Sunday, April 24, 2011

Hebrews 7-9 The Covenant of Grace

"A BETTER Covenant for the Believer in Christ"
Hebrews 7:23 – 9:12

This section of Hebrews is really the meat of the epistle. The author even says in chapter eight, verse one "Now THIS is the MAIN POINT of the things we are saying" (NKJV).

These Jewish Christians needed to be convinced that Jesus was a better Priest, that believers in Jesus have a better position, and that we look forward to a better place than the earthly temple. To make this persuasive argument, the author contrasts Christ's priesthood with the earthly priesthood, and then sites and explains Jer. 31:31-34 (the longest Old Testament quote in the New Testament) to convince these converted Jews that Jesus initiated a BETTER COVENANT through His death on the cross.

Hebrews 7:
20 And inasmuch as He was not made priest without an oath 21 (for they have become priests without an oath, but He with an oath by Him who said to Him:
      " The LORD has sworn      And will not relent,      ' You
a priest
      According to the order of Melchizedek'"),
by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.

Imagine how wonderful it would be to have a priest or intermediary who would never die! That is exactly what we have in Christ!

Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. 24 But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.
For such a High Priest was fitting for us,
who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; 27 who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who have weakness, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected forever.

    1. A Continuing Priest (vv.23-24)

"Also there were many priests, because they were prevented by death from continuing. But He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood" (NKJV).

2. A Capable Priest (v.25)

Have you ever entrusted your affairs to an incompetent person? What a frustrating thing to take that which is extremely important to you and have to entrust it to a person who doesn't really care and doesn't really know what to do. It would be even more frustrating if that were the only person you could turn to. Imagine having only one inefficient, unknowledgeable doctor to see for care. Imagine having to trust all the concerns of a large corporation to an untrained and lazy attorney. Imagine having to trust the affairs of a nation to a short-sighted, self-centered politician. Imagine having to trust your soul's welfare to the careless attention of an incompetent, disqualified priest!

Christ is more than capable! He is, "able to save TO THE UTTERMOST those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them" (7:25 NKJV).

3. A Consecrated Priest (v.26)

He proved this in His life, "For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is HOLY, HARMLESS, UNDEFILED, SEPARATE FROM SINNERS, and has become higher than the heavens" (7:26 NKJV).

No other priest has ever had a testimony like that! Toward God, He was holy, fully satisfying all the righteous claims of a holy God. Toward man, He was without blame, free from all accusation and guilt. Toward Himself, He was undefiled, without any taint of sin! Christ's whole life was consecrated to the ministry for which He had come into the world and for which He has now ascended "higher than the heavens".

He also proved this in His death, "who does not need daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins and then for the people's, for this He did once for all when He offered up Himself" (7:27 NKJV).

The Lord's death on the cross at Calvary is of such eternal significance that, although He intercedes daily, He never has to renew the sacrifice – it was ONCE FOR ALL. The priests of the Old Testament had to continually offer sacrifices over and over again, but not Christ. That is why we have a better Priest in Jesus. Not only was Christ consecrated in His life and death, but He is also consecrated for all eternity, "For the law appoints as high priests men who have weaknesses, but the word of the oath, which came after the law, appoints the Son who has been perfected FOREVER" (7:28 NKJV).

The endless ages of eternity will come and go and our Priest, Christ Jesus, will STILL be there! We have a better Priest because, unlike the earthly priests, He is continuing, capable, and consecrated! This is why He is able to minister to us.

Hebrews 8: 1 Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, 2 a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man. 3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices. Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer. 4 For if He were on earth, He would not be a priest, since there are priests who offer the gifts according to the law; 5 who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, "See that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain."


This was a man who, once a year, was able to go into the "holy of holies" – the place where God was! He served in the beautifully ornate temple daily! How could this carpenter from Galilee compare in majesty and glory? The author of Hebrews was saying that these lesser Old Testament priests pale in comparison in light of the greater Priest of Christ; just as a candle would lose its light in the noon day sun.

For these converted Jews to realize this they must understand where Jesus ministers for us, "We have such a High Priest, WHO IS SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE THRONE OF THE MAJESTY IN THE HEAVENS" (8:1 NKJV)!

For all of Aaron's glory, he was merely a man. With great attention to detail and preparation, once a year, he could briefly enter into God's presence under a cloud of burning incense. Jesus, however, was more than just a man; He was God in the flesh! No bulls were slain to cover His sin; no incense was burnt to convey His prayers. He offered Himself once as the sacrifice for all and then SAT DOWN in the throne room of the majesty in heaven! He serves forever in the place of majesty!

It is also a place of ministry. Christ is now, "a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected and not man" (8:2 NKJV).

In the Old Covenant, the high priest went into the presence of God once a year on behalf of the people of Israel to offer atonement (through blood) for their sins. In a sense, the high priest was mediating for the people of Israel; he was their representative before God. In the New Covenant, Jesus Christ offered a once and for all atonement for the sins of the world through His shed blood on the cross. He was buried, raised the third day (praise His Name), and ascended into heaven. He is now seated at the right hand of God. But that's not all! The Scriptures tell us that He now, "always lives to make intercession for them [the saved]" (Heb. 7:25 NKJV). Jesus is a better Priest because He forever ministers in a majestic place for us. Continuing in Hebrews 8…

6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises.

The Israelite people were indeed blessed, under the Old Covenant, to have the tabernacle in the wilderness as a means for worship. No other nation served the true and living God. The law was imprinted on tablets of stone and was enforced by external compulsion. God provided for his people, protected them, and punished them when they strayed into sin (all for their good and His glory).

The author of Hebrews now points to "better promises" under the New Covenant that were prophesied by Jeremiah (31:31-34)

7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. 8 Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah— 9 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. 10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 11 None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. 12 For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." 13 In that He says, "A new covenant, " He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. The Mosaic Covenant was ineffective in solving the sin problem. Sacrifices had to be made continually for sin (even for the Priest). The New Covenant is better in that it has brought about a permanent solution to the sin problem. Jesus paid the price for sin ONCE and for ALL.

God initiated the Old Covenant knowing full well it would be ineffective in dealing with the sin problem. The Mosaic Covenant was "anticipatory" in the sense that God had always planned for the New Covenant. In this regard God planned for the old covenant to become obsolete through Christ.

A. The believer in Christ

Under the Old Covenant, one's standing before God was impersonal and conditional. It was impersonal in the sense that they experienced connection with God through a priest. It was conditional based on the sacrifice of an animal for their sin. If they sinned after the ceremony they were unclean and in need of another animal sacrifice.

Under the New Covenant, the believer in Christ has a better position. Our standing before God is now personal and unconditional because we are "in Christ"! We ourselves can come boldly into the presence of God on our own behalf; not in our own righteousness, but dressed in the righteousness of our perfect High Priest Jesus Christ! We can say along with the apostle Paul, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places IN CHRIST…IN HIM we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace" (Eph. 1:3 &7 NKJV)!

