Christ’s Obedience, Our Salvation.

Bible, Christianity, Religion

“He then says, ‘See, I have come to do Your will.’ He takes away the first to establish the second. By this will of God, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” Hebrews 10:9-10 

In Hebrews 10, we see the author of Hebrews continuing to discuss the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice to those of the old covenant. In this passage, the author tells us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take our sins away. The inferiority of the old sacrifices was demonstrated by the fact that they had to be renewed each year. Had these sacrifices been able to cure us of our sin, the author tells us that there would have been no need for them to be renewed again and again. Repeating the sacrifices each year served only to remind the people of their sins and their need for a savior.

To further support this point, the author quotes Psalm 40, in which the Messiah is speaking to God. In that passage, the Messiah says, “You did not want sacrifice and offering…You did not delight in whole burnt offerings and sin offerings,” ( 5-6). This means that God takes no pleasure in the ritualism and methods of our worship; there is something more meaningful to God that He takes pleasure in. What is it, then, that God prefers more than our rituals? It is our obedience. This is demonstrated by Christ; He came into this world with one purpose: to do God’s will. Christ never strayed from doing God’s will, even when doing so required Christ to die on the cross. Christ was perfectly obedient, and His commitment to obedience allowed the new covenant to be enacted. Christ’s obedience saved us and freed us from the cycle of sin and shame that we were stuck in under the Law.

What does this mean for us? It means that our lives must be committed to obeying God. If we profess to be followers of Christ, then we must be like Christ, and we cannot begin to be like Christ if we are not obeying God in every area of our lives. As Christians, our sole motivation and purpose must be to obey God and live as He has called us to live. Obedience is the hallmark of an authentic follower. We must make sure that our actions, thoughts, views, and interactions reflect our obedience to Christ. Our actions reveal our hearts, and nothing will expose the inauthentic follower than a lack of obedience. God doesn’t desire our sacrifices, songs, or good works–He wants our hearts and obedience. Are we giving that to Him?

Artwork: “Christ’s Entry in Jerusalem,” Hippolyte Flandrin, c. 1842

No Blood, No Forgiveness.

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews, Religion

“According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Hebrews 9:22

In Hebrews 9:15-22, we read as the author continues to unpack how Christ enacted the new covenant for us. We are told that Christ is the mediator of the new covenant, meaning that Christ is the medium or the avenue through which God chose to bring this new covenant to humanity. In many ways, the author’s argument here echoes Christ’s own words in John 14:6 when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father but by me.”  The author intends for us to understand that Christ is the way God brought salvation and the new covenant to humanity and that Christ is the only way that humanity can return to God.

The author then explains a point that is fundamental to our faith, that being the necessity of Christ’s death. The author is emphatic in communicating to us that Christ had to die in order for us to have salvation. First, we are told that the new covenant is like a last will, and for a will to be enacted, the one who made the will has to die. Without the death of the will-maker, the will has no power or authority. Since Christ is the mediator and guarantor of the new covenant, His death was required for this new covenant/will to come into effect. Without Christ’s blood, the new covenant would have no authority and no power to save.

As the author explains the necessity of Christ’s death, we are presented with one of the most important verses in all of Scripture. In Hebrews 9:22 the author writes,  “According to the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” This verse explains to us everything we need to know about God’s plan to redeem humanity. We see this illustrated throughout the Old Testament–God gave Israel the sacrificial system to allow them a way to be forgiven of their sins. Though this system seems barbaric and grotesque to us, it was designed to show us God’s mercy and grace. The truth of the matter is this: the penalty for sin is death. For us to be forgiven of our sins, something has to die in our place. Something has to die to atone–to cover–the sins that we have committed. In the system of the old covenant, God allowed animals to take our place. The blood of a lamb or a calf could pay our sin-debt. But these sacrifices had to be offered every time we sinned, and they did nothing to fix our sinful hearts or our sinful nature. God, in His infinite love and mercy, sent us the perfect sacrifice. He sent us a sacrifice that could atone for all of our sins for all of time, and He sent us a sacrifice that would actually transform us from the sinful creatures that we are. That sacrifice was His son, Jesus. But, for that atonement to be made, Christ had to die. Without Christ’s death, without His blood, there would be no forgiveness and no pardon. Without His blood, we would still be condemned to death.

