The Letter to the Hebrews (1)
Christ and the Angels
The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians to help them compare Christianity with Judaism, and to help them understand that Judaism is the foundation of Christianity, but inferior. To rightly view God’s whole plan for mankind, we must see that all of the Old Testament teachings, rituals and practices were only leading up to and pointing to Christ. The theme of Hebrews is Jesus Christ, the One whose coming was prophesied, and who has come!
Probably Hebrews was not written by Paul because he always identified himself in his letters. It was probably written by someone who had been close to him - maybe Barnabus or Apollos who had both spent a lot of time with Paul. Hebrews was written shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The key words are “better” and “superior” which occur 15 times. Whoever wrote this letter was evidently in Rome at the time. Heb. 13:24 It seems that Timothy was with him, having been released from prison. We can only assume that Timothy went to Rome to be with Paul as he requested. II Tim. 4:9 Timothy was evidently arrested and imprisoned, and then later released.
I. Christ, the Son
A. The writer starts right in without preamble. He shows first that Christ is superior to all the Jewish prophets. Not that they are unimportant. In fact, God chose them in times past to be the ones to hear Him speak – “at many times and in various ways”. In no way does he discount the importance of the revelations they received from God and passed on to us. In fact, the whole Old Testament is the record of how God spoke and what He did in the past. God revealed His plan through the prophets, but it was veiled and not fully understood until Christ came. I Pet. 1:10-11 It’s true that God spoke to and through the prophets in the past, “BUT” (a major word in this letter) ..”In these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.” The Muslims say that Jesus is only one of the prophets and not as great a prophet as Mohammed is. What are the main ways in which Christ is different and greater than the prophets are?
B. 1.) Christ is the Son of God, not the prophet of God. He has a unique relationship with the Father, different than any other.
2.) Christ, the Son has been appointed by God to be the Heir of all things. In other words, everything belongs to Him! He is the Owner!
3.) It was through Christ that God made the universe. In other words, He is the Creator. Col: 1:16
4.) Christ is the radiance of God’s glory. All of God’s glory radiates from Him. He is the Glorious One!
5.) He is the exact representation of God’s being. In other words, He is God!
6.) He sustains all things by His powerful word. Without His word, everything would fall apart and disappear. He is the Sustainer of all there is!
C. So we know who Jesus is and that should cause us either to be filled with joy or tremble with terrible fear, depending on our relationship with Him. We are totally dependent on Him and He may at any time withdraw His sustaining power and send us to hell if we refuse His grace and love. Christ has not only provided for our physical life, but for our spiritual life as well. We can now add to His titles, “Savior” and “Redeemer”, because He has provided purification for sins by His death on the cross. Our only hope is in the sacrifice that He made. And where is He now? He is seated at the right hand of the majesty in heaven. So now we can add another title: “King”. So if we summarize the person of Jesus Christ by using His titles, we would say, He is: The Son of God, the Heir, the Owner, the Creator, the Glory, God, the Sustainer, Savior, Redeemer and King. He is obviously the greatest Person who ever was and who ever will be. If we trifle with Him we are crazy, because our present and our eternal destiny are in His hands.
A. Evidently the writer to the Hebrews is building a case against the angel worshippers and Gnostics of his day who were teaching false doctrines and leading Christians astray. Many of the cults of our day are also Gnostic and involved with angels. Islam, Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses and others are based on similar false beliefs. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that Jesus is not an angel and angels could never do or be what He is. In this passage the comparisons are made with “but” and “to which of the angels did God ever say”. The writer has established Jesus’ titles and position. Next he states the proposition using one of his favorite words: “So He became as much superior to the angels as the name He inherited is superior to theirs. The angels have many glorious names, but not one is called “Son”.
B. None of the angels is God’s one and only Son who will inherit all He has. So what is the position of the angels? When the Father brought His firstborn into the world, He said, “Let all the angels worship Him”. This is why the angels were there to sing at His birth. The angels must bow before the Son – even the evil angels or demons whom Jesus drove out! So what are the angels? “He makes them winds, His servants flames of fire”. They are God’s servants to use as He pleases – as winds and flames. And the amazing thing is that they not only serve God, but they also serve His children. Heb. 1:14 The purpose of the angels, then, is to worship God, to serve Him any way He chooses, and to serve His children who inherit His gift of salvation.
C. So if we would analyze this, we would find that the “hierarchy of heaven” is: the Father, His Son, His other children, and finally His angels. But for the present we are “a little lower than the angels”. Heb. 2:9 Maybe this is what made Satan so angry. Even in the face of the glorious, almighty God, he was able to rebel because he was unwilling to serve the Father, His Son and His earthly children. But servanthood is essential to the kingdom. The Son serves the Father; we serve the Father and the Son; and the angels serve the Father, the Son and us.
A. Jesus was made a little lower than the angels and during our lifetime we are, too. And yet the angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation. How much superior is Christ to the angels? We have to listen to the words of the Father to get our answer. First, He said to Christ: “You are My Son; I am Your Father”. He never said that to the angels, but He says it to us because of the sacrifice of His Son. John 1:12 Second, the Father said to the Son, “Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever.” The Father calls the Son “God” which He is. He also makes it clear that He is an enthroned King in an eternal kingdom where righteousness is the scepter or rod of authority. Why should this be? The distinguishing quality in Jesus is that He “loved righteousness” and “hated wickedness”. Therefore His scepter is righteousness because He is totally committed to it. This is a good test for us. Do we love righteousness and hate wickedness? If we are true disciples of Christ we will love what He loves and hate what He hates.
B. Because of Jesus’ commitment, “God” who is “your God” has anointed Him above His companions with the oil of joy. Though the Father calls Jesus “God”, He also makes it clear that He, the Father, is God to Jesus. In this we see the dual nature of Christ, He is truly God but because He is truly man as well, the Father is His God. And He is the Anointed One, anointed by His Father to be King and Priest. Thirdly, the Father says to the Son: “In the beginning, O Lord, You laid the foundations of the earth and the heavens are the work of Your hands.” The Father calls His Son “Lord”. And He affirms that heaven and earth are His creation. None of the angels can be called “God” or “Lord”. They are not enthroned in an everlasting kingdom. They did not create the universe. In fact, they were created with the universe.
IV. How God honors His Son
A. The heavens and earth are temporary. They will perish. II Pet. 3:11-13 They will wear out like a garment. The earth is wearing out. The water, food and oil are all being depleted. The air, land and seas are being polluted. Someday they will be rolled up like a robe, like your dirty clothes that you plan to change. This points to the “new clothes” - the new heaven and new earth. Rev. 21:1 Once again the writer makes the division with “but”. Though all we know and live with now will be gone and destroyed, there is One who will remain the same – the Son! Fourthly, the Father assures the Son, and us, by telling Him that His years will never end. The God-man is eternal, “the same yesterday, today and forever”. Heb. 13:8
B. Did God ever say to any of the angels what He said to His Son? The fifth word of God to His Son is: “Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.” The Father honors the Son by inviting Him to sit in the place of honor and authority. He promises to bring all His enemies to His feet. Phil. 2:9-11 Every human being and very angel, good or evil, will have to bow before Him and proclaim Him Lord. All these things the Father said to His Son could not be said to any angel. And when did the Father say these things to His Son? The Jews needed to know that they were all recorded hundreds of years before in their sacred scriptures as God inspired the writers of the Psalms. Psa. 104:4; 45:6-7; 102:25-27; 110:1
We should be so thankful that God has promised to those who belong to Him that He will send angels to minister to us in our times of need. Psa. 91:11-12 There have been times when I was certain that angels were taking care of me though I have never seen one. I believe they have rescued me from death more than once. But let’s never forget that it is actually God who is rescuing us, only using His angels as His servants to do His will.
The most important lesson we learn from this first chapter of Hebrews is who Jesus is and what He has done. When we hear the Words of the Almighty Father to His Son, we understand something of the Son’s greatness and glory. As we continue on in our study of Hebrews we will find the writer repeatedly warning us about the seriousness of trying to play games with God. This first chapter lays the foundation. If we dare to turn away from the Son who is everything to the Father, we can only expect terrible judgment from that Father.
The Letter to the Hebrews (2)
Jesus Made Like His Brothers
In our last lesson we learned about who Jesus is and what He has done. We found that He is not only superior to the prophets and angels, but actually the Creator and Owner of all things and people. When we hear the words of the Almighty Father to His Son as quoted from the Psalms, we understand something of the Son’s greatness and glory. We are reminded that those who do not honor the Son do not honor the Father. The writer goes on to repeatedly warn us about the seriousness of trying to play games with God. If we turn away from the Son who is the Beloved of the Father, we can expect only terrible judgment from His Father. Here in chapter 2 we have the first of a series of 5 urgent warnings. The others are in chapters 3 & 4, 5:11-6:20, 10:19-39 and chapter 12.
A. Since Christ is clearly superior to the angels, then it stands to reason that what He has said and done is extremely important. We are in danger of “drifting away” if we do not pay careful attention! It’s like a boat navigator or captain who doesn’t pay attention to his maps, the stars, and his instruments. Carelessness can cause him and his ship to drift away from his course. If we don’t pay close attention to God’s Word and the voice of the Holy Spirit, we, too, can drift away. Next the writer mentions the message spoken by angels. This is referring to the Old Covenant or the Law given to Moses. Gal. 3:19; Acts 7:53 This Old Covenant given by God was binding and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment. The whole book of Leviticus is a description of this Covenant and the punishments God ordained for those who disobeyed and broke the Law.
B. If that is true and it has already been established how superior Jesus is to angels, we must ask the question: “If the Law given by angels cannot be ignored without punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation provided by the Son of God?” In these last days God has spoken by His Son. Heb. 1:2 He has spoken in words and in action. He who is Creator and Sustainer and sits at the right hand of the Father, has sacrificed Himself for us. What a great, awesome salvation this is that God has provided for those who will believe and accept it. How can anyone possibly escape judgment who chooses to ignore this salvation? To ignore is to count it worthless – not worthy of our time and interest. It is a clear rejection, not only of salvation, but of the One who provided it – Jesus, the Lamb of God.
C. This great salvation was first announced by the Lord and then confirmed to the writer and others by those who heard the Lord. It seems that the one writing this was not one of the original apostles. Probably he never heard Jesus personally but was introduced to Him and His salvation by the ones who did. The divine quality and importance of this announcement of the Good News was confirmed by God Himself. How? He testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, as well as by the Holy Spirit who distributed gifts according to His will. (I Cor. 12:7-11) In I Cor. 12 it is made clear that the gifts were given for the common good – not for self-advancement or self-glory. I Cor. 12:7 And they were not given by men but by the Holy Spirit – not because someone begged for them, or because another person gave the gifts to them - but because God the Holy Spirit determined it. It was according to His will! I Cor. 12:11
II. Jesus contrasted with angels again
A. Once again the author compares Jesus with angels, stating that the world to come was not subjected to angels. The Father never said that an angel would sit at His right hand or that every knee would bow before an angel. In scripture the angels always refused worship of those who bowed before them. Rev. 22:8-9 Next the writer quoted Psa. 8:4-6. What is man that God should care about him? And yet God cared so much that He made Jesus to be the “son of man”, “a little lower than the angels”. Then the Father took Jesus who for 33 years was a little lower than the angels and “crowned Him with glory and honor”. He put “everything under His feet”, leaving nothing that is not subject to Him. But we want to ask, “Is everything really subject to Him now? What about the mess the world is in and the control of Satan and his demons over people?” So the author explains, “At present we do not see everything subject to Him”. In the mind of God it is, and we will someday see it with our eyes.
B. Even though we don’t see everything subject to Him, we do see Jesus. We see Him exactly as He was described in Psa. 8:4-6. We see Him as a man made a little lower than the angels. But we also see Him now crowned with glory and honor at the Father’s right hand. He is crowned because He suffered death. He did the Father’s will. What was the Father’s will? That Jesus might taste death for everyone. He drank the bitter cup of suffering and death caused by our sin. Matt. 26:42 He did this by the grace of God. What amazing grace! He did it for everyone, but not everyone appreciates it. Some ignore this great salvation. Heb. 2:3 The whole glorious plan of God was to bring many sons to glory. The author says that it was fitting that the Almighty God should perfect the Author of their salvation through suffering. We don’t really understand why Jesus had to suffer so much, but somehow he did in order to perfect our salvation. Isa. 53:10 This terrible suffering was to produce offspring - bring many sons to glory.
C. Now the really amazing thing is this: “Both the One who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family.” How can it be? We are members of Jesus’ family – the One who made us holy. Jesus is not ashamed to call us “brothers”. What condescension this is! You’d think that Jesus would be ashamed of us who are sinners and can only be free of sin through His suffering and death. In Psa. 22:22 Jesus says through the Psalmist that He will declare God’s name to His brothers, singing God’s praises before the congregation. In Isa. 8:17-18 He vowed to put His trust in the Father and present Himself and His children to the Father. Here He changes from “brothers” to “children”. We are brothers in the sense that Christ and we are both human, heirs and joint heirs. We are children in the sense that we must be born again into the family of God.
III. Sharing in our humanity
A. We children whom God planned to adopt have flesh and blood. So in God’s plan, Jesus had to share in our humanity. He could not be a substitutionary sacrifice unless He was like us. That means that He experienced what we experience, yet without sin. Heb. 4:15 Only a sinless human being could die in the place of sinful men and women, making their forgiveness possible. This was the only way that sin, death and the devil could be destroyed. In His seeming defeat on the cross, Jesus won the most glorious victory possible in all eternity – one for which men have always longed. Col. 2:15 Jesus destroyed the One who holds the power of death – the devil! Does God hold our lives and have power over life and death? Yes, He does. But Satan holds men captive through the fear of death. One of his major tools is fear – fear of what people will say, fear of the future, fear of sickness, fear of war. The greatest fear of all is the fear of death. We all have been enslaved by our fear of death. And it’s not just the fear of the death process, but the much greater fear of what happens after death. When Jesus forgave our sins and gave us eternal life He removed that fear. We are now free, knowing that release from this life by death will only usher us into eternal life in the presence of the Lord. Jesus alone can set us free by destroying the hold our enemy had over us.
B. Jesus’ sacrifice was not for the angels. Evidently there is no forgiveness for those evil angels who chose to follow Satan even in the face of the Almighty God who created them and to whom they owed their service. Jesus’ sacrifice was for Abraham’s descendants. This doesn’t mean that we Gentiles are excluded, but this letter is written specifically to Jews to help them understand who Jesus is and to see the work of God leading up to the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. We Gentiles who have the faith of Abraham are also His children. He is the father of all who believe. Rom. 4:16 Jesus was a Jew, but at the same time, the Son of God and the Lamb of Sacrifice. Besides that, He became what He is today – “a merciful and faithful High Priest”. How amazing that Jesus could fulfill every part of the Levitical order. He was the Priest who offered the sacrifice and He Himself was the Sacrifice!
C. This is the reason that Jesus had to be made like His brothers in every way. The high priests had to come from among the people. Of course, they were of the priestly line and especially chosen, but they had to be fully identified with the people whom they represented. The only way that Jesus could be all of that was to be a man. It was the only way that He could make atonement for the sins of the people. He could only pay the price of death if he were a mortal man. Jesus suffered as a man, just like we do. He suffered when He was tempted. In the Latin, the word for “tempt” is the same as “test”. Jesus went through severe testing which brought on suffering. So He can fully identify with our temptations and our tests, and the suffering that goes with them. God never puts us through testing without fully understanding how it feels. He was here; so He is able to sympathize and strengthen us in our times of testing.
So we see that though Jesus is far superior to the angels – in fact, their Creator – He was willing to be made “a little lower than the angels” in order to taste death for every person. How can we begin to comprehend what it was like for Jesus, who is Himself God, to be imprisoned in a human body? How can we understand what it was like for Him who inhabited eternity to be closed into a short 33-year period? What was it like for the holy, pure Son of God to live in our corrupt and defiled world? How could Jesus who shared authority with the Father submit Himself to the will of the Father even to die a horrible death? How was it possible for the One who is Life to taste death? How could the sinless Son allow men to beat and crucify Him like a common criminal?
This is the miracle of the incarnation and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Lord of glory and Lamb of God. Paul spelled it out beautifully in Phil. 2:5-11. May we never allow a day to go by in which we forget what He has done and praise Him for it. And may we spread this wondrously Good News to everyone we meet.
The Letter to the Hebrews (3)
Jesus is Greater than Moses
Last week we learned how the writer of Hebrews established that Jesus is greater than the angels are. In fact, He created them. He became a man, sharing our humanity in order to be able to redeem men. He was the sacrificial Lamb offered to God for the sins of mankind. Today He is in heaven, the Great High Priest between God and men. Jesus is our only Hope.
I. The comparison of Jesus and Moses
A. The writer begins this chapter with “therefore”. It’s an important connective between the points he has already made about Jesus and the next point that he will make. Therefore, even though Jesus is greater than the angels, He became a man in order to redeem men, and was the sacrificial Lamb. He should therefore be at the center of everything. The writer calls those to whom he is writing “Holy brothers”. They are holy and they share in the heavenly calling because of what Jesus has done. He’s telling them not to put their hope in angels or sacrifices of animals, but only in Jesus. They are to fix their thoughts on Jesus. This is similar to what he writes later about fixing our eyes on Jesus. Heb. 12:2 Jesus must be the center, the one and only hope. He is the Apostle or Messenger of God whose words we believe. He is also the High Priest.
B. Next the writer contrasts Jesus with Moses. The Jews claimed Moses as their leader even though they missed the point of his precepts and principles. Following the most humble man who ever lived, they still were full of pride that they alone were Moses’ followers. They said they believed in Moses’ God but they had no relationship with Him. How were Jesus and Moses similar or different? The writer is intent on showing that Jesus is superior to angels, worthy of greater honor than Moses, and greater than the Jewish high priests. His description of Jesus in Heb. 1:1-4 makes it clear that actually Jesus cannot even be compared with the angels, Moses or human high priests since He is so far above them.
C. In another sense, Jesus fulfills the roles of Moses and the high priests. Moses was one of the prophets through whom God spoke in times past (Heb. 1:1) but now He speaks through His Son. (Heb. 1:2) The High Priest atoned for the people’s sins by offering animal sacrifices, but Jesus is now the Great High Priest who offered Himself as the final sacrifice. Heb. 4:14 Jesus fulfilled every part of the Old Testament Law and ritual. How is Jesus like Moses? “He was faithful to the One who appointed Him.” Both Moses and Jesus were appointed by God the Father. Moses was faithful in all God’s house as God had reminded Aaron and Miriam when they had opposed him. Num. 12:7 Moses was kind of a forerunner and example of Christ in this sense.
II. Jesus is worthy of greater honor than Moses
A. I’m not sure that the Jews wanted to hear the writer’s next point. Jesus, whom the Jews had rejected, is worthy of greater honor than Moses whom they revered. Why? Because the builder of the house is greater than the house and worthy of greater honor than the house is. Moses was part of the house of which Christ is the Builder. Every house is built by someone, but God is the Builder of everything. Everything was initiated by Him and He owns it all. Moses was faithful but not as the builder. He was a faithful servant in all God’s house as we can be today. He not only led the people; he also testified to what would be said in the future. He was one of the prophets mentioned in Heb. 1:1.
B. There is, however, a huge difference between a servant or slave in a house and the son in that house. It’s hard for us to understand this big contrast unless we imagine what it was like in the Roman world. But Jesus is not only the Son in the house. He is the Son over the house. As Moses was faithful as a servant and underling in the house, Jesus is faithful as the Son who is in charge of the house. What is that house to which he is referring? We are God’s house…IF…This is not an automatic thing. The writer uses a lot of “ifs” and “buts”, indicating that we should take nothing for granted. We have to “hold on”. While it is true that God holds us, we also have to hold on. What should we hold on to? We have to hold on to our courage and our hope. This was written in evil times, both for Jews and Christians. The Jews were mostly annihilated soon after in 70 AD. The Christians would die by the thousands in the great persecutions. In days like that it takes courage to hold on and refuse to let go. Our hope is in the Lord and His promises. We must hold on to Him and to His Word.
