Archive for January 13, 2009

Jan 13

Meditation: The Book of Hebrews

2009 | by Ron Giese | Category: Meditation

I’ve been in the book of Hebrews lately working through what people call the “warning passages.” Commentators vary a little on how many there are, but the main ones are: 2:1-4; 3:6, 14; 6:4-6; 10:26-27; and 12:8.

A large part of Hebrews is about warning believers (that is, us!). Not warning them about the evils of the world. Rather, warning them to take Christ seriously, His work seriously, and to “preach” the gospel to ourselves and “examine” ourselves (parts of verses elsewhere in the New Testament but the idea is very much here in Hebrews).

If I had to do a two-word caption for the book I think I’d pick: Solus Christus (Latin for “only Christ”). If you gave me a couple more words I’d go for: “The Supremacy of Christ.” A little longer: “The Supremacy of Christ over the Old Covenant.” And about the longest I’d want to go: “The Supremacy of Christ over the Old Covenant for Those Undergoing Persecution.”

There are two books in the New Testament that, in a significant way, address persecuted Christians: the book of Revelation and the book of Hebrews. Revelation is written more for the church as she undergoes persecution, and Hebrews is more for a mix of both the corporate church and individual believers. Here in the States we don’t really face persecution, at least anything like what they did in the first century. However, although the audience of the book of Hebrews faced temptations to return to Judaism that we don’t face, we face equally powerful temptations that seem to transcend time and geography. Temptations like materialism, self-love (narcissism), love of pleasure (hedonism), or love of religion (true good can come out of the deepest parts of us, from us just by ourselves, and this good should be recognized by others and God).

A large part of the purpose of the book, again, is to warn and exhort Christians (the best examples are 3:12; 4:11; 6:11-2; 10:23-24; and 12:1-3). The warning in the cultural context comes since they will be tempted, via persecution and religious “peer pressure,” to neglect or treat lightly their salvation in Christ alone.

An interesting thing to do when looking at a biblical book is to see how it begins and ends (such as, at the beginning: looking at the first verse, first paragraph, and first chapter or two). The thought here is that authors often reveal more of their focus or themes at these places, and of the two, especially the beginning.

How does the book of Hebrews begin? With the supremacy of Christ. In the first paragraph (1:1-4) we read that Christ is the exact representation of God (i.e., he is God), and is now completely done making purification for sins, now resting in an exalted position with God the Father. Then the rest of chapter 1 is an affirmation of the supremacy of Christ, specifically the supremacy of Christ over angels.

When this chapter is done note how chapter two begins, with 2:1, “for this reason…”

For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it (Heb 2:1).

If I say, “our house is old, and for this reason I want to do some improvements,” what I’m really saying is “I want to do improvements,” not “our house is old.” Or maybe they’re both equally important and I really can’t say one without the other. Thus it’s a little hard to say what is most important in the opening two chapters of Hebrews, theology (supremacy of Christ) or exhortation (therefore let us not neglect this). And of course when we have a difficult time determining which is primary, the answer is usually not so much to keep debating the two options but to embrace both, even to see both not as two separate teachings but as two complementary aspects of the same doctrine. Christ is supreme, and this means, in part, that He will persevere, and in part, that true understanding and reception of this prompts our perseverance.

Now let’s look briefly at one verse at the end of the book. At the very end is a key clause in 13:22, “But I urge you, brethren, bear with this word of exhortation.” The author is saying that his purpose (or at least one major purpose) is to exhort. And he is also telling us that they need to “bear” this exhortation, meaning it will not be a light or easy one to receive. Again we see the idea of exhortation, and a heavy exhortation or warning at that, in the book of Hebrews.

The beginning and end bookend a number of warnings in the middle. Many of which are a great appendix to the thoughts of Romans 12 that Ryan brought out last Sunday (Jan 11).

For instance, let us run “with endurance” the race set before us (Heb 12:1), “fixing our eyes on Jesus,” (12:2), who is not just the “author” but the “perfecter” of (as in the one who completes) our faith, and let us “consider” Him who has endured his own persecution, so that we “may not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3).

Further, because God Himself is “faithful” (Heb 10:23), “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (v. 23).

And how might we do this? By (next verse, 10:24), considering “how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds” and “not forsaking our own assembling together” but rather, as we come together often, “encouraging one another” (10:25).