During the passion week leading to Easter we often hear a phrase coined by famed African-American Baptist Pastor S. M. Lockridge (1913-2000)—”It’s Friday but Sunday’s comin’!” (recitation here). We can never forget Good Friday and Easter, the Cross and the Empty Tomb! Jesus’ Easter victory proves that Jesus’ apparent defeat on Good Friday was not real. His death and resurrection are at the heart of the gospel (1 Cor 15:1-8). We’ve written previously about the power of the cross in our lives here.
During the seven weeks of the Easter Season that lead to Pentecost (June 5, 2022), we also need to remember that every day is Friday for us. Like Jesus, we must bear the cross before we wear the crown, and that won’t happen until Jesus comes back to the earth (Matt 16:24-28//Mark 8:34-38//Luke 9:23-27). Until then, Jesus’ faithfulness to his calling spurs us on to fulfill ours. Our previous post considered Jesus’ Seven Last Words from the Cross, what they tell us about Jesus, and what they ask us about ourselves—are we taking up our crosses and following him? In this post we want to engage how Jesus’ story maps out the Good-Friday story of our lives. The book of Hebrews teaches us that we won’t have Easter endurance if we’ve forgotten the faithfulness of Jesus.
We’ve heard many times that God is faithful, and rightly so (e.g. Gen 39:21; Deut 7:9; 1 Kgs 3:6; 1 Chron 16:34; 1 Cor 10:13). Psalm 136 calls on us to affirm the everlasting faithfulness of God of 26 times! We’ve also been told many times that we must be faithful to God (Ps 31:23; Luke 12:42; 16:10-12; 19:17; 1 Cor 4:2; Rev 2:10). But for some reason we don’t hear as much about Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father (2 Tim 2:13; 1 John 1:9; Rev 1:5; 3:14; 19:11). The Gospel of John makes it clear over and over and over again that Jesus constantly obeyed the Father as he completed the work of redemption (John 5:19-20, 30-31, 36, 43; 6:38; 7:16, 28; 8:16, 26, 28-29, 38, 42; 10:17-18, 32, 37; 12:49-50; 14:10, 24, 31; 15:10, 15; 17:4-8, 26; 18:11; 19:30). Have we reflected on Jesus’ faithfulness and what it means for our own faithfulness? The book of Hebrews especially makes this point—Jesus’ faithfulness is the capstone to the entire argument of that book (Heb 2:17; 3:1-6; 12:1-4). The exemplary faithfulness of our Lord compels us his servants to be faithful.
Hebrews: Faithful Jesus, Faithful Us?
Throughout his time on earth Jesus always pleased the Father. His faithfulness brought him through the anguish of Gethsemene and the agony of the cross to his exalted seat at the right hand of God. Let’s follow the teaching of the book of Hebrews about how Jesus’ faithfulness calls us to be faithful. Although it’s often called a letter, Hebrews reads more like a sermon or homily. It is a “word of exhortation,” maybe like the address Paul was asked to bring to the synagogue at Antioch of Pisidia (compare Heb 13:22 to Acts 13:15). We don’t know who wrote this book (maybe Priscilla or Apollos?), when it was written, or which congregation heard it read it first (Rome? cf. Heb 13:24). Whoever they were, they were in trouble. They had reached a crisis point due to persecution. They were weary of the battle and ready to throw in the towel (Heb 10:32-39; 13:1-3). Hebrews warns of spiritual disaster—people were walking away from faithfully following Jesus.
Anyone who has read the book gets its focus on the superiority of Jesus. But Hebrews is a pastoral exhortation, not a seminary textbook on Christology. Understanding and heeding this pastoral message requires us to take a journey down a long and winding road through some difficult terrain. Hebrews is almost as long as Romans and 1 Corinthians, and its argument is complicated. But if we keep a few things in mind, the message is clear and sobering.
Hebrews contains four types of speech, woven together to encourage us to keep on keeping on our discipleship journey:
- Exposition: The author of Hebrews explains how great Jesus is, that he is better than the Old Testament institutions and messengers (Heb 1:5-14; 2:5-3:6; 5:1-10; 7:1-10:18; 11:1-40; 13:1-25).
- Exhortation: The author of Hebrews uses this biblical exposition to urge us us to be faithful to God (Heb 4:11-16; 10:19-25; 12;1-24; 13:1-25)
- Admonition: The author of Hebrews warns us of the terrible consequences that will come if we do not obey the exhortations (Heb 2:1-4; 3:12-4:13; 5:11-6:8; 10:26-31; 12:25-29).
- Comfort: The author of Hebrews reassures us that there is hope despite all our difficulties, if we continue to follow Jesus (Heb 4:14-16; 6:9-20; 10:32-39).
- If Jesus is the Son who is ultimate messenger/message of God, our faithful high priest of the New Covenant,
- and if God punished unfaithfulness in the former days of partial revelation through the prophets,
- then how much more severely will unfaithfulness be punished now that God’s ultimate message has been made clear?
The outline below is one way of seeing the message of Hebrews at a glance—Jesus >. Jesus is superior to the good system God set in place in the Old Testament, and he is superior to the faithful servants of God who lived during those days.
Running the Race with Easter Endurance
As the book draws closer to its end, Hebrews 11 reminds us of the fidelity of past heroes and heroines. These great saints embody the truth of Habakkuk 2:4 (cited in 10:38), that God’s righteous people live by faith(fulness). This “Hall of Faithfulness” brings us to Hebrews 12:1, which refers to the faithful people of chapter 11 as a great cloud of witnesses that surround us. Although we can imagine a scene in which God’s saints in the grandstand cheer us along as we compete on the field, it’s not about us! The point of the passage is just the opposite. God’s past saints aren’t our fans, we are theirs! It’s not that they are watching us, we should be watching them! Their faithfulness testifies to us. If they could do it, so can we!
There’s more. We have an even great testimony to the life of faith. Jesus is the greatest possible witness to a life of fidelity to God (Heb 12:1-2; cf. 1 Tim 5:13; Rev 1:5). He is both founding pioneer and finishing perfecter of our faith. As we run the race of life, our gaze can never divert from faithful Jesus. None of us has ever gone through anything remotely approaching what Jesus went through for us. If our high priest could endure the punishment of the cross, we can endure whatever comes our way.
Have we forgotten the faithfulness of Jesus? Our recent Easter celebrations reminded us that after he endured the agony of the cross, Jesus was exalted to God’s right hand. As our enthroned champion, his faithfulness inspires and empowers us for the journey-race that is before us. He has already done everything he asks us to do:
- Life is stewardship. Jesus’ faithfulness to the Father summons us to use our gifts and opportunities everyday of our lives (Heb 2:17; 3:2, 6; 10:23; 11:11).
- Life has choices. Jesus’ obedience calls us to do what’s right, no matter the consequences (Heb 2:7; 5:8-9; 11:8; 13:17; cf. John 15:10).
- Life is a race. Jesus’ endurance blazes the trail that we follow in his steps (Heb 10:32, 36; 11:27; 12:1-3; 13:3).
- Life hurts. Jesus’ suffering shows us how to live when life seems unbearable (Heb 2:9-10, 18; 5:8; 10:32; 12:2; 13:12)
Jesus’ example, coupled with the Spirit’s enablement and the encouragement of the Scriptures, equips us to handle anything that God permits to come our way. This is the endurance that comes only from Easter. May we never forget the faithfulness of Jesus!
Go here for an 8-part series on Hebrews by Pastor Derwin Gray.
Go here for the music video “Faithful God” by I AM THEY.
Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house” [Numbers 12:7], bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. (Hebrews 3:1-6 NIV)