Friday, December 3, 2010

Persevere or Drift by Dudley Hall

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. (Hebrews 2:1)
The Holy Spirit, through the author of Hebrews, presents two alternatives: drifting from the current revelation of God or intentional attention. So, what is the current revelation that is so important?  And why is drifting so dangerous?

This text was written when some Christians of Jewish heritage were being tempted to return to their Jewishness and neglect the revelation of Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises. It was becoming very clear that Christianity was not just a branch of Old Testament Judaism, but was something entirely different. What passed as acceptable under the old order was no longer acceptable. The shadows had turned into substance and shadow religion was no partner with the substance of Jesus and his people.

Jesus does not fit as a peer of Abraham, Moses, David and Elijah. He is the Lord of life and the King of all authorities. He is the temple where God meets with man. He is the Law that determines how mankind lives. He is the final covenant that defines how God and mankind relate. He is the permanent High Priest, the final sacrifice, and the delight of all creation. He is not an addendum to the Israel-story. He didn't come to help people live better by the law. He is not about politics and geography. He is the ultimate authority and owns and rules over all nations.

Those Jews who were attracted to him were asked to abandon the partial for the full. Their families and friends were often very content to live in the old ways that had been sufficient for centuries. They were afraid of jumping off into this new Way of Life. It was costing the followers of Christ a lot. Some couldn't see that the reward was so much greater than the cost that it didn't matter. They wanted to add Jesus to the already established system of prophets, teachers, and miracle workers.

But it wasn't just persecution from the Jewish community that presented a challenge. Natural religion is at odds with the kind of mercy shown through the Gospel. It is natural for mankind to believe that good people get rewarded and bad people get punished. The key for natural religion is to determine what makes one good or bad. The Jews had concluded that having the Law and being related by blood to Abraham made one good. Those who didn't have the Law and didn't belong to Abraham's natural family were outside the covenant and considered bad. Except for a few proselytes who came from Gentile nations, this is how the world shaped up for them. But Jesus comes along and clearly abolishes the wall between ethnicities, and asserts that the inheritance belongs to those who trust him alone for everything. He teaches that the unqualified are recipients of his love. He scorns the religiously righteous and tells them that prostitutes will get into God's kingdom before they do. He goes on to tell them that obedience can't be measured by material blessings. He exalts the poor who show their faith, and warns those who are rich of how difficult it is for them to embrace the life he offers.

In every generation there is the tendency to hold to old patterns of natural religion and seek to merge it with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Using New Testament language, the natural gospel of material prosperity and self-improvement is promoted in relevant ways. It sounds good to the mind set on the flesh and often draws great crowds, which validates it as successful.

That is why there must be a concerted effort on the part of Christians to hold tightly to the distinctiveness of the Gospel that transforms. If neglected at all, the natural will pollute the spiritual. The Gospel is so supernatural that it has to be reviewed daily. The news is too good for the natural mind to grasp. Only when the Holy Spirit illumines it can we even begin to see.

As the old hymn says:

I love to tell the story, for those who know it best, seem hungering and thirsting to hear it like the rest.
 If we allow the "today" word of God to be neglected, we will revert to old ways and they will not honor God nor transform us.

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