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HEBREWS 10 - 13

 

(WE SHOULD ALWAYS MOVE FORWARD
IN OUR FAITH)

by LARRY CORY

 

A SUMMARY OF THE MESSAGE OF
HEBREWS

 

You should move forward in your faith because Jesus Christ is infinitely greater than the prophets, the angels, and Moses (1:1-3:6)

Therefore, move forward in your faith by (1) not hardening your hearts and by (2) making every effort to enter God's rest (3:7-4:13)

You should move forward in your faith because Jesus Christ is an infinitely greater High Priest than Aaron (4:14-5:10)

Therefore, move forward in your faith by diligently acting on your faith (5:11-6:12)

Move forward in your faith because Jesus' New Covenant priesthood is infinitely greater than Aaron's Old Covenant priesthood (6:13-10:18)

Therefore, move forward in your faith by drawing near to God, following the example of the heroes of the faith, and by persevering in the race (10:19-12:29)

Therefore, move forward in your faith by being obedient to God's instructions (13:1-17)

Closing Words (13:18-25)

 

 

Introductory Information About the Book of Hebrews

1. The author of Hebrews: The book of Hebrews is the only book in the New Testament where we do not have any knowledge about the identity of the author.  Origen, an early Christian leader said, "Who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, only God knows for certain."

2. The letter to the Hebrews:  The book is written to Hebrew Christians who were beginning to consider going back to their Old Testament Jewish practices.  It appears that they were facing great pressure from the Hebrews who did not believe that Jesus is the Messiah.  The book of Hebrews was written to urge them not to fall back to the ceremonies that pointed to Jesus, but instead he urges them to move forward so that they can experience a deeper and richer faith in Jesus Christ.

     Let us continue to look at how the author of Hebrews encouraged the Hebrew Christians of his time to not fall backwards, but to move forward in their faith.  He is at this point showing us how the Old Testament Tabernacle/Temple was a picture of our New Testament or New Covenant relationship with God.  May his words help us to better understand the nature of our New Covenant relationship with God!

 

MOVE FORWARD IN YOUR FAITH BECAUSE JESUS' NEW COVENANT PRIESTHOOD IS GREATER THAN AARON'S OLD COVENANT PRIESTHOOD (6:13-10:18) (CONTINUED)

-------------
d. Jesus, the true High Priest, entered the true Tabernacle with His

blood to cleanse us from sin (9:11-10:18)

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(5) The Old Testament ceremonies were useless and empty by themselves

for four reasons (10:1-4):
"The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."

Thought Question:  According to these verses, why are the Old Testament ceremonies inadequate for us today?

 

 

(a) The Old Testament ceremonies were only a "shadow" of what was

ahead (10:1)
In Hebrews 10:1, we are told that the "law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves."  When we were children, we had many "shadows" or models of what would be coming when we would become adults: toy dolls, cars, trains, dump trucks, guns, sports items, and many more.  All of these were pictures of what was to come in our adult lives.  God also gave the Old Testament believers models of what was to be coming when Jesus Christ the predicted Messiah of Israel would come.  The Old Testament was full of these models: the High Priest, the Tabernacle, the sacrifices, the scapegoat, the Day of Atonement, the Passover lamb, the washings, and others.  Just as our toy cars have now been replaced by real cars and dolls have been replaced by real babies, so the High Priest, Tabernacle and sacrifices have been replaced by the real thing - by Jesus Christ the Son of God who gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins in the real presence of God.  The High Priest of Israel was replaced by Jesus Christ, mankind's High Priest; the Tabernacle of Israel was replaced by God's throne in Heaven; and Israel's sacrificial system has been replaced by Jesus' sacrifice of Himself.

It is easy for us to see how out of place it would be for us to go back to our toys (for us to play with toy cars and no longer drive real cars).  This is what the Jewish Christians were about to do - they were going back to the Jewish High Priest, the Temple and the sacrifices when all of these were just models to point them to Jesus Christ who had already come.  Can we as Christians of today do something similar?  It is also possible for us today to fall back into performing mere ceremonies.  Then our faith relationship with Jesus Christ the risen Son of God ceases to be a real and vital part of our every day.  We each need to ask ourselves, is our Christianity little more than a ceremony or are we experiencing what is real?  In Hebrews 10:1-18, we see why mere ceremony is futile.  In these verses we are shown what is truly the real thing (and it is not Coke!) and why it is so much better.

(b) The Old Testament ceremonies could never make anyone feel

"perfect"ly right with God (10:1-2)
Because the Old Testament sacrifices were offered over and over again, those who offered the sacrifice never felt they were free from guilt.  They were like someone who is continually putting a washing agent like Spray-N-Wash on a stain, but never getting the stain out.  As long as they continued to offer the sacrifices they could never feel that these sacrifices had completely once and for all freed them from the guilt of their sins.  "For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins."

(c) The Old Testament sacrifices, instead of cleansing them from sin once

and for all, were a constant "reminder" of their sins (10:3)
Many are required to take medicine on a regular basis.  This medicine is not a cure for their sickness that they can take and once and for all be healed.  Instead, if they need to keep taking the medicine, it is a constant "reminder" that they have a disease that they are unable to cure.  Each time they take the medicine they are reminded of this reality!  This is what the Old Testament sacrifices were like to the Jewish people.  They were a constant "reminder" that they had a problem that had no cure.  Their problem was their sin.  The sacrifices were a constant "reminder" of their sin and their guilt before God, and a "reminder" that they were not once and for all cleansed from their sin and guilt before God.

(d) The Old Testament sacrifices were offered over and over again because

it was "impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (10:4)
How would a Jewish person of that time have taken these words, "It is impossible for the sacrifices that you offer to take away your sins"?  Of course, they may have thought and, we may think, that our ceremonial efforts are doing something for us to make us right with God.  But as the author of Hebrews points out in this verse and the coming verses, our ceremonial religious efforts can never help us in any way to get right with God.

(6) The Old Testament ceremonies have now been replaced by the real thing

that can take away the guilt from our sin once and for all (10:5-10)
"Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll— I have come to do your will, O God.’” First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, what do all the ceremonies of the Old Testament point to?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How has your week gone?  Have you failed to live up to your expectations for yourself this week?  Have you failed God in any way?  What do these verses mean to you right now?

 

 

As David said in Psalm 40 in Old Testament times, the real thing was not the burnt offerings that were offered every morning and evening, on Sabbaths, and at the festivals of Israel.  Nor were the sin offerings that the Israelites offered for their individual sins the real thing.  "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me."  The real thing was Jesus willingly and voluntarily offering Himself for our sin!  The real thing is you and I being "made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." (10:10) 

Here, the author of Hebrews says in 10:5 that it was Jesus Christ who said what he quotes in 10:5-7 from  Psalm 40:6-8 :  "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.  Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll--I have come to do your will, O God."  Kent, in his commentary on Hebrews, makes the following observation: "Nor can one find in the Gospels any instance where Jesus uttered these words.  The reference is rather to the incarnation considered as a whole, and the psalmist's words are viewed as characteristic of Christ's continual attitude toward the Father."  "Taken from THE EPISTLE TO THE HEBREWS by Homer Kent.  Copyright 1972 by Baker Book House."

(7) Jesus' work is infinitely superior to the work of the Old Testament

priest because it completes God's work for our sin and it makes us
complete before God (10:11-18)

(a) It completes God's work for our sin (10:11-14)

"Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.  Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy."

Thought Question:  How do these verses affect the way you look at your life and your future?

 

 

The priests' work for the sins of Israel was never done.  They offered sacrifices over and over again for the sins of Israel.  But when Jesus offered His one sacrifice for our sins, He SAT DOWN at the right hand of God inside the true Tabernacle of God.  In bowling you normally bowl two balls in each frame.  But when you hit a strike and knock all the pins down with one ball, you SIT DOWN after bowling just the one ball.  Jesus hit a strike with the one offering of His sacrifice for us and sat down (all the guilt of our sin was knocked down)!  Jesus' work for our sin is over!

As it says in these verses, Jesus still does have one task left.  And that one task is gaining full and final victory over His enemies.  In that time, the symbol of victory was for the victorious king to put his foot on the conquered king to show his total victory over him (the king was "made his footstool").  At some time in the future, one prediction of Jesus' victory over sin is still left to be fulfilled: that time when He will conquer all those who have chosen sin and evil rather than choosing Him!  But, at the present time He has completed His work in paying for the guilt of our sin.  All of our sins - past, present, and future, are completely paid for.

(b) Because of Jesus' completed work for us, we are now complete before

God (10:15-18)
"The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:  'This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.'  Then he adds:  'Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.'  And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin."

Thought Question:  In these few verses is a big part of your new Christian identity.  According to these verses, who are you?

 

 

Because of His completed work for us, there is nothing left for us to do but to believe in what He has done for us.  First of all, we are told in these verses that he has put His law in our hearts.  We could not keep the law that was written in stone because our hearts were sinful and did not desire to obey His law.  The Old Covenant law was written in stone.  In the New Covenant, the law is written on our hearts.  He gives us the desire in our hearts to obey His law.  In the verse that is quoted here from the Old Testament, God predicted that He would write His law on our hearts - Jeremiah 31:33.  Next, the author of Hebrews tells us that we are completely forgiven for our sins - past, present, and future: "Their sins and lawless act I will remember no more."  We are already complete and completely forgiven.

 

THEREFORE, MOVE FORWARD IN YOUR FAITH BY DRAWING NEAR TO GOD, FOLLOWING THE EXAMPLE OF THE HEROES OF THE FAITH, AND BY PERSEVERING IN THE RACE (10:19-12:29)

1. Let us draw near to God (10:19-22)

"Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."

Thought Question #1: In these verses, the author urges his readers to make an action based on what he has taught them in the earlier chapters.  List the action that we are now to take and next to the action list the reason(s) we can take this action.

                            ACTION                                 REASON(S)

 

 

 

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How will applying this action to your life change you?

 

 

These verses start with the word, "Therefore."  A question that is often asked by Bible teachers at this point is, "What is the "therefore" there for?  Four examples will help to explain what the "therefore" is there for.  A high school coach is trying to get his football team emotionally prepared for the big game.  He reminds them that this is the most important game of the year; they were beaten by this team last year; someone on the other team said they would be a push-over again this year; they played their worst game of the year against them last year; the other team does not know how good a team they really are; and the pride of the school and the city are on their shoulders.  Therefore . . . they rip off the hinges of the door as they charge out on the field ready to play the game! (or, at least, that is what the coach hopes will happen)

The second example is something that happened frequently in the late 60s in West Coast colleges.  At San Jose State College it happened like this:  A speaker yelled from a raised platform, "What do you think about everyone telling you what to think and how to think?  Can you think for yourself?  Can they tell us we have to go out and fight in a war we don't believe in, that we have to fight in THEIR war?"  Therefore . . . they marched over as a mob to the administration building.  Their self-appointed leader yelled at the college president to come out and listen to their demands.  When the college president did not obey him, their new leader threw a rock covered by a burning American flag through the glass door of the administration building.

The third example:  Your mechanic says your oil leaked and you kept driving with no oil.  Therefore . . . you need a new engine.  Finally, on a more positive note, you receive a letter from the IRS that you paid $200 too much on your income tax.  Therefore . . . they are sending you a check for $200.  This is what we typically do: we present something we see to be the truth (it is raining out) and then suggest what we believe to be the appropriate action that one should make in response to the truth---therefore (you should wear your raincoat).  We see this pattern throughout the Bible (especially throughout the New Testament).  In the first eleven chapters of the book of Romans, Paul states the truth about our sinfulness and that Jesus died so we can be forgiven and receive His new life within us.  Then, in Romans 12:1, he says, "Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship."  He continues in Romans with a description of how they can make this appropriate response to God's mercy toward them.

The pattern in the New Testament is to tell us why we should live as a Christian and why we can live as a Christian, and then we are urged to live it.  Other examples are found in Colossians and Ephesians.  In the first half of these two books are presented the truths, then in Colossian 3:1 and Ephesians 4:1 we are urged to live our lives based on these truths.  The last half of each of these two books presents how we Christians should now live.  Up to this point in Hebrews, we have found a pattern of presenting truths followed by sections that urge us to make the appropriate responses to the truths.  From 10:19 to the end of the book is the action part.  The readers, and we, are urged to respond to the truths that have been presented in the book, and we are given instructions on how we as Christians should now live.

We have reached the climax of the book of Hebrews.  We have learned in this book, which is one of the richest books in the Bible, how the Old Testament and New Testament fit together.  The theme in this book and the Bible is the greatness of Jesus Christ and how He has made it possible for sinful men and woman like you and me to have a relationship with God.  As a result of what Jesus Christ has done for us, what should we therefore do?  "Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God,"   The words that follow the two "since"s summarize everything that has been taught so far in the book.  Now, in verse 22, he urges us to live according to and on the basis of this great reality and truth: "let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, . . . "  If the message of Hebrews is getting through to us, it will result in at least one thing.  We will have confidence or "full assurance" in approaching God!

Many find it difficult to pray, particularly in public.  Maybe you have struggled with this.  One of the reasons is our lack of confidence to approach God.  "Who am I to pray to God?" (especially in front of others)  "What words should I use?"  Each of us can be confident in approaching God.  The reason is given here and it was also given in the last ten chapters of Hebrews.  Why can we be confident?  There is not anything that we can do to make ourselves confident.  It is not the fancy words we use; it is not how many years we have gone to church services; it is not how wonderful a person we are - NO!   We can only be confident because of what Jesus did on the cross for us.  There is only one reason that any of us can approach God--it is because Jesus bled and died for our sins!

