Monthly Archives: June 2022

Hebrews 11:13-22 – A Better City

We reminded ourselves last time that everybody lives by faith. It’s not just the Christians; everybody lives by faith. The question is: faith in what? “What is the object of our faith?” Everybody deep within their souls has a longing—a longing for something that will satisfy, a longing for something that gives us significance. We have these deep real longings in our souls as people made in the image of God, and there are millions of people who believe somehow, some way, those deepest longings can be satisfied in this world. They believe somehow this world will ultimately make them happy…will make them significant…will meet the deepest needs in their soul. In essence, they do believe you can create heaven on earth. Most of us here would say, “We simply don’t have that much faith.” We look at the world, such as it is, and it just seems like a reckless leap of faith. Rather we choose to believe there’s got be something different and something better. That’s what we want to talk about today in Chapter 11.  

It’s our second part in Hebrews 11, and it would be good to go back to verse 1 and just remind ourselves again of the Hebrews’ definition of faith. So: “Faith is the assurance, (the confidence) of things hoped for.” Again, hope in the New Testament is something that is certain but it is also something that is yet future. This word assurance is a word that can also be translated as the substance. In other words, it’s something I believe so strongly that it actually becomes the substance or the foundation of my life. I believe it to such a degree that I live in such a way that I actually give people a glimpse today of the world to come. It is: “…the conviction of things not seen,” which reminds us this is a faith that is thoughtful; it’s reasoned; it’s not just a reckless leap of faith, but rather we have examined the evidence and concluded, “This is what we believe is true.” The writer then goes on to illustrate this kind of faith through people like Abel, through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob, which is where we pick up the story in verse 13: 

All of these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. (*NASB, Hebrews 11:13-15) 

This is very important to understand. What the writer says is all of these died in faith, without receiving the promises. We don’t like that. We want what we want, and we want it now. “I want the promises kept and I want them kept now!” Many Christians struggle with this desire to see the promises fulfilled and fulfilled now. We want to believe that somehow the deepest longings of our soul can be satisfied in this world. We want to somehow create heaven on earth.  

It’s a little bit like building your dream house in a war zone. And let’s imagine the builder tells you again and again not to do it, “It’s not going to work,” but you won’t listen; you insist! So he builds you your dream house in a war zone. Then you don’t like it. “It’s too noisy; it’s too dangerous!” But here’s the irony: Then you turn around and you blame the builder. That’s what we do. We take these promises and we want them fulfilled now; we want our best life now!  And so that is what we try to accomplish—heaven on earth.  

But this world just breaks our heart again and again and again, and when it doesn’t work out like we want it to, then we blame God. And God says, “Wait a minute, that’s not what I promised. I didn’t promise your best life now.” You can sell a lot of books with that theme; you can fill a big auditorium with that theme, but it simply isn’t what God promises. What God promises is: this is going to be tough. This is going to be hard. The hope of the gospel is the reminder that one day Jesus is coming back and we will be ushered to the place that our souls long for.  

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob—they all believed the promise that God would give them a land, but they all lived in tents. They all died having never seen the promise fulfilled. The text said they were aliens and strangers. They were saying, “This world is not my home—at least not as it is now.”  The writer says they wanted to find a place to call home, and if they were referring to the cities from which they left, they could have just gone back home. Moving to some other place, trying some other thing is not going to cut it. But rather with eyes of faith, they knew they were headed for somewhere else. Verse 16: 

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  

They understood that even the land of promise is but a shadow of the eventual city their souls long for—which is not an earthly city—it is a heavenly city that will be everything that they longed for. But they believed by faith. They lived by faith; they died by faith…believing it’s true. It’s very interesting what the last part of verse 16 says: Therefore…  As a result of that—remembering that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, these were not perfect people—go back and read their stories. There were times of struggle, times of death; there were times when they seriously messed up. Jacob was a liar; he was a schemer; you don’t even like the guy after you read his story. The message has never been on the basis of their performance but on the basis of their belief. They believed that God would keep His promise.  Therefore God is not ashamed.   

Verse 17: 

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… (Vs. 17a)   

So this story is found in Genesis chapter 22; you can go back and read it for yourself. The verb tense here would indicate that in Abraham’s mind he had already offered Isaac. In other words, he wasn’t still wrestling with the idea.  He had settled it; he would offer his son, Isaac.  

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; (Vs. 17b)   

It’s the same language as John 3:16—For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. The language means specifically unique or special. We’re called the sons and daughters of God, but we’re not God’s only begotten Son in that special way that Jesus was. In the same way, Abraham had other sons, but they were not the son of promise—Isaac was! And so Abraham is wrestling with this idea that God promised that the seed would travel through Isaac, but He’s asking me to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. At this point Isaac would have been 12 or 13 years old. Verse 18: 

 …it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE  CALLED.”  (So, in his mind, Abraham had settled it.)  He considered… (That word is very strong. He had a deep, deep conviction…) that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Vs. 18-19) 

Essentially what the text is saying is that Abraham, in his mind had sacrificed Isaac—he had settled it. But he believed so strongly in the promise and that God tells the truth that somehow God would raise him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise. As a matter of fact, if you go back to Genesis 22:5 and you read the story, Abraham says to his servants, “Wait at the bottom of the hill and we will return to you.” He believed with all of his heart that he and Isaac would return, and his way of making sense of that is, “God’s going to raise him from the dead.” 