In Hebrews 9, it becomes absolutely clear that there is no other avenue to salvation, other than Christ. He came to earth and blazed a trail for us back to God. That trail, however, is covered in His blood. The only way we can return to God is if we submit to Christ and are covered in His blood. His blood purchased our pardon and our salvation, and without His blood, there is no forgiveness or hope.

Artwork: “Crucifixion II” Stephen Oliver, 2011 (in the style of Graham Sutherland).

How Much More Will the Blood of Christ?

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews

“For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow sprinkled on those who are defiled consecrated them and provided ritual purity, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our consciences from dead works to worship the living God.”  Hebrews 9:13-14

Through chapters eight and nine of Hebrews, we have seen the author discuss the old and new covenants. Most of this discussion has come by contrasting the two covenants–by focusing on the things that the old covenant could not do and alluding to the new covenant correcting these shortcomings. With all of its regulations and rituals, the old covenant was not designed to give us salvation. Instead, the old covenant pointed us to the God who, out of grace and mercy, gives us salvation.

Beginning in Hebrews 9:11, the author tells us how the new covenant was enacted and how it fixes us. We are told very emphatically that everything has changed with Christ’s arrival, and that His coming to the world signaled the arrival of the new covenant. We see that Christ does four things: He came, He passed through the veil into the true tabernacle, He entered the Most Holy Place, and He secured eternal redemption. Christ enacted this new covenant by passing through the true heavenly tabernacle and entering directly into God’s presence in heaven. Christ’s actions–passing through the tabernacle, entering into the Most Holy Place–are the same actions performed by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. However, Christ’s actions are more significant and more powerful. The priests work in the earthly tabernacle, but Christ works in the real tabernacle in heaven. Not only that, but Christ’s work of atonement for us and the purchasing of our salvation is eternal. The author says that Christ’s actions are “once and for all,” meaning that they never need to be renewed or repeated. The same could not be said for the atonement made by the high priests since they had to repeat the same ceremony year after year. 

The covenant made by Christ is eternal, and His sacrifices cleanse us of our sins. He does for us what the old covenant never could–He fixes the problem of our sinful nature. The cleansing rituals of the old covenant only gave us external relief, but they could not fix our hearts. Through the Holy Spirit, Christ purges us of our sins, and He declares us clean. He gives us new hearts and new natures that seek Him instead of seeking sin. Christ makes us alive and able to worship the living God, and Christ frees us from the dead works and rituals of the old covenant. 

Christ does for us what nothing else could; He frees us from our sins and our sinful natures. Through Him, we are enabled to live as the people of God.  Being washed in His blood and being transformed by Him requires our lives to reflect this change.  If our lives do not reflect the transformation we have experienced, we must repent, and we must allow Him to free us from the sins to which we so foolishly cling.

Artwork: “Crucifixion,” Graham Sutherland OM, 1946

Outwardly Clean, Spiritually Dead.

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews

“But the high priest alone enters the second room, and he does that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance.  The Holy Spirit was making it clear that the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tabernacle was still standing.  This is a symbol for the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the worshiper’s conscience. They are physical regulations and only deal with food, drink, and various washings imposed until the time of restoration.” Hebrews 9:7-10

