Reading between the lines

Don’t give up.

This is the message which starts Hebrews Chapter 2:

This is why it’s necessary for us to pay more attention to what we have heard, or else we may drift away from it. If the message that was spoken by angels was reliable, and every offence and act of disobedience received an appropriate consequence, how will we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? It was first announced through the Lord, and then it was confirmed by those who heard him. God also vouched for their message with signs, amazing things, various miracles, and gifts from the Holy Spirit, which were handed out the way he wanted. Hebrews 2:1-4 CEB

Pay attention, do not drift away, do not neglect your salvation. Why is this the message? If it was written to people who were likely to fall away, what was the cause? This takes some reading between the lines, a look into what was happening at the time Hebrews was written.

What was happening was persecution. If you could be killed, or family members killed, or lose your job because you believed in Jesus wouldn’t returning to where you were before, in the case of these people, to their former Jewish religion? Of course it would, which is why keeping on keeping on is a theme going through Hebrews.

Which is why I am now jumping forwards to Chapter 11. Look at in the context of the reader undergoing persecution. The faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham and Moses is gone into. The people who had faith in God are used as examples. Those who knew the Hebrew scriptures would have understood, though it is harder for those without this background to understand. After all this is a letter to Hebrews. These people were faithful to God and God was faithful to God. All good stuff.

Then it changes:

But others experienced public shame by being taunted and whipped; they were even put in chains and in prison. They were stoned to death, they were cut in two, and they died by being murdered with swords. They went around wearing the skins of sheep and goats, needy, oppressed, and mistreated. The world didn’t deserve them. They wandered around in deserts, mountains, caves, and holes in the ground.

All these people didn’t receive what was promised, though they were given approval for their faith. God provided something better for us so they wouldn’t be made perfect without us. Hebrews 11:36-40

ruined church

How does people being taunted, tortured imprisonned or killed in painful ways help commend Christianity to people? If you are concerned with people not turning away why try to scare them away? The answer only makes sense if the people you are writing to were going through the same things. The writer is saying, “Look, other people have gone through what you are going through, and God commended them.” It’s all part of the keep on keeping on idea from Chapter two.

So if you are having a good life at the moment. There is freedom to worship, people are not denied promotion for being Christian, what does this mean, in this situation these words are hardly comforting. All I can say is, if this is you then it probably wasn’t written for you. But remember that not all Christians have it this cushy.

But things in the world are not easy for Christians like it is in the west, where Christianity has been a dominant force for centuries. According to this article in the Independent last year, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world now, with 80% of all acts of religious intolerance being directed against Christians. It says religious persecution reached a peak in 2012.

What can we do?

We can pray, we can speak out about the suffering church in other countries, we can support organisations like Open Doors, we can follow Canon Andrew White “The Vicar of Baghdad” on Facebook and Twitter and we can pray.

For Syria, Iraq, Egypt, India, China, North Korea, Nigeria and all other places where Christians are persecuted Lord we pray.

40 blogs of Lent day 10

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