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.”

Captured And Captivated By Christ: Hebrews 12:3-11 – God’s Work Of Training His Children

Grace For The Journey

Yesterday we were encouraged by the writer to look to Jesus as One who is able to give us the needed power to endure and finish the race that God has set before us.  Today we are exhorted to look to Christ in yet another way.  How many of you have ever been discouraged and tired as a Christian?  How many of you have ever felt beaten down by the world and even wondered if you had the stamina to continue?  The original readers of this letter to the Hebrews were weary and tired in their souls.  They were about ready to quit. For them, the cause of their weariness came because of hostility from sinners.  In Hebrews 10:32-34, the writer had reminded them, “But recall the former days in which after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with suffering: partly while you were made a spectacle both y reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chins, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a getter and enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”  They seemingly did well at first as they underwent persecution.  These early believers suffered well for the glory of Christ.  As time went on, they grew weary and tired in their souls.

The apostle reminds these saints

Of one huge invaluable point. 

This truth, understood correctly,

Would give them the spark

They needed to endure. 

This one truth would

Change everything.

The hostility from sinners

That the Apostle speaks of

Was really God working. 

We often do not think that God uses ungodly people to accomplish His purposes.  The universe is at God’s command.  He determines the numbers of stars in the sky and the number of grains of sand along the ocean.  He is sovereign over all people … those who are His and those who are not His.  He can raise up evil armies to render judgment on His own people to promote repentance.  He can give success to evil people in business so they will accomplish His purposes.  In this case, God used evil people to challenge and stretch those whom He loved in order that they would be better equipped to bring Him glory.

The writer here continues his analogy of a runner in a distance race.  Any runner worth anything knows that he will only get better as he endures the pain of training and practice.  It is the same thing spiritually.  Like it or not we grow the most as we suffer through various trials that come our way.  God knows exactly what trial to use to cause us to grow.  We often do not think about God sending us hard times.  For some reason we only think God sends us “the sprinkles on top of our ice cream sort of stuff.”

This text is very clear – The writer shows us that the hard stuff believers endure comes from God in the form of loving discipline.  When we think of discipline, we most often if not always have in mind punishment.  We think of committing a sin and then God punishing us like an earthly father punishes a child who breaks curfew or something like that.  Discipline in the Bible refers to “instructing or educating; to inform the mind; to prepare by instructing in correct principles and habits; as to discipline youth for a profession; or for future usefulness.”  This word comes from “disciple.”  It literally means “to strengthen or to train in righteousness;” much like a runner is strengthened as he trains in endurance.

Before we really get started in the text, we should clearly spell out the truth we are speaking of today … that mankind is in need of instruction and training in righteousness (discipline) and God uses whatever means He chooses to accomplish this end (God’s providence).  The verses we are looking at today shows us how this happens . . .

1) Consider How Christ Endured Hostility.

Verses 3 and 4 state, “Consider Him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”  The first stop the author makes is to have his readers go straight to the source.  More astounding and amazing than God’s providence in the lives of Moses, Joseph and Jonah was the providence that worked to crucify Christ.

I remember when the movie, “The Passion of the Christ” came out and there arose a controversy from it.  It involved the question, “Who crucified Jesus?” 

  • Some said it was the Romans because they actually drove the nails into his wrists and feet. 
  • Some said it was the Jews because they plotted to see it carried out. 

It is true that both the Romans and Jews had their parts to play but . . .

  • Ultimately it was God who crucified Christ. 

It was Jesus’ mission to come to earth and die for the sins of His people.  God the Father, God the Son, Pilate, Herod, the Romans, and the Jews all worked to carry out the plan of Providence.  God orchestrated the event from all angles.  He was in control of everything.

The point here is that if . . .

The most terrible deed

In all of history

Was orchestrated by God,

Namely the crucifixion of Christ,

Then it should be easier

To see that all events,

Even those we experience,

Are also orchestrated by God.

Acts 2:22-23 is an example of how God brought all things together to accomplish His purpose, “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know – Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands have crucified, and put to death.”  These verses teach that . . .

On the one hand,

God determined and

Planned it to happen

And on the other hand,

Evil men carried it out. 

God in no way performed

Any of the evil in which it

Took to bring this event about. 

Evil men who are

Held responsible

Carried out God’s decree.

That is a huge truth to wrap our small brains around!

Jesus was also working toward the same end.  Jesus was faithful.  He accomplished God’s plan for Him.  He did not quit.  This is the point the writer is making.  We must stand firm to the end.  We may be tempted at times to quit, especially in a time of persecution.  But the author is reminding his readers that we are to stand firm just like Jesus did in the midst of His persecutors.

2) Discipline Trains Us In Godliness.

Verses 5-11 declare, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; for whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son who He receives.’  If you endure chastening, god deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?  But if you are without chastening, of which all have become partaker, then you are illegitimate and not sons.  Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect.  Shall we not much readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live?  For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness.  Now no chastening 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.”

The first point to remember is that the God is a loving Father who disciplines every child that belongs to Him.  He teaches us through life experiences and trains us in righteousness.  Sometimes His disciples us and sometimes He punishes us but at every step He has in mind our good and His glory.

This is a lot like the teach our Lord gave us in John 15:1-6, “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.  Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.”

Why does the Father prune us?  Is it to discourage and bring us down?  No, it is to make us better.  As we endure the necessary pruning and as we remain in Christ, we will bear much fruit.  Both aspects must be there.  We must abide in Christ and endure God’s pruning.

What does discipline tell us?  When we are disciplined we should praise the Lord because it is a reminder that we are sons and daughters and God is our Father.  Verses 6 and 7 reminds us of this, “For the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives.  It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?”  If we are never disciplined then we should be concerned that perhaps we are not really His children.

Verse 8 states, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.”  Mankind is in need of instruction and training in righteousness (discipline) and God uses whatever means He chooses to accomplish this end (God’s providence).

The writer moves to the example of an earthly father and the discipline he gives.  We should stop here and mention that it is very important that parents discipline our children.  You discipline them as you teach them right from wrong.  As you set parameters that are acceptable and ones that are not.  Parents also discipline them when those parameters are broken.  As parents discipline their children, we are loving them as sons and daughters.  When you discipline be loving and firm and consistent.  The purpose of discipline is our desire for our children to bear much fruit that brings honor and glory to God in their lives.

Verse 11 says, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”  The writer brings up a universal truth.  No one likes discipline, especially the one being disciplined.  I did not like it when it happened to me and my kids did not like it when it happened to them.  That is not the issue here.  The issue is not whether it is pleasant or not.  When parents do not discipline their kids, many times it is because they are selfish and do not want to engage in an unpleasant task that nobody likes to produce over time a productive child.  Parents take the initiative and discipline your kids.  We live in an ungodly age that tells us spanking is wrong.  We live in an age that tells us that all discipline is wrong.  Discipline should happen at home.  School is not the place for discipline.

Notice what discipline is . . . It is training.  Our writer goes back to the example of the endurance race and specifically says that God children are trained by discipline.  Just like the athlete who really does not like the pain of daily training, nobody likes the pain of discipline.  Through his hard training and through godly discipline we grow up yielding fruit.  When God prunes His children, they grow in righteousness yielding fruit.

I pray that we understand a little more fully today that we have a part to play in our training and God has a part to play.  Both must be working together.  Are you engaged in daily training?  Are you striving toward the finish line?

Praise God that He controls all events in order to bring about His ends.  Praise the Lord that He also disciplines His children for our good and His glory!

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 12:1-2 – Running the Race Set Before Us

Grace For The Journey

  We are making our way verse-by-verse through the Book of Hebrews and we will pick up today in Chapter 12.  The chapter begins with the word “Therefore” and that points us back to previous material.  I always tell our folks that when they see a “therefore” in the Bible they need to ask, “What is it there for?”  It is there because it represents the culmination of a previous thought or discussion.  In this context, the entire preceding chapter.  In Chapter 11 we read about the great “Roll Call of Faith” – all the wonderful Old Testament believers who lived by faith.

