We are told to keep going in this chapter of Hebrews and not give up; we need to see what this means because it doesn’t mean that you must become a spiritual giant or a hero or a freak.
I was given a book on the American Civil War about which I don’t know very much, but this is the battle between North and South around the 1860’s and the two leaders, Robert E Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. They fought in atrocious conditions.
There are many stories we could stand up and talk about this morning that have to do with endurance and the massive and noble perseverance that some have exhibited, but this particular Battle was fought in terrible conditions. It was freezing. There was constant rain. There were no hotels or places to stay or restaurants along the way, and they walked long, long marches with very, very difficult bleak fighting carrying their wounded. And this is how the writer describes them:
“For some of the troops, even their sanity has crumbled. There is unspeakable starvation and sickness. Many are a little more than emaciated sticks. Their flesh is covered with sores and ulcers. Limbs and muscles have dwindled to the size of twigs. A few are too weak to rise. Most somehow press on despite the fact they have no idea of the outcome and whether they will live or die.
The question is ‘what drives them?’ It may be Flag or Country, or it may be their way of life, they are fighting for. Maybe they resent the tyranny of the invading Yankees.
But that would all evaporate if it were not for the reverence in which they hold Robert Lee. His iron will fuel their resolve. His single-mindedness sustains their stamina. He is the red and white thread that binds them all together”.
It’s fantastic and stirring stuff, and it appeals to our passions as we read this almost inhuman endurance by these soldiers. But what I want to tell you this, when the writer of Hebrews calls you and me to endure, it’s much better news. He is not asking us to be heroic – he’s going to give us some answers and some realism and some hope which comes from God. God is going to enable it. He’s not asking you to rise to super-human heights.
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Well, you can see that verses 1-18 are a re-cap of the teaching and verses 19-39 are a call to apply or to act on the teaching. So I want to think about it under two headings this morning:
- Taking in the Christian Life
- Living out the Christian Life
You can see in verses 1-4 that the writer is speaking once again of God’s Law in the Old Testament. Can you see the Law is only a shadow of the good things that are to come? He said this before on a number of occasions.
This Old Testament Law says the writer is (especially the ritual of course) a shadow or a preview of what Jesus himself would do.
Now, it’s hard for us to work this out because a lot of the Old Testament is on a significant scale. I mean if you were there for the Red Sea Crossing, would you believe that was smaller in significance than Jesus dying on the Cross? Well, it would be hard, wouldn’t it to work out with your eyes that the crossing the Red Sea is smaller than the death of Jesus on the cross.
But the Bible tells us that the crossing of the Red Sea is small compared with the death of Jesus on the cross because the crossing of the Red Sea just gets you across a bit of water, the death of Jesus will get you across to Eternity.
Entering the Promised Land looks big, it’s on a big scale but actually what Jesus does is much, much bigger.
Building the temple (if you had been there for Solomon’s Temple or Herod’s Temple) you’d look at these vast temples and you’d say ‘that’s massive, it’s so engrossing, but the Bible says that’s just a tiny little model – the real temple is the heavenly temple that makes that small little model that sits on a few square metres look almost nothing.
So we are being reminded that all of this ritual and all of this law is just a model or a preview or a shadow of what Jesus would do.
So the logic in verses 1-4 is that the sacrifices in the Old Testament had to keep on being done because they didn’t solve the problem of people’s sins. They just revealed the problem and of course a temporary solution – so I hope you know that about the Old Testament sacrifices.
When we come to verses 5-10, we suddenly are introduced to Jesus. When Jesus came, you’ll notice that he came saying
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, But a body you prepared for me.”
He is quoting Psalm 40 which would have been originally spoken by David, Jesus comes into the world and says I haven’t come to offer Old Testament sacrifices, I haven’t come to be a priest in the temple, but I have come to offer myself, I’ve come to offer my own body.
If you look at verses 8 and 9, we discover something very remarkable. It says:
“Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings
You did not desire, nor were you pleased with them.”
That says Peter O’Brien in his Commentary ‘is the strongest negative that the Bible ever makes about the Old Testament sacrificial system which goes for chapters of the Old Testament’.
And here we suddenly find that even in the Psalm and in the New Testament, the secret is out – God didn’t desire them, and he didn’t like them!
Now, of course, he commanded them, and he authorised them because they needed to conduct the sacrifices as a way of instructing this great gulf between God and people and as a way of temporarily solving the problem.
But they didn’t give the Lord pleasure.
He didn’t look on the killing of the animals and say “I like this”.
He didn’t desire it in his heart.
It didn’t please him.
Of course, his justice demanded it, but his heart didn’t warm to it.
But Jesus came (verse 10) and fulfilled all the sacrifices. So they were they were like a cardboard bridge. They were set up to show something, but they couldn’t carry a person across. And Jesus by coming and living and dying and rising has set up this fantastic stainless steel bridge from heaven to earth.
