God At Work Among His People: The Book Of Ezra – Introduction

Grace For The Journey

  Most of you know the setting of the book of Ezra. The Babylonians had begun their conquest of Jerusalem in 606 BC, and had finally destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC and took many of the people captive.  After 70 years in captivity, in 538 BC, Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple, and nearly 50,000 returned under the leadership of Zerubbael.

The primary architect of Israel’s new identity was Ezra, the priest, described in Ezra 7:6 as the, “ready scribe of the law of Moses.”  As a scribe, his primary task was the study and exposition of the law.  Through the work of Ezra, Israel had a job to do, and although they faced times of trial, testing, and tribulation, the Lord saw them through.  

Ezra is one of the great spiritual leaders of the Old Testament.  His name means, “Yahweh helps.”  He was used of God to lead the Israelites back to the Promised Land, much like Moses did previously.  In fact, this return to the homeland from Persian captivity has been called Israel’s “second exodus.”

The book of Ezra tells the story of two returns. The first was led by Zerubabbel to rebuild the temple (in chapters 1-6) and the second was led by Ezra to rebuild the spiritual condition of the people (in chapters 7-10).  The key verse of the book is found in Ezra 7:10, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Interestingly, the principles found in this small book stating how God dealt with His people more than 2,500 years ago, still speak to the heart and issues of God’s people today. Here are 10 powerful principles from the book of Ezra which intersect the lives of believers in today . . .

  • God is sovereign.  In the book of Ezra, God was at work through historical events. Persia defeated the Babylonians and took possession of the Israelites. However, Persian national policy allowed deported people to repatriate.  This allowed the Israelites to return home after 70 years in captivity, thus fulfilling a promise of God. God is still sovereign over the affairs of nations today.
  • God raises up people for specific purposes.  Most likely, Ezra’s parents were a part of the original deportation from Israel and Ezra was born in captivity.  Despite difficult circumstances, God raised up Ezra for the special task of leading His people (1:1-4).  God still raises up people today for special work.
  • God often uses the most unlikely sources.  Whenever the Israelites prepared to return, God spoke to Cyrus, the King of Persia, to provide treasures to help rebuild the Temple in Israel (1:5-11).  It is amazing how God works in the hearts of the most unlikely sources to accomplish His work.
  • It is vital for a person to ensure they are truly in God’s family.  In Chapter 2, great care was taken to ensure the pure lineage of Israelite families in their return (2:1-70).  Today, people must ensure they have truly experienced salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • Place spiritual matters as a priority.  Whenever the Israelites returned, their primary emphasis was upon re-building the Temple first rather than the city walls or gates (Chapter 3).  The Temple was used for spiritual purposes, while the wall was used for military and political purposes.  Putting spiritual matters in order in your life is always the greater priority.
  • There will always be opposition to God’s work.  As Zerubbabel led the first group of Israelites back to their homeland and began to rebuild the Temple, great opposition arose from their neighbors.  The opposition came at two different times as they re-built (4:1-22; 5:3-6:12).  Today, the enemy often brings opposition whenever believers attempt to carry out God’s commands and work.
  • Joy is possible in the midst of difficult circumstances.  Four times in the book of Ezra the word “joy” is mentioned.  Two times the text mentions the joy of the Israelites whenever the foundation of the Temple was completed (3:12-13).  Two times the joy of God’s people was mentioned whenever the Temple was dedicated (6:16; 22).  Their circumstances were far from joyful as the charred remains of their homeland surrounded them and provisions were meager.  Yet, the Lord gave them joy.  Today, it is important for believers to remain joyful regardless of the outward circumstances.
  • God’s Word is primary.  Beginning in Chapter 7, the priest Ezra arrived in Israel. His primary emphasis was upon God’s Word.  He devoted himself to the Word of God and to teach its ordinances (7:10).  God’s inerrant, infallible Word must be primary today. Devoting ourselves to it and its commands is the first task of every believer, minister, and church.  God will bless the primacy of His Word.
  • Spiritual leaders are to be prayer warriors.  One of the most inspirational passages in the book was when Ezra prayed for the people.  He was made aware by servants of the sin of intermarriage among the people.  Interestingly, Ezra did not petition God for one request, yet he immediately confessed the sins of his people to the Lord and set an action plan of repentance.  The poignant words of Ezra form one of the most beautiful prayers of the Old Testament (9:5-15).  Spiritual leaders must intercede for God’s people today and be prayer warriors on their behalf.
  • God Takes Seriously Marrying Outside of the Faith.  In Chapters 7-10, one key sin plagued the Israelites – They disobeyed God by intermarrying with those who did not have a covenant relationship with Yahweh.  The prohibition was not based upon race rather it was based upon faith.  The monotheistic worship of God alone was to remain pure among His people.  Today, it is imperative that believers in Jesus Christ avoid being unequally yoked with unbelievers in a marriage relationship (2 Corinthians 6:14).

One of the undercurrents running throughout this small, yet powerful, book is one of hope.  The story of Ezra encourages a people who had lost hope in the future.  This is the plight of many in our modern culture as well.  Many people have lost hope.  The pulpit is a wonderful place to encourage their spirit from the book of Ezra and show that a vital, living relationship with God through Jesus Christ provides wonderful hope for the future.

The book of Ezra can also be a great “help” for Christians today.  Let me explain why.  Ezra gives us a historical account of the return of some of God’s people to Jerusalem.  Many of the events that happen are fitting illustrations for God’s people today.  As we go through the Book, we will discover many parallels between the time it speaks of and ours.  In this sense, Ezra is very up to date and pertinent in relation to many issues we face in our Christian lives today.  This old book sheds so much light on many questions which Christians ask today, such as . . .

  • How should Christians gather?
  • Can a minority be right?
  • The unity of the church, what does it mean for us today?
  • What do we do when many turn their back on biblical teaching?
  • Separation from evil and the unity of the church, a contradiction?
  • How can we recognize a true revival?

The book of Ezra describes a wonderful revival which occurred after 70 of the darkest years of the history of God’s people.  What had happened?  In 722 BC the 10 tribes had been led captive into Assyria (2 Kings 17:6).  Over time, they vanished completely, and we still do not know where they are today.  Only two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, were left in the country.  Just over one hundred years later, in 606 BC, Nebucadnezzar came and took the vessels of the temple, as well as the most promising young people as captives (2 Chronicles 36:6.7).  A captivity of 70 years followed, just as Jeremiah had predicted (Jeremiah 25:12 and 29:10).  Here they were, far from Jerusalem, without temple, without sacrifices, without their national feasts, and unable to sing the songs of Zion (Psalm 137:1-4).

At the end of these 70 years, a Persian king, Cyrus, conquered the Babylonian Empire and founded the Medo-Persion Empire.  This new king made a proclamation stating that all the Jews who wished to do so were free to go back to Jerusalem and to build the house of the Lord there.  About 43,000 people responded to this call and went up to Jerusalem.  Their experiences are extremely instructive for believers today.  Their return to Jerusalem encourages us to return to first principles and faith principles found in the Word of God, not modified by the ideas of men.

The faith of those who returned; their failure, their work, their “ups and downs” all speak volumes to the believer today.  To the extent that we, similarly, are not satisfied with “Bablylon” but have a heart for the place God has chosen, we will be able to derive much “help” from this book of Ezra.  I am looking forward to this adventure with you!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captivated And Captured By Christ: Hebrews 13:15-25 – How We Finish The Race.

Grace For The Journey

We are wrapping up our study through Hebrews.  This is the last message and I always feel a bit sad as we finish a series.  It is like saying goodbye to an old friend.  We will be starting a new study tomorrow, verse-by-verse through the Book of Nehemiah.   The series will be called: REBUILD: TRUSTING GOD TO DO HIS WORK.  We are to trust God to do the work, whether He is doing the work of rebuilding a fractured wall or a fractured soul.  I am looking forward to forward to that study.  But first, we finish the Book of Hebrews.

The key verses of Hebrews are Chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 where the writer refers to the Christian life as a race.  He encourages the Christian throughout the letter to press on as Christians, persevere through hardships, difficulties, and setbacks.  Do not stop!  Keep moving!  Keep running the race!  If you fall, get up and get back in the race.  It is not about how many times you fall.  It is whether you get back up and keep running and finish.  You may have fallen a time or two, but get back up.  Keep running.  Let us run with endurance the race set before us, looking unto Jesus, keep your eyes on Jesus, be “captivated by Christ,” the author and finisher of our faith.  Amen.

We left off at verses 14 last Friday and we talked about the great truth: that while this world is passing away, if we are “in Christ” we have a city that continues on forever.  We are not to fall in love with this world, we are not to give up on Christ when suffering hardship, and we are not to turn our back on Jesus when the going gets tough . . . Keep looking unto Him as you run the race, be captivated by Christ! 

Since the Christian life is a race and since the writer has been dealing with this for some time now, persevering, continuing to live our lives faithfully to the end, faithfully finish the race, running to the finish.

As we run to the Finish Line, here is what we will do.  Three main actions . . .

1) Offer Sacrifices That Are Living – Verses 15-16.

The author mentions the offering of sacrifices in verses 15 and 16. It is clear that he does not have in mind the old sacrifices under the old covenant – quite the contrary!   He is not talking about old dead animal sacrifices but living sacrifices.  This is like the Apostle Paul in Romans 12:1, “I beseech ye therefore by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.”  Living sacrifices.

The sacrifices required under the old covenant, handed down by Moses, were sacrifices that accomplished a kind of temporary forgiveness.  That is why they had to be repeated.  They could not fully or completely atone for sin.  You will recall the writer says in Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.”

God prepared His people for the coming of the Ultimate Sacrifice, the Lord Jesus Christ.    The animal sacrifices of bulls, goats, and lambs foreshadowed, or pointed forward, to the Greater Sacrifice to come.  As His cousin John the Baptist said when he saw Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”  The writer has been making the point that animal sacrifices are no longer necessary.  Jesus Christ is here!   These are sacrifices that are living in verses 15 and 16:

You can break them down into two main sacrifices, one per verse . . .

Singing in verse 15

And

Sharing in verse 16.

Or more specifically: continual praise and continual generosity. 

First kind of living sacrifice of . . .

1) Continual Praise – Verse 15.

Verse 15 declares, “Therefore by Him let us continually(that is, in contrast to the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ that is not repeated; let us continually…) offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”  Giving thanks to His name with the fruit of your lips through singing.  Continual praise may be in song or in statement, but it means to proclaim our allegiance to the Lord, to thank Him, to glorify Him.  Rather than pouring out the blood of an animal sacrifice, we pour out our sacrificial praise to God.  Continually.  Even after we leave the worship service.   Continual praise and thanksgiving to God. 

Second kind of living sacrifice of . . .

B)  Continual Generosity – Verse 16.

Verses 16 states, “But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”  It is one thing to say or sing, “Praise the Lord,” it is another thing to give generously in the Lord.  True worship is not just our closing our eyes and feeling good about ourselves in the Lord.  It is that, to be sure, but it is more than that, much more.  Remember that Jesus summed up the entire commands of God by saying we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength – AND – Love our neighbor as ourselves.  It is two-directional.  Love vertically up to God, and horizontally out to others.  These things “please God” – These actions bring joy to God!  In the giving we also find joy.  Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive.  More blessed; more joyful.

J Vernon McGee said, “The Lord Jesus is up yonder at the right hand of God—that is where He is as Head of the church—but His feet are down here right where the rubber meets the road.  He wants Christianity to be in shoe leather, and He would like to walk in your shoes.”  How can you “walk this out,” offering the living sacrifice of continual generosity?  By sharing of your treasure, time, and talents.  Bringing our tithe and offering to the Lord.  Tithing ten percent of our paychecks.

Tithing is not a bill. 

Tithing is a blessing. 

It is a worship experience. 

Tithes and gifts given

Through the offering

Are the means by which

God finances the work of ministry.

Generous giving of our treasure, of our time – just spending time with people.  Going to grab a coffee with someone for disciple-making.  Realizing we exist to develop generations of God-glorifying disciples who make disciples in our the community to the continents.”  Generous giving of our treasure, our time,  and our talents – using our talents and abilities to bless others; musical gifts, teaching gifts, like teaching a Bible Study Class, serving, greeting, sharing the gospel this week, showing hospitality to strangers.

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living.  Secondly, as you run to the finish line . . .

2) Be Submissive to your Leaders – Verses 17-19.

The writer calls for the church to submit or follow the leadership of their shepherds, pastors, or ministers.  We follow their leadership by . . .  

(A) Obey Them – Verse 17.

