(74) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see – Hebrews 11:1

After Paul’s letters there is a large letter called Hebrews. This is because its content is aimed particularly at Jewish believers, although this does not stop it having a wider relevance for all. The author is unknown.

It starts with a few majestic statements about how God has spoken through Jesus in contrast to the message of the prophets of the Old Testament. Jesus is God’s own son, “whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:2-3). This Jesus has become our “great high priest” (Hebrews 4:14), the one who mediates between us and God and who brought in the new covenant.

In contrast to the old covenant, where the priests offered sacrifices for sins repeatedly, Christ offered himself “once for all” (Hebrews 9:12) and not with the blood of animal but with his own blood. All the symbolism in the old covenant sacrifices point to Christ’s sacrifice. The priests that stood day by day offering the same sacrifices were symbols of our great high priest who offered one sacrifice for all time and then “sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12) to indicate that his work was complete. Everything that we need for our redemption (having our past sin dealt with), our salvation (being declared right before God), and our sanctification (being purified from our sinful nature day by day), was accomplished through Jesus’ sacrifice. The new covenant, announced by Jeremiah (see Hebrews 10:16, quoting Jeremiah 31:33), has become a reality.

This truth ought to so captivate our hearts so much that it changes our lives forever, but the human heart has a constant tendency to forget and drift away from God’s truth and from God himself. The writer to the Hebrews is well aware of this – all the New Testament letter writers are pastors as well as teachers – so he warns his readers of the dangers and urges them to persevere in their faith. He uses the example of the Israelites in the desert to warn against hardening our hearts. Sin deceives us into drifting away and some even lose their faith altogether despite having seen the goodness and power of God in their own lives.

The way to avoid this is to take advantage of what Jesus has done in opening up access to God so we can “draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings” (Hebrews 10:22). If we accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins then we can be 100% certain of being accepted by God. We draw support from others and are encouraged to “spur one another on towards love and good deeds” (Hebrews 10:24) as we meet together with other Christians. We are to love one another, show hospitality, remember those in prison, honour marriage, resist the lure of money, and respect our leaders, not making their lives difficult.

Hebrews contains a famous chapter on the heroes of faith. The writer defines faith as, “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1). This is not blind hope or wishful thinking as he demonstrates by listing men and women of faith from the Old Testament. Enoch pleased God through his faith, Noah saved his family, and mankind, through his faith, Abraham lived his life in faith in God’s promises to him and these were passed on by Isaac and Jacob. Moses led the people out of Egypt in faith, Joshua led them into the promised land in faith, and Rahab the prostitute saved herself and her family through her faith.

“The world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38) of such people and our challenge is to imitate their faith as we take on the challenge of running the marathon that is our own, unique life. To succeed we need to avoid becoming weighed down or entangled by sin. Our ultimate example is Jesus himself who suffered hostility and was prepared to go to the cross for us because he believed that there would be great joy beyond his death. If Jesus could endure the cross for us, then surely as we consider his sacrifice we too can endure the temporary sufferings of this life knowing that we will receive much more in the life to come (see Hebrews 12:1-3).

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