We’re in chapter 3 in the letter to the Hebrews and because the writer is an excellent Pastor, I discovered that this chapter is mainly application and most of you will know how meaningful it is when you are reading your Bible to have a particular verse speak very profoundly and powerfully to you, and you have been almost shocked to realise that God, the God of the universe, is speaking to you quite personally and profoundly.
I’ve just finished reading a commentary on the Book of Micah, and the commentator had a section at the end of every little portion of Scripture which was called ‘Application’. I must say that I looked forward to getting to that little section and seeing how he applied the Word.
Chapter 1 was a picture of Jesus, which was a picture of Jesus as supreme, superior, wonderful and majestic and then we saw in chapter 2 that Jesus has come and achieved a very great work of salvation, even through his suffering. And we ask ourselves the question, how would you apply this?
I want to warn you that this chapter is going to introduce a subject in Hebrews which will come up again and again and it’s the subject of persevering. Is it the very sobering subject of ‘are you persevering’?
And you will see it if you look at chapter 3 verse 6, “if we hold on” and chapter 3 verse 14, “if we hold firmly”. And this perseverance, this “if” is the test of real faith – it’s the sign or proof of real faith.
Peter O’Brien says in his excellent Commentary “genuine faith by definition perseveres”. So we may wish that Christianity had no ifs or buts and then we say we would feel really secure but Hebrews and the whole of the Scriptures teach us that Christianity is impossible without perseverance and if you have abandoned your perseverance, then faith looks as though as it is a dud. Or if I could put it more positively, one of the proofs that you are real and that you are safe and secure is that you keep going. One of the marks of eternal life is that you keep going.
Look at his language (chapter 3 verse 1) “Holy Brothers”. We might say “holy brothers and sisters” who share in the heavenly calling. He couldn’t speak more personally and pastorally and warmly and affectionately and assuredly with these early words. And you will see it again in verse 12 – “brothers” and verse 14 “we have come to share in Christ”.
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It’s not as though he’s getting up you see and saying ‘well people, I don’t know where you stand but let’s see if you can show yourself to be real’. He’s standing up, and he is affectionately addressing them as brothers who share in the heavenly calling.
Proof that he is a very loving Pastor is that he gives some wonderful help in this chapter on how you can be safe. He wouldn’t do that if he didn’t care for you. He wants you to be joyful as the Lord wants you to be joyful and this chapter is a wonderful chapter because it tells us how God speaks to us and how to be sure that we are in his household and why we need other Christian people and why we need to be helpful to other Christian people and what makes God angry and how to stay firm and safe to the end – all of that is in Hebrews chapter 3 and more.
But do notice the perfect balance – addressing the believers as brothers and sisters and urging them to persevere. So that if you are a Christian this morning, you should be a person who has security, you should be able to say “I know Christ, I know where I stand with Christ”, but you should have a slight healthy fear of falling away. I hope you have both. I hope you have the security of saying ‘I know Christ, I know where I stand’, and I hope you also have a healthy fear of not wanting to fall away.
If you are a concerned person about your salvation – it’s healthy. If you are a careless person, well Hebrews maybe exactly the letter for you. So let’s think about it under two headings this morning.
The first is Focus your mind (3:1-6) and the second is Guard your heard (3:7-19).
Focus Your Mind
“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus”. Well it’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Hop in the car and your thoughts are on the road, back to lunch, maybe the tragedy of Sunday papers and then there are the television and the computer screen, and there are the magazines, and there is a massive amount of stuff which will take your mind. So to fix your mind on Jesus has to be deliberately thought about and how you will do that.
This word “fix your thoughts” is the same word that Jesus used when he was preaching in the Sermon on the Mount and said, “consider the birds, consider the lilies”. “Look carefully” Jesus said so you’ll get the point and learn from the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, and it’s the same word that comes up again in Hebrews 10 “Lets consider how we will provoke one another to love and good works” – we have to fix our thoughts. And the key to clarity and safety in the Christian life is that you put your mind on Christ. You ideally do that by reading the Scriptures. That’s where you will see the portrait of Christ most clearly, but if you are not reading your Bible, perhaps you will put your mind on the truths of Christ you have heard or read or learned in your study.
Because these 1st Century readers were in danger of minimising Christ and maximising their ideas and their feelings, the writer sets out some facts in chapters 1, 2 & 3 all about Jesus. And he does this because he wants his readers not to abandon Jesus and I have to say to you that after being here for 21 or 22 years, I have seen many people who have sat in this church and taken roles in the church and have sometimes taken quite significant roles and if you were to ask them today if they are following Christ, the answer is definitely NO. But they have said the same Creeds, they have sung the same hymns, and they have heard the same sermons but they have decided to give up and that’s why we need a healthy and secure determination to keep following.