III. Do not harden your hearts
A. Having shown that Jesus is superior to angels and with greater honor than Moses, and the power to destroy Satan, the writer now goes to a very serious subject – unbelief and rebellion. According to Heb. 3:6 we are only His house if we hold on to courage and our hope remains in Christ and His promises. Three times in chapters 3 and 4 the writer quotes Psa. 95: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” Many do not hear His voice because their ears are deafened by false religion, false teaching and lies of the enemy. If we have heard His voice it is extremely dangerous to disobey Him. Pharoah hardened his heart after hearing God’s words from Moses. Then God hardened Pharoah’s heart! The out come was disaster for Pharoah and his entire country.
B. Here the writer is referring to something even more serious. Pharoah was an unbeliever. It’s one thing for an unbeliever to harden his heart. But what happens when a believer does that? All the Israelites crossed the Red Sea; all were rescued from Egypt; all ate and drank what God gave them in the desert; all had the same spiritual experiences. I Cor. 10:1-5 What should have been a glorious experience is here labeled “the rebellion”. (v. 8) Hardened, rebellious hearts turned against the very God who had saved them. It was their “time of testing in the desert”, but instead of passing the test and coming out a pure gold, they used it to test and try God. When Satan tempted Jesus to throw Himself off the temple to see if God would fulfill His promise in Psa. 91, Jesus answered with Deut. 6:16 (Matt. 4:5-7): “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” For 40 years they saw what God did for them and yet they had the effrontery to test the Almighty with their rebellious hearts. May God keep us from doing the same!
C. God was angry with that privileged generation with good reason. He summarized their condition with the words: “Their hearts are always going astray and they have not know My ways.” Instead of holding on to their faith in God and following through, they were going astray like stupid, willful sheep. Even though they saw His mighty works before their eyes, they did not know or comprehend His ways and His character. They were “saved” from Egypt but didn’t really know the One who was their Savior. How tragic! So God declared in His anger: “They shall never enter My rest.” His rest was His land, His home prepared for them. They wandered 40 years in the wilderness, dying as they went – never reaching the goal. Why? Unbelief!
IV. What about us?
A. The writer then gives us Christians this solemn warning: “See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Their sinful, unbelieving hearts were what caused them to turn away from God and the land He had promised to them. Can Christians/ saved people be lost? According to this, they can if they stop believing and turn away. How serious is it to turn away? The seriousness depends on who you’re turning away from. When you turn away from the living God you turn away from light and life into darkness and death.
B. How can we keep ourselves and others from turning away from God with a sinful and unbelieving heart? We have to encourage one another daily, “as long as it is called Today”. He had written in v. 7-8, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” We should not wait till tomorrow or some future time to encourage ourselves and others. Otherwise, we may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. That is the great danger – to be hardened. And how are our hearts hardened? By the deceitfulness of sin and Satan. The good news is that we have come to share in Christ. We are part of Him. But here is another …IF… as there was in Heb. 3:6. Once again the “if” is related to whether we are holding on. We have to hold firmly all the way to the end. What are we holding firmly to? Our courage and our hope (v. 6) and the confidence we had at first. We need courage to face all the tests; hope in a secure future; and the confidence we had in Christ at first – when we first committed our lives to Him.
V. They did not enter
A. For the second time the writer quotes Psa. 95:7-8: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Then he goes on to summarize the history of the Israelites with questions. “Who were they who heard and rebelled?” He answers it with another question: “Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?” They all heard God speak through Moses, They all saw the miracles and plagues that God brought on Egypt. They all were led out of slavery by Moses. They all experienced God’s care for them as He led them by a cloud by day and pillar of fire by night. They all ate the manna and quails He provided for their food. They all drank and washed in the water from the rock. For 40 years they all wore the same clothes and sandals which never wore out.
B. Is it any wonder that God was angry with them after all He had done for them? “With whom was He angry?” He was not angry with Caleb and Joshua, but with those who sinned and turned away from Him. And what happened to them? Their bodies fell in the desert. “And to whom did God swear that they would never enter His rest?” It was to those who did not believe and who disobeyed. They heard, rebelled, made God angry and died in the wilderness, never entering the land He had promised. “So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”
God has promised us an eternal home. But we can miss it as they did. How? Through unbelief! Entering heaven is not automatic. It requires our faith/our belief. Some people say that faith is a gift of God so we don’t have to exert our faith. How could God have blamed and condemned the Israelites if it was His fault because He didn’t give them the faith to believe? We are responsible for believing, and holding on to that belief to the end. I Tim. 6:12
The Letter to the Hebrews (4)
Entering God’s Rest
In our last study we learned that while Moses was a great man of God, Jesus is worthy of more honor than Moses was. This was an important part of the gospel for Messianic Jews – people of Jewish descent who had become Christians. Since they honored Moses as their leader and said they followed the law given through him, what should be their attitude toward Jesus who is so much greater? Certainly they should pay close attention to His Word and obey it. The danger is that we will harden our hearts against Jesus and His Word. The writer used the example of the Israelites who were rescued from slavery by God. They all walked through the Red Sea and they all experienced God’s wonderful provision for them in the wilderness. But they didn’t all enter God’s rest – the Promised Land. They were not able to enter because of their unbelief. Instead of trusting and obeying God, they tested Him and rebelled against Him. They died in the wilderness. The Holy Spirit now reminds us that we, too, can miss God’s Promised Land through unbelief.
I. A Sabbath rest for God’s people
A. The promise of entering God’s rest still stands. It is no longer an entry into Canaan, but an entry into the eternal Promised Land where God lives. Canaan was only a foreshadowing of a much greater and more important “entering” It’s interesting that the Holy Spirit here refers to our eternal condition as “rest” where in other places we are told we will serve Him forever. The rest he speaks of is not sleeping. Rest is peace and contentment based on our complete commitment and trust in the Lord. We can experience that now in a limited sense, but then it will be perfect as we rest in the light and life of our Savior.
B. (Illustration: I remember the promise the Lord gave me when I went on my first furlough from Palau in 1968. Pastor Simpson had died in 1967 and I had stayed at Bethania to take his place. But then I was facing a year in the USA after 6 years in Palau. I knew that I would have to drive all over the country and speak every few days in a different church. I was worried and afraid and not certain that I could do it. The Lord gave me the promise in Exodus 33:14: “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” It was not a very restful year, but my heart was at rest in the Lord and I was content in doing His will since He was with me.) That kind of rest we will experience completely in our heavenly home.
C. The warning for today is that we must be careful that we don’t fall short of that Promised Land like the Israelites did. We mustn’t quit the race before reaching the goal. We mustn’t stop paddling till we get to the shore. It’s surprising that he writes that we have had the gospel preached to us as they did. In our understanding today they could not have known the gospel because they did not know Christ. But that shows our shortsightedness. In a sense they acted out the gospel in being delivered from slavery by God and the application of the blood, and entering the rest He had promised. The problem was that the message they heard and the evidence they saw was of no value to them, just as the gospel message is of no value to most people today.
D. What was missing? What is missing today? It’s terrible to say that Christ’s great sacrifice is of no value to someone. But it’s true. “Those who heard it did not combine it with faith”. Faith is what makes the gospel active in our lives. To see is one thing. To see and believe is another. To believe without seeing is higher yet. That is the essence of faith, as well defined in Heb. 11:1 & John 20:27-29. The Israelites saw God’s miracles right before their eyes, but they did not enter into the Promised Land because of their unbelief. Heb. 3:19
II. Who will enter His rest?
A. So we who believe – continue believing – enter that rest of God, and those who don’t believe are under His angry oath: “They shall never enter My rest.” In one sense we enter it now, as we said before. In another sense we will enter it only after our work is finished. Gen. 2:2 states that God rested on the seventh day. Why would God need to rest? Was He tired? That, of course, is foolishness. God rested in the sense that He was finished. The author here tells us that His work had been finished since the creation of the world. In fact, the land of promise was theirs from the creation. But they could not enter the land because through their unbelief they had not finished their work. God rested but unbelievers will never rest. When Jesus said on the cross, “It is finished”, His work of redemption was complete and He could enter into His rest.
B. It is still true today that some will enter God’s rest. But others who have had the gospel preached to them “did not go in” or accept it by faith. Unbelief and disobedience keep people out of God’s land and His rest today as they did in Moses’ day. When God says, “Go in”, it is the divine opportunity. Possibly if we disobey at that point, we may not have another chance. That point of opportunity is called by God, “Today” .The Israelites had their day of opportunity, and the Hebrews of David’s time had their day. That’s why he once again uses Psa. 95:7-8,11 Some people say that because Joshua took the people into the land later, that actually they had entered into God’s rest. But is that what is meant by God’s rest?
A. The writer makes it clear that if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later to David about another day. His conclusion is: “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” This life is evidently like the 6 days of God’s work at creation, and the life hereafter like the 7th day of rest. Anyone who enters God’s rest rests from His labors as God did from His. Our labor now is interspersed with and part of our suffering and pain. Even though we will serve God forever in His kingdom, we will be at rest, free from suffering, pain and sin, with our work on earth finished as God’s work of creation was and as Jesus’ work of redemption was.
B. But there is a danger. It is not an automatic thing that we will be saved and all will be fine. Some people say that no matter what we do or how we live we are destined from heaven. No! It takes faithfulness, steadfastness, perseverance and determination. “Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest.” If it were automatically ours we would not have to make an effort to enter in. Does this mean that we can save ourselves by our works? Never! We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. But according to this verse and others (Heb. 3:6, 10, 12, 14) it is possible for us to fall if we follow their example of disobedience. According to the Spirit of God writing through the author, we can “fall”, “go astray”, “turn away” if we do not “hold on” and “hold firmly”. So we must make every effort to continue believing, being watchful that we don’t disobey.
A. What can we do to continue being faithful and obedient? We must let the Holy Spirit speak to us daily from God’s Word. He can remind us and correct us so that we don’t wander away or fall by the wayside. Sometimes we don’t even recognize the tendencies we have to be deceived or to deceive ourselves. We need to daily look well into the mirror of God’s Word so that He can reveal what is dirty or messed up. What are the properties and work of God’s Word?
1.) God’s Word is living and active. It is not dead, old-fashioned and out-moded as some people say today. It is alive and at work in our lives as it has been in other people’s lives for the past 4000 years.
2.) God’s Word is sharper than any double-edged sword. That is sharp, and able to cut in all directions. It doesn’t just lie there like a pillow. It rises to do battle with the sharpest weapon possible.
3.) What does this God’s Word do? Instead of dividing joints and marrow in our physical body, it penetrates to the dividing of soul and spirit in our spiritual person. It separates soulish things from the spiritual. It cuts between the mind, emotions and will (the soul) and the spirit where God lives. Sometimes we do things with our emotions or decide only with our minds when we should be allowing the Holy Spirit who lives in our spirit to control us.
4.) God’s Word judges. Just as a sword can bring physical judgment, so this one judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts, including our motives and desires. It reveals the truth about our inner selves.
C. So the Word of God truly penetrates into our inner being, revealing what is fleshly or soulish. It accurately judges the very motives and attitudes, being unimpressed by what impresses others. It is truth and forces us to see the truth about ourselves if we sincerely study and love the Word. It leaves nothing hidden. In fact, “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight”. His eyes see everything below the surface as well as what is on the surface. We would like to cover some of the things we think or do and even pretend to ourselves that we are different than we really are. But to the Lord “everything is uncovered and laid bare”. He knows all and will call us to give an account of all. So if we are wise, we will let His Word judge us now so that we can repent and be forgiven. Otherwise, we will have to face Him later as Judge.
I can still remember studying these verses with the Freshmen students at Bethania. Along with these verses in Romans we also read Psa. 33:13-15 and Jer. 32:19 I asked the girls how they felt when they thought about the fact that they could hide nothing from God. Most of them quickly said that they felt afraid. I told them that we have good reason to be afraid of the Almighty God who is our Judge, especially if we have been trying to hide things we know are not good. After awhile, One little girl in the back said, “It makes me feel good to know that I can’t hide anything from God.” I thought her answer was very wise. We don’t have to feel guilty or bad in the presence of our great God unless we are unwilling to let Him reveal our sins, then confess our faults to Him, and repent of them, asking His forgiveness. The One who is our Judge is also our Redeemer. But we must meet Him now as Savior or later as Judge.
God’s Word is the gracious gift of our Lord to us. It has the ability to show us our sins and the way out of them. But it is like hearing the gospel without having faith. The Bible is of no value unless we faithfully study it and open our hearts to the searching of the Holy Spirit.
The Letter to the Hebrews (5)
Jesus, the Great High Priest
Last week we were reminded in our study that though God has planned a Sabbath rest for His people, many will not enter in because of their unbelief, just as many of the children of Israel never entered the Promised Land. Those who continue believing have the promise that they will enter God’s rest – His home. Those who do not are under His wrath. That’s why the author wrote that we should make every effort to enter that rest. We also learned what we can do to continue to be faithful and obedient. We must let the Holy Spirit speak to us daily from God’s Word. If we do, His Word will work in us because it is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. It separates soulish things from spiritual things, and it judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. It accurately judges our hidden motives and draws us to repentance. If we allow God’s Word and His Spirit to judge us now, and we repent of what He shows us, we will not have to face the great white throne judgment someday.
I. What kind of priest is Jesus?
A. Next the author introduces Jesus as the Great High Priest. He has already shown that Jesus is superior to the angels and worthy of greater honor than Moses. Now he shows that Jesus is higher than the human high priests who served in the temple. The connection is made with “therefore”. Because there is the danger of falling through disobedience (4:11), we must rely on God’s Word to judge our hidden intentions and motives. When everything is laid bare to us, as it has been to God all along, we will see that because of our failures we need a High Priest. He has already gone into the heavens to represent us before the Father. He is the Great Mediator, Jesus the Son of God. I Tim. 2:5 Since we have the help of the scriptures, the Holy Spirit within, and our High Priest in the heavens, “Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess”. We do not stand alone. The Holy Spirit searches our hearts through the Word and the Son of God is our Advocate before the Father. Since we say that we believe, then let’s hold firmly to our faith with courage and hope (3:6) until the end (3:14).
B. Our High Priest is not some self-righteous judge who stands apart from us, looking down with contempt on our sins and weaknesses. He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He has been tempted (tested) in every way, just as we are. He is a priest taken from among the people, like us, in flesh and blood. (2:17) He understands perfectly the frailties and weakness of our flesh. He, too, suffered when He was tempted. (2:18) But there is a major difference. Though He was tempted as we are, he never fell to temptation. He was without sin, thus making it possible for Him to be our Savior, our Substitute, and our High Priest. So when things are tough, which they are every day, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence”, knowing that at the right hand of the throne sits our Savior and Advocate. We can approach with confidence only if we are holding firmly to the faith we profess. Heb. 10:23 We will have great needs as we pass through our tests, but it is at the throne that we will find mercy and grace to help us in our needs. We will need mercy and forgiveness for our failures, and grace to hold on no matter what happens.
A. The author goes on to acquaint us with the way a high priest is chosen and the kind of work he does. First, he is selected from among men. He has to be a man like the men he represents. This is one of the reasons that Jesus became a man. Second, the high priest is appointed as a representative of men in matters related to God. His job is ambassador or mediator between God and men. We have already seen that Jesus fulfills this calling. Third, one of the main responsibilities of a Jewish high priest was to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He paid for the sins of the people with the sacrifices. Jesus, who is the High Priest, is also the Sacrifice. (2:9) Instead of offering sheep and goats, He offered Himself. As the Holy Son of God He alone can atone or pay for our sins. Fourth, in his dealings with the people, the Jewish high priest was able to deal gently with those who were “ignorant” and “going astray” because he, too, was subject to weakness since he was a man. Unfortunately, we see in the gospel accounts that the Jewish high priests of Jesus’ time did not deal very gently with people. But Jesus can sympathize with our weaknesses because He was a man.
B. Fifth, the Jewish high priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins as well as for the sins of the people. This is because they, too, were sinners. Jesus is the only High Priest who has ever been sinless. (4:15) Sixth, no one could take the honor of being a high priest upon himself. He had to be called by God, like Aaron. No wonder Annas and Caiaphas, who tried and convicted Jesus, were such snakes. They lusted after the position of high priest, and then crucified Jesus. Their eternal condemnation is in progress. How incredibly distorted the picture had become! It is like what is happening today with those who call themselves “Apostles” and “Prophets”. They have not been called by God to do those important jobs. But Jesus was. He did not take on the job because He wanted it. God the Father appointed and anointed Him – as His Son and as “a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek”. Jesus did not come from Aaron’s order, but from Melchizedek’s order. We will study this further in chapter 7. Notice that the verses quoted here are Psa.2:7 and 110:4. This was not some last minute thought, but the plan of the Father from hundreds of years before – in fact, from eternity past.
A. There has been a lot of discussion and debate through the centuries about whether Jesus was really a man and really God. The Gnostics taught in the early church that He wasn’t really a man, but that the “christ spirit” was temporarily in flesh. John warned the early church and us that we need to be careful of such false teachings. I John 4:1-3 Did Jesus really share in our humanity? (2:14) Here we have the proof: “During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears”. He would not have to do that unless He were a real man. Loud cries and tears are the evidence of flesh and blood, along with a sense of helplessness and deep need. And they also show dependence on His Father: “the One who could save Him from death”.
B. I wonder how often during His last 3 years Jesus went to be alone with the Father, crying out to Him about the terrible suffering and death He was facing? The Father could have saved Him from death, but did He? In the Garden the Father told Him He must drink that cup. Actually the Father’s answer was “No” to Jesus’ request to take the cup from Him. And yet here the author writes that “He was heard because of His reverent submission”. Yes, He was heard. And the Father’s answer was “No” and “Yes”. He did not save Him from crucifixion, but He did save Him from death by raising Him from the grave. God often answers us the same way. An example is when He says, “No, I will not save you from this death” and then “Yes, I will raise you from the dead, thus saving you from death.”
C. There is another great lesson here. Jesus was heard when He cried out to God because of His reverent submission. His reverence and submission put Him in the place where He was willing to do the Father’s will. The Father always hears those who commit their will to His will. I John 5:14 “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered.” Even though he was in a special relationship as Son, He still had to obey His Father. And He learned obedience in submitting Himself to suffering. It is in suffering that our obedience is tested and grows. It is easy to obey in the good times, but difficult in the times of suffering.
D. What Jesus was and did is then passed on to us. After He was “made perfect through suffering” (2:10) He became the source of eternal salvation. He could only become the source by His submission to the Father’s plan of suffering and dying for us. Now He, in turn, has become the source of salvation for all who obey Him. As He obeyed and submitted Himself to the Father, so now we must obey and submit ourselves to Him – our only hope of salvation. The One who made Himself nothing has now been highly exalted. Phil. 2:5-11 He has been designated by the Father to be High Priest, Advocate, Intercessor, and Mediator in the order of Melchizedek. The cross always precedes the crown. May we gladly bear our cross today so that someday we will receive the crown.
IV. Are we eating meat or still drinking milk?
A. The author of Hebrews wanted to teach the Jewish Christians many things about Christ, the Law, and the New Covenant. He was frustrated because they were slow (or maybe unwilling) to learn. They had known the Lord long enough to be teachers of others, but instead they needed someone to teach them. And the teaching they needed was not on a deep level. They needed to go back to “elementary school” – learning the elementary truths of God’s Word all over again. He even insulted them, writing that they needed milk, not solid food. How embarrassing to be a grown man who needs to drink milk instead of eating meat! Why were they still drinking milk? They were still babies – not even children yet. They had never grown spiritually, but still had to be nourished on the simplest fare. They still didn’t know what it meant to be righteous, to live the holy life that God intended for His children.
