Recently I was asked this question by a person who said, “In our (Chinese) culture we always respect our family”.
The town of Capernaum on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee was the headquarters for Christ’s ministry in Galilee (Mt. 4:13; Mk. 2:1). Once when Jesus was teaching a crowd of people in a house in Capernaum, He was so busy that He didn’t have a chance to eat. (Mk. 3:20). The event described below is recorded in three gospels (Mt. 12:46-50; Mk. 3:31-35; Lk. 8:19-21).
“Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call Him. A crowd was sitting around Him, and they told Him, ‘Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.’
‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ He asked.
Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother’” (Mk. 3:31-35NIV).
Why didn’t Jesus obey the request from His family? To answer this question we need find the purpose behind it.
The news about what Jesus was doing “spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” (Mk. 1:28). After it reached His family at Nazareth they became concerned and travelled about 50 km (30 miles) to reach him at Capernaum. His mother and brothers were outside the house where He was teaching but they weren’t able to get near Him because of the crowd (Lk. 8:19). So they sent a message saying they wanted to speak with Him. The reason for their visit is given as “When His family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of His mind’” (Mk. 3:21). The Greek word translated “out of His mind” is exeste (Strongs #1839). In the other verse of the Bible that uses the word in this sense (2 Cor. 5:13), it means the opposite of a “right mind” (NIV, ESV) or of a “sound mind” (HCSB, NET). When they heard about the crowds that gathered around Jesus, they thought He was insane. As the brothers didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God (Jn. 7:5), they may have thought He was a religious fanatic, or deluded or had a mental illness.
The fact that Joseph is not named possibly indicates his death. This means that at this time Jesus, as the eldest son, was the head of the household and expected to care for His widowed mother. Instead of this He was away from the household and crowds followed Him everywhere.
In that culture someone who was insane or out of their mind would bring shame and disgrace on their family. So they probably believed that the leader of their family was bringing shame and disgrace on them. Therefore, the family wanted to “take charge of Him” (NIV), or “to seize Him” (ESV), or “to restrain Him” (HCSB, NET). So they wanted to take Him away from society so that crowds couldn’t follow Him.
But Christ’s mission was “to seek and to save the lost” (Lk. 19:10). He was sent to earth by God to save the people of the world from the penalty of their sinfulness (Jn. 3:17; 1 Tim. 1:5). This was done by preaching and dying. He came to preach by calling sinners to repent (Mk. 1:38; 2:17). He also came to die sacrificially for the sins of mankind (Rom. 5:8).
So the purpose of His family’s visit was to stop Jesus preaching by taking Him back to the family home. They were seeking to stop Jesus’ ministry. As this was against God’s will, Jesus didn’t comply with their request. Instead He used this situation to teach a spiritual truth.
Instead of heeding the family’s request, Jesus changes the topic from the small biological family to the large spiritual family. He says that whoever obeys God is part of His spiritual family and that this spiritual family is more important than our human family. When there is a conflict between the two families we are to obey God. Like Jesus, we should respect God’s will more than we respect our family.
This doesn’t mean we are not to provide for our family. After all, Paul wrote “Anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). And when He was being executed, Jesus introduced John to His mother Mary as a surrogate son to take care of her (Jn. 19:26-27).
Fortunately at a later time the family had a change of heart as Mary the mother of Jesus and His brothers were amongst the believers after Christ’s ascension (Acts 1:12-14).
Have we changed by turning around to follow Jesus? When there is a conflict between something in our life and God’s will for us, which do we give priority to? Do we put God’s interests above those of our family? Do we love Jesus more than our family (Lk. 14:26)? Are our relationships with fellow-Christians stronger than with unbelieving relatives? Do we also care for and not neglect our family?
Tourists often fear dangerous animals in Australia, such as venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, crocodiles, sharks, killer jellyfish, and the blue ring octopus. On a recent hike we were surprised by a black snake. Most of us were afraid, but someone wanted to pick it up!
Fear can help us respond to a dangerous situation. This is protective fear. It’s why I told them not to go near the snake. It’s foolish to ignore real danger.
But constant fear is debilitating and can lead to anxiety that immobilizes and paralyzes us. This is chronic fear.
The fear (reverence and respect) of God is a feeling of awe and praise of a small creature before their immense Creator. This is respectful fear.
Let’s look at what the Bible says about these three kinds of fear. We’ll see that through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful, can avoid the bad fear and practise the good fear of reverence and respect for God and Christ as our Lord.
There are at least 10 Greek words that are used in the New Testament to describe “fear”.
The two most common ones are:
– phobeo (Strongs #5399) is a verb which means either to fear and be afraid, or to reverence.
– phobos (Strongs #5401) is a noun which means either fear, or reverence and respect for authority.
This article is based on verses with any of these 10 Greek words for “fear” in the books of the Bible written to the early church from Acts to Revelation. We begin by looking at protective fear.
When Paul was a prisoner he was sent to Italy by ship. A storm with hurricane force winds struck when they were near the island of Crete and the ship was driven towards Malta for 14 days. During the storm, the sailors were afraid the ship would run aground, and near the island of Malta they feared the ship would be dashed against the rocks (Acts 27:17, 29). This is a fear of danger, when our body reacts with a boost of adrenaline and we prepare to fight against or flee from the danger.
People are also afraid when they face punishment. When a Philippian jailer thought all his prisoners had escaped after an earthquake, he was about to kill himself because he would be punished (Acts 16:29). When we do wrong we are afraid of those in authority because we can be punished (Rom. 13:4). Those living under the Jewish law feared God’s judgment, but believers don’t live in this fear, as sons shouldn’t fear their father (Rom. 8:15).
The Bible says that unbelievers will be afraid when they face God at the Great White Throne to be judged because their names are not in the book of life. Apostates who abandon the Christian faith will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31). When Paul spoke about the judgment to come, the Roman governor Felix was afraid (Acts 24:25). This is a real fear because there is no protection for those who ignore Jesus Christ.
People are also afraid of dying. The Bible says this fear is like slavery (Heb. 2:15).
These are examples of fearing danger, punishment, and death. Protective fear can be an alarm that arouses us to protect ourselves.
Sin is another danger we should fear. We should be afraid that some people haven’t yet accepted God’s plan of salvation and so they aren’t going to heaven (Heb. 4:1). If an elder sins in such a way as to harm the testimony of the church they are to be rebuked publicly so the others may fear falling into sin (1 Tim. 5:20). And when responding to victims of apostasy, we should fear being trapped by the allure of sin (Jude 1:23). As Christians, do we fear sin and its consequences, which is a healthy fear that helps us live godly lives?
In First Aid when there is an accident or emergency we are told to follow DRABC. The first response is D for Danger. We protect ourselves, the casualty and other people from danger. After we have done this we can help the casualty. It’s risky to ignore this step, but it is also risky to not proceed on to the following steps. Likewise for us it’s good to have safety in mind by responding to reasonable fears.
If we obey the law of the land, there is no need to fear punishment from authorities. But do we fear danger or death? If we have no external resources to help us, it’s natural to fear these possibilities. But through faith in Christ, these fears can be replaced with courage, security, protection and peace when we realize two things. First, God and Christ are with us in the form of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 13:6). Paul was told, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10NIV). God is always with us. Second, prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear (Phil. 4:6-7). “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7). God always cares for us. Prayer draws us near to God. That’s how to deal with protective fear without lapsing into chronic fear.
