Monthly Archives: May 2019

Hebrews 6:9-20 – Anchor Down to Hope

One of the most common themes in the New Testament is the hope of the gospel. The hope of the gospel is not a promise that this will be your best life now. The hope of the gospel is not a life of health and wealth and prosperity; it’s not. As a matter of fact, the hope of the gospel is that there is a promise of something more magnificent than you can possibly even imagine—but it won’t happen in this life. You’re going to get to the finish line, and all you can do is believe by faith that God tells the truth, and that the fulfillment of that promise is yet to come. That’s what we want to talk about here. If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews 6 verse 9-20.
 
The writer of Hebrews has issued a pretty strong warning concerning Christians that don’t seem to grow up. They just remain immature. He’s even wondering, “Is it possible you don’t really believe?” But then starting in chapter 6, verse 9, the tone changes dramatically. It goes from this stern, almost harsh warning, to much more pastoral. He says, verse 9, But beloved… This is theonly time in Hebrews the writer uses the term beloved—dear friends—it’s a real shift in emotion here. Verse 9:
 
But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you, and things that accompany salvation, though we are speaking in this way. (*NASB, Hebrews 6:9) 
 
So even though he’s offered this warning, he does have a concern.  In speaking to these people he says, “But for most of you, we do believe you truly believe; you have been changed by the power of Jesus, though we are wanting you to experience more of that which goes with your salvation,” what we would call the hope of the gospel. Why does he believe that? Verse 10: 
 
For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name, in having ministered and in still ministering to the saints. 
 
What he’s saying is the evidence in your life makes it clear that you do believe; you are a person of faith. God is changing you. Most scholars think that the reference to the saints is a reference to the early stages of persecution. People are being marginalized; perhaps some are being imprisoned, awaiting execution. In the ancient world often times the only way someone in prison had the necessities of life is if someone brought them adequate food, water and care. So imagine this: these people are marginalized, even imprisoned, and their fellow brothers and sisters in Christ actually come out themselves as fellow Christians just in order to minister to these people—to serve them, to take care of them. They put their own lives at risk! How much faith and courage does that take? And so the writer of Hebrews is saying, “You’ve clearly demonstrated that you’re in, that you believe, that this matters to you; you’re committed to it. It’s this idea that they need to take great security in the reality of their salvation. 
 
Coming out of the early part of Hebrews 6, it’s easy for people to get their insecurities all stirred up again. Think of it this way: if this morning someone gave you ten compliments but one person criticized you, what would you stew about all afternoon?  It’s the criticism. So you come across ten passages that clearly teach your security in Christ, and then you bump into Hebrews 6, and suddenly people are tormented by the thought that, “Maybe that’s me; maybe I’ll fall away; maybe I won’t get in.” At some point we must recognize we do believe! Some people say you can’t really know for sure. Yes you can! First John 5 says: “These things are written that you may know (emphatic) that you have (present tense) eternal life.” You know that; you know what you believe; you know your life; you know the outflow of your life, the ways God is growing and changing you. At some point you settle the issue, and you begin to grow and mature. There is no reason to spend the next ten years wondering, “Am I in or out?” 
 
To use the agricultural illustration at the end of our text last time in Hebrews 6, in verses 7 and 8:  It’s true, the farmer plants the seed and there is a waiting period to see what’s going to grow.  Is it a crop or is it weeds? But when a farmer gets to July, he’s not still guessing; he’s not still wondering. It’s Corn! Look at it.  It’s corn, and the implication of that is, “Get busy; there’s a harvest coming.” So it’s wrestling and it’s looking in the mirror and realizing, “I do believe; I know I believe, and I’m in; I see the evidence of Christ all over my life. So let’s work through our insecurities; let’s settle the issue and let’s move on. There’s a lot we need to learn. We’ve got to grow; we’ve got to get stronger. Life can get very, very hard. That’s the concern of the writer. These people are headed into severe persecution. There is much more to learn and to grow and to understand. And so he identifies, really what James says: “A faith that saves is a faith that works,” and all you have to do is look at your own life and realize, “I can see all the ways God is at work in me; I know I’m in, so let’s move on!” Verse 11: 
 
And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence so as to realize (experience) the full assurance of hope until the end… 
 
The same diligence—how much faith, how much belief, how much courage did it take for these people to take care of their fellow brothers and sisters in a very dangerous culture? He says. “Apply that same diligence to believing the truth, to holding on to it, to experiencing this hope of the gospel to the end. Now that is an interesting phrase. Basically what he just said is not, “This is your best life now.” It’s not, “Hang in there; it’s a life of prosperity.” “ It’s “Hang in there; embrace this hope all the way to the finish line.” What’s implied there is, “You’re not going to see the fulfillment of the promise; you’re not going to experience everything that your soul longs for in this life. That is why you hope all the way to the finish life, believing that God tells that the truth and that He will fulfill His promise in the life to come. That’s the hope of the gospel. Verse 12: 
 
…so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 
 
This word sluggish is the same word used in chapter 5, verse 11, translated dull of hearing. It’s the idea of being lazy, of being unmotivated.  So don’t be sluggish about this; don’t be lazy or unmotivated but be imitators of those who through faith (that’s belief) and patience (literally patience is longsuffering). So it’s this idea of longsuffering, of patience over time. It’s not instantaneous; it’s not life on demand; it’s long and it’s hard! So you believe, and you hang in there. 
 
