Hebrews—Those Who Endure Extreme Suffering Need Supreme Worship to Enter God’s Rest.

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Those who are subject to extreme suffering for their faith need a supreme object of affection to worship if they are to be resilient and enter God’s rest. This point came home to me recently, as I listened to a missionary from South Korea share about faith struggles. He was sharing about the overseas mission field to which God has called him and his family. The situation in the country to which they are called is extremely difficult. The Christians in that land faces so many challenges, including persecution for their faith. This missionary’s honesty and transparency moved me deeply, as he said how difficult it was for them to return to that mission field after a much-needed furlough. He confessed that his body hurts physically from the stresses and weight of life in that land. And yet, he also shared about how Jesus is his pearl of great price that he has found in that field where they are on mission. It was evident from what the missionary shared that he and his family love the people with whom they share life in this other country, and that they are deeply committed to the church there in that land. But it was also evident that Jesus alone satisfies their deepest spiritual longings and needs and increases their resilience in faith. Jesus as the supreme object of their affection makes it possible for them to endure extreme suffering and enter God’s rest.

The Korean missionary’s story came to mind again as I was reading Hebrews chapters one and two the past few days. The author of the letter to the Hebrews starts his epistle exalting in Jesus’ supremacy. The author does not make comparisons between Jesus and common objects that compete with our affections. Rather, the author compared Jesus with awe-inspiring beings who served as objects of worship for many people in New Testament times. I am speaking here of angels. Now Paul alludes to the worship of angels in his letter to the church in Colossae, as indicated in Colossians 2:18. I don’t think that is the reason angels are discussed in Hebrews chapters one and two, though (See Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews {Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1977}, page 52). It is a different context. We need to look elsewhere for our answer, namely the significance of angels in the giving of the Law. Not only did angels compete for people’s attention and affections in some cases, but also Scripture teaches that angels had an important role to play in mediating God’s Word to people. According to Galatians 3:19 and Acts 7:53, God’s Law was given through angels. I believe the role the angels play in mediating or ministering God’s Word to people is the reason for their mention here in Hebrews.

Hebrews 1:4 tells us that through his sufferings to mediate salvation, Jesus has “become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” After detailing ways in which Jesus is superior to angels (See Hebrews 1), the writer then tells his readers:

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4; ESV).

As the writer informs his readers, his listeners/readers need to take to heart God’s Word revealed in Jesus. If people were judged for discounting and disobeying God’s Word revealed through angels, how much more will people be judged for abandoning Jesus and his Word.

Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God (Hebrews 1:2), not simply a messenger of revelation. He is the author of salvation (Hebrews 1:3; Hebrews 12:2-3 refers to Jesus as the author or founder and perfecter of the faith), not simply a ministering spirit who serves those who inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). Jesus’ name is superior to angels’ names (Hebrews 1:4). He is God’s Son (Hebrews 1:5), whom angels are called to worship (Hebrews 1:6). He is Lord and God, and they are his servants who tend to the needs of those whom Jesus has saved (Hebrews 1:7-14). The point in all this is that Jesus is supreme, and so God’s people should hold fast to him no matter how extreme their sufferings are. The letter is written (likely prior to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in A.D. 70) in the hope that Jesus’ followers will redirect their gaze, renew their spiritual vision, grow in resilience, and enter God’s rest.

Many, if not all, are Jewish believers in Jesus who are reconsidering their faith commitment in view of their present suffering. While they had not yet shed blood in their spiritual resistance (Hebrews 12:4), they had undergone tribulation. Some of them were no doubt imprisoned, while others identified with those imprisoned rather than disown them They also endured the confiscation of their property. As the writer points out, “…you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34; ESV).

Times are becoming more challenging for these Jewish believers in Jesus. They are wondering if they should turn back and no longer follow Jesus. Maybe it will be better for them if they simply adhere to Moses and the tradition of their fathers. In this light, it should come as little surprise that the reader will find rich allusions to figures and traditions found in the Hebrew Scriptures, as the epistle to the Hebrews unfolds. Rather than simply give his listeners and readers a Bible walk through, the author seeks to portray Jesus as the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures and the supreme object of worship who alone is worthy of their affections. As great as Moses, Aaron, Joshua and others are, Jesus is greater, supremely greater, still. Just as God commanded his people to listen to Moses, Aaron and Joshua to find rest in the Promised Land, so the author of Hebrews exhorts his congregation to listen to Jesus to enter and rest in the ultimate Land of Promise.

The author cares deeply for this congregation facing extreme suffering and desires that they remain true to Jesus and find their ultimate rest in him. No doubt, the author would also care deeply for the spiritual estate of all of us today. In view of the message to these Jewish Christians in Hebrews as well as the message of the Korean missionary, we need to ask ourselves: is the object of my worship worthy of my supreme allegiance in the face of extreme suffering? If so—if Jesus, ours is a resilient hope who leads us forward to enter God’s rest.

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