Under the New Covenant the believer stands IN CHRIST! In a practical sense, this means that when God looks at you He doesn't see your faults, failures, and flub-ups, He sees Jesus!

Not only do we have a better position because we are IN CHRST, but we also enjoy a better position because Christ is IN US!

B. Christ in the believer

Paul goes on to say in Ephesians 1:13-14, 13 IN HIM you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; IN WHOM also, having believed, YOU WERE SEALED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT OF PROMISE, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory" (NKJV).

Not only are we IN CHRIST, but Christ is IN US through the wonderful Person of the Holy Spirit! God spoke through Jeremiah regarding the New Covenant, "I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God and they will be my people" (Heb. 8:10; Jer.31:33 NKJV).

Under the Old Covenant the law was imprinted on tablets of stone and was enforced by external compulsion, but under the New Covenant the law is imprinted on our hearts and is encouraged by internal inspiration!

It is important to understand that this New Covenant was made by God to the Jewish people (the "house of Israel and the house of Judah"). Under the New Covenant, God promises to one day unify a divided nation in Christ. But we know from Isaiah 55:3-5 that this New Covenant also includes the Gentiles (that's us); even though we are not specifically mentioned in Jeremiah 31. Here is the heart of the issue: the author of Hebrews applied Jeremiah's New Covenant to the Church and yet the Old Testament connects the New Covenant with the house of Israel and Judah in future fulfillment. So, there is an "already", "not yet" fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy. All who place their faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross experience "already" the blessings of the New Covenant, while Israel awaits the future fulfillment.

What a blessed privilege we have (as Gentiles) to be "grafted in" by God's gracious design (see Romans 11)! We were once "aliens" who were far away from God, but He has brought us close through the blood of Jesus Christ! Paul writes in Col. 1:21, "And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight" (NKJV)!

Our better position under the New Covenant is as secure as Jesus and the Holy Spirit are in the Trinity. For God to reject us when we are IN CHRIST would be for God to reject Himself. For God to reject us when the HOLY SPIRIT dwells in us would be for God to reject Himself! Paul says, "38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD (Rom. 8:38-39 NKJV)!

We Have a Better Place (9:1-12)

Here the author goes into a brief description of the Old Testament Tabernacle's design and the duties of the attending priests. We have enjoyed having a replica of the tabernacle these past few weeks in the sanctuary. We've learned about the brazen altar, where animal sacrifices for sin were offered daily, about the bronze laver where the priests washed before entering the holy place, the table of showbread and the lamp stand, the altar of incense which symbolizes the prayers of the saints, the veil which separates sinful man from the holy presence of God, the ark of the Old Covenant which contained the ten commandments, a bowl of manna, and Aaron's rod that had budded. All of this was "symbolic" of what was to come under the New Covenant. The word the author uses in verse 9 for "symbolic" is the Greek word "parabole" from which the English word "parable" is derived. The Old Testament Tabernacle was simply a parable or picture of what is in heaven. It was a beautiful place indeed, but we now have a better place!

A. Where Christ is ministering for us

After describing the earthly Tabernacle in verses 1-10 of chapter 9 the author shifts our attention to a heavenly sanctuary, "a greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation" (9:11).

Jesus, our High Priest, has entered into the very presence of God in heaven on our behalf. His shed blood covers our sin! "Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place ONCE for ALL, having obtained ETERNAL redemption" (9:12)!

As mentioned earlier, Jesus does not serve as our High Priest in some ornate, ancient, earthly cathedral, or in some modern, high-tech auditorium, He ministers for us in the very presence of Almighty God!

B. What Christ is making for us

Jesus is our Mediator, Who makes intercession for us, but He is also a Master builder who has been in construction for us! Jesus told His disciples in John 14:1-3 "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. 2 In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU.3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also" (NKJV).

We can only imagine the place that is being prepared for all those who believe! We rejoice along with Peter who wrote, "3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, RESERVED IN HEAVEN FOR YOU, 5 who are kept by the power of God through faith for salvation ready to be revealed in the last time" (1 Peter 1:3-5 NKJV).

More important than the place of heaven is the Person of Heaven. We will finally see our Savior face to face! The One Who lived, died, and rose again to save us, sustain us, and share His glory with us for all eternity! This is indeed a better Covenant for the Believer in Christ!


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Hebrews 6 – Nearly Cursed

Nearly Cursed

Hebrews 6:1-12

We have already seen two warnings given by the author of Hebrews (2:1-4 & 3:12-4:3). What would happen to someone who ignored the warnings, and failed to keep a steady course and drifted from the path of Jesus, or failed to rest in the completed work of salvation because of doubt. This controversial chapter is the answer. To study this chapter apart from the rest of Hebrews would almost certainly lead to confusion, but we have laid a good foundation into understanding the struggles of the Hebrews new to faith in Jesus. Moving first century Jews from the Law of Moses to the Grace of Jesus, wasn't just religion, this was family, friends, work, culture, an entire way of life.

Chapter 5 begins to show the frustration of the author in dealing with immaturity and a lack of growth in these Christians. Chapter 6 begins with this same thought.

1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do (or let us do) if God permits.

The writer deliberately digresses from his discussion of Melchizedek to address the readers' immaturity. He does not rebuke them for discussing the elementary principles of Christ, or for laying the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, he simply encourages them to move forward. He says to them, "Let us go on to perfection (maturity)". Perfect simply means complete; Christians are a work-in-progress at best and a neglected project at worst. Remember God rested from his creative work once it was complete; likewise Jesus rested from the work of redemption because it was finished. Foundations are made to hold a building. These weak believers were "laying AGAIN the foundation". It's like they had to relearn Ephesians 2:8-9 every week. They were wavering in their walk between faith in Christ and His finished work as the perfect High Priest, and the old way of animal sacrifices earthly priests. The Hebrew believers were drifting back to the law that could never save them (Hebrews 10:4). They were making no progress in spiritual things because they were still tied to the apron strings of Temple sacrifices and rituals. They have far better provision for their needs in Calvary, and a far better Priest in Christ. Some of the converted Jews were looking back speculatively to the Temple as though there could be coexistence between Judaism and Christianity. The Old Testament observances were external and symbolic and have been replaced by the reality of "the washing of regeneration" (Titus 3:5) in Christ. The Law was supposed to teach us and them that all need an eternal savior.

[Galatians 3:24 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25
But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.]

My first grade teacher at Bishop Elementary School in Everman was Mrs. Edwards, and she taught me to read. And her teaching was the foundation of everything I have learned in the 40+ years since. But Imagine if instead of going on to the other 11 grades, and college; that each year I went back to first grade and said "Mrs. Edwards, teach me to read". I think she would be more please with the education I obtained through reading, than teaching me the old lessons for no lasting gain.

