The Bible teaches: "The tongue has the power of life and death" (Prov. 18:21). The tongue is capable of great good. "The tongue that brings healing is a tree of life.... and how good is a timely word!" (Prov. 15:4, 23). It is also capable of great harm. Therefore David resolved, "I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth as long as the wicked are in my presence" (Psa. 39:1).
No wiser counsel about the tongue and its proper use can be found than the inspired counsel given by James in his epistle. James opens with a specific warning to Christian teachers and to those who aspire to such work. "Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly" (James 3:1). This statement was not intended to discourage teachers or to cause Christians to waste their opportunities to teach. Rather it was intended to exhort teachers to do their work out of a pure motivation and with careful restraint over their tongues.
The role of teacher was indispensable and highly respected in the early church. Thus some were tempted to become teachers out of a love for preeminence among their brethren. Furthermore, there was the potential harm a teacher could do with his tongue in the exercise of his office. For one thing, he could cause men to be condemned by teaching them falsehoods (cf. 2 Thess. 2:10-12). For another, he could be tempted to win personal loyalties to himself by flattery and guile (cf. Rom. 16:18). Again, he could be guilty of distracting from Christ by a display of worldly wisdom in his teaching (cf. 1 Cor. 2:1).
Because of dangers such as these, one must be very careful about his motives and manner as a teacher. Teachers will be judged by a stricter standard than other Christians -- both by men in this life and by God in the final Judgment.
Let me suggest, first of all, that James is talking about a distinctive ministry, that spoken of when Paul said, "And he gave ... some, evangelists; and some, pastors [or elders] and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11).
James is emphasizing two things: (1) Do not become teachers from the wrong motivation . Among the Jewish people, it was a great honor to be a teacher. In the New Testament church, the public teacher of the word also held an exalted position--along with the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and elders (Ephesians 4:11). People being people, there would be some who would desire the position of teacher for the honor it might bring. Some find it hard to resist the combination of position, prominence, and plaudits! (2) Do not become teachers without preparing yourselves . Verse 13 of the chapter has: "Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him show out of a good conversation [manner of life] his works with meekness of wisdom." Obviously some were claiming to be wise and endued with knowledge. James challenges them to prove their claims. They evidently wanted to be acclaimed as wise and knowledgeable teachers without going to the trouble of preparing themselves.
The influence of a teacher is so great that it is imperative that each teacher prepare mind and life. This involves gaining a knowledge of God's word (I Timothy 1:7). This involves training in how to teach. And it involves living by the standards that we proclaim (Romans 2:17-19; II Timothy 2:2).
If you have your Bibles, please be turning to Hebrews chapter 10. We’ll start reading in verse 26 of that chapter.
I. The Results of Apostasy
Let’s look together at the text beginning in Hebrews 10:26-27:
The Hebrew writer goes into some detail here to describe what happens if we "sin willfully". I think maybe the first thing we need to do is to explain what is meant by that phrase.
In the Old Testament, there are two phrases that are frequently used to distinguish between two very different types of sins. There were sins of ignorance, and there were presumptuous sins. And the response of the Jews was to be entirely different toward people who committed those two kinds of sins.
Willful sin is the attitude of rebellion, an attitude that says, "I know that's what God says, but quite frankly I could not care less. I'm not going to do what God says, and I'm not going to serve him any more." It is the sin of knowing what it means to follow Christ, and a consistent refusal to do so. It is a presumptuous choice of living a life of sin when we know perfectly well, from the Word of God, what the results of that choice will be. And if you ever reach that point in your spiritual life, the Hebrew writer says, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries."
These were Christians who were considering leaving the church and turning their backs on Christ and the Hebrew writer wants them to know just how serious that is in terms of the eternal consequences. And it's a very powerful passage that shows us it is possible to fall away from God's grace. The fact is that we can fall away. We can, if we choose, make the conscious decision to reject God and walk away from him. And if that happens, then we no longer have any hope of salvation. Our God is a God of love and a God of grace. But, if we reject him, we need to be reminded that he is also a God of wrath. And "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
The person who leaves the church no longer has a sacrifice that can atone for his sins because the only sacrifice that can bring a person into God's presence is the sacrifice of Christ's blood. So if you choose to turn your back on Christ, then all hope of salvation is forfeited. Hope is gone, eternal life is gone. Apart from Christ, everything worth having is gone.
And the only thing to look forward to is judgment. So, if you know the truth and then walk away rejecting God, then your judgment is both "certain" and "terrifying". People sometimes think of the Old Testament showing a harsh, judgmental God, while the New Testament shows a God of mercy and compassion. But God's mercy and wrath are clearly revealed in both testaments.
That doesn’t contradict the fact that God is long-suffering, and patient, and loving, and infinitely gracious, not willing that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But for the person who turns his back on God's grace, there's nothing left that God can offer him or do for him. The only thing that remains is judgment.
Then the Hebrew writer uses three phrases that describe just how terrible the sin of turning your back on God is. (Hebrews 10:28-29). The writer says , first of all, that those who leave the church have “trampled the Son of God underfoot”. There is a spurning of the kingship of Jesus Christ, a refusal to submit to, to acknowledge Christ's right to govern their lives. Secondly , they have “counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing”. There is a profaning of the blood of Christ. It is to say that I really don’t care that Jesus died on the cross for me. That makes no difference to me, and doesn’t mean a thing. Then thirdly , perhaps most serious of all, they have “insulted the Spirit of grace”. They treat with indifference the pleadings of the Spirit of God. Incidentally, I think this is equivalent to the sin Jesus talked about – the "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," for which Jesus said there is no forgiveness. And with that kind of heart, there is no sacrifice, there is no forgiveness. There is only judgment to look forward to. (Hebrews 10:30-31).
II. The Deterrents to Apostasy
Well, so far, all of this is pretty depressing stuff. But there is something positive here, because the Hebrew writer is going to try to convince these Christians not to leave the church. There are two things that they need to do. First of all, they're told to look back on what they have experienced and then they're told to look forward to the rewards that will be theirs if they hang in there and remain faithful. (Hebrews 10:32-36)
The Hebrew writer says, "Think back and remember about that time when you became a Christian. Do you remember the enthusiasm you had and the excitement you felt in being able to serve Christ? You had such dedication then that you were willing to suffer persecution because of your faith. You were willing to give up so many things -- reputation, friends, possessions -- because you could see the better things of the New Covenant. You've come so far over the years, don't throw it all away now. How terrible it would be to fall back now, when you are so close. Whatever you do, don't quit."
2. Look forward
Then the Hebrew writer reminds these readers of the promise of God that will make the long journey worthwhile. "Therefore do not cast away your confidence which has great reward." (10:35). "For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." (10:36)
What is it that gives us endurance? What is it that keeps us holding on to our faith? What is it that gives us joy even when suffer loss? It is the better possession, the lasting possession, the great reward, the promise. It is God's promise that we will be with him forever. The promise of a glorious future and an everlasting inheritance. (1 Peter 1:4)
III. A Final Word of Encouragement
The Hebrew writer closes out this section with a word of encouragement. (Hebrews 10:37-39). The writer told them what's going to happen if they fall away. He's told them what they need to do to keep that from happening. Then he says, "But I know you're not going to fall away. We're people of faith and we're going to keep on living by faith. We're not going to quit."
I want you to see the situation the Hebrew readers are in. They have no intention of losing their salvation. But they are considering throwing Christ away. And what they don’t realize is that if they throw Christ away, they’re also going to throw away their salvation, because the two are connected. And the writer hopes to get them to see that if they don’t want to lose their salvation, they’re going to have to hold onto Christ.
The word of God tells us over and over about the great gift of God to us -- his son Jesus Christ. That's the focus of the entire Bible, in fact, that a sacrifice has been offered and God's grace offers to us the free gift of salvation. But there is the danger that, as Christians, we may take that gift for granted.
Because we may be tempted to take the grace of God for granted, there is a need of a word of warning. The book of Hebrews tells us the good news of the sacrifice of Christ, but it also warns us that we can't trifle with God. "Our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:29). We can't turn our backs on God assuming that "God will forgive; that is his business".
Jesus Christ was crucified only once. At our baptism, we received the benefits of that sacrifice. And if we deliberately turn our backs and walk away, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins".May we all be encouraged to look back to the early days of our Christianity, and to look forward to the reward that waits for us, if we remain faithful.
“ It is easier said than done ” is a statement that certainly applies to Christian life. It is much easier to talk about God than to obey him. That’s why people can have all their doctrine perfectly straight and still miss out on God’s will. James helps us to stay on target. What are some ways that we as Christians don’t put actions behind our words?
James condemns those who claim faith but do not put their faith into practice by caring for others . James considers the possibility of a claim to faith and how to validate it. Is it enough for one to assert his faith? Or must there be the evidence of obedience to prove that assertion? One is reminded of these words from Jesus: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Profession is meaningless without performance.
The Bible makes a clear distinction between “dead” faith and “living” faith. Dead faith is faith that understands, gives assent to facts, but does not act based on the information received. That kind of faith is worthless.
Living faith is that faith which trusts enough to follow carefully whatever instructions may be given. Dead faith is without value; only living faith avails. No man can legitimately say that he believes in Jesus Christ if he is unwilling to do the things Christ has commanded about salvation and eternal life. Saying “Lord, Lord” will not do as a substitute for actually doing the Father'’ will.
Faith cannot be seen without action. Faith is seen only in deeds of love and compassion. James presents us with a clear choice . We can claim faith without works. We can look religious and even deceive ourselves into thinking we are people of faith while we neglect the needs of our brothers and sisters. Such a “faith” is really no faith at all. Faith shown by deeds is the faith that saves, the faith of Abraham and Rahab. Like them, we must trust and obey.
The very nature of faith requires the believer to be active in his or her response to God. To the Christian, this means that his life will have to bear fruit daily if he is to demonstrate his new state in the Lord and avoid falling away. His faith must prompt him to faithfulness in the Lord's service -- Bible study, prayer, regular worship, teaching the lost of salvation, etc. other wise his faith is dead and utterly without value. Christian living is the exhibition of one’s faith in willing obedience to God’s will for his life. It is backing up one’s profession with performance . It is nurturing one’s faith to life through deeds . What type of faith do you have?
In James 1:16-27 the James specifies five areas in which true religion makes a difference in one’s life: (1) in his view of God, (2) in his ability to control his temper and tongue, (3) in his heart, (4) in his willingness to obey the Word of God, and (5) in his concern for the needy.
