Good morning. My name’s Brian and it is great to be gathered together as a church family this morning. If you have your Bibles, go ahead and turn to the book of Hebrews. We have been going through the Bible pretty much book by book and this week we are in Hebrews. Now, today is a special day as I’m sure many of you know, it is the day of, let’s say it together, reformation. What’s up with the people over here? I think I heard Martin Luther roll over in his grave.
So today is culturally Halloween. It is also the day we remember the Protestant reformation and how God used multiple people at different places in times to recover the truth of the gospel, the authority of the scriptures and so many other precious doctrines. And there are some passages in the book of Hebrews that we’ll look at today that were essential to arguments being made at the time of the reformation. So it’s a timely book for us, it’s a timely book for all Christians, and it has been influential throughout history.
Now the book of Hebrews likely gained the title Hebrews because it seems to be written to Jewish Christians, to the Hebrew people. And it ends like a letter, but it reads like a sermon. It’s like a sermon that was written out and kind of put in the postal service and sent to a group of people that the author has a personal vested interest and a personal care for. And since it is a sermon, we should ask, what is it a sermon about? Simply, it is about the superiority of Jesus and that we should be warned not to fall away from Jesus, do not commit apostasy.
Now this will feel like a different kind of sermon than many of us are used to hearing because the emphases in the book of Hebrews are somewhat different. It has its own voice that compliments the other writings in the new testament. But it will seem different to us and we need to hear and feel the weight of these encouragements and warnings today. First, simply because it’s in the Bible and the whole council of God is necessary for the Christian.
But secondly, there are movements like the exvangelical movement, which is celebrating people leaving the evangelical faith and encouraging other peoples to do that. Or consider that depending on which study you look at, between 65 and 85 of high school students who would claim the name of Christ, go off to college and abandon the faith. And studies would show us they actually left it much before they left home in their church. Consider pastors and lay people alike having what seems to be increasing moral failure and Christians increasingly looking more like the world, being indistinguishable from it.
So the church and our church needs to be captivated anew, or perhaps for the first time with the vision of the glorious son of God who is superior in every way to everything. And when we are enraptured with that vision of the son radiating God’s glory, we will not fall away from him. So there are two main points today, Jesus is superior, do not fall away. And this is how Hebrews begins. Long ago, God spoke to our ancestors by the prophets at different times and in different ways.
In these last days, he has spoken to us by his son. God has appointed him heir of all things and made the universe through him. The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact expression of his nature, sustaining all things through his powerful word. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high. This is both an introduction and also a summary of much of the letter.
God used to speak through the prophets in the old testament, they were his intermediary, but in these days he has spoken to us through his son. And he didn’t just speak on behalf of God, no, the son spoke as God. The universe was made through him and for him and he sustains it in its being. And we will never fully understand how this works, but just consider for a moment God’s involvement with the world did not end after he created, no.
At every millisecond, at every point in space, God and Jesus is governing every subatomic particle in its existence, its essence, its direction. He has a will and a plan for all of them according to his decree. He knows the hairs on your head, how many they are and for those of us with less than we used to, where those have gone and which one is going to be gone next. Colossians 1 affirms similar truths about Jesus.
It says that everything subsists in him, it is held together in him. And this has profound ramifications for every area of life. For education, it means that every fact is only a fact because of Jesus, that he sustains the truthfulness of every claim, that if we see the world and we don’t see it through the lens of the scriptures, we have not accurately seen the world. It has ramifications for science. The reason we can do science and study how things work over time is because Jesus sustains the world in its being consistently.
And the things we call natural laws are actually just descriptions of how Jesus ordinarily sustains the world in its being. And we can think of the fact that because he’s consistent and sustains things as they are, we can trust him when he promises that this will happen or that will happen. Jesus doesn’t intrude into the world or just interact in the world in a few special ways at a few special times, no, he is active in all parts of it at all times.