But if fear persists it becomes anxiety.
In the case of chronic fear, people are too anxious and doubtful to respond appropriately. This is an unhealthy kind of fear, which keeps us from doing things we should do. It’s bad fear, which is based on one’s perceptions and assumptions. Such anxiety can lead to depression and possible mental illness (such as phobias, which are persistent fears of objects or situations).
In this case fear stops us from developing our spiritual gifts, from loving and serving God and loving and serving one another. Instead of being focused on God and others, we become self-focused. We worry about our needs instead of trusting God to take care of them.
Christians have a great foundation for overcoming fear and anxiety. All of our sins have been paid for. God isn’t angry towards us, and He will never punish us because His Son took our punishment. God has forgiven our sins, His Holy Spirit lives in us, and we will spend eternity with Him.
It is reported that about 40% of Australian police business involves domestic violence. During my last shift of telephone counselling, I spoke with three women who were constantly living in fear. They felt isolated and controlled by their partners. They were anxious not knowing when the next episode would occur. But they were seeking help.
If we are fearful and anxious do we seek help? Anxiety has various physiological, emotional and spiritual causes. As childhood experiences can have a big impact on personality development, are parents aware of their children’s needs? They need to be loved and wanted. To belong. And to feel worthwhile. Addressing these needs in childhood can help avert adult anxiety.
The process for overcoming anxiety is the same as for addressing any sin in the life of a Christian. The steps are:
• Identify what we are worried about.
• Identify our sin – what we doubt about God’s care for us.
• Confess and repent of our doubt.
• Remind ourselves of the truth about God and His promises in the Bible.
• Thank God in prayer for His care of us.
• Then we can have peace because we are trusting in God’s promises once again.
Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear. Next we look at when those who trusted in God demonstrated courage instead of fear.
The apostles were courageous when they faced the Jewish Sanhedrin (Acts 4:13; 5:29). This courage came from the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties (1 Cor. 16:13). They were not to fear threats or be frightened when persecuted, and not retaliate, but endure it patiently and be kind to their persecutors (1 Pt. 3:14). The church in Smyrna was told not to be afraid of persecution and to be faithful even to the point of death (Rev 2:10). All this is possible because the Holy Spirit makes believers courageous and not timid; “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7).
When Paul visited Corinth during his second missionary journey, he preached to the Jews. But when they opposed him and became abusive, he moved and preached to the Gentiles. But Paul would have been discouraged and may have worried he would have to leave the city as had been the case in Philippi, Thessalonica and Berea (Acts 16:39-40; 17:5-10, 13-14). One night the Lord told him “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10). As Paul knew that God was with him, he kept teaching them the word of God for 18 months.
During the storm mentioned earlier, an angel told Paul to not be afraid of shipwreck because he would stand trial before Caesar (Acts 27:24). So God encourages us to be courageous.
Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death (Heb. 2:15).
Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has already paid the penalty. John wrote, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love” (1 Jn. 4:18). Christ’s death on our behalf is the “perfect love” that “drives out fear” of God’s judgment.
These are examples of courage and not fearing trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, and God’s judgment. This courage is healthy because it is associated with godly living.
A young father was having a difficult time convincing his son to go to bed. “I don’t want to go to bed. I’m afraid of the dark!” the five-year-old exclaimed. “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” his father said reassuringly. “I sleep in the dark and I’m not afraid.” “Sure,” the youngster replied, “you’ve got Mom lookin’ out for you!”. He wasn’t alone. And that’s true for Christians as well – they have God the Holy Spirit with them.
Are you alone or have you turned away from sin and towards Christ as your Savior? That’s the only way to receive the Holy Spirit who can help us have courage instead of fear. In Revelation, unbelievers are described as being cowards because, they are afraid to believe that Jesus is the Son of God (Rev. 21:7-8).
Do we have courage instead of fear when we face authorities, trouble, threats, persecution, harm, danger, death, or God’s judgment? This courage comes from the Holy Spirit who empowers believers for godly living.
When facing our fears, do we act in the strength of the Holy Spirit? Are we motivated by love for God and love for one another? Are we self-controlled?
The second meaning of “fear” in Scripture is to indicate reverence and respect for authority.
Believers are commanded to give respect and honor to those owed respect and honor (Rom 13:7). This includes revering and respecting God and worshiping Him with reverence and awe (2 Cor. 7:1; Heb. 12:28; 1 Pt. 1:17). “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor” (1 Pt.2:17). They were not to fear persecution, but revere Christ as Lord (1 Pt 3:14, 15).
Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10-11). Similarly, we should fear displeasing the Lord.
Slaves (employees), children, and wives are to submit to their masters, parents and husbands out of reverence to Christ (Eph. 5:21). Respect is part of a healthy marriage. While the husband is to love his wife, the wife is to respect her husband (Eph. 5:33). Slaves (employees) should respect and obey their masters with reverence to the Lord (Eph. 6:5; Col 3:22; 1 Pt. 2:18). Similarly, as God’s slaves/servants, our attitude towards Him should be one of reverence and respect (Rev. 19:5).
These are examples of reverence and respect for God who we wish to please as our Lord. Such respectful fear is healthy because it is associated with godly living. It’s good fear.
This is opposite to unbelievers, who don’t revere or respect God – “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Rom 3:18).
After a cop shot and killed a teenager in Ferguson, Missouri last year, potential US presidential candidate Ben Carson claimed that young males living in inner cities need to be taught how to respond better to authority. He said that a major problem that faces many who grow up without fathers or other authority figures in their homes, is that they don’t learn the right way to respond when confronted by law enforcement. They never really learn how to relate to authority in the proper way. If you take a group of young men and you raise them with no respect for authority, not learning to take on personal responsibility, having easy access to drugs and alcohol, they are very likely to end up as victims of violence and imprisonment. When it comes to God, are we like the teenagers?
A child’s view of God is usually similar to their view of their father. So Dad’s, be awesome, not angry or absent. If they can’t respect you, they will struggle to respect God. Pray for the children of single parent and step-parent families and homosexual marriages. What will their father image be like?
Do we reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord? Do we fear displeasing Him?
Do we respect His message for us in the Bible? Do we respect our employer, parents, spouse and our church elders?
Less respect of God means more trust in humanity, which leads to more anxiety and chronic fear. It also leads to less respect for authority in families, schools, and society. When parents don’t respect God, children don’t respect parents. When teachers don’t respect God, students don’t respect teachers. When our leaders don’t respect God, people don’t respect the police, the judiciary or the government.
While we are all products of our past to some extent, we don’t need to be fearful and anxious. God is always with us. He always cares for us. We can turn to God, and we can also have the help of friends, family members, or Christian counsellors.
Let’s confess and repent of our anxiety and bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.
Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful. Above all, let’s reverence and respect God and Christ as our Lord.
Written, June 2015
The Christian faith is based on teachings in the Christian Bible, which are mainly about Jesus Christ. After all, the Greek noun Christianos translated “Christian” (Strongs #5546) means a follower of Christ (Acts 11:26; 26:28; 1 Pt. 4:16). The steps to become a follower of Christ include: a preacher is sent by God, they proclaim the good news given in the Bible, a person hears this message, and they believe it (Rom. 10:14-15). Sometimes it is helpful to use experienced preachers to help proclaim the good news to others.