A Difference in Your View of God
First , true religion makes a difference in one's view of God. (1:16-18) When struggling with temptation, particularly with one that has often overpowered us, it is easy to try to shift the blame to others, to our social environment, to the devil, or even to God. One form this has recently taken is to root our behavior, even our sins, in our genetic code. We are not to blame, because "God made us this way." James will not allow this shift in responsibility. There is no one to blame for temptation and sin but ourselves.
A Difference in Your Temper and Tongue
Second , true religion makes a difference in one's ability to control his temper and tongue. (1:19-20) Whether the conversation or criticism has to do with religion or the weather, be very slow about losing your temper and unleashing your tongue. Even if you win an argument, you may lose a friend or even a soul.
A Difference in Your Heart
Third , true religion makes a difference in one's heart. (1:21) First , it must "get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent." Second , he must receive the rebuke and counsel of the Word of God in "meekness." Whether an individual receives the implanted word and has the desired effect produced in his life depends entirely on him. A hypocrite will be content to go through the motions of Christianity without undergoing a total transformation of his being. But one who practices true religion will yield altogether to the will of God in being changed "from the inside out" (i.e., from his heart to his behavior). Which type of person have you been?
A Difference in Your Willingness to Obey
Fourth , true religion makes a difference in one's willingness to submit to authority and obey commands. (1:22-25)The hypocrite listens, nods approvingly, and affirms his agreement with the truth. He then goes on his way to behave precisely as he pleases -- even if in doing so he must defy the truth he has just heard. The individual practicing true religion examines his life in light of the truth he hears and reorders his thinking and behavior accordingly. Which type of hearer are you?
A Difference in Your Concern for the Needy
Fifth , true religion makes a difference in one's degree of sincere concern for and actions on behalf of the needy. (1:26-27) The fact that Jesus loved people and met their needs gained a favorable hearing for the message he preached. If we were more like him, we would gain a more favorable hearing for his gospel when we try to tell it to others.This discussion of hearing and doing serves as a corrective to the cheap grace practiced by many in the church today. Salvation by grace does not mean that moral standards are lower for Christians. Indeed, it is Jesus who calls his disciples to a higher righteousness (Matthew 5:20). In James's day, as well as ours, there were those who deceived themselves into thinking they were saved because they had heard the gracious words of salvation. James reminds them that grace requires an active response. Such a response includes control of our speech, care for those in need, and rejection of the standards of the world.
James reminds us of the reality that even in the Christian life, there are trials and temptations. He sure doesn’t spend any time asking the questions like “Why do bad things happen to good people?” He’s too practical for that. What is on his mind is helping us to see life from a different perspective. He wants us to know that if we are going to worship God even in the midst of trials, we need to be able to see the joy in their midst. Now realize, James is not saying that the trials themselves are joyful, but the results are. James uses the terminology “mature and complete, not lacking anything.” However, the Christian does not have to be a victim of his circumstance, but can have victory even in times of trials and testings. James tells us, no matter what the trials on the outside, we can experience victory through faith in Christ.
I. Consider It Pure Joy. James 1:2
James says we face trials of many kinds. There are the trials that we experience as a result of living the Christian life. In fact this is probably what James had in mind as he wrote this letter. His audience was the “twelve tribes” scattered throughout the earth...” He was addressing those believers who had been uprooted from their homes and families just because they were believers.
Consider your response to your trials. James says Count it joy when you face them. The Apostle Peter also says, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through as if something strange were happening to you. Instead be very glad (rejoice) because these trials will make you partners with Christ in His suffering, and afterward you will have the wonderful joy of sharing his glory when it is displayed to all the world.”
II. Testing Of Your Faith Develops Perseverance. James 1:3
Our faith is tested for the purpose of increasing our faith! God tests us to bring out our best, Satan tempts to bring out our worst! Testing works for us, not against us! (1 Peter 1:7 –– the testing of your faith) - the approval of your faith –– it is genuine, proven. These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold and your faith is far more precious to god than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tested by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day Jesus is revealed to the whole world.
1 Peter 1:6-7a . “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine…” 2 Peter 1:7b . “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith…may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 . Trials give us the ability to comfort others in their tough times. When we can relate to someone, we can identify and are moved by their similar circumstances. The Psalmist wrote in Psalm 46, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea…”
Trials rightly used help us to mature. When we go through trials, when we trust God and obey Him, the result is patience and character. This is how we can face trials with a positive attitude –– we know what trials will do in us and for us –– that the end result will bring glory to God.
III. Perseverance Must Finish Its Work. James 1:4
God doesn’t work in us without our consent –– we must surrender our will to His! If we face trials without a surrendered will, we will remain immature infants. –– James 1:9-11 explores this truth with two classes of Christians –– the poor and the rich. God’s testing has a way of leveling us all. It is not our material resources that are going to get us through the trials of life, but our spiritual resources.
IV. If Any of You Lacks Wisdom, He Should Ask Of God. James 1:5-8
When the unexpected trials of life land on our doorstep, How are we to respond? How are to pray –– what should we ask God for? James gives the answer, pray for WISDOM. Wisdom is more than knowledge. Wisdom is using knowledge rightly. Why do we need wisdom when we are going through our trials? We need wisdom so we will not waste the opportunities God is giving us to mature. Wisdom helps us to use these circumstances for our good and God’s glory.
James tells us what to pray for –– wisdom. He also tells us how to pray –– • confidently, • specifically, • and unwaveringly in faith. There is no need for fear –– God is anxious to answer. No need to doubt –– God is faithful to His promises. Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.
When a Christian endures trials, there is compensation both now and ahead: Now –– Character, Endurance, Patience; ahead –– a Crown of Life. God doesn’t help us by removing the trials, he makes them work for our growth and maturity.
22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all. ( Ephesians 1:22-23 NRSV).
The vision of the church must
always be heavenward. Thus its worship must be Christ-exalting rather than
creature-centered. To allow anyone other
than Jesus or anything other than the gospel to become the focus of a church’s
life is to elevate that person or issue to greater prominence than Christ
himself and to veer off into idolatry.
Go back and reread the sermons in Acts. You will be impressed anew with the Christocentric theme of each one. Depending on whether the audience was Jewish or Gentiles, the evangelist might choose to quote Scripture or a Greek poet. While adapting the method of presentation to the hearers, the message remained the same. " God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ " (2:36). " They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ " (5:42). " Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus " (8:35). " Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection " (17:18).
The essence of the kingdom of God is righteousness, peace , and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom. 14:17-18). And these blessings come as gifts from Christ rather than as fruits of our own spiritual achievements. The central issue of the Christian faith is still Jesus question: " Who do you say I am?" (Matt. 16:15). Unless everything focuses on and finds its meaning in the person and work of Jesus Christ, a church dooms itself to ineffectual striving after the wind.
Second only to an affirmation
of faith in and allegiance to Jesus Christ, a faithful and fruitful church
declares its confidence in the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. All we
would dare affirm about Jesus is what we can ground in Holy Scripture. It is
our definitive source of information about him and the normative guide for
understanding his function as head of the church.
The Christian faith rests upon the data found in the Bible, for " faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ " ( Rom. 10:17 ). This "word of Christ" has been recorded permanently for all people in the sixty-six books of canonical Scripture. The thirty-nine books of the Old Testament point forward to Christ through prediction, type, and shadow; the twenty-seven books of the New Testament provide the fulfillment , anti-type, and substance. Because we look to Jesus as the one having all authority in spiritual matters, we listen to his words from the New Testament. The things he has spoken himself and through his appointed apostles constitute the authoritative body of doctrine that must guide the life of the faith community called the church.
The world around us is waiting for churches to embrace, affirm, and live Scripture that they cannot but see Jesus in them. They want churches both to teach and to model the life of Christ. Those churches will draw men to God. They will be highly effective. They will lead men and women to salvation in Christ.
A faithful church is so focused on Jesus that its own experience of the Word of God reveals him to everyone who sees it. The Bible is God’s revelation of himself in the person and work of Christ.
Christianity rests on three interrelated pillars: the reality of God , the Sonship of Jesus , and the Bible as God's Word . Can one of these be challenged without threatening the other two? If the Bible were not God’s Word, this would weaken any belief in Jesus as God’s Son. And our knowledge of God comes from the Bible. If the Bible were not from God, we would be forced to question most of what we believe about God. Through nature and reason we might conclude that there is a higher being, but if it were not for the Bible, we would know nothing of his personality, of his offer of redemption, or of what lies ahead for eternity. What we believe about God and about Jesus depends on the biblical story. These are good reasons for holding that the Bible is God’s Word.
THE CLAIMS OF THE BIBLE
The Bible claims inspiration for itself. Of course, uninspired books could make the same claim. That fact alone does not make it inspired. But if a book were inspired, would it not make that claim?
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword , and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart ( Hebrews 4:12 ).
... no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one's own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God ( 2 Peter 1:20, 21 ).
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction,
for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work ( 2 Timothy 3:16,17 ).
In short, the Bible claims to be " inspired by God ." Next, we should ask if the evidence supports such bold claims . These are the matters to which we now turn our attention.
THE UNITY OF THE BIBLE
"How can we explain the unity of such a diverse collection of authors?" The Bible contains sixty-six books by forty authors from three different continents-yet it reveals an obvious coherence or family likeness. To be sure, the Bible has a unity of content, a single cast of ongoing characters, and a united voice. Men such as Hosea and Paul who lived centuries apart spoke on similar subjects with parallel conclusions. The amazing unity of the Bible points to a single author, and that author is God.
HOW AND WHY IS SCRIPTURE SO ACCURATE?
If you were investigating the Bible, you would ask, “ How and why is Scripture so accurate?” Archaeology has been of great help in answering many questions regarding Bible history. A study of archaeology creates a healthy respect for the reliability of the biblical story. Names of people and places, customs, explanations of obscure words-all of these have been provided by archaeology.
