Hebrews 7:1-10 – It’s All About Jesus

As people made in the image of God, there is something deep within us that longs to know God. But what many experience is religion, customs, rituals but religion ends up being distasteful and greatly dissatisfying. Many of them walk away, not realizing that what they experienced that was so distasteful was religion, and it didn’t satisfy because what their souls were actually longing for is an encounter with the resurrected Jesus. That’s what we want to talk about in Hebrews chapter 7.
 
If you have a Bible, turn to Hebrews, Chapter 7. Continuing our study in the book of Hebrews, the writer of Hebrews introduced us to a very mysterious Old Testament figure by the name of Melchizedek in chapter 5. He quoted from Psalm 110 verse 4, and then he talked about Melchizedek again in chapter 5 verse 10, identifying Jesus as the fulfillment of the Melchizedek type in the Old Testament. Starting then at verse 11 of chapter 5, all the way through chapter 6, the writer diverts into what we refer to as one of the warning passages of Hebrews. But now, having given the warning at the end of chapter 6, he moves back to this ongoing discussion of Melchizedek. We pick it up then in Chapter 7, verse 1:  
 
For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God… (*NASB, Hebrews 7:1a)  
 
So this Melchizedek is both a king and a priest. There may have been kings in the pagan world that were both kings and priests, but not for the nation of Israel. Either you were a king, or you were a priest, but you weren’t both. As a matter of fact, there were a couple of kings in Israel’s history that tried to function as priests, and it did not go well. So this is quite a puzzling introduction—this one who is both king and priest.  
 
As king, he is the king of Salem. Now there is some discussion, but most scholars think Salem is a reference to Jerusalem before Jerusalem was called Jerusalem. There are psalms where Salem is clearly a reference to Jerusalem, so that seems to make the most sense. Salem, the word itself, is derived from the word shalom, which is a word that means peace or probably betterflourishing. So,  king of Salem, priest of the Most High God. 
 
Now Melchizedek was not Jewish; he was not from the line of Israel but he wasn’t priest over some pagan God. He was priest of the Most High God, the God of Abraham, the one true God, which again makes him kind of a mysterious, puzzling figure.  
 
…priest of the Most High God who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, (Vs. 1b)  
 
So, at this point it’s helpful to know the back story, to begin to make sense of this. One of the challenges of a section like this—there are two real challenges—is to just try to understand what the writer is saying. It’s very complex. The second would be: what is the relevance to us today? This is one of the passages you read before you go to work in the morning and you say, “Whatever,” and then you go on because it’s like, “I have no idea what this is saying!”  
 
So, part of this is built on the backstory. Melchizedek only shows up in four verses in the book of Genesis, chapter 14—verses 17, 18, 19, and 20. What’s happening is four kings from the East come together and basically attack the five kings around Sodom and Gomorrah. For convenience, we are just going to call them the kings of Sodom. They defeat the kings of Sodom; they plunder the cities, and they capture the people. Among those captured is the nephew of Abraham, Lot. So Lot and his family are taken away by the four kings of the East. Someone escapes, gets to Abraham, and tells Abraham, “This is what has happened!” So Abraham musters an army—three hundred and eighteen fighting men to be exact. They trace down the four kings of the East, and in the middle of the night they attack and win a resounding victory. The plunder is given back; the captives are set free. Abraham and his men are headed back home and they are coming through what most people think was probably the Valley of the Kings, or the Kidron Valley. There they encounter the king of Sodom but then also encounter this mysterious figure,the king of Salem by the name of Melchizedek. So the Kidron Valley would be right below Jerusalem, and that’s again a reason why most people think that’s what Salem is referring to. So that’s what the text—who met Abraham as he was returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him—is talking about.
 
