Category Archives: Hebrews

Hebrews 2:5-18: The Problem of Suffering

curtis cheng   Last Friday afternoon, 58 yr old father of two, Curtis Cheng was leaving work in Parramatta. He was looking forward to an early start to a long weekend. But he was shot in the back of the head by a 15 yr old radicalised Muslim boy from a local high school.nepal

What sort of God allows THAT to happen?

Or the earthquake that struck Nepal in April this year, killing 9000 people, and destroying 700,000 homes.

What sort of God allows THAT to happen?

Or else there’s the more PAINFUL question when suffering gets PERSONAL. Like P’s prostate cancer, or Ph’s breast cancer and chronic fatigue syndrome, or J’s blindness in one eye.

And lots of non-Christians say, “I can’t believe in a God who would allow things like THAT to happen.”

And their argument goes something like this: If God is infinitely GOOD, and infinitely WISE, and infinitely POWERFUL, then he would STOP things like these.

So he mustn’t be POWERFUL enough to stop it.

Or else he’s POWERFUL enough, but not GOOD or WISE enough to WANT to stop it.indonesia

One journalist, writing about the 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 250,000 people, wrote, “If God is GOD, he’s not good. If God is GOOD, he’s not God. You can’t have it both ways.”

At ONE level it sounds reasonable, but behind the argument is a mistaken assumption . The assumption is that just because WE can’t see any good purpose in suffering, there can’t BE any. But that’s arrogant, and blind faith. Arrogance and blind faith just as bad as what a non-Christian accuses a Christian of having.

The reality is/ it’s JUST as reasonable to argue, as the Bible teaches, that God IS wise and powerful, and has some purpose for suffering that our small brains can’t understand. And that he’s LOVING, so it must be a GOOD purpose. Even if we don’t know what it IS.

It’s like a child whose family moves house. There might be all sorts of good reasons why the parents decide to move. For work, or to support family, or to afford a house. But the child thinks it’s terribly unfair and hates his parents, simply because he loses his friends, or no longer has a backyard to play in.

But as a child gets older, he can understand better, and he can see things the way his parents do. He can see more of the complexities. He may not understand COMPLETELY, but he can grow to TRUST his parents.

That’s the position many CHRISTIANS are able to get to as they live through suffering. They don’t understand WHY, but they trust their heavenly Father.

In fact, rather than their suffering disproving the existence of God, many Christians say that, without God, they’d never have made it THROUGH the suffering.

The problem of suffering for atheists

So ONE thing I want to suggest is that, rather than suffering being a problem for BELIEVERS, it’s a GREATER problem for those who DON’T believe in God. (Those humanists, or atheists).

For example, the Nepalese earthquake. If there’s no God, and if we evolved by chance over millions of years of evolution, then there’s no PROBLEM with 9000 people dying. Weak people are wiped out, the strong survive. That’s survival of the fittest.

If there’s no God, why should we WORRY about rape or genocide, or natural disaster.

In fact, even our REACTION to suffering is evidence that God exists. We sense there’s something WRONG about it. Our moral outrage at EVIL / COMES from somewhere. There’s no evolutionary reason for a sense of right and wrong. It doesn’t HELP survival. And Christians say that sense of right and wrong has been PUT in us by God, our just Creator.

And even to ask, “WHY?” presupposes that there’s a PURPOSE. Or DESIGN to our world. To ask WHY suffering happens is meaningless if everything happens by CHANCE. (If there is no wise Creator who has a purpose for doing things.)

Atheists think suffering is a problem for Christians. But I reckon it’s MORE of a problem for ATHEISTS. For me, the thought of facing suffering if it’s just random BAD LUCK is too depressing to contemplate. Far better to trust myself to a wise, good, powerful God even when I can’t understand why.

God created

So, after those few comments about our EXPERIENCE of suffering, let’s look at what sort of answers the Bible gives. And we’ll base ourselves in Hebrews 2.

From verse 5, we’re picking things up halfway through a description of how wonderful Jesus is. And in v6 it quotes Psalm 8 about how GOD CREATED. Look there at v7. God made mankind a little lower that the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour, and put everything under his feet.

In other words, God made us DIFFERENT from everything else. He made us as the climax of his creation. Made in his IMAGE. Which means we’re like him in ROLE and in CHARACTER. Our ROLE is that God appointed us to rule over creation, under God’s kingship.

And that’s how things were IN THE BEGINNING. With Adam and Eve in the garden. As v7 says, “made a little lower than the angels, crowned with glory and honour, everything put under their feet.”

But there’s ANOTHER aspect of being made in God’s image. To do with our CHARACTER. And ONE aspect of that is that God made us, like him, with free will. At least in a sense that’s different from everything else. The rest of creation has no choice in whether to obey God or not.

But we WERE. We were offered the choice of obedience and doing what was RIGHT. Or DISobedience, and doing what was WRONG.

The fallen world

And so, even though God had CREATED his world perfect and good. By allowing us THE CHOICE, he introduced a THREAT to that perfection.

The writer of Hebrews gives us a hint there in v8 how that TURNED OUT.

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. YET AT PRESENT WE DO NOT SEE EVERYTHING SUBJECT TO HIM.

And if you know the story of Adam and Eve, you know how it turned out. They chose INDEPENDENCE from God, and DISOBEDIENCE. And, as a result, SIN entered the world. And DEATH. And DISORDER. We live in a FALLEN world.

That’s v8. The world is NOT subject to mankind the way God designed.

And it’s TRUE, isn’t it? As much as we like to THINK we’re in control of our world, that’s far from true.

And when we’re sitting in the emergency waiting room. Or watching flood waters destroy our home. Or helplessly holding the hand of a relative slipping away to death. We realise we’re HELPLESS in the face of stuff like that. We’re NOT in control. We’re subject to the forces of the world, rather than the other way around.

And it’s because we refused to follow the Maker’s instructions. Like buying some new IKEA furniture. You pick up the flat pack, and bring it home. You’ve got the instructions, and the Allen key. But instead of following the instructions, you think you know best. You throw them in the corner, and start putting it together on your own.

Before long, you’ve made a COMPLETE MESS of it. Panels on back to front. Wrong screws in the wrong places. And it DOESN’T WORK PROPERLY.