THE EVIDENCE OF PROPHECY
The strongest single evidence of the Bible’s divine origin, and the feature that underlies the unity just discussed, is predictive prophecy. Biblical prophecies about future events are unique and striking phenomena. They cry out for an explanation. They are incontrovertible proof that the Bible is from God. No man can make specific and detailed predictions of future events except by inspiration of God. Only someone who knows all things, including the end of all things from the beginning-that is, God, can predict the future with unfailing accuracy.Every one of the scores of Old and New Testament predictive prophecies has been fulfilled to the letter, except for those relating to the second coming of Christ, the final judgment, and eternity. The fact of the fulfillment of those prior prophecies is conclusive proof to Christians that the remaining ones will also come to pass. Predictions and prophecies in the Bible that were made many years before their fulfillment must be evidence of the hand of God. Fulfillment of prophecy is strong evidence for the inspiration of the Bible.
The biblical basis for our series is suggested by the first Letter of Peter: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet 3:15). That passage says to me that a Christian ought to know what he believes and why he believes it.
The apostles had a conviction which made them willing to place their lives in jeopardy. Paul described himself as set for the defense of the gospel (Phil 1:16). In the first century, beliefs made a difference. The people of Beroea searched the scriptures daily to see if what Paul was telling them was true (Acts 17:11).
Jude in his letter urges his readers "to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). If one has no firm convictions, how is he going to do that? Paul, as an apostle, was proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy (Gal 1:23). At the end, he could claim that he had kept the faith (2 Tim 4:7). That is, there was something that could be called "the faith." Paul warned of times when people would not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they would accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires and would turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths (2 Tim 4:3-4).
The first Letter of John admonishes, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1).
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32). The implication is that falsehood believed does not make one free.
There are things to be believed, commands to be obeyed, and promises to be received. There is great need for teaching on what various sorts of service one as a servant is obligated to render. There is a need for teaching on various aspects of worshiping God. We need teaching that will make real to us the corrupting power of sin! How we need to be persuaded that the world to come is more valuable than this world in which we live with all its glitter!
There is also the problem of the erosion of belief. When one feels that he has become more broadminded, he needs to ask whether he has indeed become more broadminded or whether his conscience merely has stretched. A person in the modern world has his faith and convictions continuously bombarded. With all this, it is easy to forget that teaching ourselves and persuading others what to believe is essential. Reformations start with convictions of truth, conviction that truth has been abused, and conviction that truth has been neglected.
I am not suggesting by this series that I suppose that we are not instructed on the various topics that will be covered. It is more like what is suggested in the first Letter of John. John says that he is not writing because the reader does not know the truth, but because he knows it (1 John 2:21). Our rate of forgetting is very high. What we knew well gets away from us. So if in the series we cover a subject that we all know, we can just count that as review.
Chapter 13 marks a change in tone. A letter that has brought us to the heights of the glory of Jesus Christ ends with down-to-earth instructions. As we come to the close of Hebrews, let us remember that we will truly profit from our study if we are able to put it in our daily lives.
Practical Exhortations (13:1-6 )
The chapter begins with a series of exhortations. Since love is so basic, it is first on the list. "Let brotherly love continue." As the readers had displayed love toward one another in the past (6:10; 10:33-34), so now they are urged to maintain that love.
One practical expression of love is hospitality. "Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers" (v. 2). Hospitality was regarded as an honored virtue in the ancient world. Because Jesus taught the reception of strangers (Matt. 25:35), hospitality became a distinguishing mark for his disciples and was to be extended especially to traveling Christians and evangelists (Rom. 12:13;1 Peter 4:9; 3 John 5-8).
Another expression of love, also exalted by Jesus (Matt. 25:36), is the care of prisoners. "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them" (v 3). Timothy had recently been released (13:23), and the readers are to see about the needs of others who remained in prison. Strangers might visibly appear at their doors for help, but prisoners were out of sight and must not be forgotten. "As though in prison with them" suggests the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12), the disposition Christians should always have toward others. A similar spirit must be shown to those who are mistreated, the author says, "as if you yourselves were suffering" (NIV).
Brotherly love that is genuine rules out marital infidelity. "Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled" (v 4). Marriage is to be honored. But sexual promiscuity will bring judgment that comes from God himself.
Selfishness may express itself in immorality or in greed. "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have" (v 5). Living by faith demands a different attitude toward earthly things. Money is not an end in itself, and craving for it causes many pitfalls. The admonition here is very similar to Paul's pointed instructions about wealth and contentment (see 1 Tim. 6:6-10; cf. Phil. 4:11).
But does contentment mean absence of ambition and economic stagnation? The answer is that contentment is an attitude of mind made possible by a determined trust in God. And what has God said? "I will never fail you nor forsake you" (v 5). This promise was first made to Israel and to Joshua when Moses was about to be parted from them and then restated to Joshua as he was beginning his victorious campaigns (Deut. 31:6, 8; Josh. 1:5).Because of God's unfailing presence, the believer can courageously say, "The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?" The words, from Psalm 118:6, apply with special force to the readers who were face to face with persecution. If they maintain God as their strength, that will be enough to carry them through.
For those who are disheartened, there is a negative prospect to consider for anyone who turns back from the journey. The stakes are too high. We must not turn back. Hebrews 12:14-29 is the conclusion of the sermon. It is the Hebrew writer’s final attempt to persuade his people that they should not turn back from the path they have chosen. They should continue in faith and persevere in the race. They should follow Jesus to the end.
This section divides as a theological exposition (Hebrews 12:18-24) between two strong exhortations with warnings of judgment (Hebrews 12:14-17 and 12:25-29). The warnings are the Hebrew writer’s last attempt to stave off apostasy in the community. His exposition is his last major attempt to encourage perseverance in faith by pointing the church to the reality that Christ has won for them.
1. Exhortation (Hebrews 12:14-17).
Though the community will experience persecution, the preacher appeals to them to live in peace with everyone as much as they can. This is not simply peace within the community of believers, but also to seek peace with the hostile environment in which they live. Peace is the way of holiness, and the church must seek holiness, as it is the way it shares God’s life that is holy.
But more specifically, the preacher is concerned that some will turn away and apostatize. They will trade their inheritance for the comfort of “peace” with their neighbors. We are always in danger of trading our future with God for the comfort of the present (whether it is the comfort of materialism, or the comfort of “getting along” with those who oppose our values). The people of God have a tendency to compromise their values for the sake of comfort. We don’t want to seek peace with those around us in the wrong way—in a way the compromises our values or that creates bitterness within the community of God. Seek peace, but don’t compromise holiness. Seek peace, but don’t give up your eternal inheritance for temporary comforts here. Esau is the preacher’s example of this thing.
2. Exposition of the Spiritual Reality (Hebrews 12:18-24)
Hebrews 12:18-24 is a contrast between the experience of God’s presence at Sinai and the experience of God’s presence now. Christians experience God as gathered in his throne room, and this foretaste of the future is experienced in the communal gathering of God’s people.
3. Exhortation (Hebrews 12:25-29).
God has spoken through his Son (cf. Hebrews 1:1-2). God has spoken through the blood of Christ (Hebrews 12:24). If we refuse this divine speaking, there is nothing but judgment left. If Israel refused the Sinaitic divine speaking and did not escape judgment, how much less will the church escape God’s judgment if we refuse his speaking through his Son?
exhortations are fundamentally calls to perseverance. Don’t give up; don’t miss
the grace of God; don’t refuse God’s gracious offer. When the offer is
rejected, there is nothing else left but judgment. God is a consuming fire and
when we lose our inheritance rights, we will experience God’s fire.
An Encouraging Word?
We have a kingdom that cannot be shaken. We have a faith that is purified, not destroyed, by fire. We react to the gift of that unshakable kingdom by worshipping God.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.
Reverence... Awe... Fear... This is how we approach God. Not just fear of a punishing fire, but respect for the fire that disciplines and refines us. We serve a God we cannot control. We dare not try to manipulate him. Instead, we fall at his feet, unworthy and unclean. He sends his fire to cleanse us. He raises us to our feet to worship, adore, and serve him forever. We burn with the fire of his love.
The Hebrew writer has some in his audience who are suffering. In addition to all these they were having to face persecution for their faith. Some of them would be forced either to abandon their faith or to die as martyrs for the sake of Jesus! The stakes were high.
There is nothing new about this perspective on suffering, but it is one that needs to be named and held to in our times of greatest struggle. Paul, for example, wrote this: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom.8:28).
Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it ( 12:7-11 ).
Suffering for one’s faith is not pleasant while it is going on, but it yields an outcome that puts it in perspective. Hear Paul again: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Rom.8:18). And hear James as well: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials [troubles, tests, RS ] of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. . . . When tempted [to sin, RS ], no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (Jas.1:3-4,13).
One thing is certain: The point of God’s discipline in our lives is to salvage, restore, and strengthen, not to shatter and destroy. And the make-or-break factor in turning Satanic assault, a random heartache of the sort life brings to everyone, or an attention-getting act of God in a human life is faith. Trusting God for the fulfillment of his promises brings hope into our dark places and enables us to endure what otherwise would overwhelm us. Failing to trust God, we will surely turn to our own devices that center everything on ourselves and – because of our insufficiency in a hostile world – die in our helplessness.
Why the List of Heroes in Hebrews 11?
Scripture has always taught that God’s people live “by faith.” In the present situation as well, those who will be saved are not the bystanders and onlookers but “those who believe.” And just what does this writer-preacher expect us to understand faith to be? What does he mean by saying, “We are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved”?
The Power of Faith
For many people, the church includes people who believe in a story and in a God who is far removed from the real world of their experience. Scientific advances have made God seem more and more remote from the world. Today’s secularism concludes that the real world consists of our homes, our land, and those other material items that give us a sense of security.
The sluggishness of the original readers of Hebrews was probably the result of a conviction that faith was impossible because they could not see or touch its reality. Frustration set in when the promises were not immediately fulfilled. Perhaps the fact that Christianity had turned out to be a long pilgrimage or a distance run had unsettled their convictions and left them with the feeling that faith had brought no security. Persecution and imprisonment (10:32-34) had left them at the point of “ falling away ” and “ shrinking back ” (10:39).
The answer to their shrinking spirits, according to Hebrews 11 , is faith. “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (11:1). Contrary to the opinion of many today, faith is not a blind leap – taken either from despair that nothing could be worse than our plight at the moment. If others say “I’ll believe it when I see it,” his take on things is that the promises of God are more dependable than anything we can see, figure out, or fathom by our devices.
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible” (11:3). Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, and dozens more – these characters from the Hebrew Bible received and trusted the assurances of God. Moses, for example : “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible” (11:27) . For Moses, faith was being more certain of the invisible God than he was frightened of the visible Pharaoh!