The writer of this letter seeks to encourage his readers to keep living by faith even in the midst of persecution and struggle.  Even before Chapter 11 he said in Chapter 10 and verse 32, “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings …”  Then he provides examples from the Old Testament where others had struggled, yet they remained faithful.  This is his point . . . You do as they!  Keep moving forward in your faith.  In our passage before us this morning, he refers to all these Old Testament believers as “a great cloud of witnesses” for us. 

There is a sign on a highway leading into Atlanta meant incoming traffic onto a main road that says, “Keep moving.”  The transportation authorities do not want the traffic to get tied up at this busy interchange so they encourage drivers entering it to keep a safe speed that will keep the flow of traffic moving.  The Christian life is about moving forward, looking ahead, keeping on in spite of the many hardships, difficulties, temptations, and trials of life. 

God gives us faith to move forward.

If we can learn anything from the believers of old, it is how to move forward by faith, how to keep moving.  I want us to look at the topic of these two verses, “Running the Race Set Before us.”  

The Christian life is a race.  From these two verses are largely two main ideas that call for action . . . 

Run With Encouragement – Verse 1a.

Verse 1 says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses …”  The writer refers to all these Old Testament believers about whom he has been writing in Chapter 11 as “a great cloud of witnesses.”  The Greek scholar AT Robertson says that “the metaphor refers to the great amphitheater with the arena for the runners and the tiers upon tiers of seats rising up like a cloud.”

Athletics was a big deal in the days this letter was written; the reader would be familiar with the Greek games – the Olympian Games at Mount Olympus, the Pythian Games at Delphi, and the Isthmian Games at Corinth.  The games provided athletes with an opportunity to gain fame and respect.  In those days you were either born into fame and royalty, or you were at the lower rung of the social ladder.  There was no middle class.  If you wanted everyone to know your name, you achieved greatness through military service or by participating in the games.  And if you won, you were given a laurel crown, a crown of leaves, which does not sound like much, but it allowed you to rub shoulders with the great and mighty.  Runners who ran the race were even allowed to sit in the Colosseum with royalty. 

For this reason, the New Testament sometimes contains that athletic imagery.  You will recall the Apostle Paul compared the Christian life to a race in 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it.  And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.”  And in 2 Timothy 4:7-8, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Some have read verse 1 without taking note of the context.  They come to the “therefore” and do not ask what the “therefore” was there for.  They read about this great cloud of witnesses and assume the writer is talking about multitude of believers in heaven above us and they are looking down upon us, and all the Christians up there in heaven are watching us.

I do not think that is what the writer has in mind here.  I do think it is possible for our departed loved who are in the Lord to look down upon us, but it would hardly be heaven for them to look down upon us!  I mean it could not really be heaven for them to look down upon us and see all the terrible effects of sin and the struggles we have in this sinful world!  They are free from all the sin, strife, and silliness that goes on in this sin-cursed world.  Why would they want to look down upon us?!  It would be like being forced to watch a bad movie over and over again.

No, the writer means to encourage his readers.  He is saying to us: “Look back at Chapter 11.  See all these great men and women of faith.  They kept going.  They lived by faith.  They are like so many people sitting in the arena of your race.  They surround you in the coliseum to encourage you – not as mere spectators – but as witnesses, witnesses to the faithfulness of God, God’s faithfulness to give you grace for the journey, grace to keep moving as they moved, grace to keep living as they lived, come what may, you can do it, you can keep running the Christian race until you cross the line!  Run with encouragement!”

It is what the Apostle James teaches in James 1:12, “Blessed is the man that endures trials: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.”  

Now, watch this in verse 1 . . . Right after this phrase about being “surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses,” the writer provides a couple action steps for us . . . 

1) Let Go Of Stuff.

He says, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, (first action now) let us lay aside every weight.”  A runner runs as lightly as possible.  The lightest clothing … The lightest shoes.  Any excess weight, whether material stuff, or body weight, will ultimately slow the runner down.  I heard about a man who had back trouble.  He went to the doctor and said, “I’ve got back trouble” and the doctor said, “No, you don’t have back trouble, you have front trouble!  You’ve got some excess weight here.  Lose some of that weight and it will help you’re back.”

The writer’s point is that any excess baggage slows down the runner.  Applied to our Christian race, our Christian lives, we have got to “lay aside every weight” that slows us down.  Remember: the writer is using this running imagery as a metaphor.  In a moment he will talk about laying aside sin, so we know that is not what he has in mind here. There is something else.  These “weights” are what we often call the “stuff” of the world.  We must “let go of stuff,” the things that keep us from faithful living for Jesus Christ.  Many things are not bad in and of themselves, but they become bad when they keep us from running well.  Many good things become bad things when they keep us from Jesus.  

Someone has said, “Good things become bad things when they keep you from the best things.”  What are some good things that become bad things that keep us from the best things?  Our money is a good thing, but when it consumes our head and heart, it has become a bad thing.  When all we think about is how much money we earn or want to earn or have earned, it is become a bad thing.  God is the owner of our stuff.  We need to let go of it.  That does not mean give it all away.  It means do not clutch to stuff while we run.  Be ready to give as the Lord prompts us to give.  It is His anyway.  Do not fill your head and heart with worry for money and stuff. 

Our family is a good thing that can become a bad thing when it keeps you from the best thing – Jesus Christ, His church, His mission!  Let go.  That does not mean we do not take care of our family, or we do not pray for our family.  It means do not clutch to stuff while we run.  Our family is given you by God.  Do not fill your head and heart with worry for your family.  Remember Abraham with Isaac?  Trust God to do what is right.

Letting go of stuff also includes our health, our house, our job, and our view of success.  These can be like so much excess baggage and stuff to slow us down.  Do not be distracted.  Good things become bad things when they keep you from the best things.

I have noticed around the house in certain places near our trees some strands of spider webs.  They are singular strands, just like one line that comes across the walk.  I was curious about this so I googled it and discovered what they are is these strands spun out by baby spiders who are actually taking flight through the air.  It is called “ballooning” or “kiting.”  The spider waits for a slight breeze and then they spin out a line of silk – and it can be as long as six feet – and the breeze picks them up and takes them on their way.  And they will do this ballooning or kiting for protection or looking for food.  Fascinating, really.  But these singular strands keep appearing as I walk by.  It seems like they are always at the height what comes right across your eyes or your nose or your mouth, just enough to annoy you!  You break them as you go by and pretty some your find a few more when you come back.  They are an annoyance and a distraction.  One moment you are focused on walking by, enjoying the day and suddenly you come across one of those webs and you are “hit in the face” and your focus has been turned to getting it off of you!  

There are so many things in this world that get in the way of our walk with the Lord – our running the Christian race, living the Christian life – there are things that just come right across your face to distract you, to discourage you, to ensnare you, and entangle you like so many strands of spider webs, causing you to lose focus and joy.  The writer of Hebrews is saying, do not let them slow you down!!  Keep running! 

Run with encouragement, let go of stuff.  Secondly the writer says . . . Run with encouragement . . .

2) Let Go Of Sin.

The writer continues in verse 1 to say, “… and the sin which so easily ensnares us.”  The writer does not specify whether he has one particular sin in mind or sin in general.  Because the phrase includes the definite article “the sin,” many believe the writer is talking about one sin in particular, namely the sin of unbelief or unfaithfulness.  That would make sense since the writer has talked about unbelief more than once.  Recall Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please God.”  This is a recurring them in Hebrews.  Keep on believing.  Keep on surrendering.  Do not be discouraged when things do not go the way you would like, keep on moving forward by faith, like so many Old Testament believers.

The writer may also be talking about sin in general.  Lay aside every weight that ensnares you and lay aside the sin which ensnares you – whatever sin that may be.  Some of us battle recurring sins, frequent sins, and private sins that are like an untied shoelace to a runner.  Recurring sins like greed, gossip, lust, pornography, addiction, bitterness, and unforgiveness.  You cannot run the Christian race with this stuff clinging to you.  They will “trip you up.”  Confess that sin, repent from that sin, and get back in the race.  Let go of that sin.  Lay aside the sin which so easily ensnares you.