In verses 11-18 we see again the priest, the Old Testament priest, stood all day. Their job never finished and they had no answer to sin.
That, of course, is what Global Religion is like, I hope you know that? I hope you know that religion, doing stuff, ritual, turning the wheels, running the services without Jesus is just endless and never really arrives anywhere.
Let me give you an example of this from Ravi Zacharias in his book called “Jesus Among Other Gods”. Here is a little summary of Buddhism. Just in case you think Buddhism is easy.
“Buddhism starts off with the Four Noble Truths and then moves to the Eightfold Path, but as one enters the Eightfold Path, there are hundreds upon hundreds of other rules.
From a simple base of 4 offences that would result in a loss of one’s discipleship is built an incredible edifice of ways to restoration.
Those who follow Buddhist Teachings are given over 30 Rules on how to ward off the pitfalls. Before one even deals with those, there are 92 Rules that apply to just one of the offences. There are 75 Rules for those entering the Order, there are Rules of Discipline to be applied, 227 for men and 311 for women”
It is incredibly complex and in the end hopeless. There will be no arriving with that kind of system, and that’s what the writer is telling us here.
Even the Old Testament priest with their rituals
- they stood all day because the job was never done
- they never saw anybody properly forgiven
- they had no answer to sin
- and there was no message of relief
- You could never walk out with a skip in your step and joy in your heart because there was no way of being told things were fixed
- You just had to keep hoping that God would somehow be happy.
But (verse 12) when Jesus offered himself, he sat down, the payment was made and (verse 14) he made his people perfect.
What does it mean when it says in Hebrews 10:14 ‘that he made his people perfect’? It doesn’t mean that he made us faultless. What it means is that he made us forgiven. He made us washed. He made us in covenant with God, safe, secure and able to draw near.
So why is Christ’s work so much better than the Old Testament system? Because (verse 16) it reaches the heart.
Is there anything more wonderful than seeing someone come to ‘Christianity Explained’, here the Gospel, the penny drops, lights go on, the heart is changed, you never have to push them. Their heart is changed. You never have to badger them. They have a brand-new transformed heart. That’s the work of the Gospel, that’s the work of Jesus.
- sins are forgotten by God
- sins are forgiven by God. This is because of Jesus.
We went to a Conference, and we had the privilege of listening to Professor John Lennox from Oxford.
He said in one of his talks that he had been speaking to some Orthodox and Senior Jewish Leaders in another part of the world. And as they discovered that he was a Christian and they were surprised to discover that he was a thinking Christian, he said to them:
“Are you expecting the Messiah?”
And they said: “Yes we are”.
And he asked “Can you tell this, can you explain why it is that the Old Testament ritual which is so wonderfully set out in the Old Testament comes to its fulfilment in a Person? Why do all those animal sacrifices suddenly in Isaiah 53 become somebody? Why does Isaiah 53 say “He will carry”? “He will bear”? “He will do it”?
Of course, the answer to that is that these Old Testament sacrifices are going to find their fulfilment in Jesus who does it all in the living and the dying and the rising and therefore, friends, don’t under-estimate what Jesus has done through the crucifixion.
Now that’s the recap and following, the writer is going to call for action. He does not call for heroes. You don’t have to be one of Robert E Lee’s Confederate troops to be a Christian.
He’s calling for action from people who know that Jesus has made the pay and have put their trust in him like a surgeon and discovered that he has changed them inwardly and they have put their trust in Jesus like he is a pilot and they know that he is able to carry them forward, that’s who the writer is appealing to.
Living out the Christian Life
The first verses 19-25 are very famous, and they have the famous “Let the us” “Let us” including verse 25 which is often lifted out of context and preached on by desperate preachers who have wayward church members. And it says:
“Let us not stop meeting together as some people as doing but keep gathering.”
Now I want to ask you the question this morning friends, if you’d just written Hebrews chapters 1-10 and you’d got to verse 18, what would you ask your readers to do? Would you ask them to say:
“Please tick the box and say that was nice”?
Or what would you ask them to do? You’ve just told them about the stature of Christ, that He’s the Son of God and you’ve just told them about the achievement of Christ, that he has died, risen and he’s the High Priest for his people forever. What do you want your people to do?
Now, this writer has three obligations for us.
The first in verse 22 is “Let us draw near to God”.
Now you immediately think that I am about to give you a very stern talking to about your prayer life, but the writer is not whacking into us about our prayer life. His point is very simply that since we have been made for fellowship with God, that’s where we get our greatest joy, and since the ‘electric fence’ of the Old Testament has all been taken away and because Jesus has put in a ‘travelator’.
