In our reading today, the author of the letter to the Hebrews speaks both to his first audience and to us today, encouraging us in the midst of the troubles and trials of life to hang on to the faith that we first had in Jesus Christ. As I read through Hebrews 3-4, I can’t help but hear the cheesy echoes of Journey’s 1981 song Don’t Stop Believin’, and yet the kind of faith that Hebrews expects has a far more solid foundation than Journey’s vague hopefulness.
The book of Hebrews is chock full of references to aspects of the Jewish faith, and the author uses these references as groundwork for talking about Jesus. Jesus is greater than angels (ch. 1-2); Jesus is greater than Moses (ch. 3); and Jesus, our great high priest, can deliver us, not just from our past sins, but from the fears that plague us today.
Urging the first century Christians to stand strong in the midst of persecution for their faith in Jesus, the mysterious author of this letter refers to the generation of Israelites who God delivered from slavery in Egypt. This generation had God’s deliverance, when he protected the Israelite homes but allowed the angel of death to take all the firstborn sons of Egypt. They had seen his power over nature when God parted the waters of the Red Sea to let them pass through on dry land, unharmed by the pursuing Egyptian army. They had experienced God’s loving provision in the desert—of water from the rock, manna from heaven, and even meat, when quail miraculously appeared. They had entered into a loving relationship with this God, through his covenant at Sinai.
And yet, when this generation stood on the border of Canaan, the Promised Land, they refused to believe that God would give them victory over the people of the land. They were afraid that the giant Canaanites were too big for their puny army to fight and win (Numbers 13:28). They wept and grumbled, crying out, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! . . . Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt” (Numbers 14:2, 4).
Despite all the mercies they had seen, the ancient Israelites stopped believing that Yahweh was mighty enough to save them one more time. The faithfulness of God is no gamble, and the Israelites were on infinitely more solid ground than the “streetlight people” who would pay “anything to roll the dice” in Don’t Stop Believin’. Even so, the generation of Israelites that God brought out of Egypt succumbed to their fears about the future. Chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews point out this ancestral flaw, inviting believers in Jesus to trust that the God who has delivered them from sin and death will also deliver them from any coming persecution that they might experience.
Today, we might not be in danger of losing social standing, property, or even our lives because we believe in Jesus, but we still find ourselves faced with fears of great magnitude. “What if the stock market dips again, and I lose all of my retirement this time?” “What if there is a fire in my house – how will I get out, and what will I take with me in the heat of the moment?” “What if my adult children refuse to visit me? (And why won’t they call?)” “What if the biopsy comes back, and it’s cancer?”
Beset by fears all around, we feel harassed and helpless, quick to disbelieve in God’s goodness and provision for us. When we allow ourselves to fall into panic, we are quick to forget what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. His mercy to sinners is sure and steadfast through the bedrock of Jesus’ atoning death on the cross. And his mercies are new every morning.
Reminding ourselves of God’s past faithfulness and mercy gives us courage and confidence for trials that we face today and tomorrow. So, we keep on believin’, as we draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, and lay our burdens at the pierced feet of our Lord Jesus, trusting in his salvation in our current time of need.