Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 10, Number 25, June 15 to June 21 2008

Hebrews 6:13-21

A Sermon

By Rev. Scott Lindsay

We are continuing this morning with our ongoing study of the Book of Hebrews, found in the New Testament. If you have been with us for any part of this series, then you will know that one of the main goals of the writer of Hebrews has been to stop beleaguered Christians from drifting away from the faith and taking up again their former beliefs and practices in Judaism.

With that being the case, the writer of Hebrews has worked hard to show how all the things that were so near and dear to them in the Old Testament system could be found in Jesus who is the greater fulfillment of all that those things pointed to. The temple, the sacrifices, the priesthood — everything that meant so much to them previously could be found in Jesus - only they were better and more complete.

That has been the strategy of the writer of Hebrews up to this point. So far, he has shown how Jesus brings a better and fuller revelation than they previously had. He has shown how Jesus is a better prophet, is more than a mere angel, and is even better than Moses. Finally, the writer has given himself to the task of showing how Jesus is a better high priest than any that had come before. Even Aaron, as great as he was, could not compare to Jesus in his priesthood.

However, in the course of establishing this point, the writer of Hebrews has taken a brief detour. He has not gotten very far into making the case about Jesus' priesthood when he feels the need to stop and raise a particular issue with his readers. His concern was that not only were some of them becoming complacent and dull of hearing, which was serious enough, but his fear was that their sluggishness might be the opening act of a drama that would see them continue to move further from the community of faith, even to the point where they would completely reject and hold in contempt the Lord Jesus Christ.

The very real possibility of their doing so, at least some of them, brings a stern warning from the writer of this letter. However, after issuing this stern warning, the writer has gone on to assure his readers, in 6:9-12, of his confident hope that their future was actually going to be much brighter than that. Their future would be one of persevering faithfulness. Their future would see them one day in heaven.

And so, in spite of the very real concerns he has, and the very real warnings issued, the writer of Hebrews still believes and expects that the majority of his readers will show themselves to be true believers in the end.

However, the writer does not just want to inform them of these things. He does not just want them to have this sort of cognitive assurance of his hopes about their future. He is not interested in their giving mere mental assent to the things he is saying. He wants them to feel hopeful themselves about their future. Even though he has to say some hard things at times, his overall goal is always that they will be encouraged and not discouraged. He does not want them to throw in the towel. He wants them to keep fighting on, and moving ahead.

So, after having said some hard things, he wants to say some encouraging things. Now, we have already seen some of that encouragement in 6:9-12. This morning we will be looking at a few more things that the writer has said to give his readers hope for the future.

First, he reminds them of the unchangeable character of God's purposes. Second, he reminds them of the humility of God in showing his love for them. And thirdly, he reminds them that Jesus - as their forerunner or pioneer - has already gone ahead of them to the place that they hope and long for now. I want to spend a little bit of time this morning showing why I think those three things are very encouraging, but before we do that, let's pray and read the passage together.

Let us pray and read 6:9-20:

Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you." 15And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

After giving his readers a two fold warning, the writer of Hebrews follows right behind with a number of reasons that they can and ought to be encouraged and hopeful. As I said before, we have already seen at least one reason for them to be encouraged in 6:9-12 - because of the ongoing evidence of their lives - the good works and the love that they have shown, and continue to show, toward one another. In addition to what he has already said about that, the writer of Hebrews has some other things he wants to say by way of affirmation.

The first encouragement I want you to see is found in verse 17, which talks about the "unchangeable character" of God's purposes. Now, the context in which the writer talks about the unchangeable character of God's purposes is his recalling for his readers some things about Abraham, one of their forefathers in the faith. And the reason he is talking about Abraham at this point is because, in the previous section, at the end of verse 12, the writer of Hebrews had just assured his readers of his confident hopes for them that they will be "imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises." The person that the writer had in mind, and who is a classic example of this very thing is, of course, Abraham.

Therefore, the writer of Hebrews wants his readers to be like Abraham in being faithful and patient through trials. However, even more than that, he wants them to remember the way in which the whole Abraham story was a such a billboard for the unchangeable character of God's purpose.

Now, if you do not know anything about Abraham, do not panic. I will tell you everything you need to know, at least for the purposes of this sermon. Abraham is a prominent character in the Old Testament - in the Book of Genesis - and is a person to whom God made some very great promises and seemingly impossible promises, including the promise of a multitude of descendants of his very own, even though his wife was, at the time the promise was made, incapable of bearing children.

For those of you who were with us when we worked through the Abraham stories, you will remember how God fulfilled every one of his promises to Abraham, in his own way and his own time, and in spite of the fact that on a number of occasions Abraham's faith wavered terribly and led him into grave disobedience.