But lest you think that’s just some kind of transcendent or cosmic truth, he is involved in the world because he entered into it, taking on flesh and human nature and became personally involved with us. Verse 3 tells us that he made purification for sins and he could only do this as we will see because he was truly man and truly God. He was both the perfect high priest offering the sacrifice and he was the perfect sacrifice. And in both of these, he was superior to every priest and every sacrifice that had come before him.
Now I have said several times already that Jesus is superior and you will hear that many more times today. Because the book of Hebrew says about 13 different times that Jesus is better than or superior to some preexisting good thing from God, a good person, a good system, a good law, but Jesus is superior to all of it. In the first few chapters of Hebrews, the author says among other things, that Jesus is superior to angels, to Moses and to Aaron.
So let’s consider what it means for Jesus to be superior to angels. Verse 5 and chapter 1 says, for to which of the angels did he ever say, “You are my son, today I have begotten you.” Or again, “I will be his father and he will be my son.” The author is quoting Psalm 2 and some other old testament passages. And if you have a Bible that lists old testament quotations in bold or italics and you flip through Hebrews, you’re like, “Did this guy add much original thought?”
So much of it is the old testament that he interprets correctly as being about Jesus. And he does that here. He says, “Today, I have begotten you.” That’s what the father said to the son. Now the author to the Hebrews knows and believes that Jesus has eternally been the son of God. But what he’s getting at here is that in a special way, at Jesus’s resurrection, he was installed and recognized as the divine son and king. As great as angels are, that could never be said of them. And he goes on to show from many different old testament passages the same idea.
Verse 6 shows that the angels should worship Jesus. If you’re being worshiped by something, you’re certainly superior to it. Verse 8 shows that he has an everlasting throne, verse 10, that he established the earth and the heavens and they’re the work of his hands. Verse 13, that he sits at the right hand of God and his enemies are his footstool. Now God doesn’t have a literal right hand because he’s spirit, but this is a figurative way of showing the preeminent position that Jesus has of honor and authority. And that can’t be said of angels or of anyone else because Jesus is superior.
But Jesus is also superior to Aaron. Now, who was Aaron? Well, Aaron was Moses’s brother and the first official high priest of the Israelites. So God brings his people out from 400 years of Egyptian activity and he gives them his word, he gives them the law, he institutes the sacrificial system and the priestly system and Aaron is the first high priest. And Aaron and all high priests who would come after him were supposed to represent the people to God.
They offer many of the prescribed sacrifices to God and in Leviticus 16, we see a description and a prescription for the day of atonement, a specific day each year when sacrifices for the sin of the nation would be offered to God. So once a year Aaron is supposed to purify himself by the means God has commanded. He puts on special clothes. He washes his body. He sacrifices a bull for his own sins and sprinkles it around to purify the most holy place in the tent of meeting.
And he does all of this and more so that he can enter in and not be struck dead because of his sin. And then he takes two goats, one will live and one will die. And Leviticus 16:15 says, then Aaron shall kill the goat of the sin offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the veil and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it over the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. Then he shall make atonement for the holy place because of the uncleanliness of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all of their sin, the goat dies so that its blood atones for the sins of the people and appeases God’s just wrath against their sin.
At least it does this for a time. They’re going to have to do it again next year, they do this repeatedly. But it is still a grace of God. Now what about the second goat? A little bit later in verse 21, it says, Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it the iniquities of the people of Israel and all their transgressions and all their sins. And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness by the hand of a man who is in readiness.
The goat shall bear all their iniquities on itself to a remote area. This goat is different. Aaron by laying his hands on it shows that the sins of the people are transferred to the goat in a way, are imputed to the goat, credited to the goat. And then that goat is sent out to bear their sins and remove their sins from them. There’s so much we could say here, but briefly, let me say between the two goats, God’s wrath was satisfied so God was propitiated, it’s a good old testament and new testament word and the guilt of the Israelites was removed from them.