Over the past decade, several courses have been used to help introduce people to Christianity. The following such courses are reviewed below: “Simply Christianity” (2003), “Alpha” (2005), “LifeWorks” (2005), “Christianity Explained” (2006), “Christianity Explored” (2013), and “Introducing God” (2014). Each of these courses has several sessions which are intended to be done on a periodic basis. Some of the courses have extra sessions, which aren’t included in this review. So the review is based on the core sessions. “Towards Belief” (2013), a course which addresses the belief blockers of our time, was also viewed but isn’t discussed below.
All these courses have been developed and delivered by those with the gift of evangelism and with theological training. They are skilled and experienced presenters with appropriate demeanour, body language, and attire. The messages are encouraging and challenging with the major application being that unbelievers would trust in Christ as their Savior. In each session they keep to the subject and have a clear outline, key points, introduction and conclusion. They use appropriate illustrations and visual aids, which are generally better in more recent videos (see “Video age” below). The Scripture passages used are relevant to the message and they are interpreted and applied as in mainstream Christianity, except for in one Alpha message (see “Doctrinal aspects” below).
How can we choose which of these courses is best for us to use? To help make this decision, we will look at several categories.
Because people are often busy, it can be difficult for them to persist through a long course. Also, the time period available may be limited by other factors such as a person’s availability.
Simply Christianity is the shortest course with 5 sessions, but it requires more preparation as it doesn’t have a video version of these sessions. Of those with videos, Christianity Explained is shortest with 6 sessions, while Christianity Explored and Introducing God have 7-8 sessions. On the other hand, Alpha is the longest course with 11 core sessions.
The longer a message, the more difficult it is to maintain the audience’s interest and their recall of the content. If one’s attention span is limited, this can be an important factor.
Christianity Explored has the shortest video messages (about 15 minutes). Most of the other courses are about 30 minutes (Christianity Explained, Introducing God, and LifeWorks). On the other hand, Alpha is the longest at about 45 minutes. It is noted that a shorter version of the Alpha messages is also available (about 25 minutes).
Because of changes in technology and culture, videos tend to represent the year they were made. Generally, recent videos use more appealing graphics and visual aids. Their illustrations are also more current and less historic.
The most modern videos are Introducing God and Christianity Explored (2013-2014). A modern video will also be available for LifeWorks by December 2015. On the other hand, Alpha and Christianity Explained are older videos (2005-2006).
Spoken English can be difficult to understand for those with English as a second language. For example, Chinese students who visit Australia need to do English language courses in order to improve their understanding of the English language and so be able to complete their course of study.
Christianity Explained is probably the easiest course to understand because it uses the Good News Bible, which has simple language. The level of English in the other courses is similar as they use the NIV, ESV and HCSB translations of the Bible. Also, the Alpha course includes some English church terms such as “vicar” and “church warden”, which would need to be explained.
Pre-evangelistic or post-evangelistic
Today some people don’t know much about the Christian God or the terminology used in the Bible. This means that such knowledge shouldn’t be presumed.
The course with the largest proportion of time spent on pre-evangelism is Lifeworks, which is at least 50% pre-evangelistic. On the other hand, the course that assumes the most knowledge of the Bible and church life is Alpha. Alpha also provides the most post-evangelistic content (at least 60%).
Expositional or not
As the Christian message involves the death and resurrection of Jesus, some courses are based on biographies of His life. Christianity Explained and Christianity Explored are based on the book of Mark, which is the shortest biography of Jesus. Simply Christianity is based on the book of Luke. These courses are expositional, while the other courses draw on passages across the Bible.
All of these courses cover the basics of the Christian faith; including the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the good news of salvation through faith in Christ.
However, Alpha deviates from mainstream Christianity in its session on “Does God heal today” where there is questionable exegesis with regard to “Words of knowledge”. It claims that Matthew 28:19 is a command for Christians to heal the sick, and endorses the Pentecostal preacher John Wimber. Also, the extra Alpha sessions on the Holy Spirit assume that the coming of the Holy Spirit to first Jewish, Samaritan and Gentile Christians, and when John the Baptist’s disciples and Paul became Christians, described in Acts 2, 8, 9, 10, 19, are all normative for today. But each of these describes the Holy Spirit coming in a different sequence of events. As today the good news is going out to all nations (Acts 15:10), the pattern for us is that the Holy Spirit indwells someone as soon as they believe in the message (Acts. 10:44). So these sessions on Healing and the Holy Spirit should be omitted if you don’t want to include Pentecostal teaching in your course.
Most of the sessions in these courses are designed to be a presentation followed by a discussion. Discussion questions are provided by Christianity Explored, Introducing God, and LifeWorks. The discussion questions are in the Workbook for Christianity Explored, in the video for Introducing God, and in the Group leader’s toolkit for LifeWorks. Discussion questions for the Alpha Course are available on the internet. In the other courses, the discussion questions need to come from either the audience or those facilitating the discussion.
Sometimes it may not be convenient to use a video, although this is less likely with the advent of tablet computers and smart phones. Also, you may wish to present to message yourself so it can be tailored to the audience. Someone told me they would prefer that the audience read the Bible instead of watching videos.
LifeWorks provides the most information for the presenter, including speaker’s notes and PowerPoint slides. On the other hand, for the other courses this information would need to be derived from the message summary in the Workbook and from the video messages. All the courses have Workbooks or Notes which contain a summary of the messages. The Workbook for Simply Christianity also has “Extra information” for each session.
So, what’s the best course for introducing people to Christianity?
Best of all
Which course is best for you will depend on the relative importance of each of the categories considered above. Like various translations of the Bible, they all tell us what God wants us to know about Jesus Christ and what we should do about this. They are merely tools to help people understand the most important message in the Bible.
If you want to use minimal preparation and contemporary style, the options are Christianity Explored (with shorter messages), Introducing God, and LifeWorks (after December 2015; with a longer course).
Although no course is perfect, they all clearly present the good news of salvation for sinners through Jesus Christ. Let’s all communicate this message, whether we use a course or not.
Checklist in Hebrews 13
Before you climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge there’s a checklist that covers your: age, height, blood alcohol reading, pregnancy status, essential medication, and health. To climb the bridge, you need to satisfy all these requirements.
Today we are looking at a checklist given at the end of Hebrews that helps us to keep following Jesus and not turn back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish religious customs. Hebrews tells them what God wanted them to know and to do. They were to know three things. First, that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests (Ch 1-10). Second, that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race (Ch 10-12). As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us. Third, the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins (Ch. 1-12). Once they knew these truths the final chapter tells them what to do about it.
As Hebrews was probably written to a church about AD 68, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then.
Hebrews 13 begins with three outward things.
Love one another (v.1)
Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters.
The Greek noun used here is philadelphia (Strongs #5360), which is love among brothers and sisters in a family. It describes the connection and relationship that should be felt with all true Christians. Because God is now like our Father and we are like His children, all who have trusted in Him are like siblings in a spiritual family. That’s why we often call each other brothers and sisters. These metaphors should influence our thoughts and behavior towards each other. Paul wrote, “Be devoted to one another in love (philadelphia)” (Rom. 12:10NIV).
