The Kind of Help Jesus Offers

Hebrews 2:14-18

For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:18

I wanted to do something a little different this week and post a condensed version of a sermon from Hebrews I heard by John Piper recently. It’s an old sermon, given back in 1996 when a Billy Graham crusade came to town, and many were pondering how their decision to follow Christ would change their lives. I’m going post selected quotations from the sermon that give the big ideas, but you can find the entire at the Desiring God website here: https://www.desiringgod.org/messages/jesus-is-able-to-help-those-who-are-tempted. I pray it will encourage you as it has me. 


Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. 16 For assuredly He does not give help to angels, but He gives help to the descendant of Abraham. 17 Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18


“Therefore even for people who deny the reality of such a God, death is terrifying. This doesn't mean that most unbelieving people lead consciously terrified lives. It means that they are enslaved by the fear of death to find ways not to feel the intolerable fear that they have. That is, fear of dying is so natural for sinful people who are not ready to meet God, that it rules them like a silent master who takes many forms. The main form is the dream world of denial. Most people simply do not let themselves think about what is absolutely inevitable, namely, their own death. They are driven, consciously or unconsciously, to shut their eyes and close their ears and blank their minds to every thought that they are going to die and give an account to God.


And this is a form of slavery to the fear of death. They would say they are not afraid. But the fact is, the fear has gone underground and enslaves from the subconscious. It's like your car's cruise control. The cruise control of your soul gets set at the 55 mph of contentment and peace of mind, and if your soul begins to slow down and become pensive and thoughtful and reflective about God and the things of eternity and the reality of dying, the cruise control kicks in and quickly pushes the speed back up to where you won't think about all that. That's the power of the fear of death functioning subconsciously like a slave master over what you can feel and think.”


“I want us to see the flow of thought in verses 14 and 15 about how Christ came to deliver you from the fear of death and make you free, by rendering the devil powerless in his destructive use of death. Then I want to compare that flow of thought with verse 17 to see how the death of Christ defeats the power of the devil in death… Look with me at verses 14 and 15 and walk with me through the five steps that are here in your deliverance from bondage to the fear of death.


Step One (Verse 14a)

You are human. "Since the children share in flesh and blood . . . " The "children" is a reference back to verse 13 where it refers to the people that God calls to himself and gives to his Son, Jesus. So he says in verse 14 that these "children" share in flesh and blood, that is, they are simply human. They have a human nature. They are not angels or gods.


Step Two (Verse 14b)

Christ became human. "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same." The Son of God, we saw back in Hebrews 1:2, did not come into being when Jesus was born. He existed before creation, indeed, from eternity as the very image of God (1:3) and was himself God (1:8). But since the children whom he loved and wanted to save were human, he took on the same human nature. So Jesus was actual God and actual man. It is a great mystery, but this is what God tells us about his Son.


Step Three (Verse 14c)

Christ did this so that he could die. "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death . . . " In his divine nature alone Christ's life was indestructible (Hebrews 7:16). He could not die. But a death was necessary to deal with guilt and the punishment of sin. So Christ became human precisely so that he could die. This is what love does. It embraces suffering and death for the life of others.


Step Four (Verse 14d)

In dying, Christ rendered powerless the one who has the power of death, the devil. " . . . that through death He might render powerless him who has the power of death, that is, the devil." In dying, Christ defeated, in some profound way, the power of the devil and took away his ability to destroy by death. How did Christ do that? That's what we will see when we look at verse 17. But for right now it just says that's what Christ willingly died to do. The apparent defeat of death was a knockout blow to Satan. How? Hold on, and we will see.


Step Five (Verse 15)

The effect of defeating the devil in this way is that we are delivered from slavery to the fear of death. " . . . to render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; 15 and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives." We are freed from the dream world of denial and escape and distraction. We can live now in the full stare of death and not be afraid or self-deluding.

That's the flow of thought in verses 14–15. 


Five steps:

you are human;

therefore Christ became human;

so that he might die for you;

to nullify the deadly power of the devil;

so that you might be freed from slavery to fear and live in freedom the rest of eternity.”