Through faith and patience inherit…meaning basically to experience the promise. So he is reminding us that the hope of the gospel is ultimately in the life to come. This life can get hard; it can get confusing; it can get painful; it can break your heart again and again. So what do you offer people that are headed into severe persecution? You offer them hope, that no matter what happens, what lies ahead for you is glorious! So he says, “Imitate the great heroes of the faith who demonstrated belief and longsuffering all the way to the finish line. Verse 13: 
 
For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself… 
 
So Abraham is the prime illustration. Abraham would have been a hero of faith to these people, so he is the example of one to imitate.  God made a promise to Abraham when he was living in a relatively modern, safe city to pack your bags and to move, “Move to a place I will tell you later, and just trust Me. But here’s what I tell you, I will be your God; you will be My people. I will multiply you and make you a great nation and out of your seed will come One who will bless the nations of the world. Abraham, with remarkable faith, agrees…he agrees! 
 
The idea of God swearing by Himself picks up the idea that in the ancient world they didn’t sign contracts but rather two people got together and made an oath, an agreement. But part of the agreement was that you would pledge an oath by someone of greater authority or rank then yourself. The idea was, “If I fail to make the commitment, someone with more power or authority than me can hold me accountable and make me keep the agreement.” So when God made a promise to Abraham, “Who is higher than God?” Answer: “No one!” So the only option God had is that He made an oath by Himself…that He, God would hold Himself accountable to keep the promise. Verse 14: 
 
…  saying, “I WILL SURELY BLESS YOU AND I WILL SURELY MULTIPLY YOU.”  
 
So the promise was made to Abraham in Genesis 12 and re-upped in Genesis 15.  Abraham goes ten years and nothing has happened. God promised but…no children…nothing, and then Abraham’s wife comes up with the idea that he should sleep with her handmaid and then they would count that child. God shows up and says, “We’re not going to do this that way. I made a promise; I’ll keep the promise; just trust Me.” So Abraham waited fifteen more years. Now just stop and think about this. This is not instantaneous; this is not life on demand. God made a promise, and you wait without a child for twenty-five years until, humanly speaking, it was virtually impossible for the promise to be fulfilled. But eventually God keeps His promise and Abraham has a son who they name Isaac. You get to Genesis 22 and God asks Abraham to take his one and only son up on the mountain and to sacrifice him for God. With unbelievably remarkable faith, Abraham agrees; he obeys. The text is clear that he was fully willing to go through with it and God stops him and says, “Abraham, now I know you trust Me and you won’t hold anything back.” We also understand that was but a picture— and if you’re horrified by that picture—don’t forget that is only a shadow of what actually did happen when God Himself would offer His own Son on that same mountain in order to provide our salvation. But for Abraham, God uttered the words that are quoted in our text in verse 14, and God once again re-upped His promise. “Abraham, I made a promise to you and I swear by Myself I will keep it.” Verse 15: 
 
And so, having patiently waited, he obtained the promise. 
 
So what does that mean? Well, it means that after patiently waiting twenty-five years, he finally had a son. But in order for him to become a great nation, for the promise to be fulfilled, he needed lots of grandchildren. So how long did he wait for the first grandchild? Sixty more years! Twenty-five for his first son, another sixty more years for a grandchild! Shortly before his death, Abraham has a grandson but he never saw the fulfillment of the promise. He just saw little glimpses. He would go to his grave believing, by faith, God tells the truth. “He’ll do it!” But he did not see it in his lifetime. Did he become a great nation? Yes he did! Through his seed did the Messiah come and provide a salvation that would change the nations of the world? Yes! Did God keep His word? Yes, He did! Did Abraham see it? No, he didn’t. He only saw it with eyes of faith; he just believed that God tells the truth.Verse 16: 
 
For men swear by one greater than themselves, and with them an oath given as confirmation is an end of every dispute. (That’s what I mentioned before.) 
 
Verse 17: 
   
In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise…(Who are the heirs of the promise? We learned this earlier in Hebrews. You are! )…the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed (which means guaranteed) with an oath so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible (not difficult…impossible) for God to lie… 
What are the two things? God made a promise. When God makes a promise, He keeps His promise. God also made an oath. He swore by Himself. Now stop and think about that. There’s no reason God had to make an oath; He’s God! He’s not accountable to anybody else. But the text tells us that God did it for our sake in order to say, “I made a promise and I swore an oathtwo unchangeable things in order to convince you it is impossible for Me to lie and I made a promise and I’m asking you to believe the promise all the way to the finish line, because you’re not going to see it in this lifetime. You’re going to take your last breath still believing that the fulfillment of the promise is yet to come.” Verse 18:
 
…so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement [we would probably say every reason to believe] to take hold of [to grab hold of, to hang on to] the hope set before us. 
                               
That phrase taken refuge is an interesting phrase. It is the Greek used in the Septuagint—the Greek translation of the Old Testament—to refer to what they called in the Old Testament the Cities of Refuge. The Cities of Refuge were cities required by Old Covenant Law so that if someone accidentally killed someone else, they could flee into one of these cities of refuge and there be protected from the family of the victim. These people are headed into persecution. They are going to be hunted down, imprisoned, some executed. So this imagery is really powerful—that in this life we don’t expect our best life now; we don’t expect prosperity; this is going to be hard. You flee to the city of refuge—in this case it is our salvation—understanding that we need this now and there is a promise for the world to come.
 
