We are living through strange days: COVID-19, lockdowns, rules of six, two metres for fifteen minutes, one metre for one minute, hands, face, space, no Christmas to really look forward to and the constant worry about loo roll!
I am a teacher and head master and whilst in some ways being a teacher is something to be thankful for – we have a regular salary every month – it is also hugely challenging and at times overwhelming: getting children to socially distance, managing bubbles, remote learning, blended learning, working through holidays for vulnerable pupils and key worker children, having to adapt to changing guidelines all the time…
Are you wondering where God is in all this? Not being able to go to church as normal, you might find yourself drifting. So how do we ‘hold fast’ during this time of need? There can be no better place to go for the answer than Hebrews 4:14-16.
How do we hold fast?
The book of Hebrews was originally written to people who were also going through a ‘time of need’ (Heb. 4:16). They were at the point of giving up and giving in. But the writer urges them in chapter 4 and verse14 to ‘hold fast’. Why? Is it because he is trying to gee them up, get them to think positively, pull themselves together, a kind of ‘come on you can do this’, ‘dig in’, ‘be resilient’ type thing? I remember when I was a younger teacher and coached one of the school’s football teams. At half time we were 4 nil down in the quarter final of the cup. The players were dejected so I gave them an inspirational team talk, told them to play for the shirt; it’s just 11 against 11; if they can score 4 in a half so can we, and so on. We went out in the second half and lost 7-0! It was just talk.
That is not what the writer to the Hebrews is doing here. He tells them to hold fast because they have a sympathetic high priest who knows what they are going through and can help them. Hebrew 4.15 says ‘we do not have a high priest who is unable’. In English if you double a negative you cancel it out. We have naughty boys in our school who, when they are in trouble, say, ‘I don’t know nothing’. And they are absolutely right. They don’t know nothing. They know something. But in Greek, a double negative strengthens what you are saying, so in Hebrews 4:15, the writer is saying, not that the Lord Jesus can sympathise, but rather it is impossible for him not to sympathise. Hebrews 5:8 says he ‘learned obedience’. This means he learned while on earth for thirty three years what it was like to be to be human, and even though he is now in heaven, he hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be me and you. He cannot help but sympathise with us.
Michael Foot was the Labour leader when Mrs Thatcher was Prime Minister. He was a friend of my dad’s and our local MP. What the local people liked about Michael Foot was that he was in the place of power, at the despatch box by Mrs Thatcher in the House of Commons, but he never forgot what it was like on the back streets of Ebbw Vale, Brynmawr and Tredegar. He remembered what it was like to be us. Jesus Christ is in Heaven, at God’s right hand, in the place of power, but he hasn’t forgotten what it is like to be me and you.
However, if all he could do was sympathise with us, then it would only go so far. But not only is he sympathetic, he is also ‘high’. He has a ‘throne’ (4:16). The one who sympathises with us is also all powerful and is in control of everything – you, your family, your work, COVID-19, our country, the world. Nothing or nobody is outside of his control!
And he invites us to come ‘boldly’ to this throne. Boldly doesn’t mean over confident, arrogant and too familiar. We are coming to a holy God, the maker of heaven and earth. Rather it means I can tell him everything; pour out my heart and soul to him. Moreover, at this throne I will find ‘grace’ and ‘mercy’. Mercy is not getting what I deserve, and when I think of all my sins and mess ups, I need mercy! But I also need grace; kindness I don’t deserve. If I am going to stand as a Christian teacher, especially through these particularly difficult days, I need grace, God’s help. Robert Murray McCheyne once said that if he knew the Lord Jesus Christ was in the next room praying for him, he would not be frightened of anything. I am sure you think the same. But Jesus Christ is not in the next room. It is even better. He is in Heaven, right next to God the Father, praying for you. So come to him and keep coming to him and get grace to ‘hold fast’.
If we have received and keep receiving this grace and mercy, it is important we show this grace and mercy to others. If ever there was a time to be a Christian witness, engage in social enterprise, love our neighbour as ourselves and radiate the Lord Jesus Christ to our family, friends and colleagues, it’s now.
If we do, more than just ‘holding fast’, when all this is past, we will be stronger, and who knows, under God, many family, friends and colleagues will have been added to the kingdom.
This article was first written for the Association of Christian Teachers and is used with permission.