And that’s what we’ve done with God’s world when we ignore HIS instructions.

And so, when it comes to suffering like Curtis Cheng being gunned down on the street, human sinfulness bears the blame. In THIS case, the sinfulness of people who teach and practice that KILLING is something their god approves of.

And much of the suffering we see around us can be connected to human greed or sin in some sense. Like war and murder and abuse. Even FAMINE and DROUGHT can often be connected to the greed and foolishness of those making the decisions, like governments or companies.

But not all. What about natural disasters? The Nepal earthquake? Or the Indonesian Tsunami? What’s the Bible say about THAT sort of suffering?

Once again, it’s to do with the consequences of that first sin. Remember v8? “At present, we don’t see everything subject to mankind.”

You see CREATION ITSELF bears the scars of the sin of mankind. Romans 8 talks about creation GROANING like childbirth, frustrated, waiting eagerly to be liberated from its bondage to decay.

In all sorts of ways our world is corrupted and decaying. No longer perfect the way God made it. Some of it due to US. Like deforestation, climate change and bushfire. Other aspects not so much, like floods, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanoes.

And we can add more PERSONAL causes of suffering to that. Like cancer, disease, even old age, arthritis and short-sightedness.

Our world, including us, is declining and decaying. Wearing out. Captive to the results of sin. At least IN A GENERAL SENSE.

Which is NOT the same thing as saying that a person’s suffering is the result of their individual sin. More than once Jesus denied that sort of thinking.

Like in Luke 13, when some people told him about a massacre of Jews by Pontus Pilate. And Jesus said,

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no!

Suffering isn’t necessarily the result of individual sin. Which doesn’t there AREN’T consequences for sin. Jesus goes on to warn them,

“But unless YOU repent, you too will all perish.”

That’s a NEGATIVE lesson from suffering. In John Ch 9 there’s a POSITIVE lesson. The disciples see a blind man and they ask Jesus

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

And once again Jesus points out there’s no direct relationship between someone’s sin and their suffering.

3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.

The disciples want to know WHY. Jesus says it’s not because of anyone’s sin. But instead it’s so that people might see God at work. And then he HEALS him.

In BOTH these cases Jesus sees A PURPOSE in the suffering. They’re an opportunity for people to recognise Jesus, and to RESPOND to him.

And in the midst of OUR suffering, SOMETIMES we can see a good reason come out of it.joni

Sometimes, suffering opens up new opportunities that would never have happened WITHOUT it. Like Joni Ereckson, who was paralysed diving into a lake. As terrible as that was, Joni says that she’s been able to see all sorts of good things come out of that. She’s had an influence on thousands of people through writing books and a speaking ministry. Something that probably would never have happened OTHERWISE.

Joni also sees ANOTHER good purpose in her suffering. She’s learned to be dependent on God. One of her favourite Bible verses has been Psalm 79:8, that says, “May your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need”

She says, “Basically, I wake up almost every morning in desperate need of Jesus — from those early days when I first got out of the hospital, to over four decades in a wheelchair, it’s still the same. The morning dawns and I realize: “Lord, I don’t have the strength to go on. I have no resources. I can’t ‘do’ another day of quadriplegia, but I CAN do all things through You who strengthen me. So please give me Your smile for the day; I need You urgently.”

‘This, I have found, is the secret to my joy and contentment. Every morning, my disability — and, most recently, my battle with cancer — forces me to come to the Lord Jesus in empty-handed spiritual poverty. But that’s a good place to be because Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”’

God’s used suffering to teach Joni DEPENDENCE.

That’s JONI. But plenty of times we can see NOTHING good in the suffering. Like a little child who dies of terribly painful cancer. Or the rape and murder of innocent people in wartime. What’s the Bible say about THAT?

Jesus

Let’s keep reading in Hebrews 2. Because from v9, it gets interesting. Because JESUS is introduced. MANKIND isn’t ruling over creation. But Jesus IS. V9.

9 But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, NOW CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

Jesus was born as a human. Made a little lower than angels. But, unlike the REST of us, he never ONCE chose INDEPENDENCE from God. He never sinned.

He lived in a fallen, painful world. And experienced all sorts of suffering. But never, once, contributed to it. Or DESERVED it.

And then God caused him to suffer an unjust death in our place. The innocent dying in the place of the guilty. So that guilty ones might LIVE.

People look at suffering. And ask, “Why doesn’t God DO something?” And the Bible’s answer is that God HAS done something. He sent Jesus to DEAL with suffering. By SUFFERING. And to DEAL with death, by DYING.

And then, because of his obedience, God RAISED Jesus from death. And then CROWNED him with glory and honour. Not just as a member of the human race, ruling creation. But as the king and Saviour of the world. Who defeats sin and death.

And not just defeats it HIMSELF, but makes it available to THE REST of the human race AS WELL. As we TRUST him.

Look down to v14 to see how it describes it.

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death-that is, the devil- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Freedom from death! God HAS done something about suffering. Which is WONDERFUL NEWS.

But Christians STILL suffer and die. That’s the time we’re living in. Christ has WON the victory, but we’re still living with the CONSEQUENCES, in a decaying, broken world. We don’t YET see everything subjected under us.

But God’s at work, through the victory of Jesus, slowly bringing his victory to bear. Replacing death with life, and suffering with peace, and guilt with forgiveness.

God USES suffering

God IS at work, bringing people from death to life through Jesus. And renewing them, growing them in patience and endurance and trust. Making them more like Jesus.

And the message of the Bible is that ONE of the ways he DOES that is through suffering. Look at v10, how it worked with JESUS.

10 In bringing many sons to glory, it was fitting that God… should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering.

God USES the suffering of Jesus to COMPLETE or MATURE Jesus. (Not that he wasn’t ALREADY perfect. But that the FULL plan for Jesus included suffering and temptation and testing.)

If God used suffering to work his good purposes in JESUS. Then it makes sense that he might be doing the same thing IN US. We see that, for example, in James Ch 1, which says,

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4 Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

BAD THINGS can produce GOOD RESULTS. God uses them to grow things in us. FAITH. And PERSEVERANCE. Or DEPENDENCE, like with Joni.

