Dawn breaks, birds sing sweetly from behind gently rustling leaves, the smell of coffee drifts in from the kitchen and my eyes open as a smile curls my lips. Every hair on my head is still in place and my perfect complexion glows in the morning light. I hear the chef quietly going about the kitchen and remember the breakfast listed on the menu: Swiss-styled breakfast crepe (low fat and sugar free, 100% whole grains). Okay, that was a lovely dream, but back to reality. It’s o’dark thirty and one kid is already screaming because the other one hit him. The baby smells worse than I remember any diaper ever smelling and I don’t smell too great either. I’m hungry, they’re hungry, and I’d just like to crawl back in bed and wait for that chef to bring my breakfast in, but it’s Sunday morning and we all need to get out the door, preferably with smiles on our faces, and at least half a brain cell left so I can teach Bible class. Life gets wearisome, doesn’t it? Or how about the real struggles. Your best friend is staring down the barrel of a divorce, and it doesn’t match with the Bible’s teachings on the subject. You’re the one who, if you love her soul, will have to tell her and risk not only hurting her deeply, but losing her friendship. Life’s choices get hard. Then there’s that Friday night struggle. The girls from work are going out and they’ve asked you to go. It sure would be nice to have some friends to talk with, but their plan is dinner, a raunchy nearly-porn movie and then drinks at the bar. It’s not exactly a night you can see Jesus enjoying with you. So you have to say no, yet again, and be the “stick in the mud,”yet again, and it’s embarrassing. Sometimes it seems like it would be better to just fade into the crowd and save a bit of pain, to compromise and stand out less, to let some bits of truth go and keep relationships intact.
And that’s what the first readers of the book of Hebrews were going through. They were dealing with fatigue and doubt. They were weary of the struggles and wondered if they should just go back to their Jewish faith and Jewish ways. They were suffering, and the surrounding society was against them. I can relate to that; can’t you?
So the Hebrews writer exhorts, encourages and warns them. Argument builds on argument and the reader is left with no excuse, no possible reservation. He explains that this —this last age —is what God planned since before the beginning. It’s what all of God’s very purposeful doings led up to. The writer warns that, in truth, there is nothing else—it’s this Christian life, or it’s the wrath of God; no third choice exists.
More than that, though, and perhaps most importantly, the writer provides encouragement for the race ahead. “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction,”he writes, “but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul”(Hebrews 10:39).
He gives us the Roll Call of the Faithful, reminding us that we are not the first to run this race, but there exists a “great cloud of witnesses surrounding us”(Hebrews 12:1). As I read this passage, chills run and goosebumps prickle me because I can see my predecessors in the stands around me, cheering for me as I run this race that sometimes seems just short of impossible. I may not have a chef to bring me breakfast in bed, and my best friend just might end up hating me right along with the girls at work, but with the encouragement of this cloud of witnesses, I can “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles”and I can “run with endurance the race that is set before [me]”(Hebrews 12:1).
But that isn’t the whole of it. It’s not even the best part. There is One who pursued me from beyond the beyond and He stands at the finish line, cheering louder than all the rest. He knows my suffering, He knows my struggles, and He says I can make it.
With this picture in mind, I find my courage again. The earthly suffering falls away in view of the eternal rest laid up for me. The weariness fades as I recall those who, just as tired as I, pressed on, though their reward was but a shadow of the reward I have promised. The book of Hebrews leaves me chastened, but not bruised. It leaves me warned, and yet encouraged. It leaves me in awe of what Jesus did for me and of the plans laid out before time began. It leaves me energized and charged with a mission.
And so I am partial to the book of Hebrews, and I think once you dig in and plumb some of its depthsyou’ll be partial too. In case dawn comes too early at your house and your chef calls in sick, you might need a bit of encouragement. Hebrews has it for those small things and for the big things too. We have need of confidence and endurance because these have a great reward (Hebrews 10:35, 36). Hebrews has the fuel for your endurance.