But the other part of that story is in that moment when God stopped Abraham, He provided a ram, and the ram would die rather than Isaac. The ram would be the substitute for Isaac that would die that day. We don’t have to guess at this; the text actually tells us:  that was a type—a shadow, a picture. Isaac’s story was a type (parable, figure, illustration) of the fact that God will give us what He has promised. He was a type of Christ. We’ve had a lot of that in Hebrews. It was the reminder that one day on this same mountain, on Mount Moriah, there would be a Father who would actually sacrifice His only begotten Son for the sins of the world. He would be the substitute. He would be the Lamb of God who would die the death for Isaac, would die the death for Abraham, would die the death for all of us as sinners. We’ve learned this in Hebrews: He died our death. His blood is sufficient payment for sin. There’s nothing more that needs to be done.  

But what the story also includes is the resurrection—that Jesus not only died and was buried, but He conquered sin and death once and for all when He rose from the dead—literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead! That’s Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15—the basis by which we believe that we will experience resurrection after death, and it is not just religious talk, not just wishful thinking. It’s based on the fact that Jesus Himself literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead and conquered sin and death once and for all that we, too, might be resurrected and live even though we die. Verse 20: 

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.  (Vs. 20-22)  

The text is reminding us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph believed the promise, but they would die having never seen it fulfilled. They would never inherit the land in their lifetime. What did Abraham have to pass on to Isaac? The promise! What did Isaac have to pass on to his sons Jacob and Esau? The promise! “Boys, I know we’ve been living in a tent our whole lives, but God tells the truth. We have to trust Him.”  Joseph so believed the promise that he said, “Don’t bury me here.” Egypt was his home. “Take the bones to Canaan, because that will be our land.” It would be over four hundred years before God would raise up Moses to deliver them out of the land of Egypt into the land of promise.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, his sons— they’d all be buried in Canaan. But at the time of the burial, the land would belong to someone else. They just believed by faith, one day God will keep His promise. But it was more than that. They understood the land of promise was yet but a picture of something more. They were aliens and strangers; they were passing through; they wanted a country of their own which ultimately would be a heavenly city that would be everything their souls longed for. It is interesting that in verse 16God had prepared a place. It was past tense—God already had the city ready. . The root of this hope is found in the resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead, He did not rise from the dead with a new body. He rose from the dead with a resurrected body. He showed the imprints of the nails in His hands; He showed the scar in His side. 

It was the body that was crucified and buried that rose again. This is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15.  That is the basis by which we believe this body, such as it is, is the body that will be raised from the dead. This mortal will put on immortality. This body will be restored to me and it will be changed and it will be made the way God intended it to be. It’s the picture of redemption, of restoration, of making right what was taken and broken. This is critically important to understand because it is the message filled with such hope! The things that broke our heart, the things that disappointed us, the things in this world that simply were not the way we had hoped they would be, somehow they’re made right and restored and given back.  

The more you understand this, the more you believe this—the more it changes the way you live everyday. The more it changes your priorities, the more it changes your perspective, the more it changes your values—the more you realize what matters and what doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to create heaven on earth. I’m an alien and a stranger and I’m headed to a better place. God made a promise, and I believe that God tells the truth and I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And I live by faith and I will die in faith, having never seen the promise fulfilled, but believing with all my heart it is true! And there will come a day…finally…where I will finally be home! 

Our Father, it’s hard to even process the depth of the hope of the gospel. God, we know this world teases us; this world breaks our hearts again and again. And it just reminds us this world is not our home—that we are aliens and strangers—and by faith we are headed to a better city—a place that will finally be home! God, until that day, find us faithful. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Hebrews 11:1-12 We Must Believe

The writer of Hebrews says that the righteous shall live by faith. He says that we draw near with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith. He said we endure to the end by faith. He’ll tell us without faith it is impossible to please God—which does raise a question, “What exactly do we mean by that? What exactly does the writer mean by faith? That’s what we want to talk about today so if you have a Bible, turn with us to Hebrews 11, certainly the most familiar chapter in the book of Hebrews, often referred to as the Faith Chapter, or the Faith Hall of Fame. So in chapter 11 the writer is wanting to get very practical in the sense of, “What do we mean by faith and what does this look like lived out in real life?”  He starts with what we’re going to call the Hebrews’ definition. I don’t think Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1, is meant to be the all-inclusive definition of faith but it is the Hebrews’ definition—it clarifies how he is using the term.  Verse 1: 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men (or saints) of old gained approval. (*NASB, Hebrews 11:1-2) 

So again the idea of hope is not wishful thinking. It’s a term that can be misleading. We say, “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow,” but that’s not what the biblical term hope means. It’s always future but it’s also always certainThis has been a major theme in the book of Hebrews. The hope of the gospel is not that everything in this life is going to work out and make sense. It is the promise that ultimately our salvation is completed and we are ushered into a new heaven and a new earth where it will be everything our heart desires. That’s the hope of the gospel. For people headed into persecution, that was their hope—that one day it wouldn’t be like that. So he says it’s the assurance of things hoped for.  