“But the rest of verse 17 is different from verses 14 and 15, and the differences show us how it is that Christ defeated the devil by dying for us. Verse 14 says that Christ became like us so that he could die and render powerless the one who has the power of death, the devil. Verse 17 says that Christ became like us so that he might become a high priest to make propitiation for our sins. So my conclusion is that Christ rendered the devil powerless in death by his high priestly work of making a propitiation for our sins… Christ strips the devil of his power in death by making propitiation for our sins. How does this work? That big word "propitiation" simply means Christ takes away God's anger at us for our sins. When Christ dies, he is perfectly innocent (Hebrews 4:15). His death is to bear the guilt and punishment of our sins, not his own. And when our punishment falls on him, it is taken away from us. That's what propitiation means. God's justice is satisfied. He loved us enough to put his own Son forward to absorb the punishment we deserved so that he could demonstrate that he is just and faithful in dealing with sin and merciful in dealing with sinners. This is the great gospel. This is our great salvation. Christ dying in our place, and propitiating God—removing his righteous anger from us. So in him there is now no condemnation.


Now how does that render powerless the one who had the power of death, the devil? It doesn't mean Christians don't die a physical death—sometimes very painful ones. Nor does it mean that Satan can't kill us (see Revelation 2:10). What it means is that the only weapon the devil can use to destroy us in death is our sin. Nobody goes to hell because they are oppressed by the devil or even possessed by the devil. Nobody goes to hell because they are harassed by the devil or get shot at by the devil or given hallucinations by the devil. These are all smoke screens to hide the one deadly power in Satan's artillery, namely, unforgiven sin. The only reason anybody goes to hell is because of their own sin. And all Satan can do is fight like hell to keep you sinning and to keep you away from the one who forgives sin.


Because if your sin is forgiven, and the wrath of God Almighty is turned away from you, then the devil is disarmed. The one deadly, lethal tactic he has is to accuse you of sin and keep you sinning and to keep you away from Christ who forgives sin and removes the wrath of God. If your sins are forgiven and the wrath of God is removed from you, and you stand righteous before God in Jesus Christ by faith, and God is for you and not against you, then the devil is rendered powerless: he cannot destroy you.”


Drifting Towards NEglect

Hebrews 2:1-3

it’s not usually the huge, dramatic event that collapses our faith, rather it’s the small, daily choices that eventually ensnare and entangle us. Only God sees clearly the inner-workings of our soul, which is why the author of Hebrews warns Christians against drifting away from what we have heard and neglecting such a great salvation.

1. We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, 3 how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. Heb. 2:1-3


If you’re like me, one of the most disruptive difficulties of life in quarantine has been the loss of my regular routine. Yes, I still make the regular trips into the office, but the social rhythms that shaped nearly all of my work and family life are almost entirely gone. In the span of about a week my morning routine, my personal work schedule, my daughter’s schooling and our families church involvement was all turned on its head. And many of us are still adjusting to the “new normal”. It seems that now especially we need to heed this encouragement in Hebrews 2. The author of Hebrews is aware that big spiritual change doesn’t often happen all at once. That it’s not usually the huge, dramatic event that collapses our faith, rather it’s the small, daily choices that eventually ensnare and entangle us. Only God sees clearly the inner-workings of our soul, which is why the author of Hebrews warns Christians against drifting away from what we have heard and neglecting such a great salvation.


The author warns of a journey which some who publicly profess faith in Jesus may be tempted to take. He implies that this is a trajectory on which we may already be traveling. So let’s just consider quickly but reflectively the destination and route. The final destination he describes in our passage is neglecting salvation, which is described later in the book as “falling away”. (3:12) Simply put, this is abandoning the faith, or apostasy. This stark opposition to Christ is unthinkable for most Christians. I’d wager that most people, Christian or not, cannot see themselves holding completely opposite convictions in a month, a year or even five years. Yet it happens. 

