How can we be faithful? How can we help one another? Hebrews 3 addresses these questions. They are as important today as they were in the first century.
The first word in Hebrews 3 is therefore, which means that it is drawing a conclusion based on previous things. Chapter 2 explained that Jesus became a human being so he could save human beings. He is our high priest and intercessor because he was a human. He suffered, so he knows the struggles we go through, and he can sympathize with our weakness. He can help us. He not only atoned for our sins, he is able to help us in our temptations.
Think about Jesus
Based on that foundation, the author writes, "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess" (Heb. 3:1).
Since Jesus is the basis of our salvation and the one who enables it to be applied to our lives, we need to concentrate on Jesus. We need to make sure that nothing distracts us from a focus on Jesus.
This is the only place in the Bible where Jesus is called an apostle. The word means "one who is sent," and Jesus was sent from God to us. He had a message, and we are to pay attention to what he said, but we are also to pay attention to Jesus himself, because he as a person is part of the message of God. His death has meaning for us only because of who he is: the Son of God.
Hebrews is the only book in the Bible that calls Jesus our high priest. As an apostle, he speaks to humanity on behalf of God. As a high priest, he speaks to God on behalf of humanity. He is our mediator, who bridges the gap between us and God. That’s why we need to look to him.
What are we supposed to see in Jesus? Verse 2 tells us: "He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house." The readers respected Moses, so our author is saying, Moses was a really faithful person, but let’s compare Moses with Jesus.
"Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself" (v. 3). Jesus, at the right hand of God, has been given more honor than Moses. "For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything" (v. 4). God made everything through his Son (Heb. 1:2); that in itself gives Jesus more honor than Moses.
Servant or Son?
The author now shifts to a different analogy, the difference between a servant and a son: "Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house, testifying to what would be said in the future" (3:5, quoting from Num. 12:7). Moses was faithful, saying what God wanted him to say, but he was faithful as a servant. The best that he could be, the best that any human being could be, was a faithful servant.
"But Christ," v. 6 says, "is faithful as a son over God’s house. Jesus Christ is in a class by himself. Moses was faithful, but if you look to him as an example of faithfulness, you are looking to an inferior example. Before Jesus, he was the best example available. But now that Jesus has been revealed, we should look to Jesus as our example. Our religious life centers on him, not on Moses.
Then we are told, "And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast" (v. 6b). If we keep our faith in Christ, then it shows that we are his people. This is a general statement; it is not talking about whether a person can leave for a time and then come back to Christ. This verse does not tell us to relax, but to be diligent.
Do not resist
"As the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did’ " (vv. 7-9). This is a quote from Psalm 95, which was apparently read in the synagogues at the start of each Sabbath.
This, like everything else in Scripture, is a message from the Holy Spirit, and it applies today, just as much as it applied when first written, and in the first century. Do we hear his voice today? We should, because he is still speaking in Scripture. Are we listening? Are we willing to do what he says?
Hebrews was written to people who were attracted to Moses. And the author says, That’s not good enough anymore. Someone better has come along, and we need to respond to him. You can’t just keep on doing the same old things you have always done. You have to change.
That is still true. We can’t just keep doing things we have always done. We have to look to Christ, not to traditions. He may want us to do the same things for a long time, and they may become traditional to us, but we can never let those traditions become more central to us than Christ is. We cannot let them become so important to us that we can’t hear him saying, It’s time to change.
When Israel was in the wilderness, they had to listen to what God was saying. They didn’t go to Canaan by the quickest highway, because first they had to learn to trust God. When Christ calls us to follow him, we need to follow. We can’t just pick our own path — and we can’t even stay on the first path he puts us on. We have to continue to follow him. We have to let him change us.
This is what God says about those who resist his will: "I was angry with that generation, and I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.’ So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest’ " (vv. 10-11).
And then he makes the application from ancient Israel to the church of the first century: "See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God" (v. 12). Make sure that you believe in your heart, and that is how you can be faithful. That’s the way to avoid turning away from God. Examine your heart — are you focusing on Jesus?
Encourage one another
How can we be faithfully focusing on Christ? "Encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness" (v. 13). Anything that takes our minds away from Jesus is deceitful. Anything that causes us to tune him out is a sin. Anything that makes us want the old, when we need the new, is a sin. We need to encourage one another to focus on Jesus.
Faithfulness is a community project. God puts us together to help one another. We are to encourage one another in the faith, so that no one drifts away. Our priority is not a style of music, a day of worship or a particular tradition. Our priority is Christ, and we need to help each other remember that, so no one will become tired of hearing about the one who died for us.
"We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first" (v. 14). Our future faithfulness will demonstrate whether we are now sharing in Christ. So hold on tight, and help other people hold on tight. We do that by meeting together and worshiping together, always fixing our thoughts on Jesus.
"As has just been said," verse 15 tells us, "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion." Even today, some people harden their hearts and resist the changes that Christ wants to bring to their lives. The answer now, as it was then, is to fix our thoughts on Jesus, so that we hear what he is saying.
The need for faith
"Who were they who heard and rebelled?" the author asks, and then he answers: "Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?" (v. 16).
"And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the desert?" (v. 17).
"And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?" (v. 18). The people who disobeyed were not allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Why? "Because of their unbelief" (v. 19). They refused to trust God — refused to listen and follow. The same thing was happening in the first century, the book of Hebrews implies. The same thing can happen in any century. If people don’t focus on Christ, they drift away and begin to trust in other things instead of him.
Questions for application
Do the worries of this life take my attention away from Jesus? (v. 1) What can I do today to focus on him?
Do I have courage in Christ, and do I boast in the hope he gives? (v. 6).
Are there any traditions in my life that might make me less responsive to Jesus? (v. 7). What can I do to be more responsive?
Do I encourage others by meeting together? (v. 13).
Am I holding tight to the faith, or is my confidence slipping a bit? (v. 14). Do I have any unbelief that causes sin? (v. 19).