Holding onto Stories - Hebrews 3

13But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.  15As it is said,
‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.’
16Now who were they who heard and yet were rebellious?  Was it not all those who left Egypt under the leadership of Moses?  17But with whom was he angry forty years?  Was it not those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, if not to those who were disobedient?
Hebrews 3 (NRSV)

The deceitfulness of sin talks us out of our story.[1]  Sin tells us that God has not been who he indeed has been in our lives. It diminishes his provision and liberation.  It distorts his anger into wrath and stretches his justice into maliciousness. It tells us that we are not who God says we are. It suggests that it is better to remain a slave, where at least there is food.  It compels us to be our own god.[2]  Or it devalues our essence to the point of despair.  It tells us that enemies and neighbors are not who God has made them to be in our lives.  It convinces us that there are legitimate reasons to withhold love from others.[3]  It makes us think that we must be destructively dependent upon leaders or strong-willed friends.  It may even make a god or demon out fellow humans.  It makes us forget our orienting story—the story of our liberation and transformation. 

This is the author of Hebrews’ central message concerning ancient Israel’s wilderness experience—they wandered in the wilderness because they forgot who God was (liberator and provider) and who they were (His set-aside people). They began to refashion their dramatic story in a way that was ultimately a deceit.  The story out of which they were formed was lost to their anxiety, in-fighting, and vanished confidence. 

When modern churches go bad we blame pastors/leaders. We idolize leaders who can get the job done.  There is a wide-spread and sometimes subconscious belief that we, like the rest of the world, must evaluate our leaders on the basis of organizational success. Under that paradigm let’s evaluate Moses:  It took him ten tries to convince Pharaoh to let the people go.  He was a bad public speaker.  He continually had to repeat the most basic of theological lessons and his “congregation” never really got it.  And then, he lost a whole generation of followers in the desert.[4]  Finally, he had to pass the leadership torch on because he was declared unfit to lead the people into the long-looked-for Promised Land.  I doubt he could have published an article in the Leadership Journal.[5]  I can see his Buzzfeed article: 12 Ways to Get Lost in the Wilderness or 9 Miracles to Get You Nowhere

It seems to me that one of the big points here in chapter 3 of Hebrews is that no one got to ride on the coattails of Moses.  He was faithful in all God’s house and yet all God’s house died in the wilderness awaiting a new, believing generation who would grow up under the exact same leadership as the unbelieving generation.  So no matter whom our leader is we can still lose our grip on our formational story.  We too, can reinvent our past in a way that leads to destruction—personal, spiritual, interpersonal, environmental, political, and/or economic destruction.  The way we tell our story has tremendous power.  Did God part the Red Sea to save us or to torture us?[6] Did God lead us to Canaan to establish a society marked by justice and righteousness or to see us squashed by giants?[7] Additionally, how true our story is has only a little to do with our leaders.  We really have to be intentional together in carefully maintaining a God-fashioned re-telling—one might call this, exhortation. 

I drew a hand!
The repeated refrain from Hebrews’ author in this chapter is to hold firm (3:6, 14).  Not to hold firm to your pastor or to Moses or the next-best author, but to the confidence that first transformed you.  The word here translated “confidence” is the Greek word, hypostasis, which is one of the richest theological terms of all-time.[8] It means the quintessential substance of being.  So, we are partners with Christ when we hold firm to the essence of what we experienced in the beginning.  One might call this our story(ies)—which reminds me of one of Moses’ most compelling pieces of instruction:

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children.
Deuteronomy 4 (NRSV)

Let us hold firmly to the real story.  Our story.  Christ’s story.[9]

[1] 3:8-10a reads, “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, as on the day of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors put me to the test, though they had seen my works for forty years” (NRSV).
[2] What did that crafty snake say to Eve, again?
[3] Think about the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).
[4] Pretty sure I’d get the ax just at the mention of, “hey let’s go wander in this desert!”
[5] Never mind that they don’t take submissions in Hieroglyph or Ancient Hebrew.
[6] Numbers 21:5 reads, “and they began to speak against God and Moses. "Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die here in the wilderness?" they complained. "There is nothing to eat here and nothing to drink. And we hate this horrible manna” (NLT)! See also, Ex. 14:11.
[7] See Numbers 13.
[8] It was the basis of the Christological debates in the 4th and 5th centuries.  Generally speaking, it’s the word used to describe the relationship between Christ’s divine and human natures—the essence of his divinity is bound, united with, the essence of his humanity.  So that he at once maintains the experience of Godness and humanness without diluting or confusing either nature.
[9] I ran out of time for writing, but consider verse 13’s instruction that we exhort one another.  It seems to me that one of the key roles of the Christian community is to help one another remember who God is, who we are, and who are neighbors are.  I dare say, that’s a pretty good description what it means to preach—if you ask me.


  1. I will hold onto God's promises! ....and, GREAT hand :-)
    Eager to hear your Sunday message on this topic.


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