Reflections on the book of Hebrews
“So let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach”
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.