“Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go in to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washing, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permit’s. For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.”
Here we see a passage that has given many scholars a great wealth of difficulty over the centuries of Christendom.It seems, there are as many interpretations of this passage as there are scholars. So for the purpose of this study I will not seek to give an explanation. However, I will seek to provide some insight to this passage in accord with my own thoughts and investigation.
I remember as a young Bible College student when I first discovered this passage of scripture. It scared the pants off of me. What did it all mean? I wanted so desperately to take the Word of God seriously and here I found myself confronted with the harsh reality that, “it is impossible,” for those who had fallen away to be restored back again to their state of salvation. Or is it? Was there something I was missing? Something that I could not see in this text that would help me forever explain, in my own life, how one could seemingly walk away from God, and then return again to Him like never before? Furthermore, How could repentance play into this situation? Was not repentance the means to which God forgave those who, as Christians, had fallen away and now sought forgiveness?
The opening point of this passage should be directed in two fold. The author is upholding the authority and goal of teachers as well as pointing to the false authority of “milk” based Christians. In short learn and be a teacher, or be content with a lack of Christian character (or even possibly false conversion in the context of the passage that follows).
This brings up an interesting problem that many churches face. How can a body grow in holiness if they are constantly centered on the “milk” of the Gospel? I remember once hearing a fellow student of mine say, “Im only concerned with the meat and potatoes of the Gospel!” This was said with some authority. I pray that His perspective changed, as this mentality may be the very thing wrong with a humanistic Gospel centered on individual comfort and assurance. I am sure that the author of Hebrews would have had something to say to my fellow student some years ago.
When we become content only with the “elementary doctrine” of the Christian message we are effectively binding our hands and feet becoming incapable of truly expressing the Gospel to those around us. I think this is the mentality that is expressed anytime we hear the success of an outreach or ministry conveyed in numbers. It is a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of the Gospel. We ought maybe think about the language that we use and instead of saying, “We had X-amount of decision for Jesus!” we ought say, and be content with, “the Gospel was advanced and many were impacted by the grace of God!” However, I fear this would not be the case in many situations and churches. People are addicted to the flashy show that we have made the salvation process. There must always be a good story to make us cry, or shout, or throw our hands in the air. Many have degraded salvation to a good soap opera story, on display for all to see.
We have become like a hiker. A hiker, who after traveling miles into the woods without seeing anything of interest finally sees a two-headed bear. Exclaiming for joy this hiker slowly sits and waits for the bear to return but the hiker never tries to follow the bear and learn more about it. Eventually the hiker will freeze to death as winter comes. The bear never returned.
The problem was that the hiker had “experienced” the bear but truly did not seek to understand its habits and life. He had been “enlightened” to the existence of such a creature but really knew nothing of it. The issue is the same for many people in the church. The church is a place were people have, “been enlightened” and have, “tasted the goodness of the word of God,” and yet there is not true heart change. There is only legalism and strife.
Here it may be that we are looking at a case of false profession. Assuredly there are those who profess belief but do not actually believe. This could be the case of this passage. Furthermore, this is frighteningly the case of many a church-goer today as well. As Arthur Pink states of the Hebrew Church we can also see in our own immediate context. Pink states:
“The Hebrews had become lukewarm, negligent, and inert; the gospel, once dearly seen and dearly loved by them, had become to them dull and vague; the persecutions and contempt of their countrymen a grievous burden, under which they groaned, and under which they did not enjoy fellowship with the Lord Jesus. Darkness, doubt, gloom, indecision, and consequently a walk in which the power of Christ’s love was not manifest, characterized them.”
As a result of being too concerned with things that were elementary they had become ineffective in their true calling to manifest Christ to those around them. Furthermore, in so doing they were in danger of showing the world that they had never truly believed to begin with. The profession did not match their lifestyle.
There might be seen many reasons for this in our own culture. Many pastors thinking that it’s all about the, “meat and potatoes” have effectively bound their congregations. We ask, “how have we become such consumers in the church?” the answer is possibly simpler than we would like to admit. We have stopped discipling. Furthermore, we have allowed ourselves to be pacified a message of “elementary things”. We have no right to be frustrated with lack of spiritual growth if we as teachers are content to make it our greatest issue.