Do you know what a travelator is? It’s one of those things at the Airport where you step on and suddenly find yourself walking on a footpath that moves. And if I might put it as simple as this – because Jesus has taken away the ‘electric fence’ and has put in a ‘travelator’ on to which we step, the writer says “Draw near to God”.
Part of the reason I think we don’t appreciate this very much is that half the time we think that God is a bit of a pushover and anybody can draw near to him anytime, anywhere and anyway they want. We forget of course that he is actually, as the Bible tells us, unapproachable except through the work of Christ.
The other half of the time, we fall into the opposite trap of thinking he’s unapproachable, even for the Christian. He’s too hard, he’s too demanding, forgetting that he welcomes, for Christ’s sake, the person who comes to him. And friends does it occur to you that every now and again, you’ve got to say to yourself ‘even on my best days I’m not going to come to Jesus worth his welcome’.
I know there will be days where we say ‘I can’t come to Jesus because I am not worthy to go to him’ but isn’t that to make the mistake of thinking that there are other days where we’ve done pretty well, and we are worthy to enter?
It’s because of Jesus whatever our performance that we are able to be welcomed by him.
One of the reasons I think we are so insecure in our Christian lives and we are so desperate on people is that we don’t draw near and walk happily in fellowship with him and then we start looking horizontally for all the things that only the vertical can provide for us.
Show me the person who draws near to God and walks in happy fellowship with him, and I’ll show you a person who is increasingly set free from human approval and applause.
Show me somebody who is neglecting that vertical relationship with God, and I’ll show you somebody who is looking for it elsewhere and will fail to find it.
So there’s the first – Draw Near.
The second obligation – Hold Fast the Hope because God is faithful.
If you put yourself in the shoes of this 1st Century converted Jews, they are being asked to remember to forget the temple that is around the corner (even though it’s very visible) and they are being asked to remember Jesus who is not around the corner but invisible and real. It’s a very difficult challenge for them. And no wonder they needed these verses which are
Draw Near to God – not to the temple and
Remember the Great Hope – which is in store for you – which is better than anything you will receive in this world – so Don’t Forget the Hope
The third Obligation – (verses 24-25) Think of Ways to Spur Others On – don’t give up meeting.
It must have been so easy for those 1st Century Christians to say to themselves “you know, I like private religion, it’s so much easier, and I like easy religion – I don’t like costly religion. And I’m trying to believe this myself. I don’t have time to give it away to somebody else.
Isn’t it easy to think like that in every Century? But the writer says “Brothers and sisters, if you’ve got a new heart and if your fellowship with God is real and if your future has been underwritten by God, how can you lock that away in a little box and keep it to yourself – how can do you that?
“Draw Near,” says the writer – “think where you are going – there is a great Hope around the corner and help others to go forward and not give up.”
Friends, we all have good phases in our Christian lives, we all have bad phases in our Christian lives. We haven’t lost our security; we just seemed to have lost sometimes some temperature. How thankful we are for those people who are working at the ‘drawing near’ to God, hanging on to the promises of hope and spurring us on to love and good works. Aren’t we thankful for those people?
Aren’t we thankful that in the fellowship – when I am down, you are up and when you are down, I am up? I’m so thankful for those people who come up to me because they give of the fruit of their faith when I am feeling myself to be struggling. And you may be thankful that there are days where I am giving of the fruit of faith on days where you are struggling. So let’s work at spurring one another one to love and good works.
I am not suggesting that you and I should wait until we are in a good mood! We must think carefully about those people who seem to us to be falling away. I’m so glad there are people in this church who notice when people are missing and contact them lovingly. I’m so thankful there are people who notice when others are spiritually going backwards (and there are people who are going spiritually backwards). And the writer says “Draw Near to God” – that’s where you will get your resources – hand on to the Promises – that’s where you’ll know things are secure and Spur one another one to love and good works. That is a tremendous responsibility and privileged role to play.
Well in verse 26 we come to a section this brilliant Pastor would call a “Warning”. He has a very serious issue to raise – he is a Realist. He knows the Christian life runs on two tracks – Promise and Warning and the Christian life cannot run on just Promises, and it cannot run on just Warnings.
Verses 26-31 is a warning – it is a very serious warning. Some would say it’s the most serious warning in the Book of Hebrews. He talks about people (verse 26) who are sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth. They are trampling the Son of God, and they are treating as an unholy thing, the blood of the Covenant.
I wonder whether behind his comment in verse 25 that there is erratic fellowship – whether he hasn’t diagnosed that for some people (verse 26) there is some secret or private sin.
This is a very solemn warning – this passage – and it comes from a very loving Pastor. The scary thing about this warning is that if you rejected the Old Testament Law (that doesn’t mean that you just sin) that means you apostatize, you turned away from the God Yahweh, and then, of course, you receive the death penalty. To turn away from God was to die.
