About 10 years ago, I had a chance to watch a reality show on PBS about modern families who chose to live a life like that of 1880s Montana.
This post in a nutshell:
Know Jesus, and keep your eyes on him.
Cameras were hidden all over this Montana location, and their lives were recorded over the period of a few months. The thought was, these families would help us to understand what it was like to be a pioneer back in the West in the 1880s. That's why the show was called PIONEER HOUSE.
The show fascinated me. Evidently, life back then was extremely hard. There were three men who participated, and before the episodes began, each man was rather husky. After only a few months, under these conditions, each male lost an average of 30 pounds. It was a hard life.
Their chief competitive event was preparation for the Montana winter. Of the three families, professors of history would evaluate which family would have been the most prepared for a Montana winter in the 1880s.
Families would work hard to chop wood to supply firewood for the winter. The food would be planted and harvested and canned for the winter. The major question was—would they be able to survive the winter?
The conclusion of the historians at the end of the event was that none of the families would have survived. All would have perished. Clearly, it was hard to be a pioneer of the West in the 1800s.
Some of the pioneers of the 1800s perished in real life. It was a difficult challenge. Those who survived often paid a high price. However, the sacrifices these pioneers made assured a better life for us.
All of this makes me appreciate Jesus. As a matter of fact, the writer of Hebrews uses the term “pioneer” to describe what Jesus was for us. Jesus came to earth to prepare the way for a better life in God. He did a great job.
Now, to catch up, last week we were talking about how some of the Christians in Hebrews were becoming distracted. They had become Christians, and the community around them had said that was not a good idea. They began to marginalize them. So the newness of Christianity was wearing off.
We talked also about how many of us may not be distracted by things due to persecution. They may be good things that distract us, but too many good things can be a bad thing. Spiritual failure does not happen immediately. Usually, it is a slow fade.
I get discouraged sometimes watching a new Christian drift away. All of us can look at the spots in our pews. We can recall friends or families that used to be with us. They got tired, and they got discouraged. They drifted away.
The Preacher of Hebrews does not say that new programs, promotions or pep rallies will be what will get them in gear. I hope you are not tired and discouraged, I hope your church is not either, but all of us know people who are drifting. We must be proactive, so it does not happen to us.
What he says is, survival depends on whether or not these Christians know Jesus. It is Jesus’ voice that will last forever.
Heb. 2:5-18–JESUS WAS BOTH GOD AND HUMAN
No book in the New Testament emphasizes the humanity of Jesus more than Hebrews, nor his transcendence!
Jesus as God (2:5-9)
5 And furthermore, it is not angels who will control the future world we are talking about. 6 For in one place the Scriptures say,
“What are mere mortals that you should think about them, or a son of man that you should care for him? 7 Yet you made them only a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. 8 You gave them authority over all things.”
Now when it says “all things,” it means nothing is left out. But we have not yet seen all things put under their authority. 9 What we do see is Jesus, who was given a position “a little lower than the angels”; and because he suffered death for us, he is now “crowned with glory and honor.” Yes, by God’s grace, Jesus tasted death for everyone.
1. The Father has placed everything under the son’s feet (2:8.)
Let me give you a quick summary of what the writer is saying. In verse eight, he tells us that the heavenly father has put everything under Jesus feet; that is to say, Jesus is over all things on this earth. He rules this world.
2. Jesus has been crowned with Glory and Honor (2:9.)
This is basically an expository sermon from Psalm eight.
3. Jesus has tasted death for everyone (2:9.)
A note of commentary here—obviously Jesus suffered a physical death. I believe the more profound thought here is Jesus tasted is spiritual death for everyone.
Jesus as Man (2:10-18)
10 God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation.
11 So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters. 12 For he said to God,
“I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters. I will praise you among your assembled people.”
13 He also said,
“I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death. 15 Only in this way could he set free all who have lived their lives as slaves to the fear of dying.
16 We also know that the Son did not come to help angels; he came to help the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
Hebrews 2:10-18 is a commentary on v. 9, talking about the humanity of Jesus.