In the outset of Hebrews 9, we find the author discussing the differences between the old and new covenants. To help us recognize and better understand these differences, the author goes into a detailed discussion of the tabernacle structure and the ancient Israelite worship regulations. This might seem to be an unusual approach, but the author does so to prove to us two crucial points. First, the author wants us to understand that, under the old covenant, we had no direct access to God. Secondly, the author wants us to realize that the old covenant’s regulations were never enough to give us salvation.
In verses 1-8, the author describes the tabernacle’s layout, the items inside the tabernacle, and the high priests’ duties on the Day of Atonement. The author explains these things to show us why we need a new covenant with God. Under the regulations of the old covenant, we had no direct access to God. There was always a barrier between Him and us, and this is illustrated by the veil within the tabernacle. The veil separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the tabernacle. Though the tabernacle represented God’s presence with Israel, His space was isolated and cut-off from the people. No one could enter into the Holy of Holies on their own terms and approach God’s presence. Even the high priest was prohibited from going into God’s space other than on the Day of Atonement. There was no way for humanity to approach God other than the ways God prescribed.
Under the terms of the old covenant, we were separated from God. This is not because God was uncaring or aloof; instead, it was for our protection. Humanity needed this separation and needed these worship regulations so that we would not haphazardly approach God. We are sinful beings, and God cannot be in the presence of sin. His nature is so perfectly holy that His presence would kill us if we were to approach Him while still infected with sin. But because God loves us, and because He wants to draw us near to Him, He showed us how we could have a relationship with Him. He gave Israel the Law to show them how they could appropriately worship Him and live accordingly as His people. The Law provided a path to follow so that Israel could survive with God in their midst.
But there was a problem with the Law, and the author of Hebrews points this out to us. The Law only dealt with external things; it did nothing to change our hearts or change our sinful nature. The offerings and regulations of the Law could not give us clean hearts or clear consciences. Something better had to come; a better sacrifice and a better covenant had to be given so that our hearts would be changed. Something had to change so that we could have direct access to God. All of these things would be achieved in Christ.
Christ has done away with the divide between God and us. Christ has gone behind the veil and given us direct access to the Father. Christ has given us His righteousness so that we can freely and boldly approach the Father whenever we need to do so. Now, when we approach the Father, God no longer sees sinners deserving of condemnation and wrath. Because of Christ, the Father now sees us as His children, who have been redeemed and bought by Christ’s blood.
Christ gives us the direct access to God that we needed. Christ changes us so that we may approach the Father with reverence, but without fear. Most importantly, Christ enables us to live as the people of God. No Law could ever do that; none of our works could ever achieve this. Only Christ and His blood could do this for us. Because of this, we must stop trusting in things other than Christ, and we must put the entirety of our hope and faith in Christ alone.

Artwork: skeleton image by Adreas Veselius from his “Fabric of the Human Body,” 1543.

Blueprint of a Better Covenant.

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews

“Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man.” Hebrews‬ ‭8:1-2‬ ‭

In Hebrews 8, we see the author’s focus shift toward discussing the new covenant that Christ enacted for us. The author tells us that Christ is qualified to be the high priest of this new covenant because He serves in the true tabernacle in heaven, and not in the earthly tabernacle which is only a “sketch and a shadow” of its heavenly counterpart. The earthly tabernacle serves only to give us a glimpse of what we will see when we are in God’s presence in heaven.

In this same fashion, God’s old covenant with Israel is but a sketch, or a blueprint, of the covenant that He would make with us through Christ. To support this position, the author quotes Jeremiah 31, a passage in which God explains the new covenant’s coming. But before we can understand the new covenant, we must first understand the old covenant that preceded it.

After God freed Israel from slavery in Egypt, He led them to Mt. Sinai. At Sinai, God gave Israel the Law, and He told them that He had called them to be His people and that He would be their God. Israel would show their commitment to keeping the covenant by keeping God’s commandments. But this proved to be a problem, for Israel could never live up to these terms. They were never able to live according to God’s standard. As soon as they settled in the Promised Land, there arose a generation who did not know the Lord. From there, the situation only became worse. With each generation, Israel strayed further and further from the Lord. By the prophet Jeremiah’s time, God had decided it was time to make a new covenant.

In Jeremiah 31, the passage that the author of Hebrews quotes from, God tells Jeremiah that this new covenant would not be like the previous one, it would be better. God ensured that the new covenant would be better by vowing to fix the old covenant’s major flaw—us. Israel could never keep the law and keep the covenant because of their fallen nature. They were sinful beings, just the same as we are today. They couldn’t keep the law because their sinful nature made them incapable of doing so.

But God would do something different in the new covenant; He would change us. To ensure the success of the new covenant, God would change our human nature. He would give us new hearts upon which He has written His law. He would fill us with His spirit, and He would make us capable of living up to His standard and being His people. When God brings us to Himself through Christ, He makes us new creatures who seek only Him.

Living as the people of God requires us to be incredibly honest about what is in our hearts. We cannot be God’s people if we are still holding on to things from our old lives and from our old, sinful hearts. We must thoroughly examine our hearts, and if we see that we are holding on to sin, we must humbly go before God and ask for His forgiveness. We must pray that He remove that sin from us, and we must ask that He give us the strength we need to live as He calls us to live.

Guaranteed To Be Better.

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews

“So Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.”  Hebrews 7:22.

