I don’t know if it was as obvious to you as it was to me, but this time through Hebrews the number of warnings to hold on to the faith just sort of popped off the pages at me. “We must pay more careful attention, then, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away” (2:1). “And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast” (3:6). “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily…so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:12, 13). “Since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it” (4:1).
On and on it seems to go with almost every chapter containing some form of warning against drifting, hardening or falling away. And so, it is in this context of the author’s concern for his beloved audience and their need to hold fast to the faith, that chapter 11 is set.
The Hebrew Christians were growing weary of the persecution and the struggle. On one side, there were other Jews who told them the “truth” about their need to follow the law of Moses. On the other side, they faced societal pressure to embrace the pluralistic views of their culture. “Is this really worth it?” they might have been asking each other.
We understand what they felt. Sometimes returning to how you once lived, what you once believed or what you once did just feels easier or more secure. Sometimes other arguments sound convincing and sometimes it just feels better to embrace whatever movement has the momentum. No matter what the reason, drifting from faith, falling away or hardening of heart is the result. When the pressure is on, people can be tempted to exchange one belief system for another and so place their hope in things that cannot deliver. I think this is the temptation they faced; it is one we all face.
The Hebrew Christians were tempted to believe that the sacrificial system given through Moses was superior to the sacrifice offered by Jesus. It is hard to enter something new when the rest of the world stands against you and says you are wrong. When we find ourselves feeling alone, weak and wondering, that is the best time to be reminded that we are not alone, that others have walked the path, and that what we hope in and for is greater than any trouble we might encounter in this world (2 Corinthians 4:17). This is the message of the eleventh chapter of Hebrews.
I wonder if there is a parallel for our own time. Could some Christians in our age be tempted to exchange the Lord’s Kingdom plan with a man-made alternative? Might the endless arguments on social media begin to sound convincing, accurate, even true (Colossians 2:4, 8)? Might some get caught up in the momentum and energy of the moment? Could some in my own day drift or become hardened? Then the Lord makes it personal. Might I wander down any of these paths? Might I unknowingly drift or become hardened? If so, how will I know if I start to drift from the hope I have received?
The events of the last few months and weeks have challenged me to take Paul at his word and “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). In what have I placed my hope. Where do I find my peace? Have I used words that “grieve the Spirit” or engaged in “foolish and stupid arguments” that only “produce quarrels”? Where have I started to embrace a “form of godliness” that actually denies God’s power? These are great diagnostic questions that require prayerful thought and open conversation with those who know me best.
Finally, I’ve asked, who do I think models the picture of what Jesus would do in this moment? This one is toughest for me because I’m having trouble finding public figures who fit this example. Thankfully, our field of view is not limited to those we see on TV or social media. Whether found in the modern-day arena or on the pages of history, we all need examples of those who held fast to the hope they had received through the promises God had given.
Knowing their need to be encouraged in their fight to hold on to the faith, our author gives his readers a list of those who have proven faithful. Time and time again he shows how their steadfast faith in the truth of God’s revelation and promise impacted their actions and helped them stay true to God’s purpose. He acknowledges that the “great cloud of witnesses” is too large to include every example and then concludes his list with something rarely done in our modern, western world.
After sharing all the “victory” stories, he includes a list of others who held on to their faith even though the victory they hoped for never came. It strikes me that verses 33-38 fly in the face of those who teach that positive outcomes will be experienced by those who have sufficient faith. “If you believe enough, you will be healed.” “If you have enough faith, you will have enough money.” “If your faith is strong enough, your marriage will be saved, your candidate will win and the stock market will break new records.” The pages of history are filled with examples of faithful, faith-filled people who faced struggle and loss, including the loss of their lives, just because they would not let go of God’s promises or ways; they refused to drift. “The world was not worthy of them.”