Now that word assurance is a word that can be translated a couple of different ways. There is lots of discussion; all of the translations would pick one or the other. The idea of assurance is the idea of confidence. The other possible interpretation carries more the idea of substance. It’s taken the idea of confidence, but I think it pushes it a little farther. It is a term that could be used to describe like the substance or the foundation of a house. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. So the idea is: this isn’t just something I firmly believe, but I believe it so much that it actually creates the foundation or the substance of my life. It is what I live for. It is what defines my values; it is what defines my worldview; it is what defines my priorities and obedience. As a matter of fact it goes so far that, because this is really what I believe and I believe it so strongly, I actually live that value system in the here and now, and by doing that, I create a glimpse today of the world to come. That’s probably the right way of understanding what the writer is talking about—that faith is such a deep conviction, there’s so much confidence, it isn’t just an intellectual assent, it isn’t just getting the right answers on a test, it actually creates the substance upon which I build my life, and in so doing I give people just a glimpse of the world that is to come. 

The conviction of things not seen—that word conviction is a legal term. It carries the idea of weighing the evidence and coming to a conclusion or a conviction. It is a reminder that biblical faith isn’t a leap of faith; it isn’t an emotional, careless, reckless, wishful thinking. It’s actually thoughtful; it’s reasoned out and this is my conviction—this is what I believe is true. That is illustrated then in verse 3: 

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared (or created) by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 

Basically going back to Genesis, chapter 1, by faith we believe God created. “In the beginning God created.” Can I prove that to you? No. Were any of us there then? No. By faith we believe that God created. The second part of that verse, So that what is seen…that is this world. It takes no faith to believe that the world exists; that is the walk of sight. The faith step is, “How did we get here?” …and what it says is, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. So the idea is even though this is what we see, we do not believe that the world created itself. We don’t believe that the world self-created, but rather there was something or someone that was invisible that created what is visible. So this reminds us that the issue is not being a person of faith or not being a person of faith. Everybody lives by faith. The issue is, “What is the object of our faith?” So, for example, if we believe as some do that the universe created itself—that something came from nothing—that’s not science; that is a faith statement. Most of us would simply say we don’t have that much faith. Something doesn’t come from nothing. The universe can’t self-create; if it doesn’t exist, it can’t cause anything to happen. We just don’t have that much faith. So, based on the evidence, we have concluded there must be a God and that God created.  

Therefore we have concluded, with conviction, that Genesis 1 is true. It is not contrary to science; it is based on science. So, “In the beginning God created.” That’s the idea, then, of verse 3.  Starting in verse 4 the writer begins to tell stories to illustrate what he’s talking about: 

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 

The text is not saying that Abel’s performance made him righteous. The text is saying that by faith, what he believed was the basis of his righteousness, but that faith manifested itself in action. Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first two sons. We’re not really privy to what the conversation was with God, but clearly there was something that had to do with sacrifice to God.  Abel believed in God; Abel believed God tells the truth; Abel believed that God’s way is the best way; Abel believed that God is God—Abel believed! And he believed to such a degree that it became the substance of his life, which is reflected by what he was willing to give to God. There’s a lot of conversation about what made Cain’s offering unacceptable. Some think it’s because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice; I don’t really think that’s correct. We know from the law that a grain offering was acceptable to God. We also know from the Genesis 4 text that Cain was a farmer. That’s what he had; he was to give out of what he had. If you go back and read the text in Genesis 4, what it says exactly is that God had regard for Abel and his sacrifice; He did not have regard for Cain and his sacrifice. The emphasis of the text is there was something wrong with Cain’s heart that then was reflected in what he gave; and God was pleased with Abel’s heart, which too was reflected by what he gave. It is interesting to note it is essentially the fourth page of the Bible and we are already being told that what we believe will be manifested in what we are willing to give to God. It just is a reminder that at the end of the day everybody lives out his or her belief system. Ultimately your belief system is not what you say you believe. Your belief system is how you live your life. That becomes the substance that defines your life. So what the text is saying is Abel believed; he believed God’s way is the right way; it’s the best way.  He believed that God tells the truth, and it was reflected in his gift. What the text goes on, then, to say is by faith, even though Abel has been dead for thousands of years, his story still speaks, because what he believed was true and eternal. Verse 5: 

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND (literally he disappeared) BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.  