There are so very few guarantees in life. In this world, things break, become obsolete, or fail to live up to our expectations. Because of this, we often demand quality guarantees, money-back guarantees, repairs guaranteed, or even satisfaction guarantees. We recognize just how temporary things are in this life, and we are constantly looking for reassurance and peace of mind that things will be repaired or corrected when everything in our lives begin to fall apart. Try as we might, we cannot find in this world anything that will give us the hope and comfort that we are searching for. We can find nothing that comes close to the sort of guarantee we so desperately crave.

Or can we?

At the end of Hebrews 7, the author reveals to us that there is a guarantee that will give us hope, comfort, confidence, and peace of mind. It is the salvation guarantee that God gives us through Jesus. 

The author has been building to this point throughout Hebrews, and especially in chapter seven. We have seen how Christ is superior to the priests of Levi and Aaron. We have seen how the Law and the priesthood were designed to make us understand how dependent we are upon God’s mercy, and how these things point us to the Gospel and to Christ. We have seen that we are under a new Law–the Law of Grace–and that we now have a new priesthood with a new high priest, who is none other than Christ. 

At the end of chapter seven, the author reveals to us why God has enacted all these new things; the author finally tells us what this is all building up to. The author tells us that God has created a new covenant, and that this new covenant would be the one through which He redeems the world and brings humanity back to Himself.

To prove that this new covenant was superior to the old covenant, God sent us Christ. Jesus is the guarantee that this covenant is the final covenant, the perfect covenant. By shedding His blood to atone for us, Christ sealed this guarantee. God gave us His word that this covenant would bring us back to Him, and Christ delivered upon this guarantee by giving His life for us. 

God has given us the only guarantee that we will ever need. He has guaranteed our salvation, but this guarantee is only valid for those who place their faith and trust in Christ. Jesus is the only one through whom people can come to God. With this guarantee from God, we have all the hope and comfort we could ever desire. Why would we dare seek guarantees anywhere else?

Artwork: “Suffering of Jesus,” Vladomir Stevanoic

A Better Priesthood.

Bible, Christianity, Hebrews

“So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.” Hebrews 4:18-19

After re-introducing us to Melchizedek in 7:1-3, the author of Hebrews spends the next several verses explaining Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham. The author’s argument is this: if the author could demonstrate that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, it would follow that Melchizedek was also superior to Levi and Aaron. With that being the case, the author could also explain how Melchizedek’s priesthood was superior to those of Levi and Aaron.
How did the author explain that Melchizedek was superior to Abraham? There are two pieces of evidence in the Genesis account that the author used. The first bit of evidence presented was that Abraham gave Melchizedek a tithe of the spoil from killing the kings of Canaan. Abraham did this out of homage and respect for Melchizedek. The author also reminded the readers that this act of tithing is just what the Israelites would later do for their own priests. They were legally required to give ten percent of their goods to the priests to support them, and this tithe was given out of respect for the work that the priests did. Secondly, the author points out that Melchizedek blessed Abraham. The author tells us that only a blessing can only be given by a person of superior standing. A person of lesser status cannot bless someone greater than themselves. For Melchizedek to bless Abraham, both he and Abraham would have to know that Melchizedek was the more important person.
So, how does Melchizedek’s superiority to Abraham relate to the Israelite priesthood? According to the author, if Melchizedek was superior to Abraham, he was also superior to Levi and Aaron. This would mean that Melchizedek’s priesthood was more significant than Levi and Aaron’s as well. This is a vital point because it reveals that the Law and the priests could not make salvation complete. These institutions were merely designed to point us toward the Gospel and toward the greatest high priest, Jesus Christ.
The author spends so much time explaining this to understand that only Christ can give us salvation. Christ alone is sufficient for our salvation. There is nothing that we can do on our own for salvation, and there is nothing that another human can do for us. Only Christ can do the work of atonement that we need. There is nothing we can do, and there is nothing that we can add to the work that He has already done. So we must put all of our trust and hope in Christ, and in Christ alone.

Artwork: “Aaron the High Priest,” William Etty (1878-1849).

Milk and Maturity.

Christianity, Hebrews, Religion

” We have a great deal to say about this, and it’s difficult to explain, since you have become too lazy to understand.  Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again. You need milk, not solid food.  Now everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness, because he is an infant.  But solid food is for the mature—for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Therefore, leaving the elementary message about the Messiah, let us go on to maturity…” Hebrews 5:11-6:1.

