You get into the passenger seat of the DeLorean and Doc Brown turns to you and says, “What’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever done? Let’s go back and fix it.”
For Israel the choice would be easy. They would set the dials to the day when the twelve spies returned from scouting the Promise Land, and try to convince the Infamous Ten to remember how they had been so dramatically saved from Egypt, how they had been sustained in the desert for so long, and how, despite the giants and walled cities, God had promised Abraham that Canaan would belong to them.
If that didn’t work, they could bribe them with a ride in the flying car.
I just finished teaching the book of Hebrews in a church Bible study. My brain is spinning.
Hebrews is full of strong warnings, urging the Jews to take hold of the New Covenant of Christ with as much zeal as they took hold of the Law of Moses. The author reminds them of the faithless spies of the wildness generation. Those ten had seen and experienced the power of God, they had been delivered from Pharaoh, then had been given the Law. But when it came time to take what was promised, they shrunk back and spent forty years wandering around until everyone twenty and older was dead.
Now, in the first century, having seen the miracles of Christ, having accepted his gift of salvation, the author urges new Christians to keep growing, moving beyond the basics, striving together in faith to take hold of this new life in Christ that has been promised them so they won’t lose it.
He’s not talking about heaven. So many hymns and spirituals use phrases like “crossing the Jordan” or being “bound for the Promise Land” to describe our destination in Christ, but the author of Hebrews is talking about something that can be experienced in this life, something that comes after salvation and the gift of the Spirit, but before the afterlife.
Pardon another movie analogy. Think of an abundant life in Christ as coming to the Emerald City. You’re almost there, but you just have to get through . . . this . . . field . . . of . . . . . popp . . . . . ie . . . . . . . zzzzzzzzzzz.
I can imagine the devil staring at a crystal ball with his goblin grin, saying the word “poppies” over and over, watching all the little Christians fall asleep before they can discover what Christ has prepared for them in this life. While they’re busy dreaming of a heaven in the sky, they miss the heaven in their own hearts.
You may disagree. Your spiritual live is exciting. You are part of an active, vibrant church. But I’m not thinking about any one individual. I’m thinking about the American Church.
Imagine all the churches you know. Now picture them on a map. Okay, now swap out all those Christian churches with Satanic churches. Five years go by and nothing changes. No one tries to convert you on a street corner. There is no distinct rise in black, hooded clothing. No one smells like burnt rats or candle wax. No one tries to steal your children in the middle of the night. It’s just business as usual—fast food, soccer practice and Netflix.
If that happened, you’d probably say that the Satanic Church was just a harmless little clubhouse for crazy people. Sometimes I feel like the American Church can be just as harmless. And we can be a little crazy sometimes.
Would it really matter if we added or subtracted churches from our cities? Or would it be like taking out a dozen Pizza Huts or adding a handful of Barnes and Nobles?
I want my church to matter. I want to be part of a community that resonates with the transforming love and power of the living God. As Paul said, I want to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.
This study on Hebrews has really challenged me. Read these verses without picking up your theological shields. Just read them.
Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. You must warn each other every day, while it is still “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. [3:12-14]
God willing, we will move forward to further understanding. For it is impossible to bring back to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people back to repentance; by rejecting the Son of God, they themselves are nailing him to the cross once again and holding him up to public shame. [6:3-6]
Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near. Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses, just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us. [10:24-29]
Okay, John. Here is your box of chill pills and a glass of warm milk. Think about what you’re saying. And besides, we don’t even know who wrote Hebrews.
Sure, but we know who wrote Revelation, and John quoted Jesus as saying these things:
“I have this complaint against you [Church in Ephesus]. You don’t love me or each other as you did at first! Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the works you did at first. If you don’t repent, I will come and remove your lampstand from its place among the churches.” [2:4-5]
“I know all the things you do [Church in Sardis], and that you have a reputation for being alive—but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what little remains, for even what is left is almost dead. I find that your actions do not meet the requirements of my God. Go back to what you heard and believed at first; hold to it firmly. Repent and turn to me again. If you don’t wake up, I will come to you suddenly, as unexpected as a thief. Yet there are some in the church in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes with evil. They will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. All who are victorious will be clothed in white. I will never erase their names from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that they are mine. [3:1-5]
“I know all the things you do [Church in Laodicea], that you are neither hot nor cold. I wish that you were one or the other! But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!” [3:15-16]
Let the warning of Scripture speak. Don’t worry about whether or not John believes in eternal security. Don’t try to TULIP your way out of it. Don’t call it hyperbole. I doubt that the fiery-eyed Jesus of Revelation was joking about taking names from the Book of Life, or spewing lukewarm believers from his mouth. If so, it’s not very funny. In fact, it sounds a whole lot like what happened to that rebellious generation that died in the wilderness.
Can we just throw out these verses? I doubt it. Even if we throw out the books of Hebrews and Revelation, we can’t deny the Jesus that stepped up to the pastors of his day and told them that they had committed an unforgivable sin, or the one that told them that their rejection of him would reap a national devastation, one that lasted 2,000 years.
Has God changed? Does he close his eyes to sin and laziness just because we’re in the Age of Grace? Not according to the New Testament writers.
What if we’re all sleeping just outside the Emerald City, assuming the Yellow Brick Road has no destination in this life, or that God is too loving and kind to let us wander into the dark forest? No. Sorry. I’m taking the warnings of Scripture to heart, and I urge you to do the same. It may seem cold, but sometimes it takes a little snow to wake us up.