Now if we are going to consider Christ, the writer suggests some things we might do.
First of all, we might focus on his mission. We might remember his role as Apostle (verse 1) and High Priest.
This is the only time in the New Testament Jesus is called “Apostle”, but the word apostle means ‘sent one’ and there is nobody who is a greater sent one than Jesus.
- There is no one who has come on a bigger journey than Jesus
- There is no one who has had a bigger mission than Jesus
- There is no one who has been more faithful to their calling than Jesus
I’ve been a Christian for 41 years, and I sadly am capable of great ingratitude towards Christ, I know that because I know myself. But when I do think about his mission and I think about who it was who came and I think about how he stayed completely faithful and kept saying no to sin and yes to faithfulness and when I think about how he took on his back all my sins and the sins of all his people and when I think about how he couldn’t really have done more for me than he did, I find myself being less inclined to give up on him.
He is the Apostle of our faith, he is the Sent One who did the work, and because of course he died and rose, he is also the High Priest. He is now in the position of being the ultimate and perfect middle man between God and the human race, and we don’t need any other middleman for our salvation or for our prayers.
He is perfect, and he hears our prayers with great sympathy because he has been here and he also hears our prayers with great power and resourcefulness, and you and I must not be surprised to see how our prayers this morning are practically answered. They have not just gone into the roof. The prayers that we have prayed were heard by him. He knows exactly what to do, and he has got the resources to do it, and he is wise enough to know how to do it, and so we shouldn’t be surprised that our prayers will be answered.
If you think Christ has just disappeared or he has left you to live your Christian life alone, it may be because you have forgotten that he at present your High Priest, attentive to your cry and able to help.
Now a second area for considering Christ is his Stature. How great is he. And the writer compares Jesus with Moses and he doesn’t compare Jesus with Moses just because Moses is any old character out of the Old Testament – he just doesn’t pick one person and say ‘let’s take Moses’. Moses was the mediator of the Old Covenant which the Hebrews who are converted Jews were in danger of elevating above Jesus because he was as it were dynamic.
And the danger is to elevate someone above Jesus. Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant, and the New Covenant may not look as impressive or feel as impressive or smell as impressive or sound as impressive as the Old Covenant, but it is.
And so the writer shows us the superiority of Jesus over Moses. And you couldn’t compare the two. The difference is so vast, and yet the writer never criticises Moses. He says Moses was faithful (verse 2) and he was faithful (verse 5).
But friends, how great was Jesus compared with Moses. We are told in verse 3 than Moses was part of the house, i.e. He was part of the family. Jesus is the builder of the house or the family. How can you compare the builder or the building? Jesus is the builder – Moses is part of the building. One is the maker called Jesus, and one is the made called Moses.
The second thing we see in verse 5 is that Moses was a servant, but Jesus was (verse 6) the faithful son. How can you compare the owner and the heir of everything – that’s Jesus – with the one who is a guest or visitor called Moses?
One possesses everything, that’s Jesus, and one is part of the possession – that’s Moses.
You’ll see also if you look at verse 2, Moses was in the house, but Jesus was over the house. So just imagine trying to compare Jesus and Moses. They are not just two humans. One is the Maker, and one is made.
Yesterday I was on a Men’s Retreat, and I went for a little walk in the free time up to the Baha’i Temple and it was empty except for the guide and I got into conversation with him and he wishes, I am sure, that I had never turned up to get into conversation with him – but I was basically asking him what is the Baha’i faith all about.
As you know, the Baha’i faith is attempting to say that all the faiths can be drawn into one because, in the end, every religious leader is just a manifestation of the one. And I just explained to him that is just completely contrary to the Bible. You just can’t have a greater distinction that Jesus would be the Maker and the Buddha would be made and that Jesus would be the Maker and that Mohamed would be made. There is just the vastest distinction between those two.
And so if we are in danger of elevating a person as the Hebrews were and misunderstanding or minimising Jesus, well it’s a great, great danger isn’t it?
And it is very easy for churches to replace Christ with somebody else.
If you’ve ever been to St. Peters in Rome, you’ll know that you’ll almost look in vain for a reference to Jesus. It’s just a complete error – it’s just a complete mistake – it just a complete distortion.