B. On the other hand, “solid food is for the mature”. Obviously you have to have the teeth and digestive system to manage solid food. You have to be able to “chew” and “digest” the deeper things of God. Chewing and digesting God’s Word causes us by constant use to train ourselves to distinguish good from evil. Notice it takes constant use. So when we see someone who is unable to tell the difference between good and evil, we know that he is not mature, but still a baby Christian. We know that he has not chewed and digested the deep truths of God’s Word. Therefore, he can’t distinguish what is evil from what is good. It is easy to fool or deceive a child into believing that evil is good and good is evil.
C. Therefore, it’s time to leave the elementary teachings and go on to spiritual maturity. Why should we lay the foundations over again? They have already been laid. And yet we seem to do that a lot in our teaching because we are uncertain about the maturity of those we are teaching. Have they really heard and followed the foundational teachings yet? What are those foundational teachings? The first is repentance from sin that leads to death. Without repentance there is no need to go on to other teachings. Next, is faith in God. Without faith we are not saved. Then, he mentions instructions about baptisms and laying on of hands. These have to do with steps of dedication, consecration and healing. Finally he mentions teaching about the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. These are all basic things which we teach to those who are new believers. But we should not have to teach them over and over again to mature Christians. Next week we will study some of the deep and hard truths which are for the mature.
The church is like a family. In it there are those who are adults. They are the leaders who are responsible for all the rest. Then there are the young people who are developing and beginning to take on the responsibilities of adults. Younger than them are the children who still need to be helped and taught in many ways. The babies depend on complete care of the adults. They cannot function by themselves. It is normal in any church to have mature Christians, those who are growing toward maturity and need the discipling of the mature, and new believers who need all kinds of help and teaching.
What if the ones responsible for others are still babies themselves? If they are still drinking milk themselves, what will they feed the new believers? In any family or church there must be some mature, responsible people who are eating the meat of the deeper things of God. If not, the babies, the children and the youth will go hungry. No one will grow to become mature leaders who can help others. Let’s determine that we will be among those who faithfully eat the meat of God’s Word and then help the weaker ones around us.
The Letter to the Hebrews (6)
Warning against Falling Away
In our last study we looked at Jesus as Great High Priest. We learned about what kind of priest Jesus is, and how He fulfills everything that the Jewish high priests were and did. We considered the very important question: Was Jesus a real man? We found many indications to prove that He was actually flesh and blood like we are. We ended the study with the observation of the author of Hebrews that we must leave the elementary teachings and move on to the deeper truths of God’s Word. To grow mature spiritually we have to stop eating “baby food” and drinking milk, and start chewing and digesting the meat of God’s truth. The writer moves now to some of the harder and deeper teachings.
I. The seriousness of falling away from the truth
A. Since the author is writing, as he says, to infants still drinking milk, he is concerned about them falling, just as a loving mother watches her toddler to be sure that he won’t fall into the road or ocean where he could die. A spiritually immature person, who has not trained himself to know right from wrong, is in imminent danger. As we constantly study God’s Word it helps us to be able to discern. Then if we regularly put into practice what we know, we become more mature and able to avoid the pitfalls. But there are serious pitfalls! And the most serious are for those who know the truth and then turn from it. They are among those who are mature, knowing evil from good, and yet purposely choosing the greatest evil – rejection of the very Son of God and His sacrifice for them.
B. The author begins with: “It is impossible…” He doesn’t say it might be bad or we should be careful. He is writing about something extremely dangerous so he uses the strongest terms. Let’s look at the characteristics and experiences of those to whom he refers. First, they have been enlightened. They saw the truth and embraced the light. Second, they have tasted the heavenly gift. They have experienced the grace of God, His love and goodness. They have been forgiven and cleansed by Jesus’ sacrifice. Third, they have shared in the Holy Spirit. This, added to the first two points, makes it absolutely clear that the author is writing about true Christians. No one shares in the Holy Spirit without being truly born again. Fourth, they have tasted the goodness of the Word of God. They have experienced the power, beauty and holiness of God’s Word changing their lives. Fifth, They have tasted the powers of the coming age, becoming convinced of God’s promises and looking forward to all of them.
C. All of this describes people who have truly known God – His salvation, His grace, His Word and His promises. Now comes the “IF’.. This cannot refer to merely committing a sin. It refers back to verses in chapters 2, 3 and 4: “drifting away” (2:1), “going astray” (3:10), “turning away” (3:12), and “falling” (4:11). It is similar to what Paul wrote in II Tim. 2:18 about two men who wandered from the truth, and in I Tim. 1:19 about two who shipwrecked their faith. These are not small sins, but a big turning from the truth. 3 times the writer repeated the words, “Do not harden your hearts”. This is the very sin of Lucifer. He knew God face to face, but chose to harden his heart in rebellion. Therefore, he will never enter God’s rest, and these will not either. They cannot be brought back to repentance. Repentance is the only way back when we sin. But these are guilty of crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting Him to public disgrace. The crucifixion was a public disgrace. Now they are again disgracing the Son of God as Lucifer disgraced the Holy One. Knowing God and then turning from Him brings disgrace on His name and counts His great sacrifice as nothing!
A. The author describes 2 different kinds of land. Jesus mentioned 4 kinds in His parable, which basically illustrates the same point. The same rain falls on good land that produces a useful crop and on worthless land that produces only thorns and thistles. The rain is the same for both, just as God’s love and mercy is the same for all. But what results from the rainfall differs according to the quality of the land itself. God’s blessing is on the land which drinks in the rain and produces good and useful fruit. That is the definition of a true Christian – one who absorbs God’s Word and then goes on to use it for blessing to himself and others.
B. The other kind of land is like what the writer just described in verses 4-6. These are people who have the same rain of grace falling on them, but they turn away and produce only thorns and thistles. Are thorns and thistles foods? Can they supply the needs of hungry people? No. They only fill up land that could be used to produce good food, making the land and its fruit worthless. How serious is this? It is very serious. It puts the land in danger of being cursed. Instead of receiving God’s blessing, it receives His curse! What is the end of this cursed land that has become worthless and even produces harmful plants? In the end it will be burned. What an apt description of hell! Here the Holy Spirit clearly warns that a Christian who falls away or turns away or becomes hardened can be eternally lost!
A. The writer goes on to add that though he is using these hard words to describe the danger, that he is confident that those to whom he writes are capable of better things. The better things are those which accompany salvation. Salvation does not stand alone. It must be accompanied by works in order to be real. James 2:14-17 One thing we are sure of: God is not unjust. The God who will curse those who wander away and shipwreck their faith will also bless those who give evidence of their sincere faith. What are those evidences? “He will not forget your work and the love you have shown Him.” Our work and love for others must first of all be for Him. But the evidence is seen when we are found helping His people and continuing to help them. This should be a way of life for us.
B. Next the Holy Spirit urges us to show this diligence to the very end. What diligence is He referring to? It is our determination to believe and love the Lord, demonstrating it through works of kindness and love. He adds that in this way we can make our hope sure. This certainly sounds like salvation by works, but it’s not. We already have the hope of salvation because we have been born again. But we can drift away and go astray from that hope through carelessness, unbelief or open rebellion. We have to stay true to the end! Heb. 3:14; II Pet. 3:17
C. It’s interesting that the writer indicates here that a person can lose his way through laziness. Maybe that is one of the great dangers of our day. If we are too lazy to be diligent, we could just drift away to softer, easier things, like a lazy boatsman who falls asleep in the boat and wakes up too late to keep from going over the reef. Instead of being lazy and careless, we are to imitate the men of faith and patience who inherited the promises. The 11th chapter contains the short stories of men and women of faith and patience. The bad example is that of the Israelites who were to inherit the Promised Land. When their faith gave out, they lost what had been promised to them and died in the wilderness. When their children finally went into the Promised Land 40 years later, they refused to endure to the end of routing out the Canaanites and so lost part of the land that they had been promised.
A. Did the Israelites lose all or part of their inheritance because God’s promise failed? No! God’s promises never fail, but we have to believe and take them as our own. The Holy Spirit gives us an illustration of the certainty of God’s promises from the life of Abraham. When God gave His promise to Abraham to bless him and give him many descendants, He swore by Himself, saying, “I will surely bless you.” This was when Abraham didn’t have any children. Finally Isaac was born, but even then, Abraham died with only one descendant who was to receive the promise. Abraham never received the land as his own or lived to see the multitude of descendants that God promised. It’s interesting that it took Jacob, the schemer, to finally begin the multiplication of Abraham’s descendants. And now Abraham from heaven can see the fulfillment of God’s promises, after waiting patiently. He endured in faith.
B. Men usually swear by something or someone greater than themselves – like the Bible or God. This oath confirms what is said as truth and puts an end to all argument. So even God (using human reasoning for our benefit) in order to make it clear that the purpose was unchanging, confirmed with an oath that the heirs would receive what was promised. This way Abraham and his descendants knew that God would carry out His promise. And today we know the same thing by faith. He makes our hope sure and we confirm it to be sure by trusting and obeying. Does God need to make an oath? Of course not! Anything He says is truth and will be fulfilled. He did it for us because we need that assurance. So God confirmed the promise to Abraham and to us by two unchangeable things. He made an oath that cannot be broken, and He made it by His very character which is changeless. God cannot lie when he makes a promise, and the character of God is truth – He is not a liar.
A. Why is this so important to us? We are those who have fled from the enemy and our sin. We are like the Hebrews who fled to take hold of the horns of the altar, crying to God for mercy. Today we flee from Satan to take hold of the hope. It is the gift of grace offered to us. But we have to take hold of it. We have to make our hope sure (v. 11), hold firmly to the faith (4:14), hold firmly to the end (3:14), and hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. (3:6) The Holy Spirit speaking through this book repeatedly emphasizes the importance of “holding on” in contrast to falling away (6:6), turning away (3:12), going astray (3:10), and drifting away (2:1). The emphasis is so strongly put on the will of man. We must choose to hold on or lose our way.
B. God made an unchangeable promise based on His unchangeable character so that we would be encouraged. When all the world falls apart we can still hold on because He has promised to help us and stay with us. This was written close to the time of the destruction of Jerusalem when the entire Roman world was filled with hatred for the Jews, and persecution of Christians was growing. In times like that we desperately need “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” Our hope in God’s promise is like a ship’s anchor, deeply imbedded in rock to hold the whole ship steady. This hope is anchored to the inner sanctuary behind the curtain in the Holy of Holies where God Himself lives. Jesus went before us there, entering on our behalf as our High Priest. This is why the veil of the temple was torn in two when He died. It allowed Jesus, the Godman, to enter, representing us and offering Himself as the sacrifice for our sins. Our anchor and hope is in Him who is a priest forever.
I think we see a very important balance in this passage. We are given a very severe warning and an encouraging promise. We have an anchor in the promise of the unchangeable God, but we are told to faithfully hold on to the very end. God is well able to keep all that we give Him (II Tim. 1:12), but we have to give it to Him and not take it back. God is at work in us to accomplish His purposes, but we also have to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling.” Phil. 2:12-13 God has done His part; now we have to do our part. Let’s determine to show diligence to the very end in order to make our hope sure.
The Letter to the Hebrews (7)
Jesus and Melchizedek
In chapters 4 and 5 we learned that Jesus is the Great High Priest. We have a High Priest who has “gone through the heavens”. At the same time He is able to sympathize with our weaknesses because He was tempted in every way as we are, yet without sinning. So we can approach the throne of grace with confidence to receive the mercy and grace that we need. Heb. 4:14-16 We also learned that High Priests have to be selected from among men and are appointed to represent men to God. They must be called by God. God the Father was the One who appointed Jesus, telling Him that He would be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. This is mentioned twice by the writer in Heb. 5:6,10. In chapter 7 the author gives a more complete explanation of what this means.
I. Who was Melchizedek?
A. Not only the writer of Hebrews connects Jesus with Melchizedek. In fact, the author of Hebrews bases his conclusions on what David wrote long before. Psa. 110:4 It states that the One to come – the Messiah – would be a priest forever, not just temporarily, and that he would be in the order of Melchizedek, not Levi or Aaron. So the Holy Spirit establishes the fact that Jesus is the great eternal High Priest in this chapter. But who was Melchizedek? He was the king of Salem and priest of God Most High. Salem was probably where Jerusalem later stood – the city of David. How he became a priest of God is not known. In fact, hardly anything is known about him. We do know that he met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings when he went to rescue Lot and the people of Sodom. Gen. 14:14-16 Melchizedek blessed Abraham. In this way he showed his spiritual superiority. Then Abraham gave him a tenth of everything, showing that he honored him as God’s representative. Gen. 14:18-20
B. We know something about Melchizedek from the meaning of his name and the place he ruled. He was “king of righteousness” and “king of peace”. Righteousness and peace characterized his person and his kingdom. How could such a man be there in the degradation of Canaan, as seen in the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah? Where did he come from? How did he know God? We might ask the same things about Abraham. Where did he come from and how did he know God? The difference is that we have information about Abraham that gives us his ancestry, his calling and his devotion to God. I think that Melchizedek appeared momentarily in scripture as an example of the One to come. He was evidently called and anointed by God, but no one knew his father or mother, his genealogy, or his birth and death dates. Some say that he was an angel sent to be king of Salem. He was like an unknown blessing appearing in history. In that way, he exemplifies Jesus, the “unknown” who appeared in history and yet proved to be King and Priest, a Man of righteousness and peace.
C. I think that the Holy Spirit wants to make the point that Jesus is the Great High Priest without the lineage of priests. Since the patriarch Abraham, recognized as the founder of Israel, gave Melchizedek 1/10 of the plunder, it proves how great Melchizedek was. The Jews knew that the law required the descendants of Levi – the only priests – to collect the tithe (1/10) from the other descendants of Abraham to support God’s house and priests. This man was not from Levi and yet collected the tithe from Abraham and blessed him. This proves that Melchizedek was greater because the lesser is blessed by the greater.
II. The ever living Priests
A. There is another major difference between the Levitical priesthood and Melchizedek and Christ. The Levitical priests who collected the tithe would die, but Melchizedek is declared a living priest – without beginning or end. We don’t know how that was possible, but we do know that Christ is without beginning or end – self-existent and eternal. Even in His manhood, He rose from the dead to live forever as the God-man. Levi, who collected the tithe from the people, was actually in the loins of Abraham when he paid the 1/10 to Melchizedek. So the earthly priests paid to the Great High Priest. This must have seemed like heresy to the first century Jews who so greatly respected and honored the high priests in the Levitical system.
B. But Levi and his descendant priests had a major problem. They weren’t perfect! For if they could attain perfection through the Levitical priesthood why would there be a need for another priest to come? And why would there need to be another order to replace the order of Aaron? Melchizedek started another order, to which only he and Christ belong. This creates a problem. If there is a new priesthood, there must be a change of the law. Now he makes it clear that he refers to Jesus. He was not of the tribe of Levi but of Judah, and no one from that tribe ever served at the altar. So if we go by Moses’ law Christ was out of line because Moses never said that a man from Judah could be high priest. So we see that Melchizedek and Jesus did not become priests on the basis of their ancestry. So what was the basis on which they were chosen? It was the power of an indestructible life! The ancestral priests served for awhile and then died. Melchizedek and Jesus are priests forever.
A. How amazing it was that the Psalmist could write so long ago that Jesus would be a Priest forever. Only One who would live forever could do that. The Jews were attached to and dependent upon the law and its regulations, priests and sacrifices. But the truth is that it had to be set aside because “it was weak and useless”. What an indictment on the system the Jews depended on! Why would the writer say such a thing? He was pointing them to a better hope and a better covenant. But they could never see it if they didn’t let go of the old one. The fact is: “the law made nothing perfect”. It was insufficient to actually forgive men’s sins and give them power to live a holy life. The good news is that the Holy Spirit is introducing a better hope by which we draw near to God. This is now a real hope. It empowers us and shows us how to draw near to God.
B. Thinking back to chapter 6 and the information there about oaths, the writer says that this better hope came with an oath. Other priests became priests because of their lineage alone without an oath. But Jesus became a Priest with an oath. The oath was made by the Lord God Himself. “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: You are a priest forever.” This was an unchangeable promise from a changeless God. There will be no replacement because there will be no death. What a joy! He is our Priest now and will be forever! This oath makes Jesus the guarantee of a better covenant. Heb. 8:6 The old covenant was temporary and weak – a foreshadowing of the one to come. And what is this new covenant or promise of God? It is a Person – Jesus! He fulfills all the requirements and is our guarantee that God will accept us because of His shed blood.
A. Through the years there were many priests since death brought the end of their lives and ministries. It was not so with Jesus. “Because Jesus lives forever He has a permanent priesthood”. That’s what makes it possible for Him to save us completely! Of course we have to come to God through Him. He stands ready to finish and complete our salvation if we take the course that God has laid out for us which is coming to God through Jesus. John 14:6 He can complete the work in us because He always lives to intercede for us. Rom. 8:34 He cannot die because He has risen and is alive forevermore. And He is always interceding – coming to the Father on our behalf. I John 2:1 Micronesians use the idea of intercession in their cultures. If someone offends another person he will probably not come directly to apologize, but will send someone to apologize in his place – an intercessor. Jesus comes to the Father like this for us. And when we intercede for others we go to God on their behalf.
B. Praise God for the Great High Priest who always lives to intercede for us. My father was a great intercessor. I knew that as long as he lived he was praying for me. But when he died I missed that intercession – that prayer support. Jesus always lives! He is the Sacrifice and the Savior. He is the only way to the Father and He is alive! How important is the resurrection? Everything rests on it. A dead “savior” is no savior at all! If He cannot save Himself, how can He save others? Mohammed, Confucius, Buddha and all the rest are dead. How can they lead us to God? How can they intercede for us? They are in the place of the dead awaiting the judgment. They cannot save themselves or us.
A. There are other major differences between Jesus and these “saviors”. None of them can begin to match His qualifications. He is “holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens”. This is the reason that he can meet our need. No other one can. Jesus is a man just as we are, but He is set apart from sinners because He never sinned. Heb. 4:15 He is the only person who ever lived who is holy, blameless and pure. All the rest of us, including the founders of religions, are sinners. And He is the only One exalted above the heavens. He is above all the galaxies we know. He is above, not just in distance, but in importance. He created all so of course He is above all.
B. He is not just above all former priests in His Person and holiness. His sacrifice is above theirs. The high priests had to offer daily sacrifices, first for their own sins, and then for the sins of the people. Jesus made one sacrifice for all time – “once for all” – and it was not for Himself because he had no sins. Heb. 9:12, 26, 28 Instead of being for Him, it was Him! He offered Himself for our sins. So He was the One giving the offering – the High Priest – and He was the offering – the sacrificial Lamb. The whole law and sacrificial system outlined in Numbers and Leviticus was fulfilled in one Person – the spotless Lamb of God!
C. The law appointed priests who were weak. That’s why they needed to sacrifice for their own sins. The history of the Jews certainly verifies the weakness of their priests, starting with Aaron, the first one. But the oath made by the Father which came after the law appointed the Son. The Father appointed the Son with an unchanging oath. He has been made perfect forever. Most of the Jews today are ignoring God’s better covenant and His appointed High Priest, Jesus. They are determined to rebuild the temple and re-establish the priesthood and the law. This is an insult to the God who made an unchanging oath, to Jesus who is the eternal sacrifice, and to all the Father’s plan and will.
Twice God has allowed the heathen to utterly destroy the Jewish temple and put a stop to their sacrifices. Why? Because of their disobedience and rejection of God’s plan and appointed Savior. If they rebuild the temple with the help of the godless Anti-Christ, what wrath will come down on their heads? The man of lawlessness – the Anti-Christ – will promise to help the Jews but will deceive them and set himself up in the temple as God. Dan. 9:27; II Thess. 2:3-4. There is only one way to the Father and Jesus is that way. If we do not go God’s way we will die in our sins and so will our friends, neighbors and relatives whom we don’t tell about it.
