Thursday, April 18, 2019

Look for the Helper

I knew a young man who embraced the gospel joyfully (or so it seemed), began to attend church, but then rejected it all when his old friends rejected him. His friends thought he’s gone nuts, especially when they found out what Christianity teaches about sexual morality. Their insults and ridicule were too much for him to bear, and before long he chose his friends’ approval over Christ’s.

It can be difficult to be a Christian when your friends, family, and culture reject you. The temptation to leave the faith because of the suffering that comes from this kind of abuse is real.

The people to whom New Testament book of Hebrews was written had experienced similar suffering, but to an even greater degree. After they “were enlightened,” they had “endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction . . . .” Their possessions were confiscated, too, and some of them were imprisoned (Hebrews 10:32-34 ESV). They were mistreated because of their faith, but unlike the young man I knew, they stayed the course. They could have avoided their trials by walking away from the faith, but instead, they courageously and joyfully chose a path they knew would bring more trials to them.

At the time Hebrews was written, it seems they were facing suffering again, and the author of Hebrews was concerned for them because they “were being tempted to be disloyal to God and give up their Christian profession.” [1] This time around their trials might be even worse. This time, perhaps, a few would be called to lay down their lives for their faith (Hebrews 12:4). Would they all stand firm once more? Or would some of them “drift away” (Hebrews 2:1) when the going got rough?

The author of Hebrew encourages them to withstand this round of suffering by pointing them to Jesus:
For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted (Hebrews 2:18 NASB)
I’ve quoted this verse from NASB because it (along with the NRSV) translates this verse in a way that makes a point that both of the commentaries I consulted [2] also make. The subject of the paragraph this verse is in is Jesus offering himself as a sacrifice for human sin. This verse, then, isn’t focusing on Jesus’s experience of human temptation in general, but rather on the temptations he experienced as he faced the cross.[3] He was tempted to choose an easier path than the “way of suffering and death.”[4]

But he didn’t give into temptation. Jesus was “obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

Those who first received the Epistle of Hebrews could look to Jesus, the founder of their salvation (Hebrews 2:10), as an example of endurance in suffering. But he wasn't simply an example to them. He could help them stay true when they were tempted to turn away from him in order to avoid trials.  Jesus experienced temptation similar to theirs, so he could intercede for them before the Father. “What a source of strength it was to them,” writes F. F. Bruce, “to be assured that in the presence of God they had as their champion and intercessor one who had known similar and even sorer temptations, and had withstood them victoriously.”[5]

Jesus is our intercessor, too. When we are tempted to do whatever it takes to avoid insults and rejection because of what we believe—and at this point in time, that’s probably the worst we’ll have to endure, although I expect thing to get worse in the future—we have a helper who understands how much this kind of suffering hurts. He will come to our aid. Because "He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered," he can help us endure our trials and stay faithful to him.

[1]F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, page 89.
[2]Bruce's commentary, and Thomas R Schreiner, Commentary on Hebrews.
[3]See Matthew 16:23 for a specific example, and also Jesus's experience in Gethsemane.
[4]Bruce, page 89.
[5]Bruce, Page 89.

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