But let’s not be too quick to look to others to make a mistake because we can make the mental mistake as well by leaving Jesus Christ out of our faith and many churchgoers do, and partly because for some He is just too personal, too embarrassing, too confronting. But we may, is it not possible for us to put someone in the place of our devotion? They mean more to us than Jesus, that’s a tragedy.
In some people’s cases, the person they put in place of Jesus is just more tangible – well that’s a tragedy because Jesus the great Apostle and the great High Priest is the one who stands in vast superiority to any other person.
And that’s why the writer says with these very sobering words – (verse 6) ‘we are his if we hold on’. Now brothers and sisters don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your Christian security is based on your grip on Jesus. Your Christian security is based on his grip on you.
When he says in John 10 “No one will pluck you out of my hand” it’s because he has a grip which is better than mine and better than yours. He has a grasp to keep his sheep, and if you are taking a little kid across a highway, you know that you don’t allow them to hold onto your finger – you hold on to their wrist or something like it to get them safely across. And the grip of Jesus on us is what causes our security. He will make sure we will get home.
But the question of the writer of Hebrews is asking in chapter 3 verse 6 is “do you have an inclination to be held and to hold him as well”? Is there something about you which inclines to Jesus so that you are not just orthodox and singing the hymns and saying the Creed, but you appreciate him, and you want to walk with him, and you want to trust him, and you want in your best moments to obey him?
So that, you see, is what this writer says “fix your mind on Jesus” – his mission that is stupendous and his stature that is superior and is there an inclination that you want to be held – you want to be his? That’s a good test.
Guard Your Heart
The second section this morning is Guard your heart.
Now this week incidentally I had a heart test, an ultrasound heart test and the girl who was doing it turned the volume of the machine on every now and again and every now and again there was a very loud ‘slurp slurp slurp of blood’ moving around which I was encouraged by and for those of you who think your Pastor has no heart, I have a print to prove it!
But in these verses (7-19) ‘today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’ and a little further ‘don’t have a heart that goes astray’ and a little further ‘don’t have an evil or unbelieving heart’;
- He’s not talking about the organ
- He’s not talking about the pumping heart
- He’s not talking about your feelings
- He’s not talking about your emotions
He’s talking about the engine inside you that drives you.
He’s asking the question;
- ‘what motivates you?
- What are you excited about?
- What are you organised for?
- What grabs you?
- What drives you?
And because we are capable of great blindness and so we will head off in the wrong direction;
- we are capable of great foolishness, and we make bad decisions
- we are capable of great selfishness, and so we will run for what we want
- we are capable of great sinfulness, and so we will just basically and mentally block out any opposition
- we are capable of great error and evil and therefore we are capable of great danger and most seriously we are capable of getting God angry by just sheer perversity.
This is caused by having a heart that hardens, then goes astray and then shows itself to be a heart of unbelief. The writer who loves us because he represents a God who loves us gives us some very practical advice to make sure that our heart, i.e. our engine is healthy. And just as my Cardiologist gives me occasional tips for a healthy, pumping and temporary heart, this writer gives us some help to have a healthy eternal heart.
I want to simplify it into two phrases or two sentences –
The first is in verses 7-8, Take care to do his work. Take care to do his word. It’s one of the dangers, isn’t it when we come, and we hear a talk, and we say – 6/10 it’s OK – now I am going to completely forget it, it doesn’t matter what it said, I am just not going to do anything. Nothing is going to happen.
And there are times when I have preached the sermon and I go home having said to you something that is really quite simple and plain, and suddenly I find myself needing to actually DO what I’ve been preaching.
It’s almost as if I have to preach the sermon to myself when I get home having preached it to others. And you and I must seek to get into the habit of working out what the text is telling us to do and then seeking to do it.
So everything in the Christian life you may not be very clear at the moment, you may not even feel particularly keen. You may be in a bit of a spiritual fog and a time of doubt and sadness at the moment and the Bible’s advice is – put into practice what you know – don’t beat yourself up – don’t burden yourself overly but just put into practice what you know and don’t walk in the paths that you know are dangerous.
And the writer quotes from Psalm 95 which describes the tragedy of the Israelites because they heard the word of God as they are travelling from Egypt to the Promised Land and they harden their hearts, and they tested God, and they angered God, and they missed the Land.
Now when we hear that the Israelites missed the Promised Land, there are two dangers I think. One is to despair, and you’ll say to yourself ‘what hope do I have? They sinned, and they missed out on everything – I sin will I miss out on everything?’