The Letter to the Hebrews (8)
The New Covenant
In our last lesson we studied about Melchizedek and investigated the similarity between him and Jesus. We found that they are both high priests, appointed by God, but not in the lineage of Aaron. They were chosen on the basis of an indestructible life. Since Jesus is the Great High Priest now, it requires a new law or covenant since He was not from the tribe of Levi but Judah. Under the old covenant he could not be a priest. The Holy Spirit is here clearly writing to convince the Jews that though God gave the Old Covenant, He has now replaced it with a New Covenant, which is superior.
I. The true tabernacle
A. Now we have a better hope because God has given a better covenant and a High Priest who is superior in every way, and always living to make intercession for us. So the author sums up his argument by writing that we do have a High Priest and that He is at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven. He is not separated from the God we want to approach. In fact, He is His Son and one with Him! He serves in the heavenly sanctuary which is “the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by men”. The earthly sanctuary or holy place was the tabernacle and later the temple. It was considered the House of God. Jesus called it “My Father’s House’. Luke 2:49; John 2:16 Actually it was only a reflection of God’s real house in heaven. God’s house is where He lives, and He could not live in a house full of sin. Since we Christians are also His dwelling place, it makes playing around with sin a very serious offense. I Cor. 6:19-20
B. It was part of the law that the high priests would offer gifts and sacrifices. Heb. 5:1 Jesus, too, had to offer a gift and a sacrifice, which He did. It was the sacrifice of Himself! While He was on earth He was not a priest because there were priests already appointed to offer the gifts prescribed by the law. Their job is to serve at a sanctuary on earth, which is a copy and shadow of the one in heaven. This is why Moses was warned to carefully follow the pattern shown to him on the mountain. Exod. 25:40 Why? Because the pattern had to be correct to point to the true sanctuary in heaven. Everything in the tabernacle and temple had special meaning, pointing to God and His dwelling.
C. But this was only a pattern. Jesus’ ministry is as superior to the earthly priests as the real is to the pattern. (ILLUS: If I make a dress from a paper pattern, do I wear the dress or the pattern? Which is more important?) The first covenant of the law, the tabernacle and sacrifice regulations was only a pattern. Heb. 10:1 The covenant of which Jesus is Mediator is far superior to the old one. That is why it is wrong for people to go back to following the old laws and regulations. (like SDAs) All the old ways are replaced with one Person! Now we are forgiven and cleansed by Jesus’ blood. The “law of Christ” or Word of God is in our minds and we lovingly obey it. His ways and principles are written in our hearts, and we are actually His dwelling place. This New Covenant is obviously far superior to the old one. And it is founded on better promises. Now we have the promise of a new life, a redeemed soul, an indwelling Holy Spirit, and eternal life with our Lord in His home. Praise God!
II. The new covenant
A. If there had been nothing wrong with the first covenant God would not have replaced it. But God Himself made the covenant; how could it be wrong? God did not find fault with the covenant but with the people. The Lord had promised that he would make a new covenant with His people. It would be different than the one He made with their forefathers. It’s interesting that He describes Himself as a Father taking the hands of His children to lead them out of Egypt. What a touching picture this is! But like wayward children they did not remain faithful to Him. The good covenant He gave them was of no value because they were not faithful to God or to His covenant. So what was God’s response? He turned away from them! We need to understand the seriousness of these words. God does turn away from His people when they are unfaithful to Him!
B. God promises a new and wonderful covenant to be made after that time. With this new covenant God will indwell His people. Instead of being on a mountain with thunder and lightning, He will come in and live inside those who open their hearts to Him. Instead of writing His laws on stone or in a book, He writes them on our hearts. II Cor. 3:3 He moves in us, helping our wills to desire His good will instead of our own. So our minds and our hearts become full of His truth. And the relationship becomes so close that we acknowledge Him as our God, and He acknowledges us as His people. We are no longer thinking in terms of a faraway God whom we cannot approach. He is God, the Holy Spirit, living in us, and He is God, the Savior, who ever lives to make intercession for us, and He is God the Father who loves, corrects, reproves and teaches His children.
C. Today we are living under the new covenant if we love and obey the Lord. But we will not see its complete fulfillment until Jesus comes to reign. Then we will experience the great joy of living with those who know the Lord. I guess the time of the Great Commission will be past because all will know Him – from the least to the greatest. He promises to forgive them all their wickedness and forget all their sins. This refers especially to the time when the Jews finally turn to their Messiah. It must have been a shock for them to hear that the old covenant on which they depended was obsolete and aging. – soon to disappear. But this seems to be one of the primary purposes of this letter – to help the Jews let go of the old ways and accept the new. There are many Gentiles in the world still clinging to the old ways as well. They will not be ready for Christ’s kingdom until they leave behind the old ways and enter the new covenant of God.
Read Heb. 9:1-14
III. The earthly tabernacle
A. The first covenant had regulations for worship and a tabernacle where they could worship. In order to please God they had to follow God’s regulations in God’s designated place. The study of the tabernacle and its furnishings is important because it is the picture of the new covenant. It was teaching certain things that we needed to know. Children learn best with pictures and object lessons, and we adults sometimes need them, too. Outside the tabernacle was the great altar where the sacrifices were made. Inside were 2 rooms: the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place was the altar of incense - representing prayer – and the ark with the cherubim – representing God Himself. The outer room, or Holy Place, was where the lampstand, the table and the bread were. The priests entered that room regularly and performed their duties.
B. Nobody ever entered the Most Holy Place except the high priest. Anyone else who entered would die by the hand of an enraged God. And the high priest could not easily enter there either. He could only go into the Most Holy Place once a year, and only after shedding the blood of a sacrificial animal. He had to offer the sacrifice for the sins the people had committed in ignorance, and for his own sins. The people themselves had to bring an offering for any sin they knew about. All this makes it clear that it was not easy to come before the presence of the Most Holy God. The Holy Spirit was the One regulating the worship and the tabernacle. He was showing by the regulation that only the High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place, and then only once a year, and then only with blood.
C. The writer explains that this was because under the Old Covenant the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed. This was true as long as the first tabernacle was standing. Thus we see that the entrance into God’s presence had not yet been disclosed or opened. Everything that was done then was an illustration of the reality to come. This closed door to God’s throne illustrated the fact that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshippers. The matters of food, drink, and ceremonial washings were all external regulations, which were to be followed until the time of the new order or new covenant. Col. 2:16-17 They could not do anything internally. Only God could cleanse their hearts. So how were the Old Testament saints redeemed? They could only be declared righteous when they came to the Lord in repentance and faith, bringing their sacrifices in obedience to God’s law.
IV. Christ, the Sacrifice
A. When Christ came as High Priest of the good things that are here, and are to come, He didn’t go through the earthly tabernacle or the temple like the other priests did. What He went through is not man-made like those were. It is not a part of this creation. The tabernacle He went through was the heavenly tabernacle to God’s throne. Jesus did not use the blood of goats and calves as prescribed by the law. Nor did He enter the Most Holy Place once a year. He entered it “once for all”. This is a favorite expression of the author, as we will see in chapter 10. Heb. 9:26 Jesus didn’t go over and over again, but only once! And that was for all time and eternity! What a major contrast between what the high priests did and what Jesus did! But the greatest contrast is in the sacrifice and its results. He went in with the sacrifice of His own blood, and that sacrifice obtained eternal redemption. It wasn’t a temporary thing that couldn’t even clear the conscience.
B. If the blood of animals sprinkled on unclean people could sanctify them so that they became outwardly clean, how much more could the blood of the Messiah cleanse us? Think about that Supreme Sacrifice: Christ, the Messiah, through the eternal Spirit, offered Himself unblemished to God the Father. His was the first truly unblemished sacrifice ever made. What a picture of the Trinity! Christ the Son offered Himself through the Holy Spirit to the Father. How well this shows us the glory of what the Trinity has done to redeem us from hell! And in these words we have the summary of the gospel. What does Christ’s blood do for us as we apply it to our lives? First, it cleanses our consciences from the guilt that leads to death. It rescues us from sin and hell. Second, it makes it possible for us to serve the living God. No other way is acceptable. We cannot serve Him in our sin. So He has sacrificed Himself to cleanse our sinful hearts, to save us from eternal death, and to make it possible for us to serve Him.
We have to be careful that we who are Christians don’t depend on certain rituals. Some groups teach that we are saved only when we are baptized. Others believe that taking Communion or the Lord’s Supper has power to cleanse us from sin. It is good to be baptized as a testimony that we have already given our lives to Christ. It is good to take Communion as a reminder of what Christ has done for us. But only Christ can save us through His death on the cross. Still other churches teach that we become holy only as we are “slain in the Spirit” or speak in tongues. Many today are following the man who wrote about the prayer of Jabez in the Old Testament. Supposedly if we pray that prayer every day God has to do certain things for us. Doing certain rituals cannot save us. In fact, if we believe that we are redeemed by certain rituals, we count Christ’s death as nothing! Paul wrote to the Galatians about this because he was afraid that they were losing the race. Gal. 5:7; 2:15-16, 19-21 Let us be careful not to insult the Holy Trinity of God by thinking that we can gain salvation and holiness any other way but by the “once-for-all” sacrifice of the Holy Son of God!
The Letter to the Hebrews (9)
Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All
In our last lesson we studied the difference between the earthly and heavenly tabernacles. We found that the earthly tabernacle was only a pattern or shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven. We also learned that whereas the Old Covenant was written on stone tablets and in a book, the New Covenant is written in our hearts. If we are Christians we are now the tabernacles of the Lord, and His Holy Spirit lives in our spirits. Instead of relying on earthly sacrifices and priests, we now depend on Christ, the Great Sacrifice and High Priest at the right hand of the Father.
I. Christ, the Mediator of the New Covenant
A. It is because of the shedding of His blood that Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant. He is the One who mediates between God and man. Man cannot approach the Almighty God. He needs somebody to come between. This makes it possible for those who are called to receive the promised eternal inheritance. Jesus’ death even ransoms those who committed sins under the first covenant.
I Tim. 2:5-6 This is the reason why He descended to Hades after His death. Eph. 4:8-10 He went there to rescue the captives who were held in the place of “Abraham’s side” awaiting their rescue by Jesus. Luke 16:22-23 His death made it possible for their ransom to be paid. They were like slaves being ransomed from the slave market by a generous man who paid the price to set them free. Jesus’ death is the ransom for both Old and New Testament saints. It is the pivotal point of all history. Jesus led the Old Testament saints to the Father as their Mediator.
B. Now the writer turns to the subject of wills. A will is only in force after the person dies. Therefore, it’s necessary to prove the death of the one who made it. (ILLUS: John’s military insurance.) This is why the first covenant couldn’t be put into effect without blood. Something or someone had to die in order to put into effect the covenant or will that God had made. This is why Moses took the blood of calves and sprinkled the scroll of commandments and all the people. He told them, “This is the blood of the covenant”. He also sprinkled the tabernacle and everything used in it. The blood cleansed everything so that the covenant could be instituted. In fact, the law required nearly everything to be cleansed with blood.
C. It seems strange to us. We think of water as the cleansing agent, and they did use water for cleansing. But that’s an outward cleansing that has nothing to do with the sinful heart. It takes blood – someone’s death – to cleanse the heart because the wages of sin is death! Rom. 6:23 God in His mercy accepted the death of animals to cleanse the sinful hearts of the people, but that blood actually could never cleanse them. It requires a man – and a sinless man, at that – to pay for the debts of other men. The blood of animals was a temporary substitute for the blood of Christ because He had not yet come. This is why it will be so offensive to God if the Jews rebuild the temple and begin animal sacrifices again. It’s as if the death of God’s only Son means nothing. God’s rule is: “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”. Lev. 17:11 This is because the sin debt can only be paid by death.
A. To ignore or reject the blood of Christ is to damn the soul because without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness and no hope. There is and always has been only one method or hope of forgiveness. It is in the death – the blood – of Christ. All of God’s history looks forward to that sacrifice or back to it as we do. The cross is central in all history. In the past the copies of the heavenly things – the ark, the tabernacle, etc. – had to be purified with sacrifices. But the heavenly things themselves were purified with a better sacrifice than sheep and calves. Christ didn’t enter a man-made sanctuary – the tabernacle or temple – that was only a copy. He entered the true sanctuary – heaven itself – to appear for us in God’s presence. As the High Priests appeared before God in the Most Holy Place for the people, so Christ is now before God the Father for us!
B. Christ did not enter heaven to offer Himself again and again as the High Priests offered the blood of animals again and again. If that were true, Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. Since His sacrifice covers all who have sinned since the creation, He would have had to suffer for each sinner for the past 6000 years. It is this kind of thinking that is promoted by the Catholic Church when they re-enact Christ’s death in the Mass. We celebrate Communion only in remembrance of what Christ has already done and finished. Please notice the writer’s use of “once” and “once for all” in Heb. 9:12,26,27,28 & 10:2,10. Having used the expression 6 times, it seems that the Holy Spirit wants us to get the point that the sacrificial system has ended, and that Christ’s one act is enough for all time – past and present. All of history led up to it or looks back on it. Jesus’ words on the cross have deep and everlasting significance: “It is finished!”
C. Jesus has appeared once for all at the end of the ages. He appeared, was born and died to do away with sin. That’s the miracle of the ages. There was no way to do away with sin until Christ appeared. How did he do away with sin? “By the sacrifice of Himself”. Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment. This verse cuts out the teaching of reincarnation. And it makes it clear that we will all face judgment unless we have asked Christ to take our judgment on Himself. Just as man dies once, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people. And the blessed hope is that He will appear a second time. But this time He will not appear as a baby, then live and die. He will not come to bear sin but to bring eternal salvation. To whom? “To those who are waiting for Him.” How do we wait for Him? We believe what he said, we expect Him, we love and trust Him, and we serve faithfully until He comes. I Cor. 1:7-9
III. Come to do God’s will
A. The law is not the reality. It is only a shadow of the good things coming. That’s why it could not completely cleanse those who drew near to worship even though many sacrifices were offered year after year. It only made sense that if the sacrifices could clean and perfect the worshipper they would not have to be repeated. “The worshippers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins”. Their sin and guilt would have been taken care of by the blood of an animal. But instead of cleansing from sin, the sacrifices were a reminder of their sin. The law of God which instituted the sacrificial system also said, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” This only makes sense. How could an animal’s death erase the debt that a man’s death must pay? Then why did God institute this system? It was a way to remind them of their sins and keep them humble and repentant before Him. And it was looking forward to the great sacrifice that Christ would make.
B. The author here quotes Psa. 40:6-8. Speaking of the Father, Jesus said, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire….with burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased.” Instead the Father prepared a body for Jesus – He shared in our humanity. Heb. 2:14 This is the story of Christmas: “Then I said, ‘here I am’” Here He is – the very Son of God! It is all foretold in the prophecies: “It is written about Me in the scroll”. Why did Jesus come? Yes, He came to die for us, but the primary reason He came was to do God’s will. “I have come to do Your will, O God.” It was God’s will that Jesus would live as a man of flesh and blood, suffer all our pains and temptations, then take all our sins on Himself and die in our place – the holy for the unholy, the good for the bad. Isa. 53:10
C. Jesus came for the purpose of doing the Father’s will. And He did it every moment of His earthly life, even down to the agonizing choice in the Garden. Certainly the least we can do is to follow His will in our choices – whether they be hard or easy. When Jesus offered Himself – His body – He set aside the first system in order to establish the second. His willingness to do the Father’s will established a whole new covenant, “By that will, we have been made holy”. It is no longer a question, “Can we be made holy? Or we hope we can be made holy”. It is a fact: We have been made holy! How is it possible? It is only through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. One great sacrifice – one choice – cleanses us from sin. We don’t need many sacrifices. We only need to repent and turn to Christ who has already paid the price.
A. So it seems that the endless sacrificing by the priests was almost useless since it could never take away sins. And yet we see that it did have a value. It was God’s way for hundreds of years to keep His people in touch with Him, aware of their sins, and hopefully repentant for them. What a stark contrast to “this priest” – Jesus –who offered “for all time one sacrifice for sins”. Again the author spells it out clearly, anxious that the Jews would understand the great difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. The writer is clearly portraying Jesus as the true Messiah, the Lamb of God, the fulfillment and completion of all that had gone before.
B. And what did Christ do after offering this one sacrifice for all time? He sat down at the right hand of God. His words on the cross: “It is finished” completed His fulfilling of God’s awful and wonderful plan. He can now sit down because His work is finished. What does He do at God’s right hand? He ever makes intercession for us. Isa. 53:12 And He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool. God promises that every knee will bow and every tongue declare His lordship. Phil. 2:9-11 He will do what the ancient kings did - put His foot on the necks of His enemies. Unlike the insufficient sacrifices of animals constantly repeated but unable to clear the conscience, this one sacrifice makes people perfect forever. And yet we are not made perfect in the sense of sinless. It’s very clear that we are in the process of being made holy. It’s interesting that verse 10 says, “We have been made holy” and this verse says, “We are being made holy”. This is not a contradiction. Instead it is the true picture of the Christian life. We have been forgiven our past sins, made clean and holy. We also are in the process of being made holy as we walk with God and daily repent of and confess our sins.
C. The Holy Spirit had already testified about this in Jer. 31:33. In describing the New Covenant to come, God said that He would put His laws in our hearts and write them on our minds. This is the daily life of a child of God whose heart and mind are filled with God’s love and God’s Word. He is “being made holy”. At the same time he has already “been made holy”. “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more” Jer. 31:34 So where these past sins have been forgiven there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. So the Holy Spirit has clearly established that this one sacrifice is enough for all time -–once for all!
Salvation is an ongoing process. We have been saved; we are being saved; and we will be saved when we go to God’s home. Or we could say, we have been made holy; we are being made holy; and we will be completely holy someday. Salvation is admitting our sins and repenting of them; committing our lives totally to the Lord; and submitting our wills to Him every day until we meet Him face to face. It is not simply raising a hand, or saying, “I’m a Christian”. It’s a lifelong process.
The Letter to the Hebrews (10)
A Call to Persevere
In chapter 7 through the middle of chapter 10 we have with the writer of this letter to the Christian Jews thoroughly investigated the claims of Christ. We found that He is a Priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. He is the High Priest of a New Covenant which is an unbreakable agreement with God. A human example is a marriage covenant between a man and woman. As High Priest He has offered a sacrifice for sins. And this is the greatest sacrifice of all time and eternity because it is the sacrifice of Himself! He has offered Himself once for all for all men for all time. He is now in the heavenly tabernacle, seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us as High Priest. Now the writer returns to his theme in chapters 2 through 6. In the light of all that Christ is and all that He has done, we must be sure that we do not fall from grace. So he calls us to persevere in our faith till the end.
I. Let us draw near
A. Having fully described the New Covenant, the writer goes on to apply it to our individual lives. He begins with, “Therefore, brothers…” This indicates that he is writing to Christians whom he considers brothers. What is our response to the great atonement achieved by Jesus – the one Sacrifice for all time? Now we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus. Each of us is like a high priest entering the Most Holy Place, not with the blood of an animal, but with the blood of the Godman. It is the only way we can enter the very presence of God the Father. And the amazing thing is that we can do it with confidence. Instead of following the law, we enter by a new and living way. It is the New Covenant that is carried out by a Living Lord. It is open to us through the curtain that was torn in two as Jesus died. The curtain which was torn is His body broken for us. Since we have a great high Priest over the house of God, then let’s not be separated from God any more. Everything has been done for us so that we can draw near to God.
B. It is time to draw near to God since He has made it possible. It’s interesting that the writer has used 5 expressions beginning with “Let us…” 1.) “Let us draw near..” 2.) Let us hold unswervingly…” 3.) Let us consider…” 4.) “Let us not give up…” 5.) Let us encourage one another…” So we are called to perseverance and determination. Since the way has been opened to God’s throne through the curtain, then we need to do our part. A covenant has to be agreed upon by two. There is no such thing as floating like a dead fish down the river of God’s grace, depending on Him to do all the work. He has done and will do His part, but we must also do ours. The first thing we have to do is draw near. James 4:8 Yes, the Lord draws us to Himself but we must also draw near. We must do it with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Our hearts must be without hypocrisy and our faith complete so that we can come to Him in full assurance. The Lord has sprinkled our hearts with His blood and they are cleansed. Remember when Peter refused to let Jesus wash his feet? John 13:8-11 Jesus said to Peter, “Your body has been washed; you are forgiven. Now only the dirt on your feet from the road of life needs to be washed away.” We need daily cleansing.