While the potential to deny Christ and walk away may be impossible to see in ourselves, the author of Hebrews, by reminding us of several truths, exposes the logic and heart that eventually ends in falling away. He starts verse 2, “For since the message by angels proved to be reliable…” The heart that neglects salvation denies the dependability of God’s Word. This could be in a historical sense; in other words, the denial could be on the grounds that the text we have is not accurate. Or it could be a denial of God’s own reliability and a lack of trust in His goodness to keep His promises. Either way, there’s a skepticism of God’s character and power revealed in His Word, which results in disregard for His Word. Verse 2 finishes, “…and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.” The drifter thinks, “If God doesn’t exist, or if He exists but He isn’t good and faithful to His people, then why should I follow and obey Him?” Eventually faithless skepticism deadens the healthy fear of God in our hearts. And if there is nothing to fear and no wrathful punishment to be saved from, then what’s so great about this salvation? We only see the greatness of our salvation when we see the greatness of our need before a Holy God. 


So while denying the faith may seem like a place we’ll never end up, perhaps we do feel, at this difficult time, seeds of doubting the reliability of God, glimpses of a disobedient heart, and perhaps waves of apathy towards the gospel of our salvation. While experiencing these things in part, does not mean we are currently denying the faith, we do need to take them seriously, because, as our passage reminds us, the route to denial is subtle.


The author of Hebrews warns that the route to neglecting salvation is not abrupt and sudden, it is more like drifting out to sea. “We must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it” Heb 2:1. The other word he uses is “neglect” in verse 3. It doesn’t take any effort to drift or neglect. In fact it takes a tremendous amount of work not to. We do not earn salvation through our works, but the saved life is a tremendous amount of work. Jesus told us this yoke is not burdensome. In fact in our passage the work we are to do is pay much closer attention to what we’ve heard. And what we’ve heard in chapter 1:1-4 is God speaking primarily through His Son. The way we fight the current and care for our great salvation is by paying close attention to it in the Word of God. The battle is for our attention and affection.


It’s so easy now with nowhere to be and nowhere to go to neglect the daily disciplines of prayer and reading the Scriptures. To be clear you can pray and read without paying close attention, but you can’t pay close attention without praying and reading. It’s easy, isn’t it, to drift on the currents of entertainment and comfort to a coldness towards God and His great salvation? Fight the drift. Start a new routine and stick to it. Call a friend and ask them to remind you of God’s faithfulness. If someone calls you, be ready with the Word of God that you have heard in the Scriptures for them. The stakes are high the route is slow and subtle, so let’s pay much closer attention. 

This Is not the rest

Heb. 4:6-11

we all must prioritize, through the little decisions we make every day, those areas of life most effected by the virus. Are we doing that prayerfully? Are we living lives saturated with the promises of God in His Word or are we saturated with nervous conversations and 24hr news cycles?

6 Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience, 7 again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” saying through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,

“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. 9 So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, 10 for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.

11 Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.


One of the most challenging aspects of life in quarantine is deciding the appropriate amount of caution each of us needs to be personally taking. We’re certainly receiving blanket guidelines and mandates from the government and health officials, yet there are many factors that influence our daily habits and decisions that all have to be weighed wisely. Foremost on most of our minds are the health risks and minimizing our exposure to the virus. But there’s also financial considerations, educational standards for our kids, even the spiritual state of our families and unbelieving neighbors. We process all of these factors and more through our worldview, which is a handful very basic things we believe to be true about ourselves and the world we live in. As I process the effects of quarantine on my own soul and my spheres of responsibility, I was helped and encouraged by this basic truth spoken by the author of Hebrews: “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God”.


I find this truth encouraging for two reasons. First, there is a Sabbath rest for the people of God. In chapter 3:7-11 the author Hebrews quotes King David who is also quoting Exodus. In Exodus and Numbers God leads the people of Israel to the edge of their rest, the promised land, and told them to take it by violent force. The Israelites saw the people they would be fighting and considered obedience to be too risky and hardened their hearts in rebellion; therefore, God did not allow that generation to enter the rest of the promised land. David tells His people to be careful, lest they harden their hearts in the same way, because the promised land was not the truest rest. There is another rest for the people of God. “For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” Heb 4:8-9. 