Hebrews 11 is an Honor Roll of people whose life stories exemplify the meaning of faith. If Abraham Lincoln and others deserve to have their stories told and retold as part of the definition of American history, so do Noah and Gideon deserve to have theirs held in memory as unwavering children of God. We need persons like Abraham, Daniel (cf. 11:33b), and the widow of Zarephath (cf. 11:35a) for the sake of faith and perseverance. We need heroes to help us find values beyond ourselves.
Consequently, the author of Hebrews presents his discouraged readers with a roll-call of ancient heroes who had faced their discouragement. All of these heroes exemplify, in one way or another, the definition of Hebrews 11:1 . We have now reached one of the truly outstanding chapters of the Bible, the great and wonderful chapter 11 on faith.
1 Peter 1:1-9
Focus : Peter writes to his readers to remind them of the hope God has given them through the resurrection of Jesus and to take courage from it (3). The living hope is further defined as an inheritance (4). God is using his power to guard Christians until they receive their inheritance (5).
Function : Christians of every generation can take courage because of this hope.
A newspaper did a follow-up story on some of the prisoners of war who had come back to their homes to resume their lives after captivities in North Vietnam, which had ranged from ten months to eight years. It is interesting to learn what happened to them since their return to this country in the spring of 1973. During the years that have passed since that return, what adjustments had been hardest to make? Had their values and life goals changed from what they had been before their experiences as POWs?
The story that impressed me most was that of a colonel in the Air Force (Charlie Plumb). He flew 75 combat missions in Viet Nam. On his 75th he was shot down over Hanoi and spent six years in a prison camp. He spent 2,103 days in an 8' by 8' prison cell with no windows or anything to occupy his mind. He reflected on what had kept him going during that ordeal. He spoke of the solitude and terrible loneliness that he felt. “We were forced to spend so many hours and weeks and months and years with nothing to occupy our minds,” he said. How did he survive it? How did he manage to retain his sanity? He said thoughts of coming home to a good family and his faith in God kept him going while he was in exile in prison. Thoughts of home and faith in God gave that man something to keep up his hope. It is the same with the Christian and his thoughts of home.
It is this fixed hope of heaven that has given Christians of every generation the courage they needed to carry on. In the text for today’s lesson, Peter is holding the promise of heaven before the weary eyes of his readers. We would be wise to make sure that thoughts of our heavenly home are in our minds at all times. How beautiful are the thoughts of home and Jesus! How strong they can make us when we are being pressed hard to yield our faith!
It is important for us to understand what hope is in the biblical sense of the word. Hope is defined as "desire, with the expectation of getting what is desired." Notice hope is not just desire; it also involves an expectation that you’ll get what you want. Listen to what Paul says in Romans 5:1-2 (NIV): “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.” As Christians, we rejoice in hope.
There are times that life can become very difficult and we may think that things can’t possibly get any better. But I’m here to share with you this morning that, no matter how bad things get, there is hope in Jesus Christ.
Engaging the World with Hope
The time has never called for more courage, faith, commitment, and hope in the world in which we live than today. The world needs the good news of Jesus Christ. The world is filled with lost people, and our role is taking the good new to them.
In “ Telling the Truth ” Fredrick Beakner describes a scene that unfolds on any given Sunday, in any given church almost anywhere. “The preacher mounts the steps to the pulpit. He looks out on the congregation and there they are. Everyone has his or her own problems do deal with. Everyone is listening. What will the preacher tell them?”
Brian Wilkerson in a sermon “ What the World Needs Now ” adds these words, “What words from the Bible can speak to us today where we are?” As we contemplate our issues there are others going through the same thing over and over again.
But it extends beyond the walls of our building. There is a crying need for hope, not only among our people, but also for people in the world. They need some expectation and joy in their life. Think about some of the people that you have crossed paths with over the last few weeks. Some have had problems and tragedies to deal with. Some are just about ready to give up hope.
There are people who are facing insurmountable problems and are wondering is there is any hope that can give some meaning or purpose to their life. Can God become more real to them instead of some distant thought? As we look around the world, we see the terrorism that threatens us. We wonder about the safety for ourselves and for our children in the future. We send our children off to school, and we know the drug culture that surrounds them. We are aware of the moral decline of our culture and the violence that is present even in our schools and streets.
We wonder as we open our Bibles and as we assemble on Sunday morning, “Is there a word of hope in a world like ours?” In answer to the question, we would have to say the word “yes there is a word of hope.” Lewis Smedes saw a billboard that said “ Don’t give up hope .” In a city like L.A. you wonder how many thousands of people are on the brink of giving up hope.
Hope is that word that gives relief, strength, endurance, and courage to go forward. It is not just a word that provides motivation. It is a word that provides healing for the soul and purpose for life. There was some research that was done on 122 cardiac patients. These 122 men had their lives tracked for several years after their heart attack. They were evaluated with the degree of hopefulness that they possessed and the degree of pessimism that they were experiencing. When they examined the 122 men, they found of the 25 most pessimistic 21 died over the next eight years. They found of the 25 most optimistic only 6 of them died over the next eight years. The loss of hope increased their demise 300%. It predicted their deaths more accurately than their medical risks (high blood pressure, damage to the heart, cholesterol level). The state of their mind was a greater predictor of their death risks than their physical symptoms. John Ortburg recently said regarding these statistics, “ It would be better to eat Twinkies and have hope, than to eat broccoli and have despair .”
We all have to agree that hope is a very powerful thing. It can heal the soul. It can motivate a life. There are those who come to a preacher’s office and share their struggles and when they learn there is hope, they are better able to deal with what comes their way. God can be at work in your life. Things can be better than they are now. You need to commit yourself to a process of healing and help. When you let God be at work in your life, things can be different. People will get a lifted spirit, when they realize there is hope.
The early Christians needed hope too. That is a big part of what the first epistle of Peter was all about. Here were Christians about the year 63 A.D. in Asia Minor. They were far from Jerusalem where the church was first born. Christians were surround by a pagan culture and environment. They were removed about 30 years from Jesus’ ascension back to heaven. They were anticipating his return, but they were wondering if they were not in it for the long haul. Here is a group of Christians in the midst of opposition. Jews saw these Christians as heretics. Romans saw them as a threat. Peter writes this letter to scattered, beleaguered believers. They were struggling with their faith. They were experiencing opposition and suffering persecution. They are looking for a hopeful word that can carry them through the difficult times and help them be faithful to God.
As Peter begins to write to them, he begins with these words, “ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Peter 1:3). It is in the midst of this backdrop on a stage that could be filled with hopelessness that Peter begins with optimistic and hopeful words. Peter gives praise to God and he speaks of the mercy of God. Peter talks about a living hope that predominates in life and carries them in a relationship with God. As they first heard those words, they have wondered “praise” and “hope” in a world like ours. How can there be optimism? Has he read the paper lately? Has he seen the news? Has he not seen the insurmountable obstacles that we are all facing? Does he know what I am going through?
People in our world need real hope and that is what Peter is reminding them of. He is not talking about a vague wish or a distant desire. He is not thinking of hope in the sense of wistful, hopeful could it be? It is more than “I wish” or “I long for.” Biblical hope is always an expectation. It carries a sense of certainty. There is a sure thing for us and for our churches and for our community and world. Peter affirms loudly for them a living hope and that hope is found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter’s word to them is about future. It is always a discouraging thing when we have lost our hope for the future. Many times we get overwhelmed with the problems of the present and stuck in the problems of the past. When we have lost our hope of the future, we have lost our will to go on and our capacity to see possibilities, to dream new dreams, and to see things on the new horizon. We have a calling to walk into the future with confidence to accomplish things for God that will truly make a difference in our lives and in the lives of others.
What is it in the gospel that provides that kind of hopeful outlook on life? It can carry us, heal us, and motivate us. I want to highlight three things from 1 Peter 1 about this living hope.
I. The Future Is Bright. (1:1-3)
The first thing I want us to know about Peter’s affirmation is that the future is bright. It is bright because God is offering us new light. In his great mercy he has given us a new birth and a living hope. He talks about the new birth. One is often amazed as we see a congregation that is made up of people from all stages of life. There are those on the one hand that are at the end of life and there are those on the other hand there are welcoming new life into the world. We all know what happens to a family when a newborn is brought into the world. There is new life and hopefulness for the future. It lifts the spirits of everyone involved because a new birth has occurred. This new birth which comes to us when we become children of God is described in verse 2 when he says, “To God’s elect, strangers in the world…who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood…” (1 Peter 1:1-2). This new birth has come about a calling and eternal purpose from God. It was not our initiative. It came through his. It came about because of the sanctifying work of the Spirit to purify us and to cleanse us to a holy life and to a new way of life. We encounter a new way of living that changes us forever. We are obedient to God and submit ourselves to his Son Jesus Christ.
We have been given a confidence that we have been cleansed completely from our sins. Our new birth means new beginnings. It means being cleansed from the past and having a changed life and a transformation for the future. Peter knew what that was like as well as anybody. He had experienced the failures of denying the Christ three times in the critical hours before Jesus’ crucifixion. He has experienced the shame to what followed when Jesus went to the cross. It was only after Jesus had appeared and said, “ Peace be unto you ” and affirmed Peter in John 21 did Peter’s life become transformed. Jesus helped Peter to look into his soul and called him to follow him, to lead his sheep, and to lay down his life for his people just as Jesus as did. Jesus was affirming Peter and he transformed his life. This man who was so impulsive and so unstable becomes this powerful minister who writes this letter of hope to God’s elect in a strange land. They have been begotten again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Peter knew the resurrection power that changed and transformed his life. He knew what Jesus’ coming back from the dead had done and his awareness of his relationship with God. He knew the resurrection power that Paul had described in Philippians 3 when Paul said I want to know Jesus and the power of his resurrection . He later on talked about his desire to participate in that resurrection from the dead but he is speaking of that transforming power of resurrection power that was of Christ and he knows it is not by his effort or his power. It comes only from the operative in his life. It was helping him become more than he is transforming him into the image surrender of his spirit to God’s Spirit.
What a joy it is to know that God can take our sins away as far as the east is from the west. Someone has said that we cannot rewrite history, but we can be released from it. Our message to the world is that God is more interested in their future than he is in their past. We too want to be a fellowship of hope, love, and forgiveness, healing for everything that life can bring against them. With all the guilt and sin, Jesus can cleanse, forgive, and give new beginning. He can help us be born again unto a living hope. He can also give us that changed life.
