"Hebrews: Following the Very Best"
Have you ever struggled with making a good decision regarding what to purchase? Whatever it might be, there seems to be many options. That happens to me all the time. Oftentimes, it comes down to selecting either a good product, one that is just a little bit better, or perhaps one that is the very best. In the letter of Hebrews, the author writes to some Jewish people reminding them of the good things they enjoyed in the past. He refers to some of their most popular leaders, the priest who offered sacrifices, and even God's holy angels. He does that to remind them that even though their leaders and the priest and the angels have fulfilled their roles, one has come who is better than them all. That one is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. He came as the perfect representative of the Father. As the great High Priest, he met every need and purchased salvation for every person. Well, when it comes to which direction to go spiritually, Jesus is the very best choice. In fact, He is the only real choice that makes an eternal difference. The letter of Hebrews is all about Jesus and His perfect solution for one's life. Hebrews is a beautiful presentation of the superior place Jesus has in God's world. Perhaps you have a favorite book or letter of the Bible. Maybe there is one you enjoy reading and studying on a regular basis; I hope you do. Hebrews is mine. As we take a look at this beautiful letter, I hope we will see Jesus as the very best of what God has to offer. Nothing and no one else comes close to comparing to God's one and only Son. Join us now as we open the Bible and study together.
Many years ago, I fell in love with the letter of Hebrews. A wonderful Bible professor taught me to appreciate the beautiful way in which it was written and the powerful message it contained. At the end of that study, I was required to memorize and then to write out the first 17 verses of the letter. At the time I thought to myself, "What's so important about doing that? Why should I have to do that?" And yet as I did, it changed my life. There are so many great passages found in these 13 chapters, passages that both encourage and warn its readers. Hebrews reminds us of some people we read about in the Old Testament who led with great faith and others who did not. Many times, the writer uses the word 'therefore' to build his case about Jesus. He also includes the phrase 'how much more' many times to emphasize the superiority Jesus has over everybody and everything else. He then calls upon those who follow Jesus to live faithful and God-fearing lives. The letter of Hebrews reminds me of a preacher standing on the steps of his church building, waving goodbye to the members, perhaps for the very last time. They were there that day, but they may not come back next week. You see, they are dealing with some very difficult things going on in their life. They are being persecuted; they are being ridiculed and challenged in regards to their Christian faith. And he doesn't know if they will hang on to the Lord. And so, this may be the last time he will see them and so he offers a word of encouragement to them. Oh, he has done that time and time again. He has told them the story of Jesus over and over. He has reminded them of God's love and of His goodness. He has pointed out how Jesus, the Son of God, is far superior in every way. And yet he still does not know for sure if that has made a significant impact upon their lives. The letter of Hebrews serves the same purpose for people today. It tells us about a man named Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It offers One who is better than any other system of religion, method of worship, or animal of sacrifice. Oh, the old Law was good. It served a purpose. The sacrificial system temporarily moved the people's sins forward just a little bit. It also allowed them to have a connection with a holy God. And yet we realize that what God offered through Jesus Christ is better than all of that. He is better than anything else anybody has ever had or experienced in the past. And the sacrifice that Jesus made when He gave His life upon the cross is better than any other sacrifice. One reason why is that He had to offer that sacrifice only one time. When He died upon the cross, that was it. When He rose from the grave, that was the culmination. And now that sacrifice does not need to be made another time. It is sufficient for all time, according to chapter 9 and verse 27. Originally written to some Jewish Christians in the mid '60s, the preacher is concerned these who have put their faith in Jesus Christ are about to give up on Him because they are persecuted for their faith, their jobs are being taken away, their families are being threatened and they are ridiculed for following a man named Jesus; and, they are about to give up on Him. Oh, needless to say, these Christians are tired of all of that. They are tired of the abuse, they are tired of the persecution, they are tired of the ridicule and they don't know for sure if it's really worth hanging onto the Lord. So with that in mind, this unnamed author encourages the people to not reject Jesus. He urges them to remain faithful to the One who has saved them. The preacher does that several times throughout this letter, for he knows the significance of hanging onto the Lord when things get tough. Many people face that same challenge today. They debate the pros and cons of remaining connected to God. They consider going back to their old way of life. They wonder if a life lived for the Lord is really worth all of the sacrifice and all of the effort. They too are tired. Perhaps they are tired of the regular Bible study and prayer and the giving of their tithes and offerings. Maybe they are tired of seeing other people around them who don't know the Lord, and yet they experience a great life with no kind of problem or persecution and yet have all kinds of prosperity. Oftentimes, they might even ask, "Do I stay or do I go? Do I trust God to provide for my salvation or do I seek my own? I wonder if there is something out there that's just a little bit better than Jesus