• The BaptistWay lesson for Sept. 29 focuses on Hebrews 10:19-39.
Hebrews 10:19-39 is all about motivation. After establishing the identity of Christ as the supreme high priest, the author moves on to explore the implications this identity has for those who follow him. We use the same method when maturing our children in the faith. We teach them about Jesus when they are young, in hopes this will motivate them to live as Christ-followers as they grow.
A call to persevere (10:19-25)
The writer’s motivation begins with encouragement to persevere. It includes Old Testament sacrificial references involving blood (v. 19), the curtain (v. 20) and sprinkling/cleansing (v. 22). The Hebrews found this language motivating because it spoke to their deepest need.
Today, some are uncomfortable with similar references that point to what theologians call “substitutionary atonement,” the idea that Christ’s death was our substitute for sin. The hymnal committee of a mainstream Protestant denomination recently made headlines when it sought approval from artists Keith and Kristin Getty to modify one of their songs.
The committee was split over including a line from In Christ Alone that read: “Upon that cross, as Jesus died; the wrath of God was satisfied.” In an attempt to compromise, they proposed modifying the last part of the line to “the love of God was magnified.” In spite of financial profits this would have brought the Gettys, they declined the request. When the committee met again, they voted to exclude the song altogether.
We cannot exclude the sacrificial words of Hebrews 10. Rather, we must look beyond the way it makes us feel to the motivation found in it by the Hebrews. It is because of this “new and living way” (v. 20) made possible by Christ’s death that the Hebrews can “hold unswervingly to the hope (they) profess” (v. 23).
Warning against apostasy (10:26-31)
On the other hand, this language is not merely lofty speech meant to encourage. Inherent in it also is a warning. If the Hebrews fail to persevere, they face dire consequences. Verses 26-31 have all the elements of your loudest, scariest, most emotional hell-fire and brimstone sermon. It mentions judgment (v. 27), death (v. 28), punishment (v. 29) and dread (v. 31).
I once attended a “Hell House” as a teenager. Some churches host them around Halloween as an attempt to quite literally “scare the hell” out of people. As I walked from room to room, my stomach became tightened with knots. After being escorted through their portrayal of hell, I was brought into the sanctuary and told to raise my hand if I did not want to actually experience what I had just seen dramatized and was assured the real thing would be much worse. As a result, I—and nearly everyone else in the room—raised my hand. We were told that by making a decision for Jesus—signing a card—we had assured our place in heaven.
The author of Hebrews does not dare cheapen God’s grace by reducing the Christian life to signing a card or using dramatic threats to pile up numerical conversions. The writer’s warning is to people who already have signed on the dotted line. It highlights the offensiveness and finality of deliberate apostasy and uses familiar verses from Deuteronomy to remind the Hebrews God is not to be trifled with. God’s wrath is real. Who else should best be motivated by it than those who already have professed faith in him?
Proof you can do it (10:32-36)
The pastoral side of the author shines through in these next verses as the tone shifts from grim warning to sincere exhortation. “Earlier days” of “suffering” (v. 32) are referenced as proof the Hebrews can persevere and avoid the judgment mentioned previously. This brief description does not allow a complete reconstruction of what happened to the Hebrews, but it does permit a window into the closeness, solidarity and commitment experienced in the midst of their hardships.
“You’ve done it before; you can do it again,” the author seems to be saying. Our past often serves as a great motivator to our faithfulness to God. Not only can previous trials remind us of ways God sustained us, it can help us sustain others when they go through similar things. A Christian’s suffering never is wasted. While some struggle with questions of “why” in the midst of grief, here the author of Hebrews reminds us to focus on “how.” We cannot escape suffering, especially if we claim to follow Christ. We can recall how he brought us through it as a motivator to remain faithful until the end.
Identity check (10:37-39)
As a final motivator, the Hebrews are given an “identity check.” The author references two passages that would have been familiar to them from Isaiah 26:20 and Habakuk 2:3. Their message is summed up in verse 39: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” This was not unknown information, but it was powerful motivation.
Sometimes, the greatest motivation to faithfulness simply involves remembering who we are in Christ and how we got there. Recalling the faithfulness of a Sunday school teacher, youth minister or grandparent who brought you to church can do this—so can looking at old journal entries, or even calling up old Christian friends.
God’s motivations are all around us. How is he motivating you toward faithfulness? How are you motivating others?