Big Idea: The antidote to abandoning our faith is riveting our attention on Jesus, because there’s no-one like him.
Have you ever been tempted to walk away from Jesus and from the church?
Maybe you’ve experienced church hurt. In 2004, Ray Ortlund Sr. became the pastor of a 2,500 member church. “A group of people in the church made it their purpose that I would not be their pastor any longer, and they succeeded in their purpose,” Ray said. “It just about took me out.”
Ray and that church split ways in February 2007, after which Ray and his wife Jani “took about a year to try not to die, to pray, and to re-think at a profound level.” Have you ever been through the kind of hurt within a church that you have had to spend a lot of time simply trying not to die, where you’ve had to rethink things at a profound level?
Or maybe you’ve watched someone you trusted fall into sin. I somehow became casual friends with a fairly well-known pastor. We weren’t close friends, but I got to know him a bit. He took us out for lunch once. He led his church to support our church planting ministry. I still remember the Sunday night that I opened a webpage and discovered that he had fallen into sin. Not only had he fallen into sin, but he responded very poorly. I felt sick. I’m not naïve. I know we’re all vulnerable to sin. There’s nobody who is above bringing dishonor to God, but some of us know what it’s like to experience disillusionment after someone we trusted falls into sin.
Or maybe you just feel the pressure from the world. One of my friends is a pastor’s wife. She used to work for an organization you would know. She found it hard to even admit at work that her husband is a pastor because of the questions — even hostility — that this would create. She felt the pressure to not reveal too much about her faith because it might endanger her livelihood. Some of us know what it’s like to feel the pressure to put our faith in Christ on the shelf during the week because of the complexities of following Jesus in a hostile world.
Have you ever been tempted to walk away from Jesus and his church because of hurt, disillusionment, because you’re weary and disappointed with church life, or because it’s just not easy to follow Jesus in a world that’s increasingly hostile to him?
If so, God’s word has something to say that we all need to hear.
Starting today, we’re looking at the book of Hebrews. Hebrews was written to a group of believers who were temped to turn away from Jesus.
There’s a lot we don’t know about this letter. We don’t know who wrote it. We don’t know exactly when it was written, although it seems to have been before 70 A.D. But chapter 10 helps us understand their situation:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. (Hebrews 10:32-34)
They had faced some struggles. It had become hard to follow Jesus. As a result, they were tempted to abandon their faith in Jesus and return to Judaism. They had suffered for their faith, and yet they had stayed faithful.
And yet some of them were starting to waver. They were beginning to wonder if following Jesus is worth it after all. From the warnings in the book, it seems that they were tempted to abandon the faith.
Maybe you can relate. Maybe you are here today, having made a commitment to Jesus in the past, but feeling a little like that commitment is up for grabs now. If that’s not you, it may be at some point in the future. We’re all prone to wander. Nobody is immune.
And so Hebrews has a message that we all need to hear.
Two Truths to Focus Our Attention on Jesus
What’s the antidote to abandoning our faith? Rivet your attention on Jesus.
That’s just what you expected me to say, isn’t it? It sounds like the Sunday school answer. It’s just what you’d think a preacher would say.
But Hebrews doesn’t just give us clichés or easy answers. What it gives us is perhaps the most articulate Greek sentence in all the New Testament with some of the most profound theological truths you will ever encounter. Somebody’s said that this may be the most beautiful sentence in all of Scripture. What we have in the first few verses of Hebrews is packed full of truth, enough that we could spend weeks understanding it.
But this isn’t just a passage to be understood. These are truths to be believed and felt. These truths are meant to not just inform our minds but to capture our hearts. You could live off of these truths for not just the rest of your life but for eternity.
What is it about Jesus that should capture our attention? So many things, but let’s focus on the two main truths that this passage gives us.
First, Jesus is the climax of divine communication (1:1-2a)
How could God ever communicate with us? We’re very limited creatures. I can’t even understand calculus, which some of you understand. How could we ever understand God? God would have to reveal himself to us in ways that we could understand. We depend on divine revelation to even have the first idea of who God is and what he expects from us.
And that’s just what God did. So Hebrews begins: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Hebrews 1:1). What you have there is the entire Old Testament.
- Long ago — God has not been silent. From the beginning of history he has been communicating to us. We don’t have to take educated guesses at who God is. We have a record of God’s revelation going back thousands of years. God is a God who speaks throughout history.
- At many times — God did not just give us a data dump. He revealed himself over time, which is just how we reveal ourselves to each other as we’re building relationships.
