Warnings in Hebrews

illuminated manuscript in Hebrew

The book of Hebrews was written to people who are likely second-generation Christians still struggling with the tensions between the traditions of Judaism and the teachings of Christianity. Many had, currently or at one time, relatives who would have seen Jesus as a false teacher. They would have had family and friends reject them, and the temptation would have been great to slip back into the traditions of their past. In this light, the Hebrew writer includes five warnings in his epistle to these struggling Christians.

Neglect

Hebrews 2:1 encourages them and us to give earnest heed to the teachings of Jesus and His inspired apostles, confirmed by signs and wonders from God, lest we drift away in neglect. Hebrews challenges us to ask ourselves how we plan to escape judgment if we neglect and reject so great a salvation, a salvation planned from the foundations of the world.

John 20:30-31 concludes that the miracles and signs recorded in that gospel are for confirming our faith. Like those steps reviewed every time we get on a plane, have we heard God’s word so much that we filter it out? Ephesians 2:8 reminds us of the role grace plays in our salvation. While we were disobedient, God sent His Son as an unmerited gift of propitiation. God has given us a gift in salvation and eternal life in His Son, and the Hebrew writer makes sure we understand that we should not neglect so great a gift.

A Hardened Heart

In Hebrews 3, the author repeatedly quotes the 95th Psalm, saying, “Today, if you hear His voice…” He calls on us, in verse 12, to take care we do not develop an unbelieving heart, and he uses the next several verses to help us overcome unbelief – exhort each other, share in Christ, hold confidence, even fear of failure. We need to be aware that it is possible to harden our hearts and miss salvation.

We may simply choose unbelief, but I Corinthians 10:6-13 warns us to learn from the mistakes of those who came before us, lest we be overconfident in our faith and slip into disobedience. This is why the Hebrew writer warns us against becoming hardened to God’s word, for it can happen without us realizing it.

Immaturity

No one likes being called immature, but when we most dislike it is when we are often most guilty of it. In Hebrews 5:11-14, the author does just this. He admonishes his readers for being too spiritually immature to understand some things they should. He goes on in chapter 6 to then encourage growth, so they and we do not fall away despite having known the heavenly gift.

When we are not growing spiritually, skepticism, indifference, and apostasy may find room to creep in. An arm kept in a cast for several weeks quickly becomes smaller and weaker than the arm being used every day. Growth takes effort on our part, and it is something we should be working toward every day.

Falling Away

In Hebrews 10:26-31, the author addresses the dangers of deliberate sin, specifically quoting from Deuteronomy 32. Again, these are things his readers are familiar with from Moses’ teachings, but now it is being applied to rejecting Christ’s sacrifice, a sacrifice sealing a covenant greater than the one brought by Moses.

Refusal

The author uses the illustration of Esau in Hebrews 12:16-17, who refused to acknowledge the worth of his family birthright. This is compared to our own spiritual birthright, standing before the holy mountain, and we are warned, in verse 25, to not refuse the one who speaks to us now — Jesus Christ according to chapter 1:1.

Conclusion

In Jeremiah 44, after God calls on His people time and again to listen to His word, the prophet makes a final appeal. In verse 16, though, the people state they will not listen. Rather than refusing the word of grace like they did, we should receive it gratefully, knowing the promises and gifts that come from our God who delivered Him.

God’s word can work in our lives if we avoid turning our back, hardening our heart, and closing our hearts to it. His word can change us from sinful creatures without hope into sanctified children with the hope of eternity. No one can force us to soften ourselves to His word, though. It has to come from within. We need to heed these warnings just as much as those second-generation Christians, holding to our faith despite anything that might try to take it from us.