Here is the second main heading:

Run With Endurance – Verses 1b-2.

The writer ends verse 1 by saying, “… and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”  To “endure” is to “persevere, to keep going regardless of what comes your way.”  He says, let us run with endurance “the race that is set before us.”  Here is a reminder that we do not choose our own race, our own path.  We would likely choose an easy course, an easier path.  Our race is “set before us” by God.  He determines the course.  And it is not always easy.  The word for race is the Greek word άγών from which we get our English “agony.”  Often the Christian life is agonizing.  Sometimes God delivers us from these situations and sometimes He delivers us through these situations.  He brings us through it and on up to glory.  He knows best and always does what is right.

So . . . How do we run with endurance?  I am glad you asked . . . the writer tells us . . .

We Do It By Looking To The Savior.

Verse 2 says, “Looking unto Jesus …” We are encouraged by the Old Testament saints, but we are not to worship them.  The writer does not tell us to be captivated by them, but to be captivated by Christ.  Our gaze is to be fixed upon Jesus: Remember that the central theme of the Book of Hebrews is this notion of “better” or “greater.”  The words “better,” “more,” and “greater” occur a combined total of 25 times in this Book.  Jesus is better than anyone or anything!  Look unto Jesus!  That phrase: “Looking unto Jesus” literally means: “Look away to Jesus” – that is, “Turning your gaze from other things.”  It is an intentional movement of our focus.  Martin Luther translated it: “Off-looking,” looking off or away from other things and looking not “at” Jesus, but “unto” Jesus, fixed upon Him, captivated by Him.  You cannot fix your gaze on more than one thing at a time.

Rather than allowing other things to captivate you, be captivated by Christ!  He is “the author and finisher of our faith.” 

  • He is the One who originated our faith and the One who determines the outcome of our faith. 
  • He is the One Who both saves us and sustains us. 
  • He is the One who takes us from A to Z. 
  • He is the author and finisher, or completer, of our faith. 
  • He will perfect us to the end because He is the One who is perfect for us.

“Author and finisher” echoes the earlier teaching of Chapter 2 and verse 10, “For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect though sufferings.”

Christ’s perfection leads to the Christian’s perfection.

His atoning work makes possible

Our salvation in the beginning

And completion in the last day. 

Perfection, as we looked at last time in the last verse of Chapter 11, verse 40, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Christ’s perfection leads to the Christian’s perfection.  His atoning work makes possible our completion on the last day.

And the writer tells us here about Jesus’ atoning work on the cross.  See it there in verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”  Jesus endured the cross for us!  He was crucified, He was beaten, and He was crucified for our sins.  He endured the cross, despising the shame and ignominy of the cross, the public humiliation of it all.

Jesus endured the cross.  The Father did not deliver Him “from” persecution, but delivered Him “through” persecution.  Jesus was not given a victor’s crown in this life.  He ran His race and was given a crown of thorns.  But He suffered, died, and rose again!  And “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

Jesus is the ultimate example here!  Look unto Jesus “who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross.”  Don’t overlook that phrase, “for the joy …”  It was . . .

  • The promise of joy that sustained Jesus as He suffered.
  • The joy of pleasing His heavenly Father strengthened Jesus as He suffered.
  • The joy of making possible our salvation by suffering in our place for our sin enable Him to endure it all. 

That is what strengthened Jesus and enabled Him to “move forward” by faith

Verse 3 wraps this truth up when it says, “For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lets you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” The word “consider” literally means “think deeply about Him.”  We are to look to Jesus, think about Jesus, and see what He endured for us – That will encourage you to keep running, to keep moving forward by faith.

Do not look at your circumstances.  If you focus only upon your circumstances this week, you will be like Peter when he took his eyes off Jesus looking at the waves.  He started sinking because he took his eyes off Christ.  Do not do that!  Look to Jesus.

Looking unto Jesus and all the promises that are “yes” in Him!  Look to the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.  Jesus did this.  Even on the cross!  Remember when the thief on the cross turned to Jesus and said, “Lord, remember me when you enter into glory” and Jesus said, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise!”

He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him.  The writer’s point is: “You do the same.”  Consider Him who endured such hostility … lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.  Look to the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.

That is the Apostle Paul’s point in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

If you look merely at “the things which are seen” or “the things which are temporary” and all you see is the struggle of your circumstances, children who have broken your heart, job loss, health challenges, and sickness.  But focus on the things which are not seen, the things which are eternal.  Look the future reward.  Look to the joy beyond your circumstances.  Look to Jesus!

Look to the One who said in John 14:1-3, “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me.  In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also.”  Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus!

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 11:36-40 – Faith That Leads Us Through Many Dangers, Toils, and Snares

Grace For The Journey

Today we are going to pick up in verse 36 of Chapter 11.  We read last time about great victories in the faith.  We talked about how so many Old Testament believers were by faith delivered through many trials, Daniel was delivered from the lions’ den, David was delivered from Goliath.  I was reading Adrian Rogers last week.  He said about Daniel being thrown in the lions’ den, “God gave the lions lockjaw.”  And he added this pun, he said, “Old Daniel just got his Bible and used a lion for a pillow and started to ‘read between the lions!’”  Then, when talking about Goliath, Adrian said, “You know, old Goliath was amazed.  And you know why he was so amazed?  It was the first time anything like that ever entered his head!”  

Well, you could divide verses 30 and following largely into two groups . . .

1) People who by faith saw great victories; people who received grace to escape suffering; and people who by faith were protected.

2) People who by faith suffered great tragedies; people of who received grace to endure suffering; and people who by faith were persecuted.

The writer seeks to encourage Christians undergoing persecution and suffering.  Just prior to Chapter 11, this great chapter on faith, the writer said back in Chapter 10, verses 32-34, “But recall the former days in which, after you were illuminated, you endured a great struggle with sufferings: partly while you were made a spectacle both by reproaches and tribulations, and partly while you became companions of those who were so treated; for you had compassion on me in my chains, and joyfully accepted the plundering of your goods, knowing that you have a better and an enduring possession for yourselves in heaven.”  Then the writer goes on to provide a number of examples of people from the Old Testament who lived by faith, people who also “accepted the plundering of their goods,” people who knew “they had a better and an enduring possession for themselves in heaven.”

The title of today’s blog is, “Through Many Dangers, Toils, And Snares.”  Many of you will recognize that phrase as a line from the popular hymn, “Amazing Grace.”  Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come, ’tis grace hath brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home.”  The verses of our passage today take us through many dangers, toils, and snares and show how God gives grace and faith to persevere, faith to go on believing, faith to go on enduring, and God’s gift of grace and faith will “lead us home.”

Yesterday we saw that verse 35 stated, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”  Some scholars believe this phrase may refer to the intense suffering that occurred between the Testaments, a time referred to as the “intertestamental period,” the period in-between the Old and New Testaments.  There was a span of roughly 400 years from the end of the Old Testament to the beginning of the New Testament, from the last prophet Malachi to the appearance of John the Baptist.  Many believers were persecuted during that time and, while not recorded in the inspired Word of God, their persecution is recorded elsewhere.  The word in verse 35, the word “tortured” used in verse 35 is a verb, derived from the Greek word, “tympanum,” a word from which we get our English, tympani, as in the tympani, the drum.  This word torture means “to beat as one beats a drum.” 

Verse 36 declares, “Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment.”  Jeremiah was beaten and imprisoned (Jeremiah 20:2; 37:4; 15-21).  Micaiah (1 Kings 22:26-27) was imprisoned.  Hanani the prophet was imprisoned by King Asa (2 Chronicles 16:7-10).  These “others” are included here in the great roll call of faith.  They had faith even in the midst of persecution.   They did not suffer persecution because they did not have enough faith!  They had enough faith.  They had faith in the Lord yet, for reasons known only to God, they endured hostility, suffering, and persecution.