C. If we have given our lives to Christ, we are professing the hope that He has promised. But we need to hold unswervingly to that hope. Doubt will rob us of our peace and strength. So we hold on with all our might. We don’t have to doubt if we know the character of the One who promised – He is faithful! Even when I am weak He remains faithful. So I hold on to Him and His promises. But besides the personal admonition to us to draw near and to hold unswervingly, we have an admonition to help others. “Let us consider how we may spur one another on to love and good deeds.” We need to inspire others by our teaching, our example, our love and our good deeds. The next “let us” has to do with our fellowship and meetings with other Christians. We need the fellowship, the sharing, the communion with others. Some are in the habit of abandoning church services and Bible Studies, thinking that they can make it on their own. But we need the fellowship of the community of Christians. That brings us to the last “let us” because it is in our fellowship that we encourage one another. This is vital today as we see the Day of the Lord approaching. And we are much closer to the Day than they were when this was written.
II. What if we keep on sinning?
A. This is a very scary part of scripture, similar to chapters 4 and 6. This book contains the most severe warnings in scripture as well as the most encouraging passages on faith and the call to be faithful and to persevere. The author writes, as John did, not about a sin which we commit once in awhile. He writes about a deliberate self-willed continuing in sin. I John 3:6 & 9 Here the author writes, “If we deliberately keep on sinning….” This is the set of the will against God. But didn’t Jesus die for these sins? Yes, He did. But this is not referring to any ordinary sinner. This refers to one who has received the knowledge of the truth. Note that he doesn’t say, “Those who have heard the truth.” These have not only heard but received the truth. Once we have received the truth, we are responsible to live by it and to immediately repent when we fail momentarily. This one does not repent, but deliberately continues in his sin, knowing what he is doing and setting his mind and will against the God who calls him to repentance.
B. The terrible part is that no sacrifice for sins is left for this person. Once we have taken these holy things and treated them as garbage, there is no sacrifice available anymore for our deliberate sins. Because by doing this we choose to be enemies of God, we will receive the judgment of His enemies – a fearful expectation of judgment and raging fire. God is not playing games. Once we know Him, we are responsible to live accordingly. To deliberately keep on sinning is to spit in God’s face and to trample His Son under our feet. What can we expect then? Referring back to the law, the writer reminds us that anyone who rejected the law died without mercy on the testimony of 2 or3 witnesses. One who knew the law was expected to keep the law! So the Holy Spirit asks, “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has committed the crime, not against the law only, but against God Himself in the person of His Son?” The way God sees it, to deliberately keep on sinning is to trample the Son of God under foot and to treat as an unholy thing His precious blood. Imagine rejecting or despising the One who died for us, and counting His blood as useless and unholy!
C. Some interpret this passage as referring to the unsaved who have rejected Christ. But they are not reading it carefully enough. 4 things make it clear that the writer inspired by the Holy Spirit is referring here to Christians who deliberately continue in their sin.
1.) He calls them “brothers’. (v.19) He would not refer to pagan unbelievers as brothers.
2.) He writes that they have received the knowledge of the truth. (v. 26)They have heard it, believed it and received it into their lives.
3.) They were sanctified by His blood. (v. 29) That means that their sins were forgiven and they were declared holy by the blood of Christ, and set apart for Him.
4.) They have insulted the Spirit of grace. (v. 29) You cannot insult the Holy Spirit of grace unless you have known Him personally. Heb. 6:4 I believe this is the unpardonable sin. Matt. 12:31-32 Speaking against Jesus can be forgiven because the entire world knows about Him. But no one knows the Holy Spirit except those in whom He lives. So only Christians can truly insult the Spirit and speak against Him.
This is the picture of a person who, having received the truth, having been sanctified by the blood, having known the Spirit of grace living in his life, then tramples, insults and treats as unholy the very Trinity of God!
A. In Heb. 3:7, 15 and 4:7 the author warns us: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts.” To deliberately keep on sinning is to harden our hearts against God. The Israelites who did that died in the wilderness, never entering the Promised Land. The writer quotes Deut. 32:35: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” We feel comforted by those words when someone wrongs us, but what about when we wrong the Lord? Deut. 32:36 goes on to show that it is the people of God who will face His vengeance. Judgment begins at the House of God! Verse 31 is corollary with Heb. 12:29 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God because our God is a consuming fire! There is nothing more terrible than to fall into the hands of the living God whom you have insulted and against whom you have rebelled. He is indeed a consuming fire. There is a major difference between falling into God’s hands and placing your life in His hands. To the disobedient He is a consuming fire; to the trusting He is the Father of lights.
B. The author now reminds the Christian Jews of their first love. In the earlier days after they had first received the Lord, they showed great courage and determination as they stood their ground in the face of suffering. Sometimes they were publicly exposed to insult and persecution. Sometimes they comforted those who were being mistreated. They understood and sympathized with those who were in prison – not deserting them as Demas deserted Paul. They even joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property when people came and took away their possessions. They could do that because they realized that they had better and lasting possessions in heaven. How were they able to live victoriously through such painful circumstances? Their Lord was the most important Person in their lives. Their trust and confidence in Him made it possible for them to persevere. Are we storing up our riches in heaven or here?
C. If we do not throw away our confidence and trust in the Lord, some day it will be richly rewarded. Once again he emphasizes the need to persevere. When we have faithfully done the will of God, we will receive what He has promised. In “just a little while” – as far as eternity is concerned – He who is coming will come. Will we be ready to meet Christ when he comes? But scripture tells us that the Anti-Christ will also come. In fact, he will come first. II Thess. 2:3-4 It will be a terrible time when many will “shrink back”. Many will be deceived. II Thess. 2:9-12 At that time only the righteous ones will live by faith. This is why we have the severe warnings in this letter, because some will “shrink back”, and those who do will not please the Lord. To please the Lord we must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him. Heb. 11:6 What will happen to those who shrink back? They will be destroyed! This is very clear. This is written about a righteous one who lives by faith and then shrinks back. This means that it is possible to be righteous, then to shrink back and be destroyed. What is the alternative? To believe and continue believing! To live by faith! To persevere to the very end!
God in His wisdom and grace has given us many clear warnings in His Word. We are very foolish people if we do not listen to them and take the steps necessary to protect ourselves and assure our heavenly home and reward. When we give our hearts to Christ we are entering into the New Covenant. He is the Bridegroom and we are the bride. This covenant is like a marriage agreement which is unbreakable. If we break it we can expect that our Heavenly Bridegroom will sadly turn away from us – eternally. So let us not throw away our confidence in God, but continue to trust Him and draw near. Let us hold unswervingly to our faith. Let us spur one another on to love and good deeds, and continue meeting with the brothers and sisters in the Lord, encouraging one another until Jesus comes.
The Letter to the Hebrews (11)
What is Faith?
We have studied at length the meaning of the New Covenant and the place of Christ as Sin-bearer, Sacrifice and High Priest. We have heard the severe warnings of the Holy Spirit as vividly described, especially in chapters 4, 6 and 10. We have seen that Christ is our Bridegroom and we are His bride if we give our hearts to Him. But how do we actualize this relationship with One whom we can’t even see? The author of Hebrews describes this in the greatest exposition of faith ever written. In chapter 11 the word “faith” is used 26 times. How do we understand faith? How do we describe it for those who have never experienced or understood it? The writer does it by giving a definition, telling who must be the One in whom we have faith, and then giving testimonials of great men and women of faith so that we can see it lived out in their lives.
I. The definition and object of our faith
A. If we want to understand what something is we must check the dictionary for its definition. We don’t have to look into the dictionary for the definition of faith, however, because the Holy Spirit gives it to us right at the beginning of this great chapter. The NIV translates it: “Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." I like the KJV translation even better: “It is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is not some mystical experience. It is substance and evidence. It makes us sure of our hope and certain of what is invisible to us. The Amplified Bible expands on this verse this way: “Now faith is the assurance, the confirmation, the title-deed of the things we hope for, being the proof of things we do not see and the conviction of their reality – faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses.” We cannot see the Lord or heaven, but our faith - and the Holy Spirit within us – gives us such certainty that we will die for that Lord and that hope. Many have died already. Heb. 11:13
B. If we jump down to verse 6 we see that it is for all those who are doubters and all those who are trying to be acceptable to God with works. Works without faith are useless. Do we want to please God? If so, we must understand that without faith it is impossible to please Him. Why? Because it is stupid to pray to someone who is not there. If we want to come to Him, we must first believe or have faith that He actually exists though invisible to our eyes. And we must believe that He is a just and good God as well – “that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him”. We are incredibly foolish if we worship and follow a god whose character can’t be trusted. The demons and Satan present themselves as gods although they’re not. But do they do good for their followers? Do they bless or curse? Their rewards are short-lived at best and cruel traps at worst. By faith we know that the God we speak to and whose words we obey is alive and well and that He will rightly judge those who seek Him and try to please Him. Heb. 10:38-39
C. The ancients were commended for their faith, as the author does in this chapter, and they will be commended by God when they meet Him. So faith must begin with the invisible God and His character. But it continues with His works. How can we know that evolution is a myth, designed in the minds of men through the devil’s inspiration? By faith we believe what is written. We understand that the universe was formed by God’s command. God spoke and it was so. Where did He get the materials to make it? He created it from nothing. He alone is the cause and the universe is the effect. What we see now was not made out of anything visible. He created from the invisible everything that we now see. He made the worlds from His mind alone. John 1:3, II Pet. 3:5 But how can we know that all this is true? Because we know by faith that our God cannot lie. Men can lie and they often do. Even when they tell something they believe to be true, it is often false because they don’t have the wisdom to know all that God knows.
II. The evidence of faith in people’s lives
A. All of our understanding of God, His character and His works stems from His Word and our faith. We cannot see Him and we were not there when He created all things solely out of His mind and with His spoken word. But as we read about these things, the Spirit testifies in our spirits that it is true. Rom. 8:16 Our faith is not dependent on man’s ideas or our senses. It is totally dependent on His Word and the inner testimony of His Spirit. This is why it is hard for those who have not given their lives to Christ to be able to understand and believe the truths of the Bible. They do not have the Holy Spirit living within them to illumine their spirits. By faith we are sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. It is our faith that pleases God, as we believe that He is alive and well and that He will reward those who seek Him and love Him. It is by our faith that we can see in our mind’s eye what no man has seen – the formation of the universe out of nothing.
B. We can better understand faith as we study its evidence in the lives of godly men and women like Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets, and all the unnamed men and women who had great victories whether in life or in death. How did faith work in their lives, and how did they show their faith? Abel showed his faith by offering a better sacrifice than Cain. I John 3:12 Somehow he understood that without blood there is no forgiveness of sin. Heb. 9:22 I believe that this was illustrated and taught by God when He made clothes for Adam and Eve by killing animals, probably sheep. Gen. 3:21 While Abel didn’t fully comprehend the significance, his sacrifice was looking forward to God’s sacrifice of His own precious Son.
C. God commended Abel as a righteous man because of his faith and obedience. So it is with every man or woman of faith. Believing and obeying God is the essence of righteousness, even in the New Testament. Only this will please God. But to the world Abel looks like a loser who was murdered by his brother. And yet, here it is, 6000 years later and Abel is still “speaking” to us through his story. Far from being a loser, his voice is heard all around the world and his faith is still an inspiration. He knew what would please and honor God and he did it even in the face of his brother’s anger and hatred. He demonstrated what it means to trust and obey till the end. I hope that we will have the same courage and faith as he did.
A. Enoch must have experienced the same kind of hatred that Abel did. The world was growing more and more sinful and dangerous. I doubt that Enoch was popular in his day. He was probably hated and ridiculed as Noah was later. It was not easy for him to please God and walk with Him every day. Gen. 5:21-24 Jude wrote something about Enoch that no other Bible author had written. It seems that Enoch was a prophet. He prophesied about the wickedness of the end times. Probably it will be similar to his times when God was already contemplating the judgment of the flood because of the sin of man. Notice the use of the words “all” and “ungodly” in these verses: Jude 1:14-15 It’s amazing that Enoch was given a vision of the end times similar to Rev. 19:11-15 way back there at the beginnings of all things. He saw the Lord returning with His holy ones to judge ungodly men. God was pleased with Enoch and decided not to leave him in the sinful world. He was taken from this life by God, never experiencing death. He is the example of those who will leave this world behind when Jesus returns. I Thess. 4:17
B. Noah is the next great man of faith. God warned him about things “not yet seen” – in fact, not to come for 120 years! Noah believed God and his holy fear inspired him to build an ark to save his family. Of course, God told him to build the ark, not only to save his family but to save the animals as well, in order to begin again after the flood. Why would Noah believe the words of an invisible God? He already knew God perhaps through the testimony of Enoch passed down to him. He not only knew God. He knew the sins of the earth. He was a preacher of righteousness those 120 years while he and his sons built that enormous ocean liner. II Pet. 2:5 His heart must have been broken by what he saw and heard. No one responded to his message. Because he preached in faith, believing what God had said, he “condemned the world”. Noah’s words confirmed God’s call to repentance. Since they did not repent, Noah’s words condemned them. Our words bring life or death when we speak God’s Word. II Cor. 2:14-16 Noah’s faith, obedience and faithfulness caused him to become the heir of righteousness, just as Abel’s faith caused him to be a righteous man and Enoch’s faith led him to please God and be raptured up to heaven.
A. Perhaps the greatest man of faith in all history was Abraham. Like Abel, Enoch and Noah he believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Rom. 4:3 Romans 4 is the wonderful exposition of faith and righteousness. It is faith alone that causes someone to be called righteous by God. The most important thing we can do and must do is just to believe God – His character, His Word and His works. This is done only by faith, but, as James wrote, we only know that faith is real when we live it out by our works. Obedience, submission and faithfulness demonstrate our faith. This is amply illustrated be Abraham’s life – especially in his willingness to leave his home to answer God’s call, in his trust that God would give him an heir, and in his obedience to sacrifice his son at God’s command. Faith that is not tested may not be true faith. God tested Noah’s faith and Abraham’s faith. They proved it was real faith by their works. (ILLUS: God used these words to guide our thinking back in 1961. When God called us it was to a place we did not know. Though we had heard its name, we knew next to nothing about Micronesia. Abraham himself never received Canaan as an inheritance, but lived in it as a stranger. Now he has received it through his descendents, and I don’t doubt that he will rule there under Christ in the millennium. We, too, were only strangers in Micronesia. I believe that it is my inheritance though I will never own it.)
B. When God called Abraham to go to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, he obeyed and went even though he did not know where he was going. He simply went, believing that God would give him that land. Did he receive it as his own? No! He lived in that Promised Land like a stranger in tents, as did his son and grandson after him. But I thought it was supposed to belong to him! He believed it was his even though he never owned it. He was a stranger and alien all his life, but he understood that the day would come when his descendents would actually inherit that land. He also understood that this world is not our home. He was looking forward to the city with foundations whose Architect and Builder is God. God is the Designer, the Builder and the Foundation of that wondrous city which is promised. By faith we know we will be there!
We have choices to make like Abraham did. We can lay up treasures here on earth and be very comfortable and happy. We can live only for ourselves and never mind the people around us who need to know Christ. Have you heard God’s call to leave your comfort and safety to go to others in need? Are you willing to give your precious time, money and energy to obey God’s call to reach out to the sick, the hurting, the hungry, and the lost ones? What is most important to us - God’s city or the one we call home? Where are we storing up our treasure? Let’s put God’s kingdom and His will first while we have the chance. Matt. 6:33
The Letter to the Hebrews (12)
Abraham and His Children
Hebrews 11:11- 22
In our last lesson we began the wonderful 11th chapter of Hebrews by learning the definition and object of faith. Faith is not just our imagination. It is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” By our faith we believe that all of creation was made out of nothing by God. Faith believes that God is alive and real and that He will reward those who consistently trust and obey Him. In fact, without faith it is impossible to please God. We found that the best way to understand faith is to see it lived out in people’s lives. So we looked at the lives of men of faith like Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham. Tonight we will continue our study of Abraham and his children and grandchildren.
I. Abraham and Sarah have a son
A. Abraham and Sarah made a mistake when they decided to try to get the son that was promised on their own terms without following God’s plan. Sarah wanted a son so badly that she told Abraham to sleep with Hagar, her Egyptian maid. The result was Ishmael. He was not the son of God’s promise. Gen. 17:18-19 Finally Abraham had to send Ishmael and Hagar away because of the trouble they caused in the family. It is always best to go God’s way at His time. God’s time was very slow. Abraham was 100 years old and Sarah 90 before they had a son. Abraham had learned his lesson and trusted God to give him a son in his old age, even though he was 100 and Sarah was barren. Did Abraham produce this long-awaited son through his own power and ability? How stupid men are to think that they can create something new in their own strength. Even Abraham fell into that trap with Hagar. Finally he understood that it all depended on the God who promised – and He is faithful! Rom. 4:18-21
B. So it was that from this one man who knew he was “as good as dead” came descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore. Does this mean that he had thousands of children? No! It means that his children produced children who produced children, etc. (ILLUS: The night that God called me to Micronesia (Nov. 12, 1961), I had many questions and doubts. My biggest question had to do with my husband’s health. He had had a heart attack, and the doctor said he should consider leaving his work as a pastor. How could he ever be a missionary in a far away place? That night the Lord spoke to me from Heb. 11:12. He showed me that though John was “as good as dead” that the Lord planned to bring much fruit from his life. Although many people came to know Christ through John’s short ministry in Micronesia, it was not as many as the stars or the sand. But maybe when their children and grandchildren, and the ones they brought to Christ, are counted in eternity, we will be amazed at the number.) The same can be true of us. Will He find us faithfully bringing others to Him?
C. Abraham became not only the father of the Jews, but the father of many nations as well. In fact, every true believer or person of faith is a child of Abraham. Gal. 3:6-7 Why is this true? Because “against all hope, Abraham in hope believed”. He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. No wonder it was counted to him for righteousness. His eyes were on God, not himself. He looked at the Source of life, believing that he could produce life. So it should be for us! We should walk by faith, not by sight. II Cor. 5:7
A. Next the writer refers back to “all these people”. Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham all recognized that they were aliens on this earth. Abel was considered weird by his brother. Enoch was too good for the people he lived with and had to be taken away by God. Noah was different from all others living on this earth and had to escape in the ark because he and his family were the only righteous ones. Abraham left his home to become an alien in a strange land because he was chosen by God. All these people were living by faith when they died or were taken by God. They died, never having received the things promised. They only saw them by faith and welcomed them from a distance. They believed without seeing or receiving. Do we have faith like that?