And MATURITY. That word for MATURITY is the same one as Hebrews 2, where Jesus is made PERFECT through suffering.

God completed Jesus through his suffering. And he completes US through it as well.

God EXPERIENCES suffering

Which COMFORTS us as we suffer. Because whatever WE experience, Jesus has experienced FAR WORSE. He’s not distant and isolated. He UNDERSTANDS. Look down to v17.

17 For this reason he had to be MADE LIKE HIS BROTHERS IN EVERY WAY, in order that he might become a MERCIFUL and FAITHFUL high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. 18 BECAUSE HE HIMSELF SUFFERED WHEN HE WAS TEMPTED, HE IS ABLE TO HELP THOSE WHO ARE BEING TEMPTED.

He’s our BROTHER in suffering. Which is COMFORTING. But that’s not ALL. It gives us CONFIDENCE to ASK FOR HIS HELP. Over in Ch 4 v15, we read

15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are-yet was without sin. 16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Come to God with CONFIDENCE in your pain and suffering. And with your questions. The cross is our guarantee of his LOVE and his ACTION.

We may not understand EVERYTHING about suffering, and about why God allows it. But the cross tells us what type of God he is who ALLOWS it.

In our pain, we’re tempted to accuse God, “You don’t UNDERSTAND my suffering!” But he understands suffering and grief and loss far worse than US.

God HAS DONE, and WILL DO, something about suffering

And in our pain, we’re tempted to accuse God, “Why don’t you DO something?” But God HAS done something. He hates the suffering of this world far more than WE do. He hated it SO much he killed his own Son to DESTROY it. So we can’t accuse God of not CARING.

But not only HAS he done something. He WILL do something about suffering. One day, he’ll run out of patience. And the time for repentance and forgiveness will end. And he’ll destroy suffering once and for all. And all wrongs will be righted. And all injustice called to account.

Which will be the ultimate answer to all our prayers for deliverance from suffering.

And he’ll bring in a new heavens and a new earth. Where there’ll be no more pain or crying or sickness or death.

So, as you live with suffering in this broken world, recognise your weakness, pray with confidence that God understands, cares, and gives grace and mercy. Look to Jesus. And long for the new heavens and earth.

Come, Lord Jesus, Come.

 

 

Hebrews 1:1-2:4: No Going Back

Mobile Phones. They’re always getting SMALLER and FANCIER. And more complicated.  It’s pretty hard to buy a mobile these days that ONLY makes and answers PHONE CALLS. There’s ones with RADIOS, and music players. Cameras. And personal organisers. There’s even phones that let you use the internet.

Which makes the very first mobile phone I ever saw/ seem like a DINOSAUR. It was back in the early 90’s. It was BIG and BLACK. And about the size of a HODSEBRICK. And probably WEIGHED about the SAME. The person was wearing it on their belt. But it looked like it was doing major damage to their posture. Damage only regular chiropractic appointments could fix.

I’m not even sure how many mobile phone towers there were around that you could receive calls from. The reception must have been lousy.

You just can’t compare THAT OLD PHONE/ with the phones you can buy THESE DAYS. No one would even CONSIDER going back to old technology like THAT. When you could have a NEW PHONE.

Because the old technology is useless and obsolete. It’s passing. And it doesn’t even WORK. And THE NEW IS SO MUCH BETTER.

Which is the EXACT argument the preacher of Hebrews is using. But instead of new and old PHONES. It’s the New and Old covenants. Of Judaism. And Christianity.

A letter or a sermon?

Let’s jump back a couple of steps. And fill in some of the pieces.

Today we’re looking at the start of the letter to THE HEBREWS. Which is of course another term for Jews.

And the interesting thing about Hebrews is that it’s not so much A LETTER, like so much of the rest of the New Testament. But A TRANSCRIPT OF A SERMON. You’ll notice there’s none of the usual address stuff at the front. None of the to-and-from details you get in the other letters. And there are clues all the way through that this is a text originally meant to be spoken. And heard.

Which gives Hebrews, in one way, great immediacy. If you close your eyes, it’s just like being there and listening.

I understand, in the Reformed Church, this sort of thing happens quite a bit. That in a vacant church, a minister will send a sermon along. And one of the elders will READ IT OUT.

It’s the same thing here.

But it’s got the title Hebrews/ because this is a sermon first and foremost AIMED AT CHRISTIANS WHO STARTED OUT AS JEWS. Even more particularly, to Jewish Christians who are tempted to give up. Who want to give up being Christian. And go back to being Jewish. Go back to what they were before. Who are being tempted to power up the old mobile phone. The old big black HOUSEBRICK. Because somehow they’re starting to think that the good old days were better.

Looking Backwards

The danger is, they’re planning on ditching THEIR FREEDOM. And going back to their old rituals.

The danger is, they’re planning on ditching THE MESSAGE OF GOD’S FORGIVENESS through the death of Jesus… and go back to the Old Testament laws that were given to Moses through an angel.

The biggest danger of all is, they’re planning on ditching JESUS HIMSELF. And going back to their priests and holy men. Who they think can do a better job at bringing them before God.

If you want a single sentence summary of the message of Hebrews, it’s this. JESUS IS BETTER. SO DON’T TURN

BACK. It’s a message that gets repeated in slightly different ways all the way through the book. In terms that are very Jewish.

But time after time, the theme is the same. Jesus is better… than what came before. So don’t go backwards.

I don’t know what GOING BACKWARDS is going to look like for you in your life. Most of us aren’t Jewish. But if you’ve come anywhere with Jesus, if you’ve even taken even A SMALL STEP towards being Christian, this is a word that’s very much for you as well. Because it says, whatever you do, once you’ve started, don’t go back.

A Better Word from God (vl-2)

And the first two verses of chapter 1 wrap it up. They’re all about how much BETTER things are/ than the old ways and the old days. Especially in the way GOD HAS SHOWN HIMSELF.

Now even today, I’ve got to tell you, people are saying all sorts of stuff about THE WAY GOD SHOWS HIMSELF. About the way God speaks to us. Maybe a vision. Maybe a prophecy. Maybe a vision of Mary and the baby Jesus on a fence at Bondi Beach.

So these words at the start of Hebrews 1 are words we need to hear. Have a look.