This is an important reminder given popular Christian culture’s frequent emphasis on “celebrity Christianity.”  We are grateful for all who come to Christ, but not everyone is going to be a celebrity.  Most will live in obscurity.  There are some Christians who are serving in missional contexts all over the world.  They are not Christians celebrities.  They are Christians of obscurity, unknown to most.  They do not have Facebook accounts with thousands of friends nor Twitter accounts with swelling numbers of followers who “retweet” their every utterance.  They are men and women of faith who love God more than anything.  They live by faith.  They look to the reward.

The folks mentioned in verse 36 had faith.   Yet, they were mocked, beaten, scourged, and imprisoned.  Many of our Christian brothers throughout the world are suffering for their faith in Christ.  They are our real heroes, those who often face persecution and suffering, but, continue on.

Most of us are very patriotic citizens, as well we should be.  God has “shed His grace” on America and we recognize our country’s exceptionalism is one of the reasons so many immigrants thrive here and flourish here.  We also believe that national security and a shrewd immigration policy is part and parcel of preserving the greatness of our nation.  At the same time, we must always remember that we are first citizens of heaven.  And our greater calling, indeed our greatest calling, is to get the Gospel into the heads and hearts of every single person of every tribe, tongue, and nation.  What a joy is our great commission!

While we recognize that the leadership of many Muslim countries is largely corrupt and evil, the people of each nation are not to be equated with their leaders.  We do not like people equating us with all of our political leaders, do we?  There are thousands of Christians in Middle Eastern countries like Iran and God is drawing still more image-bearers to Himself through the efforts of those who risk their lives to tell them about Christ.  There are people working to get the Good News of the Gospel into the lives of others. 

Verse 37 says, “They were stoned, they were sawn in two, were tempted, were slain with the sword. They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented.”  Jewish and Christian literature from outside the Bible records the death of Isaiah.  The early church fathers of the second and third centuries, Justin and Origen for example, record the tradition of Isaiah’s being sawn in half.  Other prophets were persecuted as mentioned here in verse 37.  Zechariah, for example, was put to death by stoning (2 Chronicles 24:21).  Some were “slain with the sword.”  This is a contrast here with verse 34.  Some through faith “escaped the edge of the sword” (verse 34) and some did not escape, but, “were slain with the sword (verse 37).”  

The phrase, “They wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins” speaks of the clothing of the prophets.  2 Kings 1:8 describes Elijah as wearing “a garment of hair, with a leather belt around his waist.”  And John the Baptist, you will recall, came preaching in the spirit of Elijah.  And John the Baptist dressed like Elijah.  The Bible says in Matthew 3:4, “Now John himself was clothed in camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.”  R. G. Lee used to say, “He ate honey, but he didn’t preach it!”  Jesus warns in Matthew 7:15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.”

Speaking of false prophets, the word “destitute” in verse 37 is inconsistent with the teachings of the so-called prophets of the health, wealth, and prosperity gospel.  These preachers and teachers wrongly teach that if you have enough faith you can fill your sinful self with all the money in the world, all the cars, boats, houses, and lands.  Their mantra is, “Just name it and claim it.  Name what you want, and you can claim if you only have faith to believe.”  Well, the Apostle James disagrees.  He says in James 4:3, “You don’t receive what you ask for because you ask for the wrong reasons, that you may consume it upon your lusts, or feed your selfish pleasures” (my paraphrase).”  No, it is not always God’s will that people prosper financially.

These folks in verse 37 had faith.  That is why they are listed here in the faith chapter.   They are in this chapter because they had faith.  Yet they are described as “destitute,” poor, penniless.  

Verse 38 states, “Of whom the world was not worthy.  They wandered in deserts and mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.”  The Old Testament records 100 prophets hiding in a cave in 1 Kings 18:4 and Elijah hid in a cave in 1Kings 19:9.  Like Noah, whose faithful actions “condemned the world” (verse 7).  To be approved by God is worth being despised by the world.

Then, these last two verses, verses 39 and 40, “And all these(all these Old Testament believers), having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise.”  These Old Testament believers mentioned in Chapter 11 “did not receive the promise.”  What is that?  Before we talk about that, let’s acknowledge that these Old Testament believers did receive a number of other promises and blessings from God: the promise of His presence, the promise of His guidance, the promise of His power, and so on.  But the writer here is telling us that these Old Testament believers merely caught a glimpse of the future blessings of God.  They lived by faith in what they knew would come to pass in the future.  Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.  It is seen through the eye of faith, the substance of things for which the heart yearns and knows will come to pass.

Abraham knew God would give him a son and that through Isaac all the nations should be blessed.  But Abraham did not live to see that day.  Nor did he live to see the fulness of the Promised Land, not just the land of Canaan, but the land beyond.  As the writer says in verse 10: “for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”  Or verse 16, he “desired a better, that is, a heavenly country.”

The Old Testament believers lived for a better hope to come, a future, greater hope. But they “did not receive the promise.”  They did not get to see the fulness of the promises fulfilled.  Not only did they not get to see the fulness of the promises concerning the heavenly country, but they also did not get to see the fulfillment of all the Messianic prophecies concerning Jesus Christ.  They did not get to experience the joys and wonders of the new covenant, a far more simpler way of worship than the old covenantal sacrificial system of priests, and bulls, and goats.  They did not receive that promise – nor do we even enjoy the fullest measure of that promise. 

Verse 40 declares, “God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  God was planning something far greater for the Old Testament believers, far greater for all who believe, namely the giving of His superior Son Jesus Christ!  And Christ comes for all who believe in Him.  God has provided something better for us – Jesus Christ and all the promises of God that are fulfilled in Him.  God has provided something better for us, for us all, believers of the Old and New Testaments, Jesus Christ and all that is ours through faith in Him.

So they – the believers of the Old Testament – “should not be made perfect apart from us.”  That is, the believers of the Old Testament, along with all of us believers of this age, will together be made perfect.  To “be made perfect” is to receive the future and final blessings of the glorified state.  Once Christ returns, we receive perfect, complete, glorified bodies, and live forever in the sinless, perfect, glorified state of future heaven.

And Lord haste the day when my faith shall be sight!

Three Faith Principles…

1) Persecution Is Part Of Christian Living.

Passages like this one in Hebrews are clear and straightforward reminders that persecution is the norm for those who follow Jesus.  It Is the normal Christian experience.  The Apostle Paul is especially clear on this principle.  If I were to ask how many of you were interested in living godly lives in the Lord Jesus, I suppose the majority of us would respond that we would.  The Bible says in 2 Timothy 3:12, “All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”

Our Lord Jesus Himself on numerous occasions reminds His followers that persecution and suffering are part of Christian living.  Near the end of His Sermon on the Mount He says in Matthew 7:13-14, “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”

Strait is the gate.  “Strait” is a good word but it is often heard incorrectly because some assume it is straight, s-t-r-a-i-g-h-t.  But it is not.  It is the word strait, s-t-r-a-i-t, a phrase that means “great difficulty, danger, and fear-inducing trouble and turmoil.”  Strait as in “the Straits of Magellan,” the dangerously narrow passage for sailors near the Southernmost tip of South America, a very difficult route to navigate because of the narrowness and because of unpredictable winds and currents.  

Jesus taught that the Christian life is like that.  To follow Jesus means going through difficult times full of unpredictable winds and currents of persecution and suffering.  It is not always a comfortable route.  But it “leads unto life” for the few who go that way.  In contrast to the strait and narrow gate, Jesus says, “Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat.”   That is the default position, the wide gate, the broad way.  There is a lot of room for people going that way, the way that continues on to hell.  Thank God He rescues us from the wide gate and the broad path!  

Persecution is part of Christian living.  God’s will often includes suffering.  We may expect it.  People often reject Christ so we should expect them at times to reject us.  But God is with us.  And while He may not always deliver Christians from suffering, He will absolutely deliver Christians through suffering. 

In other words, He will be with us through the experience even if it leads to death when He simply delivers us through suffering and ushers into HIs very presence.