Now when we see that language of a blessing, we probably don’t think that much of it. But in an ancient Near East culture, in anhonor culture, this terminology was not just thrown about. As a matter of fact it was very strategic. Even today, in an honor culture, this has to do with the fact of one who is greater passing a blessing on to one who is lesser. The greater is called the patron or the benefactor; the lesser is called the client, and the idea is that it establishes a social relationship—the greater and the lesser. Abraham is the superstar for Israel but yet, in this moment, Abraham is identified as the lesser because it is Melchizedek, the greater, the benefactor, the patron, who is offering this blessing. He blessed him. Verse 2:  
 
…to whom also Abraham apportioned a tenth part (a tithe) of all the spoils… 
 
So the response of Abraham was to give Melchizedek a tithe from spoils not income. It was a voluntary thank offering without any law commanding it. Now this again would indicate that Abraham was entering into this relationship. He didn’t argue; he didn’t push back. He didn’t say, “Hey wait a minute, I’m greater than you.” As a matter of fact he was agreeing. He received the blessing and in return gave a tithe of the spoils, which in essence would say he was in agreement and entering into this social relationship. Now, why did he do that? The text tells us.
 
…was first of all, by the translation of his name, king of righteousness, (Vs. 2b)  
 
Now in the ancient world, names were often descriptive. They weren’t just names; they were descriptive of the person. So the name Melchizedek literally means king of righteousness. The Hebrew melek, which means king, and then the rest of his name is a word we are pretty familiar with because of our studies in the book of Proverbs. It is the Hebrew word or a derivation of tzadik. It is the righteous one. Melchizedek’s name literally could be pronounced Melek-tzadik. He is the king of righteousness. The text goes on: 
 
 …and then also king of Salem, which is king of peace. (Vs. 2c) 
 
I mentioned Salem is a derivative of the word shalom, which again is a critical term in the book of Proverbs. So two of the most significant terms in Proverbs—the tzadik and shalom— are part of the story. It’s also familiar Christmas language—that the One who was to come was the One that would be the righteous King and the Prince of Peace. So you’ve got a lot of significant language here. So Jerusalem means Jerufoundationsalemof peace. So Melchizedek, the king of righteousness, is alsoking over flourishing, in essence what the names are saying. Abraham knows that. That’s why he responds the way that he does.Verse 3:  
 
Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but made like the Son of God, he remains a priest perpetually (or continually)
 
So what does that mean? There are a couple of different views. One view is that Melchizedek was what was referred to as atheophany, an appearance of Jesus in the Old Testament—the preincarnate Christ. Very few people hold that view. Even the text itself—when it says but made like the Son of God—if this was a theophany, it’s not He is like the Son of God; He is the Son of God, so even that language really rules that out. Some scholars think it’s a reference to a supernatural being, some sort of angelic being in human form, because he doesn’t have a mother, doesn’t have a father, doesn’t have a beginning and ending, doesn’t have a genealogy. While that is possible, it’s probably not likely. There are not a lot of scholars that hold that view. Most people, most scholars rather—and I think most likely—believe that Melchizedek is what we would refer to as a “literary type.” Now this is common in the Old Testament: he is a real person, a real king, over real people, but he is presented in a specific way as a “literary type,” or a “shadow” of one who would come later, who would be the fulfillment of that shadow. So the idea is not that Melchizedek literally didn’t have a mom or a dad or a birthdate or a death date. As a human, of course he did, but as this literary type, he doesn’t, and so you have someone that we don’t know his father; we don’t know his mother; we don’t know his genealogy
  
In the ancient world, being a king was all about the family lineBeing a priest was all about the family line. It’s all about the genealogy. As a matter of fact, if you were a priest and you could not prove your genealogy, you were determined to be unclean, and you could not be a functioning priest. And yet along comes this one who is not Jewish, who is identified as greater than Abraham, who is a king, not because of his family line…just because he is king….who is not a priest because of his family line…just because he’s a priest…and he’s identified as one who will be a priest forever.  
 
So the text is saying the literary figure doesn’t die. Go back and read the Old Testament. Abraham died. Isaac died. Jacob died. David died. Moses died. Aaron died. The text records the death of all those people, but all we know is in these four verses, this mysterious figure, the literary figure, doesn’t die. His priesthood continues forever. So that’s Genesis 14.  
 