To be sure, Abraham also showed great faith in God. The overall pattern of his life was that of a persevering, trusting servant of God. However, within that overall pattern, there were many times when he was clearly NOT faithful, clearly did NOT trust or even believe God, and clearly did NOT always obey and honor God. The pattern of his life was big "F" faithFULness, interrupted by times of little "f" faithLESSness. And it seems to me that it was his struggle with consistently trusting God, and God's continued faithfulness to him nevertheless, that makes him such a good example for the writer of Hebrews to draw upon.

The writer of Hebrews desires his readers to recall how God determined - entirely of his own volition - that he was going to bless Abraham and once having made up his mind to do so, then nothing or no one could stand in the way of that - not Pharaohs, not the limitations of fallen and faulty human biology, not even the sin and faithlessness of Abraham which caused him to make some really bad decisions that, at times, threatened to undo the whole project! None of those things, in the end, could thwart the good plans and purposes which God had for Abraham. It is that reality that the writer of Hebrews wants his readers to keep in mind.

He wants his readers to know and believe that God's purposes for his people now - Today - are as sure and unchangeable as they were "back in the day," as the expression goes. He wants them to feel confident that God will be as faithful to them as he was to Abraham, even though they too have struggled to remain faithful themselves.

That is the first encouragement.

The second encouragement flows out of and is related closely to the first one. As we have already seen, the writer of Hebrews wants his readers to remember the unchangeable character of God's purposes for His people. That is a great thing to know. It speaks of the power of God and his sovereign ability to so orchestrate the events of his creation that nothing can ever stand in his way. Which is why God never needs a back-up plan.

However, the writer of Hebrews does not just want his readers to know about God's power and might and ability, he also wants them to know about and remember God's heart and his care and concern for his creatures.

One thing that clearly shows God's heart is this curious matter involving the taking of oaths and particularly God's taking an oath upon Himself. As the writer of Hebrews explains in verse 16, making oaths, or swearing by means of a oath, is something that people do. It is what people do when they want to make sure you believe them. It is what people do if they want you to know how serious they are about a matter. It is the very sort of thing that you and I do if we want people know how committed we are to a certain thing.

So, when people make an "oath," typically, they call into service some person, or thing, or situation that they feel will lend an air of certainty to what they have said. Like when a person says, "I promise, on a stack of Bibles, I will....." - whatever it is they are promising to do. Or, "cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye" - or other such silly things that we used to say as kids.

Now, in an ideal world, oaths would never be made or needed, would they? A person's word, all by itself, would be sufficient, without any additional things needing to be said to guarantee its certainty. However, we do not live in an ideal world. We live in a fallen world. In a fallen world, that is what fallen people sometimes do - they back up their words with oaths.

That is what people do.

However, God is not like us. God's character is as pure as pure can be. He is flawless and unfailing. He is perfectly just, powerful, sovereign and holy. God is never required to back up anything he says, or prove it, or guarantee it, or justify it in any way. It is guaranteed as soon as he says it. It is trustworthy as soon as it is uttered, indeed before it is uttered. The basis for that sort of trustworthiness is the character of God, the person of God.

We have all seen these bumper stickers that read, "God said it - I believe it - and that settles it." Now, of course, I know, or at least I think I know, what the creator of that bumper sticker was trying to say. However, what he or she really should have said was just, "God said it - that settles it." Because God's commitment to something is an absolute certainty, in and of itself. It does not need anyone's confirmation or belief. It is true even if no one believes it.

Which is why the whole discussion of oaths here is so significant. When God was dealing with Abraham and making certain promises to him (Gen. 22) he took an oath. He did the thing that he really did not have to do. He made a promise and took an oath, swearing by himself, upon his own perfect name - since there was nothing higher that he might have sworn to.

Now, because making oaths is completely unnecessary for God, when you see God doing it anyway, you have to ask why he is doing it, don't you? Why does God, in a very real sense, humble himself by stooping to this practice that fallen humans engage in?

The answer is: because He wants these same humans to know that He can be trusted. He loves them and wants them to have hope amidst their fallen-ness, even as they wait for God to accomplish his purposes. And so he does this completely un-necessary thing - entirely for their sake. As verse 17 makes very clear:

Hebrews 6:17-18 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Do you see it? What was God's desire? To show more convincingly. To whom did he want to show these things? To the heirs of the promise. For what purpose? So that they might have "strong encouragement" to "hold fast" to the hope that was set before them!

What an encouragement to know that not only are God's purposes unchangeable, but that this same God wants us to be convinced of that. He wants us to know the comfort that will come from being convinced. He wants us to know the peace that will be experienced as a result of being convinced. He wants us to not just be intellectually informed of his power and might, he wants us to be emotionally satisfied with his amazing sovereignty.

