Most Bible scholars are in agreement that the historical context behind the writing of Hebrews is the terrible persecution being suffered by Christians in and around Rome sometime after that city was burned by the emperor Nero. He pinned the crime on Christians; thus one of the worst waves of persecution began to wash over the fledgling church. This persecution in its extreme called for some Christians to either renounce their faith in Christ and live, or if they chose not to; die.
Hebrews 10:39 indicates there are two kind of people:
- There were “those who remained steadfast” in their faith, and
- there were “those who faded.”
As I stated last week, the purpose of this series of messages is to help us grow our faith in a faithful God
so that we remain in the former group.
So let’s begin by talking about ‘faith’ in general. The Greek word translated ‘faith’ occurs 245 times in the NT always of faith in God or Christ or in things spiritual. The word means ‘confident assurance. Perhaps the best synonym would be ‘trust.’ Those 245 uses can be categorized in three ways.
The first is the one most familiar to us; it is called saving faith. The best known saving faith verse is probably Ephesians 2:8, “We have been saved by grace, through faith, not as a result of good works.” This, of course, is the initial faith that we exercise when we first come to embrace that Jesus died so that we could live.
Then there is what we would call doctrinal faith. This is the composite of Christian truths that make up our basic beliefs. References of such faith are contained in verses such as: I Corinthians 16:13 where Paul encourages his readers to “stand firm in the faith.” And Jude 3, where the writer encourages us to “contend earnestly for the faith.”
Thirdly, we come to the faith we are talking about in this series; practical faith. This category refers to the faith principles upon which we must operate in order to rise above the weight of our own personal circumstances or the times in which we live. When practical faith is hitting on all 8 cylinders, we can think of it as a deep, abiding, unswerving confidence in God rather than ourselves. It has to do with relying on and trusting in God to help us through troublesome times. One of the best known verses of practical faith can be found in II Co. 5:7, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.”
We can think of practical faith as a muscle. And like any muscle it needs to be exercised for it to be most useful. In Hebrews 10:32-39, I see the writer giving us 3 ways to exercise our faith muscle; one of which we will consider today and the other two will have to wait till next time.
First, this author encourages them to ‘carefully remember the past’ [Read Heb. 10:32-35]. Scholars are in agreement that the writer is referring to the ‘expulsion of the Jews’ from Rome that took place in 49AD when the Emperor Claudius made an edict expelling all Jewish born immigrants from that city. Roman history records that Jews experienced the very things mentioned here: “public ridicule, beatings and the confiscation of their possessions.”
And this writer says, ‘Remember those days; you remained faithful and discovered that God in Christ upheld you then so stay the course now.’ I think it is important to note that the verb ‘remember’ is in the present tense, which implies continuous action; thus ‘remember’ and ‘keep on remembering.’
Last week we concluded by saying noting that ‘the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.’ And I reminded all of us that one key to exercising our faith muscle is by counting our blessings every day. A great way to start counting your blessings is by remembering what Christ has done for us in the past.
“It used to be darkness without Him, we lived our lives in blindness but now we’re found”
(first verse of Sing by Hillsong).
Unbelievers are described in Scripture as being spiritually blind, unable to “see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ” Paul writes the Corinthians. And he continues: “Only God can command the light to shine out of darkness. He “shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (II Corinthians 4:4,6).
Before God opened our eyes, we did not even see our need for the Savior. We fell into the devil’s trap of thinking we were good enough to get into heaven on our own merits.
Before Christ came into our lives, we had no idea of how terrible our sins were in comparison to God’s holiness. We did not appreciate the fact that the Son of God gave Himself on the cross to pay our debt of sin.
But then, while we were still blind, God graciously opened our eyes to see. With the converted slave trader, John Newton, we could sing, “I once was blind, but now I see!”
Just last week I was having a moment of doubt about my faith. I have learned that when doubt creeps in I must do what this writer says. And I began to think about how I came to know Christ. I grew up an atheist. I didn’t want anything to do with going to church and even made fun of people who did. Then when I was about 30 years old I had a very vivid dream in which I saw a group of people dressed in blue robes, singing, carrying candles and walking out of my sight. I didn’t know where they were going but I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to join them. But when I started running to catch up, I ran into a transparent wall that kept me from them. I watched terribly sad as they marched out of sight. And then I awakened. The feeling of sadness and loss hung with me for most of that day, and I wondered if there was some religious meaning to the dream.