Their guilt was expiated. So God is appeased and their sins are removed. But of course, the people would go on to sin over and over and over again. And this sacrifice would need to be repeated over and over and over again. So what does this have to do with Jesus? Did Jesus ever sacrifice a bowl and go into the Holy of Holies? Did he ever save a goat and kill a goat? Did he even offer a sacrifice? Well, there are four things I want to see today about how Jesus is a perfect priest, about how he is better than Aaron.
Hebrews chapter 5 says, for every priest taken from among men must make an offering for his own sins as well as for the people. So think back to Leviticus 16 in the day of atonement. Could Aaron just go in and do what needed to be done? No. He had to follow a meticulous plan of self purification and only then could he go represent the people, not so for Jesus because he is superior to Aaron. Hebrews 7:26 says, for this is the kind of high priest we need, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.
He doesn’t need to offer sacrifices every day as high priests do, first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people. He did this once for all time when he offered himself, for the law appoints as high priests men who are weak, but the promise of the oath, which came after the law appoints a son who has been perfected forever. So the first thing about Jesus I want us to see is he is a perfect high priest. He wasn’t a sinner who needed to somehow atone for his sins and then atone for others, no, he was the perfect and sinless offering for a sinful people.
One October night in 1534, placards containing Hebrews 7:27 were placed around cities in France. That’s the verse that says he has no need to offer sacrifices for his own over and over again. One of these placards was even nailed to the door of the king’s bed chamber. He was not amused. And they were attacking the Roman Catholic concept of the mass, and more so, Rome’s understanding of the gospel. Now it’s important to understand mass is not the word just for a Catholic church service.
The Lord’s Supper in Roman Catholicism is called the Eucharist and it’s actually a sacrifice or it’s said to be a sacrifice that forgives sin. So the priest pronounces a blessing over the bread and the wine and it’s believed that they are transformed instantly into the literal body and blood of Jesus. And since it’s Jesus who’s perfect, it can be offered as a sacrifice that forgives sins, the sins you committed since the last time you were at mass. And you’ll need to offer it again the next time you come to mass because it never perfects anyone.
The reformers understood that this was part of a completely different gospel, entirely different from what the scripture’s taught. And contrary to the teaching of Roman Catholicism then, and still today, Jesus, the perfect high priest offered the final sacrifice for sin that would ever need to be offered. He did it once for all, as in once for all time. There’s no need to repeat a similar sacrifice, and in fact, trying to repeatedly offer sacrifices for sin or atone for our sins by good works or something like that shows that we do not trust the once for all work of Jesus in our place. It actually denies that he is a perfect priest.
But Jesus is superior because he is perfect. But Jesus is not just a perfect priest, he is a forever priest. Hebrews 7:21 says the Lord has sworn and will not change his mind. He says of Jesus, “You are a priest forever.” That’s a quote from Psalm 110. And the author continues, “Because of this oath, Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant. Now many have become Levitical priests since they are prevented by death from remaining in office. But because he remains forever, he holds his priesthood permanently. Therefore, he is able to save completely those who come to God through him since he always leaves to intercede for them.”
Every other priest before Jesus died, in the grave, not still interceding and they were merely human, right? We wouldn’t expect it to be different, but they couldn’t continually intercede for the people. But Jesus, on the other hand is the divine human priest and he holds his priesthood permanently. Hebrews 7 says that Jesus has become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. And you may ask, “Well, who is that?”
Hebrews 7:1 tells us, for this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of God most high met Abraham and blessed him as he returned from defeating the kings. And Abraham gave him a 10th of everything. First, his name means king of righteousness, then also king of Salem means king of peace. And the author is saying that this priest who came before the sacrificial system, this Melchizedek prefigured Jesus. He goes on to show that the old testament never talks about Melchizedek having a mother or a father.