In chapters 5 and 6, the author of Hebrews takes a brief pause from discussing the topic of Jesus being our high priest. This break comes because the author is worried about the people receiving this letter. The author feels that the people have stopped growing spiritually and that they are not ready to hear this vital lesson. 

The author believes that it is in the best interest of the people to make them aware of their spiritual apathy and to encourage them to seek growth. The people are told to stop being content with spiritual “milk” because such things are for “infants” or new believers. Instead, these believers have been following Christ long enough that they should have progressed on to “meat,” or to more profound and more meaningful spiritual lessons. The author goes as far as to let the Hebrew believers know that many of them should have become teachers by now, but they haven’t because they’ve chosen to stop growing. These believers have refused to graduate from the spiritual nursery instead of growing deeper spiritually and helping to train the next generation of Christ-followers.

This is a trend that the author of Hebrews desperately wishes to correct. The author does so by giving a clear call to grow up. The author tells the believers to “leave the elementary things,” or the basic things, behind and to move on to maturity. The Greek word for “move on” is phero, and this word means “to be carried, as by a boat.” Phero is where we get the English word “ferry” from, and this conveys an important point to us. We do not press on to maturity under our own strength or power. Instead, we are ferried to maturity by Christ and the Holy Spirit. 

We cannot make ourselves grow; only Christ can. The only thing we can do is to get in the boat with Him and allow Him to steer us toward maturity. Once we get in the boat, He will enable us to grow, and then we will be ready to do the work before us. When we begin growing toward maturity, and when we start seeking meat instead of milk, we can start teaching others how they might do so. But we can do none of this if we do not first leave the nursery and get in the boat.

Artwork: “Glass of Milk,” by Verrier.

Compassion and Confidence.

Christianity, Hebrews, Religion

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession.” Hebrews 4:14

In Hebrews 4:14-16, we see the author of Hebrews offer us some words of hope and encouragement. In these verses, the author returns to a discussion about Christ as our perfect high priest. In these three verses, the author explains to us how Christ’s compassion allows us to live life with confidence and hope.

Following the author’s solemn words of warning about falling into unbelief and God knowing the motives of our hearts, the author reminds us that we still have hope. This hope is grounded in the fact that Christ is our great high priest; He is the high priest who is superior to all other priests.  What makes Christ superior to the other high priests? The author tells us that Christ is the Son of God and that He has “passed through the heavens.” This phrase, “passed through the heavens,” is unique, and it has two significant meanings. On the surface level, it refers to the fact that Christ is the Son of God who came from and returned to Heaven, which means that He enjoys a relationship with God that no other high priest could. 

The phrase “passed through” can also be used to describe a person going through a door, or in a more specific usage, going behind a curtain or veil. This is the same phrase used to explain how the earthly high priest would pass through the veil in the Jerusalem temple and enter into the Holy of Holies, which was the place where God’s presence dwelt. The Holy of Holies was the most sacred space in the temple; it was the place where His domain overlapped with ours. Due to its sacred nature, the Holy of Holies was separated from the rest of the temple by an enormous veil, and the high priest was the only person allowed to enter it. Even then, the high priest was only allowed to do so on one day a year–the Day of Atonement. On that day, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of a goat upon the Ark of the Covenant. By doing this, the high priest brought forgiveness to the people.

In the same way that the high priest passed through the veil to go into the Holy of Holies to bring forgiveness to the people, Christ passed through Heaven to go directly into God’s presence to make atonement for us and to make forgiveness available for us as well. This ability to go straight into God’s presence, to go before His throne in Heaven, makes Christ the greatest of all the high priests. 

Not only is the fact that we have the greatest high priest pleading our case before God is a source of great hope for us, but it is also a source of great confidence. Since Christ has paid the price for all of our sins, we no longer have to be afraid of God’s wrath; we are no longer under sin’s penalty of death. Our sentence has been commuted; we have been acquitted. Even more incredible than that, when Christ went behind the veil to make atonement for us, He left it open so that we can go directly before God’s throne to receive mercy and grace when we repent from our sins. This is fantastic news! No longer do we have to fear God’s wrath, no longer do we have to hide in our sin and shame as Adam and Eve did. Now, we can go confidently before God and receive the mercy and grace that He gives us when we repent. Instead of running from God when we sin, we can now run to Him and receive His mercy and grace.