In the past, God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets, at many times and in various ways.

Just open your Old Testament and you’ll see some. God spoke through the prophets IN DREAMS. One time, God spoke by making A HAND APPEAR AND WRITE ON A WALL. Other times he’d grab a prophet and say “Tell the people this”. With Moses on the Mountain, God gave him Israel’s law WRITTEN ON SLABS OF STONE. Apparently hand-delivered by an angel. Which might have seemed pretty cool. In the past, God spoke to our ancestors in lots of different ways.

“But in these last days, ” verse 2… “he’s spoken to us by his son. ”

Now here’s the point. You and I think that having a dream, or that having some words come in your head from God – you and I think that having an angel turn up in your lounge-room would be just terrific, don’t we?

And yet that’s all the OLD DA YS STUFF. That’s all the sort of stuff God did BEFORE he revealed himself ONCE AND FOR ALL… in HIS SON. In the past God spoke in various ways.

“But in these last days,” verse 2… “he’s spoken to us by his son.”

And keep reading. The son, Jesus, he’s the one who INHERITS all things. This is the son THROUGH WHOM GOD MADE THE UNIVERSE. And then he sent him to earth. In humanity like us. But also the exact representation of God.

People say I’m a lot like my Dad. Who’s ALSO a Presbyterian minister. There’s TWO Rev Balzers around the place. People I haven’t seen for years will OFTEN say how much I sound like Dad, or even LOOK like him. Which is a little annoying, since Dad is 63, and nearly BALD.

Well, Jesus is like that. Not BALD, but the spitting image of his Father. You want to know what God’s like? Then just look at Jesus. Verse 3:

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being;

Which means that if God’s the sun, then Jesus is like the light shining off from the sun. In the original wording he’s like the coin stamped out of the die.

To top it off, verse 3 says, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” This incredibly great one, the greatest human of all time; he died on the cross as a sacrifice. To bring forgiveness of sins. Then went into heaven to rule beside his father. He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven.

He’s not only the CLIMAX and GOAL of the Universe, but its KING, and SA VIOUR.

And yet these Jewish guys are saying, “Ah, no. Tired of Jesus. Let’s go back to the old ways. Let’s go back to the rules and laws of the Old Testament. Because you know what? They were given to Moses… BY AN ANGEL”

Angels Brought Me Here?

Some people are fascinated by angels. Like, they’ve got cute little angel dolls in their house and cute little angel pictures.

Well, problem is, these Jewish Christians have got it in their mind that Angels aren’t just cute. They’re IMPRESSIVE. In fact, somehow more impressive than Jesus.

Which, if you think of some of the biblical descriptions of angels, maybe you can understand. I mean, Jesus had no wings.

And most of the time, he didn’t glow with a dazzling light. And look at him. Jesus was born in a cowshed. And died covered in dirt and blood on a cross.

Angels sort of just swoop in and do stuff or say stuff and look powerful and white and impressive and they never get their hands dirty.

Which is the most impressive?

Until you remember when that baby was being born in the cowshed, there were THOUSANDS OF ANGELS SINGING ABOUT IT.

Because THEY KNEW. They knew who was boss.

Verse 4 says after he died and rose, it was very clear:

So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has

inherited is superior to theirs.

Way better. And just about the whole of the rest of Hebrews chapter 1 keeps saying that. Picking out bits of the Old Testament to prove it. I mean, God never called an angel HIS

SON, did he? And verse 6, like I just said, when God’s firstborn comes into the world, THE ANGELS WORSHIP HIM.

And to which of the angels did God ever say, SIT HERE BESIDE ME as my second-in-charge. Verse 13…

To which of the angels did God ever say, “Sit at my right hand untill

make your enemies afootstoolfor your feet”?

And here’s something you may not have thought about. Do you know what angels are? Verse 14. Angels are serving spirits. Sent to serve US. Not GREATER than us at all. And certainly not

greater than Jesus. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Yes, they are.

But what’s the point? I mean, why all this stuff about angels?

Don’t Mess With Jesus

The point is – and it’s spelled out in verse 1 and 2 of chapter 2 ­ the point is, these Jewish Christians are tempted to turn back.

They’re tempted to turn back not so much to angels. But to THE MESSAGE angels gave to Moses. The Jewish laws and rules and regulations.

And to turn their backs on Jesus.

Have a look. And I’ve got to say this is a warning. Like the high voltage sign on a power transformer. It’s a warning to them/ to stop fooling around. And start paying attention. Chapter 2, verse 1 and 2. Maybe it’s a warning to you as well.

We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?

Which is saying/ if you reckon the word that came from angels was scary, don’t try messing with Jesus. Because he’s come with the message of how to escape from God’s punishment. Verse 3.

Have you ever noticed the safety card they put in the pocket in front of your seat on aeroplanes? If your plane goes down in the water, there are these inflatable chutes you slide down. Into the inflatable raft. It’s all there on the card. How to be saved. If your plane ditches in the water.

Most people don’t pay any attention to it at all. Perhaps they reckon they KNOW IT ALL. That they’re such experienced flyers, they don’t need advice.

But I wonder whether you’ve ever noticed this. Down the bottom of the card, it says this. It shows you the inflatable raft. It shows you the inflatable slide you slip down. And it says, if you’re a woman, make sure you take off your high heel shoes. Which may puncture the lifeboat.

It’s a warning you need to TAKE NOTICE OF!

I mean, imagine for a minute. Your plane’s just crash-landed into the water off Sydney Heads. And you’ve survived. Fantastic. The plane’s filling up with water fast. But your brave cabin attendant has pressed the button and the inflatable chute has dropped off into the water with the life raft. Fantastic. And you’re sliding down it thinking how incredible it is to be alive. And then you land in the life raft full force with your high heels.

And it goes pssssssssst. And you drown.

Because salvation was there. The warning was there. And you’ve just taken it for granted. You didn’t pay attention. And now it’s gone.

Hebrews says, Jesus has come. A much greater salvation than anYthing that came before. These Jewish Christians, if you keep

reading in Hebrews, they’re turning back to their old laws and their old priests and all that Old Testament stuff that was supposed to PREP ARE them for Jesus. They’re throwing out the egg, and eating the eggshell.