If there is fuller rest to look forward to, then I can live selflessly now for others while in quarantine. My primary concern doesn’t need to be getting mine now, because my rest and happiness is secure in God. I can continue to work hard and endure now, because this difficult moment isn’t the rest. 

The second reason this truth has been an encouraging to me is that this kind of unsettledness and danger isn’t unusual, the peace and safety we have enjoyed for a long time probably is. The Israelites were, in one sense, right to be scared. God was telling them to risk their lives in battle against a foe they could not defeat on their own. Striving to enter the promised land was risky and difficult. It is not God’s usual mode of operating on this side of the promised rest, to spare His loved ones from risk, difficulty, and even death. “He…did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Rom. 8:32. It’s not unusual to be forced to choose between obedience to God and safety and comfort. Hebrews chapter 3 makes it clear that Jesus identifies with us in this temptation.


For most of us it probably won’t be something that black and white. But we all must prioritize, through the little decisions we make every day, those areas of life most effected by the virus. Are we doing that prayerfully? Are we living lives saturated with the promises of God in His Word or are we saturated with nervous conversations and 24hr news cycles? We ought to be informed, and our health and the safety of our loved ones are greatly important, God-given responsibilities. Let’s steward those responsibilities by daily prioritizing the author of Hebrew’s exhortations to “strive to enter that rest” and “do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” through soaking in the word of God and letting our lives demonstrate that God’s rest is yet to come. 

A sure and steadfast anchor

Heb. 6:17-20 + 7:23-25

Many things that provided a stable ballast in our lives are now the source of turbulence and stress. What a wonderful time we have to celebrate this Sunday what the author of Hebrews calls “our sure and steadfast anchor.”

With Resurrection Sunday almost upon us, I thought I’d skip ahead in Hebrews to a passage we haven’t studied yet in class. Hebrews 6:17-20 + 7:23-25: 


17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.


While it’s likely that not all of us will contract COVID-19, and those of us that do will experience different symptoms as a result, we are all sharing the experience of far-reaching uncertainty. Many areas of our life that shaped our daily routines and filled our calendars are gone or look dramatically different. Many are out of work or fearing being out of work while continuing to labor, strangely without the gratification of human interaction. Family gatherings are missing or held through a screen. Friends struggle to maintain contact through social media and on-line games. Many things that provided a stable ballast in our lives are now the source of turbulence and stress. What a wonderful time we have to celebrate this Sunday what the author of Hebrews calls “our sure and steadfast anchor.” Incredibly we find this source of stability is at the same time an unchangeable word and a living person.


Verses 17 and 18 of our passage conclude a brief section examining God’s promise to Abraham. The author draws our attention to the fact that God spoke a promise to Abraham and sealed it with an oath, so that in vs. 18, we may be encouraged to hold fast to the hope set before us. We’re to be encouraged by two things. First, we’re to find hope in God’s spoken promise to bless His children. A promise is a wonderful thing. Once it’s spoken and, in this case, recorded, it cannot change. It is a hard and fast standard. The one who promises can either be faithful to keep it or not, but the promise itself has been spoken and cannot be changed. A promise is something we can bring to God and hold him to it, not for His sake but perhaps for ours. A promise is something tangible, something concrete that we can wrap our minds around: God will bless His children, or all things will work together for the good of those who are called according to his purpose. We may not see all of the details but there are things we know it means and things it can’t mean. In this way promises are extremely helpful in providing a benchmark to return to when nothing looks familiar, and we can’t see a way forward. 


However, we soon find out that concrete, unchangeable promises by themselves are limited. We change: our feelings are up and down; our minds are distracted; and our circumstances churn like an unsettled sea. Which of God’s promises do I need to hear right now? How should this promise change my heart and my mind? How can I trust the one who made the promise? These are all questions the promises themselves cannot answer. We need the soft touch of a person. Which is why the author includes as the second unchangeable thing, the character of God’s will and in verses 19-20, and Jesus as the steadfast anchor, the hope that enters into God’s presence on our behalf. 