The pain of persecution and suffering is worth it because of what lies ahead.  Just as a mother endures the pain of childbirth, knowing that at the end of her suffering, she will see the beauty and blessing of a newborn baby.  It is the goal that lies ahead that makes her suffering worth it all.  She can endure in suffering for the joy that is set before her.  This takes us to the second faith principle.  First, persecution is part of Christian living.  Secondly:

 2) You Can Endure Suffering When Captured And Captivated By Christ.

Jesus comforts His followers in Matthew 10:22 when He says, “And you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved.”  However bad the suffering, the payoff is great.  He who endures to the end is saved, saved in every sense and measure of the word.  For the Christian . . .

However great the tragedy,

It ends in triumph.

Remember that this is the writer’s greater point here.  He provides all these examples of the elders who obtained a good testimony, all these Old Testament witnesses who persevered in faith and endured the many challenges of faith.  He says then in the next chapter, Chapter 12, “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses (these Old Testament examples)…let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, (verse 2 now) looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross (what did He endure?  The cross), despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (verse 3 now) For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.”

You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ, when your eyes are fixed on Jesus, looking unto Jesus.  He endured hostility.  How?  Verse 2, “… for the joy that was set before Him.”  Jesus knew that His suffering was worth it.  However bad the suffering, the payoff was great.  The reward of His suffering was the accomplishing of the Father’s will to make possible the salvation of all who place their faith in Him.  And the writer says, “You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ,” looking unto Jesus, remembering that just as He persevered so you too can persevere.  

In essence that’s precisely what Jesus teaches later in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  In other words, what is the worse-case scenario for Christians who suffer persecution?  Being killed.  That sounds bad, but Jesus says it is just the killing of a body.  A body that is breaking down anyway.  That is all they can do.  They cannot touch your soul.  So, fear Him who has control over both your body and your soul.  Fear God!  

But if you are a child of God by faith in Christ, you are His precious child and therefore have no reason to fear your persecutors.  You are God’s child, and He will be with you and remain with you.  And in the worse-case scenario of death to the body, He will usher you into the greatness of your eternal reward.

This was the faith of Justin Martyr, one of the early martyrs for Christ of the second century.  Justin Martyr was a philosopher in Ephesus who came to know Jesus one day when an elderly Christian shared the Gospel with him.  Justin then began to teach others the way and was instrumental in discipling a great number of Christians.  In his “First Apology,” his first “defense,” he writes these words to the Roman authorities who sought to persecute him and his students, “If you respond to these words with hostility, you can do no more than to kill us, which will do no harm to us …”  The reason he could say that is because they did not have authority over both body and soul.  

We can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ.  Keep our eyes on Jesus, knowing where we are ultimately headed as we run the race set before us. We can do this because we know that one day we will “be made perfect” when we receive the ultimate promise of the joy of heaven and the joy of salvation in its fullest measure.

Persecution is part of Christian living.  You can endure suffering when captured and captivated by Christ.  Finally, number three . . .

3) Delight In Christ More Than Your Life.

Since the payoff of knowing Christ and living forever in a perfect place free from sin and temptation is worth more than anything this present world offers, since the payoff is better than anything – including the preservation of your frail human body – we should delight in Christ more than your life.  Remember that you are headed towards “a better resurrection.”  Remember that from verse 35?  “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance (they loved Christ and delighted in Christ more than their lives; how?), that they might obtain a better resurrection.”  Better than what?  Better than the temporary resurrections that did not last forever.  Women received their dead raised to life again.  The widow’s son was raised to life again through the prayers of Elijah.  Raised to life again, but then dying again.  Believers in Christ have a better resurrection to look forward to!  It is better because it means not remaining in this fallen world!

Delight in Christ more than your life because God delights in you.  Christ endured the cross for you.  He loves you.  That is important to remember when we wonder why God often allows such persecution and suffering.  God’s ways are often mysterious.  We do not always understand why He delivers some from suffering and others through suffering, but God always does what is right.  And whatever your suffering, God loves you.  He accepts you and values you because of who you are in Christ Jesus, His son.

If I were to hold up a hundred dollar bill and said, “Who wants this?”  Everyone would want it.  If I crumpled the hundred dollar bill into a ball and said, “Now who wants this?”  Everyone would still want it.  And if I threw it on the ground and stepped on it and stomped it and said, “Do you still want it?”  Every one of us would still want it.  Why? Because we know that whatever happens to that hundred dollar bill, it is still worth a hundred dollars!  It does not lose its value and worth even if it is been crumpled up, stepped on, and stomped upon. And you Christian, even when you undergo immense suffering and persecution, and the world crumples you up, and you are stepped on and stomped upon, you are still worth everything to your Father.  You hold your value because you are in Christ, the perfect righteousness of Christ means you are always loved and accepted and approved of by your heavenly Father.  So . . .

Have faith in God when your pathway is lonely.
He sees and knows all the way you have trod;
Never alone are the least of His children;
Have faith in God, have faith in God.

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 11:32-35 – A Faith That Leads Us To Love Jesus, Live for Jesus, and Look to Jesus . . . A Faith That Helps Us Live Against All Odds

Grace For The Journey

  We have been spending some time in chapter 11 learning all we can about faith.  What is faith?  The writer opens the chapter in verse 1 with a definition.  He says, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  From definition he moves to illustration.  In the second verse he says, “For by (faith) the elders obtained a good testimony” or, put another way, “by faith many of the Old Testament saints are good examples, good illustrations for us to show us how to live by faith.”   We have learned from the examples of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Moses, and so on all the way through chapter 11 and right up to where we left off yesterday at verse 31 with the example of Rahab.

We pick up today at verse 32 where our study.  I love the way the writer begins verse 32!  He says, “And what more shall I say?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, and also of David and Samuel“ – and picking up the pace significantly, he reminds me of the way I would conclude those essay tests I took in school!  In the beginning you are taking your time writing at length about one particular topic or person and elaborating and embellishing and all is well – then the teacher interrupts and says, “10 minutes!”  Suddenly you realize you have so much more to fit into the essay in order to answer the question!  Like a madman you are writing away as fast as you can, stringing everything together in a hasty attempt to include everything before time’s up.  

The writer here is like, “What more shall I say?!  I am out of time!  I cannot really go into detail to tell you about Gideon and Barak and Samson” and so on.  It is good that the Holy Spirit does give us enough to learn about these folks and others as we learn to have “Faith Against All Odds” in verses 32-35.

This passage is about a people who had faith against all odds.  However difficult the path before them, they lived by faith and God honored their faith and gives us their faith as examples for us that we too may live by faith this this day, this upcoming week, and throughout our lives.  As we go through these verses we will see what God has for us.

Verse 32 says, “And what more shall I say?  For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets.”  It strikes me that the writer mentions these six persons with the assumption that we will know who they are.  He takes for granted that he can mention them in passing with no additional comment.  In other words, the writer assumes that his readers are familiar with the Old Testament.  He assumes that we know our Bibles.

Do we?  Could the writer assume that we all know our Bibles as well as he thought the first century readers knew theirs?  If not, why not?  Are we reading it daily?  Are we reading whole chapters, books, and getting familiar with the overall content?  I thought of this poem this week.  It is an adaptation of Amos R. Wells’ poem, I Supposed I Knew My Bible

Reading piecemeal, hit and miss,

Now a bit of John or Matthew,

Now a snatch of Genesis,

Certain chapters of Isaiah

Certain Psalms (the twenty-third!);

Twelfth of Romans, First of Proverbs –

Yes, I thought I knew the Word!

But I found that thorough reading

Was a better thing to do,

And the way to became familiar,

When I read the Bible through.

These six folks that the writer mentions in this passage cover a time span from the Judges to the early Kings; the first four are from the Book of Judges and the last two, David and Samuel, are covered biographically in the Books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.  Then, the writer appends the phase: “and the prophets,” people like Elijah and Elisha, Isaiah, and Jeremiah taking us up through the end of the biblical history of the Old Testament.  He certainly is covering a lot of ground!