- In many ways — God used a variety of forms of revelation. He walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. He appeared in visions and dreams. He sent angels with messages. You even have theophanies, visible appearances of God to humans. You have “exhortations, stories, visions, dreams, mighty acts, breathtaking theophanies, and a still small voice, to name a few” (George Guthrie).
- God spoke to our fathers by the prophets — Here you have the totality of the Hebrew Scriptures, God’s revelation to his people.
What an amazing gift that God hasn’t left us guessing, that God has revealed himself so persistently and so graciously to his people. No wonder the psalmist says:
Your testimonies are wonderful;
therefore my soul keeps them.
The unfolding of your words gives light;
it imparts understanding to the simple.
I open my mouth and pant,
because I long for your commandments.
But all of this is simply the appetizer. The Hebrew Scriptures are the gracious revelation of God to his people, but God has given us something even better. He’s given us Jesus, who is God’s definitive and final revelation. “….but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Hebrews 1:2).
- God didn’t just speak in former days. He speaks in these last days.
- He didn’t just speak to our forefathers. He now speaks to us.
- He doesn’t just speak through the prophets. He’s spoken to us by his Son.
- God has spoken in various ways, but he has spoken to us definitively in Jesus.
Do you want to understand who God is and what he wants from us? Look at Jesus. The person of Jesus, the words of Jesus, and the acts of Jesus communicate God’s ultimate word to his people.
Friends, if you ever start to waver, look at Jesus. Don’t look at the clichéd Jesus but the real Jesus revealed in Scripture. We need the real Jesus. Look at his willingness to come to earth and become one of us. Look at his words: words that call us back to him, words that attract the weary and downtrodden but warn those who peddle false religion. Look at his tender heart of compassion. Look at his love, love that serves, love that gives up his life to save us. Look at his triumph over sin and death, his victory that is also the victory of all those who trust him.
There is no-one more compelling than Jesus. And Jesus shows us what God is like. He is the climax of divine revelation, so rivet your attention on him.
What in particular should rivet our attention? Here’s the second main truth of these first few verses, and it gives us the reason why we should rivet our attention on Jesus:
Second, Jesus is above all in terms of who he is, what he’s done, and where he ranks (1:2b-4)
There’s so much in verses 2 to 4 that we need to come back to it next week:
…but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Who is Jesus? He is heir of all things. He is One through whom God created the world. He is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact imprint of his nature.
What has he done? At this very moment, he is upholding the universe by the word of his power. The two trillion galaxies in the observable universe? He’s upholding them all by the word of his power. Not only this but he became one of us and made purification for your sins. The Creator of this universe has personally intervened and died for your sins.
Why is his current status? He is sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on high. He is reigning over history. Angels bow before him. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.
Friends, there is nobody like him. He is incomparable. We dare not minimize him, package him, ignore him, use him, exploit him, or stereotype him. But we can worship him. We can rivet our attention on him and build our entire lives around him.
I want to tell you what I want my whole ministry to be about: riveting our attention on Jesus. It’s what I want to do week after week after week. If you ever ask me what my sermon is about next week, I want to be able to say, at some level, “Jesus.” I never want us never to get tired of him. I want to look at him with you over and over again. I want all of Jesus for all of life. I want to keep looking at him with you until we become more like him.
It’s what we need most. I need it and you need it. It’s what we’re all about as a church: beholding the glory of God in the face of Jesus who is the source of all joy and life.
And that’s what I want to ask you to do today. Friends, we’re all in danger of wandering from Jesus. We’re all prone to wander.
Church will let you down. So when the church falls short, look to the head of the church who will never let you down. Focus your attention on him.
People will let you down. Keep loving people. Don’t become cynical about people. But also don’t put your faith in people. Put your trust in the only person who’s ever lived who will never let you down. Look to him.
The world will try to draw you away from Jesus, so keep looking to the One who endured opposition, who has triumphed over evil, and is seated in a place of authority over everyone and everything. Look beyond this world to the one who rules over the world and all things.
The church will let you down. People will let you down. This world will try to pull you away from following him. What’s the antidote to abandoning our faith? The antidote to abandoning our faith is riveting our attention on Jesus, because there’s no-one like him.
Father, at the start of this message I said that these are not just truths to understand but truths to be felt and enjoyed. So I pray that you would rivet our attention on Jesus, not just today but for as long as we live and into eternity. Fix our eyes on Jesus. In his name we pray. Amen.