Which means they’re sunk. Because they’re not paying attention to Jesus.

I wonder what you’re doing?

I wonder if you’ve taken a few steps towards being a Christian, and now you’re tempted to turn back?

I wonder if all kinds of other things are somehow getting in the way? And you’re taking your eyes off Jesus?

I see it happen. All kinds of ways. I see it when you take out a mortgage that’s slightly too big. Because you need everYthing now. And then you’re too busy chasing overtime or working the second job to get together with your Christian friends at church. Or too tired.

Or you’ve had to move so far away from your church family to buy your dream home that your church family is just a distant memory. And before you know it, so is Jesus. We’re going to see Hebrews 10 warns exactly about that happening.

I see it when a Christian teenager hooks up with a non-Christian boyfriend. Or girlfriend. Who has totally different ideas about how you honour Jesus with your body. And they’ll take it too far. And it comes to a point where the pull both ways is too strong. So you let go of Jesus. And you’re gone.

I see it when hard times come. Some kind of suffering. And you say, how can God put me through that? As if you’ve been thinking that following Jesus is somehow a guarantee of everything going well for you. (Like it did for him?) Read Hebrews carefully, and that’s a big issue. Because they’re finding there’s a cost involved in being Christian in the Roman empire. And they’re under threat.

I even see it with Christians who start looking for more from God than just Jesus. Who start looking for the new prophecy and the new word and the fresh revelation and fresh touch of God.

Not realizing that every new thing like that is just a way of going backwards. Losing sight of the fact all those things are second rate when God has spoken to us by his son.

And I can see it when people who’ve been around churches for DECADES / start thinking that salvation comes through THE CHURCH rather than through Jesus.

Or it comes through CORRECT THEOLOGY. Or declaring the RIGHT CONFESSIONS, or singing the right HYMNS. Or it comes through IMITATING Jesus, or SERVING THE DENOMINA TION, rather than through TRUSTING Jesus.

But salvation comes through NONE OF THAT STUFF. It’s only found in Jesus. There’s no BETTER way.

No OTHER way.

No EASIER way.

No SMARTER way.

No more GLORIOUS way.

There’s no other way to God than through Jesus – the FINAL word from God.

Can I ask you today, pay attention. Chapter 2 verse 1. Pay more careful attention to what you’ve heard. So that you’re not another one – who drifts back to what you would have been before. Who begins to see other things as more important than sticking with Jesus. Don’t turn back!

Hebrews 2:5-3:6: Being Human

Sometimes life is WONDERFUL! Just full of hope and potential.  Like last week at church. We celebrated with Wade and Catherine the new life of Isabella at HER BAPTISM.  She’s got her whole life stretching out in front of her. And what makes it extra special is baptism is a sign of God’s special commitment to her as she achieves that potential.

But that’s just ONE of the joys of life. In a couple of months, Jake and Bernie get married. And while they’re looking forward to the wedding. That day is just ONE day. The FIRST day of the rest of their lives. Stretching out in front of them. A whole new chapter. As a married couple. Who knows WHAT God’s got planned for them. It’s exciting to imagine, isn’t it?

And this week, Dean starts his new life as a stay-at-home Dad. And he’s looking forward to it! He can’t wipe the smile off his face. So many things he wants to do.

And then there’s William and Sarah and Michael. They’ve all started school. And loving it! A whole range of new experiences in front of them.

Jonah and Daisy and Laura have started High School. And Lucy’s started Year 12 at a new school. Not sure whether THEY’RE liking it. But, no doubt, learning new things.

Stephanie Whittaker’s just jetted off to Japan. 12 months in another culture. Another language. A whole new world of experiences.

Then there’s Warren and Jason. Both finishing school. And starting a new phase of life.

Or what about Spence and Robert. Perhaps you’ve noticed the grins on their faces. And the healthy glow on the cheeks? They’ve retired. Men of leisure. Robert’s managed to fill up his week so much, he says he’s surprised he ever found time to work!

There’s so much POTENTIAL in life. Full of possibilities and experiences. Of success and development and growth. Starting something NEW/ is the chance to CREATE.

And God’s MADE it that way. Life is DESIGNED to be rich and fulfilling and satisfying. We’re MADE to CREATE and Cultivate and grow and change the world around us. It’s part of what it means to be made in God’s image.

But, as good as life gets, as much as there is to achieve, and to experience. There’s always a reminder that trouble and grief aren’t far away. A dark shadow hanging over the good times. A concrete reminder that there’s always A FINISHING LINE.

DEATH. Death is the ultimate brick wall that puts an end to our plans and experiences and achievements.  A few years ago my mum died quite suddenly. She had an aggressive cancer attacking her bowel. She’d only known about it for two months. And the doctors couldn’t do anything. It was all incredibly sudden. And it seemed too early. Mum was only 65. And she’d made plans to achieve lots more things at Goulburn. Build more, grow more. They were only six months into ministry there.

But I know many of you have been through similar things. With family who are even younger, and that are even more sudden.

Late last year, we wept with Jo Steele when she lost her Mum following complications during a heart operation.

A little earlier Rebecca Branson lost her father AND her grandfather.

And there’s others I’ve spoken to in the last few weeks who’ve lost parents at younger ages than mum.

And we don’t need to travel too far from home to learn of heartbreaking stories. Things which make us shake our heads at how unfair it all is. Of children dying painfully to cruel diseases. Of brutal crimes. Pointless loss of life in accidents, or wars, or terrorist attacks, or natural disasters. Or even simple, preventable mistakes.

Death. It’s just not FAIR! It’s not RIGHT! It makes a mockery of the things we work so hard to achieve.

And God AGREES.

Because it’s not the way he DESIGNED us. He made us FOR GREATER THINGS.

And the writer to the Hebrews AGREES. Things aren’t the way they’re SUPPOSED to be. The way they BEGAN. Here in Ch 2, he quotes Psalm 8. A Psalm about HUMANITY. A Psalm that looks backward to creation. Pick it up in v7.

7 You made him a little lower than the angels; YOU CROWNED HIM WITH GLORY AND HONOR 8 and PUT EVERYTHING UNDER HIS FEET.”

