150 years ago today on April 9 of 1865, the Generals of two massive armies – such as had practically never before been assembled – met in the parlor of a house in Appomattox, Virginia to come to an agreement ending the American Civil War.
It was the culmination of a great struggle of ideas and values.
Holding onto one set of ideals was an awkward country lawyer who had, through circuitous circumstances, became President in the most controversial of times. Because of plots against his life even before assuming office, Abraham Lincoln essentially had to sneak into Washington by train under cover of darkness to take his place in the great struggle of leading a fractured nation.
His life was constantly in danger. Yet he held onto those ideals that he knew to be correct. He was hated and embattled by varied factions at every turn, continuously holding together the most fragile alliances and walking the frailest of political ropes to accomplish truth and justice.
And on the occasion of his final breath – again, soon to be remembered 150 years ago – he was honored by the prescient words of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, who reportedly said, “And now he belongs to the ages.”
If you are going to give your life to something, particularly when investing in identification with a person or cause that may be despised by the masses of the people, you want to know that it is the substance of truth and enduring value.
This was the struggle of the recipients of the Hebrews letter, early Christians who had suffered joyfully for some time, but who were struggling to endure fully and to the end. And so the writer says of their past …
32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
He tells them that there is reason to endure. Earlier, they had come to trust in Christ. They knew in those early days of faith that it made all the difference in their lives; and though persecuted and ridiculed, they endured – standing in identification with others of the same – even those imprisoned … even when losing homes and possessions. They had an appropriately accurate view that their earthly possessions were of no comparative value whatsoever to what was to be eternally their inheritance.
But the ridicule, losses and abuse just kept going on and going on. And now some were debating going back to the old ways to just fit better into the surrounding world and thereby make life easier.
And the writer has given them now almost 10 full chapters of reasons as to why their faith in Christ was superior to the old stuff, the old ways, the earthly ways, the temporary world of mere things. He encourages them to run toward what is perfect and eternal! Run away from death; run to life!
This always was (and always will be) God’s encouragement and directive for His people – quoting Old Testament passages from Isaiah and Habakkuk …
36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” 38 And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”
The reason to hang on is because the hope of the inheritance of life eternal is better than the current merely temporary possession of the visible comforts of this world.
WHY? Why is that true? It is true because of the resurrection of Christ! The curse of sin and death has been broken through! Those who are identified with Christ will break through with him and in him! And this is the hope we have in the resurrection of Christ, as Paul wrote of it in his Corinthian letter (which you should recall was very early, even before all the Gospels were complete)…
12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.
20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.
And that is essentially the same truth as the writer to the Hebrews finishes with in chapter 10…
Hebrews 10:39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.
The writer expresses here, as he does in several other places, that those reading this are going to respond positively to his message. They were going to persevere through the trials, or, as in the title of our study, they were going to ENDURE.
We have been fortunate in our time and in our country to live in unusual periods of ease for people of faith in Christ. However, there is evidence all around us that this comfort is crumbling. Where might it lead? We do not know. But what we do know is that, no matter how bad it gets, we have a hope that is eternal and is worth it all to endure in faith and trust.