And so he says in that way, he had no beginning and Jesus had no beginning. And he points out that the old testament text never says that Melchizedek died and says, well, he’s a kind of everlasting priest and he uses that to say Jesus is an everlasting priest. He is a priest forever. Now the author likely knows that Melchizedek was a man who was born and died, but he leverages the point of how the old testament speaks about him to make a truer point about the reality of Jesus.
Consider Abraham paid a tithe to the priest Melchizedek, before the law was given, before the sacrificial system, before there was a high priest. And the author to the Hebrews points this out to show Jesus is a more ultimate foundational kind of priest than Aaron and all of the priestly system that you traditionally think about. He is superior because he is a forever priest. But he’s not just a forever priest and he is not just a perfect priest, Jesus perfects those he atones for, he is a perfecting priest.
Hebrews 9:24 says, for Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands but into heaven itself so that he might now appear in the presence of God for us. He did not do this to offer himself many times as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, he would’ve had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared one time at the end of ages for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of himself.
And just as it is appointed for people to die once and after this to face judgment, so also Christ having been offered once to bear the sins of many will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. We could spend all day in that passage too. There’s so much gospel, hope and richness there. But at a minimum, we see the efficacy, the effectiveness of Jesus’s sacrifice. He did it once and it worked. He perfects those who come to him.
And he was both the priest offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice being offered. And in both of those, he was better than all who had come before. He bore the sins of the many, the text says, his people and he intercedes for those same people. If Jesus died for you, he’s interceding for you. You don’t have to wonder is Jesus my high priest, is he interceding? Is he perfecting me? Do you trust in him? Did he die for you? Then he’s interceding for you.
And we have been declared by God to be as righteous as Christ, having been credited with Jesus’s righteousness. But it doesn’t just end there. He is faithful to continually conform us more and more to his likeness because he is a perfecting high priest and he is superior than all other priests because he is a perfecting high priest. But we could spend every moment of our lives reflecting on ways Jesus is better than some other reality or some other person.
But I want us to consider why it matters for us that Jesus is better than angels, better than Moses and better than Aaron. Why does it matter that he’s a perfecting, forever, perfect high priest? It matters because he is our high priest. For all who have trusted in Jesus, Jesus is your high priest. In fact, the reason you trusted in Jesus is because Jesus, the priest, offered himself as a sacrifice for you. He took names to the cross when he died for the many and he knew he was going to intercede for those same people.
And this is what Hebrew 6:19 says, “We have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. Jesus has entered there on our behalf as a forerunner because he became a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” And doing the work on the cross that Jesus did, he metaphorically went into that holy place that Aaron had to go on the day of atonement and he offered himself as our high priest.
Aaron was never our high priest. There’s no other priest that we could have. He was both the priest, he was the goat that was killed and he was the goat that went away to bear our sins and remove them from us. So when the text says that he is our priest, that should be deeply meaningful to us. Not us as a group though yes, but us as individuals. We have Jesus as our priest who we can go to personally, and that’s why this matters. Because to put it simply, life is hard, sin is real and deadly. We are weak and we need help.
Hebrew 4 says, “Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the son of God, let us hold fast to our confession for we don’t have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we yet without sin. Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need.”
So are you weighed down by your sin? Do you feel incapable of living according to God’s design? Look to Jesus. He’s your high priest. He cares, he sympathizes with you. You do need mercy because you’re sinful. I need mercy because I’m sinful and we all need grace because we are incapable on our own. Jesus can sympathize with us. So take your struggles to Jesus.
Now, before we leave this text, I want you to see one other thing. Recall from the day of atonement and Aaron, how did Aaron have to enter the Holy of Holies? Did he go in boldly? Did he go in boldly? No. He went in dare we say timidly, humbly, carefully. Only after a meticulous process of purification that he performed for himself could he go before God. Yet this text says, “Christian, Jesus is your high priest. Go boldly to him.” If you had told an old testament Israelite that you were going to go boldly to the throne of God, they would’ve said you were crazy, God will strike you dead. And they would’ve likely been right.
