The letter to the Hebrews is more appropriately called the sermon to the Hebrews. Its writer would be better termed a preacher. He writes, “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly” (Hebrews 13:22). The act of exhortation has an aim of persuasion and motivation. So, what is the preacher of this sermon exhorting us to do? He is challenging us to worship, pure and simple.
The book of Hebrews is an exhortation to a deep, abiding worship of the Living God, in and through Jesus Christ.
The sermon is written to all baptized Christians. The exhortation is to go deeper and become more intimate with the Living God. The preacher’s concern is that the pain and trials common to Christians who live in a fallen world would tempt faithful members to shrink back from a vibrant faith and warm communion with the Living God.
The antidote to falling away is drawing near.
Not only is the letter to the Hebrews to be read and contemplated as a sermon delivered within the context of a Christian worship service, but it is also primarily a sermon about the context of Christian worship. More than any other book of the New Testament, the sermon teaches, encourages, and challenges the Christian to worship in the form and way the Living God desires to be worshiped.
For us, as followers of Christ in the twenty-first century, the challenge of this exhortation could not be more relevant. You and I live in a day when the baptized have become complacent in their relationship with God. Many have fallen out of the habit of regular participation in the corporate assemblies of the church.
Worship attendance has fallen in the developed world to all-time lows. On average, only 17.7% of the U.S. population is worshiping the Lord in the context of a Christian church on any given Sunday. (1) The typical church membership rolls are double the average Sunday attendance—only half of baptized church members are engaged in worship on the Lord’s Day. (2)
As I’ve discussed these trends with pastors of various denominations nationally, I’ve learned that it has become the norm—pastors around the country are seeing their congregations worship the Lord in community much less frequently than once a week. The drift is moving from every other week to once a month to once a quarter to twice a year. I have heard more than one pastor say, “My congregation is a different group of people every Sunday.”
The sad reality is that the hearts of the people of God are growing hard to the Word of the Lord. Zeal for the Lord is waning. It is to this very crisis of a lack of zeal that the sermon to the Hebrews speaks. Let us hear again, then, the brief word of exhortation of the preacher:
Be encouraged to fall in love with God in a deeper way. Pay attention, draw near, go deeper.
Worship the Lord in the beauty of his holiness. We are being invited, indeed challenged, to enter in and come closer to the Living God through his Son, Jesus Christ.
I am faithfully yours in Christ Jesus our Lord,
1.David Olsen, The American Church in Crisis, (Gand Rapids, Zondervan, 2008) p.28.
2.Toni Ridgeway, "Statistics Can't Tell the Whole Story When it Comes to Church Attendance", churchleaders.com, Oct. 7, 2013