Hebrews 10, 2. Chapter 23. Pandemic.
Before moving on to the much needed encouragement of Hebrews 11, there are some hard facts we must first examine from Chapter 10. In a time of the unknown, of great difficulty, of pandemic and pestilence, we must pause to consider our human nature and some overlooked potential consequences.
The crazed toilet paper hoarding when the coronavirus pandemic first swept across the country emphasized our human tendencies in a stark way, especially when healthy people wrestled packages away from the elderly. This made clear one of the worst aspects of human nature: selfishness.
This is the essence of hell: lack of concern for others while putting ourselves and our own comfort forever first. We know this because Jesus told us in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus used this parable of a rich man totally ignoring a starving poor man to give us a picture of hell. He supplied yet another example in the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Our selfishness can only be triaged and cured by love for God. This love prompts kindness and generosity for the poor, the imprisoned, the sick, and the stranger/foreigner/refugee. This demonstrates that we truly know and are known by God. Whereas, minimizing the pain of others — eradicating them from human existence in the cold and disdainful desert of our hearts — reveals the opposite.
If we love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, we will begin to love like Jesus. Because of his great love, he sacrificed himself for us. He forgives us. His resurrection gives us eternal life. His Spirit is always with us. He is always near, ready for us to draw near to him.
In him, we have everything. We can come into God’s presence with a clean conscience and a heart full of trust, because we’re forgiven. We can hope in a God who keeps his promises, giving us the confidence to hold fast to him and to his words. (Hebrews 10:21-25)
As we run the race, therefore, everything we have in Christ provokes growth in kindness, love, and obedience to God’s instructions, aiming us toward heaven. This empowers us to hold fast to our faith and love for God even during trials, including a pandemic.
But then, the Holy Spirit addresses the other option, the possibility that those who suffer might instead turn away from God, running off course, rather than enduring the persecution that presses upon them. Perhaps some will abandon their faith. In the darkness of a rapidly spreading global disease, this may be our temptation as well.
Our actions reveal our true selves as the above named parables emphasize. Hard hearts toward others reveal a lack of love for God. We don’t want to stand before God at the final judgment with cold hearts and self-absorbed and selfish living as our norm.
“If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God” (Hebrews 10:26-27 NIV).
Why in the world am I writing about this today, rather than sharing something cheerful? I’ve been writing through Hebrews for months, and this is where the text has brought us at this exact time as a pandemic races across our country. I’m trusting the Lord’s leading here. This is where he has me writing. Let’s consider.
Human beings are plagued by what I call “magical thinking.” We don’t prepare. The pandemic would not touch us, we thought, so we didn’t get ready for it. We went merrily about our business as it swept across the earth heading our way. Our officials did nothing until it arrived.
Now it is here. We’re all increasingly aware of our mortality. As this pandemic impacts us, now is the time to evaluate where we stand with God. It’s time for sober reflection, rather than yet more magical thinking. Now is the time to realize that we must change.
Change occurs when we love Jesus. Do we really love him? When Christ is living in us and is loved by us, his presence provokes change from the inside out. Some change is slow, some fast, but change occurs. Is this happening?
This passage addresses ones who never change, who remain exactly as they ever were. They uttered a prayer, but nothing in their actions altered at all.
Is this us? We evaluate our own lives. We inquire of ourselves:
Am I growing? Am I being transformed by Christ’s presence in me?
Every day we face the option to constantly complain, to never get victory over pornography, to never learn to control our temper, to continue to drink too much or to speak hatefully, to continually gossip, to not care for others. God has granted us human agency — the ability to determine our choices. Choosing deliberately to sin is one option. This reveals our hearts.
Without even recognizing it, our hearts can grow cold. We veer off course, choosing the difficult route, though it felt so easy initially. We feel ensnared. Yet, if we kindle afresh our love for God, we can correct our course, relying on Jesus for true change.Our hearts can grow cold. We veer off course, choosing the difficult route. We feel ensnared. Yet, if we kindle afresh our love for God, we can correct our course, relying on Jesus for true change. Click To Tweet
We have the freedom to choose what is right and to experience the outcome of that decision. But we also have the freedom to choose to go the wrong way and to reap the consequences.We have the freedom to choose what is right and to experience the outcome of that decision. But we also have the freedom to choose to go the wrong way and to reap the consequences. Click To Tweet
Sin is captivating. I know. I chose the route of willful disobedience as a teenager. I chose it again as a young mother, becoming a legalistic rulekeeper, rather than a grace-filled woman who relied on Christ. I relied on myself and judged others. This is sin. Thank God that when Jesus pursued me, my love for him was rekindled.