The next night I had another of these dreams. This time I was being chased by a dragon that was slowly closing in on me. I was running next to a ditch that was full of cattails and grabbed some as I went by, turned to throw them at the dragon but it opened its mouth and swallowed them and kept coming. I ran into a hotel lobby, down the hall to my room, slammed the door shut behind me, grabbed the doorknob but it turned in my hand. The door began to push open. I said, “Save me Jesus.” I don’t know why I said that. I guess I had nowhere else to turn. But as I said those words, I awakened from the dream. It was just after dawn and sunlight was streaming in a window. I was filled with a sense of peace I had never before experienced.
That occurred on a Saturday morning. Later that day, I heard about a nearby church that was having a revival that night. When the evangelist gave an invitation to receive Christ by coming forward and praying at the altar, I was the first one to respond. That was the beginning of my new life in Christ. I owe it all to God, who opened the eyes of a person who claimed to not believe in Him!
“Don’t ever forget those early days when you first learned about Christ” (Heb. 10:32a). Because no matter what you are facing today remembering how God worked in your life in the past will strengthen your faith and help you to endure.
Then beyond remembering your conversion, I believe this author wants us to remember how after coming to Christ our values and focus in life began to shift. When you read between the lines, these verses reveal three ways that these new believers had experienced a radical shift in their values and focus.
First, there was a change in priorities and values from the temporal to the eternal. The only way that they could joyfully accept the seizure of their property was, they “knew there were better things waiting for them that will last forever” (Heb. 10:34c). They had “treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:20). They knew that Jesus had gone to prepare a place for them to dwell with Him and that He was coming again to take them to be with Him there (John 14:2-3). So, no doubt, their focus had shifted from the temporal to the eternal.
Second, there was a change from valuing what others think of you to valuing more what God thinks of you. These new believers suffered ‘public ridicule and were beaten’ (Heb. 10:33a).
Why put up with that? Why not just blend in with the crowd? Why not laugh at the same dirty jokes? Why not be one of the guys? Because their new focus was not on pleasing people, but God, who examines the heart.
Third, a change from putting self first to putting God and others ahead of self. Most unbelievers live for themselves. Without Christ in our lives we are innately self-centered.
But Christians begin to take their focus off of self and consider the needs of others. They began to take seriously the Golden Rule as these early Christians were willing to share in the sufferings of others who were being mistreated.
Some of us are enduring tough times right now and some of us are about to. And this author is reminding us to drop our sometimes empty buckets down into the well of God’s past faithfulness and draw up a bucket full of encouragement that God is with us still. Has God ever answered your prayer? Has God ever provided a solution? Has God ever given you a scripture that you needed right then? Has God ever touched your life in way that you will never forget?
US Army Chaplain Colonel Henry Lamar Hunt tells about his most memorable communion service that he refers to as the Whispered Service. It occurred on February 29, 1969 in the jungles of South Vietnam. A unit of 1st Battalion had been in almost constant contact with the enemy for several weeks and Chaplain Hunt wanted to get to them to hold a worship service. As he was boarding a Huey helicopter to be dropped at their location his tactical officer warned him that he couldn’t be seen or heard or he would surely draw enemy fire.
Hunt found the unit but when he informed the commander of his intention to hold a worship service the commander shook his head pointed in a direction and whispered,
“The enemy is just across that stream less than 100 yards away; if you hold a service you will surely draw the enemies’ fire.”
“If I have a service without being seen or making a sound will you allow it?
He reluctantly agreed, gave me the coordinates to gather and spread the word.
The chaplain crawled to the designated spot and it wasn’t long before 15 men came crawling up. They lay on their bellies and joined their heads in a tight-knit circle and the chaplain whispered a call to worship, whispered the Lord’s Prayer, whispered a brief homily, and then whispered, “This is My body broken for you. This is My blood shed for you.” He distributed the communion elements and just before closing remembered he was carrying mimeographed copies of the hymn of the week, pulled out enough to go around and together they whispered the words to Blessed Assurance.
“Can you imagine?” he writes. There we were surrounded by the enemy, in danger of drawing fire, and we whispered, “Blessed Assurance!” It was just the assurance these men needed.”
Then Colonel Hunt concludes, “Since that day in 1969, I have preached to small groups, I have preached to thousands I have preached in tiny country chapels and huge cathedrals, but the most meaningful and faith empowered worship service I have ever experienced was a whispered service of Holy Communion laying on the ground in a jungle in South Vietnam.” 1
Let us similarly exercise our faith muscle by remembering what God in Christ has done for us in the past. Especially as we come to the Table of Communion where Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of Me.”
1 Kennedy, Nancy. Miracles and Moments of Grace. Leafwood Publishers, 2011, pg. 50.