I am an unabashed lover of the book of Hebrews. It’s not that I don’t love the rest of God’s word, but Hebrews speaks to my soul in a unique way. Hebrews tells the story of Jesus to Christ-followers who live in a world that would shun them for their faith in one who died on a cross.

Although there is some debate among scholars, it would seem the audience is primarily Jewish. The use of Israelite history and symbolism suggests that the readers were individuals who would understand Jewish history. These Jewish readers were among the thousands of Jews who believed Jesus was indeed the Messiah, the Christ, they had waited for through generations. The Hebrews author’s exhortations to his readers to continue to follow Jesus no matter what suggests there were forces in their lives that were trying to pull them back to traditional Jewish worship under Mosaic Law.

Imagine with me for a moment the social milieu the Hebrews readers may have lived in. They likely lived their lives in a primarily Jewish community. Household and holiness codes formed the tapestry of their daily living. Their moms, dads, spouses, bosses, children, and friends were Jewish. Every part of their lives revolved around daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly ceremonial events as they lived out the worship of their communities.

To follow Christ in such a context meant to live counter to an entire culture. Many communities simply could not (or would not) support such counter-cultural living. Indeed, ancient philosophers have noted that to follow Christ meant to be cast out by the very people they loved the most. Not only were they outcasts, there are indications in the book that the readers faced persecution, or at least knew of significant instances of persecution of Christ followers.

All this for a savior whom the Hebrews readers had never seen. Jesus’ ministry on earth had ended decades before the writing of Hebrews and many of Christianity’s earliest leaders had already died or been imprisoned. Not only had these Christians never seen Jesus for themselves, it is possible some of them did not even know anyone who had.

So for the first time we have a Christian audience with no direct connection to the savior himself. What they do have are Jewish communities that would urge them to turn their backs on a man whom they had never seen and call them back to the ways of Jewish life and worship.

Enter the book of Hebrews. All the reasons Jesus is the perfection of the Law: perfect High Priest, bearer of the perfect covenant, better than angels and even Moses. All the reasons Christ is the next phase in God’s redemption of his creation. All the people whose lives from as far back as the first children of creation testify to the God who sent his son, Jesus, to bring salvation for those who wait for him. All in an effort to say to the Jewish Christians torn between two apparently different worlds to persevere in the salvation they found in Christ Jesus.

Enter me, today, living in a world hostile to Christianity. I have never seen Jesus with my own eyes. I do not have an ancestors I can trace who were there at the cross. I know only what God’s stories tell, the testimony of faithful witnesses in my life, and the experiences that reveal Christ to my heart, soul, and mind.

As I cruised CNN.com this morning for updates on world events, I came across the following statement left as a comment on one of the stories I read:

Atheism isn’t a religion, it is just the lack of one. It is simply asking people to behave in a sane manner. Psychology defines religious belief as a form of schizophrenia, because you live in a world in your head that is disconnected from physical reality.

While I wholeheartedly disagree with the above statement, it does reveal a truth in which Christians in the modern Western world dwell everyday. A culture hostile to those who follow Christ. A culture which proclaims that belief in a Creator points to a psychological profile that requires the creation of a god to whom the insane can anchor their insanity.

I love the book of Hebrews because the social milieu in which the original readers lived mirrors my own in myriad ways. Hence, the message to “pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away,” resonates deeply in my soul. While the world insists I am merely insane, I return again to the written testimonies of the biblical authors. I heed the witness of those who lead and teach me. And I pay the most careful attention to ways in which God reveals himself daily.

And so the book of Hebrews speaks deeply into my soul.