These first four persons – Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah are listed not in chronological order, but in order of importance in the Book of Judges.  And the “judges” of the Book of Judges were not judges in the sense of popular usage today.  They did not sit in a courtroom and “hold court.”  They were “deliverers” that God raised up to deliver His people from the enemies around them.  Deliverers, or “saviors.”  Like everything else – and everyone else – in the Old Testament, these judges, deliverers, or saviors pointed forward to a greater deliverer, a better savior, a Savior with a capital ’S,’ our Savior the Lord Jesus Christ.

We have noted nearly every day while making our way, verse-by-verse through chapter 11, these individuals are by no means perfect!  Especially these judges.  Reading about their lives involves reading about all kinds of bizarre behavior, deception, depravity, and head-scratching history.  Every single one of those judges, or deliverers was a sinner.   But, when they exercised true faith, they were a spot-on example for us – same as Samuel, David, and the prophets.  The writer is not saying, “imitate these people in chapter 11 in every way!”  Rather, “Here are some good examples of faith.  As these folks had faith, you have faith.”  That is the idea.  And what did they do through faith? 

Verse 33 and 34 tell us.  What follows in verses 33 and 34 are the things they did “subdued (or conquered)kingdoms,” “worked righteousness”(or justice), “obtained promises” (Gideon was promised victory, Barak was promised victory, and David obtained promises as well, some fulfilled earlier, some to be fulfilled later)stopped the mouths of lions (reminds us of Samson and Davis who fought lions and of Daniel’s mighty deliverance from the lion’s den).”

Verse 34 goes on to say, “Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.  Quenching the violence of fire” probably refers to the three Jewish young men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  You can read about them later in the Book of Daniel, read about how God delivered them from the fiery furnace. They had faith and won the victory.  Others “escaped the edge of the sword” like David running from Saul or Elijah the prophet running from Jezebel. 

Speaking of Elijah, verse 35 says, “Women received their dead raised to life again.  Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection.”  Women like the widow of Zarephath whose son had died and the Prophet Elijah had faith that God would raise him from the dead (1 Kings 17).  And God did!  Or the prophet Elisha, who in 2 Kings 4 the Bible tells us about how Elisha raised the Shunammite woman’s son from the dead.  Elisha had faith and won the victory.

But these were merely temporary resurrections.  Those who were “raised to life again” died again.  That is why verse 35 refers to “a better resurrection.”  The writer says, “Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection,” that is, better than these resurrections in the Old Testament, a resurrection that means life forever, never to die again.  We will deal with that phrase, “others were tortured, not accepting deliverance” tomorrow, Lord willing, as it goes best with the remainder of the chapter. 

What can we learn from these four verses?  Here is what I have learned and I want to pass this on to you.  I can have faith with regard to three things . . .

1) Whatever I Face.

This is the greatest takeaway of the chapter; arguably the main point of the entire book.  Remember the historical context of the Book of Hebrews is a group of Christians who had come out of first century Judaism, believers under the old covenant, believers who had heard the Gospel and said, “Yes” to Jesus Christ.   

Shortly after their confession of faith in Jesus Christ they began to undergo persecution for their faith.  Families and friends who did not share their faith in Christ and remained under the old covenant worship system rejected them.  They were expelled from the temple, cut off from their former friendships and support system.  They were persecuted.  Because of their persecution they were considering going back to their old ways of living and worshiping, back to the old covenant.

The writer of Hebrews has been telling them throughout this letter, “Don’t do that!”  Nothing is better than Jesus!  Nothing!  Jesus is better than the old covenant, better than the angels, better than the prophets, better than Aaron, and better than Moses.  Jesus is better than animal sacrifices – because each animal sacrifice pointed forward to Him, Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

The writer’s point here in chapter 11 is, “Look at all these folks who lived by faith!”  They are examples for you and me.  They lived by faith no matter what!  No matter what they faced, they trusted God and move forward by faith.  They endured challenges, faced obstacles, walked through “unknowns,” stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, and so on. 

If they could have faith whatever they faced, so you and I can have faith whatever we face.  There are many “unknowns” for each of us this coming week.  Each of us will step out in faith this week as we leave our place of refuges and enter into our everyday workaday lives. 

You can have faith whatever you face. 

The God who was with Daniel

In the lion’s den,

With Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

In the fiery furnace,

With David facing Goliath –

The same God is with you in your trials.

You can have faith whatever you face.  I can have faith whatever I face. 

2) No Matter My Flaws.

Every single one of these persons mentioned in our passage was flawed.  Gideon was flawed – uncertain at times about God’s leadership.  David was flawed – he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the death of her husband Uriah.  Samson was sexually promiscuous and often acted in ways that make you shake your head in wonder.  These folks were flawed people with a past – and still growing in their understanding of what it meant to serve the one true and living God.  As the writer puts it: “out of weakness they were made strong.”  God can work the same way in your life.  You can have faith no matter your flaws.  Out of your weakness He will make you strong.

That does not mean that we just live in our sin.  As the Apostle Paul says in Romans 6:2, “How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?”  When we have sinned, we confess that sin.  Always and throughout each day we go to the Lord and say, “God forgive me for what I just did, what I just said, what I just thought.  I confess that sin and ask forgiveness.”  The Bible teaches in 1 John 1:9 that if we confess our sins God are faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Thank God for always forgiving me because He always see me in His Son, safely clothed in the righteousness of Christ!  You can have faith no matter your flaws.  Be encouraged by the truth that these believers in the Old Testament were not perfect – just like you!  Imperfect beings trusting in a perfect God.

Remember that the grace of the Gospel does apply to you if you believe.  So many Christians feel as though the grace of God’s forgiveness applies to everyone except them.  Like God poured out His grace upon David when he sinned, Samson when he sinned, and others when they sinned, but somehow it cannot be true for them.  I am telling you it is true!  God loves you no matter your flaws.  He wants to work in your life whatever mistakes you have made, whatever failures, whatever shame, and whatever guilt you feel have separated you from the love of God.  Confess that sin, turn to Christ, and live in the victory and freedom of forgiveness.  God delights in using people who know they are broken. 

You can have faith whatever you face.  You can have faith no matter your flaws.  Let God work in your life as you look to the future. 

3) Look to the Future. 

This is the main takeaway for persevering this week, for endurance, for getting through the hard times whatever you face, whatever your flaws – look to the future.  Look to the future and live with an eye to the future.  Every one of these Old Testament believers lived by a faith that looked to the future.  They believed the promises of God and looked forward by faith to the fulfillment of those promises – that everything pointed to the Lord Jesus and that every promise was fulfilled in Him.

That is why verse 35 ends as it does, mentioning believers who were tortured, not accepting deliverance – How?! – By looking forward by faith to the future, when they would “obtain a better resurrection.”  They knew that, worse case scenario, they would be killed and leave this sinful, fallen world behind.  Their bodies tortured, beaten, killed, and buried.  But that is not the end!  They knew they would obtain a better resurrection.  They knew God would bring their souls safely to Him in heaven and that one day He would even raise their mortal beaten bodies and change them into a glorious body at the final resurrection.

A faith that looks to the future will live for what matters. 

A faith that looks to the future will love what matters. 

A faith that looks to the future will love God more than life.

Do you love God more than your own life?  Do you love Him more than your family?  More than your savings?  More than your money?  Love Him more than your treasures and toys?  Love the eternal city more than this present world?  Look to the future as you live in the present.

I have been nearsighted since I was in high school.  Nearsightedness means you can see near better than you can see far.  Things far away are harder to see, blurry.  I have worn glasses and contact lenses for years helping me see things far away more clearly.  When I hit my mid-40s I have developed something common to folks as they age.  I started to develop “presbyopia,” a word that just means it is harder for our eyes to focus on things up close.  I had to go with a multifocal glasses and contact lens at first.  These lenses have a mixture of both near and far.  Then I got multi-vision lenses – these lenses not only help me see more clearly both near and far, but they have also been used by God to remind me how to live as a follower of Jesus.  Through my spiritual eyes that God has given me, I can see where I am going.  I can look to the future and see with clear spiritual eyesight the future resurrection and all the promises that are yes in Jesus Christ.  I am getting there.  It is up ahead.  Out there in the future.  It is a reality that is certain.  And I can see it through the same “spiritual lens” that allows me to see up close. 

