I recently read a story shared by Texas preacher Donnie Martin about Leonardo da Vinci’s painting “The Last Supper.” It is told that da Vinci looked for models to sit for Jesus and His disciples.
He found a handsome and innocent looking man in a choir in one of the churches in Italy. He portrayed him as Jesus in the painting. The man’s name was Pietro Bandinelli.
Years passed as da Vinci continued to work on the painting. He left the face of Judas Iscariot till the last. One day da Vinci went out into the streets of Rome and looked for the most forlorn person he could find.
At last, he saw the man whom he wanted for the disciple that betrayed Christ. His face was drawn and villainous. He hired the man and brought him in to sit for the face of Judas. When he had completed the work, he was about to dismiss him when he asked, “By the way, sir, what is your name?”
The poor gentleman said, “Don’t you know me? I am Pietro Bandinelli. I also sat as your model for the face of Jesus.”
This story may well be apocryphal but it does illustrate how far one can drift from his faith. This wretched man had physically changed from being a picture of Jesus to a face that depicted scandalous Judas Iscariot.
This morning, while reading Hebrews 3, two words jumped off the page and spoke to me: “Brethren, beware.” From an earlier study, I circled the word “beware.”
My Bible program tells me that the warning “beware” is used 30 times in the NKJV. Ancient Israel was often warned to beware of idolatry. And advised to beware of those who would turn their heart away from God.
Jesus cautioned, “Beware of false prophets” (Mt. 7:15) He also warned against being deceived by the hypocrisy of the religious leaders which is called “the leaven of the Pharisees” (Mt. 16:6). He also alerted them to the dangers of covetousness, as well as self-righteousness (Lk. 12:15; Mt 6:1).
In the Hebrew text, the writer is addressing a second generation of Jewish Christians who are described as “having their ears dull of hearing.” “Drifting.” “Neglecting.” And “forsaking.” Metaphorically, he calls for them to spiritually, “strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.” All of these admonitions and many more throughout the Bible shout to faithful Christians, “You can fall from your own steadfastness (2 Pet 3:17). “You can leave your first love” (Rev. 2:4). “You can fall from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
In the past 4-5 years, several studies have shown that young people today are renouncing Christianity. The Pew Research Center reports that Millennials are driving the growth of religious “nones.” They are rejecting religion altogether. Also 1 in 5 Americans who claim to have grown up as Christians have abandoned the faith.
The exhortation to “beware” reminds us that we are all susceptible to Satan’s enticements. Materialism, immorality, greed, and just plain indifference can sabotage our faith.
It takes time, effort and energy to grow spiritually. Attending worship services alone won’t suffice. Older preachers used to say, “Sitting in a church building will no more make me a Christian, than sitting in a hen house will make me a chicken.” I must study, learn and meditate on God’s word. My faith must be my own.
I think of how the Hebrew readers were just second generation Christians but were in danger of falling away. My children are sixth generation Christians. I fear for their future and our grandchildren. (And yours). Not because they weren’t taught the Truth. Not because they’re bad people. Or lack spiritual interest. But I know how easy it is to take our faith for granted. To look for something new. More exciting. Politically correct or socially acceptable. I know the dangers lurking both in the world and in the church seeking to lead our loved ones astray. I know that apostasy is possible.
“Brethren beware” is a call for parents, preachers, and pastors to watch for the souls entrusted to us. To teach the Truth. To stand for righteousness. And warn against the dangers of our day.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman