Hebrews – Week 8: Exhortation to Faithfulness B

Hebrews 10:19-11:40

Literary context

The first few verses of this passage gives us the context. The passage moves on to the new topic by summarising the previous topic – in terms of the Old Covenant, the priest had to atone for the sins of himself and the people through a sacrifice and enter the Holy of Holies once a year to mediate on behalf of the people (Yom Kippur). However, Jesus was a much better, superior sacrifice and he brought reconciliation between God and man on a permanent basis. This was symbolised with the curtain to the Holy of Holies being torn in half with the death of Jesus on the cross.

Because of this, we can enter the presence of God with confidence.

The author of Hebrews leads us into the next topic by asking the implied question: Can we really trust this? Is this sacrifice sufficient? Does it do what it is supposed to do? The answer is that we know this by faith.

Historical context

What we have said about the historical context in previous sections remain relevant. The letter is addressed to Jewish Christians who are tempted to fall back into the “old way of doing things”. They lost their zeal and enthusiasm that characterised their life and faith when they first learned about Christ.

The author is now turning to the topic of exactly what faith is.

Analysis

The definition of faith in Hebrews 11:1 is rather well-known. However, the preceding passages explain the concept of faith in even more detail. It does not require much comment other than reading the relevant passages again:

10:22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.

10:32 Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering.

10:34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.

10:35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you!

11:1 Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.

In the previous sections the author of Hebrews appealed to the intellect of his audience to convince them of the superior basis of their faith.

In this passage he starts off by appealing to their emotions and prior experience. He is saying that “I do not have to tell you these things – you have already experienced it for yourself!”

However, once he has done that, he returns to further evidence and examples of faith of the OT characters to underline and support his definition of faith. He does this by applying this definition to the actions of various OT characters.

This is an important point as he is saying that the faith he is talking about is not a “blind faith”, but something sure and solid that one can rely on.

There are a couple of secondary points that are also made in this passage.

The first is that the grace of God (the sacrifice of Jesus) was costly and should not be made cheap by throwing it back to God. This is summarised in: 10:29 “Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us.”

The second point is the question that is often asked about the OT faithful. Because they lived before Christ, will they be saved? The answer is Yes – in the same way that our faith is based on looking back to what Christ HAS DONE, the OT faithful looked forward to what Christ WILL DO. 11:13 All these people died still believing what God had promised them. They did not receive what was promised, but they saw it all from a distance and welcomed it. They agreed that they were foreigners and nomads here on earth.

Reflection

The author of Hebrews is clearly talking about faith in this passage, telling us exactly what faith is – the sure confidence that the thing we hope for will actually happen. Hebrews 11:1 is the key verse in this whole passage.

Application

The first – and probably most important point is this: The sacrifice of Jesus was sufficient. We can believe in what He did on the cross for our salvation. There is no more that is required.

The second is this: God makes promises to us individually in this life. Do we trust that God will come through on His promises? Can we base the way we look at our lives and actually live our lives in that belief? The answer seems to be that we can – the question is whether we have the endurance and patience to do that.

(All quotations from NLT)

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