This week’s Come, Follow Me lesson focuses on Hebrews 1-6. We’re not 100% sure of precisely who wrote this epistle to the Hebrews, but even if the title didn’t give away who its intended audience is, the writing style ought to — just like the Book of Matthew, it’s written like a legal treatise, with frequent references to Mosaic law, traditions, and history. As such, it can present some difficulty to a modern reader. But for those willing to make the effort, this epistle is a treasure of wisdom and learning.
In my own reading, I found two different sections that seemed especially noteworthy. I bounced between which of them to write about for today when it came to me: why not both?
Both it is.
A Stinging Rebuke
Hebrews 5 contains a rebuke that leaves a mark even today:
Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing.
For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.
For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.
But strong meat belongeth to them that are full of age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.(Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis added)
Let’s dive in.
The “of whom” mentioned in verse 14 is Christ Himself; the author here is telling the Hebrews there are more things he wishes to teach them about Jesus, but they are currently unable to understand them. Why? Paul gives us that answer in his first letter to the Corinthians:
But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14)
The Hebrews may have had extensive knowledge of the Law of Moses and the history of their people, but they were still spiritual babes. There is a heart-and-mind equation that must be in effect before one can truly receive the things of the Spirit of God (see D&C 8:2), and, as a group, they only had the mind half in place; as such, when something came along they were not expecting — in their case, the advent of the Messiah among them — they were utterly unprepared, and even many who believed in Jesus had great difficulty adjusting.
This is where the rebuke comes in: “For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles in the oracles of God…” Ouch. This had been their moment — the gospel was finally to go out to all the world, and who better to teach the Gentiles than the very people who had been chosen by the Lord Himself to bear His name and prepare for His coming? But, as a people, they’d dropped the ball; their preparation time had been used poorly; as such, when their moment arrived, they were just as much in need of instruction as the people whom they were meant to teach.
For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it. (Hebrews 4:2)
How often do we find ourselves in a similar boat? How many times have you or I come to a place in our lives where, if we hadn’t spent so many previous hours slacking off or getting distracted or misplacing our priorities, we might have been a help rather than a hindrance in our present circumstances? How often do we find ourselves desperately trying to catch up on things we ought to already have learned or done? I can’t speak for you, but I know that for me, the answer is “far too many.” Do not scorn the Hebrews for falling into a temptation “such as is common to man” (1 Cor. 10:13); rather, resolve to learn from their mistakes.
We Messed Up; Now What?
It’s helpful sometimes to remember that, when the books of scripture were written, they were not divided into chapter and verse; it was done after, for ease of reference. Reading Hebrews that way, you can see that immediately after the author delivers his rebuke, he offers the hand of reconciliation and forgiveness: “let us go on unto perfection,” (Hebrews 6:1), he says, based on the doctrines of the new law, and not the old.
“Sure, great,” you might say, “perfection. How?” Let’s backtrack a bit and have a look in chapter four:
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.
Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.
Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.
For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:12-16)
We begin with a passage of scripture that is quoted, at least in part, multiple times in the Doctrine and Covenants (so we know it’s important), and here we have it in its full context. So what does it mean? In simple terms, the author of this epistle is stating the Word of God is absolutely unparalleled in cutting through the bull — it cleanly separates the thing covered from the thing covering it. In other words, nothing is hidden from God. Nothing. Not even the thoughts and intents of our hearts, which sometimes we ourselves have difficulty truly discerning. Moreover, “all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.”
“With whom we have to do,” not “with whom we may wish to do at our discretion” — not only is nothing hidden from God, there is also no escaping Him. One way or another, we will each face Him; we can choose to do so now, or we can be compelled to do so later, but there is no getting around this simple fact.
Having established the ubiquity and inevitability of God, the author draws our attention to our Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ. He is our high priest, which means He has authority over us. But He is not the sort of authority figure who is out of touch, aloof, or above it all. No, He is “not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin.” It may be tempting (ha!) to hedge here a bit: “Yeah, yeah, but if He never sinned, how can He truly understand what I’m going through?” C.S. Lewis summed up the counterargument to that line of thought nicely:
Moreover, we must not forget that in His matchless and infinite Atonement, Christ did feel the consequences of our sins. All of them. So it is then safe to say that He knows more about sin than any one of us ever can or will.
And so, after establishing these two givens about God the Father and Jesus Christ, the author then extends us an invitation: “Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” Not arrogantly, for we know Whose throne that is, but boldly because we have nothing to hide from Him — indeed, there is nothing we can hide from Him, and for the humble seeker of grace and mercy, this is a most liberating truth. There is nothing you can have done that will shock Him or make Him send you away in disgust. There is no weakness you have that will surprise Him. He has a remedy, a plan of action, to cleanse you of sin and strengthen your weak points. Some adjustments will take more time than others; some will hurt more than others. As Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed:
All must know that feeling which is associated with a broken heart and a contrite spirit—by which we are cleansed by the hot, holy fire of a special shame, so that we might, thereafter, have a more pure love and a greater capacity to serve both God and man. Hearts “set so much upon the things of this world” are hearts so set they must first be broken.
No matter how badly we’ve dropped the ball, there is still hope for us. There is grace and mercy to help set right what we’ve allowed or even encouraged to go wrong. Our Father and our Savior are ever mindful of us, and are ready and eager to help us in whatever ways we might need; we just have to humbly, boldly, begin to move toward Them. In so doing, we drink our milk, that we may yet someday be able to handle the strong meat of “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.“
- Come, Follow Me – For Individuals and Families: New Testament 2019: November 4-10.
- “Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer” -Elder Richard G. Scott, April 1997
- “The Atonement of Jesus Christ” – Tad R. Callister, April 2019
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