I admit that I was (and am) an athletic misfit, but I suspect I wasn't the only one always picked last for kickball in school. Did you ever eat alone in the cafeteria? Were you ever rejected by the "cool kids" in high school?
We all need to know that we are accepted, valued, and loved, but deep down most of us struggle with a visceral sense of rejection and pervasive lack of assurance that can't be explained away by painful childhood memories. To go through life and have no recognition of ever being slighted or rejected may be more demonstrative of a narcissist than a normal person. Being assured that we are accepted is something we all desire but struggle to obtain. The student with good grades fears doing poorly. The athlete knows there is someone better and that his or her days are numbered. The salesperson dreads the annual review.
We all struggle to belong, to know where we "fit in." It happens even in churches. When you walk through the doors of a church, you immediately wonder, "Do I belong here? Will I be accepted?" When you look around it seems that others have their acts together: their marriages are strong, they are successful in their careers, their kids do well in school. They look better, dress better, and behave better. It is clear God accepts them. Right? Wrong. The guarantee of our acceptance doesn't come from fitting in or being accepted by others, but by God's own promise to accept us when we flee to him for refuge and safety.
Hebrews 6:13-20 provides the basis of God's promise and reminds us that our assurance is guaranteed by his own oath. Throughout the letter, the author of Hebrews encourages his readers to put their hope in Jesus, because he is superior to the other anchors they would have looked to in their previous lives as Jews. Jesus is superior to Moses, the Aaronic priesthood, and the sacrificial system. In 4:11-6:20 the author pauses to emphasize the importance of being diligent to enter God's rest (4:11), to hold fast to one's confession (4:14), and to draw near (4:16). What follows is a strong warning in 6:4-8 not to fall away, but with it all hope for assurance seems to be stripped away. While he desires that we have full assurance of hope until the end (6:11), you and I may be left quaking in fear that we may not be accepted. It is then we are reminded of the basis of our assurance: not our performance, but God's promise.
God's Promise Encompasses God's People (Heb.13-15)
To encourage us with God's acceptance, the author points us to Abraham. Who better if one wishes to talk about faith and patience and to see how God calls people to himself? While time does not permit a full review of the patriarch's life, we see God's initiation in Genesis 12: calling 75-year-old Abram, childless and pagan, to journey from Haran to an unknown land and to receive an unseen progeny. In Genesis 15, God makes a unilateral covenant with Abram after promising the aged man that his descendants will be as numerous as the stars. Abram believes the Lord, and he counts it to him as righteousness (15:6). Abram takes the fulfillment of God's promise on himself, and Ishmael is born to Hagar when Abram is 86. The sign of God's promise, circumcision, is given in Genesis 17. Some years later, when Abraham is 100, Isaac is born.
Throughout these years, God remained faithful to Abraham who at times was faithless. The great test of trusting God came later, in Genesis 22, when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac, the heir of the promise. Abraham, waiting patiently on God's promises, obeyed, for he believed God would raise Isaac from the dead (Heb. 11:17-19). It is tempting to praise the patient faith of Abraham, who waited more than twenty-five years for God's promise to be fulfilled. We, who find waiting twenty-five days for our vacation to commence intolerable, twenty-five minutes for our TV show to begin to be exasperating, or even twenty-five seconds too long for the microwave to reheat our coffee may be in awe of Abraham and think it wise to emulate the patriarch. To do so would imply that to be assured you belong, just endure twenty-five years of waiting for a promise.
Yes, Abraham did wait patiently and that is important, but it is not the patience that the writer here wants us to see, but the promise he so patiently desired to obtain. God's integrity and faithfulness is the theme of the passage and the source of our assurance. What Abraham obtained was God's promise, and that promise is the source of our confidence and to that promise we should look. That promise is not just for Abraham, but also for you and me.
Adapted from Chris Vogel, "God's Assuring Promise" Modern Reformation, Nov/Dec 2014. Used by permission.