Now for us, it is unlikely that someone is hunting you down to kill you, but we have our own stuff that breaks our heart, that gives us pain, that causes us struggle and despair. Life can be really, really hard, and there can be a lot of things that just make no sense to us. The promise is not if you trust Jesus, those things are all going to work out. The promise is a place of refuge where you go, believing at the end of the story the promise will be fulfilled and it will be magnificent! But for now, you just have to trust Me. “I don’t lie; I tell the truth,” is what God is saying. “We have taken refuge,” would have strong encouragement, every reason to take hold, grab hold of this hope set before us. Verse 19:
 
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast… 
 
What is it that keeps us from drifting? He talked about this in chapter 2—that we understand and believe the truth. We’ve learned that we have to practice it; we have to train in it and get better at it; we keep learning and we keep growing and getting stronger. It doesn’t happen overnight; it’s not instantaneous; it’s not an app on your phone. It takes time and practice and training. But you become stronger and stronger  in your faith and your belief; you find refuge in your salvation today, but you anchor down to this hope of a promise that one day it will be everything your soul longs for today— but not now, not today. 
   
…and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priestforever according to the order of Melchizedek. (Vs. 19-20) 
 
This whole idea of the veil and behind the veil is very difficult for us to understand. It would have been extremely powerful for them. Imagine as a child growing up and being taught that the very presence of God existed in the Holy of Holies, a compartment in the temple that was separated by a thick, heavy veil from the Holy Place, and understanding if any one went behind the veil they would be struck dead, with the exception of the high priest, one day per year, on the day of atonement. The absolute terror in their hearts at the very thought of going behind that veil was powerful for them and suddenly along comes Jesus, the ultimate High Priest, who makes propitiation for sin, who offers atonement for sin, and the veil is torn and through Jesus we have access directly into the presence of God—something that was previously unimaginable according to the type or shadow. And what the writer is saying is even today we have this confidence that we go boldly right into the presence of God through Jesus. He has already accomplished that (and not in 1844 or any other date as some teach) and is seated at the right hand of God. We live in the not yet—the best is yet to come—but even now we’ve been granted unimaginable privileges to enter directly, boldly, confidently into the presence of God, to be there for us in our hour of need. Then he shifts the discussion back to Melchizedek, a rather puzzling figure we will talk about in the upcoming chapters. 
 
As we process this text, we need to settle this: Do we believe or don’t we? 
 
What do you tell a group of people that are heading into severe persecution? “Hey, have faith; this is your best life now; let’s smile more.”  Or do you remind them that this is going to get really hard. Jesus told you it would. So you need to have the strength, the discipline, the diligence, the faith to believe that God promised, and it’s impossible for God to lie! To make it to the finish line, hang on with all your strength, hanging onto the promise that God will do what He said He will do, but you won’t see that realized until the life to come. For now we find our refuge in Him, and in the hardest moments of life, we just have to believe that Christ is enough!
Our Father, we are thankful that You tell us the truth. But, God, we’re sobered; we’d kind of like to hear a message that if we trust You, everything’s going to work out; it’s going to be smooth-sailing. But, God, that’s not what You tell us. This is a sin-cursed world and this is a cosmic battle. The hope of the gospel is our belief that You tell the truth, that You would not lie to us, and right to the finish line we will cling to that and we will believe that what lies ahead is more magnificent than what we could even begin to comprehend! God, until that day, we find our refuge in You! We want to say with all of our hearts, we do believe today that Christ is enough!  In His name we pray, Amen. 

Hebrews 6:1-8 Let’s Press On

This is a confusing and dangerous world.  There’s a long list of ways we can make a mess out of our lives.  We have so much more we need to learn and understand in order to live skillfully.  The writer of Hebrews is saying, “Alright, let’s press on.”  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 6.  You’ll be delighted to know that Hebrews chapter 6, verses 1 through 8—is one of the, if not the most, debated, argued, and discussed text in the entire New Testament.
 
At the end of chapter 5 is what’s referred to as the third warning passage in the book of Hebrews.  These people had been Christians for some time.  They should have grown up.  They haven’t grown up; they still seem to be infants.  So he ends that discussion with a reminder that it is really important that they learn, understand, practice, and that they train in the truth in order to get more skillful at the ability to discern between good and evil as these people are headed into severe persecution.  Chapter 6, verse 1:
 
Therefore leaving the elementary teaching (the ABC’s) about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation…  (*NASB, Hebrews 6:1a) 
 
So basically what he’s saying is, “I’ve gone over it enough times; it’s time to press on; we need to keep moving; we need to grow in these things.”  He goes on then and does a quick overview of these elementary things, the ABC’s of what he’s already covered.  Most of these we’ve seen already in the book of Hebrews.  Most people see them as six phrases and they’re in couplets—so three sets of two that kind of play off each other.  So the first one is: 
 
…a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, (Vs. 1b) 
 