So what has changed? We are on this side of the cross where the perfect priest offered the perfect sacrifice and has broken down the dividing wall between God and man. And there is no hostility so we can go to him boldly when we need help, which is very often. No other priest could ever do that, because once again, Jesus is the superior priest. Now I mentioned earlier, there are two main kind of points to the book of Hebrews.
Jesus is superior and the second is, do not fall away. So I hope so far you’ve seen a glimpse of the beauty that is Jesus, the creator of the cosmos, creator of you and me, sustainer of everyone and everything better than any man in religious figure, he is the superior priest of a superior covenant. But Hebrews tells us this not because that’s actually in point of the letter, it’s not. The main point of the letter is do not fall away. And by fall away, the author means do not leave Jesus, do not commit apostasy. And why? Because Jesus is better.
So the first warning he gives that we’ll look at today is do not harden your hearts. Hebrews 3:12 says, “Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. For we have become participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end, the reality that we had at the start. As it is said, today, if you hear his voice do not harden your heart in rebellion.” And he goes on to remind them of their history. These are Jewish Christians he’s writing to, their history of the Jews in the desert after God brought them out from hundreds of years of Egyptian captivity.
He brings them out. He hardens Pharaoh’s heart, he softens Pharaoh’s heart. The people are let go. They see God’s miraculous workings there. They see him part the Red Sea and then Pharaoh’s army goes in and they see him destroy the Red Sea. And then they get a little impatient at Mount Sinai. And so they make a golden calf and say, “That’s what brought us out.” And God’s anger burns justly against them. They have to do laps in the wilderness for 40 years and God provides food and water for them and shade and they complain.
After all God had done, their hearts were hardened. And the author is using that as a warning for us today because as the author says, we have become of participants in Christ if we hold firmly until the end, the reality we started with. We must hold firmly lest we fall away. A helpful kind of self diagnostic question for us. When the Holy Spirit pricks our heart, do we bleed repentance? When we see something in the word that points out an area of sin or hardness in our life, when a friend does it, when a sermon does it, do we kind of buck up? Do we push back? Do we make excuses or do we quickly repent?
The longer it takes one to repent, likely the harder their heart is. But do not allow your heart to harden. Be quick to repent, quick to forgive, quick to bear with one another lest you fall away. The second warning that we’ll look at today is to not become spiritually lazy. Hebrews 5:11 says, “We have a great deal to say about this, but it’s difficult to explain to you since you have become too lazy to understand. Although by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again.
You need milk, not solid food. Now, everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced with the message about righteousness because he’s an infant. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have senses that have been trained to distinguish between good and evil. Let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. Not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works or works that lead to death, from sin. Let’s not lay again a foundation of needing to talk about only faith in God and teachings about washings and laying on hands and the resurrection of the dead and final judgment.”
The author has a diagnosis for the people he’s writing to and I believe we need to hear it as well today. Many still need milk, not solid food. And if they continue as spiritual infants, they’re in danger of falling away. Now he’s not saying they’re infants, therefore they are not Christians. He’s saying if you persist as an infant when you should be growing, you are in danger of falling away. Now, what does he mean by milk?
Well, he tells us these are the elementary, the basic, the foundational truths about Christ. We should have moved on from these. By moved on, he doesn’t mean left them behind, but built on them, retain them and add more to them, right? So what are some examples of these? Well, if we need to continually only talk about repentance from sin, if we need to talk about how essential faith in God is, if we need to talk about the fact that we have a resurrection coming one day, we are only people who can subsist on milk.
And he’s saying that’s likely all they could handle or at least some of them could handle because they’ve gotten lazy. They aren’t going to progress to the deeper and meatier things of the faith in terms of wisdom, the scriptures, knowledge, character, and morals. Now infants do need milk. It’s not good if you give an infant solid food, my wife taught me that when we had our first child, right? So it’s appropriate for a babe in Christ to need milk, that’s exactly what we should give them.