B. These people all admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. None of them “fit in”. Because this earth is cursed, we who are blessed by our faith and God’s grace do not belong. We are like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, living in tents – temporary dwellings. We are indeed strangers and often-unwelcome aliens to the world system in which we live. That’s why it’s important for us to understand the transitory nature of our bodies, our homes and our things. As we draw closer to the end, we will be less and less welcome. Some people admit that they, like Abraham, are aliens and strangers on earth – never really belonging but only temporary travelers. When people understand this in their heart and live this way, it shows that they are looking for a country of their own. Heb. 13:14
C. Do you remember the song we used to sing, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through”? Most people actually feel that this world is their home and they will be here for a long, long time. So they collect as much money and as many things as possible or as much fame and power as they can, assuming that that is real life. It’s not life! It’s a myth. If the men and women of faith had wanted the country they left badly enough they could have returned. But instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one. The one who truly loves the Lord longs to be at home with Him, knowing that where He is is far better. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God. Till today He is called the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob. Exod. 3:6 Is God ever ashamed to be called someone’s God? I would think He would be really ashamed to be called Benny Hinn’s God. But He has prepared a city for those who long for Him, and He is not ashamed to be called their God. Is He ashamed to be called our God? Mark 8:38
III. Abraham’s greatest test
A. (ILLUS: After the Lord called us to Micronesia, one day He showed me that I needed to give or sacrifice my children to Him. I was doing the ironing while praying that I would be a woman of faith like Abraham was a man of faith. Suddenly God brought to my memory the picture of Abraham with Isaac by his side, climbing Moriah to sacrifice him on an altar as God had instructed him. I knew what God was asking. I turned off the iron and went into the bedroom, closing the door and falling on my knees. That day, with many tears, I committed Sandy and Angela to God for whatever He would choose for them, even if it was very painful.) I believe that Abraham’s greatest test came when God told him to sacrifice Isaac. It would be unthinkably hard to sacrifice your son. And what if he was your only son? And what if God was obviously the One who gave him after years of waiting, and then in a miraculous way? And what if all of God’s promises could only be fulfilled through the life of that son?
B. This ultimate test of Abraham’s faith brings up many questions. What kind of God am I serving? Is He crazy? Is He cruel and vindictive? How could Abraham know that he would be the illustration for all time of the kind of God we worship? He is the kind of God who would choose to Himself sacrifice His one and only Son – the King of glory! How could Abraham know that he represented God when he tried to obediently kill his son? How could he know that Isaac lying on the altar represented the very Son of God nailed to the cross? The greatness of Abraham’s faith is seen in the fact that he believed in the resurrection long before anyone heard of such a thing. He knew that God would keep His promise that his offspring would come through Isaac. He absolutely trusted God to do that because he had witnessed the miracle of a 100 year-old man and a 90 year-old barren woman giving birth because God said so.
C. Therefore, Abraham reasoned that God would have to keep His promise. If God told him to kill Isaac, the only way He could keep His promise was to raise Isaac from the dead. It takes massive faith to believe that God can raise the dead. Even the disciples didn’t have that much faith. Luke 24:9-11 As always, God proved Himself trustworthy. In a figure, He did raise Isaac from the dead. Actually God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac by sending his angel. Then He provided a ram to take Isaac’s place as a sacrifice. In Abraham’s mind and intention, Isaac was dead. Abraham had already raised the knife and fully intended to kill his son when he was stopped. (ILLUS: I did not know when I gave my son to the Lord that God would later have to raise him from the “dead”. No, Sandy didn’t really die, but he was far away from God and deep into the things of the world. Only God could bring him back from that “death” to serve Him.) He is the God of the resurrection and the God who keeps His promises.
IV. Isaac, Jacob and Joseph
A. Isaac seems to be a minor character in the drama of faith. But when I think of his acquiescence to his father’s plan to sacrifice him, I believe we can find a measure of faith. Surely he must have been touched by his father’s great faith. He did honor God’s covenantal promise by living in tents in Canaan. He had the faith to bless Jacob and Esau in regard to their future and God’s covenant. However, he wasn’t sensitive to God’s choice of Jacob, and had to be tricked into giving him the blessing. Gen. 25:23 If he had been close to God and attuned to His will, Isaac would have faced both his sons together and explain why the blessing had to go to Jacob. Would that have made a difference in the hatred that grew up between them? If Abraham had followed God’s way and Ishmael had not been born, perhaps today there would be no Jewish-Arab conflict. The same is true of Jacob and Esau.
B. Jacob, too, was a questionable character. He was far from a godly man, and yet God followed him and worked with him anyway. Just as Isaac’s faith can be seen in the blessing which related to the covenant, so Jacob’s faith can be seen in his blessing of Joseph’s sons and as he worshipped God as an old man. He reaped much sorrow from his foolishness, but finally honored God as he proved himself faithful. There are many things I would write about Joseph’s faith if I were writing this, but the Holy Spirit has chosen only what relates to the covenant. Abraham had faith to leave home and go to Canaan because of God’s covenantal promise. He had faith to believe God would give him a son because of the promise. He believed that God would raise him from the dead if he sacrificed him because of the covenant.
C. Isaac and Jacob did not forget the covenant of God to Abraham. They lived in the Promised Land in tents believing that God would give it to their descendents. So Isaac and Jacob taught their children about God’s covenant and then blessed them in relation to it. Joseph, believing God’s promise to Abraham, spoke about the Exodus from Egypt 400 years before it happened. Gen. 15:13-14 He saw the hand of God in bringing them out of Canaan to Egypt to keep them alive during the drought. This was very costly for Joseph. He spent 13 years of his young life as a slave and then a prisoner. But finally he became Prime Minister and able to take care of his father and family. Joseph believed that the day would come when they would actually inherit the land of Canaan, and he told them to take his bones with them and bury them there.
Are we people of faith? Do we believe God’s promises even when we have to wait a long time to see them fulfilled? Maybe we will not live long enough to see them come true in our lifetimes. Do we teach our children and grandchildren about God’s promises and help them to become men and women of faith? Do we set the example before them? Let us be faithful in helping others to learn to trust and obey our wonderful Lord, who can even raise dead hopes and dreams.
The Letter to the Hebrews (13)
Moses and the Exodus
As we continue in this great chapter about the lives of men and women of faith, the writer begins to focus on the way faith confronts opposition and hostility. The first century Christians, both Hebrew and Gentile, to whom the author wrote, knew a lot about that. It was a time of persecution, harassment, imprisonment, and death. Could faith carry them through those trying times? This is our question as well as we face the end times. Isaac Watts said it well in his immortal hymn: “Am I a soldier of the cross? A follower of the Lamb? And shall I fear to own His cause or blush to speak His name? Must I be carried to the skies on flowery beds of ease, while others fought to win the prize and sailed through bloody seas?” If our faith is as real and alive as theirs was we will be able to face whatever comes.
A. The events of Moses’ life were all related to God’s covenantal promise, just as they had been with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons. The faith of Moses was taught and demonstrated to him by his parents. His father was a Levite named Amram and his mother, also a Levite, was named Jochebed. Exod. 6:20 The edict had gone out from the Pharoah of Egypt that every boy born must be thrown into the Nile River. He was desperate to keep control of the Israelites. They had become so numerous that Pharoah was afraid that they would join with Egypt’s enemies and leave the country. Pharoah had tried to stop their increase in numbers by oppressing them in slave labor and by telling the midwives to kill the baby boys. The midwives wisely disobeyed Pharoah’s order and the Hebrews continued to multiply. Finally Pharoah told all his people to watch for baby boys and throw them into the Nile. Exod. 1:22
B. It was in the midst of this time of persecution and death that Moses was born. They hid him for 3 months because “they saw he was no ordinary child”. I don’t know how they knew this. It’s pretty hard to tell what kind of a person one will be in his first 3 months of life. Maybe the Holy Spirit enlightened their hearts to know that God had great plans for him. Maybe God gave them faith to believe that he would live to be a man. It was courageous of them to hide him and then entrust him to God in the basket on the Nile. Would he be safe floating on the Nile or would he be drowned in the Nile? If the Pharoah had found out what they had done in rebellion to the king’s edict, possibly the whole family would have been killed. But God had plans, not only for Moses, but for Aaron and Miriam as well. Praise the Lord for the courage and faith of Moses’ parents! After the princess found the baby he was returned to Jochebed to nurse for a few years until he was weaned. I’m sure that Moses’ mother whispered and prayed the things of God into her little boy’s ear.
A. Moses grew up as the “son” of the princess in Pharoah’s palace. I don’t know when Moses realized that he was a Hebrew, not an Egyptian. I think he may have known from the time he was with his mother as a little boy. At any rate, when he had grown up and was 40 years old, he made his choice. He could be the son of Pharoah’s daughter and grandson of the Pharoah, or he could be a Hebrew slave with no rights. Did he fully understand the difference between his God and the gods of the Egyptians? Somewhere along the line he must have come to realize that he would have to choose whether he would be one of those who believed the gods of Egypt or would take his place with the people of the true God. Moses refused to live in luxury and comfort as Pharoah’s grandson. He chose instead to be mistreated with his people, the slaves. (ILLUS: John and I made our choice to give up the treasures of America, our comfortable salary and home, to live in Palau. Now it seems that we gave up nothing, because God so richly blessed us with the chance to serve Him in the islands.)
B. Actually we all have to make this kind of choice, and maybe the lines will be more clearly drawn in the days ahead. Then we will have to choose between being mistreated with the people of God or enjoying the pleasures of sin for a short time. We, too, may have a price on our heads for defending God’s people as Moses did. It looked for awhile as though Moses had lost everything, but in the end he fulfilled God’s destiny, not only for himself, but for all God’s people. I think it’s so interesting that the writer connects Moses and Christ thousands of years before Jesus was born. Since Christ is pre-existent and eternal, it should not surprise us. Probably He was the One who communed with Moses as with Abraham as the Angel of the Lord. Moses made his choice. He chose disgrace for Christ’s sake rather than the treasures of Egypt. How about us? Do we choose the disgrace of serving Christ instead of earthy treasure? It’s amazing that men can throw away their fellowship with Christ for a few earthly trinkets. We need to do as Moses did – see earthly treasure in comparison with heavenly rewards. Luke 12:29-34
A. It’s interesting that faith in Moses is described as “looking ahead” for something he couldn’t see and “seeing Him who is invisible”. This is an apt description of faith. It is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. Heb. 11:1 Moses weighed what he could see, touch and own over against his unseen reward. It was by faith that he left Egypt – the first time alone and the second time with all the 2 million Hebrews. The Pharoah was incredibly angry both times. Moses, rather than fearing his anger, persevered to do God’s will because he saw Him who is impossible to see! How true that without this kind of faith it is impossible to please God. Heb. 11:6 (ILLUS: God directed me through these verses when I was in New Jersey as Overseas Director. God called me back to Micronesia. I left my “Egypt”, not fearing the displeasure of the Mission Board. I persevered in my decision because I could “see” the Lord by faith and knew that my calling was to Micronesians. God has kept that calling alive in my heart.) Moses’ monumental choice made possible the deliverance of his people, just as his mother’s choice made his deliverance possible. God has plans for blessing and deliverance for souls but He needs human instruments through whom to work.
B. When Moses returned to Egypt for the battle of the gods, he followed the Lord God’s instructions about bringing on the plagues and stopping the plagues. Each plague was a clear victory for the Lord God and a defeat for the gods of Egypt. When it was time for the Hebrew slaves to leave Egypt, God gave Moses instructions about the Passover. Possibly it seemed foolish to him to kill the sheep, sprinkle the blood and eat the flesh. How could Moses know that they were enacting the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, the cleansing of the blood, and eating the flesh of Christ? Heb. 9:14; John 6:53-58 Of course, Jesus meant that we should take His life into our spirits as we eat and assimilate bread and meat into our bodies. God used that method in Moses’ day to save the firstborn Hebrews from the angel of death and to open the door for all the captives to escape. So Christ’s death saves us from the condemnation and death that will come on all men, if He is truly in us. Christ paved the way and paid the price for us to escape our captivity to sin, Satan and eternal death.
A. Moses was the great leader who was the example of faith and obedience to his people. Some of them became people of faith, but others had to be pushed and pulled in order to do what God was saying. Moses kept the Passover by faith and the people followed him either by faith or fear. Would they have killed the lamb and sprinkled the blood if they had not been afraid of the death angel? The same thing was true of the crossing of the Red Sea. (ILLUS: Once again God used this verse while we were still in the US to assure us that as they crossed the Red Sea on dry ground we would fly over the huge Pacific Ocean in a dry plane. Actually we plowed through the part of that ocean between Guam and Palau in the old ship, the “Errol”. Later God chose to take John home in the ocean, but only after he had completed his part of God’s call.)
B. Moses had faith to believe that the Red Sea would open if he raised his staff in obedience to God. But would the people have crossed over between those walls of water if they had not been chased by the Egyptian army? Some surely had faith to believe that God would hold back the walls of water for them to cross. I think others were hounded by the fear of Egyptian spears and horses. The Egyptians, on the other hand, did not cross because of faith or fear but because of anger and desire for revenge. They wanted to pay back those whose God had ravaged their country and taken all their firstborn sons. Instead He paid them back for all the years of ravaging His people as slaves and killing His baby boys.
A. Faith grows as we exercise it and see what God does in response. We have to trust and obey and God does all the rest. This is what caused Moses to become such a man of faith – and Joshua, too. Joshua was learning faith in the wilderness and Caleb and he expressed their faith when they spied out the land and encouraged the Israelites to go in and take it. When they refused to trust and obey God Joshua went through 40 years of wandering and watching the faithless die one by one. Finally it was time to enter the land and Joshua needed all the faith he had learned to help him in the conquering of the land. Josh. 1:5-9 Once again God gave them a boost to their faith as they crossed the Jordan River on dry land. Then they faced Jericho. Once again God tested their faith and honored it by bringing down the walls by only marching around them. (ILLUS: The walls of Jericho fell by faith after encircling it for 7 days. When we left for Micronesia we knew from this verse that we would need to encircle the walls that are in Micronesia in prayer. I have been doing that for 41 years. Many walls have fallen in people’s lives, but some still remain. May God continue to break down the walls in people’s lives so that they will submit to Him.)
B. Of all the women in the Bible why is Rahab mentioned in this chapter? The writer is careful to identify her as a prostitute. There is no attempt to cover up her sinful lifestyle. Somehow God blessed her so that she could see beyond her wicked city and her sinful lifestyle. Her faith caused her to welcome the spies and throw in her lot with them. Maybe God had brought her to the place where she was tired of her lifestyle and the wicked people she lived with, and she longed for something better. Her faith in the spies and their God was what protected her from death when all the “disobedient” were killed in the destruction of Jericho. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz who became the husband of Ruth and grandfather of King David. Rahab was the great grandmother of David and ancestress of Jesus. Her faith brought great reward.
So we see that the great people of faith mentioned in this chapter came from many walks of life, all the way from Abel, a simple shepherd who obeyed God in offering a sheep sacrifice, to Rahab, a heathen prostitute who was rescued by her faith from a degenerate lifestyle and the worship of demons. I have always found it interesting that the only 5 women mentioned by Matthew in the lineage of Jesus are what we would call undesirables. Tamar was a Gentile who tricked Judah, pretending that she was a prostitute because he had not given her as wife to his son as he and promised. Rahab we already know about. Ruth was a Gentile Moabite. Bathsheba was an adulteress. Mary was a virgin but thought to be guilty of fornication. Why did the Holy Spirit inspire Matthew to mention only these women? I think it was to give us hope. If they could be honored to be in Jesus’ lineage because of their faith, maybe there is room for us in His family in spite of our sins. We only need to repent, seek His forgiveness and then live a life of faith and obedience.
The Letter to the Hebrews (14)
The Crowd of Witnesses
Hebrews 11:32- 40
We closed our last lesson with Rahab, a woman of faith. Even though Rahab turned out to be great in the ancestry of David and Jesus, she didn’t know any of that on the day that she chose to hide the spies and take her place with the people of God. Somehow God had His hand on her enough for her to have faith in the God of the Hebrews. She had experienced the decadence of her own people and she chose, like Moses, to be related to God’s people instead of trying to cling to her culture and her possessions. God honors those who in every country and every century choose Him instead of clinging to their culture, familiar surroundings and the gods or demons of their people. This is the very message that Satan is trying to destroy through the Indigenous Peoples’ Movement that claims that the old gods are the true God. This makes people satisfied with their old gods and their evil cultural ways instead of drawing close to the Lord God and seeking His culture and kingdom. In all the history of Christianity men have had to leave behind the sins of their culture in order to embrace the Lord Jesus and His culture as found in the Bible.
A. The author ran out of time and space to tell about the judges, kings, prophets and women who were also people of faith. Through their faith and God’s power they were enabled to do great and miraculous things. We must remember that it was not through their power, but through their faith in a powerful God! When the angel of the Lord (probably the pre-incarnate Christ who also appeared to Abraham and others) came to Gideon he was threshing wheat in a winepress in fear of the Midianites. The Lord said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.” I’m sure that Gideon looked around to see what mighty warrior he was talking to. Gideon was hiding, shaking with fear. After meeting with the angel of the Lord, Gideon took his first step of faith by destroying his father’s altar to Baal and his Asherah pole. Judges 6:30-31 He went on in faith to face the Midianite army of 32,000. God tested his faith by making him reduce his army to 300 with only trumpets, empty jars and torches. But that day the Lord gave a mighty victory over the enemies of His people through the faith of Gideon.
B. Barak was another man who was actually afraid of the enemy and didn’t want to go to battle. He was told by the prophetess Deborah that he was to fight the great Canaanite confederacy under Sisera. God was on the side of Barak and Sisera was defeated. Deborah sang the song of victory. Judges 5:19-22 Samson, unlike Gideon and Barak, was not afraid of anyone. He was a one-man campaign against the Philistines and God brought great victories through him. But he had a weakness for women and ended up as a captive with his eyes put out. He gave his last exertion of faith and dependence on God when he prayed that the Lord would strengthen him to destroy many Philistines even in his death. Judges 16:28-30 Jephthah, too, was a mighty man of faith whom God used to slaughter the Ammonites, Israel’s enemy.
C. Then we come to one of the greatest men of faith, King David. As a young man he was only a shepherd, but he expressed his faith as a singer of Psalms. So today we rejoice in his faith as we sing and repeat Psalm 23 and others. David demonstrated his faith in God through the terrible years after his anointing to be king when King Saul tried to run him down and kill him. He had to live in caves in the wilderness, yet he continued to trust God. Later God used him as the greatest king of Israel to fight and subdue all of Israel’s enemies. He was such a man of faith that, in spite of his weaknesses and sins, God could call him: “A man after God’s heart.” Samuel was not a king, but a prophet, priest and judge of Israel. He was born in answer to Hannah’s urgent prayers. She gave him to God in thanks, and he spent his life serving God as leader of Israel and anointer of King Saul and King David. He had the courage to stand up for God and confront King Saul when he disobeyed God, even telling him that he was rejected as king. I Sam. 15:22-23, 26 These were men of faith, convictions and courage.
