Merry Christmas! As our writer finishes up his letter to the Hebrews (10:19-13:25), he ends with many exhortations to remain faithful to Christ and the grace of the gospel. Like Paul, his letter began with theology and ends with the practical. Knowledge of God is never enough. It must change our lives.
The big theme in these chapters is “enduring faith” when we are persecuted, when we are disciplined by God as a father disciplines his children, when we are called to do difficult things in obedience to His word, and in the face of the influences of an ungodly culture.
To encourage us, we read the names of the “Faith Hall of Fame” in chapter 11, and are reminded that “all these people were still living by faith when they died,” and that “they did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” (11:13) Sometimes we won’t see the results of our prayers, or the fulfillment of God’s promises until we meet Him in heaven. We, however, are blessed, in that we are living on the other side of the cross. Just as we celebrate today, Jesus HAS come!
One passage struck me as the writer’s way of giving us a healthy dose of reality if we’re serious about maintaining an enduring faith and persevering to the end. In the last few years, I’ve met many Christ-followers who have abandoned the local church in favor of “doing church” their own way. There are many reasons. Some have been hurt by a church. Some moved to a different place and “haven’t been able to find a church they like.” Some don’t like the decisions made, so they left, but are “still searching.” Some simply believe it’s not necessary to be connected to a local body and they can worship God in their own way.
The writer of Hebrews dispels all our excuses for avoiding church while still professing our allegiance to Christ. He reminds us that Christ Himself, His physical body, is the veil that was torn on the day of crucifixion to open the way into the Holy of Holies, the presence of God. He died so that we could worship God. He tells us to “draw near to God” to “hold unswervingly to the hope we profess,” to “encourage one another” and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds.”
Then he steps on our toes and gets into our business. He tells us we are NOT to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” Christ died to create the body of Christ. He established the local church as a way to reveal His manifold wisdom to the spiritual and physical world. (Ephesians 3:1-12; Colossians 1:24-29) As we come together as a local church, we are testifying to the world what Christ accomplished in salvation. Our spiritual life as a local body of believers becomes a beautiful illustration to the physical world.
Maybe this Christmas our gift to Jesus can be to renew our love for the local church. How sad it must make the Father to see His children separated, divided. Staying away from one another over things that don’t matter. Yes, there are instances when we must step away from a church for good reason, but that should not be our pattern of life. We should find a solid, biblically sound local group of believers and serve and worship together. It is honoring to our Lord, and it is vital if we intend to endure till the end. We won’t make it on our own.