Those of you who have ever done any bible study with me will know that I often say as a first question – what jumps out at you, what makes you go hmm?
For me, in this passage, it is the interesting verb in verse 24, how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, or as an alternative translation suggests, love and beautiful work. The response to the sacrifice that Jesus has made for us, the ridding us of the shame and guilt of sin, the faithful promise that we are considered holy and clean in his sight, the response to that gift is a life of love and good works, meeting together and encouraging each other.
But provoke, it seems a hard word to be associated with gentle actions such as love and good deeds. Normally we might see provoke as something negative – eg don’t provoke your brother. Indeed, the word, paroxusmos, appears in Acts 15:39 to describe exactly that – a disagreement between Paul and Barnabas so sharp, cut so deeply, that it made them go their separate ways.
We might translate paroxusmus as provoke, cut sharply, stir up, stimulate, agitate. And I wonder why the author of Hebrews chooses it in relation to good works and love? Perhaps to emphasise how important these actions are to us as Christians. They aren’t an optional extra, but they are the things that should be stirred up, provoked, agitated in us as a response to the sacrifice Jesus has made for us. V 12 “But when Christ has offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God and since then has been waiting until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet.” Our action in a response to Christ’s loving action for us is to love others. What a perfect way to defeat enemies, with love and good deeds.
As we watch our country’s’ leadership dissolve into confusion and as we hear of the UN envoy reporting on the dire poverty he found in our country, it should provoke us to action. We are confident that the work of salvation has been achieved once for all in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Our response is the work of the Kingdom now. We must love our neighbours and love God and be provoked to action that is transformative, provoked to love and beautiful deeds.
It is our response to the saving power of Christ that provokes us to staff the food bank, collect food and distribute it to those who are hungry. Even in a town like Beaminster people are hungry now, today?
It is our response to Jesus’ sacrifice that provokes us to donate money to Broadwindsor school to buy new books for the library because there is no money in the school budget, cut repeatedly, year after year, to buy books?
It is Jesus’ love that provokes us to take a deep breath before responding to an email from a church treasurer who declares that the focus on prayer during our year of sabbatical is just an excuse for doing nothing?
It is Jesus’ love that provokes us to teach and pray about stewardship when members of a PCC refuse to agree to give any church money away to support other charities?
It is just as well that Christ has offered the sacrifice for my sin because this week I have sinned many times because I am angry at a government that punishes the poorest in society, I am angry at repeated funding cuts to local services, I am angry that I am accused of doing nothing in my work, I am angry that fellow brothers and sisters in Christ are so selfish that they will not share resources to help others. I have not thought good things about any of those people. Yet despite my sinful thoughts and sinful conversations I will pick up again, I will make my confession, I will approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with my heart sprinkled clean from an evil conscience. I will hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.
We are saved from our sin because of what Jesus has done for us. The curtain of the temple has been torn in two, we have confidence to enter into the holiest place. We are set free from the burden of sin, shame and guilt. We don’t need to constantly make sacrifices for our sin, we instead respond to the one sacrifice made on our behalf. Our response is to be provoked to love and good deeds, to encouraging one another and meeting together. We must do this not because we have always done it, or because we want to preserve the Church of England, or because if we don’t do it we are afraid no one else will, or because it makes us look good. We do it because our hearts and lives are transformed by the saving love and action of Jesus Christ. He is patiently waiting for his enemies to be made a footstool under his feet. We must get to work, provoked to love and good deeds, revealing God’s Kingdom: a place of love, forgiveness, beauty, peace, justice, equality and joy.
Hebrews 10: 11-25 – read the text at The Bible Gateway.