I want you to realize that what I’ve been presenting is not just about understanding the letter of Hebrews, but rather it has everything to do with understanding the Hebrews themselves. And no, this has nothing to do with some form of prejudice like anti-Semitism. For if you understand the Jews in view of their history, then you’re going to understand more about what is often hidden behind the history of your own people … whoever they are. In other words, if you really catch what I’m bringing out in all this, you won’t be able to point your finger at the Jews, as if they had done anything different than you and your own people would have done in their shoes. So, let’s get past that right now, okay?
A good understanding of the Hebrews themselves gives us an across-the-board insight into those who have attempted to bully their way into what God is doing on the earth. I’m not saying that those who do this truly understand that God is actually behind it. No … it’s more about men becoming enamored by the prospect of gaining control of the raw power behind what they cannot understand. All throughout history, people have been drawn to power in hopes of claiming as much of it as they can for themselves. Hey, if you’ve ever wished you could just wave a wand or speak a word in order to bring about a desired result, you should have no difficulty understanding where I’m coming from. Consider something Jesus said in view of this:
Matthew 11:12 From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and violent men take it by force.
If you want, you can do a verse search on theshovel.net and it will pull up an article with a few more comments on this rather confusing statement. Suffice it to say for now, that Jesus was commenting on the agenda of the fleshly religious leaders of Israel in their ongoing attempts to bully their way into this kingdom of heaven as preached by John. They didn’t understand what they saw, but they could tell that it was powerful … and they wanted to ride that wave for however long it might last.
It’s really no different than the violence inherent in the exploitation of any natural resource discovered by man. It could be a gold mine or an oil field. And if it was found on your land, you might not be as fortunate as you might suppose. Why? Because there are those who will stop at nothing in order to gain it or control it. Those who hold out for more than a buyer is willing to pay — especially those who refuse exploitation at any price — are sure to suffer the violence of violent men who won’t take no for an answer. The religious leaders in Jerusalem wanted to tap into that well so as to exploit whatever power might be had. But they ran up against a power they could not, in their wildest imaginations, understand. They hit a roadblock so powerful, they ended up fulfilling the will of God by their evil scheme to stop it. That’s irony for you.
Now, with his outspokenness, John conveniently got himself beheaded, so they didn’t have to worry about him anymore. Then again, John’s huge following had already dwindled down after he began sending them all over to Jesus. So, what were they to do with Jesus? John’s ministry stirred up a massive change of heart among the people; but with Jesus, not only were people being affected as they were with John, constant reports of miraculous events drew religious leaders and wannabes as the proverbial moth to the flame. They sent out people to follow him everywhere he went. At first, they hoped to bring Jesus under their wing, that is, under their authority. But not only did it not work, it also exposed them for the pretenders they really were. So, when they couldn’t control him, they tried to shut him up, and when that didn’t work, they began plotting how to put him to death. And then everything went ballistic when Jesus’ body went missing and he was said to have risen from the dead. And to make matters worse, the weak and leaderless disciples turned into a band of powerhouses who were determined to preach the message of how Israel had killed the deliverer God had sent to them. Their murderous scheme got turned into the core message preached by Peter. And Jews who had come from all over the known world to gather in Jerusalem for the feasts of Passover through Pentecost were buying into this gospel message. And it didn’t take long before insincere people wanted to get in on the act. They wanted to press into it, that is, to take it by force.
Case in point: Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira. I know I’ve already touched on this situation last week, but I want you to not only not be afraid of this Scripture passage, but also to realize the pivotal role this whole scene played out at that time. I want you to not feel a need to side-step this so-called problem passage, as if it should present a reason for you to avoid it, but rather I want you to find confidence in Christ because of it.
First, let’s understand the setting upon which Ananias’ deception reveals not how a believer sets himself up for judgment, but rather how a pretender got himself exposed. In Acts 4:34-35 it states:
For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need.