So that would have been written let’s say roughly about 2000 BC. Melchizedek is then brought up in one place in Psalm 110, verse 4 a thousand years later—just identified as this priesthood that goes on forever. And then he is brought up another thousand years later by the writer of the book of Hebrews, and the book of Hebrews identifies Jesus as the fulfillment of this ultimate King Priest that would remain a priest forever—very consistent with what we’ve already learned in the book of Hebrews. Verse 4:  
 
Now observe (We would probably say in our language, “Now pay careful attention to this.”) how great this man (Melchizedek)was to whom Abraham, the patriarch (the superstar of Israel), gave a tenth (a tithe) of the choicest spoils. And those indeed of the sons of Levi who receive the priest’s office have commandment in the Law to collect a tenth from the people, that is, from their brethren, although these are descended from Abraham. (Vs: 4-5)
  
Okay, what does that mean? What the text is saying is, “Now pay attention to this.” This one who is greater than Abraham—Melchizedek—is the one that received a tithe from Abraham. The priests, according to the Law, according to commandment, their job was to collect the tithe from the people, the temple tithe. But they did not collect the tithe because they were considered greater than. It simply was the commandment of the Law; that was their job. It wasn’t because they were identified as greater. It simply was their job according to the commandment. Verse 6: 
 
But the one whose genealogy is not traced from them (Melchizedek) collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed the one who had the promises.   
 
So what’s he is saying is, “But Melchizedek is different. He didn’t collect a tithe like the priest because that was his job; he actually received a tithe of spoils from Abraham because Abraham was agreeing that Melchizedek was greater than Abraham. And, again, the language is that Melchizedek blessed Abraham, the one who received the promises, and Abraham agreed with that and gave him the tithe of spoils in return. Now, again, in an ancient Near East culture this would be abundantly clear that Melchizedek was identifying himself as the greater, and Abraham was agreeing with that, which is then affirmed in Verse 7:  
 
But without any dispute (nobody would argue with this) the lesser is blessed by the greater. (That just affirms what we just said.) Verse 8:  
 
In this case (meaning right now, today, while he is writing the book of Hebrews, present tense verbs) mortal men receive tithes…(The priests in Jerusalem are still doing their jobs. Mortal men, priests that have no ability to save them, are going out and collecting tithes.) …but in that case (meaning Melchizedek) one receives them, of whom it is witnessed that he lives on.
The Jewish people understood that this fulfillment of this shadow by the name of Melchizedek would one day come who would be even greater than Abraham, who would be the ultimate king priest, not because of his genealogy, but simply because he is king and simply because he is the ultimate high priest! Verse 9:  
 
And, so to speak, through Abraham even Levi, who received tithes, paid tithes, for he was still in the loins of his father when Melchizedek met him. (Vs. 9-10)  
 
So, Levi was the great grandson of Abraham. Abraham…Isaac…Jacob…Levi—and you had to be within the tribe of Levi to be a priest, and specifically within the family of Aaron. So what the writer is saying is even though it is the tribe of Levi, the priest that collects tithes, in this story Levi was still in Abraham, so he is in Abraham’s biology. He’s in his genetic code; he’s in there somewhere. So technically, even Levi, representing all the priests, paid tithes to Melchizedek, even the priests affirming that Melchizedek is the great high priest.  
 
So, having said all that, the application is abundantly clear, is it not? The writer will continue to talk about this in the rest of the chapter, and we will continue to move on step by step. But for us today, we want to talk about what makes this relevant; it goes to the, “So what?” question. 
 
The point that the writer of Hebrews has been trying to make to a group of mostly Jewish Christian believers who seem to betempted to go back to Judaism—and this has come up again and again in the book of Hebrews—is that there is a concern, and it’s likely that the Judaizers were talking to them saying things like, “If this was really true, if this was really what God wanted, you wouldn’t be persecuted. This must be God’s punishment. You need to go back to the old covenant, back to the old ways.” So, the writer of Hebrews is trying to remind them, “Wait a minute. Jesus is greater than the angels. He’s greater than Abraham. He’s greater than Moses. He’s greater than the Law. He’s greater than the Sabbath. He’s greater than all these. He is the fulfillment of the Melchizedek type from that story, the long-awaited Messiah.”  
 
