The secrets of perseverance
And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. (Hebrews 12:1-2, NIV)
The letter to the Hebrews was written to weary Christians who were being tempted to give up. Whoever they were, they were a minority in their community, and experiencing some hostility for their faith in Jesus.
How, then, were they to keep going? The writer - every inch a pastor - gives his answers in this great letter. Here are four:
1. Keep listening to the message about Jesus. God has spoken to us all, fully and finally, by His Son. So We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (2:1) The nautical image - drifting - is telling: it’s an unobserved movement away from where we’re supposed to be. The answer for us is to keep listening to Jesus, so we are sure we’ve got the message about Him really clear. So often, spiritual drifting starts with failing to remember and apply the great truths of the gospel. They fade in our minds, and are replaced by distorted caricatures.
2. Don’t hang out on your own. The writer has heard that some people are no longer coming to church, and this worries him. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (10:25) We are to help each other, for we need each other. That’s a reason why we meet. I think many of us have a fresh appreciation of just how much we value and need that meeting at the moment, when COVID prevents us meeting as a church. Please keep attending your small group, even if you are feeling ‘Zoomed out’.
3. Understand the shape of the Christian life. Discouragement, and even bewilderment, can come when we face difficulties in the Christian life. But what did we expect? In chapters 3 and 4, the writer draws a parallel between the Egypt to Canaan journey of the Israelites and the Christian’s journey to heaven (God’s rest, as he calls it). It was a hard, desert journey! (This ‘wilderness journey’ picture of the Christian life is the basis of John Bunyan’s great book The Pilgrim’s Progress and William Williams’ hymn “Guide me, O, Thou great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land.’) So: remember where we are on the map, but remember, too, how God led the Israelites right through that to the promised land, and gave them all they needed throughout the journey.
4. And now for the biggest of all: Keep your eyes on Jesus. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author writes. And that is exactly what the letter helps us do! In fact, it’s striking, given that the author writes to encourage his readers to persevere, how little space he gives to practical tips on perseverance, and how much of the letter simply fixes our eyes on Jesus, God’s final word, fully God and fully man, greater than Moses, and our Great High Priest. We learn that God has spoken fully by Him, that He has made complete atonement for our sins, that He deals gently with us, and that He is able to help us when tempted, because He was, too. What a Saviour!
We are continuing to look at Him - His temptations in fact - this Sunday morning, as we journey through Matthew’s gospel.