Many of you have met our two dogs, Ranger and Scout, who we got from the local animal shelter back in 2011. They’re great dogs, and very easy going when we have company. Now at the time we were looking into animal adoption (and I’m an advocate for adopting rather than buying purebreds) you know what I found out? There are companies that offer you pet insurance. Pet insurance! Now while that may be a little over-the-top, insurance itself is a good thing.
Nobody expects their house to burn down, but you’d be foolish not to purchase homeowner’s insurance. You probably don’t expect your car to be stolen or totaled by a negligent driver, but you’d be foolish not to have auto insurance (actually, both are required by law). Yet, the vast majority of human beings have not put a policy in place – have made no provision whatsoever for their eternal soul. You may have life insurance, but do you have ‘eternal life insurance’? It sounds funny, but Messiah made it clear that where our soul is concerned, everything is at stake!
I have good news and bad news. The good news is that the past 20 years has seen an enormous rise in the number of Jewish people following Yeshua, and it doesn’t appear to be slowing up. This is extremely encouraging.
On the other hand, the past 15 years has seen much in the way of spiritual compromise. Many in our movement, including some leaders, have abandoned essential doctrines of the Faith. Others have employed what I consider to be unethical and unbiblical practices, all in an attempt to win the approval (or to minimize the disapproval) of the larger, unbelieving Jewish community.
This isn’t anything new. Jewish believers in Yeshua have experienced moderate to severe disapproval, disenfranchisement and outright hostility since the First Century. It can be wearying to the soul, and more than a few have been tempted to “throw in the towel” – to leave the community of believers to return to the comfort and familiarity and good graces of the larger Jewish community. It is on account of such pressures that The Letter to the Messianic Jews was written.
It isn’t uncommon for Jewish followers of Yeshua to become ‘battle-fatigued’ as it were; emotionally drained – either from the ongoing targeted persecution, or more generally from being marginalized and excluded from the Jewish community. Beginning with the martyrdom of Stephen, and then the murder of James, the apostle and brother of John, persecution broke out against the early Messianic Jews. In addition to physical attacks and threats on their lives, these early believers were themselves excluded from Jewish society. Many were fired from their jobs or suffered boycotts against their businesses on account of their faith. Others were disowned by their families.
Yeshua really meant it when He said that on account of Him a man’s enemies might be the very members of his family (Matt. 10:36). He was quoting from Micah 7:6, but it found its greater fulfillment among His Jewish followers and their families. Messianic Jews were systematically being excluded from the Temple services as well as from their own synagogues. It’s hard to be hated by your own people, and the temptation was to give up and return to the unbelieving community.
The writer of Hebrews set out to warn the early Jewish believers in Yeshua against turning away from the faith. In these early chapters he did this by demonstrating from Scripture who Messiah Yeshua is. He is greater than the angels, greater than Moses, a greater High Priest offering a greater covenant with greater promises. In fact, the letter begins with an affirmation of His deity!
Chapter three takes up the superiority of Messiah even to Moses, who is regarded as the most important of the prophets in Judaism. He is affectionately known as Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our Teacher/Great One). But as we’ll see, such a comparison really is ‘apples and oranges’. Messiah is greater than all!
Therefore… holy brothers, partakers of a heavenly calling…
The adverb therefore – what is it there for? It’s a good idea not to ignore conjunctions. If you walked in on an important meeting just in time to hear the speaker say, “Consequently, it is imperative that we…” the word ‘consequently’ was a clue that you missed something that was said just moments earlier that was important. So, let’s do a quick review of the author’s previous discussion. Chapters one and two demonstrate that Yeshua is greater even than the angels.
First-century Jews regarded angels with great awe. It was commonly held that angels were involved in the giving of the Torah. Luke records that angelic visitations accompanied the announcement to Zechariah about his future son John, and to Miryam about her becoming the earthly mother of Messiah Yeshua, and to the shepherds at the time Messiah was born. The presence of angels means that something supernatural is happening – that some great revelatory event in God’s agenda is taking place. But as mighty and majestic as the angels are, they cannot compare to Yeshua, who is God the Son.
Chapter two goes on to demonstrate the importance of Yeshua’s incarnation. He became one of us, adding humanity to His nature, so that He might be a merciful High Priest. He was tempted, just as we are tempted. The difference is that He did not succumb to temptation, and as a result was qualified to bring about our eternal redemption. This is exactly what Yeshua did. And when He did it, He also rendered the devil powerless to dominate our live any more with the fear of death.
If you know that your name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life, then death holds no fear, no sting for you. And while few people actually look forward to dying, death is no longer that great ‘unknown’ and no longer need to frighten us. For those of us who love the Lord, it means coming home to the presence of a loving heavenly Father, and to a gathering of fellow believers from all the ages – what the author elsewhere refers to as a great cloud of witnesses.
The letter to the Messianic Jews was written to urge us not to abandon the faith, and so it is significant that the author tells us that we are partakers of a heavenly calling. In other words, we have not simply adopted a nice, peaceful philosophy. We are enrolled in Heaven, summoned from Heaven, and are now ambassadors of Heaven. Let’s continue in vs. 1 – the exhortation to these early Jewish believers… and to us!
