Confidence to Keep Going

Reading: Hebrews 10.1-14,19-25
On Mt Norman Mount Norman is the highest feature in Girraween National Park near Stanthorpe. Two tracks lead to it - a one-and-a-half hour hike from Park Headquarters or a three-quarter hour hike from the day-use area - lots of bare granite rock in between. The top of Mount Norman is a collection of huge granite rocks. Getting to the "verandah" area is easy going - and fascinating. The challenge is to reach the top - a bit of a stretch for ordinary hikers, with a chimney, some exposed slope and a hop-step-and-jump on a rock securely wedged across a deep crevice.

The year before we arrived to serve in Stanthorpe, a youth group went for a Saturday hike up Mount Norman. The experienced helped the inexperienced and all arrived safely at the top to take in the breath-taking panoramic view.

When the time came to return, one member of the group "froze" at the hop-step-and-jump. Logically, she was aware that there was no other way down. However, fear doesn't work by logic! She was gripped by panic - no way was she going to cross. After well over an hour of fruitless coaxing, she was finally carried over.

I have climbed Mount Norman quite a number of times. Last attempt, however, I could sense my level of fitness not really up to it. I gave up after the chimney, even though that was really the biggest challenge. I realised that I didn't have the confidence to keep going.

The New and Living Way

The readers of the Letter to the Hebrews were Jewish Christians under strong pressure to renounce their faith in Christ and revert to Judaism. Did they have the confidence to keep going in their faith? The writer had made it clear that -

"Therefore" - because of all this - "since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God…" (Heb. 10.19-21).

The focus is particularly on our access to the presence of God through Jesus' perfect sacrifice and his priesthood. Our "confidence" in entering the heavenly sanctuary "is set in contrast with the restrictions which hedged about the privilege of symbolic entry into the presence of God in Israel's earthly sanctuary" (FF Bruce).

"Therefore… let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water" (v. 22).

The invitation had been previously given in 4.16 - "Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."

We have confidence to come to God because of the new and living way - because Jesus has died - the perfect Sacrifice, never needing to be repeated - and because Jesus rose and ascended to heaven as our high Priest, there to present the blood of the sacrifice before the Father in heaven.

The Fellowship of Encouragement

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (v. 23). Our hope is based on what God has said, on what God has done in Christ, on his continuing high-priestly work… As we continue to depend on God's faithfulness, there is no good reason to turn back from our confession of faith.

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds" (v. 24). God means us to be in fellowship so that we can actively encourage one another in translating faith into action. This is highlighted in persecution, but needed by us all as a regular part of our Christian life.

And so that this can happen - "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching" (v. 25). As FF Bruce puts it, "Every opportunity of coming together and enjoying their fellowship in faith and hope must be welcomed and used for mutual encouragement".

Isolation from fellowship is never an option for the Christian. We deny others and deny ourselves of an essential ingredient of our Christian faith and life when we fail to take advantage of regular fellowship. John Wesley said that "Christianity is essentially a social religion; and that to turn it into a solitary one is to destroy it" (Discourse 4 on the Sermon on the Mount).

Keep Going

Already in 2.1-3a the writer has issued a general warning - "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"

But the warning is more specific and urgent as the present chapter goes on - "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" (10.26-27).

Bruce comments, "What he has in mind is that 'falling away from the living God' of which he spoke in 3.12, that renunciation of Christianity against which he warned his readers in 6.4-8. To have received the knowledge of the truth and then reject it is to give up the only way of salvation".

"How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy [lit. common] thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?" (v. 29) Such a rejection of the grace of God is what Jesus calls "an eternal sin. Already in 2.1-3a the writer has issued a general warning - "We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?"

"Remember those earlier days…" Do you remember? What was it like for you as a young Christian? Were you unstoppable? or were you reserved and private about your faith?

The writer reminds his readers about "those earlier days". In the face of suffering they had "stood their ground". They had faced public insult and persecution themselves and had stood side by side with others so treated. They had sympathised with those imprisoned for their faith and had even joyfully accepted confiscation of their property. These weren't tolerant "fellow-travellers", but believers with unashamed commitment and passion. We wonder how it could be that such stalwarts could even contemplate turning back - but then, we haven't been there. Of one thing we can be certain - we have this letter because they didn't turn back!

"So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised" (vv. 35-36). Don't give up! Don't turn back!

Confidence to keep going… We have had the confidence to set out on the Christian life. Jesus has made sense to us. The Bible has been a remarkably alive book. We have really wanted to follow Christ and to serve him all the days of our life. But then, when the going is tough - when faced with difficulty or disappointment - do we have the confidence to keep going? Do we "freeze" with fear at the reality of unexpected hardship? Do we sense that our resources aren't adequate to keep going?

And that's just where our problem comes in - somehow we transfer our confidence in Christ to our confidence in ourselves. For he has not only opened for us the "new and living way", but continually offers us his grace to keep going. Believing in Jesus you are on the right track. Don't give up! Don't turn back! Turn to him constantly - and keep going!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 16 November 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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