Savoring the Supremacy of the Savior

Reflections on the book of Hebrews

“So let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach”

~Hebrews 13:13

Jesus is worth it all.  And many in the church don’t realize it.

I realized this before I was even saved, during the summer before I embarked to college, while listening to a sermon from my computer in which the speaker revealed an alarming statistic: eighty-five percent of those who make a profession of faith in Christ fall away.  Eighty-five percent!  If that isn’t as staggering as it is confusing, then there’s no need for earthquake drills or ambulances.  Of course, from God’s point of view, no truly regenerate believer can ever lose his salvation.  But from a human perspective, I was startled.  That is, until I became a youth pastor and Christian school educator.  Spending a ton of hours a week with young people who had been raised in the soil of the American church culture – whose schedules teeter-totter between youth group Bible studies and church summer camps alongside basketball games and AP exams – gave me some insight.  It was later confirmed during a conversation that I recently had with some “church kids”.  In a moment of candor, they spoke regarding the condition of their Christian walks:

“I know it’s the right way.  It’s just that the rest of the world seems so much more enjoyable,” admitted one.

“I’m just not sure if I’m convinced that it’s what I really want.  I mean, I know it’s a good life, but there are other things that I want,” remarked another.

They all referred to “it”; they didn’t refer to “Him.”  These kids, wonderfully sincere and transparent and dear to my heart, knew church culture.  They knew the imperatives of Christian living.  But when it came to the beauty of Christ Himself, they spoke of nothing.  It was like trying to convince a woman to get married without telling her about the man to whom she’d be wed.  Of course she’d get cold feet, if not frozen ones.  So would someone who was pushed to live as a Christian and forsake the world while remaining clueless regarding the supremacy of the Christ with whom he’d be cleaved.

No one would want to step outside the gate of the world, unless he was aware of who awaited him there. 

Such was the case with the first-century Hebrew Christians.  They were staggering, doubting, flailing, and falling.  Their conversion from Jewish tradition to Christian conviction was met by extreme opposition and fiery persecution for which they were not prepared.  Losing their property and being imprisoned were not on their post-baptism to-do list.  As a result, many of them started to revert back to their old Jewish ways.  After all, Judaic practices weren’t exactly pagan practices.  In addition, it would spare them of a whole lot of pain and trouble.  For them, the question regarding their newfound faith was: “Why stick with Christianity when it only brings about persecution while our previous religion, also found in the Bible, gets us out of it?”

To this, one of the apostolic authorities answered: “Because the Christ behind Christian living is worth that persecution.”  He answered, comprehensively, in an approximately hour-long sermon – one which was later transcribed into a thirteen-chapter book that we know today as the book of Hebrews.  No other New Testament epistle covers the topic of Christology as comprehensively.

The thesis: Jesus Christ is worth following because the incomparable supremacy of who He is, what He has accomplished, what He is doing, and what He promises to do.  Lose the world you must, if that’s the path to gaining Christ. 

It’s the same admonition he would have given to modern-day families that have forsaken church altogether because their achieving kids have baseball games on Sunday.  It’s the same sermon would have preached to college students who start to dabble away from the faith because partying and academic achievement seem just a tad too appealing.  It’s the same plea he would have made to those former pastors and missionaries who have stopped ministering to others due to the wounds from loneliness, criticism, and betrayal.  It’s the same truth he would have reminded new believers who are hesitant to be baptized out of a fear of being disowned by their families. 

Listen up, then, American Christians.  List up, then, all you suffering Christians.  Jesus Christ is worth it all.

He is worth gaining because, as the Son of God, He alone holds the universe together by the word of His power (1:1-5)

He is worth gaining because, as the Apostle and High Priest, He brings God to you and brings you to God (3:1).

He is worth gaining because, as the Master Builder, He both owns and constructs the church with His own hands (3:4-6)

He is worth gaining because, as the Sympathetic High Priest, He alone can truly and fully understand you in the midst of your trials (4:14-16).

He is worth gaining because, as the Eternal High Priest, He forever lives to minister and pray for you in heaven to ensure God’s blessing upon you on earth (6:20, 7:24-25).

He is worth gaining because, as the New Covenant Mediator, He promises forgiveness of your sins, inward transformation, an intimate knowledge of God, and eternal life (8:6, 9:15)

He is worth gaining because, as the Perfect Sacrifice, He alone has taken the total punishment of your sins that had once warranted your eternal damnation (9:14, 10:12)

He is worth gaining because, as the Author and Perfecter of Faith, He shows you through the example of His life what it looks like to truly believe and the reward you will gain from doing so (12:2-3)

He is worth gaining because, as the Unchangeable One, He is the same yesterday, today, and forever in who He is, what He has accomplished, and what He has promised (13:8).

Lose this vision of Christ, and the world begins to look appealing.  Turn your eyes upon this Christ, and the world looks like rubbish in comparison.  The thematic admonition of Hebrews, then, is this: Fix your eyes on Jesus!

The book of Hebrews is a personal favorite, for obvious reasons.  It’s also the one book, until two weeks ago, I hadn’t opened in almost one-and-a-half years.

