Do Not Go Back! Hebrews 3
As we look into Hebrews 3, keep in mind that a major point of the author is the supremacy of Christ in all things. When the author draws up various quotes and references to the Old Testament, the intent is to contrast how those events and people pale in comparison to Jesus. This applies even to Moses, who is referred to positively throughout the chapter. Even his faithfulness (v. 2) is not as glorious as the faithfulness of Jesus.
The look at Moses is not just about the supremacy of Christ, but also raises the critical application question. The people who followed Moses rejected God's Word through him, and judgment fell on them for it. If that was true of those who rejected a lesser leader in Moses, what will occur for those who reject Christ?
From this, I think we can develop one part of the audience of Hebrews. Initially, we see the Gospel spread among the Jews of the Diaspora (these are the ones who have scattered from Israel at the time) with uneven after-effects. Some communities rejected the Gospel outright, while others became divided over their response. The division between those who accepted the Gospel and those who rejected it grew deeper, though, and reconciliation was not possible. Truth is a powerful divider.
However, living with that division was not as easy as we might like it to be. Much of the world is relational and interconnected in ways that modern Americans have difficulty understanding. While we are concerned, rightly, about how religious freedom affects our businesses or government involvement, in that era being cutoff from family and relationships was a much bigger issue than we think. It could result not only in job loss, but in the complete inability to find work...or future relationships. We tend to marry based on who we find or like, and having an arranged marriage is frightening. In that era, though, being cast out of family cut off the marriage arrangement possibilities, and that cut off could prevent job hopes as well.
Experiencing that challenge, the loss of life and earthly relationships, was a daunting prospect for those who had accepted the Gospel. While there was an eternal hope, trying to keep food on the table and family connections drew eyes back to the earthly matters. The temptation to return to the life from before, living like Jesus wasn't the Messiah, was strong.
Hebrews 3 reminded the audience that God's people had turned back before. They had come close to receiving God's promises through obedient faith, but rejected the last step. Given Jesus as superior to Moses, if the people rejected Jesus the results would be far worse than dying in the desert while their descendants claimed the promises. Instead, there would be no hope for those who turned back.
What does that mean for us? We do not live in the ancient world, and the cultural changes insulate us from some of the consequences of our faith. Further, the Christian community is larger and equipped to be self-sustaining.
That is our first step. Practice being self-sustaining, and realize that we cannot keep up with the world's standards of wealth and power in the first place. Rather than involving our resources in trying to look like a better version of the world, we need to work on being obedient and sensitive to the needs of our fellow Christians.
Second, be prepared for trouble to come. Jesus promised it and Acts records a sampling of how it happened, and yet we seem to think we will avoid it. Trouble will come for those who follow Jesus. Expect it.
Finally, serve Jesus with all your heart and let the events of this world fall where they will. Hebrews 3 reminds us that obedience strengthens our relationship with God, and this is where our hope lies.