Verses 17 says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”  A church without leaders is chaos!  And leading is not always easy.  It is much easier to watch than to lead.  It is easier to be a “backseat driver” or “armchair quarterback,” questioning the decisions or motives of leaders.  The writer says “obey those who rule over you.”  God has called ministers to lead the Body of Christ.  Our church governmental structure is minister-led, deacon-served, committee-operated, and congregation-affirmed.  Minsters lead, the pastor leading as first among equals.  We have got a great ministerial team.  Ministers are those who “watch out for your souls as those who must give account.”  Each of us will give an accounting for our leadership before the Lord Himself.  It is a sobering thing for each minister to consider.  This is one reason why the writer asks for prayer, “Let them do so with joy and not with grief,” literally, “not with groaning.”  Ministry can be demanding and exhausting.  At times ministers are like, “aahhgrrrhh!”  The writer urges the minsters to watch out for your souls with joy and not with “aahhgrrhh!”   The reason he says this is, “for that would be unprofitable to you.”  

Choose to assume the best of the motives of those who lead.  Unless they have violated your trust, follow them.  Unless they have taught heresy, follow them.  They are God’s chosen leaders to minister to and through the Body of Christ.  It does not mean your ministerial staff is perfect.  And everyone said, “Amen!”  By no means is any minister perfect, but neither are you perfect.

Church membership is about connecting to a local church and following the leaders of the church as the church is empowered and equipped for ministry.  Leadership is important.  And so is follow-ship!  Resist the secular American tendency to be only loosely affiliated with a number of organizations, like a self-centered “church-shopper” merely tasting what different churches offer them, like a man picking over items at a buffet, avoiding accountability to members and ministers.

The church is not a buffet of items at a restaurant, items for you to pick over to feed yourself, smiling upon some and frowning upon others.  The church is more like a bunch of servers in the restaurant, where each member is gifted to serve one another in ways that make God smile, because ultimately we all serve Him.

(B) Pray For Them – Verses 18-19.

Verse 18 also says, “Pray for us; for we are confident that we have a good conscience, in all things desiring to live honorably.” I and our ministerial staff appreciate the prayers of our people!   Keep praying for your church’s leadership team.  We need your prayer.  

Included in the exercise of prayer is a desire brought out in verse 19, “But I especially urge you to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer seems to have a close relationship with the Hebrews.  He asks them to pray for them, for the leaders and adds, “that I may be restored to you the sooner.”  The writer most likely had some kind of pastoral relationship with them.  He wishes to see them soon.  

As you run to the finish line, offer sacrifices that are living, be submissive to your leaders, and thirdly . . .

3) Be Strengthened By The Lord – Verses 20-25.

The strengthening that the Lord does in Christians is seen in verses 20 and 21.  The writer is talking about what the God of peace does for us.  The God who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead (verse 20), is the same God who (verse 21 now), “makes us complete in every good work to do His will, working in us what is well pleasing in His sight.”  The phrase “make you complete,” unlike in other places in Hebrews, does not refer to . . .

The completing of our salvation,

But to the equipping of our souls

To live the Christian life as God intends. 

It is God’s providing the strength

We need to run the race.

Verse 20 says, “Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.”  Verse 20 is the only explicit reference to the resurrection in the entire Book of Hebrews.  It has been implied in previous texts, but this is the first time it is mentioned in an explicit way.  And that is largely because the author’s stress has been on the ascension of Christ and His current work of intercession as He reigns at the right hand of the Father.

The writer references in verse 20 “the blood of the everlasting covenant,” this is the new covenant we studied a few chapters back.  Unlike the old covenant which has run its course, the new covenant is an “everlasting” or “eternal” covenant.  It lasts forever.  It will never become obsolete or need to be replaced or repeated.  Speaking in grammatical terms: what Christ has done for us is not a comma, but a period.  Better still . . . An exclamation mark!

The writer refers to Christ in verse 20 as “that great Shepherd of the sheep.”  It is kind of neat that there are three different references to Jesus Christ as shepherd in the Bible. 

  • Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep – John 10. 
  • He is referred to as the personal Shepherd who cares for every area of our lives – Psalm 23.
  • He is referred to as the Great Shepherd who has done all that needs to be done to provide for us, protect us, and bring us home.
  • Jesus is referred to as the Chief Shepherd who returns for the sheep and will give us “the crown of glory that does not fade away”   in 1 Peter 5:4.

The Great Shepherd of he sheep lives and intercedes for the sheep.  Always caring for His sheep, the Eternal Shepherd caring in past, present, and future:

  • As the Good Shepherd He dies for us
  • As the Great Shepherd He lives for us
  • As the Chief Shepherd He returns for us

Past, present, and future, or as the writer put it earlier: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Amen! 

Verse 21 states, “Make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”  Note again the phrase “make you complete.”  Christ’s work has to do with God’s providing us the strength to do His will.  It is similar to the Bible’s teaching in Philippians 2:12-13 – it is God’s work that makes human work possible. God works in us, strengthening us to live for Him and to do what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ.

The strength to please God

Is provided by God Himself. 

We work, we run, we strive,

We persevere, but we do not

Do it in our own strength. 

Christianity is not a religion

Of self-help or self-effort. 

Christianity is the working out

Of what God works in us. 

God strengthens us to do His will,

Bringing pleasure to Himself

As we run our race.

You would think the writer is done, but he is like every preacher: he has always got something else to say!  Verses 21 to 25 are like a PS in his letter.

Verse 22 says, “And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, for I have written to you in few words.”

The phrase “I have written to you in few words” may mean that he had much more he wished to say.  Recall, for example, back in Hebrews chapter 5, verse 11 when he said with reference to Melchizedek, “of whom we have much to say…”  Or, remember when he was describing the glory of the earthly tabernacle in chapter 9, verse 5 where he says, “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.”

Verse 23 begins his postscript, “Know that our brother Timothy has been set free, with whom I shall see you if he comes shortly.”  Timothy is interestingly the only Christian mentioned by name in the entire epistle!  Timothy apparently had been imprisoned, but we are not told where nor why.

In verse 24, the writer greets everyone, “Greet all those who rule over you, and all the saints. Those from Italy greet you.”  The phrase “and all the saints” suggests there were small groups or house churches meeting throughout the city.  That is an inference, to be sure, but why else would the writer say, “Greet” … “all the saints” if not because not all were present at any one time the letter was read?  He also adds the phrase, “those from Italy greet you.”  Given that Rome was where this letter was first known and quoted, most scholars agree that the audience was in Rome and the writer is writing either from some other location in Italy or abroad and is passing along the greetings of their compatriots. 

The writer concludes with a word of grace in verse 25, “Grace be with you all. Amen.”  What a great way to sign off!  Not better way to conclude a heart-felt correspondence that praying that God’s grace, His unearned favor, His rich blessing of favor in Christ, may grace be with you all, amen.  

As we close this study, I do not want to end without inviting you to receive Jesus Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  If you have been clutching to other gods, let go of them in repentance and take Christ!  Remember that the distinct feature of this letter has been the continual lifting up of Christ as the One who is better than anyone or anything.  Jesus is better!  Be captivated by Christ.  Continue to “fix your eyes on Jesus” as you run the race.  It requires constant diligence and effort.  We have to continually re-calibrate and re-focus throughout the day, looking unto Jesus again and again.

It is so easy to fix our gaze elsewhere.  How many times do we pull out our phones and look at them?  Seems like every time we have a break, we pull out your phone and look at it.   Waiting in line – we pull out your phone and look at it.  Even at a stoplight, I have seen people pull out their phone and look at it.  Waiting on your order at a restaurant – Pull out your phone and look at it.  What if . . . Instead of continually looking at our phones all the time – What if we continually looked at Jesus throughout the day?    Waiting in line – We close our eyes and look to Christ.  At a stoplight – Think about and look to Christ.  Throughout the days of the coming week, I encourage you to look to Christ, re-calibrating, re-focusing our lives by looking at Jesus, being captivated by Him.

He is better than anyone or anything!  At the end of the day, and at the end of our lives, all we have is Christ.  Because we have Him we can run the race with endurance, looking unto Jesus who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross for us.  No matter what happens to us – persecution, suffering, setbacks – you can get through anything, because all you have is Christ, and when you have Christ, He is all you need.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 13:7-14 – Living for the City to Come

Grace For The Journey

We are nearing the end of our studies in the Book of Hebrews.  We will just have one more passage to look at Monday.   We left off yesterday we left off in Hebrews 13 verse 13 looking learning about being content and thankful for Jesus Christ who never leaves us nor forsakes us.  There are two approaches to the issue of contentment – what is and what isn’t.  The “what is” approach looks for things to be grateful for.  The Bible tells us tells us to give thanks “whatever the circumstance.”  During tough times, it takes real discipline to identify the good, dwell on it and take the “what is” approach.  The “what isn’t” approach focuses on what you wish the circumstance were and not what the circumstance actually is.   What happens is sadness and regret pour in the mind as the difference between the ideal and reality is contemplated.  The “what is” approach leads us to be saddened by dreams that do not come true, people who do not measure up, and relationships lost.  This can lead us to spiral into disappointment and depression.  But does not have to be that way!  For each of us, difficult times can turn in to joyful times of thanksgiving or a rough time bringing on depression and loneliness.  The “what is” approach will help keep joy in the our lives regardless of the circumstances.  For the Christian, “what is” is always Jesus and, unlike our circumstances, He never changes, nor does He leave us or forsake us.

So . . .

Focus on what you have in Jesus and be grateful for your family, grateful for your spouse, grateful for your kids and grandkids, grateful to be with them, grateful for what you have and what you can share, grateful for a day to spend time together, to positively influence them, to pray for them, and to love them. 

When I first began studying this passage, I had a hard time seeing it as anything other than a series of disjointed statements; no real connectivity from one verse to the next.   At first glance it seems like there is just a lot of interesting “stand alone” statements that bear no immediate resemblance to one another, much the way puzzle pieces poured out of a puzzle box look to us, scattered across a coffee table.  Each piece has its own identity but there is no immediately obvious connection from one piece to the next . . . No big picture that looks anything like the picture on the cover of the box.

Then, the more I studied, the more I began to see natural connectivity from one verse to the next, verse 7 tying to verse 8, and verse 8 as a bridge to verse 9, and so on.  As the study days passed, I began to see a “big picture” emerging from these eight verses.  By the end of the week, what was especially surprising to me was . . .

To discover how these eight verses

Actually summarize the entire letter of Hebrews! 

Just eight verses and yet a neat and

Succinct exposition of the main themes

We have been studying

Throughout the 13 chapters,

Namely persevering in our faith,

Continuing to run the race,

Our Christian lives, enduring hardships,

With our eyes on Jesus.

My goal today is to teach through this passage and us to see . . .

How this passage

Is a micro-summary

Of the entire letter

And – more importantly

– How we are to live in

light of its teachings. 

The first truth the writer brings out is . . .

1) We Learn from the Faithful – Verses 7-8.

Christians learn from the examples of others, especially from our faithful leaders.  Our faithful leaders.  That is verse 7 says, “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.”   When I first read this verse, I thought it had to do with pastors and elders in the church, especially when coupled with verse 17, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account.  Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”

Here is a verse that talks about how ministers shepherd the flock and lead the church.  They do so as those who “watch out for your souls” and “as those who must give account.”  Ministers will give an accounting to God for all they do in ministry.  And the writer says, “Let them do so with joy not with grief.”   He is saying, follow the lead of your ministers and obey them so that joy resounds throughout the church; do not grieve them so that joy is gone, a condition the writer describes as “unprofitable for you.”  Some see verse 17 as going along with verse 7, but I do not think it does.  The writer does not say, “Obey” in verse 7 as he does in verse 17.  He says “Remember,” which suggests that these particular leaders were no longer around.  He is asking them to remember those who have led them, who have “spoken the Word of God to them, those who proclaimed the word of the Gospel to them; those who taught them about Jesus and how to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. 

The writer is calling them to remember them, “considering the outcome of their conduct,” or the “outcome of their lives” – the way their lives turned out and how they lived right on up to the very last day.  They were able to do that because of the example of those who they are asked to remember, “whose faith (they) follow.”  That phrase sums up all of chapter 11.  The writer says in verse 39 of chapter 11, “And all these, obtained a good testimony through faith.”

That is the same idea here in verse 7.  There are godly examples who have gone on before us.  Faithful leaders.  Those whose entire lives are an example of living by faith.  They finished the race.  They kept the faith.  We learn from our faithful leaders.  For many of us this includes not just the men and women of faith in the Bible, but others in our memories who have lived out the Gospel before us while they were here, parents, grandparents, etc.  They modeled genuine faith in Christ.  Remember them.  Our faithful leaders.

The second truth the writer bring out to us is . . .

2) Our Faithful Lord – Verse 8.

This is great statement in verse 8, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  The Lord is faithful!  You can count on Him.  He will never let you down.  His nature does not change.  He is always the same.  You can depend upon Him, rest in Him, and trust Him.  He does not vary.  

Verse 8 appears to be a bridge from the thought in verse 7 to the thought in verse 9.  In verse 7 the writer mentions those “who have spoken the Word of God to you,” God’s Word beginning with proclamation of the Gospel.  The Gospel does not change, unlike that which is warned against in verse 9, “various and strange doctrines.”  Christ’s nature does not change, and neither does Christianity change.  

