Hebrews 1–4: Our Great Savior & Holding Fast

Read the Bible in 2011Week 39: Sunday

“God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the
prophets in many portions and in many ways, in
these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom
He appointed heir of all things, through whom also
He made the world. And He is the radiance of His
glory and the exact representation of His nature,
and upholds all things by the word of His power.

“When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.”
Hebrews 1:1–4

Sunday’s Bible reading is Hebrews 1–4. Hebrews must be in the top three of books of the Bible that I’ve quoted for my posts. I’ve had two pastors who preached through this book, and I’ve taught it in a women’s Bible study. After spending two years teaching John, Philippians and Colossians, all books that contain some of the great Christological passages in the New Testament: John 1:1–18, Philippians 2:5–11, and Colossians 1:13–20, I decided to go through Hebrews because its opening chapter, on into its second and through the beginning of its third, provide us with words of awe and wonder about our Lord Jesus Christ. I highly value this letter, and it has been of immense comfort to me with its encouraging words that challenge me to hold fast to Christ (The root of the word comfort means to strengthen. Notice the word fort within it!).

The opening of this book sets the recurrent theme of the person and work of Jesus Christ. As you read Hebrews you will understand why. In the first verses of chapter 2 you can begin to understand the writer’s rationale behind his writing. The phrase that opens the second chapter, For this reason, refers back to the first in which he has just described Christ crowned with glory and honor. He now writes:

“For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it. For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will.”
Hebrews 2:1–4

Hebrews was written to a group of Christians who had been faithful in their suffering in the past, but who now were faltering. The author wants them to hold fast firm until the end. In his commentary on Hebrews, subtitled Christ above All, Raymond Brown writes:

This magnificent letter to the Hebrews was written to a group of first-century Christians who were in danger of giving up. It is clear from even a casual reading of the letter that the times were hard for Jewish Christians especially. Many of them had been exposed to fierce persecution….Many of these Jewish Christians had accepted all  this adversity joyfully. But others had ‘shrunk back’ from their earlier allegiance to Christ and became apostates. Without going that far, others were in danger of compromise….

But how does one encourage such people in critical and adverse times? The author knows they must be urged to ‘hold fast’, to ‘strive to enter’, to ‘go on to maturity’, to ‘seize the hope’ set before them (3:6; 4:11; 6:1, 18)…Yet he can only make such eloquent and necessary pastoral exhortations because he has already done a far more basic thing….as a matter of the utmost importance, he has turned their eyes, not to themselves, hoping for sufficient inward strength, not to their agonizing troubles, not to their persecuting contemporaries, but to Christ. No believer can cope with adversity unless Christ fills his horizons, sharpens his priorities and dominates his experience.

This letter’s primary exhortation is an appeal for endurance… How could these Christians endure? What would enable them to stand firm in hazardous times? They must look to Christ.1

And so the writer opens by focusing their attention on Christ. Because they are Jewish he will use many Scriptures from the Old Testament throughout the letter. As you read, look up these references because not only will he quote messianic passages, he will bring the weight of the entire Old Testament to bear upon exalting Christ as he encourages their faith by looking back to the history of Israel from Abel and Abraham; Moses, Joshua and the children of Israel in the wilderness; to David and the prophets.

The warning and exhortation in the above verses from Hebrews 2 are not the only ones in the letter; however, you will also find great encouragement, for the writer is a pastor who truly cares about these people. In his comments on chapter 6, Brown quotes John Calvin:

Certainly anyone who wants to be a good teacher ought to treat his pupils in such a way as always to encourage rather than discourage them. There is nothing that has a greater effect in alienating us from listening to teaching than to see that we are thought of as hopeless.2

On chapter 10, Brown writes:

Our writer is far too gifted and devoted a pastor to concentrate for too long on negative, though necessary warnings. His earlier warnings are always followed by compassionate encouragement and he does the same here.3

Chapters 3 and 4 contain a strong warning from the example of the tribes of Israel doubting God during their exodus out of Egypt, and this leads into a challenging exhortation to believe God’s Word and not sin against Him in disobedience with an evil, unbelieving heart. Then chapter 4 ends with some of the most compassionate and encouraging words in the New Testament:

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Hebrews 4:14-16

There is so much more I could write. Don’t miss this letter—read it; study it; pray through it. Let us hold fast our confession, our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.

Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications
1,2, 3Raymond Brown, The Message of Hebrews, pp. 13–14, 123, 191.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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