The author himself expresses his own desire to move on past these elementary principles and grow in the grace and knowledge of His Savior, "and this we will do if God permits".

Today we will see that spiritual immaturity is dangerous.

4 For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, 5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

This passage of Scripture is one of the most controversial in the New Testament. There are 5 different published interpretations of this passage, and I won't have time to cover them all, but they boil down to 3 questions. Who is described in verses 4-5, what they have done in verse 6, and what are the consequences in verse 8?

Once Enlightened – The word translated once means once and for all or continually. And enlighten means to make something obvious, revealing its truth. Ephesians 1:17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, 18 the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come.

Tasted the heavenly gift – Tasted means taken in. 1 Peter 2: 3 if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious. The "heavenly gift" or gift existing in heaven; this exact phrase is not used in elsewhere but this whatever this gift is, it is not a part of the material world.

partakers of the Holy Spirit – A partaker is a partner in or one who shares in the Holy Spirit. Ephesians 3:6 that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Christ through the gospel

tasted the good word of God – "Tasted" again means taken in, "word" is not the "Logos" Word from John 1 an idea or concept of doctrine, this is the "rhema" the spoken word, or voice of God. Hebrews 11:3 tells us that the worlds were framed by this spoken word of God.

Tasted the powers of the age to come – The Greek word for power gives us our word "dynamic", and "age to come" refers to our eternal future. A power beyond the universe and our material world.

So now we must answer the first question. Who has, been once and for all enlightened, taken in the heavenly gift, been made a partner of the Holy Spirit, listened to the voice of God, and tasted to power of eternity? I find no way to avoid the conclusion that this describes only the redeemed of God, those responding to the call of God in repentance, having been born again and sealed by God's eternal Spirit.

So knowing who they are; but what have they done and what is impossible?

4 For it is impossible for those … 6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.

A part of the controversy of this passage is the Arminian belief that eternal security is conditional. Churches like the Assembly of God and The Church of Christ hold salvation can and probably will be lost and regained several times. But if you interpret this passage to say that salvation can be lost, then you have to accept based upon verse 6 that once lost, it could not be regained. But what is this passage really saying?

First let's talk about "falling away" when I first read this I assumed that "falling away" was the idea of apostasy, the idea that you could be a believer one day and an atheist the next. Those of us who believe in supernatural regeneration for believers, generally hold that no true Christian could "fall" to such an extreme degree. But the word here is not unbelief, but the idea of straying from the path established by Christ and his apostles. Given our Jewish audience for this letter, most commentators would agree that some of these Jewish believers had returned to the sacrificial offerings of the Law.

The word for impossible in verse 4 is the opposite of the word for power in verse 5, it means impotent or without strength. So these fallen individuals, who have gone from the Law to Grace, then back to the Law that cannot save them, are powerless to "renew" or raise up new life (the picture of baptism), to repentance. In verse 6 the word for "crucify" has the same prefix as "renew" meaning to "lift up". It asks "can we lift the Son of God back up on the cross"? The answer is no. And it is shameful that one for whom Jesus died, would defile the blood of Christ by offering again the blood of animals.

So what is the consequence of their sin?

7 For the earth which drinks in the rain that often comes upon it, and bears herbs useful for those by whom it is cultivated, receives blessing from God; 8 but if it bears thorns and briers, it is rejected and near to being cursed, whose end is to be burned.

Here again people see words like "cursed" and "burned", they assume we are talking about hell. They look back to verses 4-5 and say well it must not have been talking about Christians. But I suggest to you that the Bible teaches that there are consequences for Christians who bring shame upon the blood of Christ, and this passage is consistent with that teaching. In 1 Corinthians Paul writes to another group of immature carnal Christians.

1 Corinthians 3:10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. 11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone's work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. 16 Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are.

[So Paul warns them your works will be burned, your flesh destroyed, but your soul would still be saved. Again in 1 Corinthians 5 Paul judged a Christian who was sexually immoral, and his sin was defiling that church. ]

1 Corinthians 5:3 For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

[Again their sin judged, their flesh destroyed, certainly a loss of eternal reward, but their soul was still saved. This outcome is better than hell, but not what you would call your best case scenario. This is also consistent with the warning Jesus gave to those who produce no spiritual fruit.]

John 15: 5 "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.

Hebrews 6:9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Verse nine comes as a relief to the reader following the warning of verses 4-8, "But, BELOVED, we are confident of BETTER THINGS CONCERNING YOU, yes, THINGS THAT ACCOMPANY SALVATION, though we speak in this manner" (NKJV).What are these "things that accompany salvation" that give the author such confidence in his "beloved brethren"? Good works! Labors of Love! They did not work for their salvation, they worked FROM their salvation. Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep my commandments" (John 15:10). There was an evident fruit that flowed from their faith in Christ.

"For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister" (Hebrews 6:10 NKJV).

Fruit is expected to be exhibited in the life of a genuine believer. Jesus said the way to tell the difference between false faith and genuine faith is by examining their fruit, "You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes or figs from thistles? 17 Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. 18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit" (Matthew 7:16-18 NKJV).

The author of Hebrews saw fruit in the lives of these converted Jews and encouraged them to continue on in diligence imitating the faithful they saw in others.

Conclusion: Examine yourselves!

The real question is, "What about me?" Our job is to respond to this warning by examining OURSELVES.

Today we will receive the Lord's Supper, but with that privilege is a heavy responsibility.

1 Corinthians 11: 27 Therefore whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood[d] of the Lord. 28 But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. 30 For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. 31 For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged.



1. The Commandment Test

4 He who says, "I know Him," and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
5 But whoever KEEPS His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked" (NKJV).

John doesn't beat around the bush here. He says in effect, "Don't tell me you're saved if you could care less about the commandments of God". Let's be clear, we are not saved by commandment keeping, but we will endeavor to keep God's commandments when we are saved.

I don't know about you, but I can think of a few times (quite a few!) when I have not kept God's commandments. It's important that we understand what John is talking about when he uses the word "keep". It comes from the Greek word "tereo" and means "to watch over". It was used in ancient times by sailors. They did not have global positioning devices or radio signals to guide them back then so they sailed by the stars. They kept their eyes on the heavens, and they called that "keeping the stars". When we keep God's commandments, we steer our lives by them. That does not speak of sinless perfection because no one is perfect except Jesus Christ. But it does mean that our heart's desire is to keep the Word of God. We may drift off course every now and then, but when we look up to heaven and look into God's Word to check our bearings, we then correct our course.

Before I was saved, I was running to sin. Since I've been saved, I am running from it. I may fall, I may slip, I may fail, but my heart's desire is to live for God.

John is saying, "If you call yourself a Christian and you are not steering by God's commandments, and if you are living a habitually sinful life with no conviction, no contrition, no unsettledness, and no chastening from God, then don't call yourself a Christian because you're not."

