I am not exaggerating and just pumping you up at all when I say that I’m excited about our study of the book of Hebrews over the next 10 weeks. It really is a favorite for me and always has been, and it has been awhile since I’ve done this with a church.
The precision by which the writer to the Hebrews ties together the Old Testament and the work of Christ is simply so amazing and with such detail – it really bolsters one’s faith to see the incredible parallels in the master plan of God.
Yes, Hebrews is at times a bit on the academic and geeky side of biblical study. Yet at the same time, if you understand the background and the author’s purpose in writing, it really makes the book come alive in a most practical way.
Understanding the background and setting for the writing of any Bible text is important, but this is especially true for the book of Hebrews. And that is why I am sharing this devotional with you today even before we kick off the actual study on Sunday.
We do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews, and we don’t know the exact people who were the recipients. That doesn’t sound like a good start! But this does not take away from the great writing that has been treasured by Christians since the dawn of the church age.
There are some people who believe it is the Apostle Paul who wrote the book. But the style is rather different, though proponents of Pauline authorship would say that such is accounted for by the different topical nature of what is written. Ultimately we just don’t know for sure. I would bet rather on it being the biblical character Barnabas. There was some early tradition that tied his name to this writing; and as a Levite by background, he would understand deeply all the details of the Old Testament system and how Christ was the perfect and true reality of those truths pictured and foreshadowed by the OT sacrificial system.
Another reason I am betting on Barnabas is the theme of encouragement that comes along with the deep teachings of the text. He was called the “son of encouragement” (Acts 4:36). And this leads us to discuss the purpose of the author’s writing.
Those receiving this letter would be a group of people who were Jewish Christians – having come to trust in faith in Christ as the Promised One. It had changed their lives; it was exciting at first. But then, over time, difficult times had come upon them. They were persecuted for their faith and there was great suffering. Life was hard.
These folks began to look back at the old days of the Jewish system when their lives were easier, almost longing for the good old days. Maybe they should go back to that time and that belief. Life would be easier, that was for sure. They could go to the Temple and actually see the priest; they could talk to him! And so the writer says things like…
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Does not understanding that background make this familiar text “pop out” for you a bit more? It is not just a biblical writer saying “pray to Jesus because he’s right there with God.” It is rather a writer saying something like, “Don’t whine about what you can’t see on earth, but rather be thankful that you are represented by and in connection with someone who fully understands you and who is right there at the throne of God to help you … so why would you want to do something so incredibly stupid as to walk away from a resource like that?”
Over and over the writer is saying to the readers to hang in there, to stick with it … in a word to “endure.” And that is why we chose that single word as the title for our series!
It is difficult to endure in a sinful world. Sometimes you want to just give up … throw it all in and quit. But the book of Hebrews says to stay the course and finish the race … just as others have ahead of you … that the reward is worth it all.
This is a timely message for us. It is a good writing for us to devour anew as we look at a world where 21 of our brothers in Christ were beheaded a few days ago for being Christians – the same thing we are. Will someone someday come to the Tri-State area and desire to detach our heads from our bodies? That may seem remote, and maybe it is. But to live increasingly in a world where our faith is rapidly becoming a despised minority is our lot in life, and will be even more for the generations following us. There is a need for endurance.
So let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he 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 sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.