Literally his life brought pleasure to God. I love the way that’s worded because it’s really helpful to think about. What God asks in return for what He has done for us is that we believe it. We believe it to such a degree that we actually live like it, and when we actually live out of what is true, it is a life that brings God pleasure. The story of Enoch is in Genesis, chapter 5. There isn’t much there; the way the text is worded it appears that when Enoch had a son by the name of Methuselah, something happened in that moment that turned his heart to God, and from that moment through the rest of his life he lived in a way that it brought God pleasure. It had to do with what he believed by faith, to such a degree it became the substance of his life and that’s how he lived. It’s an odd story because at one point Enoch disappears. He can’t be found because God simply took him to heaven. Enoch never died; he just walked into the presence of God. Now it’s really important that we don’t misunderstand. The text is not saying, “If you really believe with all your heart, you won’t die; you’ll just walk into the presence of God.”  It’s good to remember Enoch, by faith, didn’t die; he walked into the presence of God but Abel, by faith, was violently murdered. So there is a reality to the story that by faith it is not necessarily predictable; we just believe and live our lives according.  Verse 6 is a very important verse. I want to come back later to it. So I am going to skip to verse 7: 

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence (or fear) prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 

Now the story of Noah is really a remarkable story when you think about it. God comes along and tells Noah that He is going to bring judgment on the earth through this flood, but He is going to save Noah and his family. Noah chose to believe God tells the truth, but what would be required is he would now dedicate his life to the building of a gigantic ark through which they would be saved. The warning period was a hundred and twenty years. Most scholars think the actual building of the ark took somewhere between fifty and seven-five years. Now again, think about this:  Faith isn’t intellectual assent; faith isn’t just sitting around in a  group talking about what you believe; faith is something you believe so strongly it becomes the defining substance of your life, to such a degree that  Noah believed that  something would happen that has never happened before. Imagine spending seventy-five years of your life building a gigantic ark. You’re at least a hundred miles from any significant body of water and the world has never known a flood before. Noah just simply chose to believe God tells the truth, and if that’s what God said, then that’s true, and it defined his life. The text says the reverence—the awe, the worship—of God was so strong in Noah, he believed! The fact that he was building this gigantic ark for salvation was also a message to the rest of the world of condemnation—that judgment is coming and, if you’re not in the ark, then you will suffer the judgment of God. That’s what the text means there. Verses 8: 

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed (the text means obeyed promptly) by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Vs. 8-10) 

Abraham is just another remarkable story. Abraham and his family lived in what would have been a relatively modern city in the day, and along comes God and says, “I want you to move. I’m going to make you a great nation.” Perhaps Abraham said, “Where are we going?” And God said, “Don’t worry about that.” The text says Abraham obeyed promptly. God said it and Abraham believed it. But again, this isn’t an intellectual assent; this isn’t just a group sitting around talking about what they believe. He actually took his family and left. Having been in that part of the world a couple of times, you get a sense of just how courageous that was.  It’s not a very friendly land. Food, water, safety, protection—these all would have been significant concerns. He left the comfort of where he was to go to a place; he didn’t even know where they were going. He just believed God tells the truth. When he got to the land of promise, it would have been wonderful if immediately he would’ve moved into a lovely mansion by the sea. But he lived as an alien, as a stranger, as a wanderer, in a tent the entire rest of his life! Now just think about this. God promised he would inherit the land, but for the rest of his life—in an ancient world it was very unsafe unless you lived in a walled city—so imagine for the rest of your life you live in a tent as a pilgrim, as a alien, as a wanderer. But he believed some day God would keep His promise. That was equally true of Isaac; it was equally true of Jacob. They all lived in tents. They, never in their lifetimes, ever actually possessed the land; they just kept believing God tells the truth. It says they were looking for a city whose foundations—in other words not a tent, it’s a house, it’s a building with a foundation— foundations whose architect and builder is God.  Ultimately the land of promise was a shadow, but it was only that.  It was a shadow of the land of promise, which is the land to come in the presence of God. Abraham, never in his lifetime possessed the shadow, but he does possess the fulfillment of the promise in the presence of God. The text goes on in verse 11: 

By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him (God) faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. 

Now the discussion moves to Sarah, and Sarah often gets a bad rap. We fail to really understand the faith and the courage of this woman. Imagine the conversation with her husband when they are quite nicely settled in a relatively modern city and Abraham says, “We’re leaving.”  “Where are we going?”  “I don’t know. We’re just going out into the wilderness, and God will tell us.” But she believed; she trusted her husband and she believed. It’s true there were moments where she struggled; there were moments when Abraham struggled. But try to get your head around this. She is told at age sixty-five, as a barren woman, that she is going to have a child, and ten years later, still no child. So she comes up with plan B: “Maybe Abraham should sleep with my maid; we’ll do it that way.” God shows up and says, “We’re not going to do it that way. You’re going to have to trust Me.” Fifteen more years go by, and what the text tells us is: she believed!  She believed that God tells the truth; she believed that God would be faithful. She believed so much that she stayed with her husband.  She believed so much that she was still having relations with her husband and, at age ninety, she had the child. That is unbelievable faith! That’s not intellectual assent. That’s not a group of people sitting around talking about it. That became the very defining substance of their lives! It caused them to take significant, courageous steps of faith, based on the belief God tells the truth. 