1. He is our pioneer. (2:10)
The word here in some versions is “author.” This is the word used in the Greek myths for Hercules when they described him as champion. Jesus is our champion. Another way of saying it is he is our superhero. He is in solidarity with us.
What Christmas is complete without a viewing of the movie WHITE CHRISTMAS? My family and I have watched it almost every year.
The fifties’ film stars Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye, as World War II veterans seeking to help their old general, who is struggling in Vermont managing an inn that he owns.
General Waverly was a beloved general whom they had followed in the war. Speaking of their devotion, they noted, “First we ate, then he ate. First we slept, then he slept.” That was the sacrificial love that had caused the men to sing, “We’ll follow the old man wherever he wants to go…” (Watch the movie sometime on Netflix—it’s a classic.)
I don’t know if the person who wrote the movie was thinking of Hebrews chapter two, but flip the movie’s words around, and you have our relationship with Jesus—first He died, and someday we’ll die. First He was resurrected, and someday we will be resurrected. He is our pioneer, our trailblazer. Consequently, we’ll follow THE man wherever he wants to go.
2. He is our brother. (2:11-12)
I wanted a big brother growing up. I used to daydream about how neat it would be to have a big brother. One who would be interested in me, who I could look up to, who would mentor me; I have always been envious of those who have had big brothers.
I realize there are many of you who cannot related to what I am writing about… those of you who have big brothers! You too have always daydreamed about having big brothers who would be interested in you, who you could look up to, who would mentor you… I get that—that is a different passage for a different day.
I remember when I was seven years old—we would keep a boy who was eleven or twelve from the Boles Home—a children’s home in Quinlan, Texas. We would keep him for a week or two at a time. I grew quite close to him; his name was Perry.
My parents tried to adopt him, but his family would not sign off on the papers. I always wondered what happened to him. I wish that we could have adopted him. He was the closest I ever came to having a big brother. I have fond memories of that experience.
I did not realize until I got older, and began studying the Scriptures, but I have a big brother. He mentors me, he looks after me, He has gone before me, and He protects me. His name is Jesus.
3. He was faithful. 2:13-14, 17, 18
13 He also said,
“I will put my trust in him,” that is, “I and the children God has given me.”
14 Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. For only as a human being could he die, and only by dying could he break the power of the devil, who had the power of death.
Jesus experienced all of the scuz and crud of this world and was faithful. Verse 17 is our first reference to faith in the book of Hebrews. Faith will be a big deal in this book. Because Jesus held on, God wants us to hold on. Look at chapter 4:14:
14 Since we have a great high priest, Jesus the Son of God, who has gone into heaven, let us hold on to the faith we have. CEV
Look at Hebrews10:23: Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.. NIV
What does the word “unswervingly” mean? Because these Christians did not want to hold on, they wanted to let go.
This was how the Preacher motivated them. He did not say, hey, let's have a pep rally.
He who promised is what? Faithful. Faithfulness is important to this preacher because our Lord is faithful. What is the point of this teaching in an exhortation?
If the Christians of Hebrews were on the fringe, the author says Christ has been on the fringe too. These Christians were not surrounded by a society that was pro-Jesus. Some Christians had lost their jobs; some have lost positions of importance. Some were made to feel embarrassed around their friends. These friends did not think it was very cool to be a Christian. Jesus understood because he had been there too.
He is saying, "Therefore Holy brothers–that is our status. He has come down to earth to lift you up to heaven.”
4. He is our redeemer. 2:17-18
17 Therefore, it was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. 18 Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.
He uses the word “Redeemer” here in Hebrews, and he repeats it in chapters nine and ten. The archaic old-English word for “Redeemer” was “atonement”–“at one meet.” Through Jesus, the father meets us.
This word in the Old Testament meant “cover.” The blood of lambs and goats was shed to cover sins. The blood of Christ covers our sins.
The Preacher also notes that Jesus was tempted. Have you ever committed a sin and later pondered it by thinking, “I can't believe I am still not over this sin. I should have been over this years ago.” Do you have any pet sins with which you wrestle? Pet sins can be deadly.