Even in our modern technological world, we have to get software updates on our computer or phone?  You have an iPhone, for example, and mobile operating software on your phone is now at its twelfth major release.  And after iOS 12 comes out in less than two months you have to update it to iOS 13.1.  That is common among things that are imperfect and incomplete.

Christianity needs no updates.  It came to us as a complete body of faith 2,000 years ago, “released,” if you like, released perfectly and utterly sufficient.  And it remains trustworthy, reliable, applicable, and relevant today.  It needs no developers to tweak it or improve upon it.  Like Christ Himself, it is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  

In Philip Yancey’s book, What’s So Amazing About Grace, Yancey records an amusing anecdote about Billy Graham who certainly believed in the unchanging nature of Jesus Christ.  After a trip to Russia at the height of the Cold War, Graham came under fire by many political conservatives who said he had “set the church back 50 years.”  When Graham heard that, he lowered his head and replied: “I am deeply ashamed.  I have been trying very hard to set the church back 2,000 years!”  Jesus Christ, the same yesterday today and forever.  We learn from our faithful leaders, our faithful Lord. 

The third truth that the writer brings out to us is . . .

3) We Live By Faith – Verses 9-12.

Two sub-points here.  How do we live by faith?  First . . .

A) By Being Stabilized By Truth – Verse 9a.

The first part of verse 9 states, “Do not be carried about (or carried away) with various and strange doctrines …”  The word “carried about,” or carried away pictures someone who is inadequately grounded and loses his footing, as in being carried away by a strong current at sea; loosing your footing, he is swept away.  This is a person inadequately grounded in truth and is swept away by the strong current of false teaching.  “Various and strange” doctrines are teachings that have been added, wrongly added to the unchanging doctrine of God’s Word.  It is being added in an attempt to improve upon the original message, appealing to man’s desire for the new and novel, or some new thing that will make one man wiser than the next.  In Acts 17 the Apostle Paul is in Athens preaching the Gospel at the Areopagus in Athens.  The Areopagus was a hill where Grecian philosophers gathered regularly.  Remember how Luke described the people there?  He says in Acts 17:21, “For all the Athenian and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.”  Some new teaching.  That statement describes many folks today who are always looking for the newest thing.   They are tired of the old and familiar.  They do not want to hear about the old, old story nor do they want to live by the truths of the Bible, with its teachings about hell and the exclusivity of salvation in Christ alone.  The writer uses the imperative mood here in his warning indicating the seriousness of the issue and the need to obey and stay with God’s Word.

Would you be able to recognize “various and strange doctrines” if you heard them from the pulpit, or read them from a book or online?  Would you immediately be able to tell what is strange and unfamiliar and does not belong to the truth?  It is often noted that federal agents are trained to recognize counterfeit currency by carefully studying genuine banknotes.  They become so familiar with the original that any “various” or “strange” markings on the counterfeit is immediately recognizable as foreign.  Agents learn by the fourfold method of “Touching, tilting, looking at and looking through” each note.  When a suspected forgery is in the mix, they can immediately tell by touching (the way it feels), tilting (looking for color in a holograph, for example), looking at and looking through the bill (carefully studying and identifying tiny features often missed by counterfeiters).   

While there is merit in studying cults and world religions, the Christian’s best use of time is to become so familiar with God’s Word by touching, tilting, looking at, and looking through, that he knows that truth.  They know the truth and can immediately spot error, whether that error comes from a teacher, even a much sought-after speaker, or a best-selling book.  There is something in the teaching that does not ring true as we read or listen.  It has all the markings of a counterfeit.  

Christians at every level of growth and experience must continue to study God’s Word by daily studying, studying in small group Bible Study classes, listening to teaching and preaching of the Word, and filling our lives with the truth.  Regular familiarity with the Word keeps us grounded and keeps us from being swept away by false teaching.  We live by faith; we are stabilized by truth. 

Here’s the second sub-point that really is the crux of the passage.  Not only are we stabilized by truth, but we are also . . .

B) Strengthened By Grace – Verses 9b-12.

Verse 9 continues by saying, “ … For it is good that the heart be established by grace (strengthened by grace), not with foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them.  Whatever else this phrase means “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them,” one thing is clear: the writer is saying . . .

That the way to establishes our hearts

Is the way that strengthens our hearts

Which is another way to say,

Becoming strong in your inner spirit

And having the ability to keep going

When the going is tough.

How to we strengthen our hearts?  The writer says Christians are strengthened by grace; another way of saying living by faith in Christ and growing in Him; this is the way to become strong; strengthening our hearts.

What does he mean by this statement about foods here?  Do not try to strengthen your-self by eating certain foods.   I do not think by “foods” he that he is addressing some kind of new diet that was circulating among the people, promising them both physical and emotional benefits.  Even today we are told that certain foods can strengthen both body and spirit and so people rave about one diet or another.  And they are many, aren’t they?  Atkins diet, Crash Diet, Jenny Craig, Mediterranean, Nutrisystem, Slim Fast, or South Beach.  Neither do I think he is describing organic foods, gluten free, or fat free foods, or sugar free, caffeine free, antioxidants, soy products, or range-free chickens.  Some of those diets may appeal to many of us, especially after Thanksgiving or Christmas week!   There is nothing wrong with any of those methods to be and keep healthy.  I just do not think the writer has in mind popular diets circulating around Rome or other major cities. 

What is he getting at here in verse 9 where he mentions “foods which have not profited those who have been occupied with them?”  Given the context of the letter, I think he is talking about those believers who had gone back to the Jewish food and dietary laws and restrictions of the old covenant.  Remember under the old covenant as described in the Old Testament, God’s people were prohibited from eating certain foods; foods described as “unclean.”  There were foods they could not eat and foods they could  eat.    By the time of the new covenant as described in the New Testament, all foods are considered “clean.”

These Jewish converts to Christianity were facing persecution for their faith and many were tempted to go back to the old ways.  And some were trying to find life and meaning with God through observance of the old rules and rituals of the old covenant. The writer is teaching here in verse 9 that the heart is strengthened, or the very essence of a man or woman is made strong, not by Jewish dietary food laws.  He says those food laws have not ever profited anyone spiritually.  They were given to highlight the special relationship between God and His people, to show the world ere are a people separate from the world.  Here are a people who are different, have different ways of living for, and serving, the one true and living God.

Our hearts are not strengthened by

Jewish dietary food restrictions,

But by the grace of God

Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 

That is how a heart is made strong.

Applied to us in our day – the way you strengthen your heart is not by external religious practices – Rules and regulations.  The way you strengthen your heart is to see that “the heart is established by grace.”

You want life?  You want a heart for God?  You want to be strong spiritually and be able to grow spiritually strong, and experience God’s presence and power?  It comes by grace, by believing in Christ, and allowing God’s grace to pour in you and through you as you grow in your faith in Jesus Christ.  It comes by getting to know Him through prayer, conversations with God throughout the day, reading His Word, hearing from Him in the Bible, worshiping with the Body of Christ, small group study, preaching, musical singing and worship.  This is how the heart is “established by grace.”  Not by slavishly obeying food laws or other ceremonial laws or sacraments in a mechanical impersonal way that has nothing to do with the grace of God.  

We are to live Christ, breathe Christ, talk Christ, and think Jesus Christ – Strengthening our hearts by grace is to live a Christ-intoxicated life.  

This truth is expanded upon in the following verse 10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.”   The writer is stressing the difference between the old and new covenant.  He is using the term “altar” here in a figurative sense, saying that we Christians have a different kind of altar than the altar under the old covenant tabernacle worship of the Israelites.  Our altar is, in essence, the cross of Christ.  And, “those who serve the tabernacle,” that is, those priests serving under the old covenant “have no right to eat” at this altar, the altar of Christ.  They have no right because they refuse Christ or reject Christ.  They do not see that Christ is the fulfillment of the old covenant promises.

The writer has said throughout this letter that all of the things under the old covenant were shadows of, or pointers to, the reality found in Christ, pointing forward to the Christ who would come.  Every animal sacrifice offered under the old covenant, whether during the time of the tabernacle or the temple, every animal sacrifice pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ.  When an animal was sacrificed on the altar by a priest, it accomplished a temporary kind of forgiveness, but the blood of bulls and goats itself could never permanently remove sin.  These animal sacrifices prepared the people to understand the need for a greater sacrifice to come – the perfect Lamb of God – Jesus – who takes away the sin of the world.  While believers under the old covenant did not enjoy as much revelation from God as we enjoy today, they were saved the same way as we are – by grace alone, through faith alone, in the perfect sacrifice to come, Jesus Christ alone.

Anyone who is trying today to live under the old covenant, the old altar, robs himself of the rich “feast” of feeding on Christ at the new altar of the Gospel.  That is his point here in verse 10.  We have an altar, a better, new testament altar, the altar of the cross of Christ, from which comes life in every sense of the word!  Jesus is better than anything or anyone.  

Verse 11 states, “For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp.”  The author is now comparing the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement and the offering of Jesus Christ.  You can read Leviticus 16 later for the background.  Leviticus 16 teaches that the high priest was not allowed to eat food from the animals sacrificed on the Day of Atonement.   Unlike most of the Old Testament offerings, the remains, or the “bodies of those animals” used in the sin offering were “burned outside the camp.”  They were not allowed in the sacred precincts of the camp. 

Now watch the connection to verse 1, “Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate.”  The writer is saying that Jesus, like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement, “suffered outside the gate.”  This is a reference to the cross at Calvary.  Jesus carried His cross to Golgotha, outside the city, outside the city gate, where He suffered and died as a sacrificial offering for our sin.   And like the sin offering on the Day of Atonement under the old covenant, Jesus was not permitted inside the sacred precincts of the camp.  He suffered outside the gate, outside the city of Jerusalem.  He died outside the gate.  He was buried outside the gate.  But . . . Look what Jesus’ suffering accomplished – not a temporary forgiveness of an animal offering, but He suffered, “that He might sanctify the people with His own blood.”  What can wash away my sin?  What can make me whole again?  Nothing but the blood of Jesus – His life and death on our behalf as the perfect, once-for-all atoning sacrifice for our sin.  He makes us holy.  Not foods.  Not animal sacrifices.  Jesus Christ.

This is the central theme of the letter! 

Jesus is better than anyone or

Anything under the old covenant. 

Jesus is better!

Now watch how the writer skillfully connects the theme of Jesus’ better sacrifice to Christian suffering.  Jesus “suffered outside the gate,” rejected by those inside the gate, inside the city of Jerusalem.  Jesus was treated no better than an unclean animal carcass, not allowed inside the sacred city.  Jesus suffered outside the gate.  He suffered shame, disgrace, and the reproach of unbelievers.  Verse 13 says, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.” 

Here’s another main theme of the book of Hebrews. 

Do not collapse under suffering. 

Do not give-in when

Persecuted for your faith.

Jesus suffered.  We will suffer with Him.  And the key to getting through the suffering, hardships, difficulties, and persecution is to look forward to the future heavenly rewards that are ours in Christ.  We learn from the faithful, we live by faith, and . . .

3) We Look To The Future –  Verses 13-14.

The writer shows us we do this in two ways . . .

A) Bearing The Reproach He Endured – Verse 13.

Verse 13 declares, “Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”  He suffered for us.  Why should we not expect to suffer for Him.  This is what the hymn-writer is talking about when he says, “My cross I’ll carry till I see Jesus.”  He is talking about going forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.  He is talking about our expecting reproach this week as a Christian; not being surprised when we are ridiculed for our faith.  We bear His reproach.  Christianity is not something people immediately and universally accept as true.  Why? 

Because Christianity strikes at

The center of our pride. 

It does not tell us

We are good people and

We can become better. 

Christianity tells us we are sinners

And we cannot become better. 

That is not a popular message.

That is bad news.  Separated from God now and hereafter because of our sin.  We should not expect people to immediately run to Christ, run to a faith system that insults their pride, when every other major religion appeals to their pride.  

All other religions say, “You can do this.  You just need to work at it.  Live a good life.  Do these things.”  It is performance-based.  It suggests you can, if you just bear down and push through, you have the strength within you to rise above your circumstances and earn a way into paradise.  Christianity says that is bogus.  You cannot do it.  You are a sinner.  And God is holy.  Try as you may, you will always sin.   You will never consistently “not sin.”  If you hope to stand in the presence of a holy and perfect God, you will have to consistently none of us can.  

Bad news, right?  But . . . And here is the Good News, here is the Gospel!  Rather than expecting us to come to Him, God comes to us in Christ, lives a perfect life for which we can get credit, dies a perfect death of substitution in our place, and is risen from the dead as God’s acceptance of what He has done.  Jesus took our punishment upon Himself on “the altar,” the altar of the cross outside the gate.  If we believe on Him, we feed on Him, we take Him into our lives, we are saved.  Good News!  But . . .It requires our admitting we are sinners, not as clever as we think we are, not as good as our moms and neighbors tell us we are.  No, we are sinners in need of a Savior.  When we share that message, we can expect to bear His reproach.

