OAKRIDGE BIBLE CHAPEL

Hebrews: An Introduction and Orientation (Selected Scriptures)

Disunity, complacency, apathy, immorality, immaturity, lethargy, idolatry, insecurity, adversity, and apostasy. There are so many spiritual diseases that can plague God’s people, sin-wrought infections that hinder us from growing and serving and enjoying and worshipping and witnessing as we ought to do. And yet, as various as these sicknesses present, as contagious as these infections can be, and as dangerous as these ailments are, they all share a treatment and have a common remedy: a clearer, fuller, grander view of Jesus Christ.

Whatever hardships, disappointments, failures, and discouragements face the people of God, the prescription always includes “more Jesus.” The clearer our view of Jesus, the fuller our understanding of Jesus, the grander our conception of Jesus, the more equipped we are to faithfully endure whatever spiritual diseases come our way.

SERMON MANUSCRIPT 

Disunity, complacency, insecurity, immorality, immaturity, lethargy, idolatry,, apathy, adversity, apostasy. There are many spiritual diseases that plague God’s people today, sin-wrought infections that hinder us from growing and serving and enjoying and worshipping and witnessing as we ought to do. And yet, as various as these sicknesses present, as contagious as these infections can be, and as dangerous as these disorders are, they all share a treatment—they all have a common medicine—a clearer, fuller, grander view of Jesus Christ.

How can disunity thrive in an assembly of people who are all in awe of their shared Saviour? How can a believer be complacent in their walk when consumed with the incomparable beauty of the One they’re following? How can idolatry exist in the presence of One who clearly cannot be replaced or replicated? How can a church family tolerate sin if they’re captivated by the Sinless One? How can we feel insecure when his promises are so sure? How can adversity discourage us when we know of his irreversible victory for us? How can anyone fall away from the faith if they fully grasp from whom they’re falling away? 

Whatever hardships and discouragements we face as Christians and whatever obstacles and losses we face as a church, the remedy always includes “more Jesus.” The clearer we see Jesus, the fuller our understanding of Jesus, the grander our conception of Jesus, the more equipped we are to faithfully endure whatever spiritual disease comes our way.

Over the next few months I want us to take steps in that direction by looking together at the book of Hebrews, a letter written to real Christians enduring real life with real ailments. And to these sick believers, the author writes an inspired prescription: more Jesus, the unrivalled, incomparable, and utterly unique Saviour and Lord.

Now, we’re not going to jump into chapter 1 this morning. Rather, I want to orient us to the letter, providing a bit of an introduction so that, when we do start working our way through Hebrews, we’ll have some sure and shared footing. So, this morning’s going to be a little different than is typical but I trust and pray it will be helpful.

THE AUTHOR OF HEBREWS

Let’s begin with the author of Hebrews. We don’t know! It seems whoever it was wanted to remain anonymous. 

An obvious guess might be Paul because of the sheer size of his New Testament contribution. And there is some evidence to support his authorship but, at the same time, if Paul did write Hebrews, he’s uncharacteristically shy about saying so. [Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 1:1; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Phil 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Thes 1:1; 2 Thes 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2 Tim 1:1; Tit 1:1; Phlm 1; Heb 1:1] 

It’s also been observed that the style of Greek used in Hebrews is a little more polished than Paul’s writings and that the vocabularies don’t quite match with this author using about 170 terms unique to this book (Osborne, 4).

So, if it wan’t Paul, then who was it? Some think it was Priscilla, but in 11:32 the author uses a masculine pronoun to refer to himself so that seems unlikely. Other suggestions have been Luke, Apollos, Barnabas, Silas, Stephen, Philip, Jude, Timothy, and Clement who was the bishop of Rome in the late first-century. We just don’t know.

What we do know is that the Holy Spirit wrote Hebrews and, inso doing, he used a well-educated person (Guthrie, 25–26), skilled in Old Testament interpretation, familiar with Jewish sacrifices and the levitical priesthood, gifted in Greek rhetoric, and overflowing with a pastor’s heart for people he knows well. [13:18–19] This is a shepherd who wants to be with his sheep.