Now there’s some discussion as to what is meant by dead works.  Some people see it as maybe sinful behaviors.  While that’s possible, that would seem odd right here in the book of Hebrews as it hasn’t come up as a concern one time yet.  What has come up consistently as the concern is that they are drifting back into Judaism—drifting back into these old covenant ways instead of moving forward in their new relationship with Christ.  So he told us that Sabbath rest is basically resting from religious works or attempts at self-righteousness, and instead resting in the finished work of Jesus on the cross.  So he’s saying that we need to move on from our repentance.  We changed our mind about these religious works.  Let’s not go back to them but rather move forward, and that would be defined as faith in God, believing God tells the truth, so faith toward God.  The second couplet; verse 2: 
 
 …of instruction about washings and laying on of hands… 
 
Again, some people think washings is a reference to baptism. That seems like an odd interpretation.  Baptisms aren’t really referred to this way.  It’s also plural.  None of that really makes sense.  What makes sense is again they’re returning back to the ceremonial washings of the old covenant, for some reason to try to cleanse themselves.  So he’s saying, “You know we’ve already talked about this.  That was just a shadow of the ultimate cleansing to come.  Now Christ has come, so we move away from the washings to the laying on of hands.”  Most scholars think the laying on of hands was just that moment when they trusted Christ as Savior and that was kind of affirmed with them.  We might think of it today like an altar call.  So somebody walks to the altar and they remember that was the moment they trusted Christ as Savior.  You hear the altar call and it gets everything revived up and you think, “I’m just not sure if it stuck,” so you do it again and again and again.  But at some point you have to be mature enough to understand, “Okay, that is a decision I’ve made, so let’s move on.  I don’t stay there.  I shouldn’t spend the rest of my life doubting whether or not I’m a Christian.  I get it; I believed; they laid hands on me; let’s press on.  That’s the idea there.  And the last couplet: 
 
…and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment
 
So this is just life after death.  Remember the illustration of Psalm 8—that Jesus has already completed the assignment.  He’s pioneered a way of salvation; He’s seated at the right hand of the Father.  Therefore, Jesus has already accomplished that, but we live in the not yet.  So there’s this weird tension between the already and the not yet, but we have the promise that one day that will be our future because Jesus is already there.  So that’s the hope of the gospel—that ultimately the best is yet to come!  So while those six things would have been kind of the ABC’s, the elementary things that he’s covered were specific or unique to them, they’re not so different to us.  There’s a need to repent—change our mind about whatever religious works we were doing to save us—and to put our faith in Christ.  We understand that we move beyond that religious activity to our belief that we’ve been saved through the death, burial and resurrection of Christ and understand that no matter what happens in this life, the best is yet to come!  So those are kind of the fundamentals and he wraps it up in verse 3: 
 
And this we will do (we will press on beyond these things), if God permits. 
 
Verse 4: 
 
For in the case of those (so apparently this has already happened to some) who have once been enlightened and have tasted(that word means experienced) of the heavenly gift (or heavenly blessing) and have been made partakers (associates, partners) of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted (or experienced) the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away…  (Vs. 4-6a) 
 
So a lot of the discussion revolves around whether or not that describes a true believer or not.  Now some commentators are very adamant that the book of Hebrews is written only to believers; therefore it’s a description of a true believer. I don’t think there’s a single book of the New Testament where the writer could know for sure that the recipients are believers.  How could anyone know that?  As a matter a fact, there’s always an assumption that there may be unbelievers mixed in with the believers.  That comes up again and again and again.  
 
So rather than describing someone who was truly saved and then fell away, it’s describing someone who seemed like they believed.  But at some point apparently they weren’t, because they fell away.
 
The word used for fallen away there is a Greek word from which we get our word apostasy, and it does show up in Hebrews, but not here.  It shows up in Hebrews chapter 3.  If that’s what this was, why not use the term?  This is an unusual term.  It’s the only place in the New Testament it’s used.  It means to fall by the roadside; just to fall away.  So the idea is if you’re pressing on, you’re going down the road and there are those who have just fallen by the roadside, they’ve fallen into the ditch; they’ve been left behind.  That’s essentially what he’s saying.  He goes on and says:
 
…it is impossible (not difficult, not challenging…impossible) to renew them again to repentance  (Vs. 6b)  
That’s the line that terrifies some people.  Repentance means a change of mind.  So what he’s saying is, “There’s nothing new to tell you to change your mind.”  So the idea is this: you have been exposed to the gospel of Christ that the apostles delivered; you can quote it as well as I can; you’ve experienced the life of the body; you’ve been in the community of faith and the work of the Spirit—you’ve been part of all of that.  But at some point you’ve decided, “I don’t believe it.  I’m out.”  At that point, once you’ve rejected Christ, there is no plan “B”.  There’s nothing else to tell you.  There’s nothing new I can tell you to get you to change your mind, so it’s impossible to renew you to repentance because you’ve rejected the one and only way of salvation.  That’s essentially what he’s saying.  That is confirmed by the last part of verse 6.  Why is it impossible to renew them again to repentance? 
 
…since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame. 
 
