3 Reasons You Should Preach through Hebrews
You probably don’t need me to convince you to preach through Hebrews. In my experience, Hebrews is one of the books most preachers are eager to preach. Nevertheless, in this piece I will give you three reasons why you should preach Hebrews, and two features of the book to keep an eye on as you do.
PREACH HEBREWS FOR . . .
First, preach Hebrews for the person of Christ.
Hebrews is relentlessly Christ-centered. From its arresting first sentence to its heartening final benediction, Hebrews revels in who Christ is. Who is he? He is God’s Son (1:2). He is the eternal, personal radiance of the Father’s glory and the imprint of his being (1:3). He is worthy of all worship, human and angelic (1:6). He is the unchanging Creator (1:10–12).
Not only that, but he is the one who freely took upon himself our poor, pitiable state, becoming for a little while lower than the angels (2:9). He is the one who came to share the flesh and blood that is ours by nature (2:14). He is like us in every way—except that he has faithfully endured all the temptations to which we have so often given in—and so he is able to give all the help we need (2:17–18). And that’s just the first two chapters.
Second, preach Hebrews for the work of Christ.
All that Christ did and suffered in his saving, incarnate mission, he did and suffered for us. And Hebrews proclaims Christ’s saving action as a single, seamless tapestry, from incarnation through ascension, session, and return.
Jesus was made for a little while lower than the angels in order that, having tasted death for everyone, he would be crowned with glory and honor (2:9). Jesus died in order to deliver us from death and deliver us into the eternal glory of the new creation. And he became incarnate in order to deliver us, by his death, from the devil’s dominion (2:14–15). He entered the pitiable human condition in order to transform it from within.
Hebrews’ central theological section unpacks the saving work of Christ in sacrificial terms with depth and detail unparalleled in the New Testament. It compares Christ to both the high priest and the sacrificial victim, using the Day of Atonement as its overarching framework. By doing so, Hebrews asserts that, as a substitutionary victim, Christ gave his life in death for the life his people owed (9:15, 22). Then, obtaining indestructible life by his resurrection (7:16), he was appointed a high priest forever, and he presented himself as an offering to God the Father in the Holy of Holies in heaven, thereby obtaining eternal redemption (9:12, 14, 24–25; 10:12–14). Christ offered to God in heaven what his death on the cross achieved. (If you’ve got the book budget, see here for more.) Now our way to heaven is permanently secured. Heaven’s doors are always open to those who come to God through Christ. No one and nothing can come between God’s loving presence and those who approach him through the merciful and faithful high priest.
Third, preach Hebrews for its focus on the necessity and means of perseverance.
The two primary, recurring exhortations of the book are “hold fast” and “draw near.” Keep confessing the faith, and keep coming to God through Christ (4:14–16; 10:19–23). Perseverance is a drum pastors can always afford to beat, especially during a pandemic. And Hebrews tells us how to persevere: look to Christ who persevered before us, and for us (12:2).
WATCH OUT FOR
As you preach Hebrews, here are two features of the book to watch out for. First, especially as you plan your series, keep an eye on the book’s manifold, complex structure. For my money, George Guthrie has done the best job distilling the book’s alternating pattern of exposition and exhortation, and analyzing the thematic progression of the former. (See pages 28–31 and 39–40 of his NIVAC commentary). For instance, 4:14–16 and 10:19–23 each distill the book’s main exhortations and neatly summarize its central theological point. Not only that, but halfway between them comes 8:1–2, which tells us that “the main point in what we are saying” is that Christ is a high priest who serves in the heavenly Holy of Holies, where he sits in power at God’s right hand. Hebrews tells us its main point at the center of its central frame.
Second, be prepared for progressing theology and repetitive exhortation. That is, throughout the letter, the theological argument develops and builds, working through exaltation and incarnation, suffering and appointment to priesthood, self-offering and its saving effects. But the exhortations always hit the same target. Don’t drift (2:1); guard your heart against hardening unbelief (3:12); strive to enter God’s rest (4:11); don’t fall away (6:6); don’t scorn the blood by which you’ve been sanctified (10:29); run with endurance (12:2).
How might this divide between linear theology and circular exhortation inform your preaching series? Here’s one suggestion: be wary of too much of a good thing. A hundred-sermon series might seem like a great idea to you, but halfway through, your people may no longer share your enthusiasm. Better than preaching the same sermon six weeks in a row is preaching slightly longer passages and leaving your people wanting more.
* * * * *
George Guthrie’s NIVAC commentary offers excellent analysis of Hebrew’s structure, crisp, insightful exegesis, and useful suggestions for application. Tom Schreiner’s commentary, recently reprinted in the re-booted Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary series, is concise and even-handed. If you are moving more slowly through the text, consider engaging with Attridge’s Hermeneia volume. It will provide meticulous consideration of exegetical options, though I think his conclusions are often skewed by an overly Platonic construal of Hebrews’ worldview. For an accessible introduction to key theological themes in Hebrews, see Jonathan Griffiths’ edited volume, The Perfect Saviour.