Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Hebrews and the Gospel

This marks the third division of a series that introduces the Book of Hebrews. To start at the beginning, click here.

The Stubborn Heart and the Gospel

If one is not careful with the argument made by the book of Hebrews, one might finally conclude that people can lose salvation and their adoption as sons and daughters. It is true, that Hebrews admonishes us more than all other New Testament books to test and know that our salvation is real, but each warning, as I will show, is balanced with a promise of perseverance to those who have salvation.

One critical thing to understand about Hebrews is that the author has more of a national rather than individual concern. This concern was common in the first century among believing Jews. It began with Jesus weeping over Jerusalem during the last week before His execution. It continued with Stephen who concluded his defense before the Sanhedrin with these words:

“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. “Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51-53, NASB)

In short, the first century Jewish believers in Messiah Jesus had to come to grips with a national falling away. It was painful. Paul, for example, wrote:

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, (Romans 9:1-4)

Paul always proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah in the Jewish synagogues before he spoke to the Gentiles. Time after time after time, the synagogue rulers threw him out. It grieved him to the point of wishing he could be eternally condemned if it could mean that his people would not fall away. 

The situation also grieved the writer of Hebrews:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2)

He remembers several things about his people:

  • The generation that saw the wonders of the Lord's deliverance from Egyptian slavery, refused to enter the good land that He then brought them to.
  • The period of the Judges saw a cycle of renewal and apostasy.
  • By the time of the Babylonian exile, the nation was fully apostate.
  • After the Babylonian exile, they became legalistic.
  • Now they were in danger of rejecting the Lord's program again.

In Hebrews, we see an author who has seen his nation fail time and again. He writes to warn them to be on guard so as not to fail again. It is, therefore, no wonder that he appeals so strongly to the superiority of Jesus as a messenger, kinsman, covenant mediator, high priest, and offering. The outworking of this concern can be seen in these two hard passages from Hebrews:

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10:26)

For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

Beginning tomorrow, I will begin exploring the application of these and similar passages to us. Before I leave off, however, I would like to show you the interesting ways Hebrews challenges us to examine our salvation while clearly teaching its permanency. Read Hebrews 4:1-2 again and wathc the pronouns:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard. (Hebrews 4:1-2)

He begins with "let us fear." This includes himself. He is concerned about his people and their salvation and he calls on all to share that concern. He then writes, "any one of you." These are the group in danger of coming short. He does not include himself. He did not write, "any of us," but "any of you." Everyone of Hebrews hard sayings has in context a statement of assured salvation. Good news "united by faith" brings profit.

Wednesday: Our stubborn hearts 

<>< Test Everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

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