Do we feel the family connection with believers in our church? Do we feel the connection with other believers in our area? In our city? In our state? In our nation? In other nations across the world?
Practice hospitality (v.2)
Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.
The Greek noun translated “hospitality” (#5381) means friendliness shown to strangers. It’s providing them with food and shelter. The Bible also says “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling” and “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality” (Rom. 12:13; 1 Pt. 4:9). Christians who were fleeing from persecution certainly needed hospitality. Jesus commended those who showed hospitality, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in” (Mt. 25:35).
By showing hospitality, we can support God’s people and God’s servants. Abraham (Gen. 18:1-15), Lot (Gen. 19:1-17), Gideon (Jud. 6:11-24 and Samson’s father Manoah (Jud. 13:9-23) each showed hospitality to angels although they didn’t know who their visitors were at the time.
Do we show hospitality to Christians who are in need? Have we taken the initiative and invited them into our home? In this way we can share in their Christian lives and our family can benefit from the interaction. Do we show hospitality to non-Christians? Have we invited a non-Christian into our home over the past year? This can be a blessing to both families.
Practice empathy (v.3)
Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Christians were imprisoned and mistreated during this time of persecution. Their colleagues were told to remember them in a particular way. The Greek text says “as being bound with them” in prison and “as also yourselves being in their body” when they are mistreated. This is empathy, which is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. Paul expressed it as, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). Previously they had “stood side by side” with those who were persecuted and “suffered along with those in prison” (Heb. 10:33-34). Also, Jesus commended those who visited prisoners, “I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” (Mt. 25:36). Ancient prisons didn’t give prisoners any food, so visits from friends were essential.
Do we have empathy for Christians who are suffering? Can we imagine what it is like walking in their shoes?
Hebrews 13 then addresses two inward things.
Be sexually pure (v.4)
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Before sin came into the world, God created marriage between a man and a woman. He wants us to hold it in high regard. On the other hand, the Bible says that sexual immorality is a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Besides the problems it causes in this life, it brings God’s judgement unless one is pardoned through Christ’s death as our substitute.
A reason to honor marriage is because it is to be an example of the loving relationship between Christ and His bride the church (Eph. 5:22-33). Marriage is dishonoured by adultery and sexual immorality, which is having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. Sexual sin impacts one’s relationships, family and Christian witness. It has more influence on one’s life than other sins (1 Cor. 6:18). God’s people need to exercise self-control in this area. After all, one of the gifts of the Spirit is self-control.
How are we influenced by the loose sexual standards in society today? What about pornography? If we are married, are we faithful to our spouse?
Be contented (v.5-6)
Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”
These Christians were tempted to want more money and what it can buy. Paul used the same Greek adjective (#866) to say that a church elder shouldn’t be “a lover of money” (1 Tim. 3:3). He also learnt “to be content whatever the circumstances” and taught that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, which brings griefs and causes people to wander from the Christian faith (Phil. 4:11-13; 1 Tim. 6:6-10). Instead they were to be content with what they had, which was Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Verse 5 quotes Moses at the end of his life telling the Israelites that God would help them possess the land of Canaan, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you” (Dt. 31:6). This strong promise is the key to being freed from the love of money. It’s realizing that God is always with us; we’re never alone.
Verse 6 quotes the Israelites giving thanks to God for deliverance from their enemies “The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me? The LORD is with me; He is my helper” (Ps. 118:6-7). Nothing can separate us from God and His love and His promise of eternal life. Likewise, Christians can trust God for their safety, protection and economic welfare. They shouldn’t fear financial loss or poverty. Instead trust God to take care of you.
If we believe the promise that the Lord is always with us and empowers us, then we will love one another, show hospitality and empathy, be sexually pure, and avoid the love of money.
Are we contented with what we have in life? Or are we discontent and influenced by materialism? Are we greedy? Are we afraid of the future? Or do we trust that the Lord is with us?
Hebrews 13 then looks at how we live our spiritual lives, beginning with a source of strength to live a Christian life like this.
Follow godly church leaders (v.7-8, 17)
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
They are given the example of godly church leaders to follow and imitate. In the past these leaders had taught them God’s word. The leaders kept following Jesus throughout their lives – they were faithful despite the difficulties, and they finished well. They didn’t go back to their previous Jewish ways of worship. That’s the kind of faith to follow and imitate.
These leaders’ teaching and faith was based on the fact that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v.8). This means that His character is the same, not that He does the same things in every age. As God, He has the same love, wisdom, righteousness, power, knowledge and plan. He never changes His mind because of unforeseen circumstances.
Church leaders are also mentioned in v.17.
Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.
Church elders are to care for (“keep watch over”) the spiritual welfare of the congregation. Elders are accountable to God at the Judgment Seat of Christ for this pastoral care. This is serious business. They will be asked, what did you teach? How did you live? How did you care for the lonely, the suffering, and the disobedient?
The congregation is to respect, trust and follow such godly leaders (elders) because of the work they do. This gives them joy and the congregation benefits.
If we are an elder are we a godly example for the congregation? Are we keeping watch over them? Do we pray for them regularly? Are we interested in their spiritual growth? Are we ready to give an account of our time and effort used in this task? If we are in the congregation, do we respect the elders? Do we pray for them? Are we willing to let them take an interest in our spiritual growth?
Next they are urged not to return to the false teachings of Jewish legalism.
Follow Jesus (v.9-12)
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods, which is of no benefit to those who do so. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat (v.9-10)
Holiness doesn’t come from following rituals and food laws, which were some of the false teachings they were being tempted to follow. Only God’s love and kindness shown to us by Jesus can empower believers to live holy lives through their relationship with God. It takes inner strength to live the Christian life as it is described in Hebrews 13.
Then it says “we have an altar”, which is a figure of speech (metonymy) for Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. Through it we can have forgiveness and hope. Instead of Jewish rituals and rules, we have Christ’s supreme sacrifice and the blessings it brings. All those involved with the Jewish religion had no right to the better things of Christianity (because they rejected Jesus as their Savior). They must first confess and repent of their sins and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp. And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through His own blood. (v.11-12)
Under the Jewish sacrificial system, certain animals were killed and their blood was brought into the most holy place of the temple by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin. The people’s sins were symbolically transferred to the sacrificial animal. The body of the animal was disposed of away from the temple (or “outside the camp”) (Ex. 29:14; Lev. 4:12, 21; 9:11; 16:14, 27). Likewise, Jesus was crucified outside Jerusalem at a place where criminals (those rejected by society) were punished (Jn. 19:17). His death enabled us to have our sins forgiven so we can be holy before God. It says that God can make us holy through the death of Jesus (“His own blood” means His death).
Are we tempted like the Jewish Christians to go back to our old ways of life? To the things that occupied us before we changed to follow the Lord.
Because of Jesus, Christians don’t need to sacrifice animals. Instead they offer different sacrifices.
