|Strength for the Journey #3 (Hebrews 3:1-19)
Lest I get carried away with the text we are about to examine and forget it later, let me say something to all the parents and grandparents here today: Read to the young children around you.
Most children – even the most hyperactive and easily distracted ones – love books when they are small. They appear to love the “mystery” of words coming alive off a page. So they learn colors and numbers, letters and words from these wonderful things called books. Maybe they just like being curled up in an adult’s lap and getting the attention, warmth, and interaction of a parent or grandparent.
If you are a Christian parent or grandparent, my advice is even more specific: Read your children Bible stories. The greatest narrative stories in all literature – from Noah and the Ark to Baby Moses in the Basket to Jesus and the Little Children – are found in Holy Scripture. Then if you add the stories Jesus created and told – such as the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal Son or a dozen others – you have a treasure trove of material for your kids. And if they love Veggie Tales and the like, let them know that those stories are just neat new ways of retelling stories originally found in the Bible.
Children need heroes. And celebrity superstars are often anything but heroes. Madonna is a celebrity; Rosa Parks is a hero. Shaq is a sports superstar; Martin Luther King is a hero. Eminem is a celebrity; Todd Beamer is a hero. Nero was a celebrity; Paul was a hero. You get the picture, right? And what better heroes than the ones in the Bible? Obedient Noah. Faithful Abraham. Devoted Ruth. Triumphant David. Humble, submissive Mary. And is there a better story in all the Bible than the Moses story?
Moses was not only the protected baby in the basket. He was also the favored prince who messed up royally, only to have to flee Egypt for his life. Then – after a time of discipline and maturity in the desert – God called him to go to Pharaoh! The action sequence is astounding from that point forward: confrontation, flight, deliverance, leadership, setbacks, discouragement, victories. The Lord Almighty revealed himself to Moses on Mount Sinai. What a story! Yes, your children would love it – and need to know it. Even Steven Spielberg was so impressed with it that he recently made it into a major motion picture, as Cecil B. DeMille had a generation or so earlier. But . . .
There is a better story than the one about Moses. Oh, the one that is better has several parallels with the Moses story. But it is as much superior as builders are to houses, as sons are to servants. For the even better story than Moses’ life and adventures is the story of Jesus. If Moses was Prince of Egypt, Jesus is King of Kings! And that is what our preacher-writer says in today’s text from Hebrews 3.
Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future. But Christ is faithful as a son over God’s house. And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast (3:1-6).“Fix Your Thoughts on Jesus . . .”
This preacher knew he had a beaten-up, bedraggled, discouraged audience on his hands. So, as any preacher worth his salt knows, he needed to say something that would inspire them. He needed to give them hope. He wanted to say something that would make a difference.
In the first two chapters of Hebrews, he has reminded them that God’s work across human history has come to fullness now in the Son, Jesus Christ (1:1-3). Against their temptation either to look for a quick fix to their distress by angelic power or perhaps even to worship and pray to those heavenly messengers (1:4-14), he has pleaded with them not to “drift away” from the gospel message that had been preached and confirmed to them through the apostles (2:1-4). That gospel message affirms that the Eternal God who made the angels was made lower than the angels for our sake – sharing our humanity both to conquer Satan and to rescue us from his clutches on the one hand and to set an example for us in how to be perfected (not destroyed!) through suffering (2:5-14).
Yes, this skilled author-homiletician knew what his sisters and brothers were facing. And he was desperate to say what they needed to hear that would give them hope. So he pleaded for this: “Fix your thoughts on Jesus!” Not on your troubles, but on what you know about Jesus. Not on your tormenters, but on what you have been told about Jesus. Not on what might yet happen, but on what you know about Jesus.
Most of us live not only for just the moment but on the basis of what we see going on immediately around us. Christians are supposed to be different! We must live not for the moment but for eternity, not on the basis of what we see but on the basis of what God has told us. Remember this verse from Paul: “We live by faith, not by sight”? (2 Cor. 5:7). Or this one: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”? (Rom. 12:2a).
If believers don’t fix our minds on Jesus, we can be distracted by worldly things. If we don’t fix our minds on Jesus, we will be overwhelmed by Satan’s devices. If we don’t fix our minds on Jesus and keep his experiences in this world as the reference point for our own, we can fall away and be lost!
Jesus Is Superior To Moses
To achieve his goal of giving his audience strength for their journey, this exceptional teacher drew on the Bible stories they knew. And whether they were Gentiles or Jews, the one story they would all know from the Bible they studied in their assemblies – remembering that that would be our Old Testament – was the story of its central character, Moses. They were all in awe of it. It is an enthralling story of a far-less-than-perfect man being called by God, led by God, sustained by God, and ultimately saved by God. The preacher likely knew – perhaps had preached the sermon himself – that they had been exhorted to be faithful under their stresses as Moses had been under his.
But he retells the Moses story ever so skillfully in order to make them realize that they had someone greater than Moses to follow now. They had someone superior to Moses as their high priest and apostle. It was God’s Own Son who guaranteed their success in following the heavenly call, if they would only “hold fast till the end the confidence [they] had at first” (Heb. 3:14b). He doesn’t bring up Moses to put him down! Not in the least. He tells the wonderful story of a great man in order, as somebody put it, “not to cast a shadow on Moses but to shine a light on Jesus.”