I think we need to be very careful to realise that when the Bible says that the Israelites missed out on the Promised Land, they missed out on the soil of Canaan. I don’t think the Bible is necessarily telling us that these people went to hell. I don’t want to minimise the danger of what the writer is saying, but they missed out on the land, they missed out on the Promised Land. Moses missed out on the Promised Land.
There is something much bigger than getting to the Middle East – and that’s getting to glory. It’s getting to the New Heavens and the New Earth. And what the writer is simply saying to us is – remember that the Israelites missed out on the land of Canaan, learn from them so that you don’t harden your heart, go astray, fall into unbelief and apostatise on eternal life. That’s the danger. So don’t despair as if one slip will cost you everything but learn from the Israelites that it is possible to miss out if you are beginning to go astray leads to something much more serious, especially apostasy.
The other danger of course when we read this is that we just say ‘oh I don’t care – they were sort of poor Israelites and I am a Christian, and everything is all safe and secure’. And so we miss the very real warning which is that we are capable of hardening and drifting and declining and some people do it in front of our eyes. So we need to make sure that we don’t despair in the face of this and at the same time, we don’t get completely careless. You and I need to concentrate on surrendering to the word of God and doing it.
There’s the first – do the word. Is there something that you are very clear on at the moment that you shouldn’t do because of the word of God – don’t do it?
Is there something that you are clear that you should do because of the word of God – do it?
That’s the way to keep your heart healthy – that’s the way to make sure that the engine of your life is moving you in the right direction.
And the second piece of ‘heart wisdom’ is that we must stir up God’s people (verse 13). We must encourage one another.
The word is ‘parakaleo’ word to ‘come alongside’. It’s the word that is used for the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete and of course if you think that this word just means to be positive all the time, you know that at the end of the letter in chapter 13, the writer says ‘I have written this to encourage you’.
And of course, the letter does much more than be positive. The letter sometimes admonishes and corrects and rebukes and is supportive and is comforting and there is a whole range of things that we are to do when we come alongside.
And we are to be those who come alongside one another to keep us going forward. And if I might say and I haven’t planned to say this – if I might say this is never going to work if we fall into the trap of just being around every 3rd, 4th or 5th week. We are never going to have this ministry, and we are never going to get this ministry so let’s do our best as long as we are able and as much as we can get alongside to stir one another up to love and do good works.
Sin is very deceitful, our hearts are very deceitful, and we need daily stirring. I know what I am like. I know that I am capable of hardening my heart. There is nothing harder in the universe than the human heart. We have an incredible ability to just steal ourselves and say ‘I don’t care what anybody says’.
And there is nothing softer in the universe than the heart of Christ. And that’s why it is a very great privilege to bring our situation to him and find sympathy and help. But because we are capable of hardening and straying and we are capable of falling into great danger, we need to stir one another up to love and good works, and you should never pretend that a Pastor is just a machine, not that you do because you know me, but you should never pretend that a Pastor is a machine that just keeps going in the right direction. You should keep saying to me – things like – ‘are you repenting? Are you believing? Are you reading your Bible? Do you love your wife? Are you walking faithfully?
And I need to be able to say those things to you, and that’s one of the great blessings at morning tea over coffee is to say to one another – ‘how’s your walk with Christ going?’ ‘What have you been learning lately’? ‘Do you think this is a year that you are growing’? ‘Or is this one of those slack periods’?
We know when we look at one another we can work out sometimes, can’t we, that people are backsliding, they are going through a really cool phase, they are just not the same person they were, and we sometimes need to work out – Lord how do I say something that is going to encourage them to pick up and go forward?
So this is the wisdom of this Hebrew Cardiologist – that if we are to be Christians who are healthy we need to have daily doing of the word and daily stirring of one another. The shock of the Israelites, of course, is that they did hear the word of God – they heard sermons, they saw miracles but they still sinned and disobeyed, and their waywardness became tragic.
Well, please take this excellent and loving medicine, and I’ll try and do the same! Fix your mind on Jesus. Don’t be surprised if your mind goes everywhere BUT JESUS if your faith gets weak – fix your mind on Jesus, his mission, his stature and pray that God would give you an inclination to walk closely with him and do guard your heart, guard your heart by doing the word and stirring lovingly one another.
Let’s pray for help. Father, we give you great thanks for this loving and wise word, and we pray that you would help us in the light of it to fix our mind on the Lord Jesus and to take great heart from him.
We also pray that you would give us healthy spiritual hearts that are inclined to do your word and also supportive of the fellowship, useful to one another and helpful in stirring one another up.
We pray for one another that you would keep us to the end and we pray that we might not just hang on to the end but that we might run well. We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.