Suffering, praise and good works (v.13-16)
Let us, then, go to Him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace He bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (v.13-14)
Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. (v.16-17)
Instead of offering sacrifices at Jerusalem, as Christians they were to offer three other kinds of sacrifices. The first is a sacrifice of suffering for Christ (v.13-14). Because Jesus suffered outside the city of Jerusalem to meet our need (v.12), Christians are urged to join Jesus in His sufferings (v.13). “The camp” represented their old Jewish religion centred at Jerusalem (for us it can mean our previous way of life before we followed Christ). The Jewish believers escaped from Jerusalem because they were persecuted and ridiculed by the Jewish religious leaders for following Jesus (Acts 8:1-4). They suffered insults and shame. As disciples of Christ they denied themselves, took up their cross and followed Him (Mk. 8:34). Likewise, to meet the needs of this world we need to leave our comforts and security. Instead of putting our efforts into building our lives in this world, which won’t endure; we should be putting them into heaven, which is everlasting.
The Jewish religion was centred on the city of Jerusalem. That’s where the temple was.
But Christians don’t have a special city on earth. Instead, they look ahead to the new Jerusalem (the coming city) where God and Jesus are enthroned (v.14). Unlike earthy cities, this city is permanent and secure. They long for heaven and its joy and eternal pleasures (Ps. 16:11). Because they are satisfied with all that God has done, they long to be with Him. They value the Creator above the creation. They’re only visiting this planet, it’s not their home.
The second is a sacrifice of words of praise offered to God through the Lord Jesus (v.15). It’s “through Jesus” because that’s the only way we can approach God (Heb. 7:25; 10:19-21). He’s our mediator. This is to be “continual” verbal praise, not just on Sunday. Every day of the week and in good times and bad times (Acts 16:23-25). It flows from our satisfaction with God and longing to be with Him (v.14). How can we creatively mention our faith in Jesus and God’s greatness and goodness in our conversations? Are our meetings God-centred?
The third is a sacrifice of good works (v.16). It says “to do good and to share with others” who are in need. This would include the things mentioned earlier in the chapter, such as using our time and possessions in loving one another, and showing hospitality and empathy. Living for others. Doing the good works that God has prepared for us (Eph. 2:10). Then a reason is given for doing this “for with such sacrifices God is pleased”. God is pleased with this sacrifice because when we live like this, we show that He is more valuable than the things of this world. If God is our treasure, we’ll serve Him by helping others instead of being devoted to the things of this world.
How do we rate on these sacrifices? Are we willing to suffer and be ridiculed because we are a Christian? What about moving outside our churches to evangelize our neighbourhoods, our cities, our nation and the nations of the world? Do we have a heart of praise? Do we live for others?
Up to now the book of Hebrews has been like a sermon, but it finishes like a letter.
Keep praying (v.18-19)
Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way. I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon.
The writer appeals for their prayers. Because he says he has a clear conscience and desires to live honorably in every way, he may have been attacked by Jewish critics. As he also asks them to pray that he might be able to visit them soon, it seems as though he had been delayed. Perhaps he was in prison (v.23). Prayer is another way to seek God’s help to live a life that pleases Him.
Do we pray for others?
The writer now expresses his final desire and prayer for those he is writing to.
Recognize God’s work (v.20-21)
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
He calls God the “God of peace”, because through Jesus we can have peace with God. Our sins separate us from God, but through Jesus we can be reconciled and draw near to God.
The fact that Jesus was raised back to life after being in the tomb showed that His mission was accomplished – His death paid the penalty owing for the sin of humanity. Because of this we can share in God’s eternal covenant, which is also called the new covenant. A covenant is a promise, and because of what Jesus did, we know that God keeps His promises.
Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep”, which is a metaphor for a great leader of all the redeemed. Sheep need guiding to fresh pasture and protection from predators. Because He is alive, and because by His Spirit He is always with us, He can guide and protect those who follow Him.
His prayer was that God would give them the desire and resources to do His will and the power to carry it out (also see Phil. 2:13). Doing God’s will is what pleases Him. Then they could be faithful and keep following and serving Christ and have inner strength and faith to persevere to the end (Jer.32:40).
All this equipping believers and pleasing God is achieved “through Jesus Christ”. It’s the same explanation as given for how Paul learnt to be content in all circumstances: “I can do all this through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). That’s why Jesus deserves glory and praise for ever and ever.
Do we give Jesus glory, honor and praise as our great spiritual leader? Do we realize that God equips us and works in us? Are we like Paul whose goal was to please God (2 Cor. 5:9; Col. 1:10; 1 Th. 4:1)?
We have seen that an understanding of the greatness of Jesus, the importance of perseverance and the danger of unbelief needs to be expressed by loving one another; showing hospitality and empathy; sexual purity; avoiding the love of money; following Jesus and godly church leaders instead of false teachings; persevering in the Christian faith by accepting suffering, by continual praise and by doing good works; prayer; and by letting God work though us.
In 1935 a Boeing B-17 aircraft crashed when being evaluated by the US Army. The crash was caused by pilot error. When they realized that flying the plane was too complex to rely on the pilot’s memory, they developed checklists to make sure nothing was forgotten.
Let’s use this checklist in Hebrews 13 to keep following Jesus and not turning back to our old ways. Then we will please God by doing His will.
Written, May 2015
The 6 Trials of Jesus Christ
According to Amnesty International, the conviction of Mohamed Nasheed, the former president of the Maldives to 13 years in jail on terrorism charges after a deeply flawed and politically motivated trial is a travesty of justice. After his arrest in February 2015, he was denied access to a lawyer at the start of his trial, and even when he was allowed legal representation the lawyers were not given enough time to prepare his defence. Two of the three judges assigned to his case were the very ones who had acted as state witnesses against him during the investigation.
In the gospels we see that Jesus also suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas (a terrorist) was freed from prison.
Jesus Christ was a Jew who lived in Palestine in the first century AD under the rule of the Roman Empire. The gospels Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible are selective biographies of His life. They were compiled by eyewitnesses and their colleagues.
Because large crowds followed Jesus, the Jewish religious leaders were envious and jealous of his popularity. Furthermore, because they thought Jesus threatened their power and authority, the religious leaders planned to kill Him (Mt. 26:3-4). When Judas Iscariot offered to betray Jesus, they gave him a payment that was equivalent to five months wages (Mt. 26:14-15). Jesus was arrested by a detachment of Roman soldiers and Jewish officials when He was betrayed by Judas (Jn. 18:1-13).
Before He was executed in Jerusalem, Jesus was brought before the Jewish religious authorities and the Roman civil authorities in three religious trials and three civil trials. So He was given six trials in a period of about 16 hours. We will now look at these in turn, beginning with the religious trials.
First trial (Jn. 18:13, 19-24)
After His arrest on Thursday evening, Jesus was bound and taken to Annas, the previous high priest. Annas questioned Jesus about His disciples and His teaching as if these were a threat to the Mosaic Law and the Roman Government. Jesus replied by saying that Annas should have known what He taught because it was done in public and many Jews were present. And what He taught His disciples was consistent with His public messages. Then one of the Jewish officials slapped Him in the face. When Jesus asked the officials who were present to provide evidence of anything that He said which was wrong, they didn’t reply.
So Annas failed to prove any charges against Jesus! He appeared to be innocent. But because they wanted to kill Him, instead of releasing Jesus, Annas sent Him to Caiaphas, the high priest.
Second trial (Mt. 26:57-68; Mk. 14:53-65; Lk. 22:54-64; Jn. 18:24)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) was at Caiaphas’ house on Thursday night (perhaps midnight). Their strategy was to use false evidence to put Jesus to death. But they couldn’t find any, even though many false witnesses came forward (because their evidence was contradictory).
