Dark Brewed: Hebrews – Part 2

Speaker: Scott Jarrett | Apr 2, 2017

Like a good dark brew (of either coffee or beer), this portion of the book of Hebrews delivers the kind of “kick in the pants” that is always appreciated when the pressures and temptations of this life have got us feeling like compromise is the only option. This was the situation of Jewish (i.e. Hebrew) Christians living in the first century – the original audience of the letter. Scholars believe it to have been written sometime in the early to mid-sixties—the same time as the Neronic persecution. Per the edict of Caesar, all those claiming to be Christian w/in the Roman empire were open game to be tortured or killed. As a result, great temptation was placed upon the covenant community to temporarily turn away from the Faith – or least hide their Faith, until things got better. For the Jewish Christians, that meant going back to their former religion (Judaism). In their minds, this was both an acceptable alternative to Christianity and an accessible safe-haven from the raging Roman storm. The author of Hebrews however knew that such compromise was not only eternally dangerous, but largely due to wrong perspective. In other words, how these Jewish Christians were interpreting their Faith and current situation was very different from the view or vantage point of God. It is here then that the author expects us to feel the jolt back to reality. If you are beginning to feel like the Christian life is too hard, or that the preservation of God’s people will (at times) require a little “letting off the gas”, now is the time to take a sip of the following dark-brewed truths:

1. Countless saints have run the Christian race with faithful endurance until the end (1).

The overwhelming evidence (“so great cloud of witnesses”) proves we can do it (“run with endurance the race set before us”) if we put away ghetto thinking[1] (“lay aside every weight and sin which clings so closely”) (Deu 30:9).

2. Jesus is the One Who establishes the standard/definition of faithful endurance that we are to be aspiring to.

Knowing that we as Christians can do what God expects, is comforting yet hardly sufficient unless we also know where to look  – or what to look for, when attempting to determine whether or not we have been successful. This is especially important given the tendency to makes such things dependent on each other or the situation (i.e. our assessments are based on comparing ourselves to each other or how hard we think things to be) According to the author Hebrews however, it is to Jesus and Jesus alone we are look to find our answer.

(2)looking to Jesus” = This (then) is what we must also do if we are to win the Christian race. We are not to be assessing ourselves according to each other, the situation we are in – or even the standards of the culture, but rather according to the standard (or definition) established by Jesus. We are to be constantly/continually deferring to Jesus since He is “the founder and perfecter of our faith” = The latter term (“perfecter”) refers to Jesus’ atoning/justifying work at the cross that has brought to completion (or perfection) God’s plan of salvation by replacing the perpetual sacrifice of lambs/bulls which could not ultimately remove sin, with the once for all sacrifice of Himself (Heb 10:1-18). This understanding helps us to see that the phrase “our faith” should be translated “our faithfulness” (i.e. Jesus is the “perfecter of our faithfulness”) given that this too was brought to completion at His death. In other words, what God’s people are maintaining through their faithfulness is no longer simply theoretical (i.e. a declaration of justification that doesn’t yet exist since the blood of bulls cannot produce it), but real (i.e. we are declared just b/c we have been truly made just through the blood of Christ)[2]. It is for this reason that the author (of Hebrews) says what he does in (11:39-40 = The countless OT saints who maintained faithfulness during their lives were also dependent on Christ’s coming and completing/perfecting the work of justification if the heavenly prize they were ultimately striving for was to be granted; See also 9:1-15; Hence why the need for the Abe’s bosom in Sheol – Psa 16:10; Luk 16:19-31 w/Eph 4:8-9 w/Isa 61:1 and Luk 4:18; Mat 27:52). The point not to miss is the fact that it is Jesus (or His work) which gives value to our faithfulness. Hence why, He is (once more) the One who defines it/determines its expectations in our lives. This is further reinforced by the word “founder” – which can also be translated “author” (KJV, NAS; ESV – Act 3:15).  And, as no surprise, it is certain aspects of Jesus’ life that we are called to consider as the main components of that definition. Whereas the past saints provide the evidence of such endurance (or its possibility for our lives as well), Jesus provides our defining example and standard. That being said, here (then) is the kind of faithful endurance we as God’s people are expected to be producing. Or, keeping w/the former teaching and analogy of a race, this is how God expects us to be running to win:

2.1. You will have guts for glory.

(2) “Jesus…who for the joy set before Him, endured the cross…and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” = In ancient times, to be assigned the place immediately to the right of the King, meant that you had been granted a position of great power and authority. In essence, that king had bestowed upon you the responsibility of overseeing his kingdom. You were as we say today, his “right hand man”, his Chief Operating Officer (COO). This (then) is what is being communicated by the author of Hebrews in relation to Jesus. This is the glorious reward He received as a result of His faithful obedience. Such glory however came at a steep price. It required that Jesus be willing to suffer the torturous pain of crucifixion, that He prove His obedience to God in death (Phi 2:8-11). IOW: Jesus had to have the guts, He had to be tough enough, to get the glory. And the same guts for glory is expected of all those who name the name of Christ. This is the standard we are to be aspiring to – the definition of faithfulness established by Jesus. Such guts or toughness however is not natural. Pain is still pain, suffering still hurts – no matter who you are. What then makes the difference? How can one possess the guts for glory?