The picture is of the Garden of Eden. With Adam and Eve, walking with God, naming the animals, tending the garden. Everything in control. Adam was God’s second-in-command. Nurturing, cultivating, ruling.

It’s a wonderful image.

But it’s one you don’t need to look too far to realize/ is hardly reality TODAY. Which is what the writer to the Hebrews realizes as well. Look at v8.

In putting everything under him, God left nothing that is not subject to him. YET AT PRESENT WE DO NOT SEE EVERYTHING SUBJECT TO HIM.

Plenty of things on earth we’ve got NO CONTROL over. The weather, sickness, Natural disasters. The stock market. Even the affections of our husband or wife.

But as we read on, he focuses on ONE AREA IN PARTICULAR. … DEATH. Look down to v14. Talking about Jesus, who we’ll come back to in a few minutes.

14 by his death he might destroy him who holds THE POWER OF DEATH-that is, the devil- 15 and free THOSE WHO ALL THEIR LIVES WERE HELD IN SLAVERY BY THEIR FEAR OF DEATH.

That’s US! Humanity! All our lives, held in slavery by the fear of death! The fear of the unknown. Fear of THE END. The fear and helplessness of something beyond our control and experience. The frustration of knowing that the things we build/ won’t last.

Kerry Packer died a few months ago. They held his memorial service at the Opera House on Friday.

He died Australia’s richest man. He’d been having health problems for years. A number of years ago, you might remember, his heart stopped beating. And he was revived only because the ambulance had a heart defibrillator – which was apparently pretty rare at the time.

So Kerry wanted to make sure OTHERS were as lucky as HE was. So he donated enough money for EVERY AMBULANCE IN NSW to be equipped with defibrillators. They became known as the Packer Whackers.

He once said, about his near-death experience, that he’s been to the other side, and there’s nothing there.

A few years later, his health was in the news again. His personal pilot, a long-time friend, DONATED a KIDNEY to Kerry. So he wouldn’t have to spend a third of his day on kidney dialysis. We assume he was suitably compensated. After all, Kerry was a generous man.

And, in the years since his kidney transplant, Kerry’s had MANY medical incidents. Probably spent tens of thousands of dollars to keep alive.

But apparently, near the end, with his body finally shutting down, he decided to refuse treatment, to accept the inevitable. And he died at his home.

I’m not sure if he had a change of heart about the existence of God, or the afterlife, or not. But he’ll know for sure NOW!

It doesn’t matter HOW rich you are, you’ll still DIE.

There’s so much potential to do GREAT THINGS in life. And Kerry Packer did many of them. To achieve. To conquer. To subdue. To build and create. But in the end, there’s only DEATH. And everything you achieve, is GONE. It’s FUTILE.

It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re as SUCCESSFUL as Kerry Packer. Or as BEAUTIFUL as Nicole Kidman. Or as INTELLIGENT as Albert Einstein. Or as POWERFUL as George W. Bush. Or as TALENTED as Russell Crowe or Delta Goodrem. Or as SACRIFICIAL as Mother Theresa. Or as POPULAR as U2. Or as STRONG as Arnold Schwartznegger.

How EVER much you achieve of your potential. How ever much you MAKE of yourself. You’ll STILL DIE. You’ll never regain that picture from Ps 8. “Crowned with glory and honour. Everything under your feet.” Death will have the last laugh.

The Ultimate Humanity

UNLESS…. You can follow JESUS.

The point the writer goes on to make is that Jesus IS/ all that the Psalm talks about. Jesus is THE ULTIMATE HUMANITY. He’s achieved that TOTAL DOMINION mankind was DESIGNED for. Because he beat the GREATEST FOE. The ultimate spoiler – DEATH.

And what’s more, he’s WON that same success for THE REST OF US.

Look at the logic. The end of v8 “Yet at present we do not see everything subject to him (that’s humankind).”

And then he continues in v9

9 But we see JESUS, who WAS made a little lower than the angels, NOW CROWNED WITH GLORY AND HONOR / BECAUSE HE SUFFERED DEATH, so that by the grace of God HE MIGHT TASTE DEATH FOR EVERYONE.

Jesus is the one who truly DOES measure up to God’s design for mankind. He WAS lower than the angels – that was during his life on earth.

But NOW, he’s enthroned in heaven. Ruling with God the Father. Why? The verse goes on. Because he suffered DEATH on behalf of everyone. In the PLACE of everyone. He died the death that all humanity has coming/ so that we could ESCAPE that death.

The next verse talks about Jesus as the AUTHOR of SALVATION. The one who INITIATES it. Who INTRODUCES it. Who BRINGS IT IN. The PIONEER.

The way over the Blue Mountains was a mystery for many years after the first settlers arrived in Sydney in 1788. The bush was thick and impenetrable. The mountains were ringed with tall sandstone cliffs with no obvious gaps.

Eventually in 1813 – 25 years later – Blaxland, Wentworth, and Lawson found a way through. Before long a road was carved out. And not long after that, settlers flowed across the mountains, and poured out into the Western Plains. The PEOPLE followed the PIONEERS. Together, they settled new areas of NSW.

One Family.

And it’s the same with Jesus and us. Jesus is the pioneer. And we’re the settlers who come along after him. It’s because of HIM that we can FOLLOW him.

And there’s a bond between us. Jesus, the PIONEER, and those he’s won salvation for. They’re one family. Look at v11. This verse just blows my mind at the grace of God.

11 Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.

Jesus descended to the broken, washed-out, shadow of humanity. Fallen so far from God’s design. And became ONE OF US. Like us in every way. Not ashamed to stand alongside those he’d come to save. Even to call them BROTHERS.

And the family likeness extends even to the great enemy – DEATH ITSELF. Look at v14 again.

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death HE MIGHT DESTROY HIM WHO HOLDS THE POWER OF DEATH-THAT IS, THE DEVIL- 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

You take the bully’s BIG STICK away from him. And he’s powerless. Satan’s strike weapon was the fear of death. But Jesus’ defeat of DEATH/ puts an end to the power of the devil.

And we see how he frees us a bit further down. Look at v17.

17 For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become A MERCIFUL AND FAITHFUL HIGH PRIEST in service to God, and that he might MAKE ATONEMENT FOR THE SINS OF THE PEOPLE.