The author of Hebrews goes on to express in one more way what Jesus has done for us and why it should make us confident to approach God: "having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water."  If we were going to enter the office of the President of the United States, we would want to be at our very best.  We would wash and clean up and wear our very best clothes.  When we approach God, we are coming to One who can not only see our outside, but He also sees what is on our inside.  To approach Him, we want to be both clean on the outside and on the inside.  Just as the priests of Israel were sprinkled with blood, so our very consciences before God are sprinkled with Jesus' blood to cleanse them from guilt before God.  Everything that needs to be cleansed before we can approach God has been cleansed.  There now remains no reason for us not to approach God with confidence.  Therefore, let us draw near to God with complete confidence!

a. The author says in 10:20 that Jesus' body was like the veil between the

Holy Place (that contained the lampstand and the table of bread) and the Holy Of Holies (that contained the Ark of the Covenant).
"by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,"  The High Priest of Israel opened this curtain to go into the Holy of Holies.  We do not go into the true Holy of Holies by opening a veil, but Jesus' body opened the way to God for us.  As the veil was torn at Jesus' crucifixion, so Jesus' body was torn so that we can approach God.  In John 14:6, Jesus says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me."  Through Jesus Christ, each of us---both new Christian and Christian of many years---has equal access to God.  Because Jesus not only died, but He also resurrected and lives today to usher us into the very presence of God; He is the living way to God.  Just as we might be able to enter the President's office freely and boldly if we came in with the President's child, so we can approach God today because His Son died and resurrected and has opened the way for us.

b. In 10:21, the author says, "we have a great priest over the house of

God, . . . "
What is the "house of God"?  In 3:6, the author says, "But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house.  And we are his house, if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast."  At a church service we are not sitting in the house of God, the house of God is sitting in a building!  As the living Lord and priest over God's house, which is you and I, Jesus is our moment by moment representative before God.

c. In 10:22, we are told we are to "draw near to God with a sincere heart in

full assurance of faith."
You will only be able to apply the words in this verse to your life if you have truly taken to heart what God has said to you so far.  In fact, if you truly are able to apply to your life what is taught in the book of Hebrews, you will be able to "draw near to God with a sincere heart" every moment of your life.  Most of us have been driving our car when we suddenly see a policeman near to us, and maybe he is even driving right next to us.  If we look down and see that we are driving a little below the speed limit, we can feel free from the heart to drive right next to him without feeling guilty.  We can approach God without guilt not because we are guiltless, but because Jesus' blood cleansed all the guilt from our consciences.

How often can we do this and in what life situations can we be confident that we can approach God for His help and sustenance?  Ray Stedman in his commentary on Hebrews gives the following answer to this question:  "he is saying that we are to live continually in unfeigned dependence upon an indwelling Christ.  Draw near means continually to walk in the presence of God.  You do not draw near to God when you come to church.  You are no nearer there than you are at work, at play, or wherever you are.  If you have not learned how to draw near to Him in everyday life you will never learn how to draw near to Him in church.  You draw near to God when you live in recognition of His presence in your life all the time.  That is what He asks us to do.  When we draw near on that basis there are the wonderful results.  First, there is full assurance of faith.  That means living out of adequacy; that means to discover a source of supply which never runs dry.  Your dependence is no longer upon the weak abilities you may have as a natural man: your talents, your gifts, your training, your education.  Your dependence now is upon the flowing power of the Spirit of the living God who dwells in you, a river of living water, a supply that never runs dry.  That is living out of adequacy.  You are prepared to meet any circumstance, not in trepidation or trembling, but in the quiet confidence that He who is in you is able to do everything that needs to be done.  That is full assurance, is it not?  Full assurance of faith."  "Taken from WHAT MORE CAN GOD SAY? by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 by Regal Books, Ventura, CA 93003."

2. Let us hold on to our hope (10:23)

"Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful."

Thought Question #1: In this verse, the author urges his readers to take an action based on what he has taught them in the earlier chapters.  List the action that we are now to take and next to the action list the reason(s) we can take this action.

                            ACTION                                 REASON(S)

 

 

 

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How will applying this action to your life change you?

 

 

Unswervingly or without wavering means without bending back.  They were bending back.  Faith and hope looks forward and unbelief looks back.  When the Israelites were in the wilderness and things were getting tough, what did they do?  They grumbled and complained and said they wanted to go back to Egypt.  How does this apply to us?  When trials come we need to continually keep our eyes looking up and forward, continually trusting in God's provision that He will be with us through it all: "let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us . . . Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." (Hebrews 12:1,4)  When we reach the end of our life of faith we will meet Jesus who will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant."

3. Let us encourage each other (10:24,25)

"And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching."

Thought Question #1: In these verses, the author urges his readers to take actions based on what he has taught them in the earlier chapters.  List the actions that we are now to take and next to each action list the reason(s) we can take this action.

                            ACTION                                 REASON(S)

(1)

 

(2)

 

(3)

 

Thought Question #2:  How will applying these actions to your life, change you?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Why does the author of Hebrews urge these Hebrew Christians to "not give up meeting together"?

 

 

Thought Question #4:  Why is the encouragement to "not give up meeting together" relevant to us today?

 

 

Thought Question #5:  What are ways "we can spur one another toward love and good deeds"(When we make this list, what are we doing?  Hint: reread 10:24)

 

 

How can we "spur one another toward love and good deeds"?  He tells us, first, what we are not to do - abandon church fellowship when it gets tough and, then, what we are to do - we are to get together and do all we can to encourage each other!

a. We are not to abandon the fellowship of Christians (10:25)

The universal principle is that when the going gets tough, the easiest thing to do is to quit.  This is what the Jewish Christians were doing.  They were abandoning the Christian fellowship and were undoubtedly going back to the Jewish synagogues.  Today, also, there are many across our nation (and certainly across our world and throughout time) who have, for one reason or another, stopped meeting together with other Christians.  Some of the reasons we stop fellowshipping with other Christians are as follows: (1) We have been hurt and we are not going to get hurt again. (2) The church is not what it is supposed to be. (3) We can get closer to God by going out in nature than by going to a dead church meeting.  (4) We have many more reasons to justify no long attending church services.  But not meeting together with other Christians is the very opposite of what God desires for us.  The church may not be what it should be, but the church will not become more what it should be if we avoid getting together with other Christians.

When the going gets tough and as we get closer to the Day that Jesus returns, we need to seek after fellowship with other Christians more, not seek it less.  As a campfire goes out when we separate the burning pieces of wood from each other, so the fire of God in His church goes out if we separate ourselves from God's fire in other Christians.  As the Day draws closer, we need to meet together more not less, and together fan the flame of the corporate life of Christ in us into a greater flame.  We have given up when we quit attending our church fellowship; we are continuing to trust God and serve Him when we continue to fellowship and serve in our local church.

b. We are to encourage one another and to "spur one another on toward love

and good deeds."
It is very easy to stir up gossip, bitterness, factions, and tearing others down in the church.  This can be done without any effort, for it is the very easiest thing for us humans to do.  But, we Christians have another work to do.  We are not to be encouraging factions and hate; we are to be working at encouraging others toward love and good deeds.  This does not come easily.  We can do it only because we have the continual access to God that was gained through the blood of Christ.  When things get difficult for us, the natural human tendency is for us to give up, quit our church fellowship, and to be no different than the world in our attitudes toward others.  However, as we approach the last days when life will be an even a greater struggle and when it will be even more difficult to continue to live the Christian life, we should not become less and less involved in church fellowship, but we should become even more involved with other Christians.  Instead of leaving the church, we should be even more dedicated to meeting together and even more determined towards encouraging each other to be the best Christians that we can be with God's continual help.

4. Let us not be like those who keep on sinning (10:26-31)

"If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.  How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, 'It is mine to avenge; I will repay,' and again, 'The Lord will judge his people.'  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."

Thought Question #1:  `Who is the author of Hebrews talking about in 10:26-31, Christians who lose their salvation, those who appear to be Christians but reject God, or is there another explanation?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you think the author of Hebrews is warning these Hebrew Christians so strongly in these verses?

 

 

Thought Question #3:   What is the relationship between the defiant sin described in Exodus 21:12-14, Numbers 15:27-31; and Deuteronomy 17:1-7 and the defiant sin described in 10:26-31?

 

 

Many of us have stood on the edge of a cliff, such as standing next to the Grand Canyon, and have thought how easy it would be for as to jump forward and fall to our death.  A far greater concern for us as Christians is for us to go back to our life of sin once we have known Jesus Christ and His death for us.  As Paul says in Romans 6:1-2: "What shall we say then?  Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means!  We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"  But what of those who do make a profession that they have become a Christian and do go back to living in sin as they did in their life before they made their claim to be a Christian?

There were Hebrews like this in the time the Book of Hebrews was written.  Their falling away from Christ was an influence on those who were truly Christians.  The author of Hebrews warns them about why they did not want to be like these fellow Hebrews who had fallen away from following Christ.  He tells them that "If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left."  He is not describing someone who deliberately commits one sin, but one who deliberately chooses to live a life of sin.  The words "keep on sinning" translate a present tense Greek participle, which describe someone who chooses to continually sin.  It describes someone who deliberately chooses a Christless life of sin, even though he understands what Jesus did for him.  The term that is used to describe this type of choice is "apostacy."

He goes on to say that this man has "trampled the Son of God under foot"; he has "treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctifies him"; he has "insulted the Spirit of grace."  If someone knows what Jesus did for each of us on the cross, but continues to deliberately sin, he is forever lost.  It is as if he is telling Jesus, "I know that you died for me, but I am going to continue sinning anyway."  He is going to continue to sin even though he knows he does not have to live in sin any more.

In the Old Testament times, if someone sinned like this, the penalty was banishment or death.  If they sinned unintentionally, they could offer a sacrifice for their sin. If they sinned defiantly, they were cut off from Israel or they were killed.  (See Exodus 21:12-14; Numbers 15:27-31; Deuteronomy 17:1-7)  The author says that if the punishment was this severe in the Old Testament, how much more severe it will be for those who reject Jesus Christ the Son of God, the One who was not alive and revealed to those in the Old Testament period.

Who could fall away from Jesus Christ like this?  Is he talking about Christians who lose their salvation?  Is he talking about Christians who are severely judged but do not lose their salvation?  Is he speaking hypothetically to Christians about something completely contrary to what they would ever do?  Or is he talking about those who were part of the professing church, but fell away showing that they never truly became Christians? "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.  For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us." (I John 2:19)

 The Bible appears to clearly teach that once a person becomes a Christian, he will never lose his salvation. In Romans 8:28-39, Paul teaches us that all who are foreknown and predestined by God to be his children will be glorified as his children.  None will be lost!  Nothing will separate them from His love.  If Hebrews 10 is saying that a Christian can lose his salvation, he is saying the very opposite of what is said in Romans 8 and other similar passages.  Because God's Word cannot contradict itself, he cannot be saying here that a Christian can lose his salvation.

Also, the judgment here appears to be much stronger then those passages that talk about God's severe judgment on Christians who choose to live sinfully.  In I Corinthians 11:30, Paul says that there were Christians who were weak, who were sick and even had died as result of God's judgment on them because of their sinful lifestyles.  In I Corinthians 5, Paul orders the church at Corinth to turn a man who had a sexually immoral relationship with his step-mother over to Satan .  In I Timothy 1, Paul turns over to Satan two men who have rejected living by faith and a good conscience and who are no longer walking with God.  These judgments are not the severe judgment of eternal punishment that is found in these verses: "a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."

Is he speaking of something hypothetical, something a true Christian would never consider doing?  The last verse of this chapter argues against this interpretation: "But we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."  Here, he is describing not a hypothetical possibility, but something that some do and "are destroyed."

This leaves us with the final alternative: that they were, like those described in 6:4-8, who had come to an understanding of the Gospel and the new life that is available through Jesus Christ, but had cold-heartedly rejected what Jesus had done for them.  Do the Hebrew Christians want to be like them?  Do we want to be like them?  There are those who do jump off a building, off the Golden Gate Bridge, and off a cliff.  Do we want to follow them?  No, we do not want what happened to them to happen to us!  Nor did these Hebrew Christians want to be one of those who would "fall into the hands of the living God."  Nor do we want to experience the "raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."

Just one more thought before we leave this section.  There is one difficulty with the interpretation that these verses and 6:4-8 refer to a non-Christian who rejects the Gospel even though he has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit to understand the Gospel.  That one difficulty is the words about him in verse 29 that he is one "who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him."  Someone might ask, "Do not these words describe a Christian?"

The words that follow these words in verse 29 could easily be seen as describing a non-Christian who has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, but who turns away: "and who has insulted the spirit of grace."  What about the words, "that sanctified him"?  Kenneth Wuest, who holds the same interpretation that is presented in these pages gives the following answer:  "But, the difficulty disappears when we remember that the writer is addressing himself to the professing Christian church, made up of saved and unsaved, and the idea here is, 'wherewith he professed to be sanctified.'"  "Taken from WORD STUDIES IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT by Kenneth S. Wuest.  Copyright 1942 by Wm. B. Eerdman's Publishing Company."

Allow me to attempt to simplify his scholarly words.  These people, though it turned out that they were not Christians, had at one time fellowshipped with these Hebrew Christians as fellow members of the church.  They had also professed to believe that the blood of Jesus Christ cleansed them from sin.  And even though they understood and appeared to believe that Jesus' blood sanctified or made them holy before God, they nevertheless rejected what Jesus had done for them.  Each person who fell away from the church then "treated as an holy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him."  These words simply mean that he coldly rejected the blood of Christ which he had once freely spoken about as having paid the penalty for his sins.

5. Continue on as you began (10:32-39)

a. Look back to how you began (10:32-34)

"Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions."

Thought Question:  What is the test in these verses that the author of Hebrews uses to determine that those he was writing to were Christians?  Would we pass this test (under similar circumstances)?

 

 

The author takes the true Christians back to how they began their Christian lives.  It was a time when they would not even have considered going backwards; when all they thought about was going forward in their faith.  "Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.  Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions."  They trusted God and stood up for what they believed, even though it meant suffering and even though they were insulted and persecuted.

They helped those in prison who would have starved unless food was brought to them by their friends.  This was very risky for them, for by giving food to these prisoners they could have ended up in a prison cell right next to them.  They were even willing to lose their property.  Would we be as willing today to lose our property for the cause of Jesus Christ?  These men and women were clearly real Christians.  How can we know if our faith is real?  One test to see if our faith is real is to ask ourselves if we are willing to do what these Hebrew Christians did.  Are we willing to do what is right and to follow Christ even if it costs us?

Hebrews 11 describes those in the Old Testament who had this type of faith.  These Jewish Christians were like that in the beginning of their faith.  These Christians had started their lives of faith with a willingness to trust and follow Jesus Christ no matter what the cost.  Because of persecution and the abandonment of the faith by some, their faith was beginning to go from hot to warm.  The author urges them to look back at the type of faith that they had in the beginning and to continue as they had begun.  And we are also urged to follow the type of faith that they had at the beginning.

b. Continue on as you began (10:35-39)

So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.  For in just a very little while, 'He who is coming will come and will not delay.  But my righteous one will live by faith.  And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.'  But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."