The glorious nature of it all is that Jesus’ character is such that he is as unchangeably reliable and clear as God’s spoken promise; and yet knows and meets all of our needs and fears even as they change daily. He knows what words to speak to the Father on our behalf, and what words we need to hear through the Spirit and the Scriptures. Jesus began in this office, as we’ll celebrate this Sunday, when he walked out of the grave and later ascended to be with the Father. Therefore the author of Hebrews says, 


23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.


Be encouraged. Hold to this hope and share it with your neighbors, that we have the stability of a sure and steadfast anchor. But not one who is imprisoned, cold and lifeless, but an unchangeable person who takes us into the presence of God. 

Light for Dark Times

Hebrews 1:1-4

The COVID-19 moment will pass. Better or worse times will come. The grass will whither, the flower will fade, and so will we. But, the beauty of the glory of God in the face of Jesus will always be. 

      We’re continuing our reflection on the portion of Hebrews that we’ve covered in our Wednesday Evening Inductive Bible Study class. We especially want to take some time to apply the text to our current socially-distant and worrisome situation. Which won’t be that hard, because as you’ll remember, the book’s original audience had clearly endured acute suffering and persecution. “But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property…” Heb. 10:32-34. In light of these sufferings, the unknown author’s main objective is to focus our attention on the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus. We hear these themes in the opening four verses:

   

 "Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last       days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” 


    While the dark times we’re facing are not exactly the same as those specifically addressed in Hebrews, we still need our vision cleared by the radiance of the glory of God in the face of Jesus. The author of Hebrews offers many ways that Jesus radiates the glory of God, but let’s look at three in these first two chapters.


Jesus radiates the glory of God through humble victory.


“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” 2:14


    The primary way that Jesus displays the glory of God is by the way that he achieved victory over sin, death and Satan. He didn’t come primarily exercising brute force or dazzling intelligence; He conquered through the tools of self-sacrifice, pain and suffering. The manifold wisdom and glory of God is on full display on the cross. We see true power in Christ’s ability to let it go. We see true leadership as Christ shared in our suffering, but ultimately was the first to endure the wrath of God that we could never fully endure. We see that the love of God is deeper than simply withholding pain and suffering; rather, sometimes God harms for a greater good and a more glorious victory. 

Paul writes in Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”. We often assume that the “all things” is all painless and pleasant things. Isn’t it the Christ-like way, though, that the “all things” would include pain and suffering which produces greater good and more glory in us? This is the wisdom and glory of God: salvation and strength through suffering and weakness.   


Jesus radiates the glory of God through his righteous desire.


“But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.” 1:8-9


   While God chooses to use death to conquer death, we must not assume that God accepts sin, death or suffering. All death and suffering are a result of sin and wickedness, and God abhors it all. There are whole books written on God’s complex relationship with sin and suffering. I would recommend Tim Keller’s Walking with God through Pain and Suffering as a good place to start. But we see in just these couple of verses in Hebrews that God’s sovereign purposes for sin and suffering do not negate his hatred for them. We see the glory of God when Jesus, for righteousness’ sake, endured that which he hates on the cross: the wickedness of mankind. “For in [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ Romans 1:17


Jesus radiates the glory of God through his eternal nature. 


“You, Lord, laid the foundation of the earth in the beginning, and the heavens are the work of your hands; they will perish; but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment, like a robe you will roll them up, like a garment they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will have no end.” 1:10-12


In dark nights or sunny days its helpful to remember that what’s in front of us isn’t all there is. The COVID-19 moment will pass. Better or worse times will come. The grass will whither, the flower will fade, and so will we. But, the beauty of the glory of God in the face of Jesus will always be. Our hope as we saw earlier is that Jesus partook of our death so that we may partake of his life. Through our faith in his work for us, he calls us brothers and sisters. Identifying with Jesus doesn’t mean immunity from disease or a pain free life; it does mean glorious victory over death and beautifully righteous eternal life. What a glorious God!