I wonder sometimes in our churches do we really believe in the power of God to change human lives. Do we really believe that God has the power to make a difference in the communities in which we live? Do we believe in the transforming power of the Gospel? Have you observed in your churches where lives have been touched and changed because there is a fellowship of people there who bear the life of Jesus within themselves? Are people drawn to find healing and hope because they see it in the lives of the people there? It is not by our effort. John Wartburger talks about spiritual transformation. “Significant transformation always involves training and not just trying. It involves both God and us. It is like trying to cross an ocean. Some people day after day try to become spiritually mature. That is like trying to take a rowboat across the ocean. It is exhausting and it is completely unsuccessful. Sometimes there is no power in our lives or power in our churches because we are trying to walk in our own strength and on our own power. It is not going to take us very far. Others have given up and have tried to depend solely on God’s grace. They are like drifters on a raft. They hang on and hope that God gets them there so they just drift aimlessly through life. Wartburger reminds us that neither trying nor drifting are effective in bringing about spiritual transformation. A better image is not the rowboat or the raft. It is the sailboat. If it moves at all is a gift of the wind. We cannot control the wind, but a good sailor knows where the wind is and adjusts the sails accordingly. Working with the Holy Spirit, which Jesus likens to the wind in John 3 , we have a part in discerning the wind and knowing the direction we need to go. We adjust our sails in the direction in order to catch the wind that God provides. If the world is going to be hopeful, it is going to be through the power of Christ through his Holy Spirit working in us to draw people to himself and help people to experience the transformation that only he can give.
The future is bright when it is centered on the good news of the Gospel. He can help us to be born again unto a living hope in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
II. The Future Is Also Secure. (1:4-5)
The future is also secure. In 1 Peter 1:4 Peter talks about, “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you, 5) who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.” Peter talks about an inheritance and he says it is reserved for you. It is not going to fade away; it is not going to perish. Paul in Philippians 1 says, “ the God who has begun a good work in you will bring it to completion .” If you continue to follow God, he will finish what you have begun. Your future can be secure because of the goodness of God.
Peter opens his first letter with these words: “ Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you …” ( 1 Peter 1:3-4, NIV).
Through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, we begin to see that God has something better in mind for each of us. You may get sick and die in this life, but if you’re a faithful child of God, you won’t get sick and die in that life. You may have all sorts of hardships in this life, but you won’t have any of them in the next life. The treasures you cling so tightly to right now may get old and fade and rot away, but in the next life it won’t be that way, because we have hope. Hope that says, no matter what we have in this life, there’s something better that waits for us in the next life. One day you’ll be raised from the dead to live with God forever and ever. And the reason that we can have that hope is because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Peter says that we are kept by the power of God through faith. In Jude 24 “he is able to present us faultless before his throne.” It is not because of our achievements or our own righteousness, but we are blameless because of his imputed righteousness. Jesus reminds us that as long as we are in his hand no one can snatch us from the Father. We can turn and walk away from him if we choose. As long as we are in Christ (not perfect but faithful) no one can snatch us from the Father’s hand. When there is a sense of security and hopefulness, it presents us with a sense of boldness. We know God will see us through and finish the work he has begun in us. God promises us the future is secure and the promises are bright.
III. The Future Is Already (1:6-9)
The future is already. As strange as they may sound that is what he says beginning in verse 6. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials (7) have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed .” He says this is not a hope that doesn’t take into consideration the realities of life and the obstacles along the way or even the times of suffering that we will face. God is even at work in that Peter says. In verse 8 he says, “ Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, (9) for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” I highlight that last phrase “ you are receiving the goal of your faith .” The process is already under way. This talk of heaven or hope is not just talk. It is not removed from the present and now. We don’t need hope for the future; we need hope for today to face our challenges. It is a message of good news to the world. This inheritance of which he speaks is not just an inheritance that will be ours, it is an inheritance that we can begin drawing right now. “The sense is that Christians now obtain by faith what they will only fully enter into at the end.” (Achtemeir)
What a difference that makes. It would make a difference if you see the financial inheritance you would receive one day. You knew that inheritance would be yours. It would make a difference in the way you would live your life in the present. It make a difference in your life if you knew that inheritance was not just down the road, but that you could begin drawing on it right away. The benefits and blessings of that inheritance become yours now. It would give you boldness as you planned your financial future. It would give you great generosity that you could do more for others. It would give you a great sense of freedom to know that it would be part of your life right now.
So it is with the followers of God. Peter speaks to them in the face of suffering. He says we can have joy. He affirms the power of peace in our lives. He affirms the power of God to carry us in his transforming power. He talks about the wisdom and calling we have received from God. All of that is our inheritance now. It is no wonder that they could be hopeful about the future. There is a sense in which the future is already here.
In the words of John the Baptist as he came preparing the way for the Lord said, “ Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand .” Jesus came speaking that same message. The rule and reign of God was breaking into history and changing lives. He came to reverse the work that Satan accomplished in the world. That breaking into the kingdom of God is still actively present in the world and in the people of God as they yield themselves to him.
The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. It is a future reality in its consummation, but it is a present reality in that God is present through his Spirit in ruling and reigning among his people. In that sense the future is already and we can sing the song “Blessed Assurance Jesus Is Mine Oh What A Foretaste of Glory Devine.” We are not marking time in anticipation of something that cannot be ours until then. It is already breaking into our lives. This is the message of the hopeful.
Peter knew that if his readers could only look beyond the circumstances of the moment to the eternal things of God, they would find the strength to hang on. More than that, he knew that they could find reason to rejoice and sing.
“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweigh them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18). See: 2 Corinthians 5:10; Romans 8:18.
The trials that come to us during the course of a lifetime are from various sources. There are tragic accidents, lingering illnesses, physical handicaps, business failures, and countless others. God does not allow these things in human experience for the purpose of hurting his creatures; he allows them for the sake of testing our moral and spiritual quality. Every man or woman is regarded as unproved before God, and the trials of life come to put faith to the test. These trials are not evil in themselves, and God is not blameworthy for allowing them. To the contrary, as with the passing of gold through a refiner’s fire, these challenges allow the purity of one’s faith to be made evident. The Christian who is faithful to God through some period of intense testing brings praise, honor, and glory to the Father; the outcome to himself is the salvation of his soul.
One said we need more of a VCR mentality. He explained what a great sports fan he was. When he missed some of his sporting events, he would videotape them. He said that he would rewind to the end of the game so he could see who won. If his team won, he would go back to see the whole game. He said that by knowing the outcome, no matter how bad things seem, he would not have to worry about it because he would already know the end of the story. You know what hope is for us. It is hope that reaches backward from the future and gives us strength today. It fills us with hope because we see it through the eyes of the kingdom of God.
What would it be like if we as a church could have this hope for the future? How would it change our ministry, leaders, teaching, preaching, and planning for the future? How would God use us in powerful ways? How would we engage the world, if we did with more hope and power of God?
I want to move from the realm of the hopeful to the realm of reality. Where are we today? Flavil Yeakley on Church Growth (1980-2000) 13,000 churches. We have been losing ground with respect to the world’s population. Lyle Schaller says to keep up with the population growth the church needs to add 1% per year. Over two decades we need to add 2,862 new churches. We have added 289. We need to plant new churches.
Of the 400,000 churches in the U.S. 62% are declining; 21 % are growing less than the national average; 17% are growing above the national average. Take all the unchurched people in America, they would the 9th most populated nation on the earth. We are part of aging churches. We have planted 289 churches in 20 years. That is a sign that most of our churches are aging churches. Most churches are 40 years old most designed to reach a different generation. Fewer Americans are connecting with our existing churches. People and culture are changing.
What does this have to do with engaging the world with hopefulness? If that hopeful spirit could be in us, and believe that same spirit that began the church could be reproduced again we could begin to show the world there is hope. Get beyond self-preservation and begin to engage the world with hope.
Drumbeat of Love by Lloyd Oglebee is a book on the Book of Acts. He did graduate studies in Scotland. He sailed on the Queen Mary from New York to South Hampton. He talked about the Queen Mary, the crew, and recaptured the ship’s history. He compared the ship to the church. Years later the ship was a museum piece. The motor was removed. It had become a hotel. Oglebee said the ship can no longer do what it was designed to do – to sail the high seas. The vessel had become a monument to past glories. “ The greatest ship that had sailed the seas has now become the greatest ship to come and sea .” One woman made a statement that was intended to be a compliment about the church where Oglebee preached, “ I have waited for years to visit this church to see the things that used to happen here .” He said, “ The memorable church that was sent to sea is now the church to come and see .” Oglebee said that churches are not to become museums but become like ships that need to stay at sea .
Kingdom Come by John Mark Hicks talked about James Harding and David Lipscomb . From 1888-1910 due to the influence of people like James A. Harding, Nashville went from 5 churches to 50 churches. That is our heritage. We need to plant new churches to reach new people in new places. We need to renew the hopeful spirit of our existing congregations and help them sail the high seas all over again. We need to reach the millions of lost souls. Think beyond your local church with a hopeful spirit. The kingdom of power is within us. How are we going to plant another 13,000 over the next decades?
If we engage the world as the hopeful, we will have enough confidence in Christ to see what God can do through us to have a profound impact in taking the gospel of Christ to new places and to new people.
King George the VI spoke Parliament on New Years Eve in a time when their future was uncertain (he had cancer but did not know it and died the next year). He made this statement, “ I said to the man at the gate of the year give me a life that I might walk safely into the unknown .” I think we long to walk safely unto the unknown. If we engage the world as the hopeful we don’t have to know all or see all or have all the strategies. We need to go out into the world and join God in kingdom business. We need to go forth as the hopeful. God calls us to engage the world with hope. “Go forth to love and serve.”
A few years ago the psychology department of Duke University carried on an interesting experiment. They wanted to see how long rats could swim. And so, in one container they placed a rat for which there was no possibility of escape. He swam a few moments and then ducked his head to drown. In the other container they made the hope of escape possible for the rat. The rat swam for several hours before finally drowning. The conclusion of the experiment was just the opposite of our common motto. We usually say, “ As long as there is life, there is hope .” The Duke experiment proved, “ As long as there is hope, there is life .”
You see, without Christ, life is a hopeless end. But with him, life is an endless hope. I don’t know all the problems you may have in your life, but I do know the one who has the answers.