Thought Question:  What is the second test of faith given to us by the author of Hebrews that is given in these verses?  Do we pass this test?

 

 

They started right, but it is one thing to start with confidence and it is something else to persevere.  It is easy to start a long race, but it is much more difficult to finish the race.  True faith shows itself not in one act of trusting God, but true faith shows itself by trusting God throughout our lives, right up to the end of our lives.  Faith is believing that there will be a time in the future when Jesus will return.  Living by faith is doing right now whatever we believe will please Him, so He will be pleased with us when He comes.

There is an obvious contrast here between those in 10:26-31 who keep on sinning and will face a horrible judgment when Jesus returns and these Christians who if they continue on in faith will be "richly rewarded" when Jesus returns.  He is warning these Christians whose faith was shown to be real and true to never shrink back in their faith; for if they do shrink back, Jesus will not be pleased with them.  But, he is confident that they will not shrink back:  "But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved."  He believed that their faith was real in the beginning and that it was still real.  He gives them two choices and the consequences: they can turn from God and face his judgment or they can continue to trust God and ultimately be saved by Him.  For the true Christian, there is only one choice and he was confident of what they would choose.

All of us have had times like these Hebrew Christians had when it was (or is) difficult for us to keep on keeping on.  An example of this was when Shirley and I were houseparents in a Christian boys' home.  We and the other house parents had gone some time without any time off due to counselors quitting and no new counselors being able to be hired.  It would have been an easy time for everyone to have given up.  The director of the boys' home said that we needed to decide right away whether we were going to give up or continue to give our all to the work; for in this type of work there is no in-between.  We all rededicated ourselves to giving it our all.  The Christian life is like this also.  We need to decide whether we are going to give up or give it our all, for in the Christian life there is no in-between.  In the life of faith we know that if we give up or give it our all, that we will someday face the One who gave His all for us!

6. Remember and follow the example of those in the past who lived lives of

faith (11:1-40)
Some of the most famous chapters in the Bible are I Corinthians 13, I Corinthians 15, Romans 7 and Psalm 23.  Each of these chapters is famous because each has one important theme: love, resurrection from the dead, freedom from the law, and God's shepherdly care for us.  The chapter we are coming to is just as famous.  It is called the "faith chapter".  It is an important chapter for every Christian, for in an unstable and unpredictable world, we each need the stability that comes from a constant faith in God. The early Christians needed this "faith chapter" and so do we.  To help them (and to help us), the author gave them a whole chapter on faith.  He begins by telling them (and us) what faith is and then he gives them (and us) a whole chapter full of examples of those who had faith!

a. The definition of faith (11:1,2)

"Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, what is Biblical faith?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What is the difference between superstition, positive thinking and faith in God?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Why do you think Hebrews' definition of faith includes a faith in both what we cannot see and what has not happened yet?

 

 

(1) What is faith?

Is faith a feeling of optimism about the future?  Is it what is described in a popular song of the past?  "I believe that somewhere in the darkest night, a candle burns."  True faith is more than a vague feeling of optimism.  True faith does not just believe, but it believes in something that is dependable and trustworthy.  Is faith "positive thinking"?  Faith is much more than just trying to always look at the positive side of things.  In fact, true faith includes all that is really true.  It includes the negative in reality like our sin and the Devil and his angels, and it includes what is positive in reality like God's love for us.  Is faith believing in spite of all the evidence?  No, this is not faith, it is superstition.  True faith is trusting in the evidence, not ignoring the evidence.  What is faith, then?  The best definition is found in ll:1:  "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see."

What is faith, then?  Faith is a regular part of our lives.  We exercise faith when we turn our lights on.  We do not know if the lights will go on, for it has not happened yet.  We cannot see the electric current and that all the wires are connected properly to a power source.  We are confident of what has not happened yet and of what we cannot see.  We fully expect that the lights will go on when we turn the switch.  We have come to believe in the trustworthiness of our light switches, and we are confident that the lights will go on before we turn the switch on.  We exercise faith like this all day long.  We, in faith, turn on the ignition of our cars (expecting them to start up), sit down on chairs (expecting them to hold us up), and go to churches believing there will be others that will show up to be with us (especially the pastor).  Faith comes when we believe that something or someone is trustworthy.  We respond to that trustworthiness by taking actions of faith. 

 

(2) What is faith in God?

Faith in God is confidence that the God who is revealed in the Bible is real and trustworthy, even though we do not see Him.  When we trust God, we believe in what has not happened yet.  The resurrection from the dead has not happened yet.  The judgment of God's enemies at the great White Throne Judgment has not happened yet.  Satan and his angels being thrown into hell has not happened yet.  The Marriage Supper of the Lamb where we will celebrate the beginning of our eternal time with Christ has not happened yet.  Faith in God includes "being sure of what we hope for." 

When we trust God we believe in what we do not see.  We do not see the angels, God and His throne or Jesus at the right hand of the Father.  We do not see the Holy Spirit who is living inside of us.  Faith in God includes being "certain of what we do not see."

The Bible says in Romans 10:17 that "faith comes by hearing the message, and the message is heard through the Word of Christ."  Throughout the Bible, we are introduced to God and how trustworthy He is.  The more we read with our hearts open, the more we learn of His trustworthiness.  When the Bible states that something is true, do you believe it is true?  Can you put your total faith in it?  When the Bible says that Jesus died for your sins and you are now totally forgiven, can you trust that to be totally true?  When the Bible says that Jesus is coming again, can you trust that to be totally true?  When the Bible says you will rise from the dead, can you trust that to be totally true?  Faith in God occurs when we get to know God in the Bible and believe all of these statements found in the Bible to be true even though we do not see them and even though they have not happened yet.  Our faith in God and His word will express itself by the way we live.  This is the type of faith that the believers in God in the Old Testament had. They did not know about Jesus Christ, but they took what God revealed to them about Himself and they based their lives on it.  The rest of Hebrews 11 is about their faith.

b. Those who demonstrated lives of faith - the heroes of the faith (11:3-40)

The author of Hebrews goes through the history of the people of faith.  He begins with those just after the beginning of the world who believed that God created the universe and on to men and women of faith throughout the Old Testament times.

(1) Faith believes that the universe was formed by God's command; and

faith in God believes that what is seen was made out of what is not seen (11:3)
"By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible."

Thought Question:  Why do you believe that some people believe that God created the universe, and some are very strong in their belief that God did not create the universe? (See Hebrews 3:4 and Romans 1:18-20)

 

 

How did we get here?  The early believers believed the first verse of the Bible:  "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."  How can we know that God commanded the universe to come into existence?  No one was there to see it happen!  God said it happened and there were ancient people who believed it.  God said it and that was enough for them.  Those of faith believe it today.

This is really not a difficult task; the evidence is overwhelming that this world we are living in was created by God.  As Paul says in Romans 1:20, "since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse."  The evidence that we were formed by an intelligent designer is all around us at all times.  A child can see it easily.  It is only as we get older and want to justify our rebellious independence from God that we are able to darken our minds so that we cannot see the obvious.  Ancient men of faith believed that the universe was formed by God.  And, as it says in 11:2, they "were commended" for it.

(2) Abel's faith - it enabled him to offer service and worship that was

acceptable to God (11:4) "By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead."

Thought Question #1:  What made Abel's sacrificial offering acceptable and better than Cain's offering? See Genesis 4:1-12

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What makes our efforts as Christians acceptable to God?

 

 

What made Abel's sacrificial offering to be better than Cain's offering and acceptable to God?  What makes our efforts as Christians to be acceptable to God?  Cain and Abel were sons of Adam and Eve.  Cain was a farmer, and he offered the produce of his fields to God (it was probably grain).  Abel was a shepherd, and he offered an animal sacrifice to God.  It does not tell us here or in Genesis 4 that God accepted Abel's offering because it was an animal sacrifice and rejected Cain's offering because it was grain (God instructed Israel to offer both animal and grain offerings).  Why was Abel's offering acceptable and Cain's sacrifice not acceptable to God?  The answer is given in this verse.  Abel's offering was given in faith and Cain's was not.  What makes what we do acceptable to God?  God desires that we come to Him in faith as Abel did.  Cain appears to have come to God, believing that he had earned his way into a relationship with God; whereas, Abel came to God believing that God would provide a way for sinful man to come to God.

In Romans 10:1-4, Paul explains that many of the Jewish people were coming to God on the basis of their own righteousness; and just like Cain, they were not acceptable to God.  What makes what we do as Christians acceptable to God?  As it says in Isaiah 64:6, our righteous acts are like filthy rags to God.  It is only what we do believing in God's forgiveness, guidance and provision that is acceptable to God.  We begin the Christian life by believing in God's gift of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. We are to continue in the Christian life believing in His grace toward us. See Colossians 2:6  We offer to God a life that God Himself has made possible through His grace.  When non-Christians are asked why they think God will allow them to enter His Heaven, many will say that they have tried to live the best life they can.  This is like offering Cain's offering of human accomplishments.  The only way we can enter God's Heaven is through the gift of the blood of Jesus Christ.  And the only works that God accepts are those that were done by trusting in God's love for us.

(3) Enoch's faith - it enabled him to draw closer and closer to God (11:5,6)

"By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away.  For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God.  And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, what can we learn from Enoch about the life of faith?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you think that Enoch was one of the two people in the Bible who did not die, but was taken up to be with God before he died?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  From verse six, how can we tell whether or not our lives are based on a genuine faith in God?

 

 

A Sunday School girl put it this way:  "Enoch was a man who loved to walk with God, and they used to take long walks together.  One day they walked so far that God said, 'Look Enoch.  It's too far for you to go back, just come on home with me.'  So he walked home with God."  Enoch was one of the two men in the Bible that never died.  The other was Elijah.  Both men were taken up to be with God before they died. (One Christian brother said that is where they got the phrase, "Beam me up, Scotty.")  Enoch teaches us how to grow closer to God.  We grow closer to God by walking with Him in faith.

Hebrews ll:6 is another of the very important verses in the Bible that needs to be particularly focused upon:  "And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him."  Enoch did believe God and He did seek Him earnestly, and God rewarded him by taking him to be with Him.  He will reward us also if we wholeheartedly seek Him in faith.  As James says in James 4:8: "Come near to God and he will come near to you."  We please God when we believe that He exists and that He will reward a life of faith in Him.  We who base our lives on the belief that there is a God whom we cannot see and a life in Heaven that is on the other side of the grave are now pleasing God.  One day we will be rewarded.  As Paul said, "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us."  (Romans 8:18)

Hebrews 11:6 is one of those verses that we should memorize and a verse that that we should come back to periodically.  For are there not times when we struggle with believing that God "rewards those who earnestly seek him"?  As I prepare these words, I am looking at an old Bible that I just use in my office.  Hebrews 11:6 is completely circled in this Bible.  At some time in the past, I wanted to make sure that I focused on this verse whenever I read Hebrews; as I am doing right now.  May this verse be the type of precious encouragement to you that it has been to me.

(4) Noah's faith - it enabled him to be saved from God's judgment (11:7)

"By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith."

Thought Question:  According to this verse, when is our faith like Noah's faith?

 

 

Noah built an ark because God said there was going be a flood.  The people of his time surely thought of him as Nutty Noah, for he was building an ark at a time when there was no rain.  In Genesis 2:5 it says that there was no rain and that streams came up from the earth to water the ground.  (The ark he built was 1 1/2 football fields long and 4 1/2 stories tall)

Noah's faith exposed the unbelief in God that was present in the world of his time.  Noah marched to a different drummer than the rest of the people in the world around him.  He believed God, and they did not.  He was saved from God's judgment, and they were not!  We Christians today need to follow the example of Noah.  We also need to obey God even when the world around us believes that we are nutty.  For we will one day be saved from God's judgment; and if they do not also come to believe in God as we do, they will not be saved from God's judgment.

(5) Abraham's faith - trusting God when we do not know where God is

leading us, when He will keep His promises to us, and how He
can keep His promises to us (11:8-12)
"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.  By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise.  For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.  By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore."  Abraham's faith helps us when we struggle with these where, when, and how questions.

Thought Question:  How can Abraham's and Sarah's faith be of help to you during those times when it is hard to keep believing?

 

 

(a) Abraham believed God, even when he did not know where God

was leading (11:8) (This is faith being obedient to God's leading.)
We are told in Genesis 11 and 12 that God appeared to a man named Abram (God changed his name to Abraham) in the city of Ur (in the region of modern Iraq) many miles from Israel.  In Genesis 12:1-3, God told Abram to leave his family and home and go to a land he had never seen.  They were living at the time in a thriving city on the Euphrates River in the middle of the Fertile Crescent. 

He was being asked to go to a land that was beyond a waste land.  Abram at first only obeyed God part way: he left Ur, but followed the river up to Haran before he left the fertile area of the Euphrates River and went to Canaan.  See Genesis 11:31, 12:4,5)

"By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going."  Do we have Abraham's type of faith?  Are we willing to obey Him even though we do not know where that will lead us?  None of us are a step ahead of God.  Abraham and Sarah did not have any idea what was in God's mind.  They did not know, and we do not know "the rest of the story."  They did not know about the nation of Israel, King David, Jesus Christ and the Church.  We do not have any idea what is in God's mind for us and what part He has for us in His plans.  Will we trust Him even though we do not know where He is leading us?  The choice is ours - we can stay in Ur or move out, trusting God even though He may lead us across an arid waste land.

(b) Abraham believed God, even when he did not know when God

would keep His promises to him (11:9,10) (This is faith waiting.)
What happened to Abraham when he came to the land God promised to him?  Did he immediately receive all that God promised?  Actually, he spent the rest of his life as a nomad in that land; . . . and so did his son Isaac; . . . and so did his grandson Jacob.  He never became a citizen in the Promised Land and he never built a house there.  He lived in tents the rest of his life and wandered from place to place (Shechem - Genesis 12:6, Bethel - 12:8, Hebron - 13:8, and Beersheba - 22:19). . . . And Isaac and Jacob lived like this also.  "By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise."