Verse 1 …consider Yeshua
We are told to pause and give serious thought to who Yeshua is. It has already been proven that He is the Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that He is greater even than the mighty angels. “Consider who it is, brothers, that you are about to turn your back on!” Consider Yeshua!
…consider Yeshua the Apostle
He is called the Apostle and High Priest of our Confession. An apostle is an emissary – a duly delegated, official representative. In cities and villages around the world where there are sizeable Jewish communities (and this is particularly true of Europe), there are synagogue officials who serve as representatives to the larger community on behalf of Judaism and of the Jews who live there. They are essentially goodwill ambassadors. This individual is called a shaliach (one who is sent). Shaliach is the rough equivalent of apostolos. Yeshua was sent by the Father, acting on behalf of the Father (with goodwill!) in order to redeem us.
…consider Yeshua the Apostle and High Priest
He is also called the High Priest. Yeshua bears many titles and in Himself has fulfilled many roles. He is the great Prophet, of whom Moses spoke in Deuteronomy (18:15-19). He is our Rabbi and Master – the One to whom we must give account and who is our Teacher. Yeshua is King Messiah, the One who will rule over the earth in peace for a thousand years on the throne of David. More than that, He is also the Passover Lamb – the One who took our sins and exchanged His righteousness for our collective sin and suffered the penalty for it. And He is the One, as set forth in the beginning of the letter, who is also the Lord of creation. So, as we think about it, Yeshua is the sacrificed Lamb, the High Priest who presides in the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple), and the Lord who is over all.
…consider Yeshua the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.
And this is the crux of it. Confession means open acknowledgement. We are to be open about who we believe Yeshua is. Judaism, from ancient times, has been a creedal faith. Messianic Judaism, Christianity, has also from ancient times been creedal. We recite creeds because they are both reminders to us and affirmations for anyone who is listening about who God is, who Messiah Yeshua is, and what we believe about the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
It’s one thing to simply say, “I’m a Christian.” But, candidly, the word has almost become denuded of meaning. It is another thing altogether to declare, “I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth, and in Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah, His only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin, Miriam, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried. On the third day He rose from the dead. He ascended to Heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father…”
Of course, I could go on, but you get the point. We have a confession, and that confession centers on Yeshua, the ultimate Apostle and High Priest; the One sent from Heaven and who has made atonement for our sins.
He was faithful to Him who appointed Him, as Moses also was in all His house.
The writer goes on to compare Yeshua to Moses. There are many parallels between the life of Moses and the ministry of Yeshua, which we would expect, since Moses said that God would raise up a singular prophet like himself to whom we would be obligated to give obedience (Deut. 18:15-19). So let’s consider it for a moment.
Parallels: Moses and Messiah
Raised in a royal palace
Willingly forsook palace life
Identified w/his people
Obeyed God’s calling
Rescued us from Egypt
Rejected, accused by those he came to aid
Considered the greatest of the prophets
Lived in Heavenly splendor
Willingly forsook celestial home
Identified w/His creation
Obeyed His Father’s command
Rescues us from sin/death
Rejected, killed by those He came to save
Far greater even than Moses
Both cast aside their royalty in order to serve their people. Moses was humbled (in the wilderness of Midian – sheep-herding for his Father-in-Law) before he ascended to leadership over all Israel. Yeshua was humbled during His brief life on earth. Moses was pretty well unappreciated by the very ones he came to help. Yeshua was despised by His own nation – the nation He had come to serve and die for. Just as Moses returned from Midian to lead the people, when Yeshua returns, it will not be in humility, but in glory and as our King and Redeemer. But the author is not saying that Yeshua is like Moses. He is saying that Yeshua is much, much greater than Moses.
For He has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later; but Messiah was faithful as a Son over His house…
The comparison in verses one through the first part of verse six is that Yeshua was faithful to what God asked Him to do just as Moses was faithful to do what God called him to do. But that’s where the comparison ends, and now it’s ‘apples and oranges’ again. Yeshua is as much greater than Moses as the architect is greater than the structure he designs. To be the owner of a Frank Lloyd Wright house is a rare and considerable (and costly!) honor, but it is nothing to being the man, Frank Lloyd Wright, or one of his direct heirs.
Moses was a servant. Yeshua is a Son. Parallels, yes, but really there’s no comparison. The servant does what he is told to do, and hopefully does it well. The son, however, is heir of the whole estate. A good servant, in the house of an honorable and godly man, might have some degree of honor and reward and be entrusted with important matters (consider, for example, Abraham’s servant, Eliezer of Damascus). But the son inherits all things. Yeshua, as chapter one tells us, is the heir of all things – all things – the very cosmos! Let’s look at the last half of verse six, speaking of the House of God.
…whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.
The wonderful news is that we ourselves, God’s Holy Community, are His handiwork and His house. But the word “if” is frightening in its implications.
