Daniel 12:1-3 | Hebrews 10:11-25 | Mark 13:1-8
After September 11, 2001, there was a lot of talk about how freaked out Americans felt, as if safety and freedom from terrors produced by hate and evil were our birthright, and only people of other countries were expected to live knowing that their lives could be disrupted or ended by disaster at any moment. From the texts this week, Christians know something that was new information to the average American as a result of Sept. 11. All sorts of bad things happen to good and not-so-good people, and—oh, yeah—basically things will get worse before they get better.
Bookended by messages of coming tribulation and redemption is the second lesson. I like the way it speaks of the finished work of Christ, even as it exhorts us about how to spend the time between now and the Day (v. 25). "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, 'he sat down at the right hand of God'"(v. 12). Jesus finishes a good day's work and then takes a load off. (Imagine God saying, "Pull up a chair there, Son, and tell me what's new.")
That finished, once-for-all work of Christ is the context for the rest of the lesson and the context for the waiting that the other lessons talk about. "When will these things be? What will be the signs?" the disciples want to know from Jesus. Reading Hebrews, however, I'm tempted to say that we have the only sign we need: "Jesus was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification" (Rom 4:24). From now on, our lives—even though they are as risky and vulnerable as his was to injustice and terror—are bound up with the new life he has at the right hand of God.
So… (and the "so…" is where the author of Hebrews is headed):
- Let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith,
- Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, and
- Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds (vv. 22-24)
Preaching the text gets difficult here if we're not going to fall into what Rick Lischer calls "salad bar theology" ('let us...' this and 'let us' that). The news of Christ's work for all is loud and clear in the text. Yet how do we hear/preach the exhortations in vv. 22-24 without making it sound like the work of Christ was not enough, that is, that we have to approach, hold fast, or consider as the writer tells us, in order to make Christ's work effective? That message would be all wrong. Christ's work does not depend on us. It's done. He's sitting down. There's probably a glass of sweet tea or a beer at his elbow. What part of "Happy Hour" don't you understand? The work is done, done, done.
So… if I were preaching this text, I would probably never say "let us." I would, however, try to preach that "done" news so clearly that people knew by the end of the sermon that they could approach in faith, hold fast to their hope and show love to others: the work that Christ has finished has made all that faith, hope and love possible for us.