Waiting is not something that is easy for any of us.  Few of us enjoy waiting in long lines.  Abraham and Sarah waited on God their whole life and never saw what God had promised to them become a reality.  Nevertheless, they still trusted Him.  We see in verse 10 why Abraham (and Sarah) continued to trust in God: "For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God."  They looked beyond their tents, beyond the future Jerusalem of David, and beyond the Jerusalem of today to the New Jerusalem described at the end of the book of Revelation (the New Jerusalem is mentioned a number of times later in the book of Hebrews: 11:16, 12:22, 13:14).  In faith they looked beyond their life in tents to what God had in store for them beyond their days on earth.  They left Ur to go to the city that God would provide.  They knew that it would be much better than man's cities!

In your life, have you ever felt like Abraham and Sarah?  (Incidentally, Abraham and Sarah were very real people who struggled with their lives, just like we struggle with our lives.)  Have you, like Abraham, made a decision to move out in faith?  Have you chosen to leave what the world has to offer you, but also have not yet received what God has promised to you?  Do you feel like you are living in a tent?  All of this is actually true of every Christian walking by faith.  In fact, we are told that this body is like a tent.  The permanent dwelling is still ahead! See II Corinthians 5:1-4  In I Peter 2:11, we are told that we are "aliens and strangers in this world."  As the Christian hymn says, "This world is not my home, I'm just passing through, my treasures are laid up somewhere beyond the blue, the angels beckon me from Heaven's open door and I can't be at home in this world anymore."

There is much about faith that requires waiting.  Faith means looking beyond our present circumstances and believing what God says is ahead, is ahead!  Even in this life, He has promised to always lead us in triumph. See II Corinthians 2:14  As Abraham's life in faith was working out a part of God's master plan for man, so our life of faith is being used to accomplish another part of God's master plan.  Do you believe that this is true?

(c) Abraham believed God, even when he did not know how God would

keep His promises to him (11:11,12)  (This is faith believing the impossible.)
Sometimes we want to believe in God's promises to us; but when we look at our circumstances, it seems like God's promises cannot possibly be fulfilled.  That is the way it was with Abraham and Sarah.  When the Lord came to them, they were 75 and 65.  See Genesis 12:4  Shortly after this, God promised that that their offspring would inherit the land he would come to.  Using human reasoning this promise from God seemed impossible, for his wife was beyond the child-bearing stage and, as a result, it would seem that they could have no off-spring.  Nevertheless, God said they would have a son.

Their faith in God was not perfect, for they failed to believe God in a number of ways.  After 10 years and no son, Abraham had a child by his maid-servant.  After 15 more years, God appeared to him and told him that he would have a son by Sarah.  He laughed and responded, "Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old?  Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?" (Genesis 17:17)Later, Sarah laughed when she heard she was going to have a child. See Genesis 18:10-12  How is this faith?  Though they failed at times, any couple who has sought unsuccessfully for a long time to have a child is not surprised at Abraham's and Sarah' doubts and failures over a period of twenty-five years.

In spite of these relatively few valleys in their faith, they trusted God that He would fulfill His promise to them and give them a child.  They never left the land that God had promised to them.  Even having a child by a servant was an act of faith.  They believed that God would provide them a child.  They just needed to help Him a little.

"By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.  And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore."  Sarah, of course, did give birth to a son at 90.  His name "Isaac" means "he laughs."  God got the last laugh!  When Sarah laughed, God said, "Is there anything too hard for God?"

We should not laugh at Sarah.  Don't we sometimes think that there is something too hard even for God?  The longer we walk with God, the more difficult are the tests that God gives us.  We will see later in this chapter in Hebrews that an even more difficult test of his faith was ahead.  He passed that harder test because he had already passed the earlier tests of faith.  Is God testing your faith today?  Are you trusting God even though it is not easy, or are you becoming discouraged?   A famous Christian of the past, R.A. Torrey, asked the question, "How big is your God?"  Can we trust Him even if we do not know how He will answer His promises to us?  Will we believe Him even if we need to believe that God can do the impossible?!

(6) People of faith (a summary) - they are those who see themselves

as "aliens and strangers on earth" who are "longing for a better
country—a heavenly one." (11:13-16)
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance.  And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.  People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own.  If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return.  Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them."

Thought Question:  What do these verses teach us about what faith in God will look like in your life?

 

 

 

People of faith are those who have left the worldly life, but are not yet in Heaven.  They (we) are in-between!  Like Abraham and Sarah, we need to see ourselves as strangers in a foreign land.  We are "strangers and aliens" in this world.  We are just passing through on the way to our chosen destination--to be at home finally with God!  In the second most popular book of all time, Pilgrim's Progress, do we know why the hero is called Pilgrim?  John Bunyan, the author, saw himself as a stranger---as a "pilgrim" in this world.  Since this book was written many years ago, John Bunyan (Pilgrim) is now at the end of his journey.  He is now at home.  He fell asleep in the Lord and woke up at home.

Because men like Abraham and John Bunyan did not fall from their faith and continued throughout their lives to look forward in faith to a city God had for them, He is not ashamed to be called their God.  He is the "God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"; and He is the God of John Bunyan; and He is the God of all who trust Him and do not fall back.  If we trust him and do not fall back, He is also the God of ___________. (If your faith is like their faith, write in your name in the blank?)

(7) Abraham's faith - it enabled him to be willing to give up

everything in this world and believe that God would still be able to fulfill His promises to him (11:17-19)

"By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, 'It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.'  Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death."

Thought Question:  What do we learn from these verses about the types of decisions we will make if we have Abraham's type of faith in God?

 

 

What is your most precious worldly possession?  For most of us it is our family.  Abraham's most precious possession was his son Isaac.  This was the son that God had promised to him and the son through whom all God's promises to Abraham would be fulfilled.  From Isaac would come a great nation that would number as many as the stars; through Isaac, Abraham's name would become great; and through Isaac all the peoples of the earth would be blessed.  God made a very unusual request of Abraham.  He asked Abraham to give up Isaac, his most precious possession as a sacrifice to God. See Genesis 22:1-2

In the remaining verses in Genesis 22, we see that Abraham was willing to do what God asked him to do.  He did all the preparations for the sacrifice, even laid Isaac on the altar, and was ready to plunge a knife into Isaac before God intervened and provided another sacrifice.  Why was Abraham willing to give up his most precious treasure in this world?  The answer is that he had faith in God.  "Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death."

When God told Abraham He would give him a son, Abraham laughed.  But here he does not even question God.  He does not say, "You gave me Isaac and promised that a nation would come from him, so why are you asking me to kill Isaac?"  There is no more laughing and no questioning of God.  Abraham gets up early the next morning and heads toward where God said he was to offer Isaac as a sacrifice.  He traveled for three days to that place, continuing to trust (as he told his servant) that God would provide the sacrifice.  He trusted God as he lifted the knife.  It must have been incredibly hard; but we see here that he believed that God would, if necessary, raise Isaac from the dead.  God made a promise to Abraham, and Abraham believed God would keep that promise even it meant that God would need to raise Isaac from the dead to fulfill it.

Although God did not allow Abraham to plunge the knife into Isaac, He did allow His own Son to die for us!  And Jesus was crucified on the very same hill where Isaac was almost offered as a sacrifice!  Has God ever asked anything of us like what He asked of Abraham?  Watchman Nee talks about worldly attachments that we are not willing to give over to God that prevent us from following God fully.  It can be a possession like an expensive car or a house that we are spending a lot of time fixing up.  It can be a worldly goal such as success in the business world.  Are we willing, like Abraham, to give over any and all to God?  The rich young ruler was not willing to give up his riches.  Are we willing to give over everything and anything that God may want us to give over to Him?  If we trust that God has the very best plans for our lives, we will be willing to give up anything in faith to Him.  And as he was faithful to Abraham, so he will be faithful to us.

(8) Isaac's, Jacob's and Joseph's faith - it enabled them to look with

confidence beyond their deaths (11:20-22)
"By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau in regard to their future.  By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph’s sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff.  By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions about his bones."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, how were Isaac's, Jacob's and Joseph's faith the same?


 

 

Thought Question #2:  Are there any ways in which your faith in God is similar to the faith of these men?

 

 

In these verses we are given examples of the faith of Isaac (Abraham's son), Jacob (Isaac's son), and Joseph (Jacob's most famous son).  Each example has one thing in common: it describes the type of faith in God that they had just before they died.  God made the same promise to Isaac and Jacob that he made to Abraham; but neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob saw God's promise fulfilled in their lifetimes.  Abraham died as a nomad; Isaac died as a nomad; and Jacob was forced to move out of Canaan during a famine.  Jacob died while still in Egypt.  Joseph, one of Jacob's twelve sons, became a ruler in Egypt.  He also died in Egypt.  Nevertheless, Isaac blessed his two sons just before he died, believing that God would somehow fulfill His promise through them.  Just before Jacob's death, he blessed his grandsons (Joseph's two sons), also believing that God would somehow fulfill His promises through them.  Joseph looked two hundred years into the future and believed God would return His people to the land He had promised to them, and he asked that his bones be returned and buried there.  AND they were!  Can we look, as Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph did, beyond our death?  This is the real test of faith in God, isn't it?  It helps us to see if we are really just living for now or if we are truly living by faith.

(9) Moses' parents' faith - it enabled them to overcome the fear of

man (11:23)
"By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict."

Thought Question #1:  What do you learn from this verse about the type of faith that Moses' parents' had?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Describe someone in our time that has their type of faith?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Do you believe that you would have the same type of faith as you just described?  Why or why not?

 

 

Do we today face pressure in our world not to do what God wants us to do?  Is it as great as the pressure that Moses' parents faced?  The Pharaoh of Egypt ordered all Jewish parents to throw their baby boys in the Nile.  As we have learned, God chose Abraham and sent him to the land of Canaan.  He lived there all of his life; as did his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob.  But, Jacob favored his son Joseph.  His other sons were jealous of Joseph and their jealousy resulted in their selling him to a caravan that was going to Egypt.  A famine forced Jacob's family to move to Egypt where Joseph had become the number one man under the Pharaoh of that time.  Joseph forgave his brothers and the family stayed in Egypt.

The family that began with Jacob's family grew to large numbers in Egypt after Jacob's and Joseph's death.  They grew so large that they became a threat to the Egyptian Pharaoh of their time.  To make them less of a threat to him, the Pharaoh gave this order: "Every boy that is born you must throw him into the Nile, but let every girl live." (Exodus 1:22)  What would it be like to challenge an all-powerful king like this Pharaoh of Egypt?  In China in 1989 a group of students challenged the all-powerful leaders of the Communist Party in their country and were massacred by government soldiers and tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.  Moses' parents were willing to defy the order of the Pharaoh because they believed that God had a plan for their son.  They looked at his appearance, and God gave them the ability to see that he was no ordinary child.  In faith, they were able to stand against the Pharaoh and hide their son.

The early Christians were commanded not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus.  Their reply was to say these words in the presence of the authorities who had already taken Jesus' life: "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God." (Acts 4:19)  One reason that we often do not speak out for God is that our society is opposed to our doing it.  Moses' parents were willing, because of their faith in God, to do what God wanted them to do even though it meant defying a murderous tyrant.

Faith in God will also enable us to overcome the fear of man.  Men and women of faith through the years have stood up against the rulers of their times.  Christians were killed by the hundreds because they would not worship the Roman Caesars.  Many Christians were murdered because they disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church.  John Hus was burned alive.  Men like John Bunyan were imprisoned because they did not go along with the English Church.  We again need heroes of the faith who will do God's will even when powerful men oppose them.  Today in our country there is little threat that taking a stand for God will result in our losing our lives (though in many countries the threat of death is very real).  Yet, we are often discouraged from doing what we know is right because of the fear of man.  May we become men and women of God who do what God wants us to do, whatever the cost.  May we through our faith in God be freed from the fear of man!

(10) Moses' faith - it enabled him to resist the pull of the world's

temptations on him (11:24-26)
"By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward."

Thought Question: According to these verses, how will genuine faith in God affect the way you live your lifestyle?  Why?

 

 

As a young man, Moses had it all!  He was raised in the Pharaoh's home, as a son of the Pharaoh's daughter.  (For as we know, God worked it out so that the child that the Pharaoh wanted to have killed, ended up living in his own home; being mothered by his own daughter!)  Moses had it all!  In his time, he was at the top of the ladder in his society.  He had all that many college students of today are working hard in school so they can possess.  He had it all!

If we had it all, would we find it easy to give it up?  He was the Pharaoh's grandson.  We have seen the riches of King Tut.  King Tut was a Pharaoh after Moses' time, but the Pharaoh of Moses' time had the same type of riches.  Moses had whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it, and for as long as he wanted it.  He had position, prestige, power, wealth, and freedom.  But Moses was not only an Egyptian, he was also an Israelite.  And he knew God's plan for Israel.  The Israelites had the very opposite of what Moses had.  They were slaves who were little more than cattle to the Egyptians.  They had no position, prestige, power, wealth, or freedom.  Which would Moses choose?  Would he stay as a son of the Pharaoh's daughter and possibly become the Pharaoh of Egypt?  Wouldn't he be more able to help Israel with his position of power and influence as a member of Pharaoh's family?  He would especially be able to help them if he became the Pharaoh.  He chose, instead, to identify with Israel.  He went out from the palace and watched his people.  He saw their hard labor.  And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew slave.  He did not identify with the Egyptian he had been raised with, but he identified with the Hebrew that was being beaten.  And he killed the Egyptian.  When Moses learned that the Pharaoh had heard about it, Moses needed to run into the desert because his life was in danger.  Moses lost it all!

These verses explain why: "By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh's daughter.  He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.  He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to the reward."  We are living in the richest country in the world and in its richest time.  But, are our riches greater than the riches God wants to give us if we fully give over our lives to serve Him?  Jesus left the riches of Heaven to serve us; and He was willing to serve us even to the point of dying for us.  Why was He willing to leave Heaven's riches and die for us?  It was because the riches that were ahead for Him made it worth it.

Moses also believed that God's riches were greater than the riches of Egypt.  Because of his faith that God's riches are greater than the world's riches, he was willing to leave the world's riches behind and become poor.  The same is true for us today, if we believe as Moses did that God's riches are the greatest riches, we also will be willing to give up anything in this world to follow God's will.

(11) Moses' faith - it enabled him to overcome the fear of man

(11:27)
"By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible."

