weekly word – 9/16/21

Why We Need Hebrews

In the mid-1950s, 70% of Americans identified as Protestant Christians. In the last three years, that number has been cut in half to about 35%. Additionally, we now know that 2020 was the first year ever that more Americans answered “No” than “Yes” to the question “Do you happen to be a member of a church or synagogue?” Since that question was first asked in 1992, the number of people who answered “Yes” dropped from 70% to 47% in 2020.

These statistics tell a simple story about our country: Jesus isn’t cool anymore. This massive decline in the popularity of Christianity has left many stunned Christians speculating about what caused it:

- the high rate of moral failure among pastors

- the failure of Christian parents to teach the Bible and the gospel to their children

- the church focusing more on self-improvement than knowing God

- the culture replacing the social network of the church with an internet-based society

- the effect of COVID-19 policies in discouraging church participation

Anyone who has played on a losing sports team could come up with a similar set of reasons for a bad season. It’s natural to try to figure this out. And although these explanations are all plausible, they lack one consideration: the individual. 

Each of the people surveyed represents thousands, if not millions, of individual Americans. And each of those individual Americans who broke ties with Christ and dropped out of their church has their own motivation. While sociologists may one day pinpoint the reason why our culture is changing, the Bible teaches that each professing Christian who falls away bears their own responsibility for that decision. They can’t blame their culture.

No book of the Bible deals with this issue more directly than Hebrews. The book of Hebrews is addressed to a Christian church with many who are breaking ties with Christ and dropping out of fellowship. It gives several strong warnings against doing that:

“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?” (Hebrews 2:1-3a)

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience. For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:11-13)

“For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.” (Hebrews 6:7-8)

“Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

“See that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns from heaven. At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” (Hebrews 12:25-26)

Why does it contain such dire warnings? 

One of the main themes of Hebrews is the greatness of Jesus Christ. He is shown to be greater than any angel, high priest, or spiritual hero. Consequently, there is a greater penalty for ignoring Him than any other messenger from God. To dismiss Jesus Christ is to provoke God’s retribution (2:2), His judgment (4:13), His curse (6:8), the Spirit’s outrage (10:29), and God’s final judgment (12:25). 

These warnings make it clear that no one has a valid excuse for forsaking Jesus Christ. You can’t justify leaving Jesus because another Christian disappoints you or because your culture oppresses you. To do that is to place either another human being or your culture above Jesus Christ in importance. If you identified with Jesus and then stopped, the responsibility for that rests on you alone.

Hebrews teaches that those who obtain knowledge about Christ, identify with Him for a season, and then reject Him bring God’s wrath on themselves. They have not only spurned the one thing that would save them, they have brought public shame on Christ. Unless they repent, God holds these people under the severest of curses. 

When we zoom out to the national level, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to guess what God thinks of a country that’s collectively aware of Christ and yet ignores Him. If America and its leaders largely fall into the above description (and I think they do), we should all be glad God hasn’t sent down fire and brimstone already. 

If God is being gracious in withholding His wrath for a while (and He is!), let’s make the most of that time by reaching out to those we see with the gospel. After all, our mission isn’t to convert a country, it’s making disciples. And quite often, the gospel flourishes the most among the nations that are most hostile to Christ.

Pastor David