An appropriate question for you is this, "Do you lapse into sin and loath it or leap into sin and love it?"

Examine yourself.

2. The Companion Test

1 John 3:14-15 says, "WE KNOW THAT WE HAVE PASSED FROM DEATH TO LIFE, BECAUSE WE LOVE THE BRETHREN. He who does not love his brother abides in death. 15 Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him" (NKJV).

When we are born again, we are born of God. We now have a new nature, and it is God's nature. God is now our Father and we have a "faith family" of brothers and sisters in Christ. To be God's child is to share in God's nature and God is love. We don't need a bumper sticker or a lapel pin to prove that we are Christians. Jesus said, "By this will all men know that you are My disciples if you have love for one another" (John 13:35 NASB). If we love God and His love is in us, then we are going to love what he loves, which is His dear family – the church.

For someone to say that he loves Jesus but hates his church would be ridiculous! That would be like someone saying to me, "I love you, but I hate your wife" or "I love you, but hate your children." To neglect the church is to neglect Jesus; to love the church is to love Jesus.

Examine yourself.

3. The Confidence Test

1 John 5:10 says, "HE WHO BELIEVES IN THE SON OF GOD HAS THE WITNESS IN HIMSELF; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son" (NKJV).

Biblical belief (confidence) is not just an intellectual exercise. You do not believe about Jesus; you believe in Jesus. You can believe an airplane can fly, but you trust in it when you get on board. Notice also that this verse is in the present tense. It doesn't say, "He who HAS believed"; it says, "He who believes". Our confidence in Christ is always in the present tense. Sometimes the question is asked, "Are you saved?" The answer comes, "Yes I am. I remember walking down the aisle when I was nine years old, giving my hand to my pastor and my heart to Jesus. I may not be living for God right now. I'll admit that. But I know I'm saved because I remember believing on Jesus Christ."

The Bible never uses such an experience as proof of salvation. It never points us back to some time when we have believed on Jesus Christ. It always deals with present confidence. If you ARE BELIEVING, you have believed. So, the question is, "Are you believing in Jesus right now?" The real test of your testimony is not whether you remember a time and place but that you are putting your trust in the Lord Jesus right now.

The story is told of Will Rogers who one time went to get a passport, and the official said, "We need your birth certificate." And he said, "What for?" They said, "For proof of your birth." He said, "Well I'm here ain't I? If you are trusting in Jesus – present tense –, you are saved.

Examine yourself.

The witness of God's Spirit and the witness of God's Word should give you a quiet confidence that you belong to Christ. Paul wrote in Romans 8:16, "The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God", and Jesus Himself said in John 5:24 "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life" (NKJV).

Does your life bear the birthmarks of a believer or are you willfully wicked? Heed the warning; examine yourselves to see if you are indeed in the faith. If so, don't waver in your faith, and continue working for the kingdom of Jesus Christ!



Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hebrews 4 – Diligent Rest

Diligent Rest

Hebrews 4:4-13

God's Word is the way to "rest" in His righteousness.

An entire generation of the children of Israel failed to enter into the rest that was promised by God because of their fear and unbelief. Even though they had heard God's prophet (Moses) and seen God's power (plagues, and red sea deliverance), they failed to believe in God's promises. They lacked the FAITH to experience the fullness of all that God had planned for their lives.

Last week we found that the answer to fear and failure is FAITH. The author tells us in chapter 4 verse 3, "For we WHO HAVE BELIEVED do enter that rest". But where does this faith come from in the life of the believer? Do we whip it up with positive thoughts or work it up with passionate deeds?

God is very clear about where faith comes from, "So then FAITH comes by hearing, and hearing by the WORD of God" (Romans 10:17 NKJV). The way to faith is the Word of God! Therefore, the way into God's promised rest is found in the diligent study and application of God's Word.

In Hebrews 4:4-10 we will discover that there remains a promised rest for the believer; and in vv. 8-13 we will see how we can enter that rest – by diligently following God's discerning Word.

I. The Remaining Rest (4:4-10)

At this point the writer of Hebrews begins a discussion on the nature of the true rest that God has in store for His people. What a blessing it is to be at peace and rest! We live in such a restless world. The peace and rest that are offered by the world are merely cheap imitations of what God has in store for us.

4 For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: "And God rested on the seventh day from all His works"; 5 and again in this place: "They shall not enter My rest."

6 Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience, 7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, "Today," after such a long time, as it has been said:

" Today, if you will hear His voice,

Do not harden your hearts." (as in the rebellion)

8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. 9 There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.

A. Creation Rest – Completing the first work

"For He has spoken in a certain place of the seventh day in this way: 'And God rested on the seventh day from all His works'; and again in this place: 'They shall not enter My rest'" (Hebrews 4:4-5 NKJV).

Israel's Sabbath designated a day to rest to cease your daily work, honoring the fact that God stopped his creative work when he was done on the 7th day. Jews failed to keep the Sabbath as God intended. They made it a horrible burden instead, for compulsive people to count every step taken, and every weight lifted. Matthew 12:1-8 tells us how the disciples plucked ears of corn on the Sabbath day. "They plucked ears of corn and were guilty of reaping! They rubbed them and were guilty of threshing!" The Talmud says "In case a woman rolls wheat to remove the husks, it is considered sifting; if she rubs the head of the wheat, it is regarded as threshing; if she cleans off the side adherences, in her hand, it is winnowing." The extremes to which the rabbis went bordered on the insane. It was forbidden to stop a container from leaking!

Remember the Sabbath was called Holy. Physical things for general use were called "common". But things separated from general use for God's purpose were called Holy. In the creation "week" God made the physical universe and each "day" had finite beginning and end period called the "morning" and "evening" but not 7th day, it was not given a finite beginning and end because God's creative work is done, so His rest continues.

The second rest discussed by the writer is…

B. Canaan Rest – Freedom from wandering

This rest was forfeited by Israel at Kadesh-barnea. "Since therefore it remains that some must enter it, and those to whom it was first preached did not enter because of disobedience,7 again He designates a certain day, saying in David, 'Today,' after such a long time, as it has been said: 'Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts.' 8 For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day" (Hebrews 4:6-8 NKJV). The rest was forfeited at Kadesh-barnea because of unbelief but was offered again upon Moses' death when Joshua assumed command of Israel.

Even when they entered the Promised Land, Israel did not completely obey and root out the inhabitants of the land. As a result there was conflict, and struggle; there was always an enemy at the gate waiting for an opportunity to cause trouble. What a great lesson for us when even the redeemed fail to root out those old familiar sins from our own lives. We leave in place an opportunity for temptation that Satan will use against us at our weakest moments. As it was with them, it still is with us that through doubt and disobedience, even the heirs of God's promise, can fail to rest in what God has provided.

