[Final Theme Summary – Hebrews]
What do you believe and why do you believe it? For the original reader, this was a question of life and death in the Roman Empire at the time of Nero. The Romans did not have a problem with Judaism, however being a Christian meant heavy persecution. The author writes to a group of Jewish believers contemplating denying Christ and going back to Judaism to avoid death and persecution. The issue is whether they will regard Jesus as a mere appendage to their Judaism or as its fulfillment who supersedes previous mandatory form of practicing the law. The purpose of the book was to build a compelling case for the superiority of Christ amidst serious societal pressures to turn back to Judaism.
And that the author did. Hebrews is clearly a literary masterpiece. He eloquently sets forth argument after argument, destroying mindset after mindset, leaving the reader with a crystal clear choice. If Christ is truly superior to all things, then there is no other thing in the world worthy of our faith and obedience.
But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.
The Jews continued to follow the law for salvation and rely on sacrifices for atonement of their sins. They still loved their temple and their priestly system. Their hope was in the end of the age, when God would return and give them their land and save only his people and punish anyone who had been bad to the Jews.
Because of the Jewish mindset, the author holds up the law in one hand and Jesus in the other hand. To show the superiority of Jesus, he does not destroy the integrity of the law. Jesus simply sealed the renewed covenant God had been planning since the beginning. In their knowledge of covenant language, they would know that once a covenant was renewed, you could no longer follow the stipulations of the old.
The original readers were encouraged and exhorted to respond to the obvious superiority of Christ by holding fast to their confession of faith. By their active trust in the invisible hope in God, they could have full assurance in his greater plan.
[Final Application – Hebrews]
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen.
Many Christians have defined faith to be belief for no reason. Yes, we can probably trust God for no reason, but what does this say about us to people who do not know God? It shows that we are childlike wishful thinkers, with no roots in reality.
It was refreshing to pick apart this verse in it’s original context this week. I found that the “things hoped for” wasn’t referring to various wishes for physical things. To the original reader, hope here referred to the promises of the new covenant. Hope of peace, hope of relationship with God, hope of the forgiveness of sins, hope of the superiority of Christ. “Things not seen” would have referred only to eternal things, not simply temporal things we have not yet obtained. Lastly and most important was the word “assurance”. Assurance can only come from knowledge.
Christian faith is certainly not wishful thinking. God never intended our faith to be a blind leap. All throughout scripture, God shows that believe must have knowledge of him before they have faith in him. Miracles occur throughout scripture so that we can believe. God has orientated his interactions with men and his inspiration of scripture in such a way that we can be completely certain of his character and abilities. Here are just a few examples.
36 Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.”
9 Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? 10 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the paralytic— 11 “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” 12 And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”
4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5 “so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
The definition of faith is made even more clear with the long list of once living examples of faith. A common theme emerges; faith is active trust in God through adverse circumstances.
2 Key Aspects of Faith gathered from Hebrews
1. Knowledge and evidence precedes faith. We honor God and others by knowing what we believe and why.
2. Faith is not a wishful thought or an appendage of american culture. Faith is active trust in God’s character, ability, and plan. Faith is daily obedience. Faith is the heart of Christianity.