Thought Question:  What does this verse tell us about how we can be delivered from the fear of man?  (Remember that Moses was not always free from the fear of man. See Exodus 3:11; 6:10-12, 28-30)

 

 

This verse talks about Moses leaving Egypt and not fearing the King's anger.  The problem, though, is that Moses left Egypt twice, and both times the reigning king was angry with him.  The first time he left Egypt was after he had killed the Egyptian.  But, when he left Egypt on this first occasion, it clearly was because he was afraid of the king.  The second time he left was after the Ten Plagues, when he left with the whole nation of Israel.  This last departure from Egypt appears to fit what is said in this verse.

The only argument that this verse is not referring to the second time Moses left Egypt is as follows: the verse that follows this verse talks about the Passover which took place before Moses left Egypt this second time.  So, if 11:27 is referring to Moses' second leaving of Egypt, it is out of order in time.  For the author of Hebrews would then be describing the exodus of Israel from Egypt in ll:27, and then he would talk about the Passover in 11:28 that took place in Egypt before the exodus.  Nevertheless, in spite of this problem, it appears that the second time Moses left Egypt is the time he left in faith "not fearing the king's anger."  For, as has been mentioned, the second time he left Egypt was because of his belief in God and not out of fear.

Just as Moses' parents were able through their faith in God to overcome their fear of Egypt's Pharaoh, so Moses' faith in God enabled him to overcome his fear of the Pharaoh of his time.  When God spoke to Moses at the burning bush in the land of Midian, Moses was tremendously afraid of going back to Egypt and seeking to rescue them from the Pharaoh.  He said, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Exodus 3:11)  We see in Exodus 6:10-12 and 6:28-30 that Moses was still afraid when he got to Egypt and began talking to Israel and the Pharaoh.  "Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?" (Exodus 6:30)But, his faith in God grows.  His fear of God becomes greater than his fear of the Pharaoh.  And God uses him to lead Israel out of Egypt.

"By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king's anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible."  His faith in the invisible God gave him the confidence to overcome his fear of the king's anger.  Faith can also transform us from those with faltering lips like Moses, the timid and fearful; so that we can stand up against someone like the mighty Pharaoh of Egypt! Cannot faith in God also enable us to be free from the fear of man?   Do we see our fear of man being overcome as our faith in the invisible God gives us growing boldness to do what God wants us to do?

(12) The faith of Israel - it led them forward in God's victory

(11:28-30)
"By faith he kept the Passover and the sprinkling of blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn would not touch the firstborn of Israel.  By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned.  By faith the walls of Jericho fell, after the people had marched around them for seven days."

Thought Question #1:  How is Moses' keeping of the Passover similar to our faith in God today?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can our faith be like those who passed through the Red Sea and those who believed and the walls of Jericho came down?

 

 

(a) Israel was saved from God's judgment on Egypt when Moses,

in faith, kept the first Passover (11:28)
It was the Passover (when God took the life of the first-born of Egypt, but did not take the life of the first-born of Israel) that persuaded Pharaoh to let God's people leave Egypt.  Israel was rescued from God's judgment and slavery to Egypt when they put the blood of a lamb around the doors of their homes.  They trusted not in their human strength to free them from the Egyptians, but they trusted in the blood of a lamb.  We also are not to put our trust in ourselves to free us from God's judgment and slavery to sin, but we are to trust in the blood of a lamb.  We are to trust in Jesus' blood, the Blood of the Lamb of God.

(b) Israel was able to pass through the Red Sea because of their

faith in God (11:29)
It was undoubtedly God who opened up the Red Sea.  There were walls of water on either side of Israel and dry land under their feet.  Did they trust in themselves as they walked through this passageway?  It was only God's adequacy that held the waters opened.  The Egyptians were trusting in themselves and their might.  They had no power to hold the water opened, and it poured in on them!  When Israel came out the other side, their slavery in Egypt was behind them.  This is the new Christian's experience: by God's power we leave the old life of slavery behind!

(c) Israel was able to conquer the mighty city of Jericho in the

Promised Land because of their faith in God (11:30)
After forty years of wandering in the wilderness because they had not trusted that God could give them victory over the people in the Promised Land, God brought them into the Land and gave them a mighty victory over the city of Jericho.  It was far from the standard method of attacking a city in those days or in these days.  "March around the city once with all the armed men.  Do this for six days.  Have seven priests carry trumpets of rams' horns in front of the ark.  On the seventh day, march around the city seven times, with the priests blowing the trumpets.  When you hear them sound a long blast on the trumpets, have all the people give a loud shout; then the wall of the city will collapse and the people will go up, every man straight in."  (Joshua 6:3-5)  It could not be clearer that God gave them the victory.  The life of faith today will also result in these types of victories.  Victories where it is clear that the victory did not come from us, but could only have come from God.

(13) Rahab's faith - it protected her from God's judgment (11:31)

"By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient."

Thought Question:  What can we learn from Rahab about faith in God?

 

 

Two spies from Israel went into the Promised Land, as the twelve spies had gone into the Land forty years earlier.  Certainly, these two spies were encouraged by the faith of a prostitute named Rahab.  She told them after hiding them from the king of Jericho, "I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you.  We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea . . . When we heard of it our hearts melted and everyone's courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below."  (Joshua 2:9-11)Because of her faith, she and her family were not killed when Jericho was conquered.

It is very interesting that years earlier when 12 spies were sent into the Promised Land of Canaan that 10 of the spies melted in fear of the people of Canaan.  Little did they know that the people of Canaan were melting in fear of them! See Numbers 13

Rahab, who believed in the reality of God and His power, also married an Israelite and is named as one of those in the genealogy of Jesus.  She is the great, great, great . . . grandmother of Jesus.  Her house was in the wall of the city of Jericho.  Inside were the people of Jericho and outside were the people of Israel.  She looked not at the mighty walls and her people, but at Israel and their God.  Faith means not looking at ourselves and our weaknesses, nor even looking at our strengths, but looking at God.  It is making decisions based on Who He is, what He wants done, and what we believe He can do!  In II Corinthians 3:4-5, Paul says, "Such confidence as this is ours through Christ before God.  Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God."  Rahab through the eyes of faith saw that God was stronger than any human army or walled city.  May we have her faith today!

(14) Men and women of faith (a summary) (11:32-40)

(a) They were weak in themselves, but they became strong in God
(11:32-34)
"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets,"

Thought Question:  Give an example of the faith of one of those in this list.  How does that person's faith encourage you in your faith in God?

 

 

In ll:32, the author of Hebrews adds to his list of men and women of faith.  "And what more shall I say?  I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets . . . "  The next book the author comes to in recounting the heroes of the faith is the book of Judges.  This book describes a roller coaster period in Israel.  It was full of ups and downs: Israel first would reject God and His ways; God then allowed them to have their way and sin; a foreign nation conquered them; they cried out to God; and God sent deliverers or judges to them.

Gideon, Barak, Sampson, and Jephthah were four of the judges that God chose to use to deliver Israel from their enemies.  Each of these men had very obvious weaknesses.  The Angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon and said to him:  "The Lord is with you, mighty warrior." (Judges 6:12)  Gideon asked, "if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?  Where are all his wonders that our fathers told us about..?" (Judges 6:13)  When Gideon was told that he was going to be the one God was going to send to deliver Israel from the powerful Midianites, he asked, "How can I save Israel?  My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family." (Judges 6:15)  Even when the Angel of the Lord revealed to Gideon who He was by causing fire to consume a sacrifice, Gideon continued to show his timidity and weakness.  God told him to tear down his father's altar to Baal and his Asherah pole (idols to Canaanite and a Phoenician god and goddess).   Gideon obeyed God, but because he was afraid of his family, he did it at night.  Most know about Gideon's fleece, where twice Gideon asked God (through making a wool fleece wet when the ground was dry and the fleece dry when the ground was wet) to assure him that He would give him victory over the Midianites.  Yet, God used him to defeat the Midianites with 300 men.  In our times of weakness, we can remember how God used a man who felt very weak to do His great work.  He can do the same through us.

Moishe Rosen, the founder of the Jews for Jesus, once said that it is "not the size of the army in the fight, but the size of God in the army!"  Faith is not God helping those who can help themselves, but God helping those who realize they cannot help themselves.

Barak was a judge of Israel along with Deborah.  When Deborah told Barak that God had chosen him to lead Israel against the Canaanites, he told Deborah, "If you go with me, I will go.  But if you don't go with me, I won't go." (Judges 4:8)  Deborah conceded to go with him and God used Barak to defeat an army of Canaan with 900 chariots.

Samson, the most well-known judge, had many human weaknesses.  He married the Philistine woman Delilah, though God had told Israel that they were to separate themselves from the nations in Canaan.  "Do not intermarry with them." See Deuteronomy 7:3  He drank wine though he was under a vow that required that he never drink wine. See Judges 13:4,5 and Numbers 6:1-4   Yet God gave him supernatural strength to defeat the Philistines.  At the end of his life with his eyes gouged out, he asked for strength from God.  And with God's strength, he brought the Philistine temple down on himself and the Philistines. See Judges 16:23-30

Jephthah's mother was a prostitute.  The true sons of Jephthah's father and his wife threw him out of the family.  Spurned by his family, he became the leader of an outlaw band.  Israel turned to him to rescue them from the Ammonites.  Before leading Israel in war against the Ammonites, Jephthah made a fatal mistake.  He made a vow to the Lord:  "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."  "When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines!"  Jephthah tragically then did fulfill his vow to the Lord.  Yet, God chose to use him to defeat the Ammonite army. See Judges 11

David is one of the most familiar names in the Bible.  We all know David, and we all know his weaknesses.  We know that he committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah.  Yet God used David to build Israel into a mighty empire.  And God said he was a man after his own heart.  (See I Samuel 13:14 and 16:7)

Samuel is the man of God that Israel rejected because they wanted a king like the other nations.  He was a failure in the human society of his day, yet God used Samuel to select David as their king.  Gideon was timid; Barak would not go into battle without Deborah; Samson was defeated by his own desires; Jephthah the outlaw made the rash vow that cost his daughter her life; David was the adulterer and murderer; and Samuel was rejected as a leader were ordinary men with human weaknesses.  Yet they all became famous because they trusted God!  As the author says in 11:34, God turned their weakness into strength.  We also are weak in many ways just like them, but God still turns men of faith into those who are strong in Him. See God's description of the church at Philadelphia in Revelation 3:7-13

(b) They were those who trusted God no matter what happened

(11:33-40)
"who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.  Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.  They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated—the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground.  These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised.  God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect."

Thought Question:  What do you learn about faith in God from these verses?

 

 

When we trust God, it does not always end up the same.  Some are given mighty and obvious victories:  some "conquered kingdoms" (Gideon, Jephthah, David, . . . ); some "administered justice" (Samuel in choosing David while Saul was still king, . . . ); "some gained what was promised" (Joshua entered the land and David won an empire); "shut the mouth of lions" (Daniel); "quenched the fury of the flames" (Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago); "escaped the edge of the sword" (Elisha when God blinded the Aramean army - II Kings 6); "weakness turned to strength" (Gideon, David, Moses, . . . ); "became powerful in battle" (Gideon, Barak, David, and many others); and "mothers received back their dead, raised to life again" (Elijah and Elisha raised sons back to life).

But not all who trusted God won mighty victories.  Many who trusted God died in prison (Peter the Apostle was rescued but James the Apostle died, Micaiah the prophet of II Chronicles 18 gave King Ahab a message he did not want to hear and was put in prison - there is nothing about him being released from prison).  Jeremiah was jeered and mocked.  Zechariah the prophet was stoned to death. See II Chronicles 24:20-22 and Matthew 23:35  The early Christian Stephen was also stoned to death.  There is a tradition that Isaiah was sawn in two with a wooden saw.  Many did not end up in castles like Joseph, but ended up destitute and wanderers in the wilderness areas.

Some won mighty victories and some did not; some escaped and some did not; some became rich and some remained very poor.  Some would try to tell us that faith always leads to prosperity, riches and miracles.  The Bible teaches us that we are to trust in God no matter what.  Our faith is not in what God can do for us here in this life; true faith in God believes that God does work all things together for good.  And the ultimate good that He is working toward will happen beyond this life on earth.

Men and women of faith have trusted God no matter what might happen in this life on earth.  Are we willing to follow in their footsteps?  A group of atheists at Stanford University some years ago wrote these words in the school newspaper: "Deny God today, tomorrow may be too late."  They were saying that if we live for God all our life and die and there is no God, then it is too late.  Their conclusion is live for yourself now, while there is still time left before you die.  Faith in God is the very opposite.  If we live all of our life as if there is no God, when we die and come face to face with God, it will be too late!  We are still alive, so it is not too late to choose to believe in God.

7. Therefore, let us run with perseverance the race before us

(12:1-29)
a. Following the example of the heroes of the faith (12:1)

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."

Thought Question #1:  Do you believe the "great cloud of witnesses" is true and we are being literally watched by those who have gone before us, or do you believe that the author of Hebrews is using figurative speech here?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How can having "a great cloud of witnesses" encourage us to persevere in faith through difficult times?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  What are the types of things that you need to remove so that you will be less hindered as you run the race? (archaic and empty human traditions, sins, personal habits, addictions, etc.)

 

 

Chapter 12 is the climax of the book of Hebrews.  Everything that has been said so far was said so that the Hebrew Christians would do what they are urged to do in this chapter.  Because the Blood of Jesus Christ our High Priest has opened the way to God's throne, we can boldly approach God for help in time of need.  And because of the pattern of men of faith in the past, we can see that we can also trust God in difficult times.  Therefore, they should not fall backwards (and we should not fall backwards) when times get tough.  But, they (and we) should continue to move forward in faith seeking God's help each day.

(1) They (and we) are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses":

He begins by reminding them that all those who have trusted God in the past are watching them to see if they also will trust God as they did.  "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, . . . "  He appears to be describing them (and us) as running our race within a great arena while all who have gone before us look on.  Each of those who have already run the same race is a witness to whether or not we will also complete the race as they did.  It is not clear if he is saying that these heroes of the faith are actually watching or if he is speaking poetically about their watching us.  Whatever the case, he is saying that all those who have trusted God before us are an encouragement for us to also trust God and be faithful to Him right up to the end of the race; no matter how difficult it might be to keep on going forward.