Back to verse 6, which I consider to be a very significant verse—in some ways a life-changing verse for me: He says in verse six: 

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, (…not difficult, not challenging…it’s impossible! I cannot live a life that brings God pleasure without faith, without really believing that God tells the truth.) …for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 

Now what does he mean when he says we must believe that God is? He is not merely saying you believe God exists; James says the demons believe that God exists.  It is much more like when Moses is before the burning bush and he asks God His name and God says, “I Am.” It’s a very similar statement in the sense that you must believe that God is…that God is who He says He is… that God tells the truth…that He has done what He says He has done…and I believe that to such a degree that it actually becomes the substance of my life! It creates my worldview; it creates my value system; it creates the tracks upon which my life will travel. 

So now let’s get really practical with this. Last time in chapter 10, verse 22, we talked about the imagery that we brought back from the book of Galatians of the idea of the Light Room. When the writer of Hebrews tells us—commands us to draw near—it’s the invitation into the Light Room, into the very presence of Jesus, to experience the intimacy and the depth of the relationship, to dance with Jesus to the music of Amazing Grace. But he says, “When you do that, you come with a sincere heart, a true heart, rightly motivated. I’m not doing that to earn anything or prove anything, I’m just coming because of what I believe is true.” He says, “Draw near to God with a sincere heart  in full assurance of what? …of faith!” In other words it’s based on the fact I really do believe God tells the truth!  

I cannot prove to you that Jesus died for your sins. I cannot prove to you that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover your sins. I cannot prove to you that there is nothing else that needs to be done. I cannot prove to you that you stand right in the presence of a holy God. I cannot prove to you that Jesus is coming back. I can’t prove any of that to you. You choose to believe it by faith. Oh, we could talk about things like the authority and reliability of the Scriptures; we could talk about the record of God’s faithfulness throughout history; we could talk about changed lives, but at the end of the day I can’t prove any of that to you. You’re left with wrestling with the question: “Do you or do you not believe God tells the truth?” The alternative is to believe God is a liar. So the idea of drawing near with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith is saying, “I believe that and that is the basis by which I dwell in the Light Room. Even on my worst days when I’ve blown it again, I still believe what God said is true, and I dwell in the light!”  

But here’s the thing you have to wrestle with. If you find yourself so often in the Dark Room, with your shame and your guilt, in the dark room with your definition again of being Loser Christian, and somehow you have to, to some degree pay for your sin again, the only thing you can conclude is you don’t believe God tells the truth. The only basis by which you dwell in the Dark Room again and again is apparently you don’t yet believe God tells the truth. Why else would you be there? Now part of it is just learning and understanding the truth. I understand that. A lot of people have been taught a lot of things that aren’t correct. I also understand that a lot of people have been taught a lot of lies and those voices can be very powerful. That’s why we gather; that’s why we open up the Scriptures to study together, to learn, to understand what God says. At some point I can explain it to you, but I cannot believe it for you. You have to decide whether or not you believe God tells the truth. That’s the essence of his definition of faith: “I believe it to such a degree I actually live that way. It becomes the defining substance of my life!” 

He says those who come to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. What’s the reward? The reward, in this case, would be to live in the light, in the presence of Jesus, the life that your soul longs for. That’s the reward of your faith if you choose to believe God tells the truth. 

Our Father, we celebrate Your faithfulness today. Lots of us would say sometimes things just make no sense. They’re painful, they’re confusing, and sometimes they just seem cruel and contrary to who You say You are. God, those are the moments we choose to live by faith. We believe that You tell the truth and that You are a rewarder of those that seek You. Lord, may that be true of us today. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Hebrews 10:19-39 – Let us hold fast

The purpose of marriage is not to possess a marriage license; it is to celebrate the relationship! In the same way, the purpose of the gospel is not to possess a ticket to heaven but to enter in to a deeply, meaningful, soul-satisfying relationship with Jesus.  As we begin to talk about living out this new life in Christ, it’s really important that we don’t start thinking, “This is now my obligation, my duty, because I have a ticket to heaven.” That would be like saying, “I must remain faithful to my wife because I have a marriage license.”  It’s kind of missing the whole point.  But rather, now that we understand life is found in Christ alone—that Christ is enough—this is now a life of meaning…this is a life of purpose…this is the life my soul has been longing for.  That’s what we want to talk about.  If you have a Bible, turn with us to Hebrews, Chapter 10.  As I mentioned last time, Hebrews chapter 10, starting in verse 19, there’s a little shift in the focus from this deep, rich, theology that we’ve been talking about to, “Now what does this look like actually lived out in life?”  So, verses 19, 20, and 21 are a little bit of a review and then the action starts: 

Therefore, (so therefore, in light of what we’ve talked about) brethren, since (So this is the review.) since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, (*NASB, Hebrews 10:19) 

Again, you have to keep thinking about these tabernacle images that have been so prevalent in the book of Hebrews.  In the old covenant no one could have imagined actually entering into the presence of God with the exception of one person, the high priest, and that was once a year.  The people understood they were removed from the presence of God by many, many layers.  So now in the new covenant we have the confidence to enter the holy place, right into the presence of God.  How? By the blood of Jesus.  Verse 20: 

