We do not know who wrote the book of Hebrews, but we know it was written specifically to the Hebrew people, because many of the early Jewish Christians had difficulty with the simplicity of the Gospel. The work of Jesus Christ claimed to be the fulfillment of Judaism, when, in fact, it seemed to be denigrating it. Jewish believers had conformed to an elaborate system, centered on a magnificent temple in Jerusalem, which involved a comprehensive sacrificial program, the priesthood, various weekly, monthly and annual celebrations as well as a number of rituals. The lives of devout Jewish believers were built around these things and kept them busy all year.
Many Jewish Christians believed the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a massive downsizing. There was no longer a need for the temple, the priesthood, animal sacrifices, festivals, rituals or for the circumcision of every male. The moment Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished,” the curtain in the temple, concealing God’s presence behind the Most Holy of Holies, was torn from top to bottom; a divine act, symbolizing that God had broken out of His sanctuary, and has made Himself accessible to every man, woman and child. At that moment, every priest was out of a job, all blood sacrifices of every animal became redundant and all festivals and rituals held no significance.
Every aspect of Jewish faith and practice had been swept away by one thing – the life of Jesus Christ. This presented a huge problem for many Jewish Christians. Human nature tends to gravitate towards rules and regulations so that there is a means of measuring progress. We are inclined to do the same today when entering into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. Before long, we are building icons, cathedrals and erecting a hierarchy of people who we think are further up the ladder than the everyday Christian. When these things become important, we are actually decreasing the message of the Gospel. Anything that requires Jesus Christ, plus extras, detracts from Him and is erroneous.
The writer of Hebrews tells the Jewish people that far from downsizing, the New Covenant is upsizing, because it is fuller, richer and far more reaching than the Old Covenant. He tells them Jesus is better than the prophets of Israel, better than the angels of heaven and a better mediator between God and themselves. It is a better covenant, with better promises, a better law, written in their hearts instead of tablets of stone, and a far better hope of drawing closer to God. This is why the Christian message consists solely of Jesus Christ in His fullness; nothing more, nothing less.
The goal of the Gospel is that we come to know God, so God is actually in the business of revealing Himself. His interest is not that we come to know Him intellectually, but intimately through experience of Him. In 1 Corinthians 2:11, Paul writes, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.” Creation is an obvious revelation of God in which we see the unparalleled wisdom, artistry, power and enormity of our Creator. Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation, and inherent in all of us is a God-given conscience that lets us know right from wrong, good from bad. But neither creation nor our consciences answer the questions we really want to know about God. What is His character like? How does He work? Can I know Him and does He actually know me?
We cannot guess the mind of God, so the opening of this letter to the Hebrews is saying that God has spoken. We are not left to speculate and work out what God is thinking. In the Old Testament, God revealed Himself through His prophets in various ways; peaching, poetry, laws, dramatic events and experiences in their lives. But now a new era has dawned. In these “last days,” the period between the first coming of Christ, from the ascension of Christ, to the second coming of Christ, God has spoken to us through His Son.
Hebrews 1:3 says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being...” This is not about the deity of Christ, but the humanity of Christ. The second part of this verse proclaims the deity of Christ, “sustaining all things by His powerful word.” Jesus Christ is the One through whom God made the universe and is appointed heir of all things. Though He lived as a man on earth, subject to all the limitations and temptations of humanity, Jesus was never less than God. He was completely and totally God, equal in the Trinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit.
But through the humanity of Christ, God speaks to us by demonstrating the life we are called to live, and the deity of Christ gives Him the right to do so and to make this possible. As the perfect man, the writer of Hebrews speaks about His work in offering Himself as a sinless sacrifice. Hebrews 1:3 goes on to say, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” This is much richer than what was offered in the Old Covenant; not just cleansing but purification so that we may be sanctified and set apart for God’s work in this world.
With revelation from God there comes responsibility; firstly, in our need to hear what God is saying, and secondly, appropriating it into our lives. Hebrews 2:1 says, “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.” Hebrews 3:7 says, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts…” When hearing the Word of God, we will either become more tender and responsive to it or more resistant and hardened, but we do not remain static. The fact that God has revealed something about Himself must prompt us to ask, “What do I need to do in light of this?”
The biggest struggle for many of us is not that we are ignorant of what God is saying, but that we fail to apply it in our daily living. There is no spiritual growth, no fruitfulness, no wrestling through these truths becoming real in our lives. The sad thing is that when we harden our hearts we can get to the point where nothing penetrates and we simply do not hear anymore. It is entirely possible to be in church week after week and be spiritually barren. We may keep going externally, but wither away internally.
If we neglect the Word of God, the writer of Hebrews warns, “For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?" (2:2-3) Neglecting the Word of God is not any different in its end consequence then rejecting the Word of God and ignoring the gift of salvation. Scripture gives us a diagnosis of an inherently sinful nature, but it also gives us the remedy in Jesus Christ, revealed in His Word. Ignore Scripture and we drift further and further away from God.
Within the pages of the Bible we see God up close and personal. Not only does this give us a wonderful sense of His presence and fulfillment in coming to know Him, but it brings us into a deeper love relationship with His Son. God has spoken to us and His final word is in His Son, Jesus Christ. It is a better Word, a fuller Word and more complete Word than God had ever revealed before Jesus.
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