The Parable of the Rich Fool

rembrandt's painting of the rich fool

Luke 12:16 – 21:

He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth abundantly. He reasoned within himself, saying, ‘What will I do, because I don’t have room to store my crops?’ He said, ‘This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. I will tell my soul, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years. Take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”‘

But God said to him, ‘You foolish one, tonight your soul is required of you. The things which you have prepared — whose will they be?’ So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”

Filling Our Barns

The message of this parable is a fairly obvious one. Jesus is encouraging us to replace our faith in possessions with faith in God. The next several verses elaborate on this point.

Luke 12:22 – 34:

He said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, don’t be anxious for your life, what you will eat, nor yet for your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body than clothing. Consider the ravens: they don’t sow, they don’t reap, they have no warehouse or barn, and God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than birds!

Which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to his height? If then you aren’t able to do even the least things, why are you anxious about the rest? Consider the lilies, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

But if this is how God clothes the grass in the field, which today exists, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you of little faith? Don’t seek what you will eat or what you will drink; neither be anxious. For the nations of the world seek after all of these things, but your Father knows that you need these things. Yet seek God’s kingdom, and all these things will be added to you.

Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell that which you have, and give alms. Make for yourselves purses which don’t grow old, a treasure in the heavens that doesn’t fail, where no thief approaches, neither moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Jesus states that our hearts follow our treasures. These are the things we store in those barns like the rich man built in the parable. His heart was obviously set on material gain. But we can fill our barns with other things. They can be filled with goals, opinions, or ungodly characteristics we don’t want to let go. They can be filled with friends or family that keep us from God. They can be filled with pride.

The rich man’s actions demonstrated where his treasures were. These were his priority because those crops were where he expended his time and energy. What would an outside observer think your priorities are? If a random individual was supposed to follow you around for a week and conclude what’s most important to you based on what you spend the most time and energy on, what would they conclude? Would they see you laying up treasures in Heaven, or would they see you filling your barns with worldly things?

When Good Goals Turn Bad

In the verses we read after the parable, Jesus talks a bit about concern. Our concerns, worries, and anxieties can make us misplace our priorities. It’s interesting what he singles out. Both in the parable and in his subsequent teachings, Jesus focuses on food. The rich man wasn’t filling his barns with gold. He was filling them with food, which we need to survive.

The rich man filled his barns with something inherently good and necessary. Jesus also speaks to clothing, another good and necessary thing. But something good can turn us bad if it consumes our heart too much. Why do you think Satan’s first temptation after Jesus had been fasting had to do with food? He started with something that was inherently good, but encouraged Jesus to get it the wrong way.

Wanting to support our families is a good and necessary thing. Wanting to feed and clothe them is a good thing. Wanting safer neighborhoods and a more moral culture are good things. But when these things replace God in our lives and become the cares and anxieties that fill our barns, they cease to be good. They instead begin to drag us away from God because they become the goal we seek rather than something Heavenly and eternal. That’s why, time and again, Jesus and His apostles keep reminding us that all of these things are temporary. It’s so we don’t fill our barns with goals that will perish with this world.

Peace Rather Than Worry

Jesus ties worry directly to misplaced priorities. Jesus tells us to stop worrying four times over the course of these verses. He says to not be anxious; then He asks what good worry does; He asks why be anxious; finally, He repeats the refrain to not be anxious. After those four times, He concludes by saying to not be afraid. That’s because worry is the result of fear, and fear is the opposite of faith.

Instead, our priority should be to build our faith. I John 4:18 says that perfect love drives out fear. Our love of God is a result of faith, and, if we love Him, then we trust Him. This is the peace that passes understanding described in Philippians 4:7. Being able to look past this life and put things in perspective gives us peace. Remember, Paul suffered physical abuse and imprisonment for his faith while writing about peace. Jesus, who would be beaten and killed for His teachings, told us not to worry or fear. If they had peace, so can we.

Treasures in Heaven

The parable ends with the rich man dying. We may not always like to admit it, but we all have the same fate awaiting us. At some point, each of us will be finished with these worldly bodies, and we will enter the spiritual world. Everything that now seems so immediate will be in the past. Think about something that’s worrying you right now. Will it matter in eternity? Is it worth replacing your faith in God with that fear? Is that what you want God to see filling your barns?