Two ideas are introduced for the first time here. We keep coming back to them as Hebrews goes on.. Jesus is the HIGH PRIEST – the one who stands between man and God – who represents man before God, and God before man.

And SACRIFICE. He turns aside God’s wrath from us when he bears our punishment. God counts his suffering as a fitting penalty for OUR rebellion. And so, we don’t need to die.

We’ll revisit these ideas in the weeks ahead. But the main point TODAY. Is that Jesus is our PIONEER. The one who makes a way through death. Who achieves the dominion humanity was DESIGNED for. And who leads us into a life and a future WE were designed for. And so we become BROTHERS with Jesus. Co-rulers with him.

At the moment we don’t see much of that rule. That’s the whole point of the letter. Written to PERSECUTED Christians. To encourage them to STICK AT IT through the troughs and valleys.

There’s not much VICTORY in view for THEM. There’s fear. There’s suffering. There’s death.

And it’s the same with us.

But we can begin to journey TOWARD it. We can BEGIN to achieve our potential. The potential we were MADE for. To be freed from the slavery of the fear of death. To trust our pioneer. To be crowned with glory and honour, with everything under our feet. To live life with the perspective of heaven. Of eternity.

3. Therefore

Well, that’s all fairly heavy. I hope you’ve been able to stay with me. Hebrews is quite a solid theological book. But what’s so GOOD about it/ is that it’s always theology WITH A POINT. With a practical application! Because it was really written AS A SERMON.

And you can see where the writer wants to APPLY what he’s been saying. He often does it by beginning with the phrase “therefore”.

Like the start of Ch 2.

2:1 We must pay more careful attention, THEREFORE, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.

Or the start of Ch 4

4:1 THEREFORE, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.

Or 4:14

14 THEREFORE, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, LET US hold firmly to the faith we profess.

And there’s a similar application here at the start of Ch 3. Have a look at it. V1.

3:1 Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, FIX YOUR THOUGHTS ON JESUS, THE APOSTLE AND HIGH PRIEST WHOM WE CONFESS.

When the FAILURE of life looms large. When sin seems to be winning. When DEATH and FEAR are knocking at the door. Focus on Jesus. The one who became a man. Who was crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death for us. And who calls us BROTHERS. Who stands before God on our behalf. Who brings US into glory. Frees us from death.

And trusting in Jesus having dealt with THE FUTURE. Affects OUR PRESENT. Affects our view of THIS LIFE. The things which seem so valuable and long-lasting. Are REALLY worthless. And transitory. That eternity is where our true potential and identity is found. Reigning with our brother Jesus.

He is our Pioneer. Our leader. Cling to HIM.

There’s only one route through the Blue Mountains of LIFE AND DEATH. It’s been carved out by Jesus. Follow him. Every other track leads to DEFEAT.

But that’s not always EASY, is it. Far from it! It can be incredibly difficult following Jesus through life. Because the track is often hilly, and rough. There are roads that look much less trouble – flatter, smoother, more exciting, better views.

We can sometimes think it was EASY for Jesus to do what he did. To become man, to resist temptation, and to suffer and die. After all, he was God. And that it’s almost impossible for us to follow after him.

He’s like the superhuman leader powering off into the distance up the track. While we plod along after him, getting further and further behind.

Many of you know Ben Johnson. He’s the minister at Blacktown East Presbyterian. He and I both like running. A couple of years ago, the State Assembly was at Stanwell Tops, and Ben and I decided to run down the bush track to Stanwell Park beach and back. Going DOWN was fine. But coming UP, it wasn’t long before my legs started feeling like lead.

The problem was/ Ben is REALLY FIT. He looks after himself. He used to run ultra –triathlons. And as we went along, Ben was getting further and further ahead.

Finally, just as he was about to turn a corner in the distance, I managed to summon up enough breath to yell out. Hang on a minute Ben. Let’s walk.

But it’s not like that with Jesus. Look back to the end of Ch 2. When we’re really feeling the weight of the journey. More of the blisters and sores/ than views and successes. Wondering whether God really IS there. Whether he knows what he’s doing. Or whether he CARES what we’re going through.

Whether the track is headed in HIS DIRECTION, or in the opposite direction. We need to remember that Jesus was like us in EVERY WAY. V18

18 Because HE HIMSELF SUFFERED WHEN HE WAS TEMPTED, he is able to HELP THOSE WHO ARE BEING TEMPTED.

Jesus achieved his victory and reign through suffering and death. It’s the way God’s designed things.

And his plans for YOU will include temptations and suffering.

God KNOWS. He experienced it all through his son. Jesus UNDERSTANDS. He pleads our case with compassion and empathy.

And when the temptation includes the temptation TO GIVE UP. To turn away from Jesus. To stop meeting with his people. Or reading his word. Or talking to him. Or living in obedience to him.

Remember that he experienced nothing less. In fact, he experienced MUCH MORE. Suffering and temptation – just like us. And he won VICTORY AND GLORY AND ETERNITY for us.

There is no other way we can achieve our God-given potential.

Our MARRIAGE will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ marriage.

Our CAREER will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ career.

Our MINISTRY AND SERVICE TO OTHERS will never be all that it can be unless it’s Jesus’ ministry.

Our plans and desires will never be all they can be unless they belong to Jesus.

So fix your thoughts on Jesus, and don’t give up.

Hebrews 3:7-4:13: A Better Rest

Florence Chadwick was born in 1918, and by the time she was ten years old, she was famous as A LONG DISTANCE SWIMMER. She was the first child to swim the San Diego Bay Channel.

From there she went on to break the women’s record for swimming the English Channel. 32 kilometers in 13 hours and 20 minutes. The next year she became the first woman to swim the channel in the other direction. France to England.

Then, in 1952, in what was to be her victorious homecoming, Florence Chadwick, with much publicity and fanfare, set out to be the first woman to swim the Catalina Channel; 34 kilometers, from Catalina Island, just off Los Angeles; to Long Beach.

Compared with some of her other swims, it should have been easy. Besides which, she had the home crowd advantage.

But after 15 hours swimming, on a swirling foggy morning, Florence Chadwick was pulled out of the water, exhausted; just 800 metres short of her goal. After 33.2 kilometres of swimming against the tough seas, she gave up. Just 800 metres short of the beach.