The initial readers of this letter were looking for a way to avoid His reproach.  They wanted to remain in God’s favor without the suffering.  They wanted the blessings of life under the One True and Living God, but without the bloody, crucified Messiah part.  The writer of Hebrews is, in essence, saying: “Not possible.”  And furthermore, “Why would you want to turn your back on the very One to whom the entire old covenant points?!”  Without Christ there is nothing.  All you have is an old covenant religious system that has removed the climax, the very apex of the entire system; like removing the peak of a mountain, or the roof of a house, or the cornerstone of a building.  Without Christ, you have nothing!

They were challenged to leave the safety and security of the old covenant ways, their social and emotional attachments to the temple, fellowship, family, all that they were familiar with – leave it and go out, bearing the reproach of Christ – not unlike what the writer says about Moses back in Chapter 11.  Remember Hebrews 11:26, where he says Moses esteemed, “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he looked to the reward.”

That is the second sub-point.  We look to the future, bearing the reproach He endured and . . .

B) Anticipating The Reward He Secured – Verse 14.

Bearing Christ’s reproach can be a challenge.  When faced with persecution, we may be tempted like the folks who read this letter 2,000 years ago, to go back to seemingly easier ways of our lives before Christ.  But . . .

The key is not to look back,

But to look ahead –

To look to the future,

Anticipating the reward

Christ has secured!

Verse 14 says, “For here we have no continuing city, but we seek the one to come.”  Like Abraham, we do not find life in this “city,” a city that does not continue.  We look to a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:10).  

That is especially important to remember when you are facing reproach and ridicule for your faith.  When ridiculed, do not buckle . . . Go to Jesus outside the gate and identify with Him.  Your life is in Him . . . Not in the approval of others!

We are outsiders.  We are on the outside.  Remember that as Christians.  Watch yourself.  Our “old man,” the old us, that is still with us, the prideful self does not like to be an outlier, the strange person going against the flow of popular culture.  I mean, it is easy in church.  We are on the inside and we are among friends.  But once we go outside the church building, we find ourselves among the world, where things are less comfortable.  We are regarded as being on the “wrong side” of things. 

Ladies gathering together for coffee or tea, the conversation turns to risqué television shows or lurid movies, and there is the gentle sound of laughter among the group, and one turns to you and asks, “And what do like?”  The guys out back having a break among the water cooler in the fog of cigarette smoke and coarse joking, and someone turns to you and asks, “What do you think?”  When you live your faith, and share your faith, you will be an outlier.  

When you are at work or school this week, your faith in Christ may come at the cost of being regarded as “out of touch,” outside the popular circle, outside the gate.  When it happens, just look to the future; look to the reward Christ secured for you.  This world is not our home.  There is a world to come for the Christian – a grand and good world to come.  For here we have no continuing city, but there we do!  A continuing city, continuing into eternity.  

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 13:1-6 – Actions That Come From Our Gratitude For What God Has Done

Grace For The Journey

  Today we come to the last chapter of our verse-by-verse study through Hebrews. Chapter 13 is a chapter containing a number of practical exhortations about living the Christian life in our everyday world.  The writer reminds us that Hebrews . . .

Is not primarily a theological

Treatise on the new covenant,

But a letter written to real people

Living in the real world.

It is a letter about how

Theology is to be lived out.  

Doctrine leads to duty.

Instruction leads to application.

Revelation (the revealed word) leads to responsibility.

Yesterday we saw that we belong to an unshakable kingdom and the things that cannot be taken from us.  This leads us to grateful hearts, surrendered wills, and spirited of God.

What that worshipful gratitude looks like is evidenced in the succeeding actions of Chapter 13. We will be looking at the first six verses this morning.  Through our study we will discover three main things—compassion towards others, a commitment to purity; and then contentment with the things we have.

We are going to be looking this morning at how . . .

Gratitude to God for the life

We have in Christ leads to specific

Attitudes towards God and one another.  

The Gospel empowers us and

Motivates us to live rightly among others.

You may have heard about the pastor who was preaching on forgiveness, forgiving one another, and especially forgiving our enemies.  After he preached the message, he asked his congregation by show of hands, “How many of you can forgive your enemies?”  Most of the hands went up, but there was this sweet older lady on the front row who did not raise her hand.  And he said to her, “Mrs. Smith, can you not forgive your enemies?”  To which she replied, “Well, I don’t have any.”  And the pastor said, “Really!  No enemies.  What a great example for us!” And he asked her join him on the platform.  And he said, “How old are you, Mrs. Smith.” She said, “I’m 98 years old.”  He said, “98 years old and no enemies!  How is that possible?” And She said, “It’s easy. I’ve simply outlived them all!”

The writer of Hebrews wants us to do more than outlive our enemies.  The Gospel empowers us and motivates us to love God and love others rightly.  Let me invite you to consider these three main actions Christians are to have . . .

1) Be Compassionate Towards People – Verses 1-3.

Verse one states, “Let brotherly love continue.”  The word “love” is the Greek word “philadeplhia.”  J. Vernon McGee insists we translate it “brother Love” and I think he may be right.  Brotherly sounds a bit weak, almost optional, whereas Brother Love is real clear: Love your brother.  He is talking about our Christian brothers and sisters.  Our brother is any man or woman, who is “in Christ.”

This verse is similar to Hebrews 10:24 which says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” We are to love for one another in the church with a brother love, irrespective of race, regardless of social background or personality type. The writer says we are to let brotherly love “continue.”    This  suggests we have a tendency to forget.  We are to keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters regardless what they do or say.  Then this love for one another within the church is to flow out the church doors and into the community – a love for others who are not necessarily brothers and sisters.

Verse 2 tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”  The word “strangers” is a word that suggests both Christians and non-Christians. In fact, there seems to be a wordplay in the original, in the Greek.  Brother love was “philadelphia” and this word for strangers is “philoxenia” and so the writer is saying something like, “Hey, remember: Compassion towards people includes both philadelphia and philoxenia.”

The word “entertain” connotes hospitality, demonstrating compassionate hospitality towards strangers.  He has in mind active compassion towards those who are in need. In first century, this active compassion often took the form of providing a place to stay and food to eat.  When folks were traveling in the ancient near east, there were no Holiday Inns or Comfort Suites that provided comfortable, safe rooms, and hot breakfasts. Many inns were dangerous and uncomfortable places.  So, Christians provided their own houses as places of refuge for weary travelers.  

The natural attitude of a Christian is one of hospitality.  Christians want to be hospitable to both believers and nonbelievers.  It makes us feel good to provide for others.  But we can forget over time and become protective of our things. Churches can turn inward and forget to turn outward.

I heard about a grandfather who used to say this short humorous prayer when he prayed before his meals, “Thank God for the four of us; thank God there is no more of us!”  Some people apply that sort of thinking to the church – “Us four and no more.”  The Bible says, “Do not forget to entertain strangers.”  Reach out.  Provide for others. Invite them to come in.

Then the writer makes a statement in verse 2 that causes us to sit up and take notice, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly, or unknowingly entertained angels.”  In showing hospitality to strangers, some Christians have entertained angels without realizing it.  Is that an amazing sentence?!   What is he getting at?  We have noted before the writer takes for granted that his readers know the Old Testament well. He may be alluding to Abraham back in Genesis 18 and 19; Abraham’s showing hospitality to some mysterious visitors not knowing they were actually angels.

Do not miss the author’s point here.  He does not want us to get sidetracked on a theological discussion about angelology, the study of angels in the Scriptures and what angels really look like, and so on.  There is a place for that, but that is not what he’s wanting us to do . . .

He is wanting us to be

Compassionate towards

People, all people,

Even folks we don’t know.

This is a pretty clever way of saying, in essence: Just act like every person you meet is an angel, and you will do well.  Just act like every person you run into, whether you know them or not, just treat them like an angel, and you will be showing genuine love, genuine compassion and hospitality. 

That homeless person outside the restaurant; the old man in the wheelchair you are walking by in the hallway; the wanderer alongside the highway.  If you knew they were angels, would you be more likely to be hospitable?  The salesperson who is interrupting the ballgame knocking on your door; the single mom with the unruly child ahead of you in line at the grocery store; the young lady in prison.

Verse 3 specifically speaks to this, “Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated –since you yourselves are in the body also.”  Remember the prisoners.  Be compassionate towards them, too.  He probably means primarily those who are in prison for persecution.  You will recall that from chapter 10 where he recalled this attitude earlier, Hebrews 10:34, “You had compassion on those in prison.”  Christian persecution led to mistreatment.  The writer encourages his readers to remember them “as if chained with them,” and he adds, “since you yourselves are in the body also.”  That last phrase could refer to the Body of Christ, the church. You and I are members of the body, the church.  Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12;26, “When one member of the body suffers, all the body suffers.”  The writer could be just referring to the physical limitations of our human bodies.  We all are “in the body” and therefore we suffer hunger and pain.  In either case, the point is clear: Remember those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering, feeling their pain in your own bodies.

I said that the writer probably has in mind primarily those who are in prison for persecution.  At the same time, however, we know that people were often imprisoned in Bible times for other reasons: inability to pay debts, for example, as some of the parables of Jesus reflect.  There could be other reasons for imprisonment, men and women unjustly prosecuted, or people awaiting trial.  In any case, our Lord Jesus said in Matthew 25:35-36, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  When Jesus spoke those words in Matthew 25 the people are like, “Wait a minute Jesus, I do not remember your being in prison!  You!  Locked up?!  I do not remember your asking me for a sandwich outside Subway last week!  I do not remember your asking for a couple bucks standing along the main strip in Butler.  I think I’d remember that.”  And Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me” (Matthew 25:40).

Our first action – Be compassionate towards people.  Our second action . . .

II. Be Committed To Purity – Verse 4.

Verse 4 says, “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”  Here is a clarion call to purity, a commitment to sexual purity. The writer first extols the virtue of marriage.  He says marriage is honorable among all, it is a good thing.  Not everyone must be married, but it is a good thing to be married.  Honoring marriage among all includes abiding by God’s exclusive definition of marriage as the committed monogamous union of a man and a woman.  To define Christian marriage otherwise is to impose upon God’s definition man’s rebellious preferences.

The writer adds, “and the bed undefiled.”  That is another way of saying sex within marriage is a good thing.  Christian intimacy is neither bad, nor dirty, nor evil.  It is honorable and the bed undefiled.  Truth is, no one enjoys intimacy better than Christian husbands and wives.  Intimacy is God’s gift.  But it is an intimacy to be enjoyed in the boundaries of marriage.

Then the writer adds this statement at the end of verse 4, “but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”  The word “fornicators” is the word “pornous,” from which we get “pornography.”  It is a word that encompasses sexual immorality in general, and more specifically sexual impurity among those who are unmarried.  The word translated “adulterers” is a different word, a word that refers to impure relationship among married persons.

The last three words of verse 4 should get our attention: “God will judge.”  God will judge all “fornicators and adulterers.”  Those who are not Christians have even greater cause for concern in that God will judge them outside of Christ.  Unbelievers have no righteousness of Christ credited to them.  They are separated from God.  Their fornication or adultery is part of their sin in general that needs the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.  They need to be saved to escape final condemnation in hell.  Maybe some of you reading this today need Christ. You need to repent, turn from your sin, and turn to Jesus to be saved.

God will also judge the Christian who has engaged in fornication or adultery.  The judgment of God for Christians does not mean final condemnation in hell.  It means God will discipline Christians.  Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.”  God’s judgment upon Christians is not about God’s punishing us and final condemnation in hell.  Jesus Christ took all of God’s punishment upon us for sin; Jesus took all the wrath of God for believers.  How we thank God for that!

God’s judgment upon Christians who engage in fornication and adultery has to do with His chastening and scourging those He loves.  This judgment has to do with loss of future rewards in heaven as well as His allowing us to suffer consequences here in this life.  King David for his adultery, for example, suffered great consequences for his sexual immorality.  You cannot help but notice it in the years of his life after he committed adultery with Bathsheba.  He was a broken man, a weaker man.  A bird does not fly as high when its wing is damaged.  We are wise to take heed to the writer’s warning and be committed to purity.  Paul warns in Galatians 6:7: “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”

We have always needed this call for sexual purity among God’s people.  It is a message that is not always well received by popular culture.  Even John the Baptist got his head chopped off for preaching against open marriage (Matthew 14).  Despite the popular Hollywood movies, despite the popular music we stream on our devices, despite the popular television, Netflix and Hulu episodes, sex belongs exclusively in marriage and nowhere else.  Does that sound prudish?  I am sure it does by today’s lax moral standards, but it is true nonetheless.  You will be glad to follow God’s Word to the letter here.  It will save you from a world of hurt.