“About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
I have, many times in my life, sat across from individuals in a “spiritual crisis”. It seemed to them that there was a spiritual need that they must have met. Furthermore, this conversation usually ends with an absolving of the bonds that exist between the individual church and the individual believer. Under the simple phrase, “I think it better for my spiritual growth”, the church is left with one less member and one more stripe in the battle for unity and purity.
This situation is one repeated across the spectrum of Christianity. However, the issue is not one of “spiritual crisis” but milk addiction. The reality of the matter is one in which the individual finds their own desire to gourde themselves on milk more important than a call to feed and teach others. In this text we must see the reality of this.
Here we see a church more concerned with things that are inconsequential than the proliferation of the Gospel of Jesus. In our context the author would say something similar. I can imagine the issues being worship music, communion style, dress at church, or any other litany of issues. The problem arises when individuals elevate non-doctrinal issues to a status that they should not obtain.
Here it would have been issues of tradition and law. The individual complantaint in the Hebrews church would have been obliged to think that tradition and observance of the Law was more important than Christ. However, the author says that is not the problem. The issue in the Hebrew Church is not a pressing need for more law but a pressing need for more Jesus. The author understands an important truth. A valid encounter with Jesus cannot be valid without a desire to move toward being a teacher to others.
This brings light to the fundamental problem facing the church today. People have lost sight of the goal of Christ in us. I think of the great saints of the catholic and orthodox churches. The individuals have been lifted to a status of almost being a god in some rights. However, that was not the point of their lives. We also do the same with Christ. So many people need a rally cry, a cause, or a mission. This is not a bad thing. However, the possibility exists that we have allowed false images to take over our call to Christ.
The issue is one so much tied to discipleship. The health of the church in this book was directly tied to the teachability of the people in the congregation. These individuals were more worried about the sins in other people’s lives and beliefs than they were about there own usefulness to God. Furthermore, as a result they were flirting with the desire to deny Christ as God. We must realize that when we allow ourselves to be more concerned with an issue instead of with Jesus than we in a very visual way are denying Christ to the world around us. We must be teaching others. Christ says, “I will make you fishers of men!” When was the last time we truly lived the life of fishermen? Are we living a life that looks like someone who understands what it means to teach others in any context?
My great fear is complicated by so much. It seems that the Milk addict often times feels completely justified by saying, “my spiritual needs are not being met.” This phrase is considered completely valid despite their total lack of ability to teach others. An individual who does not teach others is a perpetual student and therefore will never graduate to greater things. This should be concerning.
Furthermore, the problem exists of issue driven Christianity. Peoples “spiritual needs” are lowered to inconsequential things (i.e. my spiritual needs are not being met because you don’t agree with me). This should be concerning as well. The question should not be, “are my spiritual needs met?” the question should be in contrast, “Is Jesus being preached to me and by me”. If no, than something must change. Most likely the needed change however is not your locale but your heart and diet.
“So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him,
“You are my Son,
today I have begotten you”;
as he says also in another place,
“You are a priest forever,
after the order of Melchizedek.”
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayer and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was feared because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Mechizedek.”
I remember in my first pastorate I had an enlightening run in with my pastor (my boss). My first day of work he called me into his office. He wanted to have a talk.
He looked at me from across his desk and started into a long conversation concerning his expectations for me and his own experiences in ministry. Eventually he ended the conversation with these gracious words, “Jason” he said, “I am not going to manage you, I have hired you to be our youth pastor and I believe God has done that.” He continued, “I am going to let you do what God has called you to do and if something goes wrong well we will deal with it then.” These words would become one of the most gracious things I had ever had a pastor say to me.
A year and a half later I realized something telling of that pastor. He understood what it meant to be a man who inspires leadership and lets leaders lead. When we picture this model to the world we will excite leaders and innovators to be part of our cause. However, the repercussions of the opposite are far reaching.
We must see here that Christ’s own priesthood just as ours (the doctrine of the priesthood of the believer) is established and maintained by God. The people trusted the leaders that God had chosen to offer sacrifices for their sin, at least ideally. Faith was established when the individuals understood that Gods authority, His sovereign power was the proliferation point of the ministry, not the individuals ability to maintain and uphold the “traditions” and “actions” of men and their strategies.