I read a Christian author's work, discussing the fact that children grow up loving teddy bears. They sometimes figure that since the toys are cuddly, the real things might be also.
In 1990 two boys scaled the fence at the Bronx Zoo in New York City and went into the polar bear compound. The next day they were found dead. Your pet sin can kill!
Jesus knows the temptation to have pet sins. My guess is that selfish anger was one of them. Whatever they were, he has faced those. Yet, he never sinned.
I love this verse in chapter five: During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered… (Heb. 5:7-8.)
He was our pioneer in learning how to obey the Heavenly Father. He was a trailblazer to show us how to deal with temptation. Jesus has experienced the trauma of dealing with sin.
Now, where do you think the Preacher is going to go with this? An application arrives in Chapter 3.
THE PREACHER’S APPLICATION?
FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON JESUS (Heb. 3:1-6...)
How does the writer begin chapter 3? In the NIV, he begins with the word “therefore.” I was always taught that when you see the word “therefore,” you look to see what it is there for. In this case, you consider the fact that he has written all of this information up to now, so what? We would say it like this, “In light of what I've just preached, here is how I would apply this.” (If you want to have fun with the book of Hebrews, get a highlighter and highlight the word “therefore” every time it appears in the book of Hebrews. You might be interested in what you find.)
3:1 Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him…
I saw a movie about Nelson Mandela and his jailor named James Gregory. Back in the 1960s, the South African government strategically placed a jailor over Mandela who could understand the prisoners’ language and dialects. In other words, the jailor was to eavesdrop in order to discover Mandela’s secrets.
In time, something the South African authorities would have never suspected happened—Gregory grew to sympathize with Mandela. Observing the violent treatment against the blacks, the jailor decides to read the “Freedom Charter”—a document written by Mandela and his followers.
The jailor became sympathetic to Mandela and his cause. When others who worked in the prison saw hints of this, they pushed the jailor on the fringe—out in the margin. His own peers withdrew from him. His son was killed in a car “accident.”
The jailor persevered, and history has proven Gregory correct. He paid a high price for that, but in time, he was very glad he stayed with his beliefs.
You may be paying a high price for your faith. In time, eternity will prove you correct. You will be glad you paid that price.
Your family may be pushing you away right now for your faith. You may be a pariah at school or college. You may be suffering at your job for Jesus. The preacher of Hebrews says—hang in there. Keep your eyes on Jesus. Stay focused on Jesus. Keep your thoughts on Jesus.
How often do you think about Jesus? Hebrews says think about Jesus all of the time. Constantly.
Therefore... thoughts of Jesus should drive us and motivate us. Unfortunately, too many times my thoughts are focused on me; my self-interest and my desires are what motivate me. This should not be. The Preacher’s admonition changes everything.
We fix our thoughts on the great pioneer-Jesus-who was faithful.
Have you heard of Polycarp? Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, which today is the city of Izmir, on the west coast of Turkey. He was part of the generation of church leaders who succeeded the apostles. According to one tradition, he was taught by the apostle John and was appointed to his office by the apostles themselves.
Polycarp was captured by the governing authorities for being an atheist (he did not recognize Caesar as Lord) and was brought before the proconsul. The proconsul tried to persuade him to deny the faith. The proconsul urged him, “Take the oath and I’ll let you go. Curse Christ.”
Polycarp replied with the immortal words, “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?”
Perhaps some of these Christians of Hebrews knew Polycarp. If so, that is the conviction the writer wanted them to have.
Probably for some of these Christians, there had been no one greater than Moses. And so this preacher says to them, “as far as men go, Moses was great. But Moses was nothing like Jesus. Jesus is the epitome of faithfulness.”
…just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.
And then note verse 6:
But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory (Heb. 3:6.)
One Question: Who is God’s house?