Someone has rightly said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.”  If someone laughs at you for being so “puritanical,” you tell them, “Thank you!”  Do you know what the word puritanical means?  It comes from the word “puritan.”  Like our godly English Baptist forebears who crossed the Atlantic to live in this country as those who loved God with all their hearts, souls, minds, and strength it is a badge of honor to be called puritanical.  But before we “Amen” too loudly, let us remember it was Jesus who said that adultery is not just something you do with your body, but adultery is something you can do with your mind, with your thinking.  In Matthew 5:27-28 He said, ““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.” 

Looking lustfully at the opposite sex leads to adultery in the heart.  Looking lustfully, thinking inappropriate thoughts, and viewing sexually explicit images on the internet, all of these things may lead to our downfall if we do not take charge of our thoughts and, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “…take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ.”  It takes discipline.  Adrian Rogers used to say about people of whom it is said “How far they had fallen,” that we did not know how low they were living.  In other words, people do not usually fall a great distance all at once.  It occurs little by little over time.  Compromise here, a little compromise there.  We cover up on the outside, but we have been living low for quite some time, indulging that secret sin.  Deal with it and get rid of it this morning.  Decide to live for the Lord instead of for lust.  And when you sense that it is starting to raise its ugly head again through sexually suggestive comments others make, or you think, or a joke, or something that you see on a screen, act against it again.

When we are driving on the highway and all of us have seen those guardrails around curves and alongside a bridge.  Why are they there?  They are there not to punish you, but to keep you on the road, to keep you from veering off in the wrong direction.  God’s rules for sex and marriage are like guardrails that God has put up in your life, not to punish you, but to keep you on the road of life and to keep you from veering from His way and hurting yourself.

Our first action – Be compassionate towards people . . . Our second action – Be committed to purity.  Thirdly . . .

III. Be Content With Possessions – Verses 5-6.

Verse 5 says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.  For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’”  This was one of my first memory verses years ago.  I memorized from the King James Version and it reads, “Let your conversation be without covetousness.’”  The word “conversation” was the Old English way of referring to “behavior.”  The writer is talking about our behavior, or our conduct being without covetousness, but be content with such things as you have.

In the original, in the Greek, “covetousness” is more literally, “the love of money.”  The real focus here is keeping our lives free from love of money.  Remember, it is not money that is the problem, it is the love of money.  The Bible tells us in 1 Timothy 6:10, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil …”  God is wanting us to be honest with our hearts here.  If someone says they do not love money, but they fantasize about it, romance it, and lose sleep over it, that sounds a lot like love to me!

The writer goes on to say, “Be content with such things as you have.”  He is not saying, “Stop working.  Just lay down and don’t do anything.”  Contentment is not a call to be idle.  The Bible is replete with exhortations to hard work, even build wealth, and being good economic stewards of what God gives you.  What the writer is doing here is giving Christians an important spiritual principle: Don’t love stuff.  It is the 10th Commandment: Exodus 20:17 says, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his male servant, nor his female servant, nor his ox, nor his donkey, nor anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Madison Avenue suggests something very different!  They may as well say: “Covet this! Covet that!”   I heard about a man and his wife who were in a meeting one time and they were talking to some friends during a break.  The wife complimented her friend for the dress she was wearing.  The woman said, “Well I didn’t want to covet it, so I bought it!”  I do not think that is what the writer has in mind!

Notice something unexpected here in verse 5.  The writer says, “Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have.”  You would expect the writer to conclude by saying something like, “for God will provide all you need.”  But he does not do that.  The writer says, “… Be content with such things as you have,” why? “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ and he is quoting there from Deuteronomy 31 and Joshua 1.

The writer is teaching us that

Contentment is something built

Upon the character of God, namely

The fact that He is always with us.

His will always be present.

Literally, the Greek is, “No, I will not leave, no, nor forsake you.’”  My English teacher in high school used to get on to me using a double-negative in my papers.  Notice that God uses a quadruple negative!  “No … I will not … no … nor…”

Verse 6 expands upon this fact . . .

That the Lord Himself is

The bedrock of our security.

Contentment does not come from

Our owning a lot of things and

Having enough and feeling secure

So we can sit back and enjoy it all.

Contentment is found in Christ alone.

Verse 6 declares, “So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”  This is a quote from Psalm 118, a popular Jewish Thanksgiving Psalm, used often in festivals.  The writer is driving home the point that contentment is found solely in Christ. This was Paul’s point in Philippians 4: “I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content” … “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (verses 11-14).

One writer says we must remember that nothing overly tragic can happen to us.  We can lose everything we have, and it will be okay so long as we endure in the faith.  our Lord warns in Luke 12:15, “Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.”  I admit this is easy to say and a much harder thing to actually live out.  But everything that can be taken away from us will be taken away from us one day.  Nevertheless, we have everything we need in Christ, and we can be content because we serve a God who cares for us. The Lord is on our side.  Our life is in Christ! He is our greatest possession. All I have is Christ!

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captures And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:25-29 – Why We Cannot Be Shaken

Grace For The Journey

  We will be studying the Word of God this morning in Hebrews 12.  As you look in your Bibles at the greater context of this chapter, you recall that the writer opened the chapter with the race metaphor, likening our Christian lives to a race we are to run.  He writes in verses 1 and 2 of the chapter, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith…”  Chapter 12 talks about enduring, continuing to run even when the going gets tough, knowing that our loving God is at work through every difficulty, hardship, and setback.  We are to keep running the race, not giving up, always keeping our eyes on Jesus.  

The writer writes this way because his immediate audience – the Hebrews – was undergoing immense persecution for their faith.  Some of them had even gone back to the old ways of worship under the old covenant of Judaism.  The writer is warning them: “Do not do that!  Do not wander off-course!  Do not be like Esau who traded his inheritance for the temporary satisfaction of a bowl of stew.  Do not leave the race.  Follow Jesus to the end!” 

Yesterday we looked at verses 18-24 where the writer contrasts the old covenant with the new covenant.  He recalls the Israelites of the Old Testament gathering at Mount Sinai where God spoke to them through Moses and the mountain shook and there was dark and a foreboding sense of the holiness of God.  Then, the black and white picture turns to full color as the writer describes the glorious new covenant, the new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ represented by Mount Zion.  So . . . Mount Sinai resembles the heaviness and hardship of the law and Mount Zion resembles the grace and grandeur of Jesus Christ who fulfilled the law for all who believe.

Verse 24 refers to Christ’s blood shed for sinners as “the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.”  It is an odd phrase referring to blood that speaks, or declares, or proclaims.  Whatever the writer means about Abel – whether it is Abel’s own blood that speaks, crying out for justice as Genesis 4 teaches or whether it is the blood of Abel’s animal sacrifice he had offered – the point is that Christ’s blood declares or speaks something far greater.

And indeed it does! 

The blood of Christ is that

Which makes possible

The atonement of our sin.

It is Jesus to whom all those Old Testament animal sacrifices pointed.  Animal sacrifices could never completely take away sin.  That is why they were offered repeatedly.   Those animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were to prepare the people for the One in Whom all those old covenant sacrifices were but shadows and pointers, pointing to the Perfect Lamb of God – Jesus – who takes away the sin of the world.

The writer now builds upon that fact.  Verses 25 and following describes in greater detail this One who speaks better things than Abel, this One named Jesus who is the Mediator of the new covenant.  As we go through these verses, I invite you to be on the lookout for the God who speaks and for what He says to us. 

Some years ago, I heard about a woman who was in a restaurant in Lexington and heard a man laughing loudly.  Unbeknownst to the woman, the laughing man was Wayne Smith, former pastor of Southland Christian Church in Lexington.  It was said that pastor Smith had an infectious laugh and those who heard him often found themselves laughing with him.  Curious, the woman asked someone, “Who is that man?”  When told he was the pastor of Southland Church, she thought to herself, “I’ve just got to hear that man preach.”  So, she went and heard Pastor Smith preach and, at the end of the service, went up and introduced herself.  She then told Pastor Smith how she had heard him laugh and just had to hear him speak.  Pastor Smith smiled broadly and said: “Well, what did you think?”  She said, “I think I’d rather hear you laugh.”  That had to be pretty humbling for a preacher, one who speaks for God.

Ever ask God to speak to you?  How does God speak to us today?  Primarily through His Word, the written Word.  I have always liked that first line in the hymn: “How Firm a Foundation,” the part that goes . . .:

How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

What more can He say to you?  He has written it all down in His excellent Word!  Why are you wanting Him to give you more than what He has said?!  Someone has said that in one sense the Bible contains roughly 80% of God’s will for our lives – 80% already written down, already revealed to us.  Do the 80% and the remaining 20% is easier to discover.  Do what He says in His Word, the already revealed and known stuff, and He will guide you regarding the unrevealed and unknown stuff.

Look at the way our passage opens.  Verse 25 and 26 say, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks.  For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake no only the earth, but also heaven.’”  Remember that the writer was talking about the Israelites who had gathered at the base of Mount Sinai while Moses went up the mountain to meet with God and receive the 10 Commandments.  And God’s voice shook the earth as God spoke to Moses and then through Moses to the people.  And they were terrified to hear the voice of God.  They even begged “that the word should not be spoken to them anymore” (Verse 19).

There is this “lesser to greater” rhetorical genius of the writer in verse 25: “For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth (lesser), much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven (greater).”  The writer is building upon the contrast between the old and new covenants.

Put another way: If the Israelites did not escape God’s judgment while He spoke to them at Mount Sinai, and that was a big deal then when they rejected His word. Consequences for not obeying the law were severe – but not nearly as big a deal as when God speaks to us today in and through His Son Jesus and we reject Him!  There are greater consequences for not obeying His Word today!”

The writer opens the letter with this focus upon Jesus.  Recall the opening verses of chapter 1, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son …” (Hebrews 1:1-2).  And how many times did we read in those early chapters the phrase: “So today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (eg. Hebrews 3:7-7)?”

As we look into these verses, I want you to consider three things that they teach us . . .

1) God’s Word Elicits Response – Verses 25-26.

God’s Word elicits a response, or calls for, and demands a response.  Every time God speaks we must respond.  Verse 25 says, “See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven.”  The word “refuse” is a reminder that . . .

God’s Word always leads to

A response of some kind. 

God speaks and we respond. 

We either obey or disobey. 

We either receive His Word

Or refuse His word. 

We either receive Him

Or reject Him. 

God speaks, we respond.

This is why we have a time of response at the conclusion of our worship services.  The invitation song is a time for us to sing, responding to God’s Word.  He speaks, we respond.  It is a response to God’s speaking to us in worship.

Verse 25 also reminds us of the urgency inherent in sharing God’s Word.  Too often we present the Gospel as something for people merely to consider and mull over when they have time, and then make a decision, if they are so led.  This verse, however, conveys the necessity and urgency of believing the Gospel. 

The Gospel is presented here

Not merely as something worthy

Of our thoughtful reflection

And possible consideration,

But rather as an absolute

Necessity to receive,

A necessity that carries

A corresponding consequence

Of judgment.

That is why the writer uses this word “escape” in verse 25.  From what are we escaping?   God’s judgment . . . His wrath upon guilty sinners.  The phrase “they did not escape,” refers to the Israelites who did not escape in their rebelling against God at Mount Sinai.  They faced His wrath, His holy and righteous indignation.  Similarly, our rebellion merits God’s wrath.  Rebelling sinners under the old covenant could not escape the wrath of God.  So how much more severe is our refusal of God under the new covenant given the fact that God Himself takes our sin upon Himself that we can escape the wrath of His judgment?!

This is the context of John 3:16 – one of the most frequently quoted verses- “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.”  That very chapter – John 3 – concludes with these words, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on Him” (Verse 36).

This is why when we share the Gospel – the word means “Good News” – we must always share this fact alongside the “bad news.”  The good news is not good until we know why, until we know the bad news.  The bad news is that because of our sinful rebellion we deserve death and hell.  Bad news.  God rescues believers from that condition through Jesus Christ.  Good news.  

God speaks.  Verse 26 describes the God who speaks, “Whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.’”  The writer is quoting from Haggai 2:6, and he is writing about future judgment.  Whereas God’s voice previously “shook the earth” at Mount Sinai’ the day will come when God will “shake not only the earth, but also heaven.”  This is a warning of impending judgment, a judgment that is future.  It is coming. 

Verse 27 affirms this, “Now this, ‘Yet once more,’ indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.”  God shook the earth once at Mount Sinai, “yet once more” will He shake the earth again, but not just at Sinai in judgment of the Israelites, but He will shake the earth in universal judgment of all people. 

What does this “shaking” involve?  It involves “the removal of those things” … “as of things that are made,” man-made things, or material things.  God will crush all of the idols man has made and worshiped.  All that belongs to man will be removed and all that will remain is that which belongs to God.

