Let Us… Hold Firmly To What We Believe
Over January, we have a month’s window before we launch into an exciting year with vision, new sermon series, ministry groups returning. I’m really looking forward to 2018.
In recent years, it’s come to my attention that talking about making new year’s resolutions is a waste of time for we will inevitably break them. So, don’t bother.
I find this kinda sad as many people will simply go into the new year doing the same things as last year, which was probably the same as the year before!
I believe there are always room for improvement – in relationships, health, work. Certainly, for the Christian our faith shouldn’t be static. We are called to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord (2 Peter 3:18 NIV).
And so, in January, we are looking at Hebrews chapter 4 and at the three times the writer uses the phrase “Let us”. Three times in chapter 4 the writer says, “Let us”. I like that instead of saying, “You need to do this”, he says, "Let us." He's encouraging all of us together to do these things and so, what I want to do is cover one "let us" per week over the next 3 weeks.
The writer has written, “Let us enter a spiritual rest”, he said, "Let us hold firmly to what we believe”, and he said, “Let us enter before God's throne to find help”.
Last week, we looked at the first one, from verse 9 “So let us do our best to enter that rest” (Hebrews 4:9-11 NLT). We looked at doing our best to enter the eternal rest in heaven – that room in the mansion that Jesus is preparing so that those who died in the Lord will rest from sorrow, rest from sickness, rest from loss (Isaiah 57:2 NLT). We also looked at earthly rest and how God created us to rest, in fact this really pleases God when we rest in Him when we actually take time out, just like God who created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh. It’s a spiritual act to rest, so much so that God made it as part of the ten commandments. So, how did you go through last week? Did you create those margins that we spoke about? Did you rest during the week? I did. Leisl and I had Monday off and we went to Currumbin Creek. Shey said that her and Mena got a Stand-Up Paddle Board and so I invited ourselves down as I wanted to have a try at one. I was really good at it ;) So me and Boz just stayed in the kayak instead! Overall, it was a relaxing day.
Today, we are looking at second “let us”. It is from verse 14, “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). There’s the second let us – “let us hold firmly to what we believe”.
This isn’t the only time the writer has written such an encouragement to remain firm in our faith. To put this in context, the Book of Hebrews was originally written to Jewish people who became Christians. They were people who were steeped in the knowledge of the Old Testament but in time they were being tempted to revert back to Judaism or at least to Judaize the gospel. Perhaps what led many of these Jewish Christians to revert back to their Jewish heritage was the threat of persecution for being Christians.
With these concerns in mind the purpose of this letter is to present the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as revealer and as mediator of God’s grace. The Book of Hebrews presents Christ as God’s full and final revelation, far surpassing the limited revelation given in the Old Testament. The prophecies and promises of the Old Testament are fulfilled in the “new covenant” (or “new testament”), of which Christ is the mediator. The writer clearly points out that Jesus is superior to the prophets, angels, to Moses (who was the mediator of the older covenant) and to Aaron and all the priests that came after him. The writer went on to say how the sacrificial systems have now all been fulfilled in the sacrifice of Jesus.
The writer of Hebrews was pleading with these new Christians not to be tempted to waiver in their faith. In chapter 10 the writer says, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise” (Hebrews 10:23 NLT). He tells them that in spite of their persecutions and temptations they are to remember the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ as revealer and as mediator of God’s grace.
And so, in chapters 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5, the writer builds a case as to why Jesus is far superior. One of the writer’s argument is found in verse 14: “So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God…” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). Note that the writer inserted the word “great” before the position “high priest”. The high priests from Aaron down were never given the description “great”. Under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, the writer strategically called Jesus the great High Priest.
For these Jewish Christians, they knew what the high priests were all about. For starters, they knew of what they wore and why. The holy garments of the High Priest are described in Exodus 28 and 39. A golden plate with an inscription "Holy to the Lord" was fixed to a white turban. A colourful vest, called the ephod, had the breastplate of judgment with 12 precious stones attached to it. On the shoulders were two onyx stones with the names of the 12 tribes of Israel engraved on them. Under the ephod was a robe of blue and a long white undergarment. Attached to the hem of the blue robe were bells and pomegranates. The priest went in barefooted because they were to walk on holy ground.