I submit that the meddling hand of faithless legalism was the cause of this passage.The individuals in the Hebrews church who caused the division were ones that did not like the way things were being done. That is why the author of this passage felt the need to show the superior nature of Christ in His ministry. John MacArthur writes on this the following:
“Yet even though He was the divine Son, Jesus did not take the position for Himself. He told the Jewish leaders who questioned Him, “If I glorify Myself, My goal is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God’”
Jesus understood that it was not the place of men to direct the will of God it was God to direct the will of man through His authority and grace. Jesus was the pinnacle of this example. Here we see the author of Hebrews making the same point. If the people truly trusted Gods will, as they said, than they would trust the Messiah Jesus. Not their individual agenda to project the law of their making into Gods works.
Second, we must see that Jesus was a man that sympathized with others. If Jesus had been more concerned with everything being perfect all the time this would not have been the case. Casually people say, “the Devil is in the details” this is something said with glib. However, I think that we must realize that when we are caught in this cycle we loose the ability to sympathize with those we are called to minister too. Jesus shows us to rest in Gods promises whereas the devil uses individual’s persuasions to rip and tear at the hem of the church. Our enemy is not sympathetic and worry is his great tool whereas Jesus is caring and has sympathy allowing us the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them.
William Barclay states of the writer that he portrayed an important theme concerning Jesus’ own suffering in relation to us. Barclay cites a common Jewish thought of the day:
“There are three kinds of prayers, each loftier than the proceeding—praying, crying, and tears. Prayer made in silence; crying with raised voice; but tears overcome all things,’
We must see as Barclay does that, “Jesus knew even the desperate prayer of tears.” If it had not been for this than we would not have a leader that understands our frustrations and cares concerning His body. When we present something different to those we influence, some sort of stonewall professionalism, we picture to them a church built on obligatory edicts and law. This is not what God intends nor should we.
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness. Because of this he is obliged to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people. And no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God, just as Aaron was.”
I have often thought about the nature of ministry in our culture. The questions are endless as to the nature of calling and maintaining ones ministry. Furthermore, it is perplexing as a believer to constantly fight the cultural perception possessed by the many of our contemporaries. How can we as Christians make a difference when so many supposed “pastors” perpetually end up on the evening news displaying their sins for all the world to see?
Here we see what qualifies one to be a priest in the church of God. In so many aspects this passage portrays the most important qualifications a pastor or minister should have. However, many times I have sat with people who felt “called” to ministry or leadership yet they were unable to truly understand what that meant.
I remember once as a younger man sitting in a Mississippi church feeling the absolute weight of what the church expected of me as pastor. In so many rights it seems that many in the church think that a pastor is supposed to be a combination of father, husband, friend, C.E.O, and Jesus. Furthermore, a minister is supposed to maintain all of these things while still remaining perfected to their calling and their own family. It might be said that often times we think that a minister of the Gospel is supposed to be invincible. Like a young child sees their father as some sort of superman many church parishioners and non-church goers see their pastor and Christian friend. However this passage would point to something different.
Again here we are confronted with the humanity of Christ in its coexistence with His divine nature. All priests in the O.T. were an archetype of Christ. We read in chapter 5 V.1-2 which says:
“For every high priest chosen from among men is appointed to act on behalf of men in relation to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He can deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is beset with weakness”
Although Christ was not and is not weak He did come in the nature of a servant, first to God and His glory and then in his ministry to human beings. We see this in the Book of Philippians 2: 5-7 where Paul states of Christ the following:
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men”
It should seem therefore; that the true nature of a High Priest, pastor, or church member as one who takes on the lot of those they ministers to. However, it is frightful that many pastors may be projected into some untouchable figurehead of an organization. The professional church minister is something that was never intended.
John Piper has spoken and written a great wealth on this issue. Piper is very telling on the nature of ministry by saying:
“We are fools for Christ’s sake. But professionals are wise. We are weak. But professionals are strong. Professionals are held in honor. We are disrepute. We do not try to secure a professional lifestyle, but we are ready to hunger and thirst and be ill-clad and homeless. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things. Or have we?”
The idea that professional ministry could be the answer to the lost around us it not a well thought out pattern of being salt and light. The professional attitude of the world around us has lead to a great wealth of strife. A professional ministry may appeal to some but the idea of such an appealing is one that should give us pause.
