In January, our adult Sunday School class began a study of the book of Hebrews. There are three of us who teach the class, and we go through a rotation, taking turns teaching a chapter at a time. This method lent itself well to this book, as we clearly saw how each chapter was built on the previous one. Going into this study, I was familiar with some verses and chapters that are often taught or quoted, but I had never studied the book as a whole.
The identity of the author is debated – by everyone. Some scholars believe it is Paul, while others have suggested Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, and even Priscilla. We all agreed not to go there and just referred to him (or her) as “the writer”. I knew that Chapter 11 was known as the faith chapter and it contained the Hall of Faith, as some call it. We agreed that we couldn’t go into too much detail on that one because you would have to read most of the Old Testament to get all the back stories. And lastly, I knew there were several often quoted verses, like “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” and “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. We found new meaning in many of these scriptures as we studied them in the context of the whole book. We also agreed that there was a clear and simple message for the reader throughout the book.
Jesus is better.
Better than what, some may ask? The quick comeback answer would be “everything”. If you were feeling a little more spiritual, you might respond that He’s better than anything and everything because, as it says in John 1:3, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.” If you really want to understand and share why Jesus is better, read and study Hebrews.
Hebrews 7:25 Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.
The writer’s message was directed to the Jewish Christians of the day. They had known the ways of Judiasm and the law. Presented with the message of the gospel, they had made the choice to leave Judiasm to follow Jesus. But now they were struggling. They were being persecuted by Jews. They were being persecuted by Romans. They lacked understanding about their new faith and who Jesus really is. The writer suggests in chapter 5 that they were spiritually immature, saying they still needed milk when they already should have been on solid food, which is for the mature. They were struggling to the point that many were considering going back to Judiasm – going back to what was old and familiar and comfortable. The easy way on the path of least resistance. And so, chapter after chapter, the writer lays out why they shouldn’t and couldn’t go back.
Hebrews 10:26-27 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
During class, I asked for a volunteer to come up and ring a bell. Then I asked her to “unring” it. Her expression was priceless. It couldn’t be done. You can’t unring a bell. Likewise, once you know that Jesus is the Son of God and you know that He gave His life and shed His blood for your salvation and eternal life, you cannot “unknow” it. You can only reject Him and the free gift of salvation. If they were to return to Judiasm, they would be rejecting Jesus. According to the writer, they would have “trampled the Son of God under foot” and “treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified Him” and “insulted the Spirit of grace” (Hebrews 10).
In the chapters leading up to these verses, the writer explained how the animal sacrifices offered once a year by the high priest were inferior to the sacrifice made by Jesus, our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, who sacrificed Himself, once and for all. The Jewish high priest had to make the sacrifice yearly, atoning first for his own sins. It was impossible for animal blood to take away sin; it could only cover it, and only for a short time, so it had to be repeated. I gave the example of when I used to color my hair. The day I went to the salon to have it colored, it looked great. But as my hair grew in the next few weeks, the grey hair started coming back through. I had to touch it up every three or four weeks. I would have loved a solution that allowed me to color my hair once and never have to touch it up again. (That solution doesn’t exist, unfortunately. The closest thing would be wearing a wig!)
Hebrews 10:11-12 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,
Jesus gave the better sacrifice, because it did more than cover sin -- it took it away. If the Jewish Christians turned their backs on Jesus to return to Judiasm, there really was no sacrifice left for them because the animal blood could never do that.
The writer cautions the Jewish Christians not to harden their hearts toward Jesus, the way the Israelites hardened theirs toward God in the desert after the exodus. Those who did never saw the promised land, but instead they died in the desert. In Hebrews 3:12, it says “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” If they rejected God’s Son, they would be rejecting God.
Starting at chapter 1 and continuing through chapter 13, the writer encourages them by explaining how Jesus is better than the angels, better than Moses, and better than the Old Testament Priesthood. The new covenant is also greater than the old, which is “obsolete and aging and will soon disappear” (Hebrews 8:13). It challenged their traditional thinking and old beliefs. The writer wanted them to see that Jesus is the better sacrifice, the better hope, which is an anchor for the soul. The writer also talks about how living by faith is better than going through the motions of rituals and rules, which is why there is a “faith” chapter that talks about OT heroes who God commended because of their great faith. “And “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
As 21st century Christians, It would be an easy thing for us to judge the Jewish Christians to whom this letter was originally written. Easy, but unfair. We have the benefit of having a complete Bible at our fingertrips, not to mention all the commentaries, Bible notes, teachings, and options for Bible study either in person or on the internet. While this letter to the Hebrews may seem like a message for past believers, it is still very relevant for us today.
Hebrews 10:23-24 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,
Just like the Jewish Christians, there are Christians today who are struggling in their walk with Christ, for a variety of reasons. They could be going through a difficult life event – death, divorce, anxiety or depression, drug addiction, homelessness, cancer. They could be newly converted and undiscipled, trying to figure out what it means to have a relationship with Jesus. They could have been hurt by someone, perhaps even by their church. Or perhaps their decision to follow Christ is making life difficult at home because their spouse doesn’t feel the same way and it is causing friction in their relationship. They may have feelings of low self-esteem that makes them doubt their worthiness.
Whatever the reason, there are believers right now who are thinking that it might be easier to just quit and not try anymore. They think what if they could just go back to the way things were before – the old, the familiar, and the comfortable. The easy way on the path of least resistance. We have to be on the lookout for them so that we can step in and encourage them. That is why we should “not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (Hebrews 10). We need to come together as a body to encourage one another, even more so as the Day approaches because the attacks will intensify as that time draws near. If you are only coming to church for what you will get out of it, I urge you to rethink that. It’s also about what you bring to the body and the good you can do for your brothers and sisters by using your gifts and talents, and by encouraging and mentoring others. God will use you to minister to others, and He will use others to minister to you.
Jude 22-23 Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
Just like the writer of Hebrews, we must be ready to make our case not only to the unsaved, but also to those battle-weary believers who are ready to quit and remind them that Jesus is better. There is nothing in our old life before we accepted Christ that could be better than Him. What could there possibly be in your old life that is worth giving up Jesus? What is there to go back to?
I never want to go back to who I was before I knew Jesus. He has taken my sin, my shame, my guilt. He has given me hope and love, purpose and meaning. Do I still make mistakes and sin? Of course, but now I have a better way to deal with it. I ask for forgiveness, and He forgives. Will there still be difficult times and situations in life? Of course, but now I have someone I can trust to take care of me, fight my battles, and work all things for my good. I have someone who can teach me a better way and a better life. He proves Himself faithful, time and time again. Corrie Ten Boom said, “In order to realize the worth of the anchor, we need to feel the stress of the storm.” If you are feeling discouraged, don’t give up. The Lord disciplines those He loves. Hebrews 12:7 tells us to “endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons.” It goes on to say that “God disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness” and that this produces a “harvest of righteousness and peace.” Whatever you are going through or facing in your life, Jesus has a better way, a better plan, a better love, a better hope, and a better peace than anything or anyone else can offer.
Hebrews 4:14-16 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Jesus is better.