However, his point is these people should have moved past that because of how long they have claimed the name of Christ. Consider a grown man walking around drinking milk out of a sippy cup is embarrassing. You would tell him to grow up, to stop that. And that’s what the author is warning them about. Now, focusing on foundational things is good. If you are building a foundation of a house, you should focus on the foundation. But if you only ever have a foundation, you will be homeless.
We must progress past that. Not leaving behind, bringing with and adding to. Because if we don’t, we are at increasing danger of falling away. And this is what verse 4 chapter six says. It is impossible to renew to repentance those who have fallen away. Complacency in one’s spiritual life is deadly. If you are not moving forwards, you will soon be moving backwards. And I think many today have become spiritually lazy because frankly, they find Christianity to be boring.
They’re more excited and wooed by the things of the world, by entertainment and TV and movies and media and social media and pornography such that when they come to the word of the living God which is revealed to us by black letters on white page, it seems boring. And sometimes it tells us things we don’t want to hear. Our hearts have been captured by another love. And so we further drift, we become lazy and complacent.
And what often should just be a beginning becomes an ending place when it comes to truths and convictions and lifestyles. And if this is the case for you, be careful that you do not fall away because the author says it is impossible to bring such a person back. Now, how do you know if you need milk or if you need solid food? It’d be a good question for us to answer. 5:12 says, “Although by this time ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the basic principles of God’s revelation again.”
Now he’s not saying that everyone should be a formal teacher at church in a class or at a school in a class. But he is saying that the expectation of every Christian is that they are continually maturing and growing such that they will be able to teach others both the foundational things that he mentioned and more, that they will proceed past that. Pastor Voddie Baucham has pointed out that Christianity is one of the only areas of life where we tolerate mediocrity in those who otherwise should be mature.
So consider if you started a new job and it’s your first day and you go to the veteran who’s been there for 5, 10, 20 years and you say, “I’m new to this field. I want you to teach me everything you know about this career trajectory and career path. Tell me about this market, tell me about our industry and what we do.” What would you think if the person said, “It’s only been 25 years, I don’t really know that much. You should go ask the CEO.” You would wonder, “How has this guy not been fired?” Right?
But sadly often in Christian communities, something similar happens but it goes differently. A new convert comes to the faith, perhaps a young person and they come to an older Christian and they say, “Hey, I want you to disciple me in the areas of the scriptures and evangelism in church history and apologetics and theology and help me understand my Bible better.” And often what’s replied is, “I’m not a pastor or perhaps you should go into the ministry. You should go to seminary.” Which seems to be saying, “You make me uncomfortable, please go somewhere else.”
Normal Christians aren’t supposed to be like that. But what would Hebrews say to us or that person? Actually, every Christian should be continually growing more and more in their knowledge, wisdom, and character, in their zeal to see a lost world come to know Christ and their knowledge of Christ. They should be growing in their ability to tell the difference between good and evil and good and almost good.
Their life should be marked by an increasing struggle against sin, not a decreasing struggle with sin. They should have moved on from needing to only be able to discuss the basics of the faith and they should be the kinds of people who can teach, train and disciple others. That’s the expectation of the text, that’s the expectation of Jesus. And the text tells us that if you’ve been a believer for a while and that’s not you, it’s not saying you’re not a Christian, it’s saying be careful that you do not fall away from Christ. That is a very dangerous place to be.
It’s like when my daughter and I are riding bikes and she decides she wants to stop in the middle of the road and take her shoes off. It’s like, we got to be moving forward, we got to be moving somewhere, right? We’re not staying in the middle of the road. That’s a dangerous place to be. Now this text is not saying that everyone will be equally mature. And it’s not saying that we’ll all mature at the same rate. It’s not saying that everyone will be a formal teacher and it’s not saying that we’ll be perfect this side of heaven. So hear me on those things.