So let’s tear down our barns of worry. Let’s get our priorities straight and realize that there is only one thing that really matters — showing Christ to others so that all may be saved. He is our treasure. Being like Him is our goal, and that will keep our eyes on the eternal. Then we can say we are laying up treasures in Heaven, so that we won’t need to feel foolish when God comes to take our souls home.

lesson by Robert Smelser

The Parable of the Vineyard

hands holding a cluster of grapes

Mathew 21:33 begins this parable:

Hear another parable. There was a man who was a master of a household, who planted a vineyard, set a hedge about it, dug a winepress in it, built a tower, leased it out to farmers, and went into another country. When the season of the fruits drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers, to receive his fruits. The farmers took his servants, beat one, killed another, and stoned another.                             

Again, he sent other servants more than the first: and they did to them in like manner. But afterward he sent to them his son, saying, “They will respect my son.” But the farmers, when they saw the son, said among themselves, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and seize his inheritance.” So they took him, and threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him.

When therefore the lord of the vineyard will come, what will he do to those farmers?

At the end end of the parable, Jesus has his audience — which included priests and Pharisees — reaching the conclusion He wants them to. But then they perceive that He’s talking about their own rejection of Him, and the religious leaders seek to capture Jesus. They withhold, however, because they fear the rest of the crowd.

Applying the Parable

Several times in Jesus’ parables, we see those who are in agreement with Him as long as they think He’s talking about someone else. But they reject Him as soon as the message becomes too personal. We can be exactly like that. We are good with pointing the sword of truth at others, but we have a hard time applying it to ourselves.

What can we then take from this parable about ourselves?

  • We Are Not in Control. This vineyard does not belong to the servants. It is not theirs to do with as they will. They have expectations to follow. Like Romans 11:36 says, all things are for Him, through Him, and to Him.
  • Esteem God’s Representatives. We all serve as God’s representatives, and we should all be respectful and kind to one another in service to Christ. We should also be receptive to God’s teachings through others.
  • Avoid False Confidence. Some of Jesus’ audience’s faith was placed in their past and their forbearers. Our fathers, our mothers, even our former selves do not define our faith now. We cannot let false confidence lead to complacency.

Honoring the Vineyard Owner

Lack of faith is currently the quickest growing trend in faith. More and more people are coming to the conclusion that there is no God. Even in the church, we might not reject God’s existence, but we might want to change Him to fit our own definitions of right and wrong like those in Isaiah 5:20. We might not want to say we’re turning evil into good, but that’s exactly what we’re doing when we’re trying to change God’s standards to match our own.

This is what we see back in the book of Judges when the author writes that there was no king in Israel. The problem was not that there was no one like King Solomon or King David in Israel. God had intentionally set His kingdom up without a physical king. Rather, the problem was that the people had stopped viewing God as their king. They had ceased to acknowledge that He is the one in control. They disregarded God’s messengers, and they were filled with false confidence.

Humbling Ourselves as Servants

The first step is admitting we need God, admitting our sin in a problem, and then replacing that former sin with His righteousness. I Peter 2:1 – 3 calls on us to lay aside sin in our lives and long for God’s word. Look at David’s words in Psalm 51, admitting His transgressions, pleading for forgiveness, and then seeking to realign himself with God. God enters and uplifts humble hearts.

Whenever you find yourself struggling, remember to hand control back over to God. Lay your burdens at His feet so that He may lift you up. Be okay with the fact that you are not in complete control, and hand control over to your Creator. Then, let’s lift one another up in our work to deliver God’s message to others, and let’s work diligently to be good workers of His vineyard. Instead of being like the workers in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 21, lets’ instead be like those in Luke 12:35:

Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes.

lesson by Don Larsen