Jean-Paul Sartre was a famous atheist who died in Paris in 1980. It is said, though, that a little over a month before he died, he would say to himself, "I know I shall die in hope ." Then in sadness, he would add these words: “ But hope needs a foundation .”
This morning, our hope as Christians has a foundation – it is built on the trustworthiness of God’s Word. It is built on the love of God that was manifested on the cross. And it is built on the knowledge that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead some 2,000 years ago.
There’s not a reason in the world why anyone should go home today without that hope that God provides.
Thoughts of home were what kept an imprisoned man alive and sane during his ordeal of eight years in a prison camp. Thoughts of their heavenly home kept many a Christian of the first century strong in the face of wild animals and cruel men. These same thoughts in your heart will see you through your darkest hours.
The Bible calls us to view life from the end, to take what we might call “the eternal perspective” on things. A woman in great pain endures it triumphantly, for she is looking to the birth of her child. A scientist persists day after day through failed experiments, for he is looking for a cure for leukemia. The Word of God tries to get us to see things this way — pain overshadowed by a great outcome, frustrations erased by a fuller understanding.
In every Christian’s life there will inevitably come times when the Lord’s promise to come again and receive his people unto himself in heaven will have to carry him through some great difficulty. Faith reaches out for strength, and it is hope that gives something to hold on to.
Maybe there is someone in the audience whose hope has been damaged? Maybe there is someone who needs to begin his or her life as a Christian? Be born again unto a living hope.
I. The Results of Apostasy "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries." (Hebrews 10:26-27)
In the Old Testament, there are two phrases that are frequently used to distinguish between two very different types of sins. There were sins of ignorance, and there were presumptuous sins. And the response of the Jews was to be entirely different toward people who committed those two kinds of sins. Numbers 15:27-28 , (Numbers 15:30-31)
Now, do you see the parallel between the presumptuous sin in the Old Testament and the willful sin here in Hebrews 10? In both cases, there is no sacrifice for sins. There is no hope for forgiveness. There is nothing that remains but "a certain fearful expectation of judgment".
And if you ever reach that point in your spiritual life, the Hebrew writer says, "there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries."
These were Christians who were considering leaving the church and turning their backs on Christ and the Hebrew writer wants them to know just how serious that is in terms of the eternal consequences. And it's a very powerful passage that shows us it is possible to fall away from God's grace.
The fact is that we can fall away. We can, if we choose, make the conscious decision to reject God and walk away from him. And if that happens, then we no longer have any hope of salvation. Our God is a God of love and a God of grace. But, if we reject him, we need to be reminded that he is also a God of wrath. And "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
The person who leaves the church no longer has a sacrifice that can atone for his sins because the only sacrifice that can bring a person into God's presence is the sacrifice of Christ's blood. So if you choose to turn your back on Christ, then all hope of salvation is forfeited. Hope is gone, eternal life is gone. Apart from Christ, everything worth having is gone.
II. The Deterrents to Apostasy
"But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; “for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.
“Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise." (Hebrews 10:32-36)
III. A Final Word of Encouragement
The Hebrew writer closes out this section with a word of encouragement. "'For yet a little while, and he who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; But if anyone draws back, my soul has no pleasure in him.' But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul." (Hebrews 10:37-39).
The writer then says, "But I know you are not going to fall away. We are people of faith and we are going to keep on living by faith. We are not going to quit." Jesus Christ was crucified only once. At our baptism, we received the benefits of that sacrifice. May we all be encouraged to look back to the early days of our Christianity, and to look forward to the reward that waits for us, if we remain faithful?
The new covenant, which is superior to the old covenant, stands at the center of Hebrews (ch. 8). Its two main features, according to Hebrews, are its superior high priest (chs. 5-7) and its superior sacrifice (chs. 9-10). The sacrifice of the new covenant is discussed in three stages. First, the old covenant system at the tabernacle is presented as a background picture to help explain what Jesus did in the new covenant (9:1-10). Second, the effectiveness of the blood of Christ is described in detail (9:11-28). Finally, the sacrifice of Christ is exhibited as being made once, but effective for all time (10:1-18). The "therefore" of 10:19 introduces a section of exhortation based on this three staged discussion of Christ's sacrifice.
The central Old Testament quotation for this section is found in 10:5-7 and is taken from Psalm 40:6-8. Most sections of Hebrews place the major Old Testament quotation at the beginning of the section. Only the discussion of the covenant in chapter 8 and this discussion of the sacrifice in chapters 9-10 place the Old Testament quotation near the end.
A. THE TABERNACLE AND ITS TOOLS (9:1-5)
9:1 Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.
Our author explains that "the first covenant” had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary." He discusses them in the reverse order, beginning with the tabernacle and its tools (vv. 1-5), and then proceeding to the central ceremony and its meaning (vv. 6-10).
B. THE DAY OF ATONEMENT (9:6-10)
9:6 When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry.
The rituals of the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur) are fully described in Leviticus 16.
C. JESUS’ SACRIFICE CLEANSES OUR CONSCIENCE (9:11-14)
Now that our author has described that which is an "illustration for the present time" (9:9) - the tabernacle and rituals of the first covenant (9:1) - he now proceeds, in that light, to describe the superiority of Jesus' blood sacrifice. The remainder of the chapter is devoted to three major accomplishments of the shed blood of Christ: (1) the cleansing of our conscience (vv. 11-14), (2) the inauguration of the new covenant (vv. 15-22), and (3) our complete purification from sin (w. 23-28). The thrust of the chapter to this point is now summed up in this lesser to greater argument.
But "how much more" was accomplished by the blood of Christ! His sacrifice was able to do what the others could not (9:9) - "cleanse our consciences." What Jesus offered for our cleansing was "himself unblemished." Peter uses it in the same sense that our writer does here when he refers to "the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect" (1 Pet 1:19).
D. JESUS' DEATH INAUGURATES THE NEW COVENANT (9:15-22)
We now read about the second of the three major accomplishments of the shed blood of Christ: the inauguration of the new covenant (vv. 15-22).
Finally, this verse indicates that Christ's death makes it possible for the entire community of faith, old and new, to receive this inheritance. Those whose sins were "committed under the first covenant" were set free not by the sacrifices and gifts of that covenant but only by the sacrifice of Jesus.
E. JESUS’ SACRIFICE WAS ONCE AND FOR ALL (9:23-28)
9:27 Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 9:28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
This verse contains both a promise and a warning. As Christians, we say "maranatha!" ("Come, Lord Jesus!" Rev 22:20) for we desire to be with him. Two truths are certain. All men die. And all men will face judgment. On that day, only one decision will matter - whether we have embraced the Christ who sacrificed himself for our sins and our salvation.
Chapter 8, is the beginning of a more lengthy section that goes down to 10:18. Broadly speaking, chapters 5-7 deal with the person of Christ as "high priest"; chapters 8-10 focus on the ministry of Christ as "high priest."
The Heavenly Ministry (8:1- 6 )
This new section opens with what appears to be a summary: "we have such a high priest," the one who is "seated at the right hand" of God's throne in heaven. Then, continuing to speak of Christ, he introduces a new theme by saying that this Christ in heaven conducts his priestly duties in heaven. That is, he is "a [priestly] minister in the sanctuary" in the real Holy of Holies erected not by mortals but by the Lord.
Now "Christ has obtained a ministry which is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better" (v 6). The word "ministry" is used in the same sense as "minister" in verse 2; both refer to Christ's ministry as our heavenly priest. The statement is in the "how much better" form, significant in Hebrews. Christ is "so much better" than the angels (1:4). His covenant and his ministry are "so much better" than the old (8:6). His offered blood is "so much better" than the blood of goats and bulls (9:13-14). His blood speaks "better" than the blood of Abel (12:24).
The statement contains also a different level of comparison between Christ's better priestly ministry and his better covenant. The first inextricably involves the second, for a better ministry demands a better covenant. Indeed, the minister is the mediator. Christ is our high priestly minister and God's mediator. Ordinarily, we think of a mediator as a go-between who stands on neutral ground and brings the contracting parties together. Certainly, Christ is our mediator. In Hebrews, however, his mediating work on our behalf is as high priest. But with reference to the (new) covenant, his function is not the same. Where the covenant is concerned, he is primarily God's representative or agent.
The New Covenant (8:7-13)
A better covenant with better promises implies the inadequacy of the previous covenant. "For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion for a second." This in a nutshell states the author's contention. The Levitical priests and sacrifices were "weak and useless" in the sense that they could not bring a person near God (7:18-19). And where in the old covenant was there a place for Christ? It was God, then, who censured the first covenant and replaced it with the second. Notice that the opening and closing statements of this section declare the temporary character of the old covenant.
The old covenant was no more than a brief setup that would have to give way to something better. This was very clear even in the time of the prophet Jeremiah. Six centuries before Christ, he saw that the nation of Judah would fall to the invading armies of Babylon. Judah had sinned; it had broken its covenant with God. It would be snuffed out, and its beautiful temple would be reduced to rubble.
But Jeremiah looked beyond all of this to the time when God would establish a new relationship with his people. "The days will come, says the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah" (v 8). The quotation, from Jeremiah 31:31-34, is the only passage in the Old Testament that specifically speaks of a "new covenant." This covenant would be radically different.
The author, as he continues to quote Jeremiah, describes the essential nature of the new covenant.
1. It is a covenant of assurance. "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord."
2. It is a covenant of obedience. "I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (v 10).
3. It is a covenant of grace. "For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more" (v 12).
But written in the terms of the new covenant is God's promise of pardon. Our sins are fully forgiven and forgotten. Instead of "a reminder of sin year after year" (10:3), God remembers sin no more at all (10:17). Of course, this remarkable promise of forgiveness, this wonderful covenant of his grace, is only through Christ and his sacrifice (9:11-14, 28; 10:12-14; 13:12).
In the author's view, however, the prophecy of Jeremiah comprised something in addition. It was for him total proof that God had dated the old covenant and had made it a thing of the past. "In speaking of a new covenant he treats the first as obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (v. 13), Notice the word "obsolete" occurs twice. First, it refers to something that is past. This is made clear: "he has made the first one obsolete." God himself antiquated it. It could no longer serve his purpose. Second, "obsolete" is used.
