. He does promise to help us with our unbelief in those rougher times. To be sure, if we do hold fast to Christ, it’s because he is holding onto us so much more than we him.
This doubting is sin. It is beginning to see something else as our salvation, even if it’s just in that immediate moment. If we do a serious and honest heart check, there is no Christian that is NOT guilty of this from time to time throughout our entire walk. The writer of Hebrews is pleading with them through the entirety of this book to not place their salvation in those old things, but look again to the creator and sustainer of life. Maybe the author is already hinting at this and calling them to turn back when he tells the original readers in the beginning of this book that Jesus is the purifier of sins. We all need to be reminded of that as we struggle in our walk and are challenged to remain or fall back. It’s important to remember that doubt is not unpardonable. He is willing and able to continue purifying us as we turn to him in repentance. It is faith in Christ, deposited in us by God himself, that trusts it is finished, as we walk with Him as Saints.
Be reminded that there is something better than what you want to go back to. It’s what called to you to repentance and faith. It is Christ. He is all we need, and all we hope in. The light of this knowledge dissipates all the shadows that came before.