Studies have shown that the people can/will endure incredible amounts of discomfort and pain or forego gratification – even for long periods of time, if they believe that what will be gained in the future will far outweigh the cost of their current suffering[3].

For example, every year about 1,000 people will attempt to climb Mt. Everest even though for the last decade, the annual average number of deaths are no less than six people, the trip will cost you somewhere in the neighborhood of $30k – 45k, and you must be willing to endure the agony of extremely rough terrain, poor weather conditions, cold temperatures, strong winds, and low oxygen levels. The reason for committing themselves to such danger, discomfort and debt? The overwhelming ecstasy they believe to be associated with summiting the tallest peak in the world (29k ft).  In behavioral-psychology, this is called Cost-Benefit Integration, in investing, it is known as the Sharpe and Sortino Ratios and in the world exercise and fitness, it is the principle of “No Pain, No Gain”. The answer then to the question (what makes the difference or how can one possess the guts for glory) is revealed. It is the belief that such glory exists -or is worth the cost to get it. And for Jesus it was no different. In His humanity, He operated with the same neural substrate as you and I, which means He (too) was motivated by the same system of pain and reward. This the author of Hebrews confirms when he says, “who for the joy set before Him”. Because Jesus believed that the reward awaiting Him (or again, set before Him”) was indeed worth it (i.e. it would create “joy” not disappointment upon receiving it), He had the ability to endure, He had the guts necessary for glory. And the same type of glory – or reward far outweighing any and all trials/tests we may face or have to endure has been promised to us as well (2Co 4:17; 1Co 2:9; In regard to Jesus being at the right hand of God, this too bears personal significance to us as it relates to the issue of reward – Psa 16:11 = Though David is speaking about Christ, it refers also to himself/all saints. Under the eternal reign of Christ, we will enjoy pleasures forever – Rev 21-22). Likewise, the act of believing is also key to our Christian guts/toughness (Heb 11:6; 1Pe 1:6-8; consider the larger context of 2Co 4:17 – verses 13-17 = Notice Paul’s power to suffer such deathful displeasure is not due to personal prowess [“we have this treasure in jars of clay”], but only b/c he “believed” in an ever-eclipsing great reward). So then, the real question is this: do you truly believe the value of God’s reward to be so great, that it is clearly worth whatever the cost may be in this life? If you do, then you have guts for glory and are on the path of faithful endurance. If not, then the running you are doing is far from what Jesus expects or would define as faithful or enduring and is bound to fail. It is the temporary trot of a gutless runner that will end the moment difficulty comes (Mat 13:20-22).