The new covenant perfectly fulfills the terms of an ideal covenant. God had this in mind from the time of Abraham. At Sinai he sought to establish his covenant with Israel, but Israel disdained it. They did not keep their part of the bargain. Now God has provided a new and better covenant for his people. He is theirs, and they are his. Engraved within them is the delight to do God's will. They know him and walk in his ways. And forevermore they have the forgiveness of their sins.
Christ is in heaven for them, their great high priest. He ministers in the real sanctuary above, where God is and where real forgiveness takes place.
Chapter seven explains why we have a special cause for security in having a “high priest after the order of Melchizedek .” This chapter explains the two verses of the Old Testament, which mentioned Melchizedek. This “order” of priesthood is superior to the order of priests who served in the temple. The author exclaims, “ See how great he is! ” His greatness consists in the fact he has no beginning or end. He “ continues a priest forever ” ( 7:3 ). The levitical priests died, but he lives (7:8). His particular order depends, not on bodily descent, but on an indestructible life (7:16). Death prevents the old order of priesthood from continuing in office, but the new order “ continues for ever ” (7:23-24 ).
As we read through chapter seven, the argument may appear difficult to understand. But the point that stands out is that the “ order of Meichizedek ” is eternal (7:3, 8, 16, 23-24). Jesus Christ was not qualified to be a priest of the temple (7:14), but he belongs to a priesthood that lasts forever.
The point of this chapter is that the church has not been left alone . There is one who is able “ for all time ” to save those who draw near, since he “ always lives to make intercession for them ” (7:26 ). A church rooted in Christ, who saves “ for all time ,” is anchored in eternity. This church will survive. We need today to reaffirm the promises, which serve as an “ anchor of the soul .”
There is a device used several times in Scripture called typology that figures into our ability to appreciate this chapter. It is from this perspective on history that Melchizedek becomes a type of Christ. He prefigured what would be revealed in Jesus. He had some dim level of participation in the reality that Jesus would bring to light. The shadowy figure mentioned only at Genesis 14:17-20 and Psalm 110:4 is offered in Hebrews 7 as an Old Testament anticipation of Jesus.
Melchizedek didn’t get his priestly appointment through family ties as a descendant of Aaron. Indeed, insofar as the biblical record itself goes, he has no ancestry! Of course he had parents. And he may have had children. But insofar as the biblical data on him, we have no family tree. He is “without father or mother, without genealogy.” Why, one could even go further to say that the priest-king of Salem was “without beginning of days or end of life” – again, insofar as the record itself give us no details – and thus “remains a priest forever .”
Furthermore, in keeping with his motif of the superiority of Jesus, he proceeds to demonstrate the preeminence of Jesus even to Father Abraham. So when Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, not only Abraham but all his descendants (i.e., those “still in the body of” Abraham) – including Aaron and the high priests descended from him – were granting the superiority of Salem’s priest-king to Abraham. Thus if it can be shown that Christ’s priesthood is of the Melchizedekan order, it will be proved – to our writer-preacher at least – that Jesus is superior both to Abraham and to the system of priests and offerings within Judaism.
The Melchizedekan Order
The Israelites understood that priests functioning within their community must come from the Tribe of Levi and that high priests must be descended from Aaron. So how could Jesus – who is of the Tribe of Judah – qualify for the priesthood, much less for the role of high priest? That is the question addressed next: (7:11-22).
This permanent change of priesthood has several implications. For one , it means that the covenantal system embodying the Aaronic priesthood would have to be changed . Perfection was not in view with the Law of Moses. It could not make those who lived under its ordinances and rituals perfect, and – to borrow the language of Paul – served best to make its subjects aware of their sinfulness and of their need for something more than its rules and regulations. “No one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law,” he wrote, “rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (Rom. 3:20) .
Jesus is much more, however, than a mediator. “Jesus has become the guarantee (Gk, engyos ) of a better covenant” (v.22). Jesus is the personal guarantor whose indestructible life means that he is always on duty to see that we triumph over Satan’s devices. If his death was the ultimate sacrifice for sin that made further sacrifices unnecessary, his present function on our behalf as high priest means that we need not cower before threats and persecution (cf. Rom. 5:9). “Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34 ). His work has brought us into a “better covenant” with God; it is a covenant written on hearts rather than stone tablets and carries the promise: “ I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (cf. Jer. 31:31-34 ).
He Meets Our Need!
The language that follows is the great assurance the Hebrew writer wanted the discouraged believers of his time to embrace .
What incredible language! “ He is able to save completely those who come to God through him .” “ He always lives to intercede for them .” And – well, I’m going to cheat here and sneak a look ahead in order to round out this incredible process of redemption – his gracious relationship with us makes us perfect in God’s eyes, even while we are stumbling and fumbling around down here! “By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (10:14).
The preacher-writer of our text wanted his desperate hearers-readers to know there was one place they could go in their distress. Don’t quit on faith. Don’t turn back. Don’t give in to the pressures. Let your distress drive you to Jesus !
The beleaguered saints to whom Hebrews is addressed had found themselves awkward, unlovely, and undesirable. They didn’t fit their past social environments. Their old friends weren’t friends anymore. For some, even family had cut them off . Yet all of us need to be wanted! So Jesus could never be an “incidental luxury” or occasional Sunday guest for them. They would need him as their one bright thing for each day – until he came again for them. And so do we!
This text isn’t really about Melchizedek – any more than previous ones have been about angels, Moses, Joshua, or Sabbath. They are all about Jesus . For this preacher, everything is about Jesus! Tying together 2:17 with 7:1-28 , watch the three key terms he has used of him.
First , Jesus is faithful . Tested though he was, he not only survived but passed with flying colors. He is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” in his unsoiled nature as Son of God. Second , he is merciful . Although “set apart” in his personal holiness, Jesus has chosen not to set himself apart as aloof and unavailable to us. He has shared our humanity, endured our unbelieving rejection, borne our vulnerabilities, and taken our sin debt onto himself at Calvary. Oh, he is merciful beyond comprehension. And, finally , he is perfect for our situation of need. He forgives, empowers, disciplines, and reassures; at the end, he will raise us from the dead and transform us into the very likeness of his own indestructible, conquering, and glorious self.
Jesus. Remember, the subject of chapter 7 is not Melchizedek but Christ. Melchizedek serves as an illustration of Christ and then fades from view. Verses 20-28 form the climactic section, and here the name "Jesus" appears for the first time in the chapter. "Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant" (7:22 NRSV).
Hebrews 5 :11- 6:20
The first priority in understanding Scripture is that it be read by paragraphs and chapters, not one verse at a time. This entire midsection of Hebrews should be read and reread with a view to the message overall. If we read over it several times, perhaps we can begin to see the distinctive features of this section. They may be outlined as follows: Exhortation: on to mature teaching (5:11-6:20)
Solid Food (5:11 -14 )
The first readers of this letter had been Christians for a considerable period of time, long enough for them to be able to receive "advanced" instruction. This is what the author refers to when he says that by now, "you ought to be teachers." He is not saying that each and every one of them was expected to be a teacher. Instead, he is using "teachers" to stand for those who think and act maturely. In other words, he says that they are acting not as adults but as infants. They need to be taught all over again "the elementary truths of God's word." They need a diet of milk.
On the other hand, "solid food" is for grownups. While an infant is "unskilled" or "inexperienced" in the "word of righteousness" (God's word which leads to right conduct), "solid food is for the mature" (v 14). Who are the mature? "Those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil."
Pressing on to Maturity (6:1- 3 )
The next few verses, indeed down through 6:8, connect directly with the foregoing. Verse 1 involves a twofold exhortation: "Let us leave ... and go on." That is, let us leave behind the elementary teachings pertaining to Christ, and let us go on to more advanced teaching concerning his priesthood. If the readers will truly understand the meaning of Christ's priesthood and his atoning sacrifice, this will be enough to keep them from apostasy. Once and for all, they must decide. The author lists six items as examples of basics that need no further emphasis.
1. Repentance from "dead works." Repentance is much more than sorrow for sin. It is a turning from the "dead works" of sin (cf. 9:14), a renunciation of the former life that leads to death (cf. Rom. 6:23).
2. Faith in God. In Hebrews, faith is always active, as demonstrated in chapter 11. It is not enough to leave the dead works of sin, but there must be the positive turning to God in faith.
3. Baptisms. The term is plural and is the general word for "washings" (cf. 9:10; Mark 7:4). Jewish and pagan washings would need to be distinguished from Christian baptism, and so the author uses the general instead of the specific term for baptism.
4. Laying on of hands. This was essentially a Jewish custom, generally either to appoint someone to a task (Acts 6:6; 13:3), or to confer a blessing (Matt. 19:15), including that of healing (Mark 5:23) or of the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17; 19:6).
5. Resurrection of the dead. Jesus and the apostles taught the resurrection of all the dead (John 5:28-29; Acts 4:2), a basic truth that the author's readers readily acknowledged.
6. Eternal judgment. The preaching of the resurrection also involved the preaching of impending judgment (Acts 17:31) with its lasting consequences.
This list of elementary truths is not a complete list, but the author is anxious to move his readers on to more mature teaching "if God permits."
A Warning against Apostasy (6:4-8)
This is by no means the first warning in Hebrews, but it is (together with 10:26-31) the most startling and severe. The warning is stated in a long, impressive sentence beginning with the words, "For it is impossible ... " "For" connects with that which precedes: if the readers do not go forward in their understanding of Christ, the alternative is to fall back, presumably to their prior Judaism, and commit apostasy.
The author goes on to set forth the hardened condition of apostates: they "crucify the Son of God all over again" (NIV) and "hold him up to contempt." This is why it is impossible to restore them. They abuse him who is "the Son of God." They nail him to the cross again and publicly shame him. They do not simply disbelieve him, but they denounce and disgrace him before the world.
It needs to be emphasized that the subject of the passage is apostasy. Such a person cannot be saved because he is no longer able to repent.
A Word of Encouragement (6: 9-12)
Later, the author will return to the subject of apostasy, especially in 10:26-31 and in 12:12-29. That he has dealt with the topic previously and will do so again clearly shows apostasy to be possible for his readers. Nevertheless, he hastens to add here that in their case he is quite confident of "better things ... that accompany salvation" (NIV). He wants to encourage them.