THE AUDIENCE OF HEBREWS

Now let’s talk about the sheep, or, the audience of Hebrews. Who were its original recipients? We’re not told directly and so we have to dig a bit and, when we do, we discover that the audience was a predominantly, if not entirely, Jewish congregation. 

A few things point to this. First, it seems the author assumes his audience knows the Scriptures really well. More than any other book of the Bible, Hebrews is riddled with quotations from and allusions to the Old Testament. 

And without explanation, apology, or even exact references, the author repeatedly builds on the theology and summarizes the stories and utilizes the themes of the Old Testament to make his points, taking for granted that his hearers understand what he’s saying.

While it’s true that many Gentiles attend synagogues as proselytes or “God-fearers” (Guthrie, 20) and could come to know the Hebrew Scriptures, the Jews were raised on them, saturated in them, shaped by them. It’s their history, they knew it well, and the author banks on that.

Second, the major themes of Hebrews would be particularly concerning to Jewish men and women. Listen to these verses for a sample: [3:3a; 7:11; 8:13; 9:9b–10, 11; 10:4]. The author teaches the demotion of Moses, the expiration of the Levitical priesthood, the replacement of the Old Covenant, the antiquation of the Mosaic rituals, the inferiority of the earthly tabernacle, and the inadequacy of animal sacrifices, something it seems his audience was still practicing.

As one author summarizes, “Hebrews is profoundly Jewish, both in its orientation to the Jewish Scriptures and in its theology” (Osborne, 7).

But there’s something else we can learn about the audience of Hebrews, something that’s even more important. Not only are they Jewish but they’re Jewish believers.

The author, whoever he is, constantly uses the first person plural to join himself to his audience in their shared faith. [1:1–2a; 4:14–16; 10:10] He refers to them as part of the family of God: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling” (3:1); “Take care, brethren” (3:12); “Therefore, brethren” (10:19). [13:22–23] 

The author also chastises his audience for their lack of maturity. [5:12] “You’ve been Christians long enough. You should be eating doctoral steak not suckling on primary pablum.” But note that the expectation to mature in the faith presupposes they’ve been born again into the faith. And they’re expected to live by faith. [12:1–4] 

So, it sure seems that Hebrews is addressing believers. This may seem obvious but, I promise, it becomes very important as we get into the details of the book and encounter some severe warnings levelled at them and, by extension, us as well.

THE OCCASION OF HEBREWS

That brings us to the occasion of Hebrews. What was happening that moved the author to say what he says in the way he says it? And the answer is, these believers were spiritually sick. Listen to how one theologian describes the situation:

“The [author of Hebrews] is addressing a real and urgent pastoral problem, one that seems astonishingly contemporary. His congregation is exhausted. They are tired—tired of serving the world, tired of worship, tired of Christian education, tired of being peculiar and whispered about in society, tired of the spiritual struggle, tired of trying to keep their prayer life going, tired even of Jesus. Their hands droop and their knees are weak (12:12), attendance is down at church (10:25), and they are losing confidence. The threat to this congregation is not that they are charging off in the wrong direction; they do not have enough energy to charge off anywhere. The threat here is that, worn down and worn out, they will drop their end of the rope and drift away. Tired of walking the walk, many of them are considering, taking a walk, leaving the community, and falling away from the faith” (Long, 3).

What we find in Hebrews is an assembly of believers that had suffered. They were struggling to mature. They were wrestling with temptation. [2:18] They’d experienced persecution. [10:32–34] They remembered being mocked, publicly shamed, and unjustly treated because of their faith. Christ had cost them. They’re reminded that martyrdom hasn’t yet come, [12:4], but it doesn’t mean it won’t. They’d suffered.