I can allow what I see far away

To inform how I live up close.

As we noted a few days ago: “Let the hereafter shape what you’re after here.”  I can have faith by looking to the future as I live in the present.  That is what it means to follow Jesus.

We follow Him in this world.  Through death into life everlasting He passed and through faith we follow Him there.  Faith leads us to love Jesus, live for Jesus, and look to Jesus!

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 11:29-31 – Faith in the Promise-Keeping God

  Grace For The Journey

We are studying our way through the Book of Hebrews, verse-by-verse and we have spent a several days in Chapter 11, the great “roll call of faith” as it is often called.  Like a coach inspiring a room of athletes by making them watch videos of great football plays over and over again, or a baseball pitcher, or a boxer, or a golfer watching the video and learning what to emulate, and how to mirror or copy all the right moves – so the writer of Hebrews points to all of these Old Testament believers and says, “Look at their faith!  See how they believed!  See how they obeyed!  Now, get out there and do the same!”  That is how we are to read chapter 11.  It is not that these people are perfect or even that they are great moral leaders.  They had their faults and we have talked about a number of them in past blogs.  But what the writer of Hebrews is doing is pointing out what they did right.  And where their faith was worth pointing out, the writer points it out!  And he says, “Have faith like that.  Obey like that.”

We have learned from the faith of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, and others.  And we left off yesterday with Moses as Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt.  There is a shift from verse 28 to verse 29, a shift from individual faith to corporate faith.  There is a shift from the faith of Moses as an individual person, to the faith of the Israelites a collective people.  We note that in the pronoun “they” in verse 29.  We will study verses 29-31 today.  In saying that, let me go on to say that there is a lot here and we have been slowing our pace a bit so that we can learn from these Old Testament believers.  We should take care not to become so familiar with the Old Testament stories that we become jaded and dull overly familiar with these stories as though there were nothing new to learn from them.  My prayer is that these examples will move us to greater heights and living that will bring greater glory to God.  

We ought to read the Word of God and listen to the Word of God every time as though we had never read it or heard it before!  When we do that, God just opens it up to our heart.  It has often been said that “love is not just something you have but it is something you live.”  Love is not just a noun, love is a verb.  Love is something you do.  In the same way, faith is not just something you have but it is something you live. Faith is not just a noun, faith is a verb.  Faith is something you do.  Faith is both belief and obedience.

The Apostle James notes this truth in his letter, especially in Chapter 2, verse 14 where he asks, “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?”  The implication is that it does not profit at all.  A faith that does not result in obedience is a useless faith.”

The writer of Hebrews is showing us that God is a promise-keeping God. He promises His people great things and He intends to keep His promises.  All He requires of His people is that they both believe and obey.  Faith is both having trust and obeying.  As the hymn-writer puts it: “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way, to be happy in Jesus, but to (both) trust and obey.”

What does obedient faith look like?  How does obedient faith work?  Let me share three things in answering those questions . . .

Obedient Faith Is . . .

1) Faith no Matter the Peril – Verse 29.

Faith no matter how dangerous, how daunting, or how disturbing is the path before us.  Faith no matter the peril.  One of my life verses is Proverbs 3:5-6, “Trust the Lord with all of your heart.  Do not lean upon your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  I have them posted in my office and frequently point them out as I am doing pastoral counseling.    Nowhere is His directing the paths of His people more evident than in the verse before us.

God directed the path of His people as they crossed the Red Sea, an actual historical event that occurred some 1,400 years before Christ.  The background of the narrative is found in Exodus 14.  This chapter records how God miraculously delivered His people from bondage in Egypt, forced slavery, and mistreatment in Egypt.  After the 10 plagues, in a demonstration of His glory, God uses Moses to stand up to Pharaoh and God works through the events to lead His people out of Egyptian bondage.  We noted yesterday that Moses’ name means “to draw out” because Pharaoh’s daughter drew him out of the water when he was a baby. 

You can go later and review the history of how God’s people escaped the Egyptian task masters and fled from the Egyptian army as they went out of Egypt.  They do not get too far down the road before the Egyptians came after them with horses and chariots.  As God’s people approach the vast, Red Sea, it appears as if it is all over, and their deliverance may well be a short-lived deliverance!  They will never get to the Promised Land now!  How will they cross this huge sea to keep ahead of the Egyptians in their run for freedom?  The theological answer is that they will cross by faith.  Verse 29 captures the theology explanation for how they crossed, “By faith they passed through the Red Sea as by dry land, whereas the Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”  All the details of that crossing are found in Exodus 14. There we read how Moses stood before the people there at the sea.  The waves crashing this way and that and their way forward blocked.  Initially, the people are frightened.  They cry out to their leader, to Moses, and say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you took us out here to the wilderness to die?”  That is a sarcastic question.  They are really implying that it is all over.  The Bible says that Moses said to the people in Exodus 14:13, “Do not be afraid.  Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will accomplish for you today.  For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall see again no more forever.”  Then Moses raises the staff that God had given him, holds it up high above the waters, and God works a mighty miracle.  The sea divides in two.  A wall of water on their right and on their left as they passed through the Red Sea on dry land.  That took faith, didn’t it?  I mean at any moment it would seem, miraculous as it was to have a wall of water at their right and left that they could come back together at any moment.  But God held the waters as God’s people passed through the perilous sea.   And after all the people had passed through safely, what happened next?  The Egyptian army comes running from behind.  All of Pharaoh’s men with their chariots in hot pursuit.  They attempt also to pass through on dry land, but what happened?  Verse 29 gives the terse summation, “The Egyptians, attempting to do so, were drowned.”  God brings the waters back together over the Egyptians, the horsemen, the chariots, and every single Egyptian dies.  The great movie classic “The 10 Commandments,” by Cecil B. Demille captures the scene graphically – with special effects that cause modern viewers to smile, at times, but pretty impressive for 1956.  Charlton Heston is a pretty convincing Moses.

The whole biblical narrative is concluded in the last verse of Exodus 14:31, “Thus Israel saw the great work which the Lord had done in Egypt; so the people feared the Lord, and believed the Lord and His servant Moses.”  And that is what the writer of Hebrews emphasizes, that the people believed the Lord as He spoke through His servant Moses.  He does not here bring up again how they lapsed later on into unbelief and disobedience.  He has addressed that in earlier chapters, namely Hebrews 3 and 4.  Again, his point in Chapter 11 is to call attention to when God’s people acted in a way worthy of imitating.  When they crossed the Red Sea, they had faith, faith no matter the peril.  

As they ran across that recently dried-up sea floor they had faith that God would hold back the waters.  It would seem at any moment that the wall of water on their right and left could come back crashing down upon them.  But God holds the water back in keeping with HIs promise to His people.  And when the unbelieving Egyptians try to pass through, God unleashes His wrath upon them, bringing the waters of judgment crashing down upon them.

Water in the Bible is often used as a judgment upon unbelievers. 

  • Recall the earliest act of God’s judgement in flooding the entire earth.  The waters sweeping away all unbelieving and unrighteous people, with only Noah and his family escaping that judgment in an ark. 
  • Then you have the waters of judgment here in the story of God’s people escaping judgment through the Red Sea and that sea engulfing the unbelievers. 
  • There is also Jonah.  Thrown into the sea, and sinking down into the waters of judgment before God rescues him from the waters by way of a big fish of all things.  
  • Christian baptism pictures union with the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  It is a sign of beginning the Christian faith.  Death to the old us.  Raised to walk in a new way of life.  That is pictured in baptism.  The baptismal waters serve as a picture of salvation from judgment.  We are drawn up out of the waters as a picture of our being drawn up and out of death.  Praise God!
  • It is the truth of the old Gospel hymn: “I was sinking deep in sin far from the peaceful shore, very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more, but the Master of the sea heard my despairing cry, from the waters lifted me, now safe am I.”