C. Calvary Rest – The work of redemption is done

"There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. 10 For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His" (Hebrews 4:9-10 NKJV).

When Christ died upon the cross of Calvary, He cried, "It is finished!" (John 19:30). He had finished the work God gave Him to do. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 10:12) Today, God rests in Christ's finished work on the cross and so should the Christian. That is one reason why believers do not keep the Old Testament Sabbath, for our rest is not in a day but in a Person. We enter into the reality of what Jesus meant when He said, "Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST for your souls.30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light" (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)." As far as the believer is concerned, he has already entered into rest. His salvation is based on a finished work.

A missionary to Africa offered a ride in the back of his pickup truck to a native who was walking along the road, carrying a heavy pack. The African gladly accepted the ride. After a few miles the missionary glanced in his rear-view mirror and was surprised to see the man standing upright in the back of the truck, still holding his pack on his shoulders. The missionary stopped the truck to see why the man was still carrying his load. The man's reply, "I didn't know the truck could carry both me AND my load".

Calvary rest frees us from the burden of our sin under the Law. We can rest it all on Christ along with all the other heart-aches and problems of life! The writer wants to see this accomplished in his readers. He wants their state to match their standing.

However, resting in the finished work of Christ for our salvation does NOT mean a cessation of all activity. Perhaps an illustration will help us here.

George Mueller of Bristol England died in 1898; his death was a national event. It is recorded of his funeral that nothing like it was ever seen in the city. Businesses closed so that their employees could witness the event. Thousands lined the streets leading to the cemetery. On Bristol Cathedral, flags flew at half-mast. Black shutters were up in the windows around town and blinds were drawn. The whole city mourned. Obituary notices appeared in newspapers nationwide. England's Daily Telegraph summed up the life of this great Christian: "Mr. Mueller robbed the cruel streets of thousands of victims, the prisons of thousands of felons, and the work-houses of thousands of helpless waifs." The Bristol Times said, "He was raised up for the purpose of showing that the age of miracles is not past." He founded, five large orphan houses. More than ten thousand orphans had been loved, housed, fed, educated, and settled in gainful employment. Day schools and Sunday schools in many lands had benefited from his incredible generosity. Nearly two million Bibles and Bible portions had been circulated through his efforts. Three million books and tracts had been given away. A poor man, solely dependent on God, Mueller had received and given away the astonishing sum of $7.5 million dollars (that's 188 million in today's dollars)! He also established 117 schools which offered Christian education to over 120,000 children, many of them being orphans. He was so well-known for providing an education to the children under his care, that he was accused of raising the poor above their natural station in life.

George Mueller pointed an unwavering finger to the Source of his strength. Telling of his daily habit of having a quiet time with God in meditation upon the Word of God and in believing in, simple, child-like prayer he said, "I have always considered it the first business of the day to get my own soul happy in the Lord".

This passage concludes with a warning. God's living Word must be the ultimate test of our profession of faith. The Word of God makes manifest all motives. It is God's way into rest.

II. The Way of God's Word (4:11-13)

A. Discipline (Diligence) with the Word

11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

How can we be diligent to enter into rest; through God's holy Word?

    1. Read It

Here we solve the paradox of diligent rest. You have to finish. God finished creating before he rested. Israel had to overcome fear and fight to stop wandering and enter the rest of Canaan land. Jesus had to die, so that He could be resurrected, and finish the work of redemption.

There are many Christians who will adamantly tell you that the Bible is God's inerrant and infallible Word to mankind; yet, they do not read it. God has chosen to reveal Himself through written words that have been accurately preserved. Our brothers and sisters that live in communist of Muslim countries, suffering persecution, understand this. They risk their lives in order to simply hold a copy of or even a portion of the Scriptures. While we in America take for granted God's Word and carry it only to church (if we can find it from the previous weekend).

Today, the Bible is available to us through such a variety of media (audio, visual, digital), and reliable and readable translations! Biblical illiteracy, in our context, is without excuse.

    2. Study It

Although discipline with God's Word begins with reading, it should continue with studying. The most useful thing you can do in Bible study is to understand the context. The time, the audience, the author, all help us understand what we read. As you read, check out the footnotes, read the supporting passages and see how God begins to peel back layers of meaning. Just remember that footnotes and commentaries are not infallible.

Write down questions you might have and things that God has shown you. Dig into the history, the archaeology, and the theology of each passage. Ask, "What did that mean to the readers then, in their context, and what does this mean to me now today?" Pay attention to the structure of each sentence. What is the subject, what is the object, and what is the verb? Look for things that are: emphasized, repeated, related, alike, unlike, or are true to life. Ask, "What does this say?", "What does this mean?" and "How does this work?" Paul admonished young Timothy, "Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15 KJV).

    3. Memorize It

David said, "Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You" (Psalms 119:11 NKJV). Internalizing God's Word through memorization is an incredible way to increase your faith. Try this. Simply write down a passage of Scripture that inspires you on a note card. Read it several times a day; while you're waiting in line, sitting at a stop-light, or during a break at work. Read it over and over again every day for a week and your mind will begin to absorb it. Eventually you will not even need the card. Once you internalize these passages of Scripture, the Holy Spirit will then bring them to mind when you need them most.

    4. Meditate On It

Meditation simply means – to reflect on or contemplate. You simply think about that which you have studied and learned. You roll it over in your mind. What we think about in our heart of hearts reveals who we really are. Jesus said, "Whatever a man thinks in his heart, so is he". This is why Paul encourages us to, think on, "whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--MEDITATE on these things" (Philippians 4:8 NKJV).

5. Share It

We must be diligent to read, study, memorize, and meditate upon the Word of God because we are to share it with others. Part of the great commission given by our Savior is, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matt. 28:20). What a privilege it is to share the truth of God's Word! No greater message has been given to man! This great responsibility of sharing should not be taken lightly. Those of us who have given our lives to sharing the truth of God's Word will be held to a stricter judgment. We must share it prayerfully and carefully because, just like a knife, it can be used to heal or to destroy.

B. Desire for the Word

Our diligence with the Word will lead to an increased desire for the Word. As we begin to saturate our souls in the Scripture we will be driven by a desire for more. We will discover the blessing and direction that God's Word brings to our lives, "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path" (Psalm 119:105 ESV). We will begin to hunger daily for God's truth, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every Word that comes from the mouth of God" (Matt. 4:4 ESV). "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple" (Psalm 19:7 ESV). "The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.10 More to be DESIRED are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward" (Psalms 19:9-11 NKJV). The more we dig, the more we desire, the more we desire, the more we delight.

In Psalm 119:103, David wrote, "How sweet are Your words to my taste, Sweeter than honey to my mouth!" Later on in verse 162 he declared, "I rejoice at Your Word as one who finds great treasure!" David found great delight in God's Word. In the written Word we find rest, hope, peace, and a deeper relationship with God! We also find reformation. God's Word is living and powerful and it will perform surgery on your soul.