(2) We are to remove all that hinders us, so we will be able to

persevere in the race:
Those who run in races, particularly long races, remove everything that makes it hard for them to run.  Long distance runners typically wear light and slight clothing so that what they wear will be the least hindrance as possible.  In boot camps, recruits run in combat boots.  You see few, if any, marathon runners running in combat boots.  The author of Hebrews is telling them that they also need to remove all that would hinder them in the running of the Christian race.  Part of that which was hindering them and which needed to be removed was their Jewish tradition.  The author has shown them in this letter that these Old Testament patterns were given in the past to be a replica, or a picture, of the grace that was now theirs through Jesus Christ.  Jesus came to give them rest.  He wanted them to be free from the burdens of the regulations of the Old Testament system.

If you are needlessly entangled in a religious system, you also need to free yourself from legalistic and ceremonial burdens that are preventing you from running at your best effectiveness in the Christian race.  The major hindrance, however, that hinders us in following Christ is the "sin that so easily entangles."  There are many types of sin that can hinder us in running the Christian race as we ought: self-pity, pride, guilt, impatience, discouragement, bitterness, selfishness and others.  It is when we allow sins like these to control us that we drop out of the Christian race.  All of these dark parts of our lives need to be removed so that we will not be hindered by these sins that do "so easily entangle…" us.

b. Following the example of Jesus Christ (12:2-4)

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood."

Thought Question #1:  How does the example of Jesus Christ help us to keep running the race with perseverance? (What did He go through?  Why did He do it?)

 

 

Thought Question #2:  How does "consider[ing] Jesus who "endured such opposition from sinful men . . . to the point of shedding" His blood, help you to look at your troubles in a different way?

 

 

Jesus went through much worse than we will ever go through.  Think of the opposition that He faced: His enemy and enemies were after Him every minute; they were looking for any weakness; and their ultimate goal was to totally destroy Him.  They were apparently finally successful as the whole nation turned on Him, and He died the most horrible death conceived by man.  Have any of us gone through anything like that?  Why was He willing to go through all of this?  We are told here why He was willing to suffer as He did.  It was because of the "joy set before him."  There was a joy that was ahead of Jesus Christ that nothing in this world could take away from Him.

The happiness that is offered by this world's system is a happiness that can be easily taken away.  Happiness that comes from money, pleasure, and success can turn to pain when the money, pleasure, and success are removed.  The joy that was before Jesus was a joy that all the pain that He was enduring could not take away.  What was that joy that was before Him?  We cannot know for sure all that He was looking forward to.  But, we do know at least a part of the joy that was before Him.  He was looking forward to us who were born sinners, being there with Him as eternal members of His family!  He was looking forward to once more being restored to His former glory.  He was looking forward to once more being at home with the Father.  All of this glory the world could not take from Him!

The disciples were joyful because the demons submitted to them.  But, Jesus said that they should be joyful that their name was written in Heaven! See Luke 10:17-22  That our name is written in Heaven is a joy that no one nor nothing in this world can take away from us.  Even in the worst of times we can be joyful that our name is still written in Heaven.  There are many joys that we as Christians possess that this world cannot take away: Jesus will always love us; we can always cast our cares on Him; we are always forgiven through Jesus' blood; we are going to be with Him in Heaven; He always works all things together for good; He is always the rewarder of those who diligently seek Him; and we can go on and on.  We also have joy that is before us!

We are told to look to Jesus, "the author and perfecter of our faith."  "Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart."  He persevered to the end, so should we!  He "endured the cross."  We should also endure the smaller difficulties that we face.  And we are told that He "scorned" the "shame" of the cross.  He was willing to be mocked and to endure the most humiliating experience of all time.  He, the Creator, allowed Himself to be infinitely disgraced by those whom He created.  If He could endure that amount of shame, certainly we can endure whatever shame we have to endure.  So, let us follow Jesus who went before us, and persevere in the race that is before us!

c. Remembering that God is using the painful times to discipline us so that

we may "share in his holiness" (12:5-11)
"And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.'  Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father?  If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.  Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live!  Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Thought Question #1:  How can believing in God's loving discipline help us when times get rough, so that we will be able to persevere in the race?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What difficulties are you going through right now?  How do these verses help you to deal with these trials in the way that God wants you to deal with them?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  How is verse 11 helpful as you go through your trials? ("No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.")

 

 

Charles Swindoll, the well-known Christian speaker, pastor and former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, as a young man spent a summer internship at the church where Ray Stedman was pastor.  Ray asked Charles what he had learned that summer.  He answered that there was only one thing that he had really learned, and that was that God is sovereign.  Ray said that he had learned the most important thing.  He had realized that no matter what happens in life that God is still in charge.  That is the message of the verses that we have come to: God is totally in charge and uses the painful times in our life for our good.  Are we going through any difficulties right now?  God is sovereignly guiding what is happening to us and, according to these verses; He is using it to produce holiness in us.

The author of Hebrews says here that our troubles are like a parent's correction of his children.  It is an expression of our love for our children when we correct and discipline them.  David's son rebelled and tried to replace him as king.  Why did his son act as he did?  The answer is given in I Kings 1:5,6 - "His father never interfered with him by asking, 'Why do you behave as you do?' "   A loving parent corrects his or her child.  Children use anger and tantrums to get their way.  If the parent does nothing, what happens?  They continue in their self-centeredness as adults.  When a loving parent corrects his or her child, it does hurt the parent more than it hurts the child.  Our troubles are a sign of God's correction, not His rejection.  God does not enjoy the pain He allows to come into our lives.  We will not become embittered if we see that our troubles come to us for our good.  As one Bible teacher observed, they are "Father-filtered."  These troubles can make us "bitter or better."

There is much in life that is not pleasant, but it brings good results in the long run: trips to the dentist, strenuous physical exercise, eating our vegetables (as children), doing our homework, getting up early in the morning, and many more.  Difficulties are also not pleasant.  Few of us can say hallelujah the washer broke down or isn't it great that the car needs hundreds of dollars of repairs.  But, if we submit to God in these trials, God will use them for our good.  God wants us to be truly and deeply happy and true happiness comes from holiness. "Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness.  No discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful.  Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

When our human father disciplined us, he did not always get the results that he wanted.  He was not able to discipline us perfectly.  But God's discipline is always just what we need.  If we can submit to it without getting bitter, we will get better!  When they test newly manufactured cars, computers and other products they often put them through some stresses that are much worse than the cars would normally go through.  They do this so that the weakest parts will fail, and they can then replace or improve them.  God's discipline brings out the weakest areas in our lives.  God can replace our weakness with His strength and our unholiness with His holiness!  Has His discipline been bringing out any weak areas in our lives during this last week or month or year?  We can be encouraged that this shows that He loves us, and that He will replace those weak areas with His strength!

d. So, keep on going in the race of faith even when it is tough to keep on

going (12:12,13)
"Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.  'Make level paths for your feet,' so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."

Thought Question:  When runners in a long race get tired, it is easy for them to lose their running form.  What do these verses tell us that will help us to keep our Christian running form when we are really tired?

 

 

In a race it is not long before we feel the effects of lactic acid in our muscles.  It is this chemical that makes us feel tired.  When we begin to hurt and grow weary, it is hard to keep on going.  It is this weakened state that occurs late in a race that the author is referring to in these verses:  "Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees."  When we grow weak and tired in a long race, we are more susceptible to doing injury to ourselves or to others.  We can turn an ankle, pull a muscle, or even dislocate a joint.  When we are getting tired and it is hard to keep our running form, we need to keep on running even though it is hard.  In the race of faith when it gets tough, it is hard to keep our Christian running form - to keep on serving, loving, forgiving, and doing what is right.  But, we need to keep on running the race even though it is hard to keep on going.

Then he says: "Make level paths for your feet, so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed."  What are the level paths that we should seek?  We should seek after having a pure and holy attitude toward others.  A painter I worked for years ago told me that I should be very careful toward his customers so that I would not do anything that would cause them to get "their nose out of joint."  That was his way of saying I should not do anything to get his customers angry with us.  When we Christians are tired in our struggle and it is hard to keep going, we need to be careful to keep our Christian form so that we do not do anything to make things worse; but instead, continue to do only that which will make things better.

e. Do not allow yourself to get bitter toward anyone - continue to seek after

peace with all men (12:14-15)
"Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

Thought Question #1:  Is there anyone with whom it is very hard for you to get along with?  According to these verses, what should your response be to this difficult relationship?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What does the author mean by "bitter root"? (Another translation calls it a "root of bitterness")

 

 

A principle in the Christian life is as follows: the best way to resist sin is to seek after righteousness.  The best way to resist becoming bitter toward others is to pursue peace with all men; to seek after peace even with those whom we could most easily become embittered.  If we see ourselves as helpless martyrs, it is not long before we are helpless, bitter martyrs.  Instead, we need to see ourselves as Christians who are actively doing everything we can do to be at peace with all men!  "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many."

The Christian life is not lived on a mountain top, but in the real world of disappointments, injustices, and selfishness.  We live in a world that rarely treats us fairly and where it often does not turn out like we hoped it would.  The natural, human response is to become bitter about all of this.  But, we are not living the authentic Christian life unless we are continually receiving God's grace to keep us going and to keep us expressing God's grace toward others.  We are to be receiving what we do not deserve from God and giving to others beyond what they deserve.  We are living the real Christian life when troubles in life do not make us bitter toward others (or toward God).

When we become bitter toward others, our whole Christian life falls apart.  Have you experienced this loss of fellowship with God that comes when you allow bitterness to take root in your soul toward another human being?  Can we believe God is forgiving us when we are not forgiving someone whom God loves?  When we are bitter toward someone, we no longer see that person clearly.  We no longer see their needs, their strengths, and that God created them, He loves them, and that Jesus died for them.  When we are bitter toward someone, we do not enjoy when good happens to them, but we enjoy when bad happens to them.  When we are bitter, we enjoy getting revenge and looking for faults.  We do not see any good in them, we gossip about them, slander them, and lash out at them.  Isn't all this beautiful?  Bitterness destroys our relationship with God and our relationships with others.

Jesus had enemies who were embittered toward Him and were united in their goal of destroying Him.  Did He become embittered toward them?  Listen to His words as recorded for us in Matthew 23:7:  "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing."  He was not embittered toward them.  On the contrary, He longed that they would become reconciled to Him and become eternal members of His family.  This is the pattern for Christian relationships.  We should never allow bitterness to come into our hearts toward anyone.  Instead, we should continue loving and seeking after peace with all men.

He says we are not to allow a "bitter root to grow up."  Anyone who has planted a garden knows how the roots of some weeds go deep down into the ground.  We can hoe the weeds out, but the root still remains.  Bitterness is like the root of one of those weeds when we allow it to take root in our lives.  Its root goes deep down inside of us and once bitterness starts growing in us, it is hard to root it out.  The best way to prevent this ugly state from happening to us is not to allow the root of bitterness to even start to grow in us.  Instead, we should continually be seeking to be at peace with all men.

He also says that once a root of bitterness forms it defiles many.  Ray Stedman told about a time while living in Montana when he saw an unusual chain reaction take place inside a pen of cattle.  One steer bumped against another one.  The steer that was bumped into kicked out, but kicked the wrong steer.  Pretty soon the whole pen of cattle was kicking each other.  When we allow bitterness to take root in our lives, we can start an ugly chain reaction just like what took place in that cattle pen.  You and I first lash out toward someone.  What too often happens next is that person lashes back at us.  Then, we find those who will listen to us so that we can tell our side of the story.  It is not long before the whole church is lashing out at each other.  Not a pretty sight!  The only way to prevent this type of ugliness from happening is to seek after holiness and peace, and to never allow a root of bitterness to form in our hearts toward any man or woman.

f. Do not allow yourself to give into any fleshly temptations (12:16-17)

"See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son.  Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears."

Thought Question:  Why do you believed the author follows his emphasis on persevering in the race with this exhortation not to be "sexually immoral"? 

 

 

We not only need to be pure from a bitter heart, but also from a worldly heart.  Another way we can stop running in the Christian race is for us to give in to the enticements of the world.  Paul talks about one man who did this.  "Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica." (II Timothy 4:9)  He was like a man in the Old Testament named Esau.  He was the grandson of Abraham, the father of the Jewish race.  He was in the line of the Promised Messiah, but he gave it up for a bowl of stew.  Esau was born before his brother Jacob, and he would have been the head of the family after his father's death.  But he gave it all up because of a long hunting trip where he got very hungry.  He came back from the trip famished and he sold his inheritance to his brother Jacob for some of the stew that his brother was cooking!  Why would Esau give it all up for some soup?  The answer is given in these verses:  "See that no one is sexually immoral or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son."  Why was he willing to give it all up for some soup?  He was godless.  God had no appeal to him.  God's promises to his family were less important to him than a bowl of soup.  He gave up being part of God's plan for a few moments of worldly pleasure.

It is possible also for us who have a Christian heritage, Christian goals, and a part in God's plan to give up running in the race for a few short moments of sinful pleasure.  A pastor can, for example, give up his Christian ministry because he gives in to the allurement of an attractive woman who is not his wife.  Esau did this and then after he finished the stew, he wanted to undo what he did.  But, then it was too late.  He gave in to the worldly pleasure.  After he did it, it was too late to undo it.  "Afterwards, as you know, when he wanted to inherit his blessing, he was rejected.  He could bring back no change of mind though he sought the blessing with tears."  Esau's tears were not the tears of true repentance.  Like Judas, he regretted doing what he did, but his heart had not changed.  David and Peter had a sorrow that led to true repentance; and they were forgiven and restored. See Psalm 51, John 21:15, and II Corinthians 7:10

At the beginning of the verse, he says, "See that no one is sexually immoral, . . . "  God is the creator of sex.  It is beautiful when it is part of the love that is expressed between a man and woman committed to each other in marriage.  It is ugly, though, when it is between a man and someone else's wife, between two men, between a parent and a child, when a man forces a woman, and when it happens after every drunken party.  Sexual intimacy outside of a commitment to marriage is immoral; it is sexual immorality.  Even the great David was sexually immoral with Bathsheba.  In Psalm 51 he cries out to God for forgiveness.  Only when his heart was pure again was he once more able to draw near to God.

g. For you have not come to the earthly Mt. Sinai, but to the Heavenly Mt.

Zion (12:18-29)
The reason we should not give in to bitterness and worldly temptation and continue in the race is because of what is ahead for us at the end of the race.  The author first tells us what is not ahead for us - Mt. Sinai, and then what is ahead for us - Mt. Zion!

(1) We are not heading towards Mt. Sinai (12:18-21)

"You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: 'If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.'  The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, 'I am trembling with fear.'"