We have all at some point encountered the rigors of the corporate world. Rules without explanation enacted by some executive far off in a cushioned office. This is not a picture of Christ. And therefore we should rethink the idea of being ministers of the Gospel (no matter as a church staff member or not) who project an iron vest existence in which we are impervious to sin. The beauty of the Gospel is different than this picture. Furthermore, when we think that the culture around us wants one more unconcerned, disconnected administrator we are sorely mistaken. Ministers of all levels should be approachable, and caring even when it hurts and involves caring for people in ways they may not like or understand.
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with out weakness, but we have one who has been tempted in everyway, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”
When I was in college I went through a great period of doubt. I began to wonder about my salvation. I would sit for hours and think to myself, “am I really saved? Does Jesus really love me? How can I still sin and be a Christian?” I think that at some point many in the Church will go through a period of such tempering. It is common, it is difficult, and it is important.
However, I think that inevitably people will often times in these situations begin to seek wise counsel. I actually confess that in my period of doubt I became so desperate for help that I even sought some not-so wise counsel as well. It was during this time that I would go to friends, teachers, and pastors and inevitably work the conversation to a point where I could ask, “How can I know that I am saved?” It always seemed that the answer was lack luster. The conversation would work to a point where eventually they would ask, “Well!” as if they had, had some great moment of clarity, “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?” My answer was always the same, “yes more than once!” This was very frustrating and repetitive.
Eventually, I came to a point where I realized that I needed to sustain myself in faith by God and God alone. That only in His Son would I ever find rest and know that I was His and He was mine. However, I had learned something about speaking with friends and seeking “counsel”. Unless we seek counsel from someone who has been there before, there is really no way that they can ever identify with and sympathize with our sin. Furthermore, the only reason why Christian accountability is valid is that it is based upon Christ Himself. Who had experienced every moment of struggle that we do as well.
That is the point here of this Scripture. The point here is the dual nature of Christ. Note here in the text that we see the author state, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with out weakness”. The point is this; that Christ has experienced the exact same struggles we have as well. Furthermore, we see here that Christ, as high priest, can atone for our sins but also identify with us and sympathize.
An important theme here to see is that many in the Hebrews Church thought as the high priest appointed from men thought. These individuals had sought to elevate themselves through religious knowledge and observance in order that they might be more holy than the average bear. As Yogi Bear was proud of his picnic basket stealing abilities the priest had become proud of their religious abilities. However, here we see the one factor that separated Christ from them. Christ was a High Priest that identified with the people. Christ had all the right in the world to be proud but he was not. Christ was a humble sinless servant.
This is often the attitude that we take toward the world as well. I remember once I was watching a movie when I was in Bible College. Me and my girlfriend at the time had rented the movie assuming there would be no real issue with language or content (which for the most part there was not). About one quarter through the movie a young lady came through the door just in time to hear one of the only curse words in the movie. She then stopped in her tracks, gasped, shook her head, stared, huffed, puffed, and turned and walked out the door. This turned not only myself and my girlfriend off, but also many others in the room.
We might here read this and scoff. However, I would challenge us to think of times that maybe we have been scoffers at sin rather than sympathizers. Not sympathy in the way of condoning but rather sympathy in the way of caring about the person committing it. If someone has the flu I can sympathize with them and not begin vomiting uncontrollably just as I can sympathize with someone who struggles with homosexuality and not become a homosexual.
However, it seems that often we think that we can make a difference through a megaphone. Like the Tokyo Rose through a radio speaking to American G.I.s in World War II we think that we can make people surrender their sin to Jesus by speaking loudly enough from a safe distance. This is not, and never, will be the case. We have to get dirty, get real, and get to work. If we don’t we will never be seen as humans by those that we pray for. We will only be seen as disconnected, non-caring Pharisees, and that is the opposite of Jesus.
“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.”
I remember when I was very young I would go to work with my father on Saturdays. He would load me up in the car, buckle me in the car seat and drive to the mall where he was the manager. We would pull into the parking. As we would begin to get out of the car he would look down and smiling he would say, “Jason!” and I would look back and say, “Yes” with excitement. I must admit now I always knew what he was about to say but I loved every minute of it and would wait anxiously for this little tradition to play out. He would pause and almost as if some great pitcher looking down from the mound he would exclaim, “Jason, who’s the boss with the red hot sauce!” I would giggle uncontrollably and say as loud as my little voice could, “You are!” He would smile and I would smile. I loved Saturdays with my dad and often times miss those moments that we shared.
