The new year has arrived with its attractive potential of change. As we look back at 2013 we see decisions we made, temptations we caved to, and failures we would rather not repeat. We may make resolutions for 2014 but we know that the passing of time has not altered the constitution of our hearts. We are just as prone to drift spiritually as we were before the ball dropped and the new year began.
Rewind to about 30 years after our Lord’s resurrection and we find a small community of Jewish followers of Jesus also in need of radical change. They were beginning to retreat from the public square. Their beliefs about Jesus were not culturally accepted by most Jews and Greeks and they had already suffered significantly for their faith. They were losing steam, becoming spiritually lethargic, and gradually meeting less and less. Tired from all the struggle, they were drifting spiritually.
A preacher well known to them but anonymous to us sent them a written sermon that we simply call “Hebrews.” It was a “word of exhortation” (Hebrews 13:22) to be read out loud since the author was not able to be with them in person (13:19). This word of urging and warning would not fit in well with our contemporary milieu of resolutions and self-improvement. In short, the sermon is a call to continually hear, believe, and act on what God has spoken through his Son. Aware of the weakness of the human heart, the sermon posits that if we do not “pay much closer attention to what we have heard” (2:1), “consider Jesus” (3:1), and “hold fast our confession” (4:14), we will “drift away from it” (2:1) and be “hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (3:13). This is proposed as a communal endeavor that will require time spent together (10:24-25), a willingness to challenge one another (3:12-14), responsiveness to godly leaders (13:7, 17), and the emulation of those whose faith endured trials (6:11-12). While the sermon issues strong warnings for those who will not actively hear and obey God’s voice, it also promises strong hope and assurance for those who do (6:11, 10:22).
If we genuinely desire change in 2014, we need to hear this word of exhortation called Hebrews. We need to see our sinful habits not as slip-ups but as indicators of a weak faith in Jesus. We need to be resorted to a robust trust, fear, and obedience to the Son of God. We need to look less like the Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land because of unbelief and disobedience (3:12-19) and look more like the Israelites who “through faith and patience inherit the promises” (6:12, cf. 11:1-40).
I plan to do my part in this endeavor by preaching about 30 sermons through Hebrews. But if this word is to impact your heart and make your 2014 more Christ-centered, obedient, and integrated with other believers than 2013, you also have work to do. On Sunday you will be given a packet that will help you immerse yourself in the book of Hebrews, broken down into 4 days per week over 4 weeks. Each reading will include a text-specific version of 3 questions: What does it say? What does it mean? How should you change? Each day’s study should require about 30 minutes of prayer, reading, and writing.
For many, such time does not seem to exist. This is why we set aside January as a month of prayer and fasting each year. We might choose to fast from a meal, social media, TV or movies, or perhaps a hobby. Whatever the nature of the fast, the aim is to create space in which to pursue God and hear his voice. Imagine yourself at the beginning of February having studied your way through the entire book of Hebrews. I guarantee that your encounters with God will be more valuable than the food or entertainment that you missed. Plus, you will come to hear the word on Sunday mornings not for the first time but to deepen what God has already spoken to you.
I am eager to see what God has in store for us as we make time to hear, believe, and act on what God has spoken through his Son. My prayer is that this intensified time of hearing God’s word will set the pace for a year of increasing spiritual maturity, radical sacrifice for those in need, and shared joy in Jesus.