One Answer: The Church
When you look in the New Testament, you see references over and over again to “house”, “household”, “family”—you know why? Because a lot of people in the New Testament chose to follow Christ, and lost their earthly families over that decision. So God's community, God's family, became their family.
Talking about these phenomena, John Elliott wrote a book about the first letter from Peter, and he called it HOME FOR THE HOMELESS. That was the life that many Christians found themselves in. So this preacher is telling these Christians, “Jesus is your big brother. The church is your family. They will love you. You love them.”
James Thompson taught us in class that you cannot look at Hebrews and see it as a book of individuality. This is a book of community. This is about the communal church.
We live in a day and age that celebrates the individual. People scream out, “I want my rights!” We celebrate the rugged individualists of the westerns.
I love the movie Shane–a lone gunfighter who addresses the terrorism against a Western settlement in the pioneer days.
Alan Ladd plays Shane. All Shane wants to do is just fit in and leave his life of gun fighting behind. But Shane is Shane–he is an individual.
In the movie, the bad guys are killing the pioneers, the settlers, in this little western settlement, so Shane takes it upon himself to face them all down.
He rides into town, and Joey, a little boy who idolizes him walks behind him all the way in. Which makes me wonder, what kind of mother is Jean Arthur’s character in this movie? But I digress.
First, Shane encounters the evil gunfighter, Jack Wilson, (played by Jack Palance) in a Wild West duel:
Shane: So you're Jack Wilson.
Jack: What's that mean to you, Shane?
Shane: I've heard about you.
Jack: What have you heard, Shane?
Shane: I've heard that you're a low-down, Yankee liar.
Jack draws, but Shane shots him dead. Then Shane kills the rest of the bad guys who were laying in wait for him. Victorious, Shane rides away into the mountains of the Grand Tetons. Joey again trails Shane, beckoning Shane to return. He calls out in plaintive cry, like a little lamb, “Shane. Come back Shane.”
When he realizes Shane is not coming back, he calls out, “I love you Shane.” Cue the tears.
We celebrate movies like Shane. (I bet I’ve seen it ten times myself.) The Hebrews’ preacher does not. He instead talks about community, family, unity, togetherness, sacrifice for the community, self-sacrifice, and he tells them, “We are God's household; we share together; we help each other; we encourage each other; we work together; we play together; we are family.”
So how do we pull this off? He says, “If you're going to survive, the key thing, is whether or not you know Jesus. Know Jesus, and keep your eyes on him.”
We look at him and we know that he did not quit; he was faithful; from him we gain our perspiration, our motivation, and our inspiration to carry on.
In the lives of many Christians, there comes a moment when they truly become serious about following Jesus. I've always wondered what motivates that. I think it has something to do with seeing Jesus in a new light—seeing him more clearly as he truly is.
There is a legend told about the ancient emperor, Cyrus, who was mowing through city-states, territories, and countries, capturing the land and creating an empire. In this story, he entered into one small kingdom, and his soldiers brought the defeated prince and his family into his presence.
Cyrus had a way of testing the mettle of those whom he conquered, so he asked the Prince, “What would you give me for your life?”
The prince replied, “I would give you up to half of my kingdom.”
Cyrus asked, “What could you give me the lives of your children?”
“I would offer you all of my kingdom—everything that I have,” answered the prince.
Cyrus saw a beautiful woman standing beside the prince, and he perceived this was the wife of the Prince, so he asked, “What would you give me for the life of your wife?”
The prince replied, “Then Sir, I would offer you my very life itself.”
Cyrus was impressed by that answer. He decided to spare the family, including the Prince, and he gave the family their own plot of land to live on.
Later, reflecting on the events, the Prince spoke about Cyrus and said to his wife, “You know, that Cyrus was a handsome man.”His wife answered, “I would not know. For I could not take my eyes off of you.”
There is something about a husband who loves his wife so much that he would willingly give his life for her. There is something about a bride who loves her husband so much that she lovingly cannot remove her eyes from him.
We as the bride of Christ have a husband, who has willingly given his life for us. Let us fix our eyes on Him.
Thanks James Thompson and David DeSilva.