Summary: How to overcome our common fears by affirming our faith in Jesus.
Hebrews 1:1-2:18 Overcoming our fears in 2003
3 things modern men and women fear most:
1. fear of dishonour and shame
2. fear of loss and suffering
3. fear of death
This in fact is not dissimilar to what the early Christian faced:
1. they met initially in house churches
2. sensitive to certain amount of hostility from friends and family when they left the synagogue
3. objects of gossip in the open market
4. after AD 64, the fire of Rome, identified as subversive elements in the Roman society
This is how the Roman historian Tacitus described the suffering of the Christians: “Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired”.
The early Christians if anything faced a more direct and severe test and threat than what we encounter today. However, the fears that they feared were also similar to us, they worried they may be shamed and dishonoured in the eyes of others, Christians were very much a marginalised group in the 1st Century. They feared by continuing to hold on to their faith, they might suffer loss, it might come in the form of loss of employment, it might be excommunicated from their families or synagogues, it might be even in the form of being imprisoned because of their belief. Finally, they faced the ultimate form of test, some of them were faced with the choice of either renouncing their faith or facing execution, usually in the form of crucifixion.
It is against this backdrop the author of the epistle to the Hebrews wrote to them and to encourage them.
We can learn from the exhortation and encouragement as well.
Fear of shame and dishonour
Fear of shame and dishonour is often due to association. We may not have sufficient self-esteem if we come from a socially disadvantaged background. We may be worried how others look at us. We may be worried I can’t live up to other’s expectation. Hence that may be why modern men and women always need to prove we are something.
Early Christians were a marginalised group. They also faced similar fear. They worried whether by associating with the Christian congregation, their masters, their patrons, their families or their neighbours might despise them. As a consequence, some of them might have drifted away (Heb 2:1), or they might decide to make their faith invisible so as not to attract any attention.
It was against such a danger that the author wrote to them. As our fear of shame and dishonour can be due to association with someone or something (in the case of the early Christian, it was their association with the Christian faith), the most effective way to combat this fear is also by association with someone or something that we can be proud of.
The author therefore reminded his audience:
1. Being a Christian is nothing to be ashamed of.
2. Because the Lord we serve is none other than God’ son (1:1). He is much more important than the prophets (God’s servants).
3. He is the heir of creation. He is the creator and sustainer of the universe (1:2)
4. He is also an exact image and he reflects the character of God (1:2).
5. He has attained an exalted status in sitting at the right hand of God (1:3). Right hand signifies the highest status – right hand man.
6. He is also much higher and better than God’s messenger – the angels.
The author then associated the Christians with Jesus. They belong to one family (2:11). He is not ashamed to call them brothers (2:11). So while the early Christians might be looked down and despised by others, they had nothing to be feared or ashamed of. Their champion, their patron in God’s household was none other than God’s Son. Others might have rejected them, but God through Jesus already accepted them. They did not need to prove their worth to other people, because they were God’s sons and daughters already, and one day they would be accepted into God’s glory if they persevere with their faith.