C. Discernment of the Word

In this context, the author explains that it is God's Word that discerns "the thoughts and intents of the heart". In other words, you may fool others with a profession of faith, but God knows the truth. In fact, the writer goes on to say in verse 13 that "there is no creature hidden from His sight, but ALL things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to Whom we must give an account." Everything is laid bare by the truth of God's word, every sin is exposed. It is important for us to remember that anything we hide from God will one day be uncovered by God; but anything confessed and surrendered to God, will be covered by the blood of Jesus. We will one day witness with our own eyes the devastating power of the Word of God when He comes in glory and with ONE WORD slays the gathered armies of the earth in the battle of Armageddon.

There is a rest that remains for the believer to enjoy, but it is accessed by faith which comes from hearing God's Holy Word! This is the secret of diligent rest.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hebrews 3 – Don’t Doubt

"Don't Doubt"
Hebrews 3:7-4:3

There are often times, in the believer's life, when it is difficult to remember that a God who is able to save us can also supply our every need.
We find ourselves worrying, like the rest of the world, about what we're going to eat, where we're going to live, how much money we're going to need, and what people might think about us. Things like this can keep us awake at night.

Satan loves to capitalize on our fears. He hits is with doubt and causes us to question God's place in our lives. With deceit, he makes us think that the temporary giants we face in life are: greater than God's care. And slowly we fall from Doubt to Discouragement to Depression. Instead of fighting the good fight of faith we settle for just getting by. We say things like, "Well, at least I know I'll go to heaven when I die". Our salvation becomes just a date in the past or a promise for the future, instead of a daily relationship lived out in power for the present.

The first warning in Hebrews was "don't drift!" This second warning, found in chapter 3:7 – 4:3, could be summed up with the phrase, "don't doubt!"; don't doubt that God always keeps his promise. Don't allow the world to take away the peace you have in Christ. Greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world! You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you! The armor of God is there for your defense. We are not only called to be saved by faith, but to continually live by faith.

I. Old Testament Times: The Disaster of Doubting God in the Wilderness (3:7-19)

7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says:

"Today, if you will hear His voice, 8 Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion, In the day of trial in the wilderness, 9 Where your fathers tested Me, tried Me, And saw My works forty years. 10 Therefore I was angry with that generation, And said, 'They always go astray in their heart, And they have not known My ways.' 11 So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest.'"

    1. Israel had provoked God

The Jewish people, brought out of Egypt by Moses, had a hope of Canaan. It had been promised to them by God, and it was theirs solely based on the belief that God would keep his promise. They called it the "promised land". They failed to enter it, however, because of their unbelief. The unbelief and complaints of Israel in the wilderness were truly astonishing. They had seen God pour out His plagues upon the land of Egypt. The freed people had experienced a miraculous deliverance at the Red Sea and had seen the Egyptian army washed away by the mighty hand of God. If we did not know the story, we would not imagine how it ends.

Time after time when circumstances were difficult they would say "We should have stayed in Egypt".

    2. God had punished Israel

There was an inevitable consequence to Israel's doubt. Israel "provoked" (tested) God; so God punished Israel (3:10-11). They refused to accept all that He had done and was doing for them. God in turn refused to allow them to enter into Canaan rest. He said, "They always go astray in their heart, and they have not known My way". God judged an entire generation of people who doubted His protection and provision, so that their children inherited what they could not. God kept his promise to Israel, but he denied a generation who thought their problems were bigger than their God, and "those who died in the wilderness" have become a proverb for doubt and unbelief.

12 Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God; 13 but exhort one another daily, while it is called "Today," lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, 15 while it is said:

"Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion."

16 For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? 17 Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

The appeal to Old Testament Scripture is now reinforced by the author's application of Scripture.

    1. The exhortation

First we see an exhortation to the curious (those who had not truly placed their faith in Christ alone). Even though the author's exhortation begins, "Beware, brethren", it is important to understand that this is a general reference to "Jewish brethren" not to "Jesus' brethren". Remember, this letter was written "To the Hebrews". This group of Hebrews in the church was no doubt made up of converted Jews AND curious Jews that were merely mentally entertaining the claims of Christ, but were tempted to turn back to Judaism. The warning is to beware of "an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God". So, the "evil heart of unbelief" was the root and "departing" was the fruit. Just like the warning in chapter 2:1-4 (Don't Drift) there is a dual application. With the first warning, the converted was admonished "Don't neglect so great a salvation", and the curious was admonished, "Don't reject so great a salvation". Here in chapter three verse 5 the dual application is for the converted, "Don't doubt the God who has saved you", and to the curious, "Don't doubt that God can save you". No matter what profession a person might make, it is his behavior that shows proof of conversion.

Jesus said, "You will know them by their fruit" (Matt. 7:16 NKJV). Just as we are saved by the grace of God through faith, the evidence of your conversion is to live by faith.


"Exhort one another daily"

Sin is a trap that Satan "hides" with deceit. This theme of believers "watching out for each other" is repeated throughout this letter (4:1, 11; 10:24-25; 12:15-16; 13:1-3). The Christian life is not to be lived in isolation; we need each other! We need to be encouraged, lifted, helped, and sometimes rebuked by those who love us and are pursuing Christ-likeness with us. NOT out of pride or envy, but in wisdom and love for the sake of the brother or sister in need. Jesus was clear about the importance of self-examination before we correct others (Matt. 7). However, if the motive is pure, the Word of God can be used profitably for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16&17). We need to help each other in faith to avoid Satan's traps.

    "While it is called Today"

There is urgency to the writers warning. The readers are exhorted to hurry to make sure of their standing in Christ. Today! God never promises us tomorrow! Delay is part of sins deceit. There is always risk in letting sin remain until morning.

    2. The example (Israel's failure in the wilderness)

The ones, who fell because of unbelief, were the same ones who had seen the work of God. The failure was truly overwhelming. With the exception of Caleb and Joshua, all the spies doubted God. The spies brought back amazing fruit from Canaan, but they also brought back an alarming report of amazing foes in Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb urged them to have faith in God's promises. The 10 unfaithful spies even cursed the land saying it "devours its inhabitants" (Num. 13:32) The majority of the people panicked at the thought of giants they had not even seen. Here we have an example of "majority rule" outvoting "divine rule". So, the entire generation was judged to wonder in the wilderness until they all died. Here we have a sobering illustration of a "sin unto death" (I John 5:16). They accused Moses of leading them out of Egypt to kill them in the wilderness, but they died there because of their own doubts. They settled for less than God had for them. They simply refused to trust God to keep his promise. As a result they could not inherit the promise. Psalm 95 calls this event "the rebellion".

Hebrews 4:
1 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it. 3 For we who have believed do enter that rest, as He has said: "So I swore in My wrath, 'They shall not enter My rest,'" although the works were finished from the foundation of the world.