…by a new and living way by a new and living way which He inaugurated, through the veil, that is, His flesh. (Hebrews 10:20) 

The Greek word for new means brand new—never available to anyone in the history of the world until the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  The idea of living is, “Now this is the path of life.”  Remember the old covenant was all about death.  There were these reminders that there is a death to come.  Paul even told the Corinthians that it’s a ministry of death; it’s a ministry of condemnation.  But now that Jesus has died our death, it’s no longer a covenant of death; it’s a covenant of life!  Think about the words that Jesus used.  Jesus said, “I am the Way (that’s the new path) I am the Truth; I am the Life.”  It’s a living path…  

by a new and living way which He inaugurated, (He brought about; He dedicated for us.  How?)…through the veil, that is, His flesh…His broken body. (Again, think of the words, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father,”) but how? …through the veil, “through Me.”

This is all the language that Jesus used, and the writer of Hebrews is using. Verse 21: 

…and since we have a great priest (the ultimate High Priest) over the house of God,  (Hebrews 10:21)

We’ve learned in Hebrews, we’re the house of God.  Jesus is the builder, then let us what?   (So those verses were a quick review.) Now three action steps beginning in verse 22: 

…let us draw near… (You remember the better promise of the new covenant was intimacy, and intimacy unimaginable by people in the old covenant.)…let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.  (Hebrews 10:22) 

So those again are two images from the old covenant shadows that have been fulfilled in Christ. But I want to backtrack and talk a little bit about this idea of a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.  Sincere heart could be translated true heart.  Basically, what that’s saying is that I have been invited to draw near into the very presence of God, but to do so with a full assurance of faith— meaning believing the truth.  A sincere heart is about motive.  It’s about realizing I’m not entering into the presence of God to impress Him.  I’m not doing that to impress others.  I’m not doing it to somehow further atone for sin.  I’m not doing that to make myself more acceptable or more righteous or more impressive to God.  Understand those things, frankly, are offensive to God because they’re forms of self-righteousness.  I’m not doing that.  I understand the truth that my sin has been paid for by the blood of Christ and there’s nothing more that’s needed!  All He’s asking is that I believe that.  That’s the full assurance of faith, and therefore enter His presence just in order to delight in the relationship with Him.  That’s the invitation—an invitation that was unimaginable to people in the old covenant but an invitation made to us in the new covenant!  The second action step is verse 23: 

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, (Why?) for He who promised is faithful; (Hebrews 10:23) 

Now this is not new to us.  He’s talked a lot about the idea of holding fast…hold on tight…anchor down to what we know and believe is true.  The confession of our hope—that word confession basically means this is a body of doctrine we agree with.  You hear of confessions of faith.  It’s the same idea: This is a body of doctrine we believe is true and this is the basis of our hope.  This has been a theme in the book of Hebrews. Our hope is not ultimately that everything in this life is going to work out. Our hope is not that everything in this life is going to make sense.  Our hope is found in the truth that, at the end of the story, Jesus wins and He’s coming back, and He will deliver us to a new heaven and a new earth that will be everything our souls long for today!  So what he’s saying is that sometimes life is going to get really hard.  These people are headed into severe persecution, and sometimes all they can do is hold on tightly to what they know is true.  Why?  Because the One who promised you is faithful. 

Now I just want to stop and put some of this together a little bit.  I want to retrieve an imagery from the book of Galatians—an imagery that we can refer to as the Light Room and the Dark Room because this is Light Room theology.  The idea is that in the Light Room is the place where Jesus dwells, and in the Light Room it’s continuingly playing the music of Amazing Grace.  And the invitation on the basis of the grace of God, on both my best days and my worst days, is to draw near—an invitation to come into the Light Room—in order to celebrate the relationship with Jesus, to dance with Jesus to the music of Amazing Grace—even on the days when I’ve totally messed up, because even on those days I stand in the righteousness of Christ!  My sins have been paid for.  There’s nothing more I need to do—and so I celebrate life in the Light! 

But here’s the problem: When we don’t have good theology, what we create is a Dark Room because that’s what makes sense to us.  The Dark Room is a place of shame; it is a place of guilt.  It is a place where I punish myself because of my sin.  It’s a place where I beat myself up because once again, I’m “Loser Christian”.  We hear the voice of God in our ears that sounds like an angry parent, “You are Loser Christian, go to your room!”  So that’s what we do.  We go into the Dark Room and we try to somehow punish ourselves enough that we think somehow, someway, we may be worthy of some degree of forgiveness from God.  But we have to understand, that is deeply offensive to God because again it’s a form of self-righteousness.  I’m thinking there’s still something I can do…must do…to make myself acceptable to God.  What happens is we get lost in the Dark Room.  We define ourselves as Loser Christian, so I live like Loser Christian and I just begin this cycle that keeps me in bondage, rather than realizing my sin has been paid for. There’s nothing more I need to do!  On my absolute worst days, I need to flee to the Light Room, and I need to remember: “Here I am loved.  Here I am accepted.  Here I stand in the righteousness of Christ!”  In the Light Room there is true repentance of sin.  There’s true confession of sin.  My soul comes back to life with this passion for righteousness, and I’m renewed, and I realize, “This is the way I want to live.  I want to live for righteousness and not sin!”  If we can rightly understand the truth and live in the Light Room—that’s where life is found—that’s the path that our souls are looking for, and that’s what He’s saying, “Draw near; this is true.  You just have to believe it’s true so that you can live out that truth!  This is the basis of our hope!”  Third action step:  Verse 24: 

