Persecution, suffering, and trials take their toll upon believers. Christians under the harsh, brutal treatment of Islamic terrorists feel a weight that few of us can imagine. The loneliness of a prison cell in Iran or North Korea battles to rob the disciple of the sweet sensible presence of Christ. Believers walking through constant pain due to accident or disease, with no tangible hope of improvement, struggle to know how to keep going with radiance and joy. How do you encourage believers facing persecution and trials? Would you tell them to “buck up,” “put your best foot forward,” “make the best of it,” “try, try, again?” Obviously, those kinds of trivial cliches would be no help at all. Plus, they would be devoid of the gospel of Christ.
Few books in Holy Scripture address this subject more beautifully and clearly than the Epistle to the Hebrews. As the recipients had endured imprisonment, confiscation of their worldly goods, and public humiliation (Heb 10:32–34) during the persecution instigated by Roman Emperor Claudius in A.D. 49, they needed help in knowing how to keep persevering. While the persecution was not constant, it did flare up periodically. As the writer of Hebrews addressed these disciples of Jesus, once again persecution and suffering sparked in the Roman Empire under the madman Nero. So how would this tender, wise pastor instruct and encourage the church to endure? What we don’t find is a legalistic hammer or the use of guilt to manipulate a response. Instead, he writes of the supremacy and sufficiency of Jesus Christ. Here’s what we discover throughout the letter: if you want to press on in the Christian life in the face of the most difficult odds, then immerse your thoughts in Jesus Christ. See Jesus Christ for who he is and grapple with what he has accomplished. You will find yourself strengthened, directed, and nurtured.
Motivating Christians to Endure
Throughout the epistle this same message rings true. For instance, “We must pay closer attention to what we have heard” (2:1). “But we do see Him who was made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone” (2:9). “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession” (4:14). “Fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:2-3) [Italics added for emphasis]. In every case of motivation, exhortation, and instruction, these believers are first given a clear view of Jesus Christ in his person and work, then the exhortation is set forth.
That brings us back to the present day church—whether in a persecution setting or one in which suffering due to the fall regularly brings members of the body into the harsh face of trials. Some run to self-help books to find a way to endure. Others offer so-called “Christian” trinkets as warm-fuzzies for such times. But is that the way for Christians to continue joyfully in the faith despite the onslaught of adversities? Not at all.
Understanding the Person and Work of Christ
One of the major issues facing the church today is a growing lack of understanding who Jesus Christ is. Instead, many clamor for an array of applications to provide relief in strain detached from the foundation in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Such an error can lead to legalism, deception, and frustration with Christianity.
In addition to this, novel ideas are passed along concerning Christ: ideas that have no foundation in the Scripture. Athanasius, the 4th century church father, taught that a false doctrine concerning the person of Christ would inevitably lead to a false doctrine concerning the work of Christ. So that begs our attention to know the Christ revealed in Scripture. An improper understanding and view of Christ’s person and work undermines the entire message of the gospel.
Spiritual growth and Christian discipleship has its basis in a proper view of Christ. As Scottish pastor Eric Alexander has stated, “True worship derives from a proper view of God’s glorious atoning grace in Christ. The more superficial we are in dealing with this the more superficial our worship.” In other words, everything goes back to our view of Jesus Christ—who He is and what He has done in His redemptive work!
Do you see Jesus Christ as He is revealed in Scripture? We do so by regularly and prayerfully reading the Scripture, seeing how the Old Testament writers foretold of Christ, prefigured Him, or pointed to Him. We see how the New Testament writers weave together enough details concerning Jesus Christ that a thousand lifetimes could not fathom!
Help from Confessions
We can also find good help to understand Jesus Christ through studying confessions of faith that shrink together the essence of biblical revelation into meaty, memorable statements. The Second London Confession of 1689, for example, helps us to meditate on Christ in His person and work. Notice just one of the ten paragraphs under the chapter “Christ the Mediator.”
Second London Confession 8.8: “To all those for whom Christ hath obtained eternal redemption, he doth certainly and effectually apply and communicate the same, making intercession for them; uniting them to himself by his Spirit, revealing unto them, in and by the Word, the mystery of salvation, persuading them to believe and obey, governing their hearts by his Word and Spirit, and overcoming all their enemies by his almighty power and wisdom, in such manner and ways as are most consonant to his wonderful and unsearchable dispensation; and all of free and absolute grace, without any condition foreseen in them to procure it.”
Some thoughtful meditation on each phrase will spur the heart to cling to Christ and no other, especially in the most difficult times of life. So let us set find our comfort in Jesus Christ in His person and work. And let us faithfully comfort others by holding forth to them this majestic Prophet, Priest, and King—our Lord Jesus Christ.
I hope that you will consider with me the majestic Christ as we contemplate Him as our Mediator when we gather for the National Founders Conference in Charleston, SC, October 16–18, 2014.
Please join us at the 2014 National Founders Conference!
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