The story that we see here is similar to the one that I had with my father. Jesus as the High Priest of our faith is our great leader; He is, for all intensive purposes, “the boss with the red hot sauce.” However, we, like my earthly fathers employees, are prone to forget this reality. We long to think that we are better leaders than He. This was also the problem that many of the Jews in question were struggling with in this text.
Here we reach a key theme to the Book of Hebrews. The author of the text seeks to employ Jewish language in order to explain the Gospel in terms that could be understood by His audience. It is in this passage that we see Jesus portrayed as a “high priest”. This is of great significance to us and should be understood further, as it has great practical implications to us as well as the original readers of the Hebrews text.
The point here is one that is very difficult for many (if not all) to grapple with concerning the tenants of the true Christian faith. We are not the high priests of our own faith. This was of great significance to the audience of this text. There seems to have been many that sought to think themselves smarter than Christ. Some may say that this is not of great concern to the modern church. However, I would exclaim that this is not the case. There are too many “experts” and not enough humble leaders in the church today. This should be of great concern.
The fact is that we need a high priest. It is a high priest that was needed to take an atoning sacrifice before God. However there was a catch. No human is perfect enough to stand in the presence of God. Our sin is so offensive to Him that it cannot be seen in His presence. How could our sin ever be atoned for if we ourselves could not bring it before Him and seek forgiveness? A mediator, a perfect sinless human made in the image of perfection was needed to mediate for us. A perfect high priest was what was called for. More so, a high priest, who himself, was sinless and needed not sacrifice himself.
Barclay has an interesting point on the issue concerning the nature of Christ in the Book of Hebrews. He states:
“What was needed was a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice, someone who could bring to God a sacrifice that once and for all opened the way of access to Him.”
Christ was the only individual who met the two qualification needed for such an action. One reads further concerning this that, “He (Christ) is the perfect priest because he is both perfectly human and perfectly God.” Christ was the answer to this problem and no man or women, regardless of their depth of spiritual knowledge and holiness, can ever claim priesthood as Christ does.
The role of a High Priest was a daunting one and with it came much responsibility and pressure. The only “person” good enough to live it was Christ Himself. Yet, man continues to seek this role for himself. In our own action we implicate Christ as being quasi-human and therefore quasi-God. In order for any argument to entertain a diminished view of Christ as human it must also mean that they will diminish Christ as God. We must not make this mistake. For it was the grave mistake that many in the church of the Book of Hebrews made.
The situation in Hebrews is one in which legalism is seeking to overtake grace. With this legalism the people of offence were in all actuality trying to lower the Godhood of Christ. If it were that we were supposed to follow laws or tenants in order to have a full religious experience we would in essence be lowering God to something that we can attain or “experience” through a process of action. This was the message that the offenders to which this book is addressed were portraying to the world around them. In a sense they were saying Gods grace is sufficient but in other settings and in other terms they were picturing a system in which their pride had been elevated. These individuals were proclaiming the prophets but not their master. Furthermore, that master was and is Christ as High Priest. If they (and we) do not see Christ as a perfect High Priest we will forever lose the truth and effectiveness of the Gospel.
How? You might ask is that so. The answer is simple. When we think falsely and see Jesus as a mere guidepost in the steps to heaven we ultimately seek experience over truth. I would propose that this is the very reason that the Book of Hebrews places such emphasis on the nature of the complete revelation of God in Christ. There is no debate, there is no more speculation, and there is no more revelation to come. The point is that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and when we seek to condense Christ into a box labeled prophet, or legalism, we ultimately lose the truth of who Christ is; a High Priest, a “boss with the red hot sauce”. Jesus’ is everything and when we focus on anything other than Him we lose the thing we claim to be fighting for.
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”
On June 4th 1940 Winston Churchill said the following words in a speech given to rally the English people in the face of a looming war with Germany. He said:
“We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender, and even if, which I do not for a moment believe, this Island or a large part of it were subjugated and starving, then our Empire beyond the seas, armed and guarded by the British Fleet, would carry on the struggle, until, in God’s good time, the New World, with all its power and might, steps forth to the rescue and the liberation of the old.”