And there’s a danger in me making this point today because the danger is while everyone needs to hear it, it’s in the word, the person who most likely needs to hear it who perhaps has a hardened heart, they don’t think it’s for them. And the flip side of that is perhaps equally concerning. There is a person who loves Jesus, is pursuing them, is growing, is moving on from milk to spiritual food. And they hear this and they think, “That’s for me.” And there’s a greater weight that’s put on their shoulders than should be.
We all need to hear the warning, but the sensitive person who likely needs it less is likely to be crushed by it and the insensitive person to the things of God is likely to just let it roll off. So perhaps this is a way to think about it. If you don’t think it’s for you, it probably is. And if it’s a crushing burden for you, perhaps have a little of that lifted, but check yourself, go to the word, let it examine you.
This might be a helpful approach, a diagnostic question. If you’re content in your relationship with the Lord, watch out. Being content with where we are with the Lord is a dangerous place. Yet if you are captivated by the beauty of the risen, divine son of God, you will pursue him and leave worldliness behind. You can’t love two things. And trying to love something less doesn’t work. The solution is to love Jesus more, look to him.
I find it interesting that Hebrews 13:8 says Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. And yet I don’t think that resonates with us as a very good thing because we want something new. I want something to titillate me, to engage my senses in a new and exciting way. And I think this shows that our moral compass is miscalibrated. But consider in a world of broken promises and shifting moral standards, Jesus is the same. He’s a reliable anchor, a reliable foundation for our souls.
So we should ask ourselves, do we have… what are our unmet desires? Take an inventory and categorize them. How many of them are for things in this world? If that side of the list is longer, check yourself. There’s a warning there for us if the things we are most concerned with are not Christ, his kingdom, loving God and loving neighbor. We may be becoming lazy, and as Hebrews says, we are increasingly likely to fall away or commit apostasy.
We don’t like that topic, we don’t like this topic, do we? And I’ll just be transparent with you. I don’t usually get that nervous before I preach. I’ve had some anxiety the last couple days. I’m not asking for sympathy, I’m simply saying this is such a weighty topic because it’s in the word and it’s not a topic we hear much of today. We need to hear it, we need to feel it. But at the same time, there are people who know this that I don’t want to crush. But it is important.
But often in these conversations, what we do is we like to bring up of systematic theological system to say that in some ways the warning should be lessened. So if we go to the warning passage and the thing we walk away with is, well, you shouldn’t feel that warned, we have misunderstood the God-breathed author. There is a real danger in allowing our hearts to become hard and allowing ourselves to become spiritually lazy and continually pursuing a path of unrepented sin.
So how do you make sure you don’t fall away? The answer is grace, God’s grace. We often think almost exclusively of grace as that which begins the Christian life, as in we are saved by grace. That’s true, but we need grace to persevere to the end. This letter, as the word of God given to his people then and given to us today is a grace. It is a grace to be warned against falling away. All of God’s word is a grace to us. We can get an accurate spiritual diagnosis by coming humbly to the word. It judges the thoughts and intentions of the heart, Hebrews says.
But we don’t just have the word although it is sufficient, we also have a family, a grace that God has given us as a family. We read in chapter 3 where it said, watch out brothers and sisters, that there’s not an unbelieving heart in you, a hard heart. Well, the very next verse says, but encourage each other daily while it is still called today so that none of you is hardened by the deception of sin.
One grace that God has given us is each other, brothers and sisters in Christ. How do you persist to the end? Brothers and sisters in Christ. This passage though is hard to carry out if the only time we see our brothers and sisters in Christ is for an hour on Sunday morning, because the author assumes that these brothers and sisters are your people. Like who’s your tribe, who are my people, who know me? It should be your brothers and sisters in Christ or be careful that you don’t fall away.
It assumes you’re spending time with them, that they know you like really know you. It assumes that you’ve shared lives. It also tells us that we need to not just be around each other, it’s not just presence. It says we need to encourage each other. But by encourage it doesn’t just mean like give positive, emotional affirming messages. It might mean that sometimes. But the author means we need to urge, exhort, admonish, encourage to faithfulness and holiness.
