What could Melchizedek, Moses, the Old Covenant, blood sacrifices, and a 13-chapter argument for the supremacy of Christ over all of these things possible have to do with the typical life of a young teenager?
As it turns out, quite a bit. And while the book of Hebrews (which contains that argument along with many complex discussions of Old Testament concepts) can look terribly intimidating to a believer of any age, I believe it stands out as a surprisingly helpful tool in teaching all of us why the supremacy of Christ matters, and what it means when it comes to our call to discipleship.
At first glance, Hebrews addresses both an audience as well as a struggle that feels foreign to just about anyone in our culture today. The original audience of Hebrews seemed to have wrestled with the desire to fall back into their old Jewish faith. In my own experience (as someone who has never professed faith in Judaism), I have not personally struggled with this temptation. I have not wondered whether or not Jesus is better than angels as the Son of God, or if his blood is more powerful than the blood of sacrifices in the Old Testament. I would venture so far as to assume that none of the students in my ministry have experienced this particular temptation either.
And yet, while the details of that specific attraction are foreign in my life, the motivation that lies beneath them is something that touches on the life of every professing believer.
Ultimately, underlying the temptation addressed in Hebrews is the question, “Is Jesus worth it?” Is Jesus worth losing friends over? Is Jesus worth looking foolish in the eyes of unbelieving peers? Is Jesus worth suffering for? Are Jesus, and the eternal life He offers, worth giving up the offerings presented by the world (and so naturally attractive to our students in this present life):
• Academic success
• Making the team
• Finding the perfect boyfriend/girlfriend
Our students wonder, if following Jesus really is worth it, how should my current life as a disciple of Christ look?
All too often, as a pastor, I want to jump to that final question for the purpose of finding the most basic points of application. I want my students to know the practices of a life of discipleship. Practical applications are something firm and concrete to latch on to. Oftentimes they are summarized by those tried and true points found at the end of so many Sunday School lessons: read your Bible more, pray more, share your faith more, etc. These are all (clearly) good practices, but without a true vision for Christ, those good practices quickly become an oppressive weight (especially to a teenager). In my rush to get to those “applicable points,” I can at times feel the pull to gloss over the equally, maybe even more important illustration of the supremacy and beauty of Christ. I would even venture to say that those points of application can only be truly heard once Christ’s beauty and sovereignty is fully seen and realized by the believer. Herein lies the value of Hebrews.
A study through Hebrews forces the reader to take significant time to delve into the argument for Christ’s beauty. Just as a jeweler must carefully inspect a diamond in the grading process, a study through Hebrews forces us to not simply accept Christ’s supremacy at face value – but to turn it over and over again in our minds so that we can see and learn to appreciate its many facets. Must we fully understand every detail of Christ in Hebrews? No (and in light of a particularly difficult couple of subjects covered, I am thankful for that reality). But by taking our time to examine those numerous points, our students (through the work of the Holy Spirit) will gain a greater appreciation for what makes Christ so exceptionally beautiful, and why He is the ultimate answer to every desire that drives those previously-listed goals.
For the student desperate to be known and accepted by a boyfriend/girlfriend, Hebrews offers this reminder: it is only Christ who both knows us completely and still loves us just the same, sympathizing with our weaknesses and allowing us to continually draw near to God (Hebrews 4:13-16). For the student who seeks to place their identity in personal success, only to be weighed down by the shame of failure, Hebrews offers the reminder that our identity is never tied to personal success but rather to the success of Christ, who offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf (Hebrews 10:11-14). And for the student struggling to feel at home in the midst of a constantly shifting culture, Hebrews continually calls us to look not to this life for that comfort, but to our far more impressive home, established only in Jesus (Hebrews 11:16).
It is only after the author addresses these concerns and presents a complete picture of Christ – all that He has done for us and continues to offer – that he makes his final call to discipleship. And it is only when our students have that beauty of Christ continually set before their eyes that the call to discipleship will be attractive and freeing, rather than burdensome and strenuous. When we behold Christ’s beauty, our obedience naturally flows out of a genuine joy, and a heart that is continually in awe of our precious Savior (Hebrews 12:28).
Is Jesus Christ worth following? Our hope in ministry is, of course, to hear our students quickly respond in the affirmative. In studying Hebrews, however, we are forced to not simply settle for “good practices” and a one-word answer. We are instead encouraged to help show our students – day in and day out – just how unsurpassable Christ’s value really is.