We are living in a world that is as barren of spiritual things as the Sinai Desert was of the things needed to sustain Israel on their way to Canaan. The journey from Sinai to Kadesh-barnea (where the spies reported) was supposed to be brief. Canaan could then be subdued quickly by a people ready for conquest. The Hebrew people failed to profit from their wilderness experience and, as a result, were condemned to know nothing better than the wilderness, and to die in the wilderness.

What the wilderness was to Israel, the world is to us. God has something better for us than this world. In Christ, we have every blessing we need – victory, rest, and rich provision. But, just as faith was needed to bring us into an experience of salvation, so faith is needed to bring us into the fullness that there is in Christ. What keeps us from entering God's rest?

A. Fear

"Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it" (4:1). When we trust Jesus we surrender our sinful will to Him. Then far too many spend the rest of their lives taking it back, little by little. It is a serious thing to NOT grow in the Christian life. It is true that a Christian, genuinely saved, cannot lose his salvation, but he can certainly lose his reward. If we live our lives as borderline Christians, we are indistinguishable from the world. How does a life like that glorify God? If its easy to live your life without Jesus, you might be living WITHOUT Jesus.

B. Failure

"For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it" (4:2). The Hebrews at Kadesh-barnea did not identify themselves with faithful Joshua and Caleb, so the good reports these men brought did them no good (Num. 14:7-9). There would be battles in Canaan, but the blessings would far outweigh the battles! Besides, God had promised victory, so it was as if their enemies were already defeated. Of course today we have to wrestle against principalities and powers, against the rulers of this world's darkness, and against wicked spirits in high places (Eph. 6:12), but that is nothing compared with "all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3) and with "the exceeding riches of His grace" (Eph. 2:7). Besides, the enemies we face have all been stripped of their power (see Eph. 1:19-21). With such good news, what a pity it is to fail in doubt.

C. Faith

"For we who have believed DO enter that rest" (4:3) Faith is the God-ordained way of appropriating that which God has already provided for us. The believer does not work to enter into the fullness there is in Christ; he believes. Over and over again when Jesus was with His disciples, He rebuked their lack of faith: when they worried about God's provision for their daily needs (Matt. 6:30), when they worried about God's protection on a raging sea (Luke 8:25), and when they worried about God's power over a demon possessed son (Matt. 17:17).

The God that has saved us from the wicked one can sustain us in this world. We must have faith in Him. Jesus is the Prince of Peace, not panic. He has promised us peace and rest. We must appropriate that peace and rest by faith. Don't doubt!

In closing, the apostle Paul encouraged the believers in Philippi to enjoy the rich rest and perfect peace that God rewards to those who focus fervently on Him,

"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice!
5 Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand.
6 Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the PEACE of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8 Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy--meditate on these things.
9 The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of PEACE will be with you" (Phil. 4:4-9 NKJV).

Doubt is disobedience, and unbelief is rebellion in the eyes of God. For His greatest gift, our redemption, was accomplished before the world was even formed; because it is not possible for a God to lie and fail to keep His promise.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hebrews 2 - The Danger of Comfort and Culture

The Danger of Comfort and Culture

Hebrews 2:1-4

In Hebrews chapter one, we learned that Jesus is: The Heir of heaven, the Cause of creation, the Source of God's glory, the perfect Image of God, the Sustainer of the universe, the Atonement for our sins, The Owner of the supreme name, the Ruler of the eternal Kingdom.

So chapter two begins… "THEREFORE (In light of everything we've learned in chapter one) WE MUST GIVE THE MORE EARNEST HEED TO THE THINGS WE HAVE HEARD, LEST WE DRIFT AWAY. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, HOW SHALL WE ESCAPE IF WE NEGLECT SO GREAT A SALVATION, which at the FIRST began to be SPOKEN BY THE LORD, and was CONFIRMED TO US BY THOSE WHO HEARD HIM, GOD ALSO BEARING WITNESS both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:1-4).

This passage is the first of five warnings that we encounter in the letter to the Hebrews.

1 Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.

I. A Fervent Focus (Heb. 2:1a)
"We must (lest we drift)"

A. For the Converted

There is a sinful tendency to take for granted this great salvation by which we have been redeemed.

For the Jew this would mean sinking back into the culture and tradition that was defined by the Law. Christians sometimes think that we understand Jewish worship because we have read the Old Testament. But for the Jews it was not just the Law it was the commentaries, the rabbinical teachings that clarified and expounded on the meaning of the Law. These Rabbinical teachings were first passed down orally but were eventually written down to make books called the Talmud. And there was no single school of thought, remember the disputes of the Pharisees and Sadducees? These represented different rabbinical philosophies. A full Talmud is like a set of encyclopedias, 20 volumes or more and it contained opinions on everything for Jewish life, and theology. For the converted Jew, turning from these traditions to focus on Jesus would be very disorienting, and returning to these traditions could be very comforting. It is not exaggeration to say that many Jews worship their genealogy (as sons of Abraham), and traditions, instead of worshiping the God who chose Abraham and gave the Law.

Gentile converts do the same thing when we neglect worship, to return to our traditions. As a kid I would take the bus to Sunday school, and then my parents would pick me up before church so we could go to all the Cowboy games. Maybe your tradition was hunting, fishing, camping, playing golf, or working out in the yard and garden on Sunday. In some parts of the country Sunday brunch is a big deal. People sleep in a little, read the Sunday paper, then go to brunch. You can see the temptation for any Christian to slip back into your traditions, neglect worship, neglect Jesus, and take your salvation for granted. Obeying God will often be contrary to your desires.

The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Rome, "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!...Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Rom. 6:1&12 NKJV).

B. For the Curious

Some are not yet converted, they are checking out Jesus to see what he is all about. They are also checking us out, to see what differences they find in the life of believers. Jesus is the only Way, Truth, and Life. When the curious investigate the gospel, test the claims of Christ and respond to Him in faith, the Spirit of God opens their darkened eyes and converts their troubled souls.

The eyes of man focus on many things that do not bring lasting satisfaction. In the book of Ecclesiastes, we read how King Solomon set out to find earthly satisfaction focusing on: riches, achievement, sex, relationships, power, and even religion; yet his conclusion was, "I have SEEN all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, ALL is vanity and grasping for the wind" (Eccl. 1:14 NKJV).

Without a focus on the Lord Jesus Christ, life is shallow even for the wealthiest and most influential person in the world.

II. A Heartfelt Hold (Heb. 2:1b)
"give the more earnest heed (lest we drift)"

The phrase "give more earnest heed" is a strong warning. In Greek, the word prosechein is used and in this context it is most likely a nautical term meaning, "to hold a ship toward port" since the author also uses another nautical word pararrein ("to drift"), in the same verse. The thought of navigating on a steady course is the meaning communicated to us. What a wonderful way for the writer to picture the sense of drifting from the truth of God's Word. The sailor needs to watch a compass, a landmark, or the stars to stay on course; we just need to stay focused on Jesus.