What a sight the high priest must have been with the sun shining of the precious jewels and rocks as he entered the temple. And the spiritual significance of the role of the High Priest was also important for many Jews overs the centuries. But it is also sadly true that a High Priest could wear these fancy garments and jewels and appear outwardly qualified but fall tragically short of the inner qualifications to necessary to effectively minister.
It is these inner qualifications that the writer of Hebrews talks about. It is who Jesus is that makes Him the Great High Priest.
To the Jews, the high priest was the highest religious authority in the land. He alone entered the Most Holy Place in the Temple once a year to make atonement for the sins of the whole nation (Leviticus 16). Once a year, on the Day of Atonement the high priest, representing all the people, went through three areas. First, he took the blood through the door into the outer court. Second, he entered another door into the Holy Place. And third, he entered through the veil of the Holy of Holies where God dwelled and the High Priest sprinkled the blood on the mercy-seat to symbolically atone for all the sins of the people. He only stayed long enough to sprinkle the blood which is why bells were sewn to the hem of his robe so the people outside could hear him moving and therefore know that God had not struck him dead.
Knowing this, the Hebrew writer says this about Jesus in verse 14: “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God…” (Hebrews 4:14 NIV84). The writer is simply saying that the High Priest may have passed through those three areas but Jesus ascended into the heavens (notice the plurality of heavens). He passed through the heavens until they could not see Him anymore just like the High Priest who passed through the curtain and the people couldn’t see them anymore. Unlike the High Priest, Jesus went through the heavens to the very heaven where God dwells as the atoning sacrifice. It was widely believed among the Jews that there were three heavens as mentioned by Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The first heaven is the atmosphere, the second heaven being outer space and the third heaven being the holy of all places, the very presence of God. Jesus ascended up into the heavens. Remember how Luke recorded it in Acts 1:9, “He was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see Him” (Acts 1:9 NLT). What a sight this would have been, ascending through the heavens into the very presence of God as the atoning sacrifice for all people. Then we are told in chapter 1:3 that Jesus, “sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3 NLT). There in heaven Jesus sat down (something no high priest had ever done) because His atoning work was finished. Jesus remains at God’s right hand until the Day that He returns.
So the writer of Hebrews in verse 14 was telling the Jewish Christian and us today, “Let us hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). The reason? Jesus is far greater than the old Levitical priestly system. Jesus didn’t have to enter into some man-made Tabernacle. He ascended through the heavens to the Holy of Holies as the atoning sacrifice and sat down at the right side of God because His work was finished. Jesus is our Great High Priest.
I don’t know about you but I get a bit awed when I think how greater Jesus is. But the writer of Hebrews doesn’t stop here about Jesus being our Great High Priest. In chapter 5 he goes on about the qualifications for high priests and how Jesus far exceeded them. Next week I’ll look at them.
The writer of the Hebrews was building up his case why Jesus was superior to the Old Ways so they wouldn’t waiver in their faith. That’s why he tells them to “hold firmly to the faith [they] believes” (v16).
And this is what we need to hear – that we need to hold firmly to the faith we believe. As most of us know, not only is the Aussie church not keeping up with the growth of the Australian population, meaning that we aren’t doing very good evangelising the lost. But we are struggling to keep our own. The most vulnerable age group for the church are those aged 18 to 40. We’re losing them. Study after study reveals that we are losing our own in this age group. This is not the time now to explain why, but there are several fingers pointing back at the church in general for not changing. In fact, denominations like Baptists and Churches of Christ are known as churches where our parents and their parents go to.
Upon saying this, and if you are in this age group, you really need to listen to this, some of you will waiver or at worst will let go of your faith. Statistically, some of you will waiver this year. If it’s not this year, it may be next year. You know what it’s like, in fact most of us know what it’s like. Other priorities creep into our lives that will see our belief beginning to waiver. Changes in our life – death of a loved one, divorce, busyness at work, hurt by other Christians. It happens and slowly our commitment to the church and mission starts to fade, offerings become less, and without us really knowing, the Devil gets into our minds and plants seeds of doubts and excuses and so on. And one day we’ll wake up and have realised the huge gap between us and God.