In other words, at some point they decide, “I’m out, I’m out.  I don’t believe it.”  Therefore, what they’re saying is, “I’m going back to Judaism and I’m going to stand with the religious leaders and agree with the crucifixion of Christ. In other words, I don’t believe He’s the Messiah; I don’t believe He died for my sins; I stand with those religious leaders who put Him to open shame and reject this idea that Jesus is the Savior of the world.  It’s interesting that in the last half of verse 6, all of the verbs are present tense.  So essentially what it’s saying is, “Right now my position is that I do not believe Jesus is the Christ; I don’t believe He’s the Messiah; I don’t believe He died for our sins.  Therefore, I stand with the religious leaders when they crucified Jesus; I put Him to open shame and I reject that message.”  Essentially, I’m going back to Judaism.  As long as that’s where I’m at, it is impossible to renew me again to repentance because there’s nothing that you can offer me to get me to change my mind.  As long as I’ve rejected the Messiah, there is no plan “B”.  There is no other message.  There is nothing more I can tell you.  You know what the truth is.  You’ve just decided you don’t believe it.  So that’s the idea there.  Verses 7 and 8 then create kind of an illustration of this. 
 
For ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God; but if it yields thorns and thistles, it is worthless and close to being cursed, and it ends up being burned. 
 
So what is he saying there?  It sounds a lot like the parable of Jesus and the sower and the soils.  Here’s the idea.  The farmer goes out and plants his seeds.  The rain comes down and now we wait.  Every farmer knows this.  You don’t get a crop the next day; you wait.  In the ancient world they wait and see if they’re going to get a crop or if they’re going to get weeds, but you don’t know for a while.  So it has this same flavor as Jesus’ parable—that the message goes out; the rain comes down but only time will determine if this is going to be a crop or if it’s going to be weeds—very similar again to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the tares.  It’s not up to me to judge people.  It’s not up to you to judge people.  I don’t know.  There are a lot of people who seem like they’re in, but maybe they’re not.  I don’t know.  Time and truth go together.  Eventually it will work itself out.  But part of the concern of the warning, is sometimes it’s hard to tell and the writer has some real concerns.  Why are you still infants?  Why are you not growing?  Why aren’t you moving forward?  And he’s wondering, “Do you really believe this or are you just taking it for a test drive?”  You’re kicking the tires and you’re eventually going to say, “You know I get it, but I don’t believe it.  I’m out.”
 
Now this is a really good message for us as Christians to think about.  Historically for most Christians, to be a Christian meant persecution, so there wasn’t this mushy middle ground.  Either you’re in or you’re out.  It’s that way in many places in the world today.  There are places in the world today where if you declare yourself to be a Christian, you are setting yourself up for persecution, possibly imprisonment, possibly torture, and possibly death.  So there is not really a middle ground.  It’s “in or out,” “in or out”.  That’s what Jesus said.  “Count the costs.  Are you in or are you out?”  And there was this great divide between people as to those who were followers and those who weren’t.  That’s the concern; are they in or are they not in?  Do they believe or do they not believe?   
 
There are some who will wrestle with, “But what if someday I do that, what if someday I do that— like it’s a lottery ticket and I don’t know if I have a winner or not?”  It’s not like that. It’s not a mystery; it’s not a lottery ticket.  It’s a choice.  You choose!  You choose: Do you believe it or not?  Are you in or not?  Do you believe Jesus is the Christ?  Do you believe Jesus was God in the flesh and He died for my sins?  Do you believe He rose again?  Do you believe He offers salvation freely as a gift?  It’s not a mystery.  “Yes,” or, “No,” because that’s where the writer of Hebrews is at.  We need to press on based on that truth.  He’s saying to these first century believers, “This is going to get really complicated.  This is going to get really hard.  The intensity of the persecution is going to increase.  We can’t keep going over these basics again and again and again.  We need to move on.  We need to learn more and grow more and practice more and train more and get more skillful at discerning between good and evil.
There is so much more we need to learn in order that, at the most difficult moments of your life, you will believe with all your heart in that moment that Christ is enough!
  
Our Father, we are thankful that You haven’t left us in the dark to struggle our way through, but You’ve given us the truth.  We also understand it’s up to us to believe or not to believe.  Lord, it’s not enough just to call ourselves Christians.  Do we believe or do we not believe?  Lord, my prayer would be that, “I believe; I’m in,” that we might press on, that we might grow, that we might learn, that we might live more skillfully as Your children, and in our worse moments we would be adequately prepared to know that in that moment, Christ is enough!  Lord, may that be so.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.  

Hebrews Chapter 5:1-14 – Milk is Not Enough

Here’s the deal: At some point you’re going to ignore a warning and the consequence will be devastating. That’s what we want to talk about.  If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 5.   
 
So the writer of Hebrews has introduced this concept of Jesus as the Priest or the High Priest.  In chapter one he didn’t use the word, but he clearly communicated that Jesus made purification for sin, returned to the Father and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  And then we were introduced to the concept that Jesus is the ultimate High Priest who made propitiation for sin.  Then last chapter Jesus as the High Priest who’s not unsympathetic with the pain and the struggles and trials that we go through.  So now starting in chapter 5—and this will be a lengthy conversation into multiple chapters, which really is kind of the heartbeat of the book of Hebrews—is Jesus as the Priest and the details related to that.  So in chapter 5, verses 1 through 4 are just general qualifications for a high priest:  
 
For every high priest taken from among men is appointed on behalf of men in things pertaining to God, in order to offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins; (*NASB, Heb. 5:1) 
 
So it’s a human representing other humans before a holy God to make sacrifice for sin. Verse 2: 
 
…he can deal gently with the ignorant and misguided, since he himself also is beset with weakness;  
 