2.2. You will have no stomach for shameful things.

(2) “Jesus…endured the cross, despising the shame” = In the ancient world, dying was not as much feared as dying shamefully. In the words of the stoic philosopher, Epictetus (50 -135 A.D), “It is not a fearful thing to die, but to die shamefully.” Crucifixion represented just that kind of death. It was not only a very painful way to die, it was also very shameful or humiliating.[4] Rather than accepting that shame or being indifferent to it, the author tells us that Jesus was “despising” it (To find something/someone incredibly dirty, utterly despicable, extremely distasteful, totally disgusting, completely disgraceful, very dishonoring or disrespectful. IOW: To identify them/it as shameful. Despising then is simply the expected response to those things which are shameful. A despised/shameful person or thing is therefore someone/something for whom/which we have no interest in or respect for; Mat 6:24, 18:10; 1Co 11:22; 1Ti 4:12; 2Pe 2:10; Tit 2:15).  And this again was the reaction of Jesus in relation to the cross. Though willing to take His place upon it, He likewise viewed it as shameful and therefore treated it as dirty, despicable, distasteful and disgusting, disgraceful, dishonoring and disrespectful; as something no-one should want to be associated with.  That being said, the interesting thing about Jesus’ reaction to the cross is not the reaction itself, but the fact that the cross carries no moral category. Like a gun, it is instrument which can be used for good or evil. Questions of morality must instead be directed toward those in the seat of judgment or under judgment. As such, the shame attached to it is culturally determined. Crucifixion was identified as a shameful way to die not by God, but those in the culture. Plugging that back into our consideration (then) reveals a powerful truth otherwise easily missed. The shame Jesus is despising is much more than simply those things God’s word directly identifies as shameful. It includes also those things which carry that connotation from a cultural perspective. IOW: Jesus despised – or had no stomach for any and all things deemed shameful either by man or God[5]. That it is what the author of Hebrews is getting at when he says (once more) “despising the shame”. And this (too) then is what God expects will define the faithful endurance of those running the Christian race. In modern slang, we will have no stomach for shameful things. We will instead despise (i.e. treat as shameful and avoid) any activity the word of God and culture views as dirty, despicable, distasteful, disgusting, disgraceful, dishonoring or disrespectful (From God’s Word = dressing w/scanty clothing -exposed sexual parts/nakedness – Rev 3:18; hanging out w/bad influences, or those getting drunk – 1Co 15:34; becoming a health-food nut – Phi 3:16 w/Rom 16:18 and Heb 13:9; women functioning as pastors/preachers – 1Co 14:35; pastors preaching jacked up junk or what will keep the crowds around – Tit 1:11; 1Pe 5:12; living a double-life – 2Co 4:2; looking at pornography – Pr 6:26; practicing false religion – Psa 97:7; being lazy – Pro 10:5; aspiring to be poor or living outside your means – 1Th 4:11-12; 2Th 3:12-14; wives bringing dishonor to their husbands – Pro 12:4;  men having long hair – 1Co 11:14; acting like you know what you don’t know – Pro 18:13; raising feral, spanking deprived kids – Pro 29:15// From a cultural perspective = Having children out of wedlock; getting visible tattoos, face piercings or ear-lugs; putting rainbow colors in your hair; having body-odor; masturbating; getting bad grades (below a “B”) or flunking out of school; spending money on a big screen tv or entertainment items and leaving your lawn and house looking like crap; having a home/room that stinks, constantly dirty or disheveled).  In this respect, it may rightly said that Jesus was a certain type of snob and the same is expected of His people. We are to now be snobs for excellence, for what is honorable, orderly and beautiful.  This should not surprise us since becoming a Christian means becoming a part of a life-long learning and re-orientation program (Rom 12:1-2). Pride in the shameful things of our past or the past cultures we belonged to have been replaced w/an attitude of despising and a thankfulness for the new life and new family God has placed us in. This (once more) then is also the part of the what God expects of those attempting to running w/faithful endurance. This is the standard we are to be aspiring and changing our lives according to.

2.3. Closing Take-aways:

2.3.1. Jesus came to be the example/expectation not the excuse (i.e. Our faithfulness is not His responsibility; 1Pe 2:21).

2.3.2. Glory out of sight must be glory kept in mind (i.e. Out of sight, out of mind means we must be constantly reminding ourselves and those under our care about heavenly glory; Col 3:1).

2.3.3. Shaming shameful things/people is the name of the game (i.e. Using shameful language speak about shameful things/persons matters since we are wired to operate according to association. God/writers of Scrip. do it thru-out the Bible).

[1] By ghetto thinking is meant: a mindset which values only what is easy, pleasurable, accommodating and accessible. To put it another way, if it takes work or training, requires pain, demands excellence, delays gratification, or is not accommodating and easily accessible it must be wrong/the wrong path (e.g. 1Pe 4:12).

[2] when found in its anarthrous form, is better translated “faithfulness”. This (form) represents the majority of its usage in the book of Hebrews. Other places in the bible where we find the Greek word translated this way would include Mat 23:23; Rom 3:3 and Gal 5:22.

[3] According to the Journal of Neuroscience, pain attenuates/weakens the value of reward in the brain. “Our behavioral findings point to an interaction between pain and reward, with pain substantially decreasing sensitivity to reward.” (Deborah Talmi, Peter Daylan, Raymond J. Dolan, “How Humans Integrate The Prospects Of Pain and Reward During Choice”, TJON, 2009). As such, there is generally a disproportionate distinction between the amount of reward necessary to convince people to experience pain.

[4] “The form of execution called crucifixion was calculated to leave the victim utterly stripped of dignity and worth in the eyes of the world. It was the vilest, most degrading death possible, as the crucified hung up before all the world precisely as an example of how not to act. A shameful death was the most feared of evils among many ancients since it left one with no opportunity to regain one’s honor. The last word on one’s life was a judgment of worthlessness” -David DeSilva (Perseverance In Gratitude, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Book of Hebrews, p. 432).

[5] It should go without saying that where there is conflict between God and man on this issue, it is to God’s view that the Christian is to demonstrate allegiance. In some respect, this is what Paul is getting at in Rom 14:16 when he says, “do not let what you (or God) regard as good be spoken of evil”. Consider also that many in the first century saw as shameful (b/c of Jesus’ death on a shameful cross) anyone who chose to follow Him (1Co 1:13). A perfect example of when cultural perspective must be ignored in favor of God.