As I read this text a few days ago I asked myself three questions I’d never thought to ask myself when I’d read it in the past. Here’s the first question:
“Why did the omnipotent and holy, holy God deign to even speak to rebellious, sinful humanity?” He tells us through the psalmist, “There is none righteous. No, not one.” (Psalm 14). Through the prophet Isaiah, God added, “We have all of us like sheep gone astray, turning each one of us to our own way.” (Isaiah 53). And in Isaiah 59: “But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. . . .” (Isaiah 59:2-3)
So, it is fair to ask, “Why would such a holy consuming fire as God condescend to speak peace and hope and love to the likes of any of us?”
Well, He tells us why. Over and over. John 3:16 is just one of His megaphones. But I think what happens so often is we who can quote the text so freely do so without paying much attention to what it really says – which is this:
God loved me (and you) even while I was shaking my fist in His face, shouting, “I want to do it MY WAY!” Despite my treasonous arrogance, He delivered His Son to death – and not just to death, but a TORTUROUS death – so that I (we) could live forever with Him in the place we call heaven.
THAT is why God has spoken to humanity ever since the Garden of Eden in many portions and in many ways – to tell us, “I’m here. With you always. You are not alone.”
I remember holding my wife’s hand as she dozed in her Intensive Care bed one morning a few months ago. She’d had a hemorrhagic stroke on January 19th while we were visiting Florida from out of state.
She stirred and then turned to me. “I wondered last evening,” she said, “I wondered, ‘Jesus, are you here?’” She paused a moment, and then told me, “I heard Him say: ‘I am here.’”
Three simple but profoundly comforting words. “I am here.”
That’s what God has wanted us to know all along, through the millennia, He wanted us – and still wants us – to know for certain that He is here, with us. He did not set this planet spinning into space, and took off to the other side of the galaxy. He wanted us to know – and still wants us to know – perhaps especially when we walk through the valleys of the shadows of death – He is there with us, holding our hand. Your hand. My hand.
So, that’s WHY God spoke to humanity through the prophets – and finally through His Son – because it is important to Him that we not feel alone in this universe.
Did you know that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US? On average, there are nearly 130 suicides per day in this country. In 2017, the highest suicide rate was among adults between 45 and 54 years of age. The second highest rate occurred in those 85 years or older.
So, can you see why it is so important that we know God loves us, and that He reveals His love to us through the Scriptures and the historic teaching of the Church?
Which brought me to the second question I asked myself at this text in Hebrews. We know why He spoke to us . . . but what has He said to us?
Well, lots of things. But for the sake of space, I synthesize them to only two.
First: He will never leave us. Jesus’ last words to His disciples were these: “Behold, I am with you, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28). And through the book of Hebrews (13:5) He promises: “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.”
Some of us know what it is like to be abandoned by someone we trusted, by someone we loved – and whom we thought loved us. That might be why it’s difficult for some to believe Jesus will be forever true to His promise of faithfulness. But over the course of multiple ages, Jesus has always proven true to His word. He is God, and God cannot ever lie.
I will say it again: Jesus will never, ever leave you. Never. He will never forsake and abandon any who follow His voice.
What else has He said? He demands we obey His commandments and repent of our sins: Ezekiel 18:32 – “For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” And Luke 5:31 “Jesus answered and said to them, “It is not those who are well who need a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
In our current cultural climate, very few seem to know anymore what God considers damnable sin. In other words, what sins will condemn a person to an eternal hell if he or she persists in practicing them?
God gives us several lists, and we who know Jesus know God designed His commandments for OUR welfare and OUR protection.
The Psalmist David is only one of the prophets who understood God’s love as the root reason for each of His commandments. That’s why he wrote these words in Psalm 19: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true; they are righteous altogether. They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them Your servant is warned; In keeping them there is great reward.”
So, let’s look at one list of specific sins about which God warns against – for our welfare and the welfare of others. We find it in Galatians 5: “Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
As with many languages, English has undergone a series of metamorphoses over the centuries – so much so that in some cases, words today do not carry the weight those same words carried in early generations. So, let me parse some of this text so there will be no misunderstanding of what God meant when He inspired St. Paul to write these words.
When Paul wrote of ‘immorality,’ the Greek word he used meant activities such as adultery, fornication, homosexuality, and lesbianism. When he wrote ‘impurity,’the Greek word meant ‘lustful, decadent living’ – which also applies to pornography. His word for ‘sensuality’ meant lust, licentiousness, harlotry, and wantoness. ‘Idolatry’ covered avarice and greed. ‘Sorcery’ includes magical arts, as well as horoscopes, Ouji boards, good-luck charms, and so forth.
The rest of the text is pretty much self-explanatory, and we won’t take time to look at the rest of the sins in more detail than the plain sense of the English words. But what we must – must – take note of is the last clause of this list: “Those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Please don’t miss that emphatic warning. The culture in which Paul lived – which was not too dissimilar to the culture in which we live – endorsed and encouraged those sins. But God and His commandments remain the same century after century and culture after culture. They remain the same because God’s love for us remains the same century after century. God’s desire for our protection and holiness and welfare remains the same culture after culture.
THAT is why He commands us to turn and repent of what God calls sin if we hope to gain heaven.
Finally, the third question I asked myself if this: “Am I listening to what the prophets and the Lord Jesus have said – and continue to say? In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd. Then He added, His sheep hear His voice – and they follow Him.
And that, therefore, begs the question: Am I listening for the Good Shepherd? Am I straining my ears to tune out the voices of the godless world that comes to me through much of the media – and even from some pulpits? Can I hear the Holy Spirit gently (and softly) calling me through His word?
And just as important, am I obeying His voice?
If not, then nothing of ‘what’ God has spoken through the prophets or His Son – or ‘why’ He said what He said – none of it will have the effect in my life that He designed it to have.
All that I’ve written here can be condensed to three simple imperatives: Love God. Trust God. Obey God. It is only in so doing that we can expect to live forever with God.
God is serious about sin because He is serious about His love for each one of us. Please, take His love – and His warning – just as seriously.