The church of Sardis, in the Book of Revelation, was known for being an alive church but it wasn’t. And so Jesus told them directly: “Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to Me again…” (Revelation 3:3 NLT). And perhaps this is what some of us need to do – turn repent and believe what we did when we first became a follower of Jesus and hold to it firmly.
And so God says to us all, “Let us hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). What is it that we believe? Even our belief system is under threat and being watered down.
What is the one constant do we as Christian have? Throughout all the generations, through the wars and persecutions and natural disasters and revolutions and technological and scientific advances, what is the one constant do we have? Again, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit the writer of Hebrews tells us a few verses earlier: “For the word of God is alive and powerful… It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4:12 NLT). The Bible, God’s very Word to us is our one constant through all the up and downs of life. As Psalm 119 says about it: “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path” (Psalms 119:105 NLT). God’s Word guides us into to how to have a blessed marriage, how to raise kids, how to deal with conflict; what to watch out for in life; what areas are no go zones; what areas can show us with blessings. I always get encourage how and when people read the Bible. During the week, I met with our Principal Jeff Davis and I asked him how does he read the Bible and he told me that for each year for many years he is committed to read the bible from cover to cover and he tells me that he still learns new insights about God’s ways. And so he has started again this month in Genesis.
The Apostle Paul has written, “Hold firmly to the word of life” (Philippians 2:16 NLT). The Bible is God’s Word and it is our one constant that teaches us how to live life in God’s Kingdom.
For me, the Book of Hebrews has a special significance. Several years ago, at my former church, things around me were very difficult. In my ministry, every corner I turned challenges were there waiting for me. The church went through a very difficult period prior to me commencing and so the hurt continued when I arrived. After a couple of years of mediating between broken relationships, going to court to defend the church’s name, trying to stop the exodus of people going through confusion and trying to remain positive and hopeful to new comers, it all caught up with me. My spirit was low. My spiritual life was not active. I sought help from a mentor who encouraged me to take some leave to rest and spend time with God. Leisl and I went on holidays and I thought where do I start experiencing a renewal of God’s Spirit in me?
I prayed a desperate prayer and literally opened the Bible and where it opened I thought that is where I would start. Perhaps not the best advice but on this occasion God used it.
My bible opened to the Book of Hebrews. I thought that this was interesting. I was hoping for Books like Psalms or Job. No, God opened my bible at Hebrews. I wanted to start at chapter 1 and so I turned to that chapter. I started reading. And chapter one is known for getting straight to the point. There is no introduction, no prologue – just straight to the point. And this is what I read: “Long ago God spoke many times and in many ways to our ancestors through the prophets. And now in these final days, He has spoken to us through His Son. God promised everything to the Son as an inheritance, and through the Son He created the universe. The Son radiates God's own glory and expresses the very character of God, and He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command. When He had cleansed us from our sins, He sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven. This shows that the Son is far greater than the angels, just as the name God gave Him is greater than their names” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NLT).
As I read this that phrase in verse 4 stood out to me: “far greater”. Already God was saying to me, through His very Word, that Jesus Christ is far greater than the all the issues waiting for me back at my church, is far greater than my little spiritual crisis, is far greater than my disappointments and my hopes. It was as if God was saying, “yep, you have some issues, but remember, my Son is far greater – look up”.
Within twenty seconds God was speaking into my life. I couldn’t put this book down. I kept reading and reading and it was as if God’s Spirit was breathing new life into me. As I look back, it was God’s Spirit filling me afresh with His Holy Spirit. His Word, the Book of Hebrews were opening my eyes afresh to my Jesus – that He is far greater – I just need to keep looking up to Him.
And for most, 2018 will bring some storms into your life. Perhaps the year has already started with the leftovers of a storm from last year. One thing is for sure, storms often leave a trail of mess. Please remember, “hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT). Jesus is the great high priest. He is far greater. He is greater than the storms. He is great than the devil. He is greater than your issues - “hold firmly to what we believe” (Hebrews 4:14 NLT).