These words became infamous in the coming years and decades as the British people fought to remain British. The people of the Empire found themselves facing odds that seemed insurmountable in the face of Hitler’s Germany. However, the one thing that Churchill understood so well is this simple fact. Words have power.
So is also the case of our text at hand. One commentator on this text said it very plainly. This writer stated, “The point of this passage is that the word of God has come, and is such that it cannot be disregarded.” Yet throughout the course of Christian history it has been this very fact that has come under so much attack. As the bombs of Germany tried to demolish all that symbolized Britain so the enemy of Christ has sought to compromise the great finite truths of Gods word. Often times doing so whilst wearing the very trappings of that which it hates.
The unique nature of the situation in the church here is one in which the author of this text sought to define the very foundation of what it meant to be Christian. The answer to the writer of the Book of Hebrews was a simple one. The Word of God was and will always be the answer. There is no amount of practice, tradition, or thought that will ever circumnavigate the great wealth of assurance that comes from the word of God. However, religion had and will continue to have a great effect on ones ability to see this simple fact.
William Barclay makes a profound statement about the word of God. Mr. Barclay said that, “When people take God seriously, they immediately realize that his word is not only something to be studied, not only something to be read, not only something to be written about; it is something to be done.” This is sticking in the face of the contemporary church in which we live. How many “Christians” find themselves more concerned with practice and observance than they do in living out the idea that there is, “something to be done”? So many it seems have become bogged down in the thought that personal holiness equals Gospel living. However, this in some regard may not be the case. In fact an over exaggerated sense of holiness can lead to the very opposite. There is only one formula for true holiness and that is found in Christ, and Chris as the word of God. All other actions and processes lead to legalism.
Now, I am not saying that personal holiness is of no importance. However, I am saying that often time’s individuals get lost in the quest for it. Instead of seeking to know God in his Word, many seek to experience God in deeper “ways” forgetting the Gospel in the process. This in someway leaves only selfishness at the core of what we portray to the world around us. I would even propose to say that this mentality is no less expressive of who we care about than the rich young ruler who so promptly stepped over the body of the starving Lazarus. The wealthy man was so assured of his status before God that he cared not to stop and care for the weak and dying around him.
This is ultimately what happens when a Church community becomes more concerned with themselves than with those whom Christ is still calling. The scary fact is that most do not see it this way at all. I imagine that many in the Hebrews church were seeing this same issue in their context. Many in the Hebrew’s church would have proclaimed the very name of God yet, lacked grace and love. As a result many individuals in the church would have become disillusioned with the Gospel, falsely associating Gods word with the legalism of the prideful. With each proclamation of the supremacy of Moses, or Joshua the Gospel was defamed. With every word or call for individuals to go back to the Jewish practical religion the grace of Christ was attacked.
I would put forth the idea that many pastors do the same in our context. So many, it seems, preach a problem and answer version of the Gospel. This I would say is more in an effort to comfort rather than drive individuals to a deeper call to Gospel living. When we present the Gospel as the great problem solver we present a Gospel that is man centered and not Christ centered. The people of God should be challenged to think and move further into the trusting of God and His word through speculation. When we present ourselves as having all the answers (even though we do in Gods word) we set the church up for failure. Inevitably we will reach an impasse at which we cannot provide all the answers (or more importantly the answers that people want which may not be the best answers). It is here that unlike Ruth people will choose the path of Orpah. It will be easier to go home to the gods that individuals worshiped before.
This brings us to why the Word of God is of the upmost importance. When the author here states, “Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” the word used is of great interest. The word “uncovered” literally translates, “naked”. In short what we are seeing here is the author making a statement on the final authority of God in the judgment of men. In the end there will be nothing that will stop God from seeing the very nature of our claims on the Gospel. There is no amount of activity, clothing, or pomp (which in that day and even in ours is an effective way of setting oneself apart) will ever stop Gods word from either condemning or exalting. The word has great power and should never be dismissed. All things are answered in Christ and His embodiment in the word. That’s the bottom line.
“Again he appoints a certain day, “Today,” stating through David so long afterward, in the words already quoted,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts.”
For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on. So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”
Here again we are confronted with the daily relevance of Gods promises to us. The author seems here to point out a mistake in the thinking of these Jewish church members. The people to which the author was writing had idolized the men who had received the promises and in so doing had neglected their own state before God. This is also of dire importance to us.