Our Hebrews Inductive Bible Study and the Novel Coronavirus

Hebrews 3:7-14

"They didn’t understand that it is just like God to remove the certainty of life, so that we must trust Him. That often God brings the fog of suffering and pain, clouding the way, so that we can see only to take the next hopeful step."

Well it looks like we won’t be meeting for our regular interactive inductive study through Hebrews in the near future. So, I thought I’d take some time to reflect on some of the things we’ve covered thus far and ask the Lord to work it deep into our hearts and minds. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the best place to start might be the author’s second extended exhortation found in Heb. 3:7-14:

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,

“Today, if you hear his voice,

8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
    on the day of testing in the wilderness,

9 where your fathers put me to the test
    and saw my works for forty years.

10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
    they have not known my ways.’

11 As I swore in my wrath,
    ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.

The author makes the the first part of our job easy in drawing a clear connection between Old Testament, wilderness-wandering Israel and New Testament believers. Israel did not trust the goodness of God and did not enter the rest of the promised land; likewise, we must also trust the goodness of God if we are to make it to the rest of heaven.

How did Israel fail to trust God? What did they do wrong? Verses 7-11 are a quotation of Psalm 95, which references at least three separate events found in Exodus 17:1-7, Numbers 20:2-13 and Numbers 14. In Exodus 17 the children of Israel grumble against Moses and the Lord because they don’t have water to drink. Verse 3 indicates that they are thirsty enough that they are worried about dying. The Lord instructs Moses to take his staff and strike a rock. Moses obeys and and water flows from the rock for the people to drink. This section concludes by saying, “And [Moses] called the name of the place Massah and Mariah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’” 

The quarrel Israel has with the Lord is over what is “good” for them. They didn’t doubt the Lord’s power or ability to provide water. They had seen him bring ten plagues on the Egyptians, thus sending them out of Egypt rich and victorious. They had even seen his elemental power over water when He parted the Red Sea. People rarely doubt the Lord’s ability, they doubt His goodness, his desire to do what is best for them. The question “Is the Lord among us or not?” even smells of sarcasm. As if they know the Lord is among them, but it seems like He’s not, because if he were, they wouldn’t lack water a basic necessity for life.

The author of Hebrews describes their quarreling from God’s perspective: “They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.” They loved God for what he gave them and when He stopped giving them water for a time, and they could not see where the water was going to come from, they attacked His character. They presumed to know what good things God should do. They didn’t understand that it is just like God to remove the certainty of life, so that we must trust Him. That often God brings the fog of suffering and pain, clouding the way, so that we can see only to take the next hopeful step.

How we comfort ourselves in these times matters. It’s easy in uncertain times to rest in statistics or to have presumptive expectations: “If God is with me and He’s truly good, this won’t happen to me or my loved ones. I won’t be thirsty to the point of death.” The destructiveness of these expectations is revealed when God fails to meet them. Usually our first reaction is fear: “Why did you bring us out of Egypt to kill us” “What if God’s going to let the worst happen?” Which can be followed by an angry quarreling with Lord that the author of Hebrews warns can “lead you to fall away from the living God.” In what are you finding hope and comfort?

Perhaps the most stunning aspect of this passage is the role we are called to play in each other’s endurance. The author writes in verse 12, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day…” The medicine against fear, doubt and ultimately apostasy is Christian community. 

We need each other if we are to continue to trust the goodness of God until the end. It is important to check in with one another to see if we need groceries or medical attention, but we also must be on the look out for ungodly fear, the insidious shadow of doubt and the self-destruction of apostasy. Not only will the family of God need a practical hand, but no doubt we will need a Christ-honoring word with it. Verse 14 reminds us that we have this responsibility because we “share in Christ”. 

Christ’s sacrifice was the clearest revelation of the ways of God and the most compelling display of His goodness towards us. He gave his only Son to ensure our eternal good and holiness. And now we share in the benefits of Christ’s atoning sacrifice as well as the responsibility to work them deep into each other through careful and loving exhortation.