…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25) 

So the third action step is to, “Come together.”  It is interesting that this is roughly thirty-some years after the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—after Pentecost and the launching of the Church—and there’s already a problem with Christians forsaking the gathering of the people of God.  No day is specified in this verse, but remember Christians have gathered daily, and even weekly, and even on Saturdays and Sundays from the first century. There’s something deep within us that convinces us, “I don’t need that.  I can do it myself!”  If that was a problem thirty years after the launching of the Church, is it possible that’s a problem two thousand years later in a very selfish, individualized, consumer-driven culture?  A consumer comes to church and says, “What’s in it for me?”  And that’s how they think.  “I don’t need it this week.”  But a proper understanding of what he just said is, “This isn’t just about me.”  We come together as the people of God to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, to encourage one another, to challenge one another, to hold one another up.  As a matter of fact, the last thing he says there is, “It’s only going to get worse.”  As we get closer and closer to the return of Christ, it’s only going to get worse and so it’s needed all the more.  And so there is this reminder that we’re in this together, a mutual commitment to help get one another to the finish line together like champions! 

So he says, “Based on what we’ve learned is true, we should draw near.  We should run to the Light.  We need to hold fast; we need to hold on tight to what we know is true because He who promised will be faithful, and sometimes life is going to get really, really hard and we come together.  We come together to worship.  We come together to encourage.  We come together to challenge.  We come together as part of our expression that we are in this together as the people of God, and let’s together challenge ourselves to make it to the finish line as champions! 

Starting then in verses 26 through 31, this is what’s referred to as the fourth warning passage in Hebrews.  It’s interesting to note all four warning passages have the same focus.  None of them are focused on bad behaviors.  All of them are focused on the truth—understanding and believing the truth, and the danger of no longer believing the truth.  This one is the same in that way.  So, there are many different interpretations. This one is very similar to Hebrews chapter 6, so it would be right to say how we interpreted Hebrews 6 is going to strongly influence how we interpret this passage—and that is certainly the case.  Verse 26:  

For if we go on sinning willfully…  

Okay, this is the core issue: What is the sin?  It’s something that has been happening—you can tell by the verb tenses.  It’s continuing to happen and it’s not accidental—it’s willful; it’s on purpose.  So what is that?  Now some would just say, “It’s any sin,” but that makes no sense.  That’s not been the discussion in Hebrews at all. That’s certainly not been the discussion in this context.  So, what is the problem?  Well let’s see if the text helps us with that: 

For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, (So now we know what’s true.) there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, (Hebrews 10: 26) 

Now this sounds a lot like Hebrews 6.  Now we know the truth and we’ve done something with the truth that has now prohibited the forgiveness of our sins.  All that remains is judgment.  So now we know the sin has something to do with the rejection of the one means of salvation.  That’s why all that’s left is judgment.  Verse 27: 

…but a terrifying expectation of judgment and THE FURY OF A FIRE WHICH WILL CONSUME THE ADVERSARIES  (Hebrews 10: 27) 

Starting in verse 28 he’s going to make a logical argument from the old covenant into the new covenant.  Verse 28: 

Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses (meaning the old covenant) dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. (Hebrews 10:28) 

Okay, now the pieces are coming together.  We’ve come across this idea of willful sin a couple of times already in the book of Hebrews.  It’s not language we typically use, but very familiar in the old covenant.  It’s what he’s referring to here.  In the old covenant, if someone sinned, there was a sacrifice for sin. But if someone rejected the old covenant, meaning they rejected the Law of Moses, they rejected the tabernacle and the sacrificial system—they rejected everything that it represents— then there is no basis for mercy.  They’ve rejected that which God has provided to cover their sins.  Therefore, the only thing left is judgment.  In the old covenant that was actually a capital offense.  If there were two or three witnesses that could confirm that this person had rejected the Law of Moses, the old covenant, then they were put to death.  So the logic of the argument is: if the punishment was that severe for rejecting the shadow—the old covenant—then, verse 29: 

How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he (or it could be translated by which one) was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?  (Hebrews 10:29) 

So what he just said is:  If this is the consequence for rejecting the old covenant, how much more severe are the consequences going to be for rejecting the new covenant?  Basically they despise, they trample under foot the Son of God and the blood He shed for their sin.  Saying it’s unclean is just simply saying, “It’s just blood and he’s just a guy and he died.  That’s all there is to it.  There’s no saving power in the blood of Jesus.”  And in doing that, then they’re insulting the Spirit of grace.  They are rejecting Jesus’ death on the cross for their sins, and they are rejecting God’s offer of grace. 