The thrust of tradition should always be seen as a way to inform and build the future. The fear however is that one of two things possibly happen. It seems that people either neglect the past and seek to “answer” the questions of the present in new and fresh ways, or people tend to idolize and idealize the past trying to constantly get back to the better times. These mistakes can apply to any situation. However, for the believer in this text, as well as us, this problem is rather pressing.
The situation in which this was written was one in which the past traditions had hindered the abilities and unity of the church at hand. We too often times struggle with this fact. Change is either seen as a positive or a negative. We are afraid to give up what we have and in faith press on to better things. That in short is the toxic circumstance of this text. The believers had seen Joshua and Moses as the pinnacle of Gods work. The author here seeks to reframe the focus of their faith in Christ.
The text states, “for if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later on”. The plain fact is that God had not stopped working with Joshua but had continued the story of redemption through Christ and now in the church. This fact continues today and we should not loose sight of that. This however by no means should lead us to throw away the thousands of years of Christian witness that can help us along our journey.
We must see here that the author does not de-legitimize the experience of Joshua he merely points out that the followers in the church at hand must, “hear his voice,” and not, “harden” their own hearts.” In fact here religiosity is associated with a hard heart. The overly religious de-values the informative nature of the cross and in so doing de-values the ability of Christ to shape and form His church (which he does regardless of individual religious pride.) We will look further at this next week however, we cannot miss the fact here that sometime the most religious people are the very ones that are in danger of possessing a hard heart. A hard heart is often the one that refuses to submit first to God and then to others.
This does not mean that one has no place for input and leadership. However, we do walk a fine line. One can overly submit. Yet, submission is an important theme here. Later we will see that over emphasis of self and personal ideals can often times leave us just as the Israelites in the wilderness. Our pride will again and again lead us across our own tracks in the dessert. Wondering why there is such a peculiar similarity between our feet and the footprints we find in our way.
“For he has somewhere spoken of the seventh day in this way: “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works.” And again in this passage he said,“They shall not enter my rest.” Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience”
God cannot and will not ever portray the Gospel in a false way. However, the hearts of men can and will always be inclined to understand the Gospel in a false way. Here we read, “And God rested on the seventh day from all his works”. We must here acknowledge that God does not need rest. The seventh day was meant to be a picture both verbally and visually of Gods promise of rest to men. Furthermore, this rest was a rest that was a sign of Gods grace ultimately pictured in Christ. The key here is the conveyance of the Gospel. How do we do it? And what do we do with it?
This is a glorious and frightful text to all people everywhere. The passage states plainly, “ Since therefore it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly received the good news failed to enter because of disobedience.” It seems that often times we ask the question, “Do I really believe?” the answer is not one that is found easily. More so, it may be a better and far more profitable question to ask, “Have I heard and not obeyed?”
In a culture obsessed with self improvement is it not more likely that many people hear the Gospel, and in some rights enjoy it, yet fail to fully acknowledge Christ’ working in their lives. Assurance comes not through the idea of “liking” the Gospel message (the mere “receiving” of it) buy rather assurance comes from trusting in the advent of rest provided to us through Christ. I would submit to you that in the past we have made the dreadful mistake of assuming that the Gospel is about what we portray on to it rather than what God shows us it is. We have made the gloriousness of Christ into some self-help nonsense that it was never meant to be. If we doubt this all that must be done is venture the “Christian living” section of our local Christian bookstore.
Still a stroll down the secular bookstore section dedicated to Christianity may be more concerning. It is there that we find the worlds perception of what it means to be “Christian”. There often times one might find a wealth of knowledge on how to attain spiritual satisfaction in ones self yet a dearth of books which posses true insight into the Gospel. We have Christian diets, Christian gardening, Christian success guides but a scarcity of Scriptural exposition and thought.
Jonathan Edwards theorized that an important key to Christian development is a stage of speculation. Yet it seems that many of the powers at large seek to pacify the modern believer with quick easy answers. There is no emphasis on serious thought and speculation placed in the Gospel message. Even the church service has been greatly influenced by this fact.
Pastor J.D. Greear asks a very pointed question in his book Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart. He states very simply the following:
“I have begun to wonder if both problems, needless doubting and false assurance, are exacerbated by clichéd ways in which we (as evangelicals) speak about the gospel. Evangelical shorthand for the gospel is to “ask Jesus into your heart.” Or “accept Jesus as Lord and Savior” or “give your heart to Jesus.”