A. Next the author mentions the prophets. We have the writings of 16 prophets of God in the Old Testament. Of course, there were many more than that. They were committed to speak for God. Most often they had to stand alone against ungodly kings and people, warning them that God would judge them for their lack of faith and disobedience to Him. Most were persecuted. Many were imprisoned and some killed for their unpopular message. In order to do that hard job they had to have unquestioning faith in what God said and complete commitment to do His will. The writer goes on to say that some men through faith conquered kingdoms. Certainly Joshua and David were among those who conquered kingdoms, administered justice and gained what was promised. Both Joshua and David devoted their lives to gaining the land God had promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
B. We know of at least one man who shut the mouths of lions. Daniel will always be remembered for his faith and commitment to God and the truth. Dan. 6:22-23 It was because of Daniel’s faith and testimony that 4 great rulers of the world at that time came to know about his God. Daniel’s companions, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego “quenched the fury of the flames” and came out of the furnace alive and well. Their unquestioning faith is evident in their declaration before King Nebuchadnezzar. Dan. 3:16-18 Are we, too, willing to trust God even if he chooses not to rescue us? Suppose He chooses for us to go through the Tribulation before Jesus returns? Will we still be trusting Him? King Hezekiah was one who “escaped the edge of the sword”. Jerusalem was surrounded by 185,000 Assyrian soldiers under the great Sennacherib. There was no hope of escape or of victory for the Israelites. But Hezekiah prayed and trusted God, and when they looked out at the battlefield the next day, the Assyrians were all dead! Isa. 37:36
C. I’m sure that there are many heroes of faith “whose weakness was turned to strength”. But I thought of a woman who killed the most feared man in the world. He had viciously slaughtered men and women alike. While armies trembled before him, Jael invited him into her tent for a drink. When he fell asleep, she took the pole that held up the tent and stabbed it through his head. Deborah sang about Jael in her song of victory. Judges 5:24-27 Jehoshaphat felt very weak as his people faced annihilation by the vast army that was arrayed against them. In his weakness he prayed and had faith in a mighty God. The victory was a great miracle. II Chron. 20:12, 18-24 And what about the women who by faith received back their dead to life again? One was the widow of Zarephath who fed Elijah during the famine. I Kings 17:22-23 Another was the Shunammite woman who extended her hospitality and made a room for Elisha in her house. Both these women lost their sons to death, but received them back to life through their faith and the faith of the great prophets. II Kings 4:32-33, 36
A. We like to hear about the triumphs of faith, but we are not so eager to hear about the sufferings of people of faith. If we have faith, does that assure us of power and victory, joy and deliverance, health and wealth? Verses 35b-38 make it clear that faith is always victorious, but not necessarily in the ways the world sees victory. Can we still trust God when we are tortured? Some did. They refused to be released to safety by denying the Lord because they believed that they would gain a better resurrection than release from physical death at the price of their faith. Polycarp was one among many of the early church fathers who were burned at the stake or crucified because they refused to turn their backs on Christ. Jeremiah was one who “faced jeers and flogging” as he faithfully warned the people that they must repent or be destroyed by Babylon. Jer. 20:2 Many through the years have been chained and put in prison. In fact, that is happening today in China, the Sudan, Indonesia and other countries. Micaiah was imprisoned by King Ahab for telling the truth when the kings’ other prophets were lying in the name of God. I Kings 22:26-28
B. Some of God’s people of faith were stoned. Of course, we know about Stephen and Paul in the New Testament, but what about the prophet Zechariah? II Chron. 24:20-21 Jesus even said that his blood would be upon the wicked Pharisees of His time who were still trying to destroy the righteous, including Jesus Himself. Matt. 23:35 It seems that the enemy delights in finding horrible ways for faithful people to die. If they did not have the hope of heaven and glorious reward, he would have claimed many victories. Rabbinical tradition says that Isaiah, when 90 years old, was sawn asunder in the trunk of a tree by the order of wicked King Manasseh. Imagine that great man of God who wrote all the prophecies of Christ dying like that? Others like Elijah and John the Baptist wore sheepskins and goatskins. There were no lovely robes for them, but they were mighty men of faith who moved the people of their time. The prophets of Elijah’s time had to hide in caves because of the fury of Ahab and Jezebel against the Lord God. But God preserved 7000 who were faithful to Him in that terrible time.
A. Truly the world was, and is, not worthy of men and women of God who endured to the end in spite of suffering and persecution. Even today in some countries men and women of faith are wandering in deserts and mountains, hiding in caves and holes in the ground. They never know when their lives will be taken, perhaps in some terrible way. Our salvation costs nothing to us because Jesus paid it all. But our faithfulness to the end may cost us everything we have in this life. Truly the world was not worthy of them, but they are worthy of the next world! “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them. Heb. 11:16
B. Even though all these were commended for their faith, none of them received what had been promised. Their faith assured them that the hope they had would someday be realized, but it was not realized in their time. Why? Because the plan was not complete. God had planned something better for us. At the beginning of our study of Hebrews we noted that the author often used the words “superior”, “greater” or “better” in contrasting the first covenant with the new covenant. What is this better thing that God has prepared for us? It is the incarnation, death and resurrection of His Son and our salvation through His blood. God was not willing to leave us out. The Old Testament saints couldn’t die perfect or complete without us! We are one great body of believers – men and women of faith in every generation!
It is quite a challenge to try to live up to the men and women of faith we have been studying in this wonderful chapter. Let’s remember that they were not perfect. They, too, had their failings and sins for which they had to repent. The one thing that was perfect about them was their faith in God! They held on to God through victories and defeats because they knew He would not fail them. They understood that here we have no continuing city, but we’re looking for the city that is to come. Heb. 13:14 And while we wait we remember the “great cloud of witnesses”. Like them, we throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Heb. 12:1 We may never be famous or rich in this world, but we have something far greater: the Friend who promised to never leave or forsake us! Heb. 13:5b
The Letter to the Hebrews (15)
Running the Race with Endurance
Last week we studied the lives of many men and women of faith who are in the great cloud of witnesses. We considered the lives of those who won great victories and did miracles through their faith. But we also were led by the author to think deeply about those who endured great suffering and death, remaining faithful to the end because of their faith in our wonderful God. In chapter 12 we are brought to consider what this all means to us. How do those whose lives we studied affect our running of the race? When we have passed on as they have, what will we be remembered for? I think the song the graduates sang at Bethania sums it up well: “May all who come behind us find us faithful”.
I. Fixing our eyes on Jesus
A. We who help to complete the number of God’s children, the people of faith, are reminded of the ones who have preceded us. It’s as if we are running a race in the great arena of life, and the stands are full of the cloud of witnesses. As we think of their lives, they are both an encouragement to us and witnesses of our performance as runners. They don’t watch as those who have never run a race, and therefore don’t know the endurance required to make it to the end. They know all about racing. In fact, they may have run a much harder race than we are running. Paul certainly did. II Tim. 4:7 They endured through it all as a result of their faith because, like Moses, they were “looking ahead” to their reward and “seeing Him” who is invisible. Now it’s our turn. But how can we run the race if there are hindrances and entanglements holding us back and tripping us up? Therefore since others made it, we need to do as they did – “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”. We have to be ruthless about throwing off the heavy clothes that weigh us down and cutting the ropes tied around us. I Cor. 9:24
B. Once we have thrown off the hindrances and disentangled ourselves from our pet sins, we are free to run the race. What race? The particular race marked out for us. Our personal race is different from any other race. And it has already been chosen – marked out for us by God. Our job is to run this race He has chosen for us with endurance and perseverance. God has made the design – the plan – our racecourse – but He will not run the race for us. We have to do it ourselves by faith and obedience. He will strengthen and help us but we have to make the effort. We will not be victorious over the plans of the enemy until we throw off everything that’s in the way. When we run with perseverance the particular race set before us by God, we have One who is both our example and our goal. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Goal. And we are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One running ahead of us. He is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Looking ahead at the joy set before Him, He endured the cross and despised the shame. Following in His steps we must take up our cross and endure it, including all the shame that goes with it from an earthly viewpoint.
C. What happened at the end of the race? Jesus sat down in the place of glory at the Father’s right hand. What was the joy set before that helped Him endure all the suffering? No doubt it was the finishing of the work and sitting beside His Father. But more than that, I believe it was the doing of the Father’s will and glorifying Him. (ILLUS: I remember the story of Eric Littel as he ran in the Olympics many years ago. It was obvious that he was running for the glory of God, not his own glory. He later gave his life for the glory of God as a missionary in China.) But I believe that there was another facet to Jesus’ joy as he endured the cross. It was the joy of knowing that millions would believe and become God’s sons through His death. It was as if the cross was His crowning achievement, which it was – the plan from eternity past. So in our race we need to “consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men so that we will not grow weary and lose heart”. This is our tendency! We can’t finish the race if we grow weary or lose heart. God forbid that we should drop out of the race! Phil. 3:12-14
A. In this passage, the author urges us to the kind of faithfulness that we have seen in the last chapter. He writes about endurance and perseverance. He uses the word “endure” 3 times. The first two are about Jesus, writing that He endured the cross and endured the opposition of sinful men. (vs. 2 & 3) The third time he uses it is in verse 7 where he admonishes us to endure hardship. The word “hardship” can cover all kinds of troubles, trials, sickness and persecution. Twice the author tells us to not “lose heart” (vs. 3 & 5). When a person loses heart, he no longer has the will or desire to continue on – to endure. The second time he uses this is in connection with the Lord’s discipline. In the next 7 verses he uses the word “discipline” 10 times. So we are encouraged to persevere and endure and not lose heart even when the Lord is disciplining us. In our struggle against sin, we have not yet given our all as Jesus did. We have not yet resisted the enemy to the point of shedding our blood.
B. The author turns us back to Prov. 3:11,12 lest we forget the “word of encouragement”. Is discipline ever encouraging? Most of us disliked it when we were children and we still dislike it as adults. The word “discipline” comes from “disciple”. Are we willing to accept the discipline necessary to become a disciple? The dictionary defines discipline as “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training”, or “the training effect of experience or adversity” Why is this called “the word of encouragement”? Because it addresses us sons. In the next 4 verses the word “son” is used 5 times. What is the significance of being referred to as “sons”? A son has a special relationship to his father; a son is a family member; a son is an heir to the family fortune. When we become children of God, we are treated as sons and daughters, not slaves. Gal. 3:26-29 We are His servants, but only by our own choice. God doesn’t treat us as slaves because that would be to cancel the free will He gave us. We choose to do His will because we love Him.
C. So what should be our attitude as sons when the Lord disciplines/corrects/trains us? 1.) We should not make light of His discipline, but take it very seriously and do something about it. 2.) We shouldn’t lose heart when we are rebuked by Him, knowing that He wants the best for us. 3.) We must recognize that the Lord only disciplines those whom He loves, and He punishes those whom He accepts as sons. So a loving relationship with God assures us of discipline, rebuke and sometimes punishment from a Father who is not willing that His children should perish. That’s what happens to those who are not His sons. They perish under His terrible wrath.
III. The discipline of a father
A. So we are to understand and endure hardship that comes out way, realizing the glorious truth that God is treating us as sons, not as slaves or foreigners. All sons are disciplined by their fathers. If you know any undisciplined children, you know they are unruly and a problem to themselves, their parents and everyone else near them. What if we are not disciplined? Maybe we would like to be free of our Lord’s discipline. If we are not disciplined it shows that we are illegitimate sons, not true children. An illegitimate child has a different father. If we have a different father, he must be Satan. Jesus said this to the Jews in John 8:38-44. The Jews claimed Abraham as their father, but Jesus said if they were Abraham’s children they would do Abraham’s deeds. Then they claimed God as their Father, saying they were not illegitimate children! Jesus said if God were their Father they would love Him - Jesus. He told them that their father was the devil. His proof was that they wanted to carry out their father’s desire – to murder Jesus – and they spoke their father’s language – lies! How much better it is to be sons of God even if we have to face His discipline.
B. We have had the experience of having earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. They were only human and fallible. So how much more should we willingly submit to the Father of our spirits? Our human fathers discipline us to help us have a good life. Our Heavenly Father is the only one who can bring us to true life – and He often does it through discipline. Our earthly fathers with all their shortcomings disciplined us for a little while as they thought best. Probably it wasn’t always best because of their shortsightedness and lack of wisdom. It seems almost blasphemous to compare an earthly father with all his weaknesses with our Heavenly Father. He knows what is good, He is good and He disciplines us for our good. What is the goal of His discipline? He wants us to share in His holiness. II Peter I:3-4 If we are true children, we must be imitators of our Father. Eph. 5:1
IV. The benefits of discipline
A. It is true that no discipline, whether human or divine, seems pleasant at the time. None of us really enjoys scoldings or spankings. It’s painful and we’d rather do without it. But without discipline we become unruly, rebellious and self-centered. We no doubt know some children and young people who are like that. But it’s even more serious when we see adults who grew up that way and are still selfish and lacking in self-control. It is impossible for a Christian to give evidence of the fruits of the Spirit unless he has learned to be submissive to authority, and especially the Lord’s authority. Discipline brings us up short. It humbles us and causes us to be repentant. It produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Through discipline we learn to walk straight and to live in peace with ourselves and others. It is a training we can’t afford to miss. Otherwise, we may end up as wayward children.
B. Once we understand the importance of the Lord’s discipline, and His purpose for it, we can cooperate with Him in it instead of whining and complaining about it. That way we learn our lessons and gain the endurance, perseverance, strength and encouragement we need to finish our race. (v. 1) Maybe in our discouragement and failures our arms are hanging limp and our knees are buckling. We need to get our act together, strengthening our feeble arms and weak knees. Isa. 35:3; Zeph. 3:16 It sounds like we need exercise to strengthen our arms and knees. How do we get spiritual exercise? We use our arms to bring our Bibles close so that we can study and hear God speak to us. We use our knees to bow before the Lord in intercessory prayer. Then we get up and get walking – straight to the people who need our help. The best way to overcome self-pity because of the Lord’s discipline is to get moving in service to Him and others. As we move we need to make level paths for our feet. Why should we do that? So that we and all those who follow us will not be disabled but rather healed. Those who are already lame can easily become disabled on rough paths. Walking the straight, level path will help our legs and feet to gain strength. And those who follow behind us will also grow strong following in our footsteps.
When was the last time that you thanked God for disciplining you? Have you thanked Him for humbling you when it has been your heart’s desire to be humble? Young children are not wise enough to thank their parents for their discipline, but sometimes when we grow older and wiser we look back and are thankful for the things our parents taught us, even the hard or punishing things. I think that we can judge our age as Christians by how well we accept and appreciate the discipline of our Heavenly Father. If we are still complaining, whining and asking, “Why did God do that?”, maybe it shows that we are still very immature Christians. Let’s seek to understand the goodness of our Lord in correcting, rebuking, and humbling us. And let us rejoice in the privilege we have of being His dearly loved children. Let us submit to the Father of our spirits and live!
The Letter to the Hebrews (16)
The Danger of Refusing God
Hebrews 12:14- 29
In our last lesson we heard the admonition to run the race with endurance and to respond in the right way to the Lord’s discipline. As we studied in Sandy’s teaching from the book “Born Crucified”, self-discipline is vitally necessary if we are going to be productive for the Lord. So we are to endure hardship as discipline (v. 7) and strengthen our feeble arms and weak knees
(v. 12). God will help us in this by disciplining us as a good father does with his son. Then we can help others by encouraging and disciplining them, following God’s example with us. We are to make level paths for those that follow us because some of them are lame and they could become disabled on a rough path. Instead of that we want to lead them to healing. Undisciplined children will become disabled because they are lame or sinful to start with. The same is true of God’s children. We are lame by reason of the curse and can easily be disabled by Satan if we don’t respond in the right way to God’s loving discipline. (vs. 5 & 6)
Read Heb. 12:14- 29
I. Don’t miss the grace of God
A. The Holy Spirit urges us to run the race with perseverance by using imperatives or commands. He says, “Endure hardship”; “Strengthen your arms & knees”; “Make level paths”; and finally, “Make every effort”. As Sandy has said so often, this is not a works salvation. We are not saved by works, but we are to hold on, persevere, and make every effort to please God in our Christian lives. Rev. 2:25; 3:11; I Tim. 4:16 There is no place for laziness or carelessness. We are to work at our Christian lives once we have given our hearts to Christ. Here the Holy Spirit mentions 2 things we are to work at:
1.) We are to make every effort to live in peace with all men. This does not mean that we should tolerate evil because his second admonition is that we should be holy. We should get along with our brothers and sisters in Christ, to be selfless and humble.
2.) We are to make every effort to be holy. This seems like an impossible goal, but it must be our goal anyway. It requires humility and repentance when we sin, and a sincere effort not to live in habitual sin. I John 3:9 Why is this important? Because without holiness no one will see the Lord. We cannot expect to see and live with a holy God unless we have walked His prescribed way of holiness.
B. It is possible to miss the grace of God even though it is available. How do we miss God’s grace? It can happen if we allow a bitter root to grow up that causes trouble and defiles many. Bitterness or holding grudges is a dangerous thing. When it grows in us it destroys that peace we are to live in, and that holiness we are to cultivate. The Holy Spirit uses Esau as an example. He let a bitter root grow toward his brother Jacob and it has caused endless trouble and is still defiling the world. The present conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians are evidence of the trouble and defilement. From the root of bitterness grow bitter trees which produce bitter fruit. How can we stop that development before it defiles many people? Each of us must search our hearts to see if there is a root of bitterness there. If we find one, we must get rid of it or put it to death. Eph. 4:31 It’s painful to dig out a root but once it is dug out and destroyed the growth of bitter fruit will stop.
C. Next he mentions sexual immorality as one of those bitter roots that ruins. We can see it in the Episcopal Church where the attempt to make a bishop of a homosexual man is splitting the whole denomination. Esau’s sin was not sexual immorality but godlessness. Anyone who puts food before God, His promises and commands, is a godless person. Esau sold his precious birthright inherited from Abraham for a single bowl of stew. That was counting God and His covenant as very cheap – almost worthless. Do we treat God’s Word that way? Afterward, Esau came to the realization that he had lost the blessing of his father and his father’s God through his foolishness. Then he wanted to inherit the blessing, but you can’t inherit a blessing if you have despised the God who blesses. Too many people want the blessings of God without God. To have God’s blessings we must love and honor God and His Word. It was here that the bitter root started growing as Esau could not bring about a change of mind, even with tears. He had passed the place of repentance and, like Judas, would no longer find it.
A. The writer continues to compare and contrast the new covenant with the old. How did God reveal Himself to the Hebrews? They did not really know Him even though they had seen His wonders in Egypt and at the Red Sea. They needed to know what a great God He is in order to respect Him and pay attention to His laws and regulations. It seems that He presented Himself as a very stern God of judgment. Sometimes He wiped out groups of the rebellious with plagues or the earth opening up to swallow them. Finally He wiped out an entire population of those over 20 years old over a period of 40 years. What entered Canaan were a young population led by a couple of faithful old men who had told the people to go in to Canaan and take the land 40 years ago as God had commanded them.
B. At Sinai God chose to reveal Himself in a shocking way. While the people had seen His wrath on the Egyptians, they had also seen His kindness and love, as He rescued them from Egypt and provided light and guidance as well as food and water as they traveled through the wilderness. But somehow they didn’t get it. They grumbled and complained, completely forgetting their suffering in Egypt as slaves. So God revealed something of His power and glory at Sinai. What did they see? They saw a mountain that can be touched, burning with fire. They heard a trumpet blast and a voice that was so terrifying that they begged that He stop speaking. They couldn’t bear the glory, the power and the holiness of God. They were told to stone any animal that touched the mountain. The sight and sound was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear”. Even the good and godly Moses shook in the presence of the holy God, like Daniel (Dan. 10:8-9) and John (Rev. 1:17). If holy men fall unconscious at the sight of the Lord, imagine what will happen to sinners when they face Him!
A. What’s the difference between that Old covenant and the new one that Jesus brought? Instead of coming to Mount Sinai, we come to Mount Zion – which is the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the Living God! This is not just an appearance of God in a frightening form. It is the place where He dwells – the eternal city! What is there? What did John see when he was transported there to record the visions of Revelation?
1.) There are thousands upon thousands of angels – probably many million – in joyful assembly. Rev. 5:11 They are rejoicing in their privilege of being close to the Almighty and worshipping Him.
2.) The church of the firstborn is also there. They are the ones whose names are written in heaven. They are the firstborn because they inherit all of God’s blessings and the kingdom itself. People like those mentioned in chapter 11 are there, plus all the firstborn since, including the thief on the cross, my Dad and my husband. Instead of a terrifying sight, we see a place of great rejoicing and victory. These are the spirits of righteous men made perfect. They are spirits only because the resurrection of their bodies has not taken place yet.
3.) And of course, there is God, the Judge of all men. Though He is a fearsome Person, the angels and the firstborn rejoice in His lovely presence.
3.) Jesus is there, too, as the Mediator of a new covenant. He is there to mediate between a holy God and His blood-bought children.
4.) Is there sprinkled blood in heaven? Yes, because each member of the church has had his clothes washed in the blood of the Lamb. That is the new covenant and it speaks a better word than the old covenant and the blood of the lamb slain by Abel.
B. So the new way is far superior to the old way. But we must still remember that “our God is a consuming fire”, and properly respect Him. But now we have a Mediator or Advocate in the highest place who can prove that we should be allowed entrance because of His blood shed for us.