Christ and making this full commitment to Him." The bottom line question is, is living for Jesus really worth it? The author of Hebrews says, very simply, "Yes, it is." He begins with a beautiful presentation of Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son, in the very 1st chapter in the very 1st verse. "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days, He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high." The author begins by saying Jesus was present at the creation; He reflects the glory of almighty God; He has made purification for the sin in people's lives by dying upon the cross; now He is seated at the exalted position of God's right hand. What a beautiful way to begin a letter of encouragement about the Son, Jesus Christ. He's not finished. He continues on with these words, in chapter 2, beginning with verse 1: "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, lest we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?" Based upon the first 14 verses, one is now encouraged to pay close attention to Jesus Christ. He is better than the angels. His message is better than the angels' message. In fact, there is great danger if one does not pay close attention to the message of Jesus. The author states, very simply, "You may even drift away from Him without even knowing it." Sometimes when I wash my hands, I do not dry them sufficiently. And if I throw my hand out there, my wedding ring simply flies off my finger if I'm not careful. And that's the image that is portrayed here. If these people are not careful and pay close attention to Jesus, they will drift away from Him and not even know it. He continues on, in the 3rd chapter. Notice verses 12 and 13. "See to it brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily as long as it is called 'today,' so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if we hold firmly until the end the confidence we had at the first." The preacher pleads with his church members to not grow weary and to not give up on Jesus. Oh, he knows they are on the verge of turning away from the Lord and seeking something else, or going back to the ways of the past. The sin in their life is so hard in their heart, they are beginning to doubt their faith in Jesus Christ, and the preacher doesn't want that to happen. He wants them to remember and to reflect carefully upon who Jesus is and what He has done. So, instead, they are to encourage one another every single day, as long as they have the opportunity to do so. It may be too late for some, but yet for others there is still time. And so the preacher simply encourages them to encourage one another. Perhaps the challenges of living a Christian life are weighing heavily upon you. Maybe you are tired. Maybe you are ready to quit. Perhaps you are ready to give up living for Jesus and go back to the ways of the past. Maybe you think there is something better out there than what you are doing right now, in your walk with the Lord, and you're tired. You don't need someone to come along and scold you or to say something negative about you, in regards to your thoughts and your activities. Perhaps more than anything else, you need a word of encouragement. You need someone to come alongside of you and to encourage you, every day, to keep your eyes focused on Jesus. And that is the purpose of Hebrews. Oh, at one time, these Christians had a partnership with the Lord; they shared in that heavenly call (chapter 3, verse 1); they were filled with God's Holy Spirit (chapter 6, verse 4). And the preacher again encourages them, don't throw away any of that. In chapters 4 through 10, then, he explains in quite detail the various duties of the priests and the old way of life, the old Jewish ways. He explains all of the sacrificial system and how it worked and how these priests, over and over again and again, offered the sacrifices for the people; and yet, it did not do the job. He then contrasts that with the way of Jesus and His sacrifice as the great High Priest. How he made that sacrifice once and for all time, and it suffices for all time. He then makes a summary statement in the 10th chapter, let's notice beginning with verse 11, these words: "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. Since that time, He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice, He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." There are some things we have to do every single day, and I get tired of doing them; perhaps you do as well, over and over, again and again, day after day. I oftentimes ask myself, "How much longer do I have to keep doing that, or what is the purpose of doing these things today, because I know I will have to do them again tomorrow?" And obviously, that's what was happening with the priests. All the time, every day, they were making these sacrifices, and yet it did not seem to accomplish very much. And yet the preacher comes along and he states, Jesus did something that far exceeds what the priests in the past did. He did it one time and that was sufficient. Oh, he cannot state it any plainer. Here are the facts, the conclusions are clear, the choice is obvious. Jesus Christ is better than anything and anyone else. And since that is the case, the preacher once again encourages the people to stay focused on Jesus Christ. Turn your attention, if you will, to the 10th chapter, at the very end, beginning with verse 19. In this passage of Scripture we find the author encouraging the people, once again, and he does so by using five statements that begin with the phrase 'let us.' As we read through the text, see if you can identify them. Chapter 10, verse 19 and following: "Therefore, brothers, 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 full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us of 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. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more, as you see the Day approaching." Did you notice those five 'let us' statements? Let us draw near to God; let us hold unswervingly to our hope; let us consider how we can spur one another on; let us not give up meeting together; and, let us encourage one another. What a powerful message. And that is a message that still applies to you and to me today, a message from the preacher that says I'm not above you, but I'm right here with you. Let us, together, keep our eyes focused on Jesus. Let us keep meeting together and encouraging one another and clinging to the hope that we have in the Lord. The preacher continues on, to illustrate the importance of clinging to the Lord in difficult times. In chapter 11, he identifies a number of people who did just that. This has been called the great chapter of faith, or these are the heroes of our faith. Here, the author summarized the lives of those who lived faithful and obedient lives to God, in spite of very difficult circumstances. The list includes Noah, and Abraham, and Moses, and Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and David, and Samuel, and a host of other Old Testament prophets and people. And the point he makes is that these people lived out their faith in God. They allowed their faith to guide them in the midst of difficult days. As a result of that, they were commended and rewarded for it. And now, these great witnesses, these great people of faith, stand there toward the finish line, and they are rooting and cheering for you as you continue to run your race of faith. And they are rooting for you and they are applauding and they are wanting you to finish the race so that you will be commended and rewarded as well. That's where the author goes next in chapter 12. Notice verses 1 through 3: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him, who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." Once again the preacher says, let us throw off the sin, let us run with perseverance, let us fix our eyes on Jesus Christ. How much more encouragement can this preacher give to his audience? Certainly, these are inspiring words for us to remember, still today. The preacher's heartfelt plea is for these believers to not give up on the Lord. He wants them to reflect upon who Jesus is and what He has done, and he appeals to them to stay focused on Jesus and to consider Him even when the days grow dark. Oh, they might consider other options; and yet, they will come back to realize that Jesus Christ, God's one and only Son, is far better than anything they have had in the past and anything that might be presented in the future. The letter of Hebrews calls upon us to do the very same thing. It invites us to find hope in the midst of challenging times. It encourages us to find strength for the far journey. It asks us to not give up on Jesus but to find in Him the reason to keep on living the Christian life. The preacher then closes his letter with these words in chapter 13, in verse 8: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever." And that's true. Jesus hasn't changed, and He never will. And, in Him we find the very best that God can offer to any of us. Oh, the problems and the pressures of life sometimes are overwhelming. We might on occasion feel like we too want to move onto something else. We want to consider another option. We may even reject Jesus and give up on our Christian faith. And yet, Hebrews tells us that there is nobody and nothing else out there that is any better, because God has given to us His very best. There is no one else out there who can offer salvation. There is no other system that can forgive the sin in our life. There is nothing more important than a relationship we can have with our loving heavenly Father that comes through Jesus Christ and the sacrifice He made for all time and for all people. My prayer and my hope for you today is very simple, that is to spend time reading the letter of Hebrews and be encouraged by it. I would hope that you will read about Jesus and who He is, seated at the right hand of God in that most exalted position. My prayer is that you fall in love with the letter of Hebrews, like I did so many years ago. And yet, more than anything else, my desire for you is that you will fall in love with Jesus, God's one and only Son, and allow Him to change your life as He changed mine. Yes, keep in mind, God's son Jesus Christ is the very best and there is nothing out there that is any better.
At the heart of the letter of Hebrews, we find a message of hope. That hope is in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. When very few options are available, He offers strength in times of need. In Him, we find the power to deal with and to overcome the daily challenges of life. He enables us to hold fast when tempted to give up. We can boldly come to His throne of grace, where we find the help we so desperately need. In any and every way, Jesus provides all that is necessary for life. Hebrews inspires us to put our faith, our hope and our trust in Jesus alone. He is far better than anything else this world has to offer. Yes, Jesus is the ultimate and the very best choice we could ever make.
Thank you for tuning into today's program. Hebrews is one of the most encouraging letters in the Bible. It offers hope in a world where many people live without it. I trust you found that hope as we spent some time with this most important message. If you would like to hear it again, please go to our website, keytothekingdom.com, there you can download it in a variety of formats. There is no cost or commitment to do so. Previous messages on the books of the Bible are also found on the site. I encourage you to listen to any that might be of interest. At "Key to the Kingdom," we offer a free Bible study. When you call the number on the screen and leave your name and address, we will be happy to send it to you by mail. There is no obligation required, as we simply offer it as a supplement to your own personal Bible study. A free app is available if you wish to download "Key to the Kingdom" onto your smartphone. It will take you directly to our website and to short devotional thoughts. We also have a channel on RokuŽ television. It can be accessed through your Internet provider and personal computer. Thank you for being a part of today's program. I invite you to join us next week at this same time, as we study the Bible on "Key to the Kingdom."