As long as we live in this world, we will struggle with sin. But we now have the hope of forgiveness and mercy. Do not try to hide your sins from God; go confidently to His throne in repentance and receive the grace and mercy that He will give you. Stop living a life of shame and fear; live the life of hope and confidence that only Christ can provide.

Stop running from God. Put the faith you profess to have into action and run to Christ.

The Cost of Unbelief.

Christianity, Hebrews, Religion

“Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭3:12‬ ‭

In Hebrews 3:1-6, we read how the author of Hebrews argued for Jesus’ superiority to Moses. Beginning in verse 7, however, we see a shift in the author’s focus. The author takes a detour from discussing Israel’s greatest leader, Moses, and instead discusses Israel’s greatest failure. This shift is intentional. The author uses the cautionary tale of Israel’s sin in the wilderness to highlight the importance of holding fast to our belief in Christ.

Once again, we see the author of Hebrews dig deeply into the Old Testament to present scripture to support the importance of belief. In verses 7-11, the author quotes from Psalm 95. This particular psalm is a re-telling of the story of Israel’s rebellion and refusal to enter the Promised Land. We find this story first presented in Numbers 14. To understand the message of Psalm 95, we must understand the events of Numbers 14. So let’s take a moment to discuss those events.

In Numbers 14, we find the Israelites and Moses on the border of the Promised Land. They had come through the Exodus. They spent a year at Sinai. Now, they are on the threshold of entering into the land that God reserved for them. Moses sent twelve spies into the land to check it out, and the spies returned to Moses after forty days. Ten of the spies did not think that Israel could take the land. They did not believe that God would keep His promise to give them the land, even though He had already repeatedly told Israel that He would. These ten evil spies convinced the rest of Israel not to go into the Promised Land, and Israel rebelled against God and Moses. Israel rebelled and fell into unbelief, and they fell away from God. The results of this rebellion were disastrous for Israel. They would not be allowed to go into the Promised Land. They would have to wander in the desert for 40 years until the rebellious generation died. This is the story we see re-told in Psalm 95, and this is the story that the author of Hebrews uses to drive home the importance of belief.

The author introduces the quote from Psalm 95 in an interesting way, saying that the psalm’s words are the words of the Holy Spirit. The author of Hebrews says that the Holy Spirit is currently speaking these words today through the Scriptures. When we read the Bible, we hear God’s Spirit speaking to us. What is it that the Spirit is saying to us in Psalm 95? It is an urgent plea to learn from the tragic mistake of Israel’s rebellion and to not fall into the same trap. The Spirit tells us to listen to God’s voice today and not to harden our hearts as Israel did. 

In verse 12, the author adds another plea, one that calls upon us not to beware of having evil hearts. The word used there for “evil” can mean “bad” or “wicked,” but it can also mean “full of toil, labor, or annoyance.” We learn from this that the first step in falling into unbelief and rebelling against God is having a heart that is full of ingratitude. To combat developing such evil hearts, the author calls upon believers to encourage and exhort one another every day. The Greek word the author uses is parakaleo, which means “to encourage or admonish.” We are to encourage and, if need be, admonish our brothers and sisters every day so that they might not develop evil hearts. We are to keep each other focused upon God and not upon the toil and strife of this world.

The author presents the story of Israel’s rebellion against God to highlight to us the importance of holding on to our belief in Christ. Israel broke their covenant agreement with God and forfeited their right to enter the Promised Land as the result of that rebellion. If their rebellion against God and Moses was so severe, how much more would the punishment be for those who rebel against the one who is greater than Moses–Christ? If they lost their right to enter the Promised Land, what might we lose if we fall away into unbelief? 

We must learn from this cautionary tale, and we must hold tightly to the belief that we have placed in Christ. We cannot be distracted by the toil of this world, nor can we become ungrateful. We must focus on the spiritual health of our hearts, and we must be committed to encouraging our brothers and sisters to do the same thing. Though we are in the wilderness today, the Promised Land is just before us. We must be wholly devoted to following Christ so that we might enter into that special place that He has prepared for us.

Artwork: “Wanderer in the storm,” by Julius von Leypold, 1835