Thought Question #1:  Why are you glad that we are not heading toward Mount Sinai at the end of our race?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why do you believe that Mount Sinai was so fearsome to the people of Israel?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Why do you believe that we will not approach a mountain that will be fearsome like Mount Sinai?

 

 

He describes the God that Israel met at Mt. Sinai after they left Egypt.  There, they saw God's holiness!  They could not even consider approaching Him.  The mountain was filled with God's judgment of our unholiness.  Everything about that mountain struck fear into Israel's hearts - fire, darkness, gloom, storm, a loud trumpet blast and a voice that they could not bear! See Exodus 19:10-25, Deuteronomy 4:11,12,5:22-26  Even Moses the man of God was intensely afraid.  God is still holy and demands holiness from us as well!  How can unholy people like you and me approach this holy God of righteousness and perfect justice?  Is this what is ahead for us as Christians - the fearsome, unapproachable God of Mt. Sinai?

(2) We are not heading towards Mt. Sinai, but we are heading toward Mt.

Zion (12:22-24)
"But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."

Thought Question #1:  How is this Mount different from Mount Zion?

 

 

 
Thought Question #2:  What is there in these verses that fill you with joy?  Why does it fill you with joy?

 

 

Thought Question #3:  Why does "the sprinkled blood" of Jesus speak "a better word than the blood of Abel"?

 

 

We are heading toward another mountain.  Mt. Zion is what is ahead of us at the end of the Christian race.  Mt. Zion was one of the hills on which Jerusalem was built.  This name came to be used as another name for Jerusalem.  Here, though, the author looks beyond the earthly Jerusalem (and earthly Mount Zion) to the New Jerusalem that is ahead for us, a city that is described in the last two chapters of the book of Revelation and a city that will come down from Heaven.  "But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God."  This is the city that is at the end of our race!

What will be before us when we reach this New Jerusalem?  "You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly . . . "  We are told that there is rejoicing among the angels when one sinner repents - when you or I turned to Christ.  What will it be like when we all appear in Heaven?  There will be a celebration like we cannot imagine!  Will this be different than approaching Mt. Sinai with the darkness, gloom, and terror?

What else will be before us?  "the church of the firstborn, . . . "  Esau lost his birthright.  We still have ours.  And we will soon be with all those who have believed in God throughout all time.  We will all be citizens in the New Jerusalem with them!

What else will be before us?  "You have come to God, the judge of all men, . . . "  But, we also come to "the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."  We do not come to God the judge as those condemned.  But, we now come to the God of grace, as those who are participants in His new covenant.  This covenant is made possible through the blood of Jesus.

  His blood is much different than the blood of Abel.  Cain, the son of Adam and Eve, killed his brother Abel.  Abel's blood cried out for vengeance and justice.  Because of his brother's blood, Cain was driven from his land to be a wanderer.  Does Jesus' blood also cry out for vengeance and justice?  No, it speaks to us of forgiveness and cleansing from sin; and it invites us to come to God!  Mt. Sinai drove Israel away and was not approachable; Mt. Zion and all that God has for us is approachable because of the blood of Jesus.

(3) We should not refuse Mt. Zion! (12:25-29)

"See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'  The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our 'God is a consuming fire.'"

Thought Question:  What do these verses say that should motivate every person on earth not to reject what God offers to us through the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son?

 

 

Should we refuse what God has done for us through the blood of His Son?  Should we refuse the New Jerusalem?  Should we refuse the reception that is waiting there by thousands and thousands of angels?  Hebrews 12 closes in this way:  "See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?  At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, 'Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.'  The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain."  God judged Israel because they rejected Him when He spoke from the earth (when He spoke from Mt. Sinai).  Today He is speaking to us from Heaven.  He judged Israel when they rejected Him.  How much more severely will He judge us if we reject Him today?  In the future, God will appear again, not this time to shake a mountain in the desert of Arabia, but to shake the whole world and universe.  At that time, if men still reject Him, He will destroy this whole world and those that reject Him.  Only His Kingdom will survive His judgment.  Only our relationship with Him will stand!

Then, he closes with these words:  "Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.  For our God is a consuming fire."  Seeing clearly these truths, let us run with perseverance and appropriate reverence the race before us until we come to the end of our race and one day approach Mt. Zion and all that that means!

8. Continue in love (13:1-3)

The pattern in the Bible is for the authors to first of all state and explain what is true; then they often follow with an exhortation for us to act on what is true.  This is a pattern we follow all the time. "This food is spoiled."  That is a statement of truth.  What is the action that should follow this statement of truth?  "Throw it away!"  Our beliefs determine our actions.  The book of Hebrews follows this pattern.  It explains what we believe as Christians for 10 chapters.  Chapter 11 provides us with examples of men who lived according to what they believed.  Chapter 12 is an exhortation for the Hebrew Christians to also persevere in their faith as the heroes of the faith did.  Now, chapter 13 gives specific instructions about how we Christians are to live.  The author begins by urging them to love each other.

a. "Keep on loving each other as brothers." (13:1)

"Keep on loving each other as brothers."

Thought Question:  In line with what the author has been teaching up this point in the book of Hebrews, why do you think it is appropriate for the author to urge them to "Keep loving each other"?

 

 

First of all, he says they should "keep on loving."  They did love each other, but because of the trials they were going through they were in danger of becoming bitter toward each other.  When we stop loving each other, we lose our most important identity as Christians.  The Greek word for love here, "phileo," is the origin of the name for our city, "Philadelphia."  It is the Greek word for brotherly love.  Philadelphia is called the city of brotherly love because that is what its name means.  The author of Hebrews was urging them (and is urging us) to continue in tenderness, kindness, warmth, and affection toward each other.  If anyone has believed in Jesus Christ and has God's Spirit living in him or her, he or she is our Christian brother or sister.  And we should continue in brotherly love toward that person.   We should continue in Christian love toward all our Christian brothers and sisters.  In the church today, there are many differences in beliefs, race, cultural background, financial income, denominations, temperaments, priorities, and many more.  All of these differences can lead to tensions that can divide us.  In spite of all these differences, we are to continue in Christian brotherly love toward each other.

b. Show hospitality to strangers (13:2)

"Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it."

Thought Question:  How does this verse apply today? (For example, could you or I have entertained an angel today?)

 

 

We are not just to show love toward those who are close to us, but we are also to show love toward those who are strangers.  At the time that this book was written, the only place that a visitor could stay in a strange town was in the inns.  But, the inns were filthy, full of immorality, and were places where robbers practiced their trade.  The inns were particularly not a place for Christians.  Visiting Christians, therefore, were dependent on local Christians opening their homes to them.

The author mentions that some have shown this type of hospitality and "have entertained angels without knowing it."  Abraham and Lot took in some strangers and they turned out to be angels. See Genesis 18  Hospitality is a need in the church today also.  Bible studies and Christian fellowship of all kinds require that some Christian open up his or her home.  Sometimes there is a need to open up our home to a stranger.  When we have done this we also may at one time, like Abraham, have entertained an angel without knowing it.

c. Show empathy toward those who are suffering (13:3)

"Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering."

Thought Question:  It is very human for us to be very sensitive to the tough times that we are experiencing; but we are often not very sensitive to the tough times that others are experiencing.  Who are some that you know who are going through very tough times right now?  How can you apply the spirit of this verse toward them?

 

 

Over the history of Christianity, many Christians have ended up in prisons because of their faith.  It is easy for us not to think about what they or others who are suffering are going through.  But, the Christian's response of love is to share their struggles as if we were in prison right next to them.  Christian compassionate love will lead to our sharing in the suffering of those who suffer.  An example of someone who showed this type of empathy was Onesiphorus.  Listen to Paul's words about him in II Timothy 1:16,17:  "May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains.  On the contrary, when he was in Rome he searched hard for me until he found me."  Though many avoided Paul when he was in jail, Onesiphorus sought him out.  May we, like Onesiphorus, also be supporters of those who are being persecuted.

9. Be morally pure (13:4)

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."

 

 

Thought Question:  How is our current culture cooperating or not cooperating with what is taught here?

 

 

"Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral."  The marriage relationship is to be kept pure from adultery and sexual immorality.  The author divides the type of immorality that destroys marriage into these two categories: "Adultery" means being sexually unfaithful to the marriage vow and becoming sexually involved with someone other than one's mate.  "Sexual immorality" describes all other types of sexual immorality.  It is from the Greek word pornea that we get our word "pornography."  Our society is doing the very opposite of honoring the marriage relationship.  Everywhere, we see the view of marriage that is taught in the Bible being attacked.  On television there is a constant flow of sexual relationships outside of marriage.  The message that is being sent to us is that sex outside of marriage is the "in thing."  Our society is encouraging birth control devices for teenagers.  Our society is divided over whether or not abortion is a solution for an unwanted pregnancy, both inside and outside of marriage.  Instead of honoring the marriage relationship alone as the place for sexual intimacy, we have opened up our society to many other types of sexual intimacy (male to male, female to female, before marriage, and multiple partners, etc.).

We are told here that God will judge all of this ugly evil in our country.  If we ignore God's pure ways and laws and choose immorality over morality and the perverted over the pure, we will suffer as individuals and as a nation.  And we are!  Sexually transmitted diseases are on the increase, particularly AIDS.  If the ugliness continues, marriages and families will grow weaker (even weaker than they are already) and God's judgment on our nation will become more severe.

10. Be content with what you have (13:5,6)

"Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'  So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?'"

Thought Question:  What secrets to a happy and fulfilled life do you find in these two verses?

 

 

A millionaire was once asked how much money it would take to make a rich man satisfied.  He answered that it would take a million more than he had.  How much does it take to satisfy us?  The right answer is that it takes just exactly what God wants us to have.  Ray Stedman in his commentary on Hebrews makes the following observation:  "Contentment is not having what you want: it is wanting only what you have."  "Taken from WHAT MORE CAN GOD SAY? by Ray Stedman.  Copyright 1974 by Regal Books."

The truly rich man is not he who has a million and is not satisfied, but he who is able to be satisfied with whatever he has.  Many of us have gone through lean times.  During those times, it is easy for us to think that we would be happy if we just had more money.  Then, we do have a period where we have more money coming in for a little while or a long while, and we find that more money does not change things and make us happy like we thought it would.  Jesus explains this in Luke 12:15, "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

As the author of Hebrews says, "Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,  'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"  Where Jesus says, "Never will I forsake you" in the original Greek there are two negatives before "leave" and three negatives before "forsake."  (Wuest's WORD STUDIES IN THE GREEK NEW TESTAMENT, Volume II)  In other words He will never, never leave us and never, never, never forsake us.  He will never, never, never leave us alone and helpless!  Sometimes, because of what is happening in our lives we can feel like He has abandoned us.  But, He never, never, never has forsaken us nor will He ever forsake us!  Let that soak into our heads.  He is always on our side and He is always, always, always with us!  (God's promise that He will never leave us is a quote from Deuteronomy 31:6,8 where God promises Israel that He would be with them when they went into the Promised Land.)  "So we say with confidence, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?'" (Quoted from Psalm 118:6-7)  Here is the total trust that God is sovereign and that He is on the side of those who trust in Him.  (Though, as we saw in Hebrews 11, God can allow bad things to happen to his children.  But, as Jesus told Pilate:  "You would have no power over me if it were not given you from above." John 19:10-11)

11. Honor your leaders (13:7-8)

"Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."

Thought Question #1:   Who are those in the past who are no longer alive who has been an encouragement to you by their life of faith?  Describe the life of faith of one of them and how he or she was an encouragement to you by the way that he or she lived?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Some say that because Jesus "is the same yesterday and today and forever," that we can count on Him to perform the same type of miracles today that He did during His time on earth.  Can these verses be applied in that way?  Please explain your answer.

 

 

The author points the Hebrew Christians back to those who had been examples to them at the beginning of their faith.  He is speaking to them about the men who had shared the gospel with them.  (When he says that they should "Consider the outcome of their way of life," it probably means that they are no longer alive.)  He asks them to consider their faith, and then he urges them to follow that same pattern in their lives.  One of the greatest encouragements to us as Christians are those who have lived lives of faith right up until the day that they died.  Since the time of the New Testament we have many heroes in church history who are encouragements to us.  Maybe you are familiar with some of these men and woman of faith.  Are these Christians from the past an encouragement to you in your faith: Martin Luther, John Wesley, Suzannah Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, John Knox, David Brainard, D.L. Moody, Hudson Taylor, Jim Eliot, Corrie Ten Boon, and many more?  Jesus Christ was the same to them as He is to us.  If we also trust and obey God as they did, we can become the examples of faith for the next generation.  For, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  He is the Jesus Christ of Peter, Martin Luther, and of you and me today.  He is just as trustworthy today and we are just as responsible to serve and trust Him!

Does this verse which says that "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever," mean that we can count on Jesus performing the same type of spectacular miracles that He performed during His earthly ministry?  After all, He is the same today as He was then.  There are those who would tell us that this is how we should apply this verse (especially television evangelists).  Jesus can certainly do through us the very same type of miracles that He did at that time.  But, the question that must be asked is, "Does He desire to do those types of miracles today?"  At that time Jesus was proving that He was God's Son.  Now, men look back at these miracles and are faced with a dilemma: either He did do those miracles and is the Son of God or there were no miracles and He was an impostor.  In John 20:30-31, we read these words: "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.  But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name."

In the nearly four decades that I have been a Christian, I have not seen the same type of miracles that Jesus performed when He was on earth, being done in the world.  I have seen no who one has walked on the water, instantly healed the blind and the lame, or raised someone instantly from the dead.  And certainly I have not seen it being done in greater numbers than it was done in Jesus' time.  Some might say that it is because we do not have enough faith.  If it is not God's desire to do something, it does not matter how much faith we have.  If God desires to do something, we need very little faith (faith the size of a mustard seed).  For these reasons, I do not believe that it is a proper interpretation of this verse to say that it means that Jesus will do the same type of miracles today as He did during His earthly ministry.

12. Reject false teaching (13:9-14)

a. Beware false teaching (13:9)

"Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them."

Thought Question:  What can help us so that we can recognize when a teaching is a "strange" teaching?

 

 

In Ephesians 4:12-14, Christians are encouraged to grow until we are no longer spiritual "infants tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming."  We are to know the truth so well that we are no longer easily fooled by every false teaching that comes along our way.  The author of Hebrews has given them twelve chapters of instructions about the Old Testament ceremonies and their message for New Testament Christians.  In 13:9 he says, "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings."  Treasury agents are trained to recognize counterfeit money by becoming experts at knowing every detail of a genuine bill.  The best way to recognize what is false is to become very familiar with what is genuine.

