First Mennonite Church
July 12, 2020
Encourage One Another
Text: Hebrews 10:19-25
We should recall that the Letter to the Hebrews was addressed to a Christian community in severe crisis. The letter was addressed to a well-established church. These Christians were, at least, second generation followers of Christ (Heb. 2:3-4), who had been baptized and fully instructed (6:1-5; 10:22). Therefore, it was natural for the writer to speak to them straightforwardly and with urgency: “Let us hold fast to our confession.” (Heb. 4:14). And in the passage for today, we will consider four other urgent calls of “Let us . . . .”
Hebrews is a pastoral letter, overflowing with exhortations and words of encouragement. Both words: exhortation and encouragement, is the same in the Greek: paraklesis. To exhort is not to scold; it is to point out an error and give counsel to fix it. Paraklesis also means, to comfort and give encouragement in times of pain and difficulty.
I wonder how many preachers are using the letter to the Hebrews during this time of great crisis to encourage their congregations.
As we can see, the author of Hebrews draws its imagery, comparisons, and types from Israel’s religious practices and cultic elements, priests, sacrifices, and rituals. But the writer transfers this images, examples and types to the work and person of Jesus Christ. The argument of our passage begins in earlier chapters in which Jesus is presented as the high priest. However, the differences between Jesus’ high priestly ministry and those of ancient Israel’s are profound. Jesus sits on the throne, while the Israel’s high priest stand by the altar each day. They stand because their sacrifices have to go on and on and yet, they do not take away the sins of the people. In contrast, Jesus sits because his sacrifice has been done once and for all and is able to cleanse the conscience and wash away sins of the new people of God. The priests offer the blood of bulls and rams, but Jesus offered his own blood on the altar. The priests have to be succeeded by others as they die, but Jesus is high priest forever.
The priest ministers on the bases of the old covenant, but Jesus ushers in a new covenant in his blood, bringing redemption to the faithful. Jesus was made perfect, through suffering (Heb. 2:10, 5:9). Jesus also achieved and confers a perfect salvation, making every believer perfect—that is whole and complete (Heb. 10:14; 12:23). But although our salvation is complete and perfect, we are still called to sanctify ourselves through obedience.
It is on this last item where the letter to the Hebrews strikes a delicate balance. Although Jesus has effected a perfect salvation through his work on the cross, the believer is called to work on his or her sanctification. That is, even when Christ has redeemed us from the power and consequences of sin, we still need to keep ourselves separated for God. Or as the writer puts it, we must “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And . . . run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). That is, eternal salvation is our destination, but while we are living, we are still in the journey. We are members of God’s household, but we have not yet entered the house. So what are we supposed to do in the meantime?
Our passage calls us to do four things. Each of these is introduced with, “Let us,” which we will consider briefly.
In light of everything God has accomplished in Christ Jesus for the believer and in light of the work of Christ to procure access for the redeemed, Hebrews gives the first command:
Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. There is no hindrance between God and the believer. The Holy of Holies has been open through the death of Christ. We do not need any mediator, but Christ. Christ Jesus is the high priest who has shared flesh with us. He is compassionate, because he understands our every human experience.
We can approach God in the name of his beloved Son. Prayer is the way through which we approach the presence of God. Pray daily. Pray everywhere. Pray without ceasing. Pray for yourself and for others. Give thanks to God in prayer. Pray in your heart. Draw near to God. Prayer is one of the most sincere conversations we can have. We know that we cannot fool God. We even admit before God our biases and everything. We approach God in worship, in praise, and thanksgiving with a sincere heart, fully certain that it is possible to come to God through his Son.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. In times of hopelessness, Christians are called to hold on to their hope with tenacity. Our hope is not idle, but is the active anticipation of the things we hope for. We hope for a better world according to God’s promise, but as of now we do our part in making this world a better place to live. We hope for the day when God will wipe away every tear, when death will be no more, but even today we mourn with those who mourn and make everything possible to protect and sustain life. Today, protecting life and wellbeing might even be wearing a mask. We hope for the day when peace will roll like the waters in the ocean, but as of today we avoid stoking the fire of division, strife, and enmity. We hold with tenacity the confession of our hope because the one who has promised us a better world is a faithful God.
Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some. There are two words we need to look at closely. The first one is the word “consider,” in “Let us consider.” To consider means, “to think together about something.” Christians should brainstorm together the issues we are commanded here to do. And these issues include ways to express the love of Christ and good deeds. What we have here is a call to every member of the church to come together and think around the issue of how to effectively demonstrate the love of Christ to one another and to the world. The second issue to brainstorm about is how to carry out good deeds in the name of Christ, both within the fellowship and towards the outside community. These might seem matters relegated to the pastor or the church leaders, but here it is a call to every member of the fellowship. It is no wonder why the language used in this command is quite strong and which leads us to the other word: provoke. This word is commonly used in a negative sense. The Greek word paroxysmos can also be translated “to pester,” “to irritate,” or “to nag someone.” Therefore, what this commandment tells us is that we should actively and continually be thinking and finding ways in which we as a church can demonstrate Christ’s love and be of service to each other and the outside world. We must irritate and nag each other to engage in this brainstorming.
It makes me wonder why some people seem to have stopped meeting in the fellowship of the letter to Hebrews. This verse ends saying that some have even fallen into the habit of not meeting at all. It could be that those who had developed the habit of not meeting did not like to be nagged to consider together with other on how to show Christian love or into doing good deeds in the name of Christ. Today we cannot gather in the church, but we gather as the church of Christ. Therefore, let us stay together. Let us brainstorm together. Let us keep finding ways in which we can show the love of Christ to each other and the world. Let us continue counseling with one another on how to serve in the name of Christ.
This last one is not an easy one nor is it something we can do once and for all. It is an ongoing task of the church.
And for that reason, the fourth command is: “Let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Today, more than ever, we need to stand by each other’s side. Or as The Servant Song says, “I will hold the Christ-light for you, in the night-time of your fear.”
We have been and are still going through one of the most challenging times of the church. Who would ever have imagined that there would be something so deadly that chaplains and minister would not be allowed to minister to the sick and dying in hospitals? Who would have ever guessed at the beginning of this year that the church would not be able to meet, and that even if gathered, singing would be highly risky for the health the gathered community? Who would have predicted that Covid-19 would be as divisive as it has become today?
As God’s people, holy and beloved by the Lord, it is our duty to encourage one another and even more so that a day is approaching when we will be judged not by what we believed, but on the things we did.
The Letter to the Hebrews calls us to do four things:
- Approach God in reverent trust.
- Hold with resolve the hope we have been given, because the one who made the promise if faithful.
- Constantly seek concrete ways to show love and to serve in the name of the Lord.
- And fourth, encourage one another, especially when the journey becomes more difficult.
 Richard Hillard. The Servant Song. Maranatha! Music. 1986