In 1 Timothy 1:18-20 the apostle Paul advised young Timothy about two (believers) in the church who had "suffered shipwreck" spiritually because they had drifted away into the rocks and reefs of doctrinal error. Jesus warned His disciples that in the "last days" false teachers would flourish, and false prophets and "christs" would abound (Matt. 24:23-26).

We have been given the inspired, inherent Word of God to keep us on track. We "HOLD FAST the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23 NKJV).

B. For the Curious

Securing your soul to anything but the Gospel of Jesus Christ, results in a shipwrecked life. Many harbors appear safe, many shores seem welcoming, but disaster lies just below the surface. In Proverbs 14:12 says, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (NKJV).

It is not enough to intellectually acknowledge Christ as a "good teacher" or "good man" and possibly more. Even the Muslims call him a prophet. Everyone must trust the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Savior. Some folks miss heaven by 18 inches. They profess Jesus with their head, but they do not possess Jesus in their heart.

III. A Riveted Reverence (Heb. 2:1c)
"to the things we have heard, lest we DRIFT away"

A. For the Converted

It bothers me when Christians are irreverent about the things of God. I fear, in this age of grace, that we've forgotten just how HOLY and AWESOME God is.

Throughout his letter to the Hebrews the author regularly references God's judgment on Israel's complacent disobedience. More will be said of this later, but we must remember that while God is indeed loving and gracious, He is also holy and just and not to be taken lightly.

In Phil. 2:12, Paul admonished us to, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling"; meaning that we are to actively pursue obedience in the work of our own sanctification. Seeking after Jesus is a lifetime pursuit. We were once "sinners in the hands of an angry God" as Jonathan Edwards once preached (sin agers God). We were enemies of God (Rom. 5:10), by birth and by choice, storing up God's wrath against ourselves for the "Day of judgment" (Rom. 1:18). But now we have been justified by the precious blood of Jesus Christ! We must never take this for granted!

This great salvation we so freely enjoy was bought with a great price. Christ temporarily gave up His glory, sacrificed His Person, and put aside His power for OUR SINS; to save us from the wrath and judgment of Almighty God! This should humble every believer and lead us to a riveted reverence.

B. For the Curious

Before man can reverence God, he must first receive Him. John writes in His gospel, "He [Jesus] was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe on His Name" (John 1:10-12 NKJV).

Reverence for God cannot be expected from those who have not received Him. In 1 Cor. 2:14 Paul writes, "But the natural man does not receive the things of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them for they are spiritually discerned" (NKJV). Again he says in 1 Cor. 1:18, "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God" (NKJV).

Those who are lost need more than a moral lifestyle, they must be born again.

2 For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him

IV. A Just Judgment (Heb. 2:2c-3a)
"a just reward… how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation"

The author adds weight to his warning by reminding the reader in verses 2&3 that if God "rewarded" disobedience and neglect under the shadow of the law then, how much more will His swift and sure judgment be in the Light of the Lord now.

A. For the Converted

It is one thing to take lightly or neglect the blood of sheep and goats (Old Testament sacrifice for sin), it is quite another to take lightly or neglect the blood of Jesus Christ!

It is one thing to forget about the Ten Commandments and the more than 366 rules, regulations, requirements and restrictions that were added to them. It is quite another to forget to simply Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus gave us a hint about the weight of just judgment that awaits the casual Christian in Matthew 12:36, "But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give an account of it in the Day of Judgment" (NKJV).

In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:21&22 Jesus said, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.' But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment" (NNKJV). He then says in Matthew 5:27&28, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (NKJV).

You see the Law contrast the Holiness of God to the sinfulness of man. Its intent was to drive man back to God for forgiveness. The Day of Atonement reflects this idea perfectly. Yet through the rabbinical traditions, some got the idea that they could keep all the Law, and they created this attitude of self-righteousness that Jesus condemned. And some still struggle with "how do we move from the Law to Grace"? Some churches have this hyper-dispensationalism to where they won't even read the Old Testament; but that is so wrong. Galatians 3: 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. The old saying was "you can't get people saved, until you first get them lost". That's what the Law does; compares God's holiness to my sinfulness; and makes it obvious I can't be good enough, or religious enough, to earn God's favor. I need a redeemer!

1 John 1:9 promises, "If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just for forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Anything you cover from God will one day be uncovered by Him; but anything you uncover to God will be covered by the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

B. For the Curious

A popular argument against faith in God is this, "How could a loving God send so many good people to an eternal hell?" There is a fatal flaw in that statement. God is indeed loving and hell is definitely eternal, but people are NOT GOOD!

The Bible tells us plainly that, "There is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10), and "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:23), and that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23a).

The flaw is the idea that man can be good enough, that somehow I can balance the bad with enough good to be acceptable to God. If I killed a member of your family and was put on trial, but on the way to court I see a car plunge into the lake, so I pull over, dive in and save two people. Can I go to court, and say "I killed one but I saved two" and be innocent of the murder? Of course not; I am still guilty of the crime.

V. A Ratified Revelation
(Heb. 2:3b-4)
4 God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?

A. How It Was Revealed (v.3b)

Jesus Himself was THE MESSAGE. His birth, life, teaching, miracles, death, and glorious resurrection was God's Word to man! "God SO LOVED the world that He gave us His only Son!"

All Old Testament teaching was revitalized by Jesus, and all New Testament truth is revealed in Jesus. He clothed the truth in flesh and blood and lived it out every day before the watching world.

B. How it Was Ratified (v.4)

The Message to man that was revealed in Christ Jesus was ratified in two unique ways.

    1. By the truthful witness of the disciples (v. 3c)

For three-and-a-half years these men walked and talked with Jesus, listened to His teachings, learned from His example, and were won by His "infallible proofs" (Acts 1:3). Peter writes, "We have not followed cunningly devised fables" (2 Peter 1:16 KJV). John also says, "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life – the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was the Father and was manifested to us" (I John 1:1-2 NKJV). The disciples were first-hand witnesses of the glory of God as revealed in Christ.

2. The witness of God (v.4)

"God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will".

The signs and wonders were to convince the Jew, for "the Jews require a sign" (1 Cor. 1:22). The "various miracles" were to convince the Gentiles. And the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" were to confirm the message to the Christian.

The author of Hebrews demonstrates that this Message of salvation that was preached first by Christ, then by His disciples, was confirmed by God Himself with Supernatural signs and wonders. Because of who Jesus is, and what Jesus has done, and because of the truth that Jesus is, there is no escape for those who neglect salvation through Him.

Jesus Himself said, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away. But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day (of judgment) come on you unexpectedly" (Luke 21:33&34).

Focus on Jesus as the source and sustainer of all things from creation, to resurrection.