If you reject Christ, says the writer, and that means apostasy – not falling into a sin – it brings, of course, a greater danger before God because you’ve received much more grace. You have received more blessing, you’ve spurned more. God has been so good to us in Christ.
So if you throw New Testament grace away, says the writer, you are left with New Testament judgment. Friends, please don’t think that God got soft when the New Testament opened. Please don’t think that God had a personality change or a character change. He remains the God of judgment.
There is a warning to be said to people who think they can walk away from Christ and all will be well.
But the comforting side of this (verse 19) is that he keeps calling them ‘brothers’ and he includes himself in the warning – you see in verse 26 “if WE deliberately keep on sinning”.
So this is my summary – if you’ve’ only got one thing from this – here is my summary:
Don’t read the word ‘sin’ in the warning and think I give up – I am doomed – can’t stop sinning. That’s not the point.
But don’t read the work ‘sin’ and think ‘great that’s fine, I’ll do it’. Fellowship with God is infinitely better than sin.
Sin means that you move away from fellowship with God and if you sin and sin and sin and sin, you are really playing with fire.
Now my experience of the link between fellowship with God which is so important and fellowship with his people which is so important is that they normally go together. I’m always concerned when somebody is not interested in Corporate Fellowship. We meet a thousand people in our life who say they are a Christian, but I don’t go to church. They are not a Christian. We need to be straight, clear and unless they have got particularly good reasons.
The person who says ‘I get to chose – I have God – I don’t have the church’. That person is not talking like a Christian. They are just talking like a selective lord. There is a very close link, isn’t there between corporate fellowship and fellowship with God – a real relationship.
And assuming there is no good reason for missing fellowship behind the scenes when people are missing is often the lack of a real Christianity or maybe secret sin. So if you do see people missing, pray, call and be concerned. If you do see people who are going backwards in their Christian lives and they just don’t seem to be the same this year as they were last year, work out how you can pray, care and sit.
Not too long ago I had lunch with somebody from this Congregation. I asked him how he was going and he said ‘for years you are the only person who has ever asked me how my spiritual life is going’. We need to do that with one another. How is your spiritual life going? How is your soul? Let’s take a concern for one another.
Finally, in verses 31-39, there is a great pastoral encouragement. The writer is basically saying at the end of the chapter.
- I’ve seen God at work in you
- I’ve seen the faith which made you stand bravely in the face of suffering
- I’ve seen the love where you stood with those who were being persecuted, and you looked after the prisoners
- I’ve seen your hope where you let your property go because you had better riches in front of you
- I’ve seen the hope
- I’ve seen the faith
- I’ve seen the love
- I’ve seen the fruits
God has been at work in you, therefore do go forward and don’t give up – you need endurance. The day is coming when Christ will come. Boy there are some here this morning – you are old enough to think your life has just gone so fast, it’s just about gone, there are another few years perhaps and suddenly you are face to face with all Eternity in front of you and what you have had opportunity to do in your life is finished. The day is coming, and your soul is immeasurably precious, and God can keep you going and give you the endurance.
Well we’ve mentioned a couple of times we went to a Conference this week, and it was a great privilege to listen to 2 great speakers. But I want to tell you I came home absolutely gripped and I could not stop thinking about one pastor who I met from another State in another denomination who has been in his church for two years.
He told me that in the 1st year he inherited massive problems and he spent the whole year gently persuading people to leave ‘positions’ which they had because they had no real love for Jesus and no real love for the Bible. He got them out of the ‘positions’.
He then started to put in his 2nd year Elders. Every 2nd Monday he’d meet with his Elders. He persuaded them to see their jobs as jobs, not careers but jobs. And he meets with his Elders every 2nd Monday night; they read the Bible, they pray together, they pray for one another (he said it’s an absolute delight) and then we spend the rest of the night planning how to advance the Kingdom.
On the alternate Monday nights he meets with his Deacons – 12 Deacons. They read the Bible, they pray for one another (he said it’s an absolute delight) and they spend the rest of the night planning how to bless the Congregation.
They start to do what he calls “HOLY SLANDER”. How is this family going? What can we do for them? How is this family going? What can we do for them?
Now I listened to this Two Year Ministry, and I thought to myself ‘this guy has nothing but the Bible and his prayer life and his people’. And here we have got Hebrews chapter 10 telling us of the blessings received and the life to be lived.
Friends, you see, there are sermons which can come across as a bit of a song so that we get to the end of it and say ‘good song’.
But there are sermons that actually come across as quite serious and here is a church on the East side of Australia listening to Hebrews 10. There may be a church on the West side of Australia listening to Hebrews 10. The church on the West side of Australia may say ‘this is everything to us’. Is it possible that a church on the East side of Australia would say ‘this is mildly interesting’?