When Caiaphas asked Jesus if He was the Messiah, the Son of God, Jesus agreed with this statement and said He was the Son of Man. Consequently, Caiaphas accused Him of blaspheme (speaking evil against God). After the high priest pronounced that He was guilty, the Council agreed that He deserved to be put to death as under the Law of Moses, the punishment for blaspheme was death (Lev. 24:16). Jesus is then mocked and beaten and kept overnight to appear once again before the Council so they could make the verdict official on the following morning.
Third trial (Mt 27:1-2; Mk. 15:1a; Lk. 22:66-71)
The Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) met early Friday morning (perhaps 5-6am) and made plans to accuse Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire. When Jesus was brought before them they asked Him once again if He was the Jewish Messiah. After Jesus confirmed this, they thought this supported their accusation of treason, so they sent Him to Pontius Pilate the Roman governor over Judea (AD 26 to AD 36) because he was the only one who could impose the death penalty (Jn. 18:31). As Pilate wouldn’t be interested in the religious charge of blaspheme, they changed it into a political charge of treason.
This is the end of the Jewish religious trials and the beginning of the Roman civil ones.
Fourth trial (Mt 27:2, 11-14; Mk. 15:1b-5; Lk. 23:1-5; Jn. 18:28-38)
Early Friday morning (perhaps 6-7am) at the Praetorium, the Jewish leaders made three charges against Jesus: that he subverted the nation, opposed paying taxes to Caesar, and claimed to be a king. They told Pilate that these threatened the Roman Empire. But Jesus didn’t reply to these accusations because they were false. Although large crowds followed Jesus, He wasn’t misleading them or turning them against the Roman Empire. He said “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Lk. 20:25NIV). And although Jesus claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, He wasn’t a political or military king.
When Pilate asked Jesus if He was the king of the Jews, Jesus said that His kingdom was not of this world. Pilate concluded that Jesus was innocent (“I find no basis for a charge against this man” ). So Pilate wanted to set Jesus free. But the Jewish leaders wouldn’t accept this verdict.
When Pilate heard that Jesus was from Galilee, he realized that he could transfer the case to king Herod who ruled over Galilee and was Jewish. Herod was in Jerusalem at the time for the Passover Festival. So Pilate hoped that he wouldn’t need to be involved with this complicated case anymore.
Fifth trial (Lk. 23:6-12)
Herod Antipas ruled over Galilee and Perea. When Jesus was taken to Herod’s palace on Friday morning, Herod seems to be more interested in seeing a miracle than in investigating the charges against Jesus. When Jesus doesn’t answer his questions, he ridiculed and mocked Him and sent Him back to Pilate. So Pilate has to face this problem once again!
Herod found no basis for the charges that were made against Jesus (Lk. 23:14-15). He concluded that Jesus was innocent. Through their mocking of an innocent man on Good Friday, Herod and Pilate’s animosity turned in to friendship.
Sixth trial (Mt. 27:15-26; Mk. 15:6-15; Lk. 23:13-25; Jn. 18:39 – 19:16)
Jesus returns to the Praetorium later on Friday morning. Pilate said that as he and Herod agreed that Jesus was innocent, Jesus would be punished and released. But the Jewish religious leaders demanded that Jesus be put to death.
As it was the custom for a prisoner to be released for the Passover Festival, Pilate asked the crowd whether they wanted Jesus Barabbas (a terrorist who was imprisoned because of insurrection and murder) or Jesus Christ to be released for the Festival. Barabbas was probably a Jewish Zealot who rebelled against the Romans (Lk. 23:19; Jn. 18:40). Pilate was attempting to free Jesus (Jn. 19:12). He also did this because he knew that the Jewish leaders were protecting their interests by handing Jesus over to the civil authorities.
At this time, Pilate’s wife advised him that as Jesus was innocent, he should dismiss the case. Both Luke and John record that three times Pilate stated publicly that Jesus was innocent (Lk. 23:4, 14, 22; Jn. 18:38; 19:4, 6). But the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd and they demanded that Jesus be crucified and Barabbas be released. While the Jewish leaders falsely accused Christ of treason against the Romans, they demanded the release Barabbas who was guilty of that crime!
When Pilate asked the crowd, “What crime has He committed?”, they kept shouting “Crucify Him!”. In a moment of weakness and because he wanted to please the people, Pilate let the crowd have their way. He changed his mind and said that Jesus was guilty. So he released the guilty Jesus Barabbas and condemned the innocent Jesus Christ to flogging and crucifixion.
What are the lessons for us today?
Each of these six instances were kangaroo courts and not fair trials. The trials were brief and didn’t follow proper legal procedure. The Jewish leaders persisted until they got the verdict they wanted. Consequently, the innocent One (Jesus) was condemned as guilty, and the guilty one (Barabbas) was released as innocent. An innocent man was executed so a terrorist could be released.
In March 2015, an Afgan woman named Farkhunda was beaten to death, burned and thrown in a river for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran. But she was innocent, being a 27-year old Muslim scholar. Apparently a group of policeman did nothing to stop the attack by an angry mob of men. Hundreds marched in Kabul demanding justice over the vicious killing. 26 men have been arrested in connection to the homicide. Both Farkhunda and Jesus Christ were killed for crimes they didn’t commit.
So who is guilty of having Jesus executed? Was it the Jews or the Romans (who were Gentiles)?
It was both – The Jews brought the charges, while the Romans performed the crucifixion. Although Pilate said “I am innocent of this man’s blood”, he gave the final verdict (Mt. 27:24-25). And the Jews responded, “His blood is on us and on our children!” (Mt. 27:25). Jesus told Pilate “the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin” (Jn. 19:11). So both sinned, but Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin were more guilty than Pilate. Soon afterwards, Peter told the Jews “you, with the help of wicked men (the Romans), put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross” (Acts 2:23). During the crucifixion Jesus prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). So if they confessed their sins, they could be forgiven. Likewise, if we confess our sins to God, we can be forgiven as well.
Did you know that we are like Barabbas? As Barabbas was guilty of rebellion against the Roman Empire, we are guilty of rebelling against God (sin). Because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison. So Barabbas should have been thankful for Jesus giving up His life for him at Calvary. Likewise, because Jesus died and rose back to life, He paid the penalty for our sin and we can be seen as being innocent. If we accept this sacrifice and confess our sins, we are no longer condemned. Have we accepted Christ’s gift to us? Are we thankful for what He did for us at Calvary?
We have seen that Jesus suffered a travesty of justice when He was convicted of false accusations. Although He was innocent, Jesus was condemned to be executed. But because Jesus was executed, Barabbas was freed from prison and we can be freed from the penalty of our sin.
Written, April 2015
The danger of unbelief
In 1912 the Titanic ignored a warning from other ships about icebergs and kept sailing through the night at near full speed. When they saw an iceberg it was too late to avoid the impact and the ship sank within three hours. This shows it is dangerous to ignore warnings.
In the book of Hebrews we see that God’s greatest warning to us is the danger of not believing the gospel message. This excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor) is doomed to punishment in hell.
Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were being persecuted for their faith (Heb. 12:4-13; 13:3). They were spiritually weak and being tempted to give up following Jesus and turn back to their Jewish customs.
Hebrews tells them what they needed to know and to do. The first 9.5 chapters show that Jesus is greater than all their Jewish heroes like the prophets, angels, Moses, and the priests and Christ’s sacrifice is greater than the Jewish sacrifices.