That is the second encouragement. The third encouragement that I desire you to see here is found in Hebrews 6, verses 19 and 20:

Hebrews 6:19-20 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
The word that I want you to pick up on here is the word "forerunner" in verse 20. The writer of Hebrews wants his readers to remember that Jesus is their forerunner. Now in precisely what aspect he is their forerunner, we will see in a moment. Before we see that, I want to just think about this notion of Jesus as forerunner for a few moments.

What is a forerunner? A forerunner is a predecessor, and ancestor. A forerunner is someone that goes before you, ahead of you. He is a pioneer, someone leading the way. This description of Jesus as a "forerunner" recalls some things we have seen earlier on in Hebrews, in chapter 2, verses 5-9.

Now I am not going to reproduce the exegesis of those verses here, but let me just give you some of the conclusions. As part of his argument for showing not only that Jesus was superior to angels but also why Jesus could not have been an angel, the writer of Hebrews points to the necessity of Jesus' having taken on human flesh.

Now, of course, the primary reason for his doing so was to deal with sin and its consequences for the entire human race. The only way to deal justly with human sin was for him to take on human flesh and face the wrath of a Holy God.

However, we also saw in our study of 2:5-9, that in coming to do these very things Jesus was not just acting in his capacity as our savior, he was also acting as our pioneer. To see that we have to look further back in the Bible, to the Book of Genesis, where God gives his original commission to human beings - that they would be fruitful - and so multiply his images across the planet, and that they would manage creation on his behalf.

Well, the entrance of sin into the world, made the successful fulfillment of that commission impossible. However, impossible though it may have become, the commission still remained. So, the question gets raised very early in the piece, "How is that going to happen now? How will God's people ever fulfill their commission?" The answer, of course, is that they will fulfill it in and through Jesus, our Savior and our pioneer.

He is the one who was truly human, as well as divine, who goes before all of us. He was and is the true, representative man - the second Adam - who comes and completely fulfills the commission given to him by his Father. Part of that commission was to conquer and subdue sin and death - which are the very things that prevent you and I from carrying out the creation commission given to us.

This Jesus who has come, has united us to himself by His Spirit so that in him and through him we do now and will one day in the future, personally and completely fulfill our God-given commission, in God's new and restored creation. Making this happen is a task that God has not and could not have entrusted to any angel. It is a role that could have only been fulfilled by Jesus.

So, the writer of Hebrews has already reminded his readers of Jesus' role as their pioneer. In the verses before us this morning, we see this same reality come to the foreground once again. Jesus, as our forerunner, as our pioneer, has gone ahead of us. Where has he gone? As verse 19 says, "into the inner place behind the curtain." What curtain is he talking about?

Well, if you could have seen the Temple in Jerusalem, you would have found that in the central part of the Temple, in the innermost and most special place of all, was the room referred to as "the Holy of Holies" - and it was the place where the high priest would go, once a year, to make an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the people. It was a place where the priest, representing the people, drew near to God - a place where God was especially close, and especially present.

The writer of Hebrews tells us that Jesus has gone into that place. He is telling us that Jesus has entered into the very presence of God. However, he hasn't just gone there on his own, for his own purposes. He has gone there as our forerunner. He has gone ahead of us, which means that if we are his people, then we are going to follow him there one day. The place he has already fully attained to is the very same place that is in our itinerary. We can look forward to entering into the special presence of God. Why? Because Jesus our forerunner is already there.

It is like we're mountain climbers, and there is this one particular mountain with this impossibly difficult section that none of us with all of our skill and experience could ever dream of getting past. We look up and wonder and can only imagine what it might be like to get to the top. And then, out of the blue, there comes one who is like us, and yet not like us at all, and to our great amazement, manages to get past what for us would never have been possible. He gets all the way to the top, and he lets down the rope and we know that now, because he has gone ahead of us, and because he has made a way for us to follow, that we will one day be where he is now. We will see what he sees. We will know more completely then. We will feel what he feels.

Now, analogies always have problems, and I know that this one has tons of them. However, if you can get past that for a moment, what I am trying to impress upon you is the very real hope and encouragement that it ought to be for us to know that Jesus, as our forerunner, has gone behind the curtain - behind the thing that stood between the people and God because of their sin.

Jesus has gone behind that curtain and now, thank God, we too have, and will, in Jesus go behind the curtain and stand before the very presence of God, clothed in the spotless righteousness of our Savior and forerunner, the Lord Jesus Christ.

If that does not encourage you as a Christian, check your pulse. You may be dead.

Three encouragements can be found here for the people of God in every age. The unchangeable character of God's purposes. The humility of God in being willing to do what was not necessary in order that his people might experience and know, in their gut, God's loving purposes for them. Finally, the inspiring truth that Jesus, as our forerunner, has already gone, and has secured the way to the place that we too, one day, will go - into the very presence of God.

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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