Standing on God's Promises (6:13-20)
In the paragraph before us, the author establishes the certainty of these promises and their self-evident basis for hope. Truly, the Christian stands on the promises of God. "He who promised is faithful" (10:23). Of all those who "inherit the promises," the name of Abraham is distinctive. "When God made a promise to Abraham, . . . he swore by himself, saying, `Surely I will bless you and multiply you."' To swear by God is the strongest oath possible, and so God swore by himself. The occasion referred to is that of the offering of Isaac, when God promised that Abraham's offspring would be as numberless as "the stars of heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore" (Gen. 22:17). We see the working out of God's promise when Christ came (11:13; 11:39-40).
The writer of Hebrews had an exalted view of Christ. He is superior to angels, greater than Moses, and far above Joshua. He is, after all, God’s own Son who made purification for sins and is now seated at the right hand of God (1:1-3). He is a merciful and faithful high priest who made atonement for the sins of the people in service to God and has the ability to help us in our trials (2:17-18). He is the faithful Son over all God’s house (3:6). He is the one alone who can give God’s Sabbath-rest to those who believe in him (4:9-10).
Hebrews (4:14-16). The role of the high priest in the Old Testament is impressive. He intercedes with Yahweh on behalf of the nation. He wears special robes. He functions with great ceremony and solemnity. So we can be sure that God wants us to come to his throne of grace. He is our Father! And by the good offices of his one perfect Son, our prayers will be made effective and powerful. As our high priest, Jesus has carried blood – not that of a sacrificial animal but his very own – to the mercy seat. He has presented himself in the very presence of God on our behalf to plead our case. He understands our case because he has lived our weaknesses and experienced the same trials and temptations we face. Our high priest is a real human being, our friend, our kinsman – yet without sin.
The Credentials of Our High Priest
One cannot take the role of high priest to himself. It must be conferred. So the writer of Hebrews moves quickly to make it clear that the One seated on the throne has himself credentialed and ordained Jesus to his unique high priesthood. When he ascended “through the heavens” after his bodily resurrection, he was paving the way for us. He was not only opening heaven’s door but was being declared in his very person “The Way” (cf. John 14:6). Because this is so, we do not have to face down Satan ourselves. We simply “hold firmly to the faith we profess” in the Christ who has already defeated him for our sake.
Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, (5:1-6).
Just as Aaron was selected and called to his role as Israel’s first high priest, so Jesus was selected and call to his high-priestly function. Yet, just as Jesus is greater than angels, Moses, and Joshua, he is also a greater high priest than Aaron. His priesthood is “in the order of Melchizedek” – a phrase that occurs no less than five times in Hebrews and so must be important. It is such an important fact that our preacher will treat the issue at some length later. For now, he simply tantalizes his readers-hearers by dropping the mysterious name. For now, he only hints at the “forever” significance to Christ’s high priesthood in this special order.
So Why the Distress?
Hebrews (5:7-10). on that horrible night Jesus ended his intense prayer three times – so intense that sweat poured off his body as though he were bleeding – with reverent submission. By saying “ Not my will but yours be done ,” he was essentially committing to obey the Father even if his obedience meant still more anguish and suffering. And it did! Gethsemane gave way to Calvary. If we go back to Hebrews 2:14-18 for a moment, the same thing has already been said in slightly different words. In his oneness with God’s creatures who have flesh and blood, he faced the devil’s ultimate threat to human beings – the fear of death. Like us, he trembled. Like us, he cried out for relief. Unlike some of us, however, he knew that the death of the body was reversible. He knew that his Father could raise him from the dead and restore his life.
He knew full well that “ Not my will but yours be done ” entailed the payment of the death penalty for sin that would bring anguish to his soul beyond anything that could be done to his fleshly body. Cf. Matt. 10:28.] God “heard” the cries of Jesus – both from Gethsemane’s garden and from Golgotha’s tree – and delivered him from the stranglehold of death. By raising his body from the tomb on Sunday morning, heaven signaled that the human race need never again live as captives “held in slavery by their fear of death.”
Jesus learned obedience by trusting the Father to see him through that ordeal. His reverent submission perfected him for his role as trail-blazer for us. In his perfection, he has become the source of eternal salvation for all who ever follow him on the obedient path of reverent submission. Follow Jesus with the same reverent submission he showed the Father, and you will experience the same outcome. Just as his faithful obedience under trial was part of the process that perfected him within God’s greater plan, so is our faithful obedience under trial part of the process of purification and refinement for our faith.
“Because [Jesus] himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (2:18 ). So why would the first-century hearers try to face their temptations in their own human strength? With their high priest identified, ordained, and forever at their disposal, why would they struggle with their personal stresses or external tormentors without his aid? He was able to help them!
The Bible is always relevant and always applicable. We must always be in awe of God and the power of his Word. Our communities of faith need to be places of real worship, reverence, and radical openness to that Word. The truth God communicated to men and women contained the power of God to transform and empower their lives. The power of his words is explained this way in Scripture.
We must cling to the joyous truth that the Word of God is powerful. When we teach it with authority and expectation, it will achieve the result God has ordained. These words were written to a tired church. They came at a crucial point in the appeal of the author of Hebrews to his weary community. After he urged his readers to remain faithful in the midst of the temptation to drop out, he told his tired community that their greatest need is to be challenged by the word of God.
God says to Jeremiah. “ Is not my word like fire. . . and like a hammer which breaks a rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29 ). Their commitments may be meaningless, but God’s word is lasting. “ The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our Lord abides forever” (Isa. 40:8).
The story of the Bible concerns people who sometimes had nothing to sustain them but a promise. They often seemed on the brink of collapse. But the promise was not extinguished. It looked that way, even at Calvary, but God brought hope out of despair. As Paul told the Corinthians, “ All the promises of God find their yes in him”, (2 Cor.1:20 ).
A Happy Ending
The Bible is not a book of thousands of isolated verses. It concerns the God whose word is “ living and active ,” who offers our lives a promise. The Book of Hebrews reminds them that it is the challenge of Scripture, which stimulates and encourages. The God who once made a promise to Abraham and Moses holds out the same promise to His church today. We may share the frustrations of Elijah or Sarah, but Scripture reminds us that God’s word “is living and active.”
In the Bible things do turn out well. And people who are inundated with the message of hopelessness need to be refreshed by the word of hope that comes in Scripture. We need to hear about the Bible’s happy ending.
Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks of the hope, which Scripture provides. “For whatever was written in former days was written
for our instruction, that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). Hopelessness and chaos do not have the last word in the Bible. That is probably why the church may be one community that has not lost its hope in a society where we are showered by words of despair. In Scripture we discover the God whose word is “living and active.”
Early Christians were sustained largely by the conviction that the thread running through the Bible was the word of promise. They recalled that God had made promises to Abraham (Gen. 12:2) and David (2 Sam. 7: 10-17). In the coming of Jesus Christ they recognized that God had kept his promise. Paul told his listeners in one speech, “ We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus” (Acts 13:32-33 ). The good news was the word that was “ promised beforehand through His prophets in the holy Scriptures” (Rom. 1:2 ). The Scripture was “living and active,” for it demonstrated that God keeps His word.
It is difficult to overstate the
importance of Moses to people of Jewish background. No life
is more intriguing and no ministry had more impact than Moses. But he merely
set the stage for the one whose life and ministry are for us. There is
a better story than the one about Moses. This text draws an analogy between
the present experience of the preacher’s audience and the past experience of
the children of Israel in the wilderness under the leadership of Moses. The
preacher brings the events of Numbers 14 (as reflected in Psalm 95) into
analogy with the present experience of discouraged believers in his
Israel followed Moses into the wilderness. While Moses was faithful, Israel was not. The church follows Jesus into the wilderness. Jesus was faithful, but the question remains whether the church will be faithful. Will the church follow Jesus or will they follow the example of Israel in the wilderness?
1. Hebrews 3:1-6 . This section is fundamentally exhortation. It begins with the most basic exhortation and most foundational exhortation of the sermon: “fix your thoughts on Jesus.” Because Jesus is the exalted Son who is greater than the angels but made himself lower than the angels, focus your attention on him. He is God’s faithful Son. He is further identified as an “apostle” as well as a “high priest.” The idea of “one who was sent” (apostle) is closely connected to the “champion” or “leader” (2:10) where those who are sent are leaders in Numbers 13:2. The Son was sent as a leader, a champion among God’s people, among his brothers.
2. Hebrew 3:7-19 . This section is an exhortation based upon Psalm 95:7b-11. The text is quoted in Hebrews 3:7b-11 and Hebrews 3:15. After each citation, the Hebrew writer exhorts his readers in Hebrews 3:12-14 and Hebrews 3:16-19. Thus, we have the pattern of Scripture followed by exhortation.
The Hebrew writer sees that the potential problem among his hearers is “unbelief.” The first exhortation begins with “See…that no one among you has an evil heart of unbelief” (3:12) and ends with “We see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief” (3:19). The issue is faith or the lack thereof. The question of Numbers 14:11 rings in the background: “How long will they refuse to believe me?” The “unbelief” here is a refusal to believe God’s promises and trust that he will accomplish them. It is not a weakness of faith, but a rebellious rejection.
The rebellion to which Hebrews 3:16-19 alludes is found in Numbers 14. It was a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, but ultimately against God as well. The connection here with Hebrews 3:1-6 is obvious. If they refused to believe God’s promise through Moses and thus could not enter the rest, how much will the fail to enter the rest if they reject God’s promise through Jesus who is God’s faithful son.
It is important to understand the nature of this “unbelief” in Hebrews 3. This is not a temporary lack of faith, or trust. It is not a moment of weakness. It is, rather, a willful rejection of God’s promise. It is rebellion. The rebellious cannot enter God’s rest.
We have an exhortation against disbelieving God’s word. The warning comes from the past, when Israel, in its desert wanderings comes from the past, when Israel, it its desert wanderings, stubbornly refused to listen to God. Israel, God’s people in the past, did not continue in faith; and the same fear of faithlessness runs through the mind of the author with respect to God’s present people.
However, he encourages believers who are struggling with their weaknesses to continue their journey. Every community of faith lives with the reality that some in their midst give up their faith, reject God’s promises and refuse to obey. The Hebrew writer encourages us not to be one of those people, but to claim the work of Christ for ourselves and embrace the promise of God’s rest. He encourages us to persevere in faith.
The key to the survival of the church may lie in its response to frustration and disappointment. Disappointment has been a part of the life of faith from the days of Israel until now. A church that knows its history is aware of both the tragedy of failing to endure and the motivating power of God’s promise.