Just notice how he begins: “Moses was faithful in all God’s house [family, RS]” (3:2). Again: “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future” (3:5). Even when the people he was leading through the wilderness were hardening their hearts (3:8) and making God angry with their unfaithfulness (3:10), Moses didn’t give up. Oh, he had his low moments. He even had episodes of failure. But failure isn’t the same as unbelief and rebellion; God is merciful with his still-making-an-effort servants but is unyielding with rebellion. And even though Moses died at 120, without entering earthly Canaan, does anybody think this faithful servant failed to enter the heavenly “rest” God gives his own?
This is what we are supposed to learn from that story: If Moses was a servant to God and faithful in God’s house, Jesus is the Son who is over God’s house (3:2-6a) – and, hold your breath now – “we are [God’s] house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (3:6b). The hope of which Christians boast is not ourselves but Christ, not our faith but his grace (cf. 1 Cor. 1:31). We are God’s family, his dearly loved children. And although appearances would have us believe that it is not worth it to remain steadfast on this Christian journey that has the world set against us, we have God’s promises to spur us on. We listen to those promises and walk by faith in them. Knowing that his word never fails, we can even be courageous in the face of trials and opposition. That was the message the preacher’s friends needed then. It is the message many of my friends need now.
See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first (3:12-14).You’ll Need Encouragement Too
The original readers of this material are going to be described later as having “feeble arms and weak knees” (Heb. 12:12). I suppose so, for some among them had been forced to suffer for their faith. “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated,” he will explain (Heb. 10:33). Some of them had had their property confiscated (Heb. 10:34a). Here is how they had shown courage in that earlier time: “You knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions” (Heb. 10:34b). Back then, they had walked by faith over sight!
But the opposition had continued. And it was getting worse. Indeed, they expected it was going to get far worse before it got better – and the preacher was in no position to tell them otherwise. So they were discouraged and fearful. They were hurt and confused. They were saying things like “How much of this does God think I can stand?” or “Why is God doing this to me?” And some were pulling away already.
Things are very different for us today though – or are they? Some Christians in places other than Nashville and North America are in jail because they have confessed Christ. Others have had their property confiscated. What they see says it isn’t worth it, but what they hear in the gospel says it is. Can they walk by faith in what they have heard? Or might some of them be tempted to give in?
Things aren’t all that different for the teens of this church. Their culture tells them that sex is their right, mind-altering chemicals are their passport to fun, and lies to parents are cool. That’s what they see on MTV and the big screen. But they hear the message from their church community that it is worth it to wait, abstain, and follow Christ. Can you walk by faith in what you have heard from Scripture? Or will you go with what is right in front of you every day?
Adults get discouraged too. This week is the one-year anniversary of a terrorist attack that killed some 3,000 civilians on American soil. The economy is uncertain. Jobs have been lost and lifestyles compromised. What we see has made many a person cynical enough to lose heart. Can you hold to the gospel you have heard and keep going in this church, with your family, and in your personal faith?
A year ago this coming Wednesday, Wayne Sinclair was at work as a civilian employee in his first-floor office at the Pentagon. He was in that office when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the building. He was hurt badly enough that he wound up spending three weeks in a Washington hospital. He would have died but for one thing, one person.
Sinclair was so badly injured and dazed that he was frozen in place as the building around him was being enveloped with fire and smoke. He was waiting to die. Then he heard a voice. “If you can hear me, head toward my voice,” somebody was shouting. “If you can hear me, head toward my voice.” According to Sinclair’s account of that horrible day, the sound of the voice of a Pentagon police officer – toward which he and some others in his office blindly made their way – saved him.
We’re in a similar situation. I can see no way out, but I have heard the voice of Jesus. He has called me with a heavenly calling. I took the first steps to follow him years ago now. I confessed him and was baptized. There have been detours, setbacks, and failures along the way. I’m stronger now than at the start, but I still have my weak moments.
Do you want to know something? Everything in this world says I’m wrong to keep listening to his voice. Some of the things I see around me make me think I could write my own script and adopt an easier, more lucrative, and much trendier route through life. But what I hear from Christ tells me there is more than meets the eye. And I choose to listen to that voice which, as yet, has no face for me. To move toward that voice. To believe that walking by faith in that voice is right and preferable to giving in to what is closest and clearer in my line of sight.
Until the matter is thoroughly settled in your heart, each day will be a new challenge to faith over sight. Each temptation will seem to say sight is better and offers you more. In this little faith community, we remind one another of Abraham, Sarah, Joseph, and David – that their journey of faith was worth every sacrifice along the way. And Moses. But above all, Jesus. So we keep telling each other his story. Reading it to our children. Reminding one another that we’re in this together – come what may.
“So, my dear Christian friends, companions in following this call to the heights, take a good hard look at Jesus. He’s the centerpiece of everything we believe . . . So watch your step, friends. Make sure there’s no evil unbelief lying around that will trip you up and throw you off course, diverting you from the living God. For as long as it’s still God’s Today, keep each other on your toes so sin doesn’t slow down your reflexes. If we can only keep our grip on the sure thing we started out with, we’re in this with Christ for the long haul” (Heb. 3:1, 12-14, The Message).
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