Have you been lifted from the waters of sin?  The Red Sea crossing is a beautiful foretaste of redemption through Jesus Christ.  Jesus lifts us up and saves us from the penalty of sin.  And how does this gift come to us?  By faith.  Remember verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please God.”  Believe in Him and go on believing in Him.  Faith no matter the peril.  Faith no matter how scary the path appears before you this week.  Remember God is with you. 

If you go back and read Exodus 14 you will read about how God manifested His presence with the people in a pillar of cloud and the Angel of the Lord, reminders that He was always right there with them.  This is the same God who promises to be right there with you, Christian.  He will never leave you nor forsake you.  He is with you always.  Whatever you face this week, however daunting, however scary, God is with you.  Have faith, no matter the peril.  Number two:

2) Faith No Matter The Plan – Verse 30.

One of the most delightful things about how God works is that His ways are not our ways.  This is clearly stated in Isaiah 55:8-9, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.  ‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.’”  The way God carries out His will is often mysterious and curious to us.  He acts this way in a demonstration of His glory, power, and sovereignty.  Verse 30 records a significant battle God’s people fought not long after Joshua leads them into the Promised Land.  We simply read the conclusion of the event in verse 30, “By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.”  If we knew nothing about this event from the Book of Joshua we would just assume it was a typical battle.  But it was not typical at all!  You know the song, right?!    Catchy tune!  But how did the walls come tumbling down.  The writer says, “By faith.”  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they were encircled for seven days.

Joshua 6 gives the story.  It was an interesting battle plan to say the least!  God tells the people to walk around the city seven times.  Each morning the people got up, the priests went before them with the rams horns and the ark of the covenant ahead of them, and the army behind.  But they do not fight or speak.  They just march around the city.  And after going around the entire city and then they went back to their tents.   They did that every day for a week.  Then on the seventh day, they were to go around the city seven times.  After the seventh time, the priests were to blow the trumpets and the people were to shout the battle cry and then the walls came tumbling down.  

Interesting way to fight, isn’t it?  But imagine the Canaanites living inside the city of Jericho watching this go on for seven days.  They have got to be thinking, “What in the world is happening with these folks?!”  Maybe they laughed the first day or so.  After all, the city of Jericho was heavily fortified.  But I will bet as the days went by, they became more fearful of the way this was all looking.  Some of them had heard about the One True and Living God.  Some had heard about how He brought His people safely across the Red Sea.  I am sure the people living in Jericho became fearful as they watched God’s people marching around the city.

Jericho was heavily fortified.  Like most big cities in the ancient near east there was a double wall, both an outer and an inner wall.  And when the walls came tumbling down, Jericho 6:20 tells us that the walls “fell down flat,” a Hebrew phrase indicating that the wall “fell beneath itself.”  Archaeological evidence suggests that is exactly what happened.  The two walls and the outer wall there was supported by a stone retaining wall.  Excavation reveals that, as the mud-brick wall fell, it fell down flat, depositing bricks down at the base of the stone retaining wall.  Archaeologist Bryant Wood (Associates for Biblical Research) explains the significance, “Excavations have shown that the bricks from the collapsed walls formed a ramp against the retaining wall so that the Israelites could merely climb up over the top.”

The Bible is very precise in its description of how the Israelites entered the city: “the people went up into the city, every man straight before him [i.e., straight up and over],” (Joshua 6:20). The Israelites had to go up, and that is what archaeology has revealed. They had to go from ground level at the base of the wall to the top of the rampart in order to enter the city.  That is unbelievable!  The impenetrable, unassailable fortress could be surmounted after all.  How?  By faith.  God’s people believed that He would do just as He said.  He would keep His promise to deliver the city to them.

Why do you suppose God used this seemingly ridiculous battle plan?  He told them how everything was going to happen.  Circle the city each day for a week.  Just march around it.  I am sure it did not seem to make much sense to the people at first.  God’s ways are not our ways.  I am sure there was some snickering from inside the city wall.  You remember that this week, when unbelievers snicker at you, too.  

This mighty destruction of the city

Is such that only God can get

The glory for its demise.

Clearly God did this and He did it through the faith of His people.  

3) Faith No Matter The Person – Verse 31.

This brief narrative tells us about one occupant of the city of Jericho, an interesting person, a lady named Rahab.  But she was no lady, if you know what I mean.  She was a shady lady, at best.  She is described as a harlot, that as an archaic word for prostitute.  She had a past.  But look as we look at the next verse – What a surprise! 

Verse 31 states, “By faith the harlot Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe (or obey), when she had received the spies with peace.”  This prostitute is listed among the great “roll call of faith!”  Faith works no matter the person.  No matter who you are, what you have done, the moment you exercise faith, God works.  Without faith it is impossible to please Him, but with faith, all things are possible to him who believes.

Joshua 2 tells us that Rahab became a believer in the One True and Living God.  She had heard about God’s mighty works, namely His delivering the Israelites through the Red Sea.  Word had reached Rahab there in Jericho and she believed.  The Israelites sent out two men to spy out the land, especially the city of Jericho.  Someone sees them and tells the king.  Providentially, God leads the two spies to Rahab who hides them in her house, literally hiding them in the stalks of flax that formed the roof of her house.  When the authorities come knocking at her door, she tells them that yes, they had come by, but were no longer here.  She tells them that they had left at evening when it was dark.  Then she goes back to the men and says, “We have heard all about you all, about your God, about how he has delivered you through the Red Sea.  Many of us here in Jericho are shaking in our boots for fear.”  Rahab makes this strong profession of faith in Joshua 2:11, “The Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  Rahab believes.  And God begins a work of grace in her heart, changing her as the days go by.

She sends the spies off to safety, letting them down the wall by a rope through her window because her house was one of those that was built on the city wall.  And she tells them to flee to the mountain nearby for a couple days until it is safe to return to the Israelite camp.  But first she asks that when they come back to destroy the city, that she and her family be spared, be saved from the destruction.  The spies agree and they tell her to tie a scarlet cord in the window through which she had let them down.  This way when the Israelite army returns to take the city, they will know which house Rahab lives in and will avoid that one, seeing the red cord hanging from the window.

Let me quote again from Archaeologist Bryant Wood, “The German excavation of 1907–1909 found that on the north a short stretch of the lower city wall did not fall as everywhere else.  A portion of that mud-brick wall was still standing to a height of over two meters (eight feet).  What is more, there were houses built against the wall!  It is quite possible that this is where Rahab’s house was. Since the city wall formed the back wall of the houses, the spies could have readily escaped.  From this location on the north side of the city it was only a short distance to the hills of the Judean wilderness where the spies hid for three days (Joshua 2:16, 22).  Real estate values must have been low here, since the houses were positioned on the embankment between the upper and lower city walls.  Not the best place to live in time of war!  This area was no doubt the overflow from the upper city and the poor part of town, perhaps even a slum district.”

I just love the way archaeology confirms what we already know to be true when we read God’s Word.

Faith no matter the person.  Even a prostitute can believe and be changed.  You may feel unworthy of God’s grace.  You have sinned and you feel dirty and guilty.  If God can work through the harlot Rahab, he can work in and through you.  Just turn to God.  Believe in Jesus.  Accept Christ and begin walking by faith.  God will change you, grow you, and do mighty things through you.  Faith no matter the person.

We have talked about faith today.  Faith no matter the peril, no matter the plan, no matter the person.  Some of you are saying, “I need faith to live this week.  I have got things coming up and things I fear and things I do not know how they are going to work out.  I need faith.”  Right now, you can say in your spirit, “Dear God, help me live by faith right now.  I surrender.  I trust you.  I believe you will do the right thing in me and through me.”

Others of you have been trusting in the wrong things, living for the wrong things.   You need to repent.  Let go of sin and turn to Jesus.  Trust Jesus Christ who saves you from the judgment to come, who “draws you out” of the judgment upon your sin, just as God drew His people out of the judgment of waters of the Red Sea.  Trust Him as your Lord and Savior.

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.”