That word gently is an interesting Greek word.  A lot of scholars refer to it as a philosopher’s term.  It had the idea of someone who is not indifferent toward sin, but also someone who is not harsh, does not go off on the sinner.  So the idea of gentleness…control, and the reason is because the high priest himself is a sinner beset with weaknesses, surrounded by his own weaknesses.  So that’s what verse 2 says.  The idea of ignorant and misguided is language that comes from the Old Covenant Law that if your behavior was out of ignorance or was misguided (meaning out of confusion), there was a sacrifice made for your sin.  But the Old Covenant Law also said if your sin was willful, if it was intentional, if it was rebellious, there was no sacrifice for sin.  That’s why Paul in a sermon in the book of Acts clearly identifies that today in the new covenant that the sacrifice of Jesus—the blood of Jesus—even covers willful, rebellious sin.  It’s another reminder why the new covenant is so far superior to the old covenant.  Verse 3:  
 
And because of it (because of his own sin) he is obligated to offer sacrifices for sins, as for the people, so also for himself.  
 
So if you look back in the book of Leviticus, on the Day of Atonement the high priest was required to sacrifice a bull for his own sins, and only then could he enter into the Holy of Holies behind the veil and offer sacrifice for the sins of the people.  Verse 4: 
 
And no one takes the honor to himself, but receives it when he is called by God, even as Aaron was.  
 
So verse 4 is saying someone can’t just decide, “I want to be a high priest.”  You don’t just apply for the job and go through an interview process.  You had to be appointed by God—chosen by God—and he uses Aaron as the example of that.  Eventually, after Aaron, it would become the tribe of Levi but to be a high priest you were specifically chosen by God.  So to put all that together:  it was a human that was called to represent his fellow humans before a holy God, to make sacrifice for their sins.  He would respond to sinners with gentleness because he himself is a sinner; therefore he would have to offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as the sins of the people, and the high priest was appointed by God Himself.  So starting in verse 5, it’s how Christ then fits that description and essentially it works its way backwards.  It starts from verse 4 and works backward up to verse 1. 
 
So also Christ… (Vs. 5a) 
 
So the writer of Hebrews uses names very strategically. When he was talking about the creator God, he talked about the Son—chapter 1—and the Son has come and taken on human flesh.  When he’s talking about God in the flesh on earth, he has used the name Jesus.  Now he’s talking about someone who is anointed or appointed by God and uses the name Christ.  This is the first time he uses this name which is a title.  The Greek word means Anointed One—Christos.  So Jesus didn’t choose Himself; Jesus is the chosen One, the anointed One of God.  Verse 5: 
 
So also Christ did not glorify Himself (or choose Himself) so as to become a high priest, but He who said to Him, “YOU ARE MY SON, (So God the Father chose Jesus) TODAY I HAVE BEGOTTEN (or chosen) YOU”;   Verse 6: 
 
…just as He says also in another passage, (which is Psalm 110) “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER…  (VS 6 a)
 
Now he has talked about Jesus as the High Priest in that particular term; he’s also talked about Jesus making purification for sin, which is priestly duty, but this is the first time he’s used the Greek word for priest.  Now one of the reasons that is significant is because in the entire New Testament that term is used thirty-one times—fourteen of those times in the book of Hebrews.  So it’s a significant term that goes to the core theology of the book of Hebrews—that Jesus is that ultimate mediator between a holy God and sinful men and women.  We learned in chapter one Jesus wasn’t the next word from God; He’s the last word of God. God has revealed what is necessary for our salvation through Jesus. There is no place for cultic teachings of some recent heretical movements that talk about 1844, or 1914, or another gospel, or sunday law fiction. There’s no successor after Jesus (not Mohamed, not Ellen White, not the Watchtower prophets.  Jesus completed the assignment and He sat down.  Every priest before Him was merely a shadow, a foreshadowing of the ultimate Priest to come.  And so because of that, Jesus now sits as High Priest forever (note not a regular priest but High priest – Jesus is not following the type (shadow of the Old Covenant Sanctuary) as SDA’s teach – if He did, he would first be simply priest, but No! He is the High Priest, meaning there’s no one to follow Him; there’s no new title or successor.  There is no need for a priest today.  There is no human mediator between a holy God and sinful people.  Jesus finished the work—He’s the High priest forever! 
 
 … ACCORDING TO THE ORDER OF MELCHIZEDEK.”  (VS 6 b) 
 
Melchizedek’s a mysterious figure in the Bible; he’ll get discussed quite a bit in the chapters to come.  In the Old Testament he shows up in two places—in Psalm 110 which this is quoting, and the other is Genesis, chapter 14.  Melchizedek really comes out of nowhere.  He’s the king of Salem; he rescues Abraham.  As a result of that Abraham pays him a gift (a tithe not from his income but spoils of war – there was no tithe laws in Genesis). Melchizedek then blesses Abraham and Abraham receives the blessing, therefore affirming Melchizedek is both a king and a priest.  We know nothing about those who came before him; we know nothing about those who succeeded him.  He just comes out of nowhere and is a king/priest and that is the order of Melchizedek.  There will be a lot more discussion about that in the rest of Hebrews.  Starting in verse 7, then, he turns to the idea that Jesus was indeed human—one of these qualifications. 
 