Halfway through chapter 10 there is a change from doctrine to practice. The next two chapters tell us what to do. It says that following Jesus is like running in a marathon race. As athletes keep running through adversity, we can keep following Jesus through adversity by: focusing on God and Jesus; encouraging one another; and removing the obstacles that hinder us.
Five warnings are also included in the first 12 chapters of Hebrews. We will look at each of these in turn. These warnings are written in strong language. They are imperatives and commands, not just models to follow. As Hebrews was probably written to a church in about AD 67-70, which is well after the early days of the church, we can generally apply the principles in it to us today without needing much consideration of the changes since then. While Noah and the Old Testament prophets warned their generations of God’s imminent judgment (2 Pt. 2:5), this warning applies to us today.
1. Warning against drifting away (Heb. 2:1-4)
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (Heb. 2:1NIV).
This command is a warning against drifting away from the message of the gospel. Don’t be like a boat drifting past its destination or moving away from its anchorage/mooring because it’s being pushed along by the current and it’s drifting towards danger.
They had heard the gospel message. The danger is not paying attention and letting the words flow by while our minds are occupied elsewhere. It’s a warning against ignoring God’s gift of salvation by remaining in unbelief.
“For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Heb. 2:2-3a)
This explains why drifting away is so dangerous. The message spoken through angels was the law given on Mount Sinai (Acts 7:38, 53; Gal. 3:19). The Israelites were commanded to keep these laws and there was punishment for disobedience (Deut. 17:2-6; Heb. 10:28).
The writer says that the gospel is greater than the law. He assumes that a greater message demands a greater punishment for those who rebel against it. If disregard for the law brought punishment, then disregard for the gospel will bring even greater punishment.
If we ignore the gospel message, we can’t escape God’s punishment (1 Th. 5:3; Heb. 12:25).
When the Titanic ignored a warning from other ships about icebergs it hit an iceberg and sank within three hours. Likewise, in 2012 when the Costa Concordia sailed too close to an island near Italy it hit rocks and capsized. In these cases, ignoring warnings and dangerous behaviour resulted in shipwreck. The Bible says ignoring the gospel (by unbelief) also leads to disaster.
“This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will” (Heb. 2:3b-4).
Here we see that the message of our great salvation has been confirmed by reliable witnesses. While the law was given by God through angels to Moses and then to the people, the gospel was spoken directly by the Lord Jesus. It was confirmed to the writer’s generation by the apostles who were eyewitnesses who heard the original message (Lk. 1:2; Acts 1:21-22; 1 Jn. 1:1-3; 2 Pt. 1:16).
The testimony of the apostles and their delegates was supported by miracles, such as the healing of the sick (Acts 3:7-12, 16; 5:12-16; 9:32-41; 14:3, 8-10; 19:11-12; 28:8-9). This is because at that time Jews wanted to see a miracle before they would believe that a message was from God (Jn. 4:48; 1 Cor. 1:21-22). The Holy Spirit also gave the apostles and their delegates miraculous abilities, such as the ability to speak in other languages (Acts 2:4-12).
These witnesses demonstrate that God’s great salvation is true, reliable, dependable and trustworthy.
2. Warning against unbelief (Heb. 3:7 – 4:13)
The book of Hebrews was written to professing Christians; they were not all true believers. The writer says, “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God” (Heb. 3:12). So some were unbelievers; they had “sinful unbelieving” hearts. This passage is a warning to them (Heb. 3:7 – 4:3). On the other hand, perseverance in the Christian faith is evidence of a true believer (Heb. 3:6, 14; 6:11; Mt. 10:22; 24:13; Mk. 13:13). True faith endures and is shown by ongoing hope in God. God gives believers the strength to persevere (Phil. 1:6; Heb. 13:21). But the “faith” of those who remained unbelievers and didn’t “come to share in Christ” (Heb. 3:14) doesn’t endure.
This danger is illustrated by the Israelites. Although God miraculously helped them escape from slavery in Egypt and travel to Canaan; because they rebelled they died in the desert before reaching the Promised Land (Num. 14:21-35; Ps. 95:7-11; Heb. 3:7-11).
It says, “They were not able to enter, because of their unbelief” (Heb. 3:19).
Unbelief (hardening the heart) excluded them from Canaan. They had seen many miracles including the 10 plagues in Egypt, crossed the Red Sea, eaten manna and quail provided by God, drank water provided by God, defeated the Amalekites, saw God’s glory and received the law at Mt Sinai and heard God’s promises. But they rebelled, sinned and disobeyed (Heb. 3:16-19). Sin deceives (it is attractive) and leads to hardening of the heart and unbelief. Persistent sin is a sign of unbelief. Of that generation, only Joshua and Caleb believed and obeyed God and entered Canaan. So the warning is to beware of unbelief. Don’t be like the Israelites!
The main message is given three times “Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (in unbelief)” (Heb. 3:7-8, 15, 4:7). It says, don’t do what they did! The remedy is to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (Heb. 3:13). To persevere in the faith we need to “encourage one another daily” in our families, churches and communities.
The message given by God’s voice was the “good news” that was proclaimed in the first century that included “the promise of entering His (God’s) rest” (Heb. 3:15; 4:1-2). The Israelites heard good news about the Promised Land, but it was of no value to them because instead of having faith and belief, they disobeyed and didn’t believe. Here’s the warning. God has also given us a message of good news in the gospel of salvation – forgiveness of our sin and eternal life in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ. But this is of no value to us if we ignore it and reject it. As unbelief excluded the Israelites from Canaan, it also excludes us from heaven (also called God’s “rest” and a “Sabbath-rest”, Heb. 4:1-11). It’s only entered through faith in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:3).
“Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest (by faith), so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience” (Heb. 4:11).
Unbelief is dangerous, because it leads to missing out on heaven.
3. Warning against falling away (Heb. 6:4-8)
“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away (committed apostasy), to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace” (Heb. 6:4-6).
An apostate is someone who professed to be a Christian and attended a local church, but turns against the Lord and abandons the Christian faith and opposes Christianity. They are traitors like Judas Iscariot who betrayed the Lord after being one of His disciples for three years. Apostates are unbelievers without salvation, in contrast to believers who have salvation (Heb. 6:9).
An apostate isn’t someone who hears the gospel and does nothing about it. Such an unbeliever may have another opportunity to become a believer. Also they aren’t a backslider who stops following the Lord and falls back into a previous sinful way of life (1 Cor. 5:1-13; Gal. 1:6; 4:9-11; 2 Ti. 4:9-10). Backsliders are Christians who are unfaithful and unfruitful.
Apostates had “once been enlightened”, which means they heard the gospel message. Like Judas Iscariot they knew the way of salvation, but hadn’t accepted it. They had “tasted the heavenly gift” of Jesus Christ, but hadn’t accepted Him by faith as Savior. They had “shared in the Holy Spirit” even though they weren’t indwelt by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit convicts unbelievers of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment (Jn. 16:8). They had “tasted the goodness of the word of God”, which means that they responded to the gospel message, but didn’t repent. In this respect, they were like the seed that fell on rocky ground and had no root and died when trouble or persecution came (Mt. 13:20-21). They had also experienced “the powers of the coming age”, which means they had seen the miracles associated with the preaching of the gospel by the apostles and their delegates (Heb. 2:4). But although they had experienced some of the benefits and privileges of Christianity, after they had “fallen away” (committed apostasy), it’s impossible for them to repent. They deliberately turn against and renounce Christianity and ridicule Christ, “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace”.
