No Turning Back
The ascension of Jesus is desperately neglected, largely because of its midweek celebration. The letter to the Hebrews is full of this great truth with its implications for us all. The writer only mentions the resurrection of Jesus in the benediction at the end, but of course the assumption is there throughout the letter. But it is significant that the finality and triumph of our Lord’s ascension dominates this book, going then, and now, to Christians in danger of turning back from open commitment because of hazards on the way.
To be a Jew was to belong to a permitted religion in the day of this letter; to be a Christian Jew was to live in constant danger of rejection. In our age to be religious and graciously tolerant is acceptable, to dare to stand for the truth of the gospel, however graciously done, is to put ourselves in danger of rejection. We too need the courage not to turn back. Hebrews 10:19-25 is a classic passage but it needs to be read with the verses that follow in mind. The chapter ends on a reminder of the awareness of rejecting basics of the Christian faith. There can be no other gospel if this one is despised and the hinge verse is v.25 where the writer exhorts Christians not to give up meeting together, as some were doing, and particularly in the light of the day.
It is quite likely that this has a double meaning. The New Testament always looks on the day as the final day of Jesus whose certainty is underlined by the fact of the ascension. but it may also refer to some day of impending crisis in the world in which these people lived and we could do well to take note of both possibilities. There could be awesome days ahead. The great New Testament doctrine, the priesthood of all believers, must not be lost as we rejoice in the unique priesthood of our Lord. Because of that priesthood we have, as Christians, the most amazing privileges in which we should glory and even, in terms of v.19, boast with confidence. But it should be seen not in some triumphalism of praise but in consistency of Christian living in every circumstance.
For example, it will affect our worship and we shall all of us use the new and living way opened for us at the cost of our Lord’s lifeblood at Calvary in prayer and worship, with great faith but also a constant spirit of penitence as we recollect the price that had to be paid. A similar boldness must be seen in v. 23 in our witness. Whatever the merits of the Decade of Evangelism we should have been emboldened to speak out in loyalty to our Lord. In an age when it is quite permitted to have faith, with the proviso that there is no true or false faith, the Christian who unashamedly believes in the uniqueness of Christ, and what he has done for us, is always going to be an awkward customer. May the Lord give us the courage to be thus awkward in our age. These days we need fellowship in mutual encouragement, prayer and witness. There have always been those who withdraw from this fellowship for various reasons; from ignorance, (thinking that you did not need each other or that Christianity is a private affair without corporate manifestation), or from laziness (opting for a comfortable religion at home). It is easy to be a private Christian behind closed doors. For many people in the world the day has already come and only true believers will stand. Let us prepare while we may for that day and let there be no turning back.
Philip Hacking is Vicar of Fulwood, Sheffield.