For thirteen months, I preached through the book of Hebrews at the ministry in which I was entrenched previous to my current.  During that season, I studied the book in its original language (which was almost as difficult as college physical chemistry), and spent an average of six to ten hours a week preparing sermons intended to be both comprehensive and comprehendible to its targeted audience.  Each week, I would get up into a pulpit for an hour (and sometimes more) and, with all of my might and fervor, do all that I could to explain the text of this marvelous book so as to convince my listeners from the Word of God that Jesus Christ was indeed worth following – praying night and day in between that they would find Christ supreme and the world around them worth forsaking.  But after I left that ministry oh so abruptly, I stopped reading Hebrews.  Frankly, it was too painful to to open up those same pages from where I used to preach.  Too bittersweet it was, to look at those same notes I took in the margins of my Bible during that season when I brought this book to the very people who I loved.  Reading any portion of the text would hark me back to the nights when I preached it, and it would hurt.  Just a bit of irony there was, that the book I was having the hardest time reading was the one whose truths were designed to instill encouragement and focus during that time.  In the recent weeks, however, now in my current ministry, I was scheduled to teach through Hebrews once again.  Only now, my wounds were healed, my strength renewed, my ministry reconstructed, my eyes wide open once again to the horizon, and my heart even further purified to savor the supremacy of the Savior.  Once again, I opened the book.  Once again, I taught through it.

It didn’t take long to realize, once again, that He was worth it all.

Admission: I Don’t Know What’s Best

blueprint picture

An insight regarding God’s sovereign wisdom and my severely limited wisdom

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor?

~Romans 11:33-34

Someone once told me that students majoring in architecture at his college were trained to go for seventy-two consecutive hours without sleep so as train them for the workload ahead should they actually go into architecture as a profession. Thanks to that someone, I never once considered going into architecture. But even if I was never told that three-day all-nighters were part of a major’s curriculum, it wouldn’t have mattered. I know close to nothing when it comes to blueprinting and building homes. I can barely follow the instructions that come with our IKEA furniture. Thus, I respect architects and construction workers at the same level that I do electrical and software engineers. Houses are equally a black box to me as computers. And when it comes to the one in which I live, I’m happy to be a steward and nothing more. Quite frankly, I don’t know how to build a home. Never have, and most likely never will.

But for various reasons, I can be a lot more stubborn about admitting my limitations when it comes to the building of this thing called my life and all of the parts and pieces that are part of its overall construction. I’ve never argued with an architect about how his project ought to be accomplished, but I’ve sinfully questioned God with regards to several event that have taken place over the course of my thirty years on this planet. And I’ve immaturely demanded that, when it came to my future endeavors, my will be done. Yes, I’ve admittedly approached God in the past with an attitude that I somehow knew what was best for my life, and how its part ought to be built and put together. And when things didn’t work out, I reacted with frustration, anger, and depression. I wasn’t happy when my parents divorced, and we had to leave Hawaii for Los Angeles. I did the best I could to handle the disappointments from college rejections during my senior year of high school, but it was hard. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the way my college years turned out at the time, regarding both my bombed midterms and relational fallouts. Job rejections following graduation weren’t much easier to swallow. The postponement of my wedding twenty-four hours before it was supposed to happen still doesn’t make sense to me or my family. And my resignation from my previous ministry position send me into a tailspin of seemingly endless interrogation before God for months. Things haven’t turned out as I had originally desired and planned.

I’m glad, however, that I wasn’t given the responsibility of being my life’s architect. Such a task belongs to God, and His ways have spoken for themselves. It’s fair to say that, in everything, God has soundly proven me wrong. It took a while, but I see how the traumatic events of our childhood strengthened me and my siblings for life, labor, and ministry, and our own families. Observing the variety of skills that I’ve acquired over the years, I realized that while I may have wanted stellar grades, God had planned for me an actual education. When I look at my beautiful wife and two precious children and the sweetness of my family life, how can I question God with regards to the events leading up to and during our engagement? And when I look at the solidity of our current church ministry situation, the team of ministers of which I’m a part, and the trajectory in which things are heading, there’s absolutely no doubt that God had the best goals in mind for both me and my family when he let all of the previous years’ events take place.

That God is wise is no novel truth. Even Hallmark greeting cards attest to that. But that He is unfathomably wise is more difficult to swallow and often hard to accept. People like to know why God allows certain things to happen the way they do. We want answers to life’s confusing questions. We want to know exactly how God is working everything out for the good. We either demand that we be in charge, or insist that God give us the full understanding with regards to how He orchestrates and puts together the events of our lives and the reasons behind it – particularly when our plans fall through and when life takes unexpected turns. Perhaps, then, it’s the right time for a short systematic theology lesson regarding the omnisapience of God (thanks, Dr. Andy Snider, for introducing me to this). That God is wise means that He always has the best goals and the best means to attain those goals. That His wisdom is unfathomable, as particularly illustrated in Romans 11:33-34, means that the breadth and depth of His wisdom are beyond our capacity to comprehend. Put together; to say that God is unfathomably wise is to say that neither you nor I have the ability to fully understand how it is that what God chooses to do, not do, permit, or forbid will ultimately work out for the good. More simply, it means that when it comes down to it, neither you nor I ultimately know what’s best for us.

Hard to swallow for me and the rest of us Type AAA’s. But lets just say that I’m glad that God didn’t allow things to go as I planned. I’m glad I wasn’t allowed to take hold of life’s steering wheel, and that His decisions overrode my desires. I may have 20/20 hindsight, but have a severely limited foresight. My family and I love the life that God has given us and the current set of circumstances that we find ourselves in, but know full well that things wouldn’t have turned out they are had I been in charge.

I’m unashamed to admit that I ultimately don’t know what’s best. Whether it’s for my life and personal pursuit of holiness, for the welfare of my family, or for His overall administration of redemptive history, I don’t know what’s best. I’m just a steward called to be faithful in caring for the family, people, ministry, and life entrusted to me for this period of time on this side of eternity. For the life and ministry that I’ve come to truly enjoy and the kind of impact that it has had for the sake of the gospel wouldn’t have come about had I created the blueprint.

Architecture just isn’t my thing. It’s why I can still sleep at night.