The warning is repeated in a parable, which is consistent with the parable of the sower.
“Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.
But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned” (Heb. 6:7-8).
The first land is an illustration of believers, while the second land is an illustration of apostates. The first is fruitful, but in the second the seed sprouts but because it has no root, some of it dies and the thorns and thistles take over and choke out the rest. The lesson is that God blesses the fruitful believer and punishes the apostate.
Apostates are not only traitors, they are also like terrorists. Terrorists wreck havoc with bombs and guns to undermine their enemies. Apostates are spiritual terrorists who undermine Christianity. You can read all about them in the book of Jude.
Next there is another warning for these spiritual terrorists.
4. Warning against deliberately sinning after knowing the truth (Heb. 10:26-31)
This passage warns those who profess to be Christians and go to church about the terrible consequences of rejecting Christ (Heb. 10:26-31). It says that God is angry about sin.
God will judge and punish sinners. This punishment is worse than death – because it goes beyond death. Hebrews constantly warns about this danger. It is mentioned three times in this passage.
“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” (Heb. 10:26-27).
“How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot” (Heb. 10:29).
“‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:30-31).
In this warning, apostasy is called deliberate sinning after knowing the truth, being part of God’s people and sanctified and is associated with deserting the church (Heb. 10:25-26, 29-30). Because the apostate has rejected Christ, and there is no other sacrifice for sins, they will be punished for their sins. They are called “enemies of God” meaning that they actively oppose Christianity (Heb. 10:26-27).
Note that God’s judgment occurs when there is no sacrifice for sins (Heb. 10:26). There are two possibilities, either a fearful judgment or a sacrifice for sins. Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners like us is the only way to escape God’s anger and punishment. That’s the gospel. God’s loving sacrifice enables us to escape His judgment.
Once again a comparison is made with the law of Moses (Heb. 10:28-29). Under the law a person who was proven to be an idolater was put to death (Dt. 17:2-7). The apostate will be punished more severely than this because they have:
Trampled the Son of God underfoot.
After professing to be a follower of Jesus, they now deny any need for Christ as Savior and reject Him as their Leader.
Treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them.
They think the death of Christ which ratified the New Covenant is useless and unholy. Through their association with Christian people, they had been sanctified (set apart), just as an unbelieving husband is sanctified by his believing wife (1 Cor. 7:14). But that does not mean that they were saved because it is a different sanctification to that of believers (Heb. 10:14).
Insulted the Spirit of grace.
Although the Holy Spirit had convicted them of sin, and pointed them to Christ as Savior, they despised Him and the salvation He offered and “deliberately keep on sinning”.
The rejection of Jesus as Son of God is a serious sin (Heb. 10:30-31). The Bible says that God will judge such people:
“It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” for judgment.
The apostate (spiritual terrorist) will be fearful when they face God’s judgment (Heb. 10:27, 31).
Next they are warned once again.
5. Warning against turning away (Heb. 12:25-29)
After contrasting the old covenant (where God and humanity were separated because of sin) and the new covenant (where God and humanity are reconciled by Jesus Christ), the writer warns
“See to it that you do not refuse Him (God) who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven?” (Heb. 12:25). God warned the Israelites at Mount Sinai (Ex. 23:20-33). When they refused to obey Him during the exodus towards Canaan, they didn’t escape God’s punishment and so they perished. But Jesus is both from and in heaven and His revelation is greater than that at Mount Sinai. Consequently, if we fail to heed His invitation and warning by turning away from Him in unbelief, then we can’t escape a greater punishment than experienced by the Israelites in the wilderness. After all, “God is a consuming fire” of judgment to all sin and all who refuse to listen to Him (Heb. 10:27; 12:29).
What are the lessons for us today?
Unbelief and apostasy are dangerous. That’s why there are five warnings against them in the book of Hebrews.
Unbelief (ignoring God’s gift of salvation) is dangerous, because it leads to missing out on heaven. Remember what happened to the Israelites in the wilderness. They experienced great miracles, but still didn’t trust in God. Likewise, no matter what our spiritual experiences may be, including miracles, it doesn’t guarantee our salvation. Have we confessed and repented of our sin and trusted in Christ as our Savior and Leader? Are we warning unbelievers of the danger of unbelief? Are we encouraging one another to accept God’s gift of salvation and to continue meeting together (Heb. 10:24-25)?
Sin deceives and leads to unbelief. What sins are hindering us from accepting God’s invitation? Are we tempted to continue in our sinful ways?
Are we encouraging one another in the Christian faith (Heb. 3:13)? Reminding each other of the greatness of Jesus and what He has done and God’s promises in Scripture. Helping each other to not be deceived by the attractiveness of sin. Encouraging people’s faith and discouraging their unbelief. Are we doing this daily? In our families? In our church family? In our small groups?
Apostasy (committing treason against the Christian faith; betraying Christ; spiritual terrorism) is dangerous, because it is an eternal sin. Remember what happened to Judas Iscariot. It occurred in the first century and it happens today (1 Tim. 4:1).
If the sin of apostasy doesn’t apply to believers, to whom then does it apply? It could apply to someone who makes a profession of faith in Christ and seems to go on brightly for a while, but then something happens in their life. Perhaps they experience persecution or tragedy, or fall into immorality, or are convinced by the arguments of atheistic commentators or academics. With full knowledge of the truth, they deliberately turn away from it, completely renouncing Christianity. As the Bible says it is impossible to bring apostates to repentance, are we encouraging those at risk of apostasy?
God’s warnings to professing Christians were to not drift away, turn away, or fall away into ongoing unbelief, and not become a traitor by rejecting and criticizing Christ after knowing the truth.
We have seen from Hebrews that God’s greatest warning for us is the danger of not believing the gospel message because this excludes people from heaven and leads to eternal punishment for one’s sins. In particular an apostate (a professing Christian who becomes a traitor or spiritual terrorist) is doomed to punishment in hell.
The only way to escape God’s anger, judgment and punishment is to accept Christ’s sacrifice in the place of sinners like us. Let’s do this and turn around (repent) and persevere by trusting God day by day.
Written, March 2015
After his children were taken away and his partner died, Peter told me “I’ve got nothing to live for at the moment”. He was struggling with severe grief and loss and faced defending himself in Court as he sought access to his children. Peter couldn’t sleep at night and was losing weight because he wasn’t eating much. He felt guilty and was battling wanting to die. He also said “You’ve got to find something to live for”.
Stephen Hawking said that his engagement to Jane Wilde “gave me something to live for”. His biographers said that this was a major turning point in his life, which enabled him to break out of his depression and made him determined to live despite his disability. But their relationship ended after 21 years of marriage.
Although it’s good to have reasons to live for (like our children and partners), the Bible says that the two main purposes of life are to know the true God and to serve Him. We are here to have a close relationship with the God who created the universe and this is only possible through trusting in Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.
While our relationships with family and friends can be great reasons to live, they can also break down. As God is the only One who is always reliable, let’s live for Him.
Written, March 2015