Text: Hebrews 4:14-6:3
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
It is altogether fitting that the text shifts from warning against falling away, to the piercing power of the Word of God, to our Great High Priest Jesus, for our author has been warning and encouraging his readers to hang on to their faith through a time of great trial lest they should perish. Think about it: They were being told to endure a really horrible time in history, Christians were being burned alive for fun and amusement, and the author is telling the people to endure that rather than turn their backs on God: Yikes!
There is a huge difference between unbelief, turning our backs on God and making an error or committing a sin. The error part, the sin part is not a problem, for we have a great High Priest. Since Jesus, our “big brother” has ascended into heaven where He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with God, we must, and we can hold onto our faith. Jesus, who makes intercession for us with God, has endured every temptation; He knows what it’s like to be a weak human, so He will understand and intercede for us.
Do you see how encouraging this must have been for those brothers and sisters who first heard it? Isn’t it pretty encouraging for us now? Do I hear an “Amen”?
With this in mind, the next step is to approach the throne of grace with confidence. Why? Because we know who our High Priest is, there is nothing to fear… We can remain in our faith and seek forgiveness when we fall short; there is no need to give up and turn our backs on God, thinking that our case is hopeless, for Jesus is in our corner.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Well now, isn’t this an interesting thing to say? Let’s bear in mind that our author has been talking about Jesus as our great high priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, but he hasn’t discussed Melchizedek yet, he’s only made a reference to him. He has teased us with a contrast between the Old and New Covenant priesthood, and by extension the very nature of the two covenants, and then he diverts his discussion here and gets into the issue of maturity. I really hope that we can avoid the temptation to think that his readers must be very much the immature ones; that we are somehow in a better position spiritually than they were. If the truth were really to be told, we are not much different today; in fact we might just be worse off than they were.
I hope, dear reader that anyone who has the courage to keep reading, will take this as an opportunity for some serious reflection and self-examination, as I am doing as I write this; it is a serious matter.
The author is speaking about the process of spiritual maturity as a life-long journey, a journey of growth and attainment of maturity. Think of it this way, how long have we gone on with the attitude that when we reach out to those people who are living without a relationship with Christ, and when they agree to receive His grace and become a “new” Christian, our job is done? The reality of the situation is that our job has only just begun! How many of us have been Christians for a lifetime, but are still “infants” spiritually… yet think we are mature because we can recite scripture and answer trivia questions? How many of us are still growing in our relationships with Christ, versus thinking we need not grow further? Consider our text: “by this time you ought to be teachers” but “you need someone to teach you…” I can attest to the fact, that this is a typical condition in the church today. Notice that there is linkage between “elementary truths of God’s word” and a baby’s milk. Here the author is using infancy and adulthood as a metaphor for spiritual growth, particularly in relation to the respective diets of the two; “milk” as opposed to “solid food.”
Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.
For me, this little bit of text always brings bit of a shock, for we see that the things we almost always talk about are the “elementary teachings,” the “milk” but not the “solid food” of maturity at all! Let’s take a closer look:
“…not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…” This is something we need to see in a different way, for it isn’t maturity in Christ. What is this “foundation” for repentance from sins and faith in God? Think…
It is the cross. All of us take everything back to the cross, and properly so, but we normally do that as if the cross was the end, but it is not the end; the cross is the beginning of the story. Yes, it’s true, as awe-inspiring, wonderful and amazing as it is in its fullness and mercy and love, the cross is the beginning, not the end of maturity. “Cleansing rites” for us today would be in the same category as rituals, ceremonies, styles of worship and so forth. These things are elementary, “young” and baby milk things, not the sort of things that the mature in the faith are much concerned with. “Laying on of hands” and other spiritual gifts are wonderful, but elementary. Resurrection, eternal life, and judgment are at the beginning of the process, wonderful promises, and highly instructive at an early stage of growth, but they are not in and of themselves maturity in Christ. Can you see why I said that these are things we always talk about? Yet, they are milk, not solid food for adults; God permitting, we will move on from these things.
Before I close out this section, let’s pause and take stock. Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians in Rome who are being persecuted by the Emperor Nero, one of history’s most notorious criminals. The author is writing this to encourage them, to instruct them and to hopefully energize them so that they do not give up their faith in the stress of persecution. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to suggest that their “elementary” spiritual development might be the cause of their temptation to drift away? I hope that we too, will reflect on this.