Now stop and think about this. Everything in the temple system was set up to be a shadow, a picture of the promise of a coming Messiah. The temple, the priest, everything within the temple, the sacrificial system, the Sabbath—all of those things were meant to be a shadow, or a picture, of the One who would come and would be the fulfillment of the promise—the One greater than Abraham, the long-awaited ultimate King Priest. But when that Messiah actually came, you would think there would have been the celebration of all celebrations, that finally, after all these years, the long- awaited Messiah has come. “Shut everything down! He is finally here!” But as you know, that’s not what happened. As a matter of fact, rather, they rejected Him and executed Him in order to keep their religious machinery going. That is just a staggering concept! That at some point the shadows and pictures that were meant to reveal the Christ, actually became the substitute for the Christ when He comes. This is the point the writer of Hebrews is trying to make. “Those were just pictures and shadows. He’s here! He’s come! The fulfillment of what Melchizedek foreshadowed has actually come! The ultimate King Priest is here!” 
 
Advance two thousand years: Certainly we don’t have the same problem, do we? The world is filled with religion—always has been, always will be—because religion appeals to our flesh. There’s something deep within us that wants to believe, “I can do this myself.” Religion is all about selfrighteousness. “Here is the practice. Here are the rules. Here is the liturgy. Here are the sacred days. Do this on this day. Here are the steps. Here is everything you do. Ultimately, if you do this, God will accept you.” How many thousands and thousands and thousands of people who were honestly, sincerely seeking God, experienced cold dead religion, and for them it was so distasteful, so dissatisfying, they walked away, not realizing what their soul was longing for was not religionbut an encounter with a person—the resurrected Christ!  
 
We live in a world today where we have convinced ourselves there’s no absolute truth; there’s no absolute morality. Nothing’s really nailed down and everything is kind of loose and up for grabs, and what that creates in people is anxiety and fear and confusion.  And so many people in today’s culture then are turning to something that feels like it’s nailed down, that feels like it is rooted, that feels like it has some sort of substance to deal with my anxiety, to deal with my fear and my struggles. So where do they turn? They turn to religion. They think that somehow they are going to find what they are looking for in a building. They are going to find what they are looking for in a practice or observance. They are going to find what they are looking for in a liturgy. They are going to find what they are looking for in a discipline or a practice or a ritual or custom of some sort. Many of them are not seeking to experience Jesus. They’re seeking to experience an experience. But at the end of the day, religion will never be enough. Religion can’t deliver the goods.  
 
It’s easy for us this morning to think, “Oh I know just what you are talking about. It’s those people. It’s that religion. It’s that denomination. It’s that church. Somewhere along the way we start to think it’s a practice; it’s a program; it’s a group; it’s a methodology; it’s something that we are doing that was originally intended to lead us into a more dynamic relationship with Jesus, but at some stage that thing that was supposed to lead us to Christ comes to an end in itself.  
 
Hebrews talks about Jesus and the gospel being the anchor for our soul in the midst of difficult times. But there’s another kind of anchor and it’s an anchor that holds us down into bondage, where we never really experience the life that God has called us to because somewhere along the way we lose sight and what was supposed to be, what was supposed to lead us to a deeper relationship to Christ, becomes an end in itself, which just becomes another form of idolatry.  
 
No religion, no practice, no discipline, no ritual will ever be enough. Only Christ is enough. What a tragedy it is that thousands and thousands and thousands of people very sincerely search for God and encounter religion, and in their confused mind they think they have encountered God, and it’s distasteful and it’s dissatisfying, so they wander away and they fail to realize that actually what their soul was longing for was a meaningful encounter with a Person—a relationship with the resurrected living Christ! At the end of the day, Christ and Christ alone will be enough. So my prayer is that we wouldn’t get lost in the programs, lost in the rituals, lost in observing days, lost in the liturgies and the traditions, lost in the disciplines and the practices…that we think somehow it’s a group…it’s a program…it’s a methodology, but instead we would never lose sight that it’s a Person!  It’s the Person that ultimately sets me free. It’s Christ and Christ alone that is enough! 
 
 
Our Father, we are aware that we are just as prone to getting lost in some sort of religious practice as anyone. Lord, well-intentioned, well-meaning, but at some point, we forget that it is Christ that sets us free! Lord, may we never forget that it is Christ and Christ alone that gives us life now and forever. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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.