Summary: An introduction to a series on Hebrews 11
Super-heroes are popular. Batman, Superman, Wonder-Woman, Spiderman and Mr Incredible. The thing with super-heroes is their identity is secret. They live ordinary lives but have extraordinary powers. Hebrews 11 is a chapter about heroes – but not superheroes. There is only one of those Jesus who really does save the world through his suffering and death as opposed to using “super-powers” to do it. Hebrews 11 is about heroes – people who by faith made a great difference to the world we live in. They are God’s incredibles! - People who overcame great obstacles and faced great adversity to change the world for God. Many people have a favourite chapter in the bible. For some people it is Hebrews 11. I want us to take a few weeks to look at it. But before we get into chapter 11 I want us to see how it fits in the context of the whole book. As I often say one of the problems is that we often take favourite bits of the bible out of their context and sometimes as result lose their true meaning. So let’s get the story behind this chapter...
1. The Christian life can be tough
Hebrews was written to a group of Jewish Christians who like us had never seen or heard Jesus themselves. After initial progress it seems that they had stopped making progress and seemed to be slipping back into Judaism. Being a Christian in the Roman world was harder than being Jewish which enjoyed certain privileges. In the Roman world believing in one God was like being an atheist and could get you into big trouble. The Jews were exempt from this. But as the infant church grew it became clear that Christianity was distinct from Judaism and lost the protection it offered. Since their conversion they had been exposed to persecution – public abuse, imprisonment, looting of their property – but as yet they had not been called upon to die for their faith. So their faith was being put to the test.
Sometimes being a Christian is harder than not being one. The temptation was to give up, or at very least to stand still, not to press on, enthusiasm restrained & energy sapped. These are things that we may have experienced. Faith can become difficult when we face persecution. Or when we are faced with hard choices – e.g. do I pursue a relationship with someone who is not a Christian; do I pursue a sexual relationship with someone I am not married to; do I tithe when I could do so much with the money; should I be honest in this situation even though I could benefit from dishonesty or be harmed by honesty; Do I forgive someone who has hurt me? Faith can be challenged when we face suffering either personally or in the lives of those close to us. There are many situations when it could be said that not being a Christian would be easier.
Hebrews 11 reminds us of heroes of faith, God’s incredibles – they did not have an easy time. We are not promised an easy time. When I’ve been asked, “Why should your family be going through this trial?” My answer is “Why not”! Isn’t this what Jesus promised – “In this world you will have trouble”! Christianity has often been seen as the religion of the wimp. That is a travesty – following the crowd is for the wimp. Following Jesus means taking up a cross, it means a harder life in some ways than not following him. The question “why me” is the question of the victim. The people in Hebrews 11 may have had those moments, but they got over them to become God’s incredibles. So can we. That is one of the things we are being reminded of here.
2. Jesus really is THE answer
So Hebrews is written out of concern for them and warns them from going back, for if they forsake the Christian message they have everything to lose, but everything to gain if they press on. Hebrews tells us that Jesus is better; superior, he is THE answer. He is what history, the Old Testament and everything else is leading up to. This is so relevant to us. In an age when the idea that Jesus is one answer among many, Christianity one way among many Hebrews thunders out:
Long ago in many ways and at many times God’s prophets spoke his message to our ancestors. 2But now at last, God sent his Son to bring his message to us. God created the universe by his Son, and everything will someday belong to the Son. (Heb. 1:1-2 CEV)
Some translations puts it “at the end of these days” i.e. finally the last word is spoken by his Son. He is God’s last word. Those who claim to have come after with a final final word – Mohammed, Joseph Smith etc. are false prophets (I wonder how long it will be that in saying such a thing I might be in danger of prosecution – may God help us all not to be afraid to speak the truth even if it means that). The Final Word has been Spoken – it is Jesus. Hebrews sets about establishing his superiority and his fulfilment of the Old Testament. It all points to him, who though he is God’s son took on humanity so that he could be one of us. Lived perfectly and offered the perfect sacrifice on the cross, paying for our sin so now we can come boldly into God’s presence. It is not arrogance on our part. We do not claim it – it is Jesus. If it is true it cannot be arrogant. He said, “I am the Way..” – if it is true then believe it. Look at the evidence – the empty tomb, the fulfilment of prophecy, the logic that this man who claims to be the Son of God is either who he says he is or a madman or something worse. In April 1988 a skydiver jumped from a plane along with numerous other skydivers and filmed the group as they fell and opened their parachutes. On the film as the final skydiver opened his chute, the picture went berserk. The announcer reported that the cameraman had fallen to his death, having jumped out of the plane without his parachute. It wasn’t until he reached for the absent ripcord that he realized he was freefalling without a parachute. Until that point, the jump probably seemed exciting and fun. But tragically, he had acted with thoughtless haste and deadly foolishness. Nothing could save him, for his faith was in a parachute never buckled on. Faith in anyone except Jesus is just as tragic spiritually. Faith in Jesus alone saves. Jesus is the real deal. He is the answer for world torn apart by hatred, for lives empty of real meaning and purpose.