“Let us hold fast to our confession”(4:14b). There seems to be urgency in the words of the writer of Hebrews. What was the confession? The writer says it – “[Jesus was] the source of eternal salvation” (5:9). Why do we need to be saved? He states that frankly as well. Sin is ignorant. Sin is weakness. The author assumes all of us humans sin, and it is implied, and states directly elsewhere, that sin cuts us off from God. Life without God is the same as death. We need God, but sin cuts us off, and we all sin. That is not good, but Jesus came for us and has been found worth and is thus the source of eternal salvation for everyone who believes in him. That’s our confession.
“Let us hold fast to our confession.” Grip it tightly and no matter what, don’t let go. That confession is a statement of truth that is the difference between eternal life and being cut off from God. We don’t want to see this wrongly. This is not a choice of Heaven or Hell. People say Heaven or Hell, but the actual Biblical presentation is eternal life or being cut off from God. We want eternal life. Let us hold fast to our confession.
There must have been a worry that people in the church weren’t doing that. People in the first century let go of their heart confession of Jesus for many reasons, but possibly the main problem Hebrews was dealing with, is fear. People renounced or minimized Jesus because they were afraid to do otherwise. The Romans were the ones in power, and they did not care how many gods one worshipped. But they demanded that all under the power of Rome acknowledge that the Roman Emperor was a son of God and was the supreme ruler.
Christians did not do that. They did not say the emperor was Lord. Not only did they refuse to confess the emperor, they also said someone else was Lord –Jesus. Rome responded by putting sending Christians into exile. Rome made it hard for believers to get jobs. On at least one occasion, all the disciples of Jesus Christ were kicked out of Rome – expelled and forced to become refugees. Rome put Jesus’ followers in arenas to be torn apart by lions. Rome nailed Christians to crosses. The book of Hebrews is reacting to the fear that led Christians to think it might be a good idea to be secret Christians. They would believe in Jesus. They just wouldn’t say anything about it out loud, and for show, they might give a nod to the emperor.
Let us hold fast to our confession. It’s only a confession when it is spoken and maintained, even in the face of persecution. This mattered tremendously. Is it such a big deal for us? I don’t know anyone who because of their belief in Jesus has been put into a stadium to be eaten by wild beasts as a crowd of thousands watches. I don’t know of any crucifixions in American history. In this century, I don’t know of any crucifixions anywhere. For us, in the world in which we live, do we need to read Hebrews with the same urgency the first readers had when they read it?
We must maintain all we believe – public declaration of faith in Jesus Christ, Son of God, savior of the world. Let us hold fast to our confession. Is there any danger we won’t do that?
Imagine someone you know finds out that you attend church and that you are a Christian. Imagine that someone says, “Religion is really quite silly. In light of all that has been discovered through scientific research and all that is known and has been developed, it’s just a joke that anyone with education would suppose there is God. How goofy is that? This is the age of technology. Belief in God is the same as belief in goblins and ghosts and fairies and witches.” No, this person you know doesn’t say this directly to you. He says in a group of people – your peers. He says it with you present. Everyone knows you are the churchgoer in the crowd. He says it to challenge you and all eyes in the group seem to turn your way.
Do you hold fast to your confession that Jesus is Lord, that you are a sinner, that you know you need God, that the only way to God and to eternal salvation and life everlasting is through Jesus? Or do you desperately try to find a way out of the room, hopefully unnoticed?
Our ancestors in Christianity, the original readers of Hebrews, were threatened, and they let go of their confession when their lives were in danger. We let go of our confession of faith in Jesus when our lifestyles and our reputations are in danger. This is not a comparison of who was more faithful, first century believers who received the first copy of this letter or 21st century believers who can go on the internet and read this letter in 50 different languages. I am not flogging us saying “see how much more faithful they were?” The word of God given to them was hold on, keep the faith, keep speaking the faith. That is the same word to us. Our situation is different, but just as urgent.
The tendency in our culture and our time is to let our faith become diluted. In attempts to market Christianity in a market-driven society, we see Christian versions of the most popular magazines, music, and movies. We see large Christian churches open food courts within their buildings. We see Christian movements that resemble self-help and self-improvement programs more than they look like the gospel the apostles preached. There is nothing wrong with Christians movies or churches having food courts or churches offering yoga classes and reading scripture in the place of sun salutations. That’s all OK. But it all comes together to reveal a 21stcentury faith that is trying to fit in in the world. We’re tailoring our Christianity according to the standards of our culture instead of determining our participation in that culture by the standards of Jesus. We let the world define our belief instead of our belief determining how we interact with the world. And thus, we let go of our confession.
Diluted faith makes the message of Hebrews essential. Is your faith diluted? Is mine?