The Holy Spirit convicts us, nudging us back toward love, but we can harden ourselves, continuing to sin even after partaking of Christ so intimately that we’ve confessed faith in him and appear to have given ourselves wholly to him. If we truly have, then we will ultimately turn back toward him, even if we’ve gone off the rails.
But, what if we’re hardened, if we love instead the sins we entertain, if we listen to alluring voices, if we never return to the One who loves us, if we spit in Jesus’ face, like those who mocked him, if we trample on him with contempt, ignoring his sacrifice? Then the outcome is far different.
Of our own volition, we’re rejecting Christ and choosing hell. Like the rich man in the parable, we love ourselves, not God and not others. We prefer our own tiny, mentally-constructed reality, shrinking and stewing and hoarding and complaining and obsessing, exalting ourselves, while missing the love of God. A fiery final judgment awaits us at the end.
“We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?” (Hebrews 2:1-3 NIV)."We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. How shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation?" (Hebrews 2:1,3 NIV). Click To Tweet
We often don’t perceive our drifting until we’re far from the shore. Out there, away from Christ, every wrongdoing receives the judgment that is its due. Don’t toss aside your faith in Christ as if it’s no big deal.
“Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?” (Hebrews 10:28-29 NIV).
Why treat Jesus and his sacrifice with contempt? Why trivialize the fact that he shed his blood, thus belittling his sacrificial death for us? Why act as if he’s nothing? Why ignore his instructions?
Why treat with disdain the Holy Spirit who convicts, seals, inhabits, uplifts, comforts, and intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words? Why treat the Spirit with reproach for his convicting and restoring work in us?
Consider what all we’re tossing away when we walk away from God.
We don’t walk away unscathed. Every time I’ve turned away from God, I’ve been hurt by my choices and actions. I’ve found myself saying and doing things I now find abhorrent. I’ve regretted it deeply.
But what if I hadn’t returned to God? What if I had continued with a hard and unrepentant heart? I would now be an entirely different person with an unbearable future.
“For we know him who said, ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:30-31 NIV).
God love us. He wants to spare us. That’s why he sent his Son. That’s why he inspired this letter to be written and preserved. A just God must punish transgressors for the harm we’ve done. Falling into the hands of a living and just God is terrifying IF we face him without Christ, the One who took the judgment we deserved, so we wouldn’t have to.
Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. SO do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded” (Hebrews 10:32-35 NIV).
Beloved, look at all you’ve gone through as a Christian, all the ways the Lord has comforted you. Remember how he has repeatedly given you encouragement to sustain you during hard times. Remember.
Don’t throw away the freedom of being forgiven, of speaking openly and frankly to God, of having the comforting and encouraging presence of his Spirit, of basking in the confidence of your loving relationship with Jesus. It is priceless. It is eternal. It is the path that gives us the most joy.Don't throw away the freedom of being forgiven, of speaking openly and frankly to God, of having the comforting presence of his Spirit, of basking in the confidence of your loving relationship with Jesus. Click To Tweet
Therefore, “you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised” (Hebrews 10:36 NIV).
The promise is enormous. It is freedom from our own miserly and hellish reality, and instead, entrance into an eternity of love, joy, and fulfillment with our Savior. It is help in our times of fear.
“Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief,” is always a welcome prayer.
“We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV).
Surrender to the tender urging of the Holy Spirit. It’s God’s pleasure to welcome us with open arms every time we return, every time we call out to him. No matter what we’ve done, he welcomes us back. Return to him. He wants to carry us through life, this pandemic, any of the hardships we face, and all the way into an eternity with him, forever and ever."Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief," is always a welcome prayer. Surrender to the tender urging of the Holy Spirit. It's God's pleasure to welcome us with open arms every time we return. Click To Tweet
I urge you to listen as Tim Keller dissects the implications of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Listen to Upside-Down Living from Timothy Keller Sermons Podcast by Gospel in Life on Apple Podcasts.