A. The writer concludes this chapter with another warning. It is similar to the warnings in chapters 3 & 4: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts”. Here he writes, “See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks”. As He once spoke from Mount Sinai, He now speaks from heaven and in His Word. If the Hebrews did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth from the fiery mountain, how can we expect to escape the wrath of the One who warns us from His throne in heaven? Turning away from Him is a very serious mistake. You would think that the rescued slaves would have understood and fully honored their great Rescuer, especially when they heard His voice shake the earth on which they stood. But that was only a sample shaking compared with the one He has promised for the future. “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens”. Hag. 2:6-7 We can somehow imagine a shaking of the earth but it’s hard to imagine a shaking of the heavens. Maybe that will be when the stars will fall. Rev. 6:12-14 I guess it’s the difference of Him shaking the little ball of the earth and the big ball of the universe.
B. This shaking is more than a shaking. It is a removing of what can be shaken, leaving only what can’t be shaken. What can be shaken? Created things can be shaken and destroyed just as they were once made. What cannot be shaken is God’s eternal kingdom that has always been and always will be. It’s as if time and space are a little section designated by God within His eternity in which all that we know was created. It’s as if God decided to create and redeem us so that we could have a place in His great eternal kingdom. The conclusion makes a lot of sense. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” How do we “receive a kingdom”? He have to receive the King! Amazingly enough we are not just included in the kingdom; we receive it by inheritance! I Peter 1:3-4 What should be our response to all this wonder? First, let us be thankful. How little thankfulness there is in our cold hearts for all that God has done! Let’s take time to be thankful every day. Secondly, we worship God acceptably with reverence and awe. Worshipping God acceptably is a good point for our days. So-called worship services seem to have little or no reverence and awe. Sometimes I feel afraid and ashamed of how people act in church worship time.
Let us never forget that “our God is a consuming fire”. As He burned on the top of Mount Sinai, He will burn up the earth and the heavens. II Peter 3:10 This is no game we’re playing. God is in “ dead earnest” and we had better be also. Let us take time to examine our personal and private worship. Do we take time for the Almighty God? How do we approach Him? Do we praise and glorify Him, tell Him how much we love Him, and thank Him for all He has done for us? Or do we just go to Him with our long list of all the things we want Him to do for us? It’s proper to ask, seek and knock, but how do we do it? God is not a coke machine; don’t treat him as one. In church do we really worship Him and sing the songs to Him with all our hearts? Do we join our hearts in the prayers that others pray? When the pastor speaks do we open our hearts for God’s truth, accept it and decide to live by it? If we could see God’s face, would we do and say the same things we do now in our devotions and in church? Now is the time to repent and change. It may soon be too late.
The Letter to the Hebrews (17)
Hebrews 13:1- 17
The writer concludes this wonderful letter to the Hebrews and to us with many brief remarks on various subjects. The first 12 chapters have been mostly doctrinal, teaching about Christ’s character, His final sacrifice, faith and discipline. Interspersed between the doctrinal passages are warnings that we must be careful to heed. In this last chapter, the author gives exhortations or commands. They are imperatives like “Keep on”, “Do not forget”, “Remember”, “Keep”, “Do not be carried away”, “Obey”, “Submit”, and “Pray”.
I. Love and honor
A. The author begins with a most important subject – love! We are to keep on loving each other as if we were family members because we really are! If we take scripture literally, every man who has been born again is our brother, and every woman who is saved is our sister. But what about strangers? Our love and hospitality is to extend to strangers as well. It is one thing to show hospitality to people we know and love. But do we extend our hospitality to strangers? Some, unknowingly, have had the privilege of entertaining angels because their hearts and homes were open to strangers. Abraham is a notable example of these. Gen. 18:2-5 But I believe it goes beyond that because it seems clear that the Angel of the Lord was actually Christ. Gen. 18:10 Abraham entertained the Lord!
B. So we are to care about our brothers and sisters in the Lord, care about strangers, and even care about prisoners and the suffering. What a good reminder it is that we should remember the prisoners as if we were in prison with them. When I was the Chaplain of the Women’s Division of the prison in Guam, I often thought, “What does it feel like to be locked up in prison?” How is it when you are carrying the heavy load of your sin and guilt? Or if you have been unjustly imprisoned, how do you deal with the anger and resentment that goes with that? The same is true of those who are mistreated or persecuted. What is it like to bear the pain of unjust persecution? The sick could be added to this list. How does it feel to sense that your case is hopeless? What is it like to be paralyzed or to have lost legs or arms? We should minister to these hurting people as we would like someone to care for us if we were in their condition.
C. His next admonition is for married couples. What a difference from the average worldly thinking today! Marriage should be honored! The marriage bed should be kept pure from adultery! How careless and selfish many people are today about this. It is a serious breach of God’s will – one which He will judge. He will judge the adulterous – those who destroy the sanctity of marriage, and all the sexually immoral, whether heterosexual or homosexual. The world may accept it as normal, but it bears a heavy penalty. Rev. 21:8 The only way to escape the penalty is to repent and change your lifestyle. Another great sin of our age is the love of money. I Tim. 6:9-10 How can we avoid it? There are 2 valuable words of advice here for our greedy age. 1.) Keep your lives free of the love of money. Stay on guard against this creeping sin. 2.) Be content with what you have instead of being greedy and grasping for more. I Tim. 6:6
II. Remember God’s promises
A. How can we solve this problem in this age of greed and selfishness? We have to remember what God and our godly leaders have said. God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (ILLUS: This verse has carried me through the hard times in my life. It is the verse that I trusted when I first came to Christ as a lonely 12 year-old girl, deserted by her mother. When I gave my heart to Jesus, I told Him that I would keep Him to this promise. When Pastor Simpson was lost at sea the Lord once again gave me this verse. I knew that though my husband was gone and I was a 39 year-old widow and alien in Palau, that the Lord would never forsake me. Again He used it when I was 70 years old and diagnosed with cancer. I knew that whether I lived or died, that He would not forsake me.) We may lose everything or everyone else, but He will not desert us. And when we have Him we have everything! That’s how we can be content.
B. So what is our response to God’s promise? It’s another wonderful verse. We can say with confidence, “The Lord is my Helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Think of the impact of these words and this faith down through the centuries. The Psalmist wrote these words 3000 to 4000 years ago. Psa. 118:6-7 The writer of Hebrews quoted them 2000 years ago; and today they remain the same. The Lord is the same and so His help is the same….yesterday, today and forever. That certainty fills my heart with courage and fearlessness. We do not need to be afraid when we know that the Lord is with us and He is our Helper. So we ask the question: “What can man do to me?” Well, actually men can do many things – revile, torture and kill. But if my faith is steady and I am trusting in my Helper who will never leave me, man cannot touch my heart where Jesus is on the throne.
C. We are admonished to remember our spiritual leaders who have taught us God’s Word. We need to remember them with thankfulness to them and to the Lord. We are to look back, as the author did in chapter 11, to observe and consider their way of life. What was the result of their faith and obedience? One of the results is here – the fact that their faith is extolled by God Himself. But they are also held up as examples, for us to imitate their faith and the works that proved it. They are our faith examples. So the results of their faith go far beyond themselves and their surroundings to all those who are blessed and encouraged by their faith. Even though our former leaders and teachers may be gone, Jesus remains. If Jesus Christ is the same today as He was yesterday and will be forever, what can hinder our becoming people of faith like they were? Since He promised to never leave us and to be our Helper, than we, too, have the potential of conquering by faith.
A. It seems that the church at that time was like the church today – full of strange teachings. He urges us not to be carried away by these weird teachings. So many today are being carried away by the New Age and Gnostic teachings which have become so prevalent. Evidently one of the teachings in that day had to do with ceremonial foods. Maybe they were being told that those foods would gain them some kind of spiritual strength or holiness. Certain religious groups say, for instance, that the Lord’s Supper or baptism makes us holy. We cannot be made holy through outward acts or foods. Instead it is better for our hearts to be strengthened by grace than to eat food which actually has no value.
B. Some of those who taught strange teachings at that time idealized the wilderness experience and the tabernacle. There were sects formed around ceremonial foods and the tabernacle. They were trying to persuade people to go back to the old ways and try to gain power, glory and holiness that way. But we need to avoid those and be strengthened by grace which we receive at the true altar of Christ’s sacrifice. This is why the author wrote so extensively in this letter about the difference between the new and old covenants. Those who want to go another way, or the old way, have no right to “eat” of the blessings from Christ. Under the Old Covenant, the high priest carried the blood of the animals into the Most Holy Place, but the bodies were burned outside the camp. This was because they were considered unholy. But Jesus suffered outside the city gate, and the effect of His sacrifice was to make people holy. Being crucified meant being cut off from the people. But it was through this terrible disgrace and death that he made people holy.
C. If Jesus was willing to be a sacrifice for sins, dying outside the city gate in disgrace, what does that say to us? Are we willing to join Him outside the camp, bearing the kind of disgrace He bore? The camp and the city illustrate the world system. Are we willing to be loners, outside the system, humiliated because we insist on being different and following only Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life? We all have a very strong desire for acceptance – to have people like us. Are we able to be rejected, disgraced and hated for Jesus’ sake? In order to do this, we must see the contrast between our present city and lifestyle and the city and lifestyle to come. What we have and where we live now is not enduring. In time it will be destroyed. So we need to continue looking for the city that is to come – our everlasting, heavenly home. II Pet. 3:11-13
IV. The sacrifice of praise and obedience
A. Jesus is the one and only Sacrifice sufficient for all time for all people. But God calls us to give our bodies as living sacrifices and He calls us to offer to Him a sacrifice of praise. Rom. 12:1-2 This is to be offered through Jesus continually. It is the fruit of lips that confess or testify to His name. That praise is to be offered directly to God, but also to men. Praising and confessing His name before men brings Him glory and draws others to Him. Besides the sacrifices of our bodies and our lips, we are to sacrifice our deeds. “Do not forget to do good and to share with others.” The Lord wants the sacrifice of our deeds coming from a heart of love. God is pleased with such sacrifices as these. It reminds me of I Sam. 15:22-23. The Jews put great stock in their sacrifices in the temple. King Saul made the mistake of thinking that if he offered an animal sacrifice God would be pleased. But God was very displeased! “To obey is better than sacrifice”. Here the writer tells the Jews that the sacrifice of praise and good works is more pleasing to God than all their animal sacrifices.
B. The author continues with this theme when he urges his readers to obey their leaders, submitting to their authority. Our obedience of God must extend to our obedience of God-appointed leaders. It seems that he is referring to the leadership in the church, but it could also include government leaders. Rom. 13:1 Those in authority, whether in the government, the church or the home, will have to give an account to God for their leadership. They have the responsibility of watching over those under their leadership. Church leaders would love to have their people cooperate in such a way that their work would be a joy instead of a burden. How many Christians make their pastor’s job a burden instead of a joy. That’s pretty foolish because not only the pastor suffers, but the people suffer also when the work is a burden. There is no advantage to it for pastor or people.
When the Ephesian Christians sent gifts to Paul in prison, he said they were a “fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, and pleasing to God”. When we love the brothers and sisters in the Lord, give hospitality to strangers, care for prisoners and the sick, we are giving God a fragrant offering. God is well pleased when we offer Him the praise of our hearts and the work of our hands. Others may not thank us or appreciate what we have done, but God knows and He will reward us in His time. So let us concentrate on how we can please Him, not on the love of money, sexual sin or strange teachings. We can count on His help if we are determined to walk His way. He has promised never to leave or forsake us, and He is and always will be the same great wonderful Lord. So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my Helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
Next week we will finish the rest of chapter 13 and do a review and summary of all the teachings in this great book.
Letter to the Hebrews (18)
Author’s Final Words and Summary
In our last study we looked at the closing admonitions of the author of this wonderful book. We were reminded to love the brothers, be hospitable, and remember prisoners. He told us to honor our marriages and stay away from the love of money. We were given 3 beautiful promises that can carry us through hard times and persecution. We were reminded to respect and obey our spiritual leaders and not to be carried away by strange teachings. Tonight we will look at the last few verses of closing salutation, then review the whole book by examining the primary themes of this letter to the Messianic Jews and to us.
I. Request for prayer and a benediction
A. The author asks for prayer for himself and those with him. It sounds as though he may have been in prison or at least hindered by the authorities – possibly waiting for his trial or something. He and his friends knew they were not guilty of whatever the accusation was. Their consciences were clear. Their desire was to live honorably in every way. We need to test ourselves on these 2 things. As things get tough and we find ourselves falsely accused, we need to be sure that our consciences are clear and we are living honorably. The writer was especially asking for prayer that he could return to them soon. We don’t know to which place he is referring, but it must have been a city where there were a number of Hebrew Christians.
B. Verses 20-21 are a great benediction that is often used as a closing prayer in church services. His prayer is that the God of peace would carry them through the fearful times and persecution facing them. The God of peace is now working through the blood of the eternal covenant, not the blood of animals under the old covenant. He is the God who is so powerful that He brought back from the dead “our Lord Jesus”. Jesus has shed His blood, been resurrected, and is now Lord. Besides that, he is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is the Great Shepherd, the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), the Chief Shepherd (I Pet. 5:4) and my Shepherd if we know Him personally. (Psa. 23:1) Through Him God will equip us with everything good that we need for doing His will. The author is submitting to that will when he asks that God would work in them what was pleasing to Him – even if it meant martyrdom. To this risen Savior and Lord and to the Father be all glory forever and ever.
A. The author asks their indulgence to bear with his word of exhortation. He says it’s a short letter, but actually it’s pretty long compared with some of the other New Testament books. He probably was referring to the fact that he could have written much more. But it is filled with strong and severe warnings and exhortations so we can see why he would wonder whether they would bear with it. He was speaking the hard truth and not trying to please others with weak and foolish words. Timothy was evidently in prison or held for questioning. Timothy may have gone to be with Paul as Paul had requested in his second letter to Timothy. II Tim. 4:9, 21 Maybe when Paul was executed Timothy was held to be questioned. The writer expected Timothy to join him and travel to the recipients of this letter.
B. Wherever it was, the writer sent greetings to all their leaders and to all God’s people. At least we know that he was in Italy as he sent greetings from the Christians there. He prayed for grace to be poured out on them. They certainly needed it in that trying time. Besides the persecution of Christians, soon their holy city and temple along with many Jews would be destroyed. Wherever this letter went, at least it was not lost and we have it preserved until now. Maybe it was sent to Antioch, another center of the church. If so, the author may have been Barnabus who was instrumental in developing that church. Also Barnabus would have known Timothy from the first missionary journey when he traveled with Paul and they first met Timothy in Lystra where Paul was stoned.
III. Summary of the predominant themes of Hebrews
A. The most important theme is the Person and work of Jesus Christ. In the first few verses the author identified Jesus as God’s Son, the Heir of all things, the Creator, the Glory of God, God Himself, the Sustainer of all life, the Savior and the King. It was very important for the Jews to know that Jesus was not just a man like other men. The Pharisees often questioned Him and the things He did. Matt. 9:3, 11, 34 They did not believe that he was the Son of God and they taught other Jews not to believe in Him. The author compared Jesus with those whom the Jews revered. He proclaimed Jesus superior to the prophets, the angels, Moses, and the high priests. Having shown the greatness of Jesus, the Son of God, the author then explained that He became the Son of Man, made like His brothers. Jesus offered Himself as the great Sacrifice for our cleansing if we trust and commit ourselves to Him. Heb. 9:14 The writer went on to show that Jesus is in the order of Melchizedek, the Great High Priest in heaven, and the Mediator of the new covenant. We must bow in awe and wonder before Him!
B. A second theme while not so important, is interesting. The author freely uses the words “superior”, “greater”, “better” and “more perfect”. He is determined to show that Jesus and the new covenant He has instituted are superior to all the sacrifices and institutions of the old covenant. Jesus is lifted up as “superior” to the angels, and worthy of “more honor” than Moses is. His new covenant is a better or superior covenant to the old one instituted by Moses. There is now a greater and more perfect tabernacle and better sacrifices. And Jesus has a superior ministry. All of this was necessary for the Jews to understand that while God had worked through the old ways, now He had given a new and much better way. Matt. 9:16-17
C. A third theme is minor but helpful. It is the author’s emphasis on “Today” in chapters 3 and 4.There the warning is given 3 times: “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” Every new day is today. It makes us aware of the importance of keeping a tender heart toward the Lord today. The author tells us that one way we can do that is to “encourage one another daily as long as it is called today”. If we do that it may prevent us from being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Heb. 3:13
D. A very important theme for the Jews is the emphasis on “once for all”. The Jews knew that everything needs to be cleansed by blood, and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. Heb. 9:22 But the constant sacrificing of animals was not sufficient. The same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year could not make perfect those who drew near to worship. Heb. 10:1 In fact, day after day the priest offered the same sacrifices which could never take away sins. Heb. 10:11 This is why the author emphasized that once for all Jesus appeared at the end of the age to do away with sin. It was once for all by His own blood that Jesus obtained eternal redemption. He was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many. So we are made holy by the sacrifice of Jesus once for all. Heb. 10:10 Praise the Lord that salvation is available to all – once for all!
E. Of course one of the major themes of this book is the glorious 11th chapter – the faith chapter. It is only possible to know God and to please Him by faith. The author introduces this important theme in Heb. 10:36. “My righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” There is only one way to know God – to be saved by His grace and our faith. And there is only one way to please Him. In fact, it is impossible to please Him without faith. Heb. 11:6 In this wonderful essay on the subject of faith, the author first defines it. He answers the evolutionists by writing that we know God created the universe out of nothing by our faith. Next he illustrates faith with many examples of men and women of faith. He could have used many more because there are very many people of faith whose stories are recorded in the Bible. The ones he chose are: Abel, Enoch, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses’ parents, Moses, the Israelites, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. The author concludes the chapter with generalities about 2 groups of people. One group did mighty works through their faith. The other group suffered and died for the Lord. But all were overcomers because of their faith. May we be counted in their list.
F. A very powerful theme in Hebrews is the emphasis on warnings. What was the reason for those warnings? It was their unbelief and disobedience. Heb. 3:19; 4: 6 And to whom were the warnings given? Not to unbelievers, but to the “holy brothers” – to Christians. The author warns, “Do not drift away.” We can just carelessly drift and end up in shipwreck. He asks us, “How shall we escape if we ignore God’s great gift of salvation?” Ignoring is counting Jesus’ awful sacrifice as worthless. He reminds us, “Do not harden your hearts”; “do not turn away from the living God”; “don’t fall short of God’s promised rest”. The author gives us a severe warning when he writes that those who have truly known the Lord and yet fall away can no longer repent – like King Saul and Judas. When we shrink back from our faith God is not pleased. We are admonished, “ Don’t miss God’s grace. Don’t refuse Him who speaks.” If we keep on sinning, no sacrifice is left – only judgment. And he reminds us that it is a dreadful thing to fall into God’s hands because our God is a consuming fire. We have been warned. What will we do about it?
G. The writer of Hebrews doesn’t just warn us. He gives us many exhortations to help us stay on the path. I think this last theme is the second most important one in the book of Hebrews. He writes that we must pay careful attention to what Jesus says since He is the glorious Lord described throughout the book. He encourages us to hold on to our courage and our hope in the hard times. We need to hold firmly to the confidence we had at first. And we need to hold unswervingly to our hope and faith. So while God holds us, we hold on to Him and our faith and obedience. We need to make every effort to enter God’s rest so that we don’t miss it like the Israelites did. We have things that will help us. One is to let God’s Word daily search our hearts. Another is to go to the throne of grace for mercy and help. We need to train ourselves to be mature so that we don’t flounder like small children. We need to be diligent to the end to make our hope sure because it is the anchor of our souls. We must draw near to God in worship and spur one another on to good works, continuing to meet together. We must not throw away our confidence but persevere to the end.
The greatest encouragement of all is found in Hebrews 13:14 and 5-6. Although we have no continuing city here, we are looking for the city that is to come. So while we walk this earth, we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus. He is the One who has given us the promises that cannot fail. Though all others fail or leave and we feel all alone, we are never alone. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. And when people mistreat us and we face persecution, we can say, “The Lord is my Helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Let us press on to the end, being faithful and obedient, remembering what we studied in Revelation. Rev. 2:10b; 3:21