But Hebrews doesn’t just encourage us to have closer brother, sister in Christ relationships. Hebrews 10:24 and 26 says, “Let us consider one another in order to provoke love and good works that we not neglect gathering together as some are in the habit of doing, but we encourage each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. For if we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin.”
The author here, again, links not falling away with the people of God and your participation in it. Now what’s likely in view here is the Lord’s day gathering, not just any kind of ad hoc gathering or friends hanging out that we’ve already talked. That’s important to have intentional Christian relationships. No, this is the Lord’s day gathering. So how do you not fall away? Commit to the local church, show up and go all in.
The new testament knows nothing of a Christian who’s not part of a church, at least willingly. And why is that? Besides that person living in disobedience, it just doesn’t work. They will fall away, the author of the Hebrews says. These last two years of COVID have tested our understanding of these truths. They’ve tested our resolve to follow them. And admittedly, I am hesitant to weight into this topic with what is a lack of time and what will probably be somewhat of a lack of nuance.
So please let me address it and please hear it charitably. There are many people who have not gathered with our church or their church since COVID started. Streaming and watching from home while helpful is not gathering. That is not what this passage is talking about. But many in our church community and churches across the nation are not severely immunocompromised and could come should they choose to do so with limited to no risk, but some do not. The word some is important here.
Some are more concerned about the inconvenience of a possible exposure and the need to quarantine than they are concerned with being with their brothers and sisters. Some people are more fearful of the virus frankly than they are of the Lord or of the admonitions to not fall away in the danger that they are in. This is surely not everyone, hear me on that. It is some. Now I don’t know people’s specific situations, and even if I did, I’d be very hesitant because these are complicated, difficult situations to work through.
But you know you at least better than anyone does. And the word we’ve seen can judge us when we come to it humbly. So ask yourself if you’re somehow hearing this or perhaps you are someone who’s here but you have friends or family who perhaps need to hear this, ask yourself or ask them, why have I not come back? What’s motivating me? Is it fear of things in this temporal life or is it fear of the Lord? Is it a love for this life or is it a love for the Lord?
Now like I said, this is surely not everyone, but it is some. Perhaps this doesn’t apply to you, but perhaps it does. Perhaps it’s not a COVID thing, it’s a beach thing or a sports thing that leads to you not regularly gathering. “Be careful,” the author to the Hebrews would say. So if this is not you and you know someone for whom it is, have that conversation. They are difficult conversations but they are essential conversations. I’ve had them.
They’re the kind of conversations you don’t want to have. But I’ve seen God work in people’s hearts and lives and I’ve seen how they have come back to the church, their brothers and sisters and how it has been deeply good for their soul as it was designed to be. Because the text links a failure to gather with the danger of falling away. It’s not saying if you don’t gather you’re not a Christian, it is saying be careful. So God’s word and the church are graces that help us not fall away.
But lastly, or perhaps firstly, look to Jesus. The reason the author spent so much time telling us about the superiority and greatness of Jesus is because if we look to him, we will endure. When we are captivated with the image of the glorious son of God, radiating the father’s glory, the creator of you and me, sustainer of everyone and everything, when we look to him, we will not fall away. He is better than angels and better than Moses. He’s better than Aaron. He’s better than Trump and Biden. He’s better than LeBron and he’s better than Brady. He’s better than Cruise, Bullock, Ford, Freeman, Denzel, and Pitt. He is the perfect priest.
Think on the things that captivate our hearts. He is the perfect priest, the forever priest, the perfecting priest. And brothers and sisters, he is our priest. As Hebrews 12:1 says, “Let us lay aside every hindrance and the sin that so easily ensnares us. Let us run with endurance the race that lies before us, keeping our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For consider him who are endured such hostility from sinners against himself so that you will not grow weary and give up.”