Devotional Reading: Galatians 3: 6-14
Lesson Scripture: Hebrews 10: 19-31
Lesson Aims: To recognize the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus, to become bold(er) in our faith, to endure together, and to understand that faith alone in Christ saves.
Background: The first Sunday in September ushers in the new International Sunday School year. The four quarters promise to ignite our intellect, to warm our hearts, to deepen our commitment and to transform us into better representatives of His love. “A Living Faith” is the theme for the Fall Quarter. the Scripture focus is Hebrews, I Corinthians 13 and Acts. The author of the book is unknown. For a little more than a 1,000 years, Paul was thought to have penned it. However, as early as the Second Century CE, “Origin and Tertullian, African Church fathers, questioned this notion suggesting that Barnabas, Apollos, or Priscilla wrote it (Zondervan’s Study Bible and Harper Collins Study Bible).”
It is quite evident that the author was well acquainted with the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) because of the many quotes used in the text. Hebrews begins more like a sermon but it ends like a letter. Written to Jewish converts, the book argues the absolute supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ and says that through faith alone, believers have direct access to God.
Jewish Christians not only faced harsh treatment from the Romans, but Jewish authorities challenged them as well. The Jews felt that they were heretics (against correct doctrine) whose actions had to be limited. What kinds of actions did the authorities take? First, they used mob persecution that could result in near death. See Acts 7:54-60 as an example. Only the Romans could impose the death penalty. Second, the converts could be flogged 39 times. Forty lashes was considered abuse (II Corinthians 11:24). The Jewish authorities could petition the Romans to arrest the converts and force them out of town (Acts 16:39). Finally, the leaders of synagogues could ostracize the converts from all religious, social and economic ties with Jews (John 12:42). All of the actions mentioned came from the NIV Standard Lesson Commentary. We know what the Romans did to all Christians during this time. Simply put, believing in Christ carried serious consequences, death was only one of them.
Lesson: This is the climate that the Jewish Christians are facing when Hebrews is written. The pressure to go back to Judaism is very real. They are urged to rely on their faith in Jesus as their Savior instead of insufficient animal sacrifices. The writer uses elements of Jewish worship to drive home the idea of Jesus’ supremacy and sufficiency. In your study Bible, the footnotes explain the Most Holy Place, the curtain, and the great priest. As believers, they can go directly to God because of Jesus! Their hearts have been cleansed, allowing then to be in relationship with God. Their lives have become different because whether Jew or Gentile, God loves them all and they should act like it! Jesus’ actions alone made them holy and righteous in God’s eyes. Therefore, they must encourage each other and follow the path set by Jesus.
The Jewish converts are looking for an easy way out! They are warned not to defect (apostasy) or return to the “shadows of the truth” (Old Testament rituals) because there is no sacrifice for willful sin. In the face of persecution, economic loss and death, they are encouraged to hold fast and stand up for their beliefs.
Application: Are you a fair weather Christian? If so, Hebrews suggests that believers stay the course. Don’t go along to get along! Our faith will be tested. If you turn back because it gets rough, you’re not following Jesus’ path. Believers must endure to the end. We are to encourage one another by our testimonies, assembling together and the way we treat each other. Believers are to endure no matter what! Are you on the side of Jesus? Be sure of your beliefs and stay the course!