In the days of His flesh (as a human), He offered up (that’s priestly language) both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears… (vs. 7a) 
 
Now those terms are very graphic—loud crying and tears.  Most scholars for sure route this to the Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus agonized.  He agonized over the reality that soon He would hang on a cross and take the sins of the world upon Himself.  That ultimate agony was not the physical suffering, as horrendous as that was, but rather the fact that a holy God would take upon Himself the sins of the world.  He would indeed be the recipient of the wrath of God in order to satisfy the wrath of God to offer salvation—to make propitiation for sin as we learned about.  It’s specifically stated when Jesus says to the Father, “If it be Your will, take this cup from Me.”  Cup is Old Testament prophetic language for the wrath of God.  That’s what He was agonizing over.  But at the end of that He said, “Not My will but Thy will be done.”  But it’s also true that many scholars think there’s no reason to limit these words to Gethsemane.  Oftentimes in the Gospels we’re told that Jesus went away by Himself to pray, and most likely those were times of agony; those were times of loud crying and pain.  Imagine what it would be like to walk through this world as the Creator who had taken on human flesh.  You understand what paradise was supposed to be.  You saw it when You created it.  You understand what You intended for people made in Your image and rest daily (not one day in seven) yet, what you see is pain and suffering and hate and despair and all that He encountered.  What would it be like to experience all that as the Creator and see the devastation and destruction to Your creation?   
 
So think of it this way:  For those who are parents, the deepest pain that we ever feel is when you watch your children suffer.  You would take it on yourself a hundred times over if you could take yours kids’ pain on yourself.  Every parent feels that way.  So imagine what it would be like if every single person in the world had that level of connection to You as the Creator?  Every one of these people is My child.  “I created them on purpose for a purpose and so the level of devastation, the level of heartache, the level of pain, the level of hatred, the level of rejection—and each one of those feels like your own child—imagine what that would be like?”  In these moments when Jesus would pull away with the Father and just cry out and agonize over what He was experiencing.  It’s easy for us to convince ourselves we’ve experienced far more pain and suffering than Jesus did.  That concept is ludicrous!  We only get the slightest taste of the level of pain and devastation He must have felt on earth, and that’s what this is referring to—fully human in every way but feeling the suffering and the struggle of this world.
 
…with supplication and loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him from death…(probably better translated out of death.  Jesus did die but He rose from dead—saved out of death),  …and He was heard…(That Greek word for heard doesn’t just mean heard, it means heard in the sense of  answered; the Father heard His prayer and the Father delivered Him out of death.) …heard because of His piety.
…because of His devotion to the cause which is what he talks about then in verse 8:
 
Although He was a Son… (vs. 8a) 
 
Now just stop and think about this for a minute.  Let’s imagine you don’t know the story of Jesus at all.  What the writer is saying is, “Imagine God sending His Son to take on human flesh on earth.”  Knowing that’s who He is, what would you expect?  Where would you expect Him to be born?  Where would you expect Him to live?  How would you expect the world to receive Him?  If we didn’t really know the Jesus story we’d think: probably born in a palace, live in a mansion, travel in a limousine, be like a rock star with huge cheering crowds everywhere He would go, with lots of security to keep people back so no one could touch Him.  That’s what we would expect.  He was the Son! 
 
Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. (Vs.8) 
 
Again the language can get confusing.  It doesn’t mean He was disobedient and learned to obey, but learned meansexperienced.  In other words He didn’t talk about obedience; He obeyed.  He didn’t talk about suffering; He suffered.  It wasn’t just that He was willing to obey or willing to suffer; He actually did obey; He actually did suffer.  Verse 9: 
 
And having been made perfect (complete, having finished the assignment), He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation,  
 
So as a result of His completing that mission as the ultimate High Priest, making the ultimate sacrifice, He has become the source of eternal salvation.  Now the writer of Hebrews has been very clear on this—that to disbelieve is to disobey; therefore to believe is to obey.  So when he says here those who obey, he’s saying those who believe.  As we learned: those that cease from their own self-righteous works and rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross experience His salvation. 
 
…being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. (Vs. 10) 
 
So this gets complex; there’s a lot more to talk about which we will in time.  But now the writer interrupts this conversation for what people refer to as the third warning of the book of Hebrews.  Warning number 1: Chapter 2, verse 1:  “Pay more attention to the truth lest you drift away.”  That was the warning:  Anchor down to the truth or you are going to drift away.  Second warning was the cost of disbelief:  If you don’t believe God tells the truth, disbelief leads to disobedience and you’re going to make a mess of your life.  So this is the third warning—verse 11: 
 
Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, (Why?) since you have become dull of hearing.  
 
Now dull of hearing has nothing to do with intelligence…nothing to do with intelligence!  Dull of hearing means lazy.  It meansunmotivated.  It means indifferent. It means they just don’t really care; they’re not listening to what He has to say.  So the concern is there’s so much more you need to know and you’re not interested.  Now sometimes people are dull of hearing because they are lazy; sometimes it’s because people don’t care.  They’ve got a hundred and one other things they’re far more interested in—“Got my ticket to heaven; that’s all I need!”  But it’s also true that some people are dull of hearing because they are mad at God.  They’re mad at God because the story hasn’t gone the way they think it should, “Therefore I’m ticked off at God; I don’t want to hear what He has to say.”  It’d be like you being mad at me, “I don’t want to hear it; I don’t want to listen—I’m mad at you!”  That’s how a lot of people respond to God.  Out of their frustration and their anger they’re dull of hearing.  “I don’t want to hear it.” Whatever the cause, that’s the concern.  Verse 12: 
 
For though by this time you ought to be teachers (Enough time has passed; they ought to be teaching the new, young, growing believers.) you ought to be teachers you have need again… (So they’ve been taught this before and now they have need to be taught it again.) …for someone to teach you the elementary principles (the ABC’s) of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.  
 