Greear would say that in large part this is the wrong question. Although we do see that there is some value in these phrases we must understand that in many ways it paints a false picture concerning the grace of Christ. In short Greear would go on to say that, “The biblical summation of a saving response toward Christ is “repentance” and “belief” in the gospel.” Is this what we portray to the culture around us?
We see the results of this mentality in the text above. Just as some might receive the good news and not actually repent so Greear says that one can, ““ask” Jesus into your heart” without repenting and believing, and you can repent and believe without articulating a request to come into your heart”. We have missed something if we think that our faith is defined by a momentary, often highly emotional, experience. We must understand the reality that the Gospel is meant to be lived and loved daily, momentarily, and at every second. The sad fact is that a large portion, if not most seem to think that a motivation of self-preservation is all that is needed for righteousness. However, Gods rest is so much more than that.
Furthermore, we cannot expect the lost around us (even in our churches) to fully appreciate the Gospel if we do not push them to speculate on the Gospel. If we continue to rely not on Gods clear proclamation of the Gospel (as we see in the very real creation of a seventh day) than we will continue to show people a false Gospel. This Gospel is one that is built on human efforts and not on Godly proclamation. If Christ and Christ crucified is not the central theme perceived by those around us than we will in essence portray only parts of the Gospel. People might receive the parts but never truly grasp the Gospel, as it should be.
“For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them. Because they were not united by faith with those who listened”
This speaks to faith. Do we truly believe that the Gospel will save, first us and then others? John MacArthur states on this the following:
“From the human side, the first requirement for salvation is faith. Hearing the gospel is essential, but it is not enough. The ancient Israelites heard God’s good news of rest, but it did them no good since they did not accept it. They did not trust in the God who gave them the good news. It does no good to hear if we do not believe.”
If we do not believe that the Gospel has the power to save us then we will not believe that it has the power to redeem our communities and our peers.This must be seen in order to truly appreciate the situation that existed in the community of Hebrews.
The authoritative point here is this; the church in question was one in which there were many who did not believe the Gospel had saving power. The un-regenerate individuals in the body had poisoned many to think that religious law was their only way of salvation. To a church this is a warning. Paul points this out even more in the book of romans by reminding the readers that circumcision is “of the heart”. His point here being that, “Spiritually an unbelieving Jew is a contradiction in terms.” (Macarthur) Just as a cultural Christian is one likewise.
Paul is pointing out that a pride in practice and ordinance is of no value unless there exists an inward change. If I don’t pay my taxes I do not defend my actions by pointing to the tax code. This action would be foolish, as it would verify my guilt. In 1st century terms; I would not point to circumcision as proof of my relationship to God if my actions showed that no such relationship existed. This action would be pointless, as it would show my guilt. In essence it would show that I had heard the good news, even acted on it in some ways, but never truly advanced into saving faith. This is the point in Matthew 7:22-23 which states:
“On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness”
These would be individuals with a great wealth of religious abilities and knowledge. They could point to the miracles (the actions just the same as circumcision) but they could not point to a truly changed life. Their actions were a stamp of pride. They had aspects of the Gospel yet in hearing they had not truly been repentant. The people in question were individuals that claimed to posses the law (more importantly its fulfillment in Christ) yet had no true conversion experience.
Now we arrive at the question of practicality. How does this pertain to our current environment? In short the issue is the same. Our churches are filled with individuals who know the ends and outs of the Christian life. However, they have never truly embraced the Gospel of Christ. In many contexts it is more burdensome to walk the Christian life with these types than it is to live in a culture, which is openly hostile to the Gospel. The Devil can quote Scripture just as many unregenerate cultural warriors can quote the same. This must be seen in some ways as the same situation that faced the church of the Book of Hebrews.
With all this in consideration we must understand that the solution is the same in either case. Whether we find ourselves in a culture that hostile to or seemingly embracing of the gospel the answer remains unified. Preach the Gospel by all means. This however remains a difficult task. Many have sought to provide easy programmatic answers to the question of cultural outreach. However, the church in many ways is a reactionary force that inside of its self struggles to make culture. The problem is one that remains perplexing.