2) God’s Warning Entails Removal – Verse 27.

Verse 27 tells us what God’s judgment entails, “The removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.”  Picture the future judgment about which the writer warns as something of a game board, like the game of “LIFE” or “Monopoly.”  There are all these pieces on the game board: houses, hotels, cars, and properties.  God picks up the game board and shakes it and all that stuff falls away.  All of the things made by man are removed at the judgment. 

Small wonder our Lord Jesus warns in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”  “Treasures on earth” are the kinds of things God will shake and remove.  “Treasures in heaven,” on the other hand, are “the things which cannot be shaken,” those things [that] remain.”  The physical is removed; the eternal remains.  Are you familiar with the poetic lines by C.T. StuddHe wrote . . .

Only one life, twill soon be past,

Only what’s done for Christ will last.

Verse 28 says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace (or be grateful), by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.”  The writer makes the point that believers, Christians, belong to a kingdom that cannot be shaken up and removed.  While the man-made, earthly things fall away, “we” (believers) belong to a kingdom which cannot be shaken.”  As a result our should be, “let us have grace” or “let us be thankful” or “grateful” that “we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” 

3) God’s Work Evokes Reverence – Verses 28-29.

What God has done for us, His work, His work in bringing us into – not a temporary earthly kingdom that falls away, but a permanent spiritual kingdom through the gospel work of Jesus Christ – evokes a sense of “reverence and godly fear.”

Christians serve God out of gratitude for what He has done for them.  That gratitude is reflected in their “serving God acceptably” or “offering to God acceptable worship” in a spirit of reverence and fear.  And the kinds of service that Christians do we will come to next week in chapter 13, things like verses 1 and following: “letting brotherly love continue, love for one another, not forgetting to entertain strangers,” and so on.

Note the spirit we should have in response to God’s work on our behalf: last few words of verse 28: “reverence and godly fear.”  God’s work evokes reverence.  How much “reverence and godly fear” do we see in the average church?  The average worship service?  Does music inspire reverence and godly fear?  Does the preaching inspire reverence and godly fear?  I am not sure we can always say that church gatherings today inspire godly fear.  It seems many people think of God as some casual, cosmic friend who gives stuff to them if they pray enough, not as the God who will one day shake the earth in judgment. 

In fact, the writer concludes the chapter in verse 29 by paraphrasing Deuteronomy 4:24, “For our God is a consuming fire.”  Had God dealt with us as we deserved, we would be utterly consumed.  As the writer said back in Hebrews 10:31,: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” 

But God has not dealt with us as our sins deserved.  He has dealt with Christ as our sins deserved!  In this sense God takes our punishment upon Himself in His Son – in Christ – for us.  God’s work evokes reverence.  Reverence does not mean we need to walk around with sad, solemn, and stoic faces as though there were no joy in our lives, but we should live our lives ever conscious of the truth that we serve a mighty, majestic, all-knowing, all-powerful, holy, and righteous God whose wrath towards us is absorbed in the death of His Son, Jesus Christ, the loving Lord and Savior who took upon Himself our sin and gave to us His righteousness. 

Let me wrap up our study today with two takeaway . . .

First And Foremost, Are You A Christian?  Are you a believer?  Have you admitted to yourself and God that you are a sinner, that you cannot save yourself, do you accept what Jesus Christ did for you upon the cross and through the open tomb, and have you turned from self and sin and asked Jesus to be your Savior and Lord?  The writer concludes chapter 12 by reminding us that if we are not “in Christ” and if we are not part of His “unshakable Kingdom” then all that remains for us is the consuming fire of God’s judgment.  We must turn to Christ in repentance, turning away from our sin, turning away from false religions that will be shaken up and broken to pieces.  Turning from sin and turning to Christ.  That is the most important response to God’s Word.  Respond by placing your faith in Christ.  Today if you here His voice, don’t harden your hearts.

Secondly, If You Are A Believer, Are You Responding To His Word As You Ought?  What things do you need to “shake off” or “break up” before God “shakes and breaks” them at the judgment to come, the future judgment when Christ returns?  God will break all man-made idols.  He will shake and break up all that is not permanent, all that is part and parcel of this fallen world.  You and I are wise to “break” them first by breaking them or “breaking away from them.”

Breaking up and breaking away from harmful addictions like drug abuse, alcoholism, and pornography.  Breaking away from those things that we have partaken of as cheap substitutes for the real life that is ours in Christ.  We may not even realize that we are trying to find joy and happiness in those things rather than in our Lord. 

The writer of Hebrews has a goal, and his goal is to help you and I to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares and run with endurance the race set before us, keeping our eyes on whom?  Jesus, the author and completer of our faith.  Put another way: Rather than being captivated by earthly, temporary things, be captivated by Christ and eternal things in Him!

Remember the guy in Luke 12 who wanted to build bigger barns for all his goods?  He died unexpectedly and stood before God in judgment.  You could say God shook up his stuff.  Maybe God is shaking some of us right now to awaken us to the judgment to come.   Do not put your hope in this present world!  It will not remain . . .

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly lean on Jesus’ name

On Christ the solid (and unshakable!) rock I stand

All other ground is (shakable) sinking sand

Do not rest in false securities, things you forget are not permanent: your career, school, relationships; girlfriend, boyfriend, children, grandchildren, the degree, the certificate, the big sale; that car you’ve got to have; the house; the remodeled kitchen.

It does not mean you have to give up these things.  The question is how vested you are in them?  If God shakes them and breaks them away from you because He knows what is best for you, what happens to you?  Does your heart go with them?  Is your life bound up in them and with them?  

Stock market takes a hit and the Dow loses a couple hundred points; does your heart skip a beat?  Why is that?  Just think about it for a moment.  Are you resting in shakable things rather than unshakable things?  Secondly:

How does your knowing you belong to an unshakable kingdom in Christ affect your response to Him today?  Do you rejoice that your name is written down in heaven?  Rejoicing that you are “in Christ.”  Rejoicing that you have life, real life, in Him.  You know that your spiritual inheritance is so great you would never do like Esau, and walk away from Jesus Christ, settling for short term earthly pleasures.

Knowing we belong to an unshakable kingdom inspires our love for God and love for others.  We engage missionally and evangelistically with others because we know true life in Christ.  And nothing can shake us!  Nothing, because we are in Christ.

If we are captured and captivated by Christ then the stock market can crash and we’re okay.  Whatever the election results, we are okay.  The doctor gives us the news from the scan and we are okay.  The car gets totaled and we are okay.  We lose the house and it is okay, because it is not the house that gives us life, it is the life we have knowing we are “at home” in Christ!  If you are “in Christ” you cannot be shaken! 

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captures And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:18-24 – The New Way To Approach God

Grace For The Journey

The opening verses of chapter 12 call for running the Christian race.  We are to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus,” our eyes fixed on Him, captured and captivated by His love and superior Gospel work on our behalf.  The writer goes through chapter 12 teaching that as you “run your race” or “live your life for Christ” you can expect God to chasten you, to remove some of the rough edges of your personality, to discipline you through your hardships and difficulties and persecution.  God’s purpose is to grow us in Christlikeness that we may “yield the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  

In light of God’s love for us, we are to be strengthened.  We are to keep running and keep growing in holiness – doing things like verse 14: pursuing peace with all people and holiness; and looking out for any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by this many become defiled (verse 15).  A bitter person – just one bitter person in the church – can defile the entire body of Christ like a spreading cancer.

We must take care of the Body of Christ, holding one another accountable for our words and our actions.  Driving all of this emphasis on right behavior in the church is the love of God for His children.  God loves His children and does what is right for them.  Because of His love, God has innumerable blessings for His children that He means for them to enjoy.  The writer’s point is: Do not turn away from the Lord!  Do not run off course!  Do not leave the racetrack that leads to spiritual blessings!  Do not give up the race!

We left off yesterday at verses 16 and 17 where the writer warns us not to be like Esau, who left the race and gave up spiritual blessings for a bowl of stew.  Do not be like Esau, giving up when the going gets tough, giving up a spiritual inheritance, and settling for the passing pleasures of sin found in feeding the bodily appetite with a quick meal, looking only at the temporary physical things and forgetting all about the greater and eternal spiritual things. 

The writer goes on to talk about those greater spiritual things.  We are going to see that in our passage this morning.  As we go through these verses, I invite you to look for a major contrast between the old covenant and the new covenant.  It has been awhile since we have used those phrases, but be on the lookout for a contrast here from the old to the new and why the new is so much “better,” one of the key words in this letter, the word “better” used in reference to the new covenant.  

We get it when we can readily see the differences between two choices.  One does this and the other does that.  Contrast helps us see the better option.  This passage is a study in contrast.  Like a modern media marketer, the writer skillfully paints a picture for us, a vivid contrast.  The “black & white” is verses 18-21 and the “color” is verses 22-24.

What is the writer contrasting?  He is writing about how . . .

The benefits of the new covenant

Are vastly superior to the old covenant.

We will take a look at this contrast as we break down the passage into two main points illustrating two covenants, or two ways of approaching God . . .

1) A Somber Reflection On The Old Way Of Approaching God – Verses 18-21.

This is the “black & white.”  This is the inferior way.  This is what the writer wants us to see. 

The old way of approaching God

Is not as good as the new way.

It is helpful for us to remember who these people are that the writer is addressing in the Book of Hebrews.  These were people who had come out of the old covenant worship system of sacrifice and law and going to the temple.  When they said “Yes” to Jesus and received Him as Messiah and Lord, it cost them something.  They were cut off from their old relationships, many losing friends and family who were still under the old covenant.  They were cut off from the temple, a way of life that was all they knew.  The writer wants them to see . . .

That what they have gained in Jesus

Is so much better than what they lost

In the old way of worshiping.

And we have noted that truth in previous chapters.  We have noted that . . .

Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment

Of all those Old Testament

Types, shadows, and sacrifices.

They were all pointers – they all pointed to Jesus Christ, the One who is better, greater, and more superior to anyone or anything.

The writer wants to take his readers back

To the old way of approaching God. 

He wants them to see how inferior it

Was from the new way through Christ.

Verse 18 says, “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched and that burned with fire, and to blackness and darkness and tempest”  Feel the heaviness of that?  Though he does not mention it by name, he is talking about Mount Sinai.  He is talking about when God’s people, the Israelites, gathered at the foot of Mount Sinai and Moses climbed the mountain to hear from God and receive God’s commands.

What becomes clearer is that the writer is contrasting this mountain, Mount Sinai, with Mount Zion, a mountain he does mention later in the text.  And these two mountains – Mount Sinai of the old covenant and Mount Zion of the new covenant – represent the former way of approaching God and the new, wonderful, and better way of approaching God.

He wants to remind them here of the old way of approach: “For you have not come to the mountain that may be touched.”  It may be touched, but they did not want to touch it!  This is his point.  Mount Sinai was merely physical, a physical mountain that could be touched and felt, but the Israelites were warned not to get too close to this mountain.  

He continues to describe what happened when the Israelites gathered there at the base of Mount Sinai.  What did they hear?  Verse 19 tells us, “And the sound of a trumpet and the voice of words, so that those who heard it begged that the word should not be spoken to them anymore.”  The background for this passage is Exodus 19 and 20.  You can also read about it in Deuteronomy 4 and 5.  But Exodus 19 and 20 in particular is where we find the dramatic events of Moses going up Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments from God.  Moses went up the mountain and the people stayed at the foot of the mountain.

God manifested His presence there at the top of the mountain.  There was fire, and blackness, and darkness, and the sound of a loud trumpet blast as God thundered from the heavens, making His presence known there at Mount Sinai.  This was so intense that verse 19 says the people, “Begged that the word (God’s Word) should not be spoken to them anymore.”  The people trembled in the presence of God.  They feared God. 

Verse 20 goes on to say, “(For they could not endure what was commanded: “And if so much as a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned [my translation adds] or shot with an arrow.”  The writer is quoting Exodus 19:12: “You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death.’”  The phrase, “You shall set bounds (or boundaries) for the people” is God’s order to Moses.  There was a separation from God.  The people were separated from God because of God’s holiness.  This separation highlights the holiness of God.  God had consecrated the mountain for the manifesting of Himself as He appeared to Moses.  People are sinful and God is holy, so there needed to be a separation demonstrated on Mount Sinai or the people would die.  Verse 21 says, “And so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling).”  If the Israelites trembled by merely standing at the base of the base of the mountain, we can well imagine what fear and terror Moses must have felt as he was even nearer to God!

All of this is meant to stress the fear and apprehension involved in the old way of approaching God.  Only Moses could go up in God’s presence and the people were separated from God.  Even Moses felt something of that separation as he trembled in the presence of God, like guilty children tremble in the presence of their parents, knowing that their rebellion may be punished.

Mount Sinai was a reminder to the people

Of their unworthiness to stand before God.