So he’s saying, “You’re still babies; you’re still infants.  All you can eat is milk.  By now you should be eating solid food, but actually all you can eat is milk ‘cause you’re still spiritual babies.”  It is a reminder that just because you’ve been a Christian for twenty years doesn’t mean you’re spiritually mature.  I meet Christians that have been Christians for twenty years—they’re still babies.  I’ve met other Christians who’ve been Christians for two years and they’re very mature.  There isn’t some magic to it.  You don’t just automatically mature.  They’ve been taught the basics, the ABC’s, the most elementary principles of this deep, rich theology that defines their life but they don’t listen; they don’t want to hear it, and so He has to teach to them again. 
 
In the teaching world we have kind of these three levels that we think about:  Level number 1 is understanding.  Does somebody understand this truth?  If not, then I need to explain it.  The second level is they understand it but they don’t really believe it, so then I have to prove it or defend it in some way to help them to believe it.  And once we believe it, then we need to live it, and sometimes we just have to help people understand, “What does that look like in life?”  But there’s a realization that nobody is going to live what they don’t believe, and they can’t really believe it if they don’t understand it.  So we’re trying to think through where we’re at in the process with all of these truths.   
 
The challenge is that what’s happened to the church is, in order to cater to the consumers, we’ve kind of skipped the understanding and the believing, and we’ve gone right to the living.  And so what you get is not a deep, rich theology; what you get is kind of a pop psychology that is more like behavior modification.  It’s like external kind of management systems:  So it’s, “Five Ways to Fix Your Marriage;” Ten Commandments to obey, it’s, “Three Ways to Raise Your Kids;” it’s, “Ten Ways to Get Over Anxiety;” it’s, “Three Ways to be Happy.”  It’s stuff like that.  So rather than this deep, rich theology that’s understood and then believed and then life flows out of that, it’s more of an attempt to just modify behavior.  That’s where legalism comes from.  Rather than teaching the truth…understand it…believe it…and then live it out, we skip one and two and we go right to, “Here’s the list of rules; here’s the lists; here’s the do’s and don’ts, and here’s how you are supposed to live.” So rather than it be an outflow of life, it’s just kind of an attempt to modify behavior.   
 
How many Christians do you think attend church regularly and seek to live out the expected behavior of a Christian but have virtually no idea how to go into the Scriptures and explain and defend why we live the way we live?  I would suggest it’s probably pretty high.  There’s nothing more powerful than understanding these magnificent truths, and then believing them, and then that changes the way we live our lives. 
 
Verse 13: 
 
For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed (has not experienced) to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant.  
 
In other words, spiritual infants really don’t know how to live righteously ‘cause their still infants.  So think of it this way:  How much care, guidance, and attention do infants require?  Answer is, “A lot.”  That’s what makes parenting so exhausting.  You can’t just turn them loose.  You have to watch over them; you have to protect them; you have to guide them; you can’t just set them out the front door for several hours.  How many parents in the room would drop your five-year-old off at the mall and say, “I’ll be back in three or four hours”?  They’re just simply not equipped for that.  The world is a scary place; it’s a dangerous place.  There are so many things that could happen.  That’s the problem with a young child or an infant.  They’re just not mature enough to understand the world and navigate their way through it.  It’s exactly what he’s saying.  When spiritually you are still a baby, you don’t really understand how to navigate your way through a very dangerous world; it’s only a matter of time till you make a mess of your life. Verse 14: 
 
But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice (very interesting word) have their senses trained to discern good and evil. 
 
This is typically not how we think of spiritual growth.  We think of it like some mysterious thing where you walk in the building and there’s some Jesus cloud that settles on you and you walk out the door more spiritual than when you walked through the door.  But what that verse is saying is very practical:  You learn it; you understand it; you practice it; you’re trained in it.  It’s a word used to describe an athlete or like a musician practicing.  It doesn’t happen magically.  You learn it; you practice it; you get better at it.  You learn how to discern better between good and evil; so then you learn a little bit more and you practice it and get better at it; and then you learn a little bit more and you practice and you train.  That’s how you grow spiritually, but you have to be motivated to listen and to learn and to practice and to train in order to get better and better.  To not do that—to ignore the warning—is to just bide your time until you eventually make a mess out of your life. 
There is no way in your most difficult moments in life that Christ will be enough for you if you do not understand the ABC’s, the elementary principles of life.  He is enough—you just won’t know it…you won’t get it!  If we don’t listen to the warning, if we don’t take it seriously and continue to grow as believers, we simply lack the maturity we need to live righteously in a very confusing and dangerous world.  If you don’t listen to the warning, it’s only a matter of time until you make a big mess of your life.  So the only question we have is, “Will you listen to the warning?”
 
Our Father, we are thankful that You have warned us, and also You have not left us to struggle in the darkness.  You’ve given us the truth if we’re willing to listen and learn and practice and train and grow.  My prayer is that we would have ears to hear this morning, lest we become dull of hearing and suffer the consequences of not listening.  For this I pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.