At this point I would say the “willful sin” is obvious; it’s defined in the text.  What they had been doing was rejecting Jesus and maintaining the old covenant.  That was their sin.  Now they know the truth.  They’ve been enlightened, but they’re choosing not to believe it.  Therefore their sin is they are trampling under foot the Son of God; they are rejecting the blood of Jesus for their sins; they are rejecting this message of grace, which leaves them with no other option but judgment, which is what he says:  Verse 30: 

For we know Him who said, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY.” And again, “THE LORD WILL JUDGE HIS PEOPLE.” It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of  the living God.  (Hebrews 10:30-31) 

Now we know from earlier passages in Hebrews—we’ve identified these—that there is a concern that the writer has that there may be some among them who do not really believe.  We’ve seen that in several places.  When he opens in verse 26 with the word “we” it’s an editorial “we”.  It would be no different than me saying, “If we reject Jesus,” it doesn’t mean I’m rejecting Jesus; it’s just the editorial “we” – some among us.  Well, this has been a concern all the way along.  He’s writing primarily to believers but has a concern there are some that aren’t truly believers.  This is the fourth time he’s offered a warning passage.  

So a couple of things:  One is human nature, such as it is, means that if this morning you receive ten compliments and one criticism, what are you going to fuss over all afternoon?   It’s the criticism.  We all get that.  So, after all this wonderful, beautiful, hope-filled theology, people get hung up on these warning passages: “Oh no, what if that’s me?”  So, let’s be clear here:  If you are willfully, intentionally rejecting Jesus and His death on the cross for your sins, then it is you!  But if that’s not what you’re doing, then it’s not you!   

The second thing would be to understand this is continuing, willful action.  So I may be rejecting Jesus today, but if tomorrow I decide to receive Jesus, I experience His salvation and I’m no longer guilty of that sin—and I can be forgiven.  The only unpardonable sin is to die without ever accepting Jesus’ death for my sin!  At that point there is no basis by which God can forgive.  

Alright, so then starting in verse 32—this is almost identical to chapter 6—he reaffirms the people that that isn’t them.  He has the same concerns I just expressed—that now people start to panic!  It’s not them, so he says: 

But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. (Hebrews 10:32-34) 

So just like chapter 6, he’s reaffirming the evidence of your life is clear—that you have truly been radically changed by the power of Jesus.  They have been persecuted.  They have taken their stand for Jesus.  They have stood with those who have been persecuted.  The idea of visiting people in jail or in prison was that in the ancient world people were thrown in prison and often just neglected.  If there wasn’t someone that brought them food, if there wasn’t someone that brought them clothing or whatever was needed, they often just died there.  So the idea was that the Christians brought them what they needed, but in so doing that, they outed themselves as fellow Christians, setting themselves up for persecution.  It wasn’t just a nice thing to do.  It had serious consequences.  They had their possessions seized, but they’re okay with that.  They’re joyfully okay with that because they understood what they had was more valuable and would last forever.  So what the writer is saying is: “The evidence is overwhelmingly clear—you have been radically changed by the power of Jesus!”  Verse 35: 

Therefore, do not throw away your confidence (don’t panic, because confidence…), which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance (perseverance), so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.  (Then he quotes from Isaiah): FOR YET IN A VERY LITTLE WHILE, HE WHO IS COMING WILL COME, AND WILL NOT DELAY.  (…the return of Christ. Then he quotes from the prophet Habakkuk.) BUT MY RIGHTEOUS ONE SHALL LIVE BY FAITH; AND IF HE SHRINKS BACK, MY SOUL HAS NO PLEASURE IN HIM.  But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, (meaning they’re true believers) but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.  (Hebrews 10:35-39) 

What he’s saying is that they need to look at their lives, and once again the evidence is there. They do truly believe; this does matter to them; they aren’t rejecting the Christ, and so they need to have confidence.  They need to persevere.  What he’s basically saying is, “Life’s going to get really hard, and you’re going to have to persevere all the way to the end.  But we want to finish this race like champions, and to do that we have to have confidence.  We have to remember what’s true.  We have to believe what’s true all the way to the finish line. 

He says, “Because of what is true,”—these are our actions steps—“we draw near; we run to the Light; we dance in the presence of Jesus, not because we performed so well today, not because we’re Super Christian, not because we deserve it, but because of what Jesus has done on our behalf.”  Therefore, we come with a sincere heart. We know this; we believe this—this is what God has offered us—and so we run to the Light and celebrate the new life we have in Christ.  This is what makes grace so life-changing!  We hold on for all we’re worth to the truth, to the hope of the gospel.  We do believe Jesus is coming back!  We do believe God wins!  We do believe the future is glorious! 

Our Father, we celebrate this magnificent truth.  What we’ve been offered as people in the new covenant was unimaginable to the people before the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus.  Lord, may we draw near.  May we hang on tight and may we commit ourselves to the coming together as the people of God, that we might finish this race together as champions for Your glory!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.