Mount Sinai shook and it was dark, and the scene is intense and even scary.  Now . . . Here comes the wonderful contrast.  First word of verse 22: “But…”  Now the scene changes.  Black & white is replaced with color.  The clouds lift.  The light shines.  And we read, “But you have come to Mount Zion…!”  Praise God.  And the writer from verses 22 to 24 writes about the glorious new approach to God under the wonderful new covenant fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  So, we move from a somber reflection upon the old way of approaching God and now . . .

2) A Special Rejoicing In The New Way Of Approaching God – Verses 22-24.

The old way was represented by a merely physical mountain, “the mountain that may be touched.”  That mountain, Mount Sinai, is now contrasted with Mount Zion, also a physical mountain, but being used by the writer to illustrate the spiritual truth of the Gospel. 

This is the new way of approaching God,

Through the merits of Jesus Christ,

The mediator of the new covenant.

The writer is using Mount Zion as a metaphor for the heavenly city.  The believer has not come to a physical mountain, but a spiritual mountain.  We have come to something that cannot be touched or grasped in a physical sense, but something touched and grasped in a spiritual sense.

Remember back in chapter 11, the writer talks about people who lived by grasping spiritual things that were true, but they were part of the invisible, spiritual realm.   Hebrews 11:13 says, “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.”  And Hebrews 11:27 says Moses endured, “… as seeing Him who is invisible.”

Verse 22 then says,“But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels.”  Here it is now displayed in full color . . .

The new way of approach to God

Under the new covenant.

The storm is over and the sun is shining.  This new way is both something now entered into by believers, “you have come” to Mount Zion – and also something that still remains yet future in the fullest sense of fulfillment.  Mount Zion and “the city of the living God” is not merely a spiritual realm experienced in this life only, but also something greater in the future.

The phrase, “You have come” suggests that believers have already entered into this spiritual realm.  The grammar is perfect tense, meaning completed action with abiding results.  Believers have already come to Mount Zion.  At the same time, however, the spiritual realm today is not the final experience.  There is more to come!  There is the eternal city that is future tense, the “heavenly Jerusalem” to come mentioned in Revelation 21.  

While those of us who are Christians are in one sense “already” experiencing some of the benefits of the new covenant, there is the “not yet” that awaits us at the final consummation of all things.  Or put another way:

Christ’s kingdom

Has been inaugurated,

But

Not yet consummated.

We look forward to that final state of the new heavens and new earth where we will live forever and ever.

We are “now” there spiritually by faith in Christ.  We have come.  And this spiritual realm includes “an innumerable company of angels,” literally thousands upon thousands of  heavenly beings.  But there is more!

Verse 23 states, “to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.”  There is so much in this verse!  The phrase “the general assembly” speaks of a “festal gathering” or “joyful assembly” of believers, the “church of the firstborn,” or “the joyful assembly of God’s firstborn children.”

We saw yesterday about Esau selling his birthright, his privileged position as the firstborn.  In the Old Testament age, the firstborn received special blessings of status and inheritance, leadership in the family, and material blessings of inheritance.  And, of course . . .

There was only one firstborn in each family. 

But . . . Under the new way of approaching God,

Every single Christian is a “firstborn” in the family of God!

Jesus is the Supreme “Firstborn” (Hebrews 1:6).  The Bible says in Colossians 1:15, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.”  And through His Gospel work He has “brought many sons to glory” (Hebrews 2:10) so that those who believe in Christ are positionally “in Him.”  We share in the inheritance of the Firstborn!  If we are believers, we are “in Christ Jesus,” and the Father is pleased with us because He is pleased with His Son!  We share in His dignity and status!  Hallelujah . . . Amen and amen!

The writer also describes believers as those “who are registered in heaven.”  If we believe in Christ and accept Him as our Savior and Lord, our names are written down on a registry in heaven.  All the names of God’s children, all believers, are listed in that great heavenly roll.  This speaks of permanency.  Our names are written down indelibly because of Jesus Christ.  As He remains forever, so our names remain forever.

The writer adds that believers have come “to God the Judge of all.”  As Creator of all the universe, He is also the Judge of all the universe.  Everyone must stand before Him to give an account of their lives.  

Believers are also described as “the spirits of just men made perfect.”  This refers to salvation in Christ; perfect not in the sense of our never making mistakes as Christians, but perfect and complete in God’s sight through Jesus Christ. 

Jesus does for us what

We cannot do ourselves.

Note it carefully: “just men made perfect.”  We do not make ourselves perfect.  He makes us perfect.  Jesus does this.  He is, remember, the author “and finisher” of our faith.  He completes us.  Hebrews 10:14 states, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”

Verse 24 is the culmination of the passage – and really the entire book!  It says, “To Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” 

Mount Sinai taught the cost of

Standing in the presence of God

Without necessary righteousness. 

Standing before the holy God

As an unclean sinner came

At a cost: death! 

Touch the mountain

And you will die.

Israel gathered at Mount Sinai where the Law was handed down by God.  But God’s people today do not gather at Sinai because Christ went there for us.  He fulfilled the Law of the Old Testament perfectly.  We could not keep the law consistently or perfectly.  None of us can!  Just try keeping the 10 Commandments and see how many you break before you fall asleep tonight.  

Jesus did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it perfectly for us.  He lived a perfect life for which we can receive credit if we believe in Him, and He died a perfect substitutionary death taking our sin upon Himself, bearing our punishment, experiencing condemnation for us, and then rising from the dead.  If we believe, our sins are imputed to Him so that He died for our sins and rose from the dead for our justification.  

We don’t go to Mount Sinai today

Because Jesus has already

Gone there for us. 

He fulfilled the law

Perfectly for us.

The phrase “and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” refers to Christ’s death on the cross where He shed His blood for our sins.  Christ’s blood shed for us is better than any animal sacrifice offered for sin in the Old Testament.    All those Old Testament animal sacrifices were temporary substitutes that pointed forward in time to the coming fulfillment of the Perfect Lamb of God – Jesus Christ – who takes away the sin of the world.

When the writer refers to this blood as that which “speaks of better things than that of Abel,” he may be alluding to Hebrews 11:4 where he had said with regard to Abel’s being killed that though he is dead he “still speaks.”  You will remember when Cain had killed Abel in Genesis 4 that God spoke to Cain and said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries out to Me from the ground” (Genesis 4:10), crying out for justice.  The writer may have in mind here the need for justice for sin, justice to set right those who have done wrong.

When Cain killed Abel and shed Abel’s blood,

Cain was driven away from God because of his sin. 

He was guilty and separated from God. 

When Christ’s blood was shed, however,

It brought people back to God, made people

Approachable to God and reconciled to God.

The writer may also be alluding to Abel’s sacrifice which he had offered in faith and was therefore recognized in the great roll call of faith in chapter 11.  Abel offered the firstborn of his flock, an animal sacrifice, apparently the very first of its kind.  An animal was slain, its blood being drained from the animal as Abel offered it to God as a sacrifice.  And as we have already noted, all of these animal sacrifices pointed forward to the Supreme and perfect once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins.  As we sing . .

.What can wash away my sin?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

What can make me whole again?

Nothing but the blood of Jesus!

In either case, the blood of Christ “speaks better things,” the better things of the Gospel.  This is the new way of approaching God that comes through Christ.

Thankfully, God does not take us to a terrible mountain, Mount Sinai, a mountain we cannot touch.  Through Christ, He takes us to Himself and allows us to draw near and touch our Savior!  

John writes in the opening verse of his first epistle, referring to Christ Jesus as: “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…the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).  We Christians do not now touch Him in a physical sense as the apostles did 2,000 years ago, but we will.  We behold Him now by faith and take hold of Him in a very real sense in the spiritual realm, fixing our eyes upon Him, hearing from Him as we read His Word, drawing real strength from His power and presence in our lives.

We really could not sing “He Touched Me” under the old covenant:

He touched me, oh He touched me,

And oh the joy that floods my soul!

No, we could not sing that song at Mount Sinai.  God’s holy touch would burn our flesh right off our bones!  We had no permanent covering for our sin.  But now through Christ we can sing . . .

Shackled by a heavy burden,

‘Neath a load of guilt and shame

Then the hand of Jesus touched me,

And now I am no longer the same

If you are not born of God, not one of the first born in Christ, then you stand before Mount Sinai.  If you hope to get where God is, you are going to have to climb that mountain of law and keep every single command perfectly – to climb that mountain through some kind of self-effort, or philosophy, or religion.  And the sad truth is that you will never make it.  Mount Sinai will thunder and consume you and God’s judgment will burn away your weak, ineffectual religiosity for, as the writer goes on to say in the last verse of this chapter, “our God is a consuming fire” (verse 29).

You try to come to God

In any way other than Jesus

You will remain separated from Him,

Separated from Him in life,

Separated from Him in death, in hell.

Let me close with some Final Reflections . . .

1) Is Your Name Registered In Heaven?  Verse 23.

—If not, what will you do about it today? (Repent and Trust Christ)

Is your name written down on the registry in heaven?  Is it recorded there?  Someone says, “Well, I’ve got my name on the church roll.”  That doesn’t mean a thing – except that you are a member!  You can have your name on the church roll and be lost.  You just joined an organization, but you have never repented of sin and trusted Jesus as Savior and Lord.  Turn to Christ today and be saved. 

2) If Your Name Is Registered In Heaven … Does It Show In Your Joyful Love And Living For Christ?

People who are saved love Jesus!  And long for His return.  The Bible says in Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”  People who are saved rejoice that their name is written down in that heavenly registry.  Remember what Jesus in Luke 10:20 said to the 70 disciples when they returned to Him after doing their ministry?  They were all fired up and rejoicing that even the demons submitted to their authority.  Jesus said, “Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.”

The most wonderful thing about accepting the Gospel is that our names are permanently written in heaven.  We are forever “in Christ Jesus.”  Do not rejoice in your ministry.  Do not rejoice merely in your health, your job, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, or your children.  Jesus says, “Rejoice that your name is written down in heaven!”

If your name is written down in heaven and you know that God accepts you in Christ, then you will love Jesus and you grow in Jesus daily through ongoing confession of sin, repenting from sin, and turning away from self and idols.  Your relationship with Christ is reflected in joyful growth in the Lord.  Knowing your name is written down in heaven is reflected in your love for God and for others.

This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:12-17 – Spiritual Maintenance Check

Grace For The Journey

We are studying verse-by-verse through Hebrews and we pick up in today’s blog at verse 12, Hebrews chapter 12 and picking up at verse 12.  I want you to see the layout of the passage.  When we began chapter 12 on Tuesday, we looked at the opening two verses, verses 1 and 2 and we talked about how the Christian life is a race (verse 1).  We run this race with our eyes fixed upon Jesus (verse 2).  We live our Christian lives like a runner running a marathon, pressing onward as we go with our eyes looking to Jesus.  In verse 12 the writer comes back to this running metaphor, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet …”  What is between these two pictures in verses 3 through 11 is teaching about the loving instruction and discipline of God.  In His love, God causes us to grow in holiness.  By working through our painful circumstances and persecution, God helps us grow in godly living.  That is the point of God’s discipline.  It is has a good result.  It may not seem so at the present, but it does.  That is what the writer says in verse 11, “Now no chastening (or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

God’s discipline is a good thing.  You can trust Him.  He is a good Father.  He does right.  Your adversity, your difficulties, and your persecution are not there because God is punishing you for your sin.  If you are “in Christ” your sins have already been punished.  Jesus took upon Himself all the punishment for all sin.  God is not punishing you, but lovingly leading and guiding you, as a good father lovingly leads and guides a son or daughter.  A good father.  Remember that God is not like your earthly father.  Our earthly fathers may have been good or not so good, but God is the always good Heavenly Father.  

This connection to the discipline of God is important because the first word of verse 12 is, “Therefore.”  We have seen that it is a word that points back to what precedes it. We’ll talk more about that in a moment, but for now I just wanted you to see that connection before we read the text.

The writer would have us stop, observe, and check out how we are living the Christian life and adjust where necessary.  That is especially evident in the first couple verses of our passage.  We are to live the Christian life with endurance setting and fixing our eyes on Jesus.  We may hit some facing hardships and persecution, but God will be at work in our lives, through loving discipline and instruction to keep us looking to Jesus.

Verse 12 says, “Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”  As we are running the race of life, we are to observe how we are doing.  Are we getting tired?  Are our hands beginning to droop?  Are we getting weak?  Are our legs getting limp, and our knees feeble?  The writer here in verse 12 is quoting from Isaiah 35:3, “Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.”

The important question here is, “How does the writer want us to strengthen ourselves?”  In what way are Christians to be strengthened?  Note that the first word of verse 12 is “Therefore,” a word pointing backward to what he has just said.  And he had just been talking about the loving God who disciplines us as we run.  Verse 6 says, “For who the Lord loves He chastens,” or disciplines. 