In Hebrews, the author has been very thorough in explaining the meaning of the ceremonies in the Old Testament.  He has explained that they point to how God sent His Son to die and give His blood to pay for our guilt so that we can approach God as those who have been made righteous before Him.  Throughout the book, the author has taught that it is not what we do that makes us right with God, but God has made us right with Him through the blood of His Son.  They should immediately now recognize a strange teaching that says that we get right with God through eating ceremonial foods.  "It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them."  We also should get to know the truth so well that when a false teaching comes along it will immediately appear strange and different from what we have read in the Bible.

b. Bear persecution from false teachers (13:10-14)

"We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.  The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned outside the camp.  And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood.  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore.  For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come."

Thought Question #1:  How do we "go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore"?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Why, according to these verses, should we be willing to bear "the disgrace he bore"?

 

 

The author shows one more reason why Jewish Christians must leave their Jewish ceremonies behind.  In these difficult verses, we see that just as the Jewish people rejected Jesus and took Him outside the city to kill Him, so Christians must be willing to follow Him outside the city and be willing to share in the humiliation and the type of treatment He received!  We must be willing to bear the type of suffering that He bore.

On the Day of Atonement, the Old Testament High Priest of Israel took blood from a bull for his sins (See Leviticus 16:6,11) and blood from a goat for the sins of the people of Israel (See Leviticus 16:15)  into the Holy of Holies where he sprinkled the blood on the Mercy Seat on top of the Ark of the Covenant.  Then, the bodies of the bull and goat were taken outside the camp and burned.  Most of the sacrifices were eaten inside the Tabernacle compound, but these two sacrifices were taken outside camp and burned completely.  (See Leviticus 4:12, 13:45,46,16:27)  We now know that they represented Jesus being taken outside Jerusalem to be killed.  The burning of these sacrifices represents our sins being totally burned.

Jesus died outside the city just as the sacrifices on the Day of Atonement were burned outside the camp.  Nevertheless, after Jesus' death, the non-Christian Jews continued to offer sacrifices in Jerusalem; even though Jesus-God's Son, had offered Himself for their sins once for all outside Jerusalem.  The Jewish Christians, though, could no longer go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices for they now shared in believing in the Sacrifice that was made for them outside the city; the sacrifice made on a cross!  But, when they did not go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices, it certainly resulted in their being despised by their fellow Jews.  The author of Hebrews tells them that as Jesus was willing to be disgracefully sacrificed outside the city, they should also be willing to bear His disgrace. They should be willing to bear being despised for trusting in His sacrifice and for no longer offering sacrifices in Jerusalem.  We also should be willing to be a disgrace in the eyes of those who call us "fundamentalists," "extreme right wingers," "narrow-minded," and other things.  As Jesus was disgraced, so we should be willing to follow Him even if it means that people mock and demean us.

In the following verses, we will learn of the types of sacrifices we as Christians are to offer, now that we believe in the sacrifice that Jesus offered for us.

13. Continue in praise (13:15)

"Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name."

Thought Question:  What are some reasons that you can think of right now to "offer to God a sacrifice of praise"?

 

 

 

 

If we understand the true teaching of the Bible, we will be continually aware of all that God has graciously done for us, and we will continually offer praise to Him.  "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that confess his name."  We can tell if a tree is an orange tree by the fruit that comes from it.  We can tell a Christian by his or her fruit.  A Christian who understands God's grace will speak forth praise to God!  He will continue to give to God a sacrifice of praise.  This praise to God will continue even during difficult times.  Ray Stedman used to gauge the spiritual life of a Christian by noting the absence or presence of a complaining spirit.  When we Christians complain, we have obviously failed to grasp the great truth that God is sovereignly in control of everything and is guiding all that happens to accomplish His loving purposes.  If all we can do is gripe and complain, it shows that we have failed to believe in what God says is true.  On the other hand, when we do continually believe in what God says is true, we will also continue to praise God at all times!

14. Share with others (13:16)

"And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."

Thought Question #1:  According to these verses, how are we to offer sacrifices to God today?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  Think of some sacrifices to God, based on this verse, that you have recently done or others have recently done?

 

 

When we give to our Christian brothers and to those in need, we are making an offering to God.  "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased."  "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.  And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?"  (See I John 3:16,17)  Our faith in God will show in our actions.  If we believe that Jesus gave the ultimate sacrifice for us, we will also give sacrificially to others.

15. Obey your leaders (13:17)

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Thought Question:  What are some reasons that given in this verse why we should obey and submit to our church leaders?

 

 

In this verse, the author of Hebrews gives three reasons why the Jewish Christians should obey their leaders:  He uses two words to describe obedience to leaders: "Obey your leaders" and "submit to their authority."  The Greek word for "obey" means to allow yourself to be persuaded by your leaders.  It is the opposite of closing our mind to someone.  The author of Hebrews believed that their leaders were leading them in the right direction, and that they needed to be open and responsive by allowing these leaders to lead them.  The word "submit" means to yield to someone's authority.  Both words are in the imperative form; they are commands!  And both words are in the verb form that says that we should continually allow ourselves to be persuaded and submit to our leaders.  Now, let us look at the three reasons why these Jewish Christians should obey their leaders (these three reasons, of course, are also three reasons why we should submit to our leaders):

a. Because they are accountable to God

To whom are our church leaders primarily accountable?  Some might believe that they are accountable to the church.  If that is true, the authorities over our church leaders are those that they are leading.  In this situation, who is leading?  It would be like the shepherd being led by the sheep.  The reason that we should submit to our leaders is that they get their authority over us from God.  They are not accountable to us, but to God.  Ultimately, they will be accountable to God for the quality of their leadership over us.  We need to see and acknowledge that they have God's authority to be over us, and we need to give them the proper respect for their God-given authority.

b. So that their work of leadership will be a joy and not a burden

Being a leader in a church can be a joy or a great burden.  For example, many pastors have left the ministry because leadership in the church became more of a burden to them than a joy.  We in the church can help their ministry to be more of a joy than a burden by our eager willingness to follow their leadership.  When the church is growing closer to God, closer to each other in love, and is becoming more and more of one mind, there also is a growing willingness to follow godly leadership.  This type of atmosphere brings joy to the hearts of leaders.  And it also results in the church being very effective in God's work.

c. So that it will be best for us

When we do not submit to our leaders, we are the greatest losers.  Many school teachers that have taught for years complain that there is more rebellion in the classroom than there was in the past.  This makes it hard on the school teachers, but the greatest losers are the children themselves; for they are not benefiting from an orderly classroom where they will receive the best education.  When there is rebellion against the leadership in the church, there are many losers.  It is hard on the church leaders and it is a horrible testimony to those outside the church.  But, those who are rebelling and resisting are losing as well.  When order breaks down in a church, everyone in that church suffers.  When the pastor is overburdened by having to deal with those in the church who are resisting his leadership, he has little time or energy left over to lead the church, to minister, or to build us up in the faith.  As a result, the whole church grows weaker and weaker until the church begins to lose ground in the war that we are fighting against the forces of darkness.

CLOSING WORDS (13:18-25)

Though we do not know the identity of the author of Hebrews, the final verses in Hebrews help us to get to know a little about him.  What he reveals to us about himself tells us what a Christian leader should be like.  He tells us about (1) his motives, (2) his goals, (3) a hard part of being in Christian leadership, and then he concludes with some final personal words:

1. His motives (13:18,19)

"Pray for us. We are sure that we have a clear conscience and desire to live honorably in every way.  I particularly urge you to pray so that I may be restored to you soon."

Thought Question:  We do not know the identity of the author of Hebrews.  What do these verses tell you about the kind of person he was?

 

 

a. One of the key issues in our society over the last years has been the purity

or impurity of the motives of Christian leaders;
particularly, the motives of television evangelists.
People inside and outside the church have begun to wonder if Christian leaders are in it only for the money or for some other type of self-gain.  The author of Hebrews says here that he is sure that he and others who were leaders with him had a "clear conscience and a desire to live honorably in every way."  He was not the only Christian leader that found it necessary to declare that his motives were pure.  Paul often defended his motives.  See I Corinthians 4:1-6 for an example  A Christian leader's motives are the most vulnerable part of his ministry.  He cannot allow them to become impure or he will no longer have a ministry.

Once more, if his motives are called into question successfully, he can also lose his ministry, even if his motives are pure.  Christian leaders must continually battle to keep their consciences clear and to keep anyone from successfully charging them with having impure motives.  Here, the author states that he is sure that he has a clear conscience.  How can we keep our conscience clear?   One way is to keep our hearts open to constant examination by God.  We see in Psalm 139:23,24 that David followed this pattern:  "Search me, O God and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  We keep our hearts open to God by reading His Book and letting His light expose what is in our hearts.  As the author said in Hebrews 4:12, "the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart."  We cannot truly be a Christian leader if our consciences are not clean.  The author was one of those who could say before God, as far as he knew, his conscience was clean and his motives were pure throughout his life as a Christian.  He had one goal and that was to serve God as best he knew how.

b. In these two verses he also gives his reason and motive for writing the

letter.
He was unable to come to them personally.  Because they were going through a tough time and he was not there with them, they might have thought that he did not care.  He wants them to know that he desires to be with them, but he has been prevented from going to them.  He has written a letter to say what he would have said to them if he had been able to be with them.  He asks them to pray for him that he will be able to be with them soon.  This is a constant concern of a Christian leader.  Because it is impossible for him to be with every Christian who is under his leadership, some may get the impression that he is not concerned for them or is more concerned about someone else.  If they begin to think that he does not care for them, his ministry and the spiritual vitality of those under his care can suffer.  He must continually do all he can to convince those in his care that he does genuinely care for them.

2. His goals (13:20,21)

"May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Thought Question:  How does the author's goal for those he is writing to, compare to your goal for yourself and others?

 

 

These verses summarize the purpose of the letter and what every godly Christian leader is seeking to accomplish:  "May the God of peace who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will and may he work in us what is pleasing to him through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever.  Amen."  Let's look closely at what he says here.  God, who is a God of peace, has through the blood of His Son made peace between Him and us.  This is the New Covenant that is described throughout the book of Hebrews.  This New Covenant makes it possible for ordinary and hopelessly flawed humans like you and me to approach God, be part of His family, and be able to do His will.  Because through the New Covenant we can do His will, he prays that God will work in the Jewish Christians and equip them to do God's will.  Jesus Christ, who rose from the dead, is able to work in us so that we can do God's will.  Moses is called the shepherd of the sheep in the Bible because he brought the people of Israel, like sheep, through the Red Sea.  Jesus is the great Shepherd of the sheep because he has brought us like sheep out of our old dead life and into this new life!  This is the good news.  We are not just forgiven, but also through the same power that raised Jesus from the dead, we can now live a new life.  People like you and me can bring glory to God.  There are no excuses, for as Paul says in Philippians 4:13, we "can do everything through him who gives . . . (us) . . . strength."

3. The hard part (13:22)

"Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter."

Thought Question #1:  What are some difficult things that the author said to his readers?

 

 

Thought Question #2:  What are some difficult things that Christian leaders over you have said to you?

 

 

The author makes an unusual request in this verse.  He asks them to bear with his message to them.  One of the hardest parts of the Christian ministry is that it is often necessary to say things to those who are under one's care that are not easy for them to hear.  Remember what he needed to tell them in this letter.  He warned them about drifting away from the truth.  He said that because they could not yet digest spiritual meat, they were baby Christians who were slow to learn.  He tells them not to forsake the assembling of themselves together.  He urges them to be willing to go through suffering without getting bitter just as Jesus went through suffering for our sake.  He urges them to love one another, keep their lives free from sexual immorality and the love of money, and obey their leaders.  One of the most difficult parts of being a Christian leader is that there is the need to say things that fellow Christians may not want to hear.  But, he urges them to "bear" with his words of exhortation.  He tells them that he has written them just a short letter.  It really is a short letter for it can be read in one hour.  It is certainly shorter than the typical Christian book which is hundreds of pages.  Charles Stanley, past president of the Southern Baptist Convention, pastor and television preacher, demonstrated to his congregation and television audience that many of the books in the New Testament can fit on one page of a newspaper.

4. His final words (13:23-25)

"I want you to know that our brother Timothy has been released. If he arrives soon, I will come with him to see you.  Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings.  Grace be with you all."

a. The author, whoever he was, knew Timothy

Here, we see that Timothy went through some of the same type of persecutions that Paul went through.  He also spent time in prison, for we learn in 13:23 that at the time the book of Hebrews was written, he had just been released.

b. The author closes with a personal touch.

He urges them to greet all their leaders and all God's people, and he says that those from Italy greet you.  He could have been (1) in Italy and telling them that the Christians in Italy who were with him greet them or (2) he could have been writing to Italy and telling them that the Christians who were with him and from Italy greet them.  He closes his letter with "Grace be with you all."  This is not just a nice ending.  The theme of the whole letter has been God's grace that has been made possible through the Blood of Jesus Christ.  May God's grace also be with you and all that that means!

Each of us who are Christians began our Christian life at some point in time in the past.  How have we progressed in our new life in Jesus Christ?  Have you and I grown and matured as a Christian?  Have we continued to walk in faith even in the most difficult of times?  If we can answer each of these two questions with a "yes," then we are following the pattern of the heroes of the faith described in chapter 11.  Have we come to the place where we understand, believe, and are confident that we can boldly approach God's throne of grace as a way of life?  Not just on Sunday morning during the worship time, but as an every minute practice in our lives.  That is the type of life that Jesus made possible when He entered into the very presence of God with His blood for our sins.  The author of Hebrews urges and challenges us to boldly approach God's throne of grace with confidence as an every day way of life, to follow Christ no matter what the cost, and to run with perseverance the race that He ran before us.

As we obey Him and continue on even in trials and difficulties, we will see the life of Christ forming in us.  And at the end of the race is Mt. Zion, "the city of the living God."  Though the people of Israel who left Egypt did not enter the place of rest because of their lack of faith; may we continue in faith, obey God, and grow in our Christian life until we find ourselves in God's eternal city!

 

Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION.  ®   NIV  ®    Copyright   ©  1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.  Used by permission.  All Rights reserved.

Studies in Hebrews