The conditional word “if” was absolutely necessary to this passage, given the danger of these early Jewish believers, or us, turning away from the Faith – becoming apostates. The promises of God are directed “to him who overcomes…” Let me be clear about something. Just as we are saved by His grace, the Scriptures are clear that we are kept by His grace. The one who does not continue in the Faith never belonged to Yeshua. But there is a real counterpart to this. We have choices about things, and if we sow the seeds of cowardice and unbelief, we will reap eternal condemnation. God cannot be blamed for those who fail to persevere, for He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the Day of Messiah Yeshua (Phil. 1:6). But the writer is warning us against unbelief, and employs Psalm 95 to make his point. Let’s continue at verses 7-11.
Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as when they provoked Me, as in the day of trial in the wilderness, where your fathers tried Me by testing Me, and saw My works for forty years. Therefore I was angry with this generation, and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart, and they did not know My ways’; As I swore in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.’”
You are looking at the second of this book’s five big warnings. Considering who it is we are speaking of, we are urged not to harden our hearts. To say “No” to Yeshua is more than just dismissing an impressive religious figure or a great philosopher. It is rejecting eternal life itself. It puts a new perspective on the expression, “Is that your final answer?” God forbid that saying “No” to Jesus the Messiah ends up being your final answer. Some of you here have yet to say “Yes.” The letter was written to those who had already said “Yes,” but were in danger of turning away.
Witnessing Adonai’s great miracles wasn’t enough to keep that generation of Israel faithful. The author is demonstrating that we are not immune to the same spiritual distraction and disaffection they faced. Most of us have not seen visible miracles such as the parting of the Red Sea or the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night, but we are just as prone to wander. Turning away from Yeshua is tantamount to hardening our hearts. My father once said to me, “Prove to me God!” Even if God had, at that very moment, manifested His power in that room, I am not sure my father would be following Yeshua today. “The righteous will live by faith” – not by seeing miracles.
The admonition to each of us is that we determine not to become either distracted and enticed by the world’s promises, nor discouraged and embittered by the world’s treachery. That generation of Jewish people failed to enter Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Promise, on account of unbelief. You and I need to be certain that unbelief doesn’t keep us out of Heaven, the ultimate Promised Land.
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Falling away from the Lord? We hear the expression in Christian circles. “He fell away from the Lord”. It is a biblical one. To fall away from the living God is described as evil and unbelieving. But the author doesn’t merely sound the warning. Instead, he offers the means to combat the temptation to give up and walk away.
But encourage one another day after day,
as long as it is still called “Today…”
“…day after day…” It takes more than a one-time emotional experience of walking forward in a church service. It’s a day-by-day effort to remain steadfast in faith. But again don’t misunderstand me, I don’t believe we secure our salvation any more than we earned it. But it is our responsibility to be wise and do the things necessary to keep strong in the faith. To cultivate spiritual disciplines and good habits. God helps us and gives every believer the Holy Spirit, but that does not absolve us of the responsibility to see to the condition of our souls. “…as long as it is still called “’Today,’”. Don’t procrastinate. Who knows what a day will hold? The thing that needs your attention needs it now. Not tomorrow.
Secondly, we are not expected to do this on our own. “But encourage one another…” There is nothing sadder to see than a man or woman who refuses to be part of a worshiping congregation but insists that they will walk with the Lord on their own. To be sure, our faith must be our own (nobody gets into heaven just because somebody they know is a believer), but it is completely unrealistic to think that we will endure in the Faith if we separate ourselves. More than just not holding ourselves aloof, we must consciously get together and encourage each other. Good things like mutual encouragement don’t happen by default. We need to make them happen. Men, find a brother in the Lord and talk and visit regularly and encourage each other. Women, find a sister in the Lord and do likewise. Mavericks don’t make it in the long haul. We need one another.
“…so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin…”
Sin usually comes to us in very enticing ways. I have no desire to see horror movies and be scared out of my wits. But sin doesn’t usually come in horrific forms. It comes in very attractive, seductive ways. It is deceitful, because sin invites you to take a little taste, but lies in wait to hook you, reel you in and gut you. It may even come in the form of the temptation to compromise on a seemingly little and harmless thing. But small transgressions lead to large ones.
One compromise is just the tiny opening that prepares the way for ever-increasing, ever more sensational doses of sin. Satan may lie to us, but we don’t dare lie to ourselves. Sin hardens the heart, and hardened hearts are what kept our people out of the Land of Promise.
Chiefly, we must avoid the sin of unbelief. We cannot allow the disapproval of others, whether the Jewish community as a whole, or our own family or co-workers or friends, to tempt us to abandon Messiah Yeshua, who went the whole distance for us. Furthermore, we must not take the ridicule of the world personally, as though it’s about us. It isn’t. It’s about Him! We must never seek the approval of an evil, unbelieving world at the expense of denying the One who is the way, the truth and the life.
(What are we supposed to do about this?)
How do we do this? How do we stand firm? Well, one side of the equation is the empowering of the Holy Spirit. We’ve got to become praying people, who know that we need to rely completely on Adonai and not ourselves for strength. The other side of the equation is what we’ve been talking about – that we’ve also got to become a close, loving and encouraging community. It actually comes to us, not as a suggestion, but as a directive – and with these words this d’rasha ends:
…encourage one another day after day,
as long as it is still called “Today”