The first action is . . .

1) Be Strengthened By God’s Love – Verses 12-13.

It would be bad if we read verses 12 and 13 and just sort of “drummed up” our own strength by self-effort and will power.  He is not saying, “Come on, get your act together and tough it out!”  He ties the imperative action of “strengthening our hands and feet’ in the indicative truth of God’s love.  In other words, . . .

Know that God in His love

Is with you as you run,

Working in your life

For your good.

God is up to something in the center of your suffering, persecution, trials, and difficulties.  God is up to something good.  God has not abandoned you.  The Lord loves you.  Be strengthened this week as you run the Christian life, being strengthened by God’s love.

In light of your knowledge of God’s love and that He seeks to work in you “the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (verse 11) or, a peaceful harvest of right living, godly living, in light of your knowledge of God’s love, strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees.”  You can hear the writer saying, “Do not give up!  Do not be discouraged by all that has happened.  Stick with it!”  There are times in our lives where we just want to quit.  We have taken a beating.  We are living for the Lord and things start falling apart – Difficulties . . . Pressures . . . Persecution.  You have been hurt and you are “playing hurt” and you are waiting for someone in your corner to throw in the towel.  

Verse 12 comes along like a “check-engine” light.  Verse 12 says to you, “Whoa.  Stop a moment.  Check under the hood and see what is wrong.”  Have you forgotten that God has not forgotten you?  In His love God is working “the fruit of righteousness” in your life, helping you become more like Jesus.  Get back in the race.  But be strengthened by God’s love. 

Verse 13 declares, “And make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.”  The writer may be thinking of Proverbs 4:25-27, “Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.  Give careful thought to the paths for your feet and be steadfast in all your ways.  Do not turn to the right or the left; keep your foot from evil.”  The idea then is to not fall into sin.  He is exhorting his readers to make straight paths for their walk with the Lord by clearing away obstacles, every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares.  Do not fall into sin, or be pulled down by sin, as you run the Christian life.  When you sin, it is like you have been running and you step onto an uneven surface or into a hole.  And if you have ever been running in a physical sense you know how that feels.  You can sprain an ankle or dislocate something.  You get “out of joint” and it make it difficult or impossible to keep going.

The writer’s main purpose here

Is to encourage Christians.

He is saying, “When you live the Christian life this week, do not become discouraged, do not give up.  Do not give in to the temptation to leave the race, to step out of your lane, and sit on the sidelines.”  No.  He is saying, “Press on by calling to remembrance God’s love for you.  Be strengthened by God’s love.”  God is working in your life to bring you to greater heights of godly living and Christlikeness.  He knows what He is doing in your life.  So, press on, being strengthened by God’s love. 

Secondly . . .

2) Be Steadfast In Godly Living – Verses 14-17.

What follows in verses 14 and following is a call for righteous, godly living; namely growth in holiness.  Verse 14 says, “Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  Wow – do you see that? 

Holiness is not optional.  

Holiness is essential

If we hope to see the Lord

In the sense of experiencing

His presence in our lives.

And to see Him

In heaven

When we die. 

The only way we are made acceptable in God’s sight is by being holy.  Buy, the Bible teaches that we are sinners.  We are sinners by nature and by choice.  We are not holy by nature or by our effort and we need to be made holy if we hope to be in God’s presence.  The Bible teaches that only the righteousness of Christ is what makes us acceptable to God. 

There is a righteousness that we have in the Lord Jesus

And

A righteousness we have as we live out the Christian life.

  • There is the imputed righteousness of Christ that makes us acceptable to God; our position in Christ makes that this possible, thus we refer to this righteousness as positional righteousness. 
  • There is the practical righteousness, the righteousness we display as we practice or live out the Christian faith.  This is what the author has in mind when we writes of our holiness.

The writer in verse 14 is talking about a righteousness that Christians have as they grow in the Lord.  In other words, if you have become a Christian you will produce what the Bible calls in verse 11, “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”  It does not mean that you will do this perfectly or that you will not at times slip into sin.  It just means that over the course of our Christian lives we begin to look more and more like Jesus.  We grow in righteousness.  This is the holiness about which the writer is talking here: “holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”

Holiness is not optional.  Holiness is required of every Christian.  Holy living is what happens in the lives of true believers.  Growth in the Lord.  A person who says they are a Christian but there is no holiness – no evidence of “the fruit of righteousness.”  As someone has said, “Where there is no fruit, there is no root.”  There is no new life. 

New life in Christ means

New actions,

New desires,

And new fruit.

What does that fruit look like in the believer?  Verse 14 indicates that a true believer will seek to be at peace with all people.  Much like the Apostle Paul teaches in Romans 12:18, “If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”

You may not attain peace with everyone,

But

You must pursue peace with everyone.

Our Lord Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).  We are to press on, being steadfast in godly living, pursuing peace with all people. 

Verse 15 says, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”  This verse calls for the Christian community to watch over one another. 

The church is a body of people

Who look out for one another and

Are accountable to one another.  

There is a concern that goes beyond

The individual member himself

An outward in concern for

His brothers and sisters.

“Looking carefully” towards one another.  Verse 15 is a call for looking out for one another in the body of Christ.

This is why church membership is important.  When we become members of a church, we covenant with each other to model godly living.  Whether we sign a church covenant or verbally assent to covenant with one another, we are saying, “Yes, I willingly and gladly become a member of this church, putting my name on the line here with my brothers and sisters, my family, to whom I am committed, with whom I am connected, and to whom I am accountable.”

The writer has mentioned this before . . .

In Hebrews 3:13 he tells us that we are to “… exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today,” lest any of you be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin.”

And in Hebrews 10:24-25 he says, “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”

The writer instructs us to be, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God.”  We must look carefully around at one another and ensure that everyone is on the right path, on the racetrack, running the race, and following Jesus.  We do not want anyone to fall short of the grace of God, first and foremost falling short of the gift of eternal salvation.  And, we continue to look carefully lest anyone fall short of the ongoing grace of God, the grace that comes to the church through the preaching of the Word and living of God’s Word.  The grace of God that comes to us through church membership, through involvement in small group discipleship Bible Study, giving, missions involvement, and evangelism.  We are to continue to look carefully to make sure everyone is using his or her spiritual gift and growing in the grace of God rather than falling short of the grace of God.  That is why we minister one to another through phone calls, visits, deacon family ministry, and so on.  Because we want to press on, being steadfast in godly living. 

Look at the warning there in verse 15, “Looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled.”  The danger is that failing to grow in Christ and holy living will be detrimental to our lives.  Rather than become better we become bitter.  Bitterness.  Someone said, “A bitter person is like a porcupine: they may have a lot of good points, but they are hard to be near.”  One of the things we are to do in our church family, one of the ways to improve in godly living, is to go on a “search and destroy” mission against bitterness.  We are to find it and deal with it.  Bitterness in a church is destructive to the entire body of Christ.  Bitterness is a harmful toxic in the church.  Bitterness in one person can grow and embitter others.  Resentment spreads like a wildfire, or an aggressive cancer when untreated.

We must first examine ourselves.  Is there any bitterness in our own life?  More broadly, is there any sin in our life that we need to confess and repent of so that we do no harm to others in the body?  While verse 15 teaches that we are to look out for one another, we are in no position to help our brother or sister when we have failed to first avail ourselves to the grace of God.  In other words, we have got to address our problem before we address the problems of others.

It is like the oxygen masks on the airplanes.  You remember what the flight attendant says?  Nobody listens to the flight attendants!  If you have flied on an airplane for business, or mission trips, or vacation, you know the drill.  The fight attendant stands in the aisle and says something like, “In the event of a sudden loss of cabin pressure, an oxygen mask will deploy from the compartment above you.  Place it firmly over your nose and mouth, secure the elastic band behind your head, and breathe normally.”  I like that!  Breathe normally!  And then they say, “If you are traveling with a child or someone who requires assistance, please secure your own mask first before helping others.”  Why?  Because you have got maybe 10 seconds of lack of oxygen before you start getting dizzy, and possibly pass out, and worse: die.  So “secure your own mask first before helping others” because you cannot help someone else when you are dead.  Take care of your own problems before addressing the problems of others.  Or in the words of Jesus, “First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5). 

Bitterness in the lives of others must be addressed.  Verse 15 warns: “bitterness springing up cause(s) trouble, and by this many become defiled.”  Like a spreading cancer, or blight on a tree, left unaddressed, it will spread.  We are to address the issue because of what it will do to the person and the health of the church family.

Continuing into verse 16, the writer shows why this is important as he says, “Lest there be any fornicator or a profane (godless) person like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright.”  You can read more about Esau in Genesis 25.  Esau came in from the field one day utterly weak and hungry and he saw his brother Jacob cooking a pot of stew.  Esau asked Jacob for some food.  Jacob said he would give him some if Esau would give him his birthright.  Esau, for what amounted to be no more than “one morsel of food sold his birthright,” his privileged position of the firstborn and all that that meant in terms of inheritance and blessing.  Gave it all away to feed his belly in a moment.

This is why the writer describes Esau as a “profane” or a godless person.  Because . . .

His sin of giving away his birthright

Was chiefly a sin against God,

The One who birthed him first,

the One who positioned Esau

First in order to work in and

Through him the privilege and

Status that came to the firstborn.

The writer instructs his readers to see to it in the body of Christ that they deal with things like bitterness otherwise there will rise up profane and godless people like Esau.  Or, there will rise up a “fornicator” as the writer puts it there in verse 16.  A fornicator is a sexually immoral person.  A person who has sex before marriage.  A person who is unfaithful in marriage.  Sexual immorality is one of the biggest cancers in the church.  It is probably mentioned here in connection to Esau because it is a sin that occurs largely in the same fashion as Esau’s selling his birthright.  Esau sought only immediate gratification.  He sought only to feed his base appetites.  Rather than cherishing the blessing of the firstborn and living for the Lord, feeding on the deeper more eternal satisfying things of the Lord, he sought to feed himself right now on the temporary, passing pleasures of the world.

A focus on immediate gratification leads to immorality.  A person who becomes sexually immoral is a person who feeds his or her appetites, yearnings for physical and emotional satisfaction by looking at pornography, or engaging in pleasing themselves through sex outside of God’s boundaries.  They fail to grow and experience a greater and more satisfying joy in the Lord Jesus Christ and our inheritance in Him!

Verse 17 says, “For you know that afterward, when he wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.”  The phrase “for you know” implies that they did, in fact, know.  They knew their Bibles; they knew the story of Jacob and Esau.  Do you?  Are you reading the Word daily?  The point of verse 17 is that Esau could not undo what had been done.  He regretted what he had done, but he did not repent from what he had done.  He had tears because of the consequences of his actions, but there was no genuine remorse that led to repentance.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10 the Bible speaks of a godly sorrow that works repentance, “For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.”  The idea is that worldly sorrow produces only death.  Godly sorrow produces repentance that leads to forgiveness and worldly sorrow produces only death.  There is a sorrow that is worldly.  It may involve tears and heartbreak.  But there is no change.  It is merely a sorrow because of the consequences.  When a wife finds her husband’s cellphone and reads the texts and calls out her husband for his infidelity, that unfaithful husband may say to his wife: “I’m sorry,” but he may only be sorry that he got caught.  If he is repentant, then he will confess that sin and forsake that sin.  That is godly sorrow that works repentance.

Esau was merely sorry for the consequences of his actions.  That he had blown and could not undo what he had done. 

He traded away God’s lifelong gift of blessing

To satisfy a short-term appetite. 

He left the race when his hands

Became weak and his

Knees became feeble. 

He wandered off-course.

Do not let the world get into your life that you wander off-course.

The moon is especially beautiful to us when it is big and full and shining in brilliant white light.  We know that the moon has no light in itself, but is merely reflecting the light of the sun.  The sun shining upon the moon makes the moon look clean and white.  The moon waxes or wanes relative to its position to the earth and sun.  During a lunar eclipse, you can only see part of the moon because the earth is in the way.  When the world gets in the way, you cannot see the moon.  What once was a beautiful sight of brilliant white light is covered up because of the world. 

Christians shine the light of Christ.  Christians reflect the light of the Son, S-O-N.  The light of the Son, Jesus, shines upon us.  Jesus said in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven,” but the reason some people cannot see the light of Christ in our lives is because the world has gotten in the way.  When we become “worldly” and we fail to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us,” people cannot see Jesus in our lives because the world has eclipsed His light and His light does not shine on us.  

Christian, what things of the world are getting in your way?  What things need to be cleared from your path so you can run the race this week?  What sins do you need to confess and forsake?  Do that right now.  Just silently before God say, “God forgive me for that sin.”  Make straight paths for yourself right now.  “

If you are not a Christian?  The only way to be accepted by God is through the righteousness of Christ.  Turn to Jesus right now. This is God’s Word …

This is Grace for your Journey …

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”