Name Calling (Hebrews 3:1)

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…
(Hebrews 3:1 ESV)

For the first time in the letter, the recipients of Hebrews are addressed personally.

How do you think these people will be described?  What kinds of names do you think they might deserve?

How about backslider?  What could be worse than being labeled such a derogatory name?  But truly, that’s what these men and women were.  We should think that they had relished in knowing that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Jewish Law on their behalf.  He had not stumbled in any point of its demands, surpassing the formal descriptions of God’s requirements, to not murder, honor father and mother, keep the Sabbath, and so forth.  And he fulfilled not just the letter, but the spirit of those commands.  Jesus didn’t just “not murder”, but the Son of Man came that other’s would have life.  This is clearly demonstrated in many of his miracles: producing healing, generating wine for a wedding, releasing (literally) dead men and children from the grave’s lasting grip.  The true meaning of keeping the Sabbath, not just the command of not working, but fulfilling the spirit of the command, giving of life to others, healing in some cases, giving others a pass so they could have a meal they didn’t prepare the night before.  Going beyond the mere statute of honoring his earthly parents, Jesus took every desire of our heavenly Father’s will to the its fullest completion.  He left nothing incomplete in keeping all the commands.  And for those who trusted Jesus’ work for them, he left not a single threat of Law against these men and women.  All the unrelenting demands against them, and their long records of guilt, cancelled by another’s unblemished life.  Jesus’ death, the payment for the penalty of their sins.  Jesus’ life, their positive record of goodness.  And yet, here they were, drifting back to their previous ways of life.  Backsliding, if you will.

Any measure of their faithfulness would reveal a less than desirable level of indifference and apathy towards the precious blood that supposedly was their life.  Any measure whatsoever.  And we’re the same.  Measure the coolness of my heart at any given moment and I’m not sure what you’re going to get.  It’s certainly not a perpetual bonfire of love and worship (yours either).  But were talking about backsliding, right?  Not just moments of hot and cold.  We’re talking about a “grievous return”.  How cool (lukewarm) had their hearts become that they were willing to trade an endless life with the savior for an easier life in the city of Rome.  How spiritually troubled were these men and women?  How troubled are we?

But look for a moment at the name calling.  “Therefore, holy brothers…” For the first time in the letter, these men and women are addressed, and they’re called “holy.”  Do you understand what that means?  Jesus has done something, and declared something…and he’s not taking it back.  He’s not calling them condemned, backslider, phoney, doubter, garbage, cancer, or imposter.  They are weak and sinful, make no doubt about it, but here he is, still calling them holy brothers, holy sisters, and part of his holy family.  And as part of the family, they are heirs of his kingdom, sharing in the heavenly calling.  They can take it or leave it, but he gives them an undeserved name and status, and promises a future undeserved home.  They can take it or leave it, but he’s not taking it back.  And that’s the point.  They’re not “holy brothers”.  They’re tempted to throw away all the gifts of salvation given us in the Gospel.  They’ve got their eyes on Rome, not on the heavenly city.  If they continue to walk away, it will end disastrously.  Their end will be destruction.  But it’s not just the threatening of Judgement (which troubles the conscience) that turns a heart back.  Only the freely bestowed gifts of Grace truly changes us (which comforts the troubled).  They are “holy brothers and sisters”, made that way by the work of another.  Beloved backsliders.  Loved, even if they (we) never come back.  How much different are we, who think our hope is secured by what we can do, what we can get, and what we become, when every gift has already been given to us in Christ?

Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession…

Jesus will continue to be there, arms open, full of mercy and the grace needed for every moment.  There’s no need to go anywhere else.  The need is for Jesus…again.  Come, let us return to the Lord.

 

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