And, because of what they’ve endured and because of their perpetual immaturity, this congregation had a number of members with “one foot out the door.” [2:1; 3:6, 12–14; 10:35]

It seems these Jewish believers, having suffered for their faith, start asking themselves, “Did we catch this much heat with Moses? Was the Old Covenant this hard? People kind of left us alone before we were flying the Christ flag, didn’t they? Are heavenly rewards worth this much earthly sorrow?” And, in their immaturity, they’re strongly considering pulling away from Jesus and going back to Judaism so as to relieve the pressure of persecution.

THE ARGUMENT OF HEBREWS

Obviously, the author doesn’t think this is a good idea and sets out to dissuade them. That brings us to the argument of Hebrews. This is where the author writes his prescription for the spiritual diseases with which these believers are afflicted. 

They’ve self-diagnosed and decided to treat themselves by leaving the church, the faith, and their confession. The author says that’s like using Advil to cure leukaemia or Vick’s Vapour Rub to treat Alzheimer’s. It’s wrong and ineffective.

So, what does he prescribe to keep these brothers and sisters engaged in the church? More Jesus. What will help these weary believers endure in faith? A clearer, fuller, grander view of their Saviour.

Jesus Christ is the greatest revelation of God, more perfect and pristine than any other before him. He’s greater than the prophets, those to whom God’s people rightly listened with reverence. He’s greater than the angels, those before whom humans tremble with fear. He’s far greater than Moses, Levi, Joshua, and Melchizedek. He offers a greater rest, a greater ministry, a greater priesthood, a greater sacrifice, a greater example, a greater promise, and a greater covenant, and a greater future. He is immeasurably supreme, glorious, majestic, exalted, and victorious. Jesus is the cure, the treatment, the remedy.

I’ve never met a people more proud of where they’re from than Texans. When my wife and I lived we would often hear people say, “I wasn’t born in Texas but I got here as quick as I could.” Texans believe that if you move from the state you are to be pitied; that wherever you are going, it’s somewhere worse. 

The author of Hebrews is declaring, if you move from Jesus you are to be pitied; wherever you go, you’re going somewhere worse. If you drift from him, you are drifting to someone deficient. Because he’s the best and like an ignorant child who refuses the medicine that will cure them, those who leave Christ to alleviate pressure are leaving the only remedy to that pressure.

These believers were sick. Lethargy, immorality, immaturity, insecurity, adversity, and apostasy. But the treatment is clear: they needed more Jesus. If they could be reminded of who it was that saved them, who it was that died for them, who it was that intercedes for them, who it was that went before them, they could endure and thrive in their faith. They could mature and worship and serve in joy and peace.

THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF HEBREWS

That brings us to a final section of our time this morning: the encouragement of Hebrews. I offer these this morning as general but important truths from this book as we start our study through its pages.

First, faithfulness is possible. [11:1–2] We walk by faith, not by sight. And all strive to do so are well-aware that it’s not easy, is it? As we fight the flesh, resist the world, and endure the devil there are temptations and disappointments, bumps and bruises, losses, fatigue, and doubt.

We must never believe the lie that ease of life is evidence of depth of faith. Jesus himself said, “You want to follow me? Pick up that cross. We’re going to glory but the road goes through Calvary.” 

But as hard as the Christian life is—as difficult as your walk with Christ has been, is, and may be—faithfulness is possible. Endurance in feasible. Victory is obtainable. We don’t have to shrink back, drift off, or fall away.

Why? because Christ is everything. He’s gone before us, he intercedes for us, he encourages us, he warns us, he motivates us, he’s secured us, forgiven us, died for us, leads us, and empowers us. 

While on earth, Jesus taught some tough lessons and, after one particularly offensive session, many of his disciples stopped following him. They fell away. [John 6:67–69]

No matter what we have, are, or will endure in this life of faith, whatever spiritual ailment we pickup along the way and whatever spiritual disease we have to battle, the fix is always more Jesus, not less. May our time in Hebrews grow that conviction, that we may all say with increased conviction, “Lord, to whom shall we go?”



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Josiah Boyd

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