Another threat that raises the urgency of the call in Hebrews is fragmentation. We live compartmentalized lives. At church, I am a Christian. At work, I am a professional. At the store, I am a shopper. None of those areas interferes with the other. The decisions I make with my money do not affect my job performance; my choices at work, including the tough ethical decisions I face stay at work and do not come with me on Sunday morning. And, God has no voice when I am on the clock Monday through Friday or when I am out on the town on the weekend with friends. I am describing a compartmentalized life. We become fragmented and we leave parts of ourselves all over. The only choice, when we decide to live this way, is to let go of our confession. We do not hold it. We do not make that confession and say in our life and our actions and our words and our relationships that Jesus is Lord. On the topic of Jesus, we are silent, except at church.
Let us hold fast ... but we don’t. We are silent and so, our own faith is weakened and maybe in jeopardy. Others, who are not in the church, don’t hear. They don’t see someone standing up and declaring the truth about Jesus. They who are outside the church, whether they were never in in the first place or they left, don’t see someone passionately making the statement about God’s love and people’s need for God.
We see the issue, but what then do we do? How can we hold fast? We know we need to but can we? On what authority?
We have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, says Hebrews (4:14a). He can sympathize with us in our weakness because he is a human as we are. He knows what is like to go through what we go through. I think when it says he“passed through the heavens,” that is an allusion to something written about at the conclusion of the Gospel Luke and the beginning of Acts. The disciples are gathered and he tells them to take the message of his salvation to the surrounding regions and then to all people on earth, and then he is taken, rising, ascending. This is called the ascension and the image that comes to mind is of Jesus rising into the sky.
But, I don’t think anyone thinks Jesus is somewhere way out in space. So ascension might be a misnomer. He is with God and with God in bodily form. The risen Jesus invited Thomas to touch him. Mary Magdalene grabbed at his feet. He ate fish with the disciples. He did not leave his physical body behind, but it rose – he rose, changed. Resurrected. He is the one who goes before God on our behalf.
Hebrews says Jesus “offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears,”to God (5:7). Where the comment about the heavens, I believe, alludes to his ascension, this comment about Jesus’offering prayers with loud cries and tears alludes to the time he spent in the Garden of Gethsemane before he was arrested, tried, and crucified. Luke writes that when Jesus prayed in the garden, he asked God to remove the cup of suffering, and he prayed with such anguish that he sweat drops of blood and angels came to help him. He asked that the cup be removed, but for our sake it was not. Jesus obediently went to death for the sins of the world.
The ascended Jesus who goes before God and intercedes on our behalf and the agonized Jesus who obeyed God even though doing so was painful, this is the Jesus who makes is possible for us to hold fast to our confession.
Because he is for us, because we are born again in Him, we can hold our faith and name it no matter what. Whether we are killed or embarrassed for doing so, we hold our belief and we let everyone around us know that we belong to Jesus and our lives and our choices are determined by him. Because of Him, we are destined for resurrection. This world is going to be renewed– made new. Paul anticipates this in Romans. Revelation 21-22 talks about the earth and heaven being made new. Just as you and I in our sinful selves died in sin and were made new creations in Christ, the earth will be made new and all who are born again, who obey God as it says in Hebrews 5 (v.10) will have eternal life with Him.
We hold fast with our confession, we tell the truth about Jesus because he gives eternal salvation. In our daily life choices involving money, decisions about where and how to live, in our work and relationships, in our times of play, and in our homes, we hold fast to our confession of faith in Jesus Christ.
Imagine someone you know finds out that you attend church and that you are a Christian, a true Christ follower. Imagine that someone says, “Religion is for the weak-minded. It’s out of date and doesn’t work and isn’t true. Jesus was a good man, but nothing more.” He says it knowing you can hear him. He knows you are a believer and he knows everyone in your circle is waiting to see how you, the one who follows and worships Jesus, will react. Everyone is watching.
Hebrews says, Let us hold fast to our confession. And there is this. Jesus is the one who saves. You know that. But this guy coming after you doesn’t. Someone in the surrounding group doesn’t know it either. Whatever you do in that moment probably won’t immediately lead someone, your verbal attacker or one of the watchers, to faith. If you back down and let go of your confession, it definitely won’t claim any ground for Jesus. But, relying on the strength he gives, if you lovingly, gently, stand your ground and declare your belief in Jesus and your belief that everyone including the guy challenging you needs Jesus, it just be the point where someone’s destiny turns. They see the fiery passion of faith in your eyes, and they, just a little bit start to consider whether the gospel might be true and Jesus might be the one. That moment, they start down the path to faith, because you told the truth in love.
Let us hold firm to our confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. He is the giver of eternal salvation.
As we respond in prayer and with singing, take this time to think of a situation in your life in which it is hard for you to stand fast and hold strong to your confession of Jesus. Pray for these next few minutes that God will empower you this week to hold fast to your faith and to tell that Jesus is Lord and gives eternal salvation.