Simply stated, Ananias was taken by the prospect of gaining a similar reputation among this group of people. To him, laying his generous donation at the apostles’ feet would have appeared as a public display of philanthropy. So, Ananias — with his wife’s full knowledge — sold a piece of land, but only presented a portion of the proceeds, as if it was the full price. There was no requirement for how much Ananias had to give. In fact, Peter made it clear that he didn’t have to give any of it. If you don’t know the story, they both fell down dead when their lie was exposed. You see, Ananias and Sapphira thought the whole thing was just a ruse before a group of men. They had no idea they had tried to deceive God himself, which means they perceived the church as merely a gathering of people … an organization, rather than as a living organism.
Yeah, the Biblical account of Ananias and Sapphira is very important … but not in the way most have heard it taught. It will, of course, be pointed out that “the Bible says” And great fear came over the whole church, and over all who heard of these things. Yeah, we’re supposed to assume that if we hold back on our giving, God may strike us down dead. My friends, don’t let anybody fool you with that deception. Look, if a preacher is trying to pull that one on you, it should be pretty obvious how a motivation to bring in more money might be forcing the twisted interpretation. Now, I’m not saying that it’s not more blessed to give than to receive, but you don’t actually get much blessed giving when you’re afraid of what “the Bible says!”
Of course, the church was shaken by the story as it got passed around, and I’m sure it created a lot of self-evaluation among them. And that would have been a good thing, as any such evaluation would have presented the simple question: Is this thing we are part of simply a gathering of people or is it in fact an organism that lives by the power of the resurrected Jesus Christ?
Listen, what really happened that day was all about God making it known that the gathering of those who had been rescued through the power of Jesus Christ’s resurrection could not be reproduced or fabricated by any attempt of man — because it was a work of God. Notice the actual result of that day’s event. In the next couple verses, the account states:
At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem.
In today’s thinking, we’ve given a rather loose meaning to the word associate, however, the word used here is the Greek word for glue, also meaning, unite. So, I don’t think they were afraid to talk to the believers. I’m pretty sure the thing they dared not do was to act as if they were joined to them. In other words, after what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, those who thought highly of these followers of Jesus weren’t about to make a similar mistake. At least for the time being, posing as a follower of the Messiah was put on hold. Don’t assume, however, that people weren’t still coming to faith in Christ, for the next verse states that “believers were more than ever added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women (Darby)” All to say that if we’re following the story-line, we’ll see it was pretty clear-cut that — for a while — they had no trouble distinguishing between those who believed and those who didn’t.
Okay, so it should be obvious as to why unbelieving Jews — at least, those who may have been trying to blend in among the saints — might have had fear stirred up in the aftermath of the Ananias and Sapphira event. But how would it have affected the church? As stated earlier, there was in fact a great fear that came over the church, but what if the main concern among the believers was not their own confidence in God? What I’m saying is, what if their concerns had been more focused upon those among them who may have been posing? If the Ananias and Sapphira story revealed anything to them, it surely would have accentuated the very real possibility that some of their friends and family were not really of them. In the words of the Hebrews letter, they would have been struck with the truth that: It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God! I know most people assume that statement was written specifically to the believers, but in fact it refers to those Hebrews who were shown to have rejected the once-and-for-all sacrifice of Christ.
Last week, I proposed that the letter of Hebrews was not addressed only to those who were saved, but to those thousands in Israel who had separated themselves from the rest of their people. It was written to the mob, rather than to the many individuals. I’m not suggesting that as individuals it has nothing to say to us, for it most certainly does. It’s just that without considering to whom it was addressed, we end up taking upon ourselves the judgment intended for someone else entirely because of our desire to personalize God’s word to our lives.
The mob: All having come out of their former bondage, but not necessarily all having entered in to God’s rest.
Consider the state of the group of believing Jews in Jerusalem at the time of Paul’s arrival, for these are virtually the same who were addressed in the Hebrews letter. Acts 21:17-22 And don’t forget that despite Paul’s attempts to set the record straight, by telling the story of God’s call upon him, as a group they would have torn him to shreds had it not been for the Roman soldiers who pulled him away from the mob.
After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. And the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” Acts 21:17-22 NASB
Adam, I don’t know about you, but when I read the above description of the thousands among the Jews in Jerusalem who believed, I don’t take a lot of comfort in the phrase “and they are all zealous for the Law.” Now, the apostles gave themselves over to the study of the Scriptures — which included the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets — but the record states that they came out preaching Christ as a result.