800 m short of a victorious homecoming. Of the cheers and applause of the crowd. 800 m short of the warm blankets, and the hot, sweet drinks. The rewards for the finishers. Of a triumphant rest.

Why didn’t she make it? She stepped out of the support boat to face the crowds and the media. She’d failed. And she was asked why. And she said, It wasn’t the waves. And it wasn’t the freezing cold. She said, it was the fog. She said, the thing that stopped me was that I COULDN’T SEE THE SHORELINE. IF I’D KNOWN HOW CLOSE I WAS, I COULD HAVE MADE IT.

If only I’d known. If only I’d known how close I was… I could have kept going.

As we turn to our passage in Hebrews today; again, a passage that looks complex at first; I want you to keep in mind that it’s all about THE IMPORTANCE OF KEEPING GOING. It’s all about the danger of stopping short. Of giving up. Before you reach the goal.

It’s a passage that talks about A LONG ROAD TRIP TO A FIVE STAR DESTINATION. The kids in the back seat are saying “Are we there yet?” And they want you to stop now. And you’re tired and you’re cranky and you’re hungry. And you’re tempted to pull in to the trashy caravan park and set up camp there.

But you don’t. Because you know it’s worth pressing on. For the better rest that lies ahead.

Where Are We Up To?

It’s been a while since I’ve preached here on Hebrews. So it’s worth having a quick re-cap. We’ve seen that Hebrews is like the transcript of a first century sermon; a message specifically aimed at a group of Jewish Christians, who are in danger of turning their backs. Giving up their faith in Jesus and reverting to their Old Testament ways.

Which really means they’re in danger of stopping short of their destination.

Back to the start – Wilderness Wanderings

And today’s passage is complex. Because you’ve somehow got to keep in your head a couple of JUMPS IN TIME, a sequence of events, before you can catch the main point.

Our section starts with a long quotation from Psalm 95. It’s a Psalm about WILDERNESS WANDERINGS. All about the danger of stopping short.

Just in passing, you’ll notice if you’re someone who wishes the Holy Spirit spoke to you a bit more, that verse 7 starts with the assumption that THE HOLY SPIRIT SPEAKS TO US THROUGH THE SCRIPTURES. Because that’s what he’s quoting. Verse 7… as the Holy Spirit says. And then four and a half verses lifted directly from Psalm 95.

Which he quotes again, you’ll notice, in verse 15. And again in chapter 4 verse 3, and verse 5. And finally in verse 7.

It’s a simple Psalm. And I want to unpack that a bit before we dive in. Because Psalm 95 is a Psalm King David wrote… looking back at the earliest days of the history of Israel. Looking back at the time God promised the Israelites that he’d take them out of slavery in Egypt… to THE PROMISED LAND. Which he said would be A PLACE OF REST.

God said, trust me. I’ll take you through the wilderness to a land of milk and honey. I’ll take you on a road trip to the best holiday destination you can imagine. You’ll be my people, I’ll be your God; and together we’ll rest. It’ll be just like back in the garden. It’ll be just like the seventh day when we rested together.

That was the promise. But what did the people do? As soon as things got the slightest bit tough… they started GRUMBLING. As soon is they got tired or hot or hungry, they started saying, we’d rather be slaves back in Egypt. They weren’t convinced by God’s promise.

To the point where they get to the borders, and God says, It’s yours. And they say, No, the people there are too big. We’d rather stop here. To which God says, have it your way. And they wandered for 40 years in the desert. A whole generation didn’t get to enter God’s rest in the promised land.

Now that’s the story David looks back on in Psalm 95.

And I want you to see what he says. Because David, as he writes the Psalm hundreds of years later, wants to draw a lesson from it FOR HIS OWN GENERATION.

Let’s pick up the quotation in verse 7 in Hebrews 3:

So as the Holy Spirit says: TODAY if you hear his voice, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS as you did in the rebellion… during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did. That’s why I was angry with that generation, and I said, THEIR HEARTS ARE ALWAYS GOING ASTRAY and they have not known my ways. So I declared on oath in my anger… THEY SHALL NEVER… ENTER MY REST.

The Two Dangers

David’s saying, I’m warning you TODAY, it’d be a terrible thing to miss out on God’s rest.

Which, when you think about it, must have seemed a bit odd to the people of Israel. Because when David’s talking, they’re already IN THE PROMISED LAND.

I mean, a GENERATION missed out – Moses and the adults he led from Egypt. But in the end, by David’s time… they’re IN the promised land. It took a while. But now EVERYTHING’S GOOD. They’ve got A KING. They’ve got A PALACE. They’ve defeated their enemies on every side. This is GLORY DAYS.

And yet David says to them, today I want to warn you… don’t make the mistakes of the past. Don’t stop short. And fail to enter God’s rest.

Which to Jewish ears must have been kind of odd. Because in their minds, they’ve got what they want already. They’re convinced that THIS IS ALL THERE IS.

And maybe these later Christian Jews have thought the same. Maybe YOU HAVE TOO. Maybe YOUR eyes are fixed in LIFE NOW. You reckon IT’S PRETTY GOOD. Family, work, hobbies.

But let me tell you – this life is NOTHING compared to what God’s got planned. You don’t want to miss out.

And so there are two dangers we need to be aware of. Two dangers highlighted in the passage. There are two dangers that can stop us before the finishing line.

a) Thinking you’re there when you’re not – there remains a rest

The first danger; thinking you’re there… when you’re not. It’s stopping at the tired old caravan park when you’re just a block away from the five star resort where you’re meant to be heading. They’ve even got your reservation. In fact, your resort holiday is fully paid.

For the Israelite’s David’s talking to in the Psalm, it’s thinking that the rest in the promised land is all there is. It’s thinking that in those years before/ when their forefathers followed Joshua into the promised land… that that was as good as the rest was going to get.

No more blisters, no more dust, no more manna. A home, a family, some sheep and a bit of peace and quiet.

When in reality, it was JUST THE BEGINNING. Which is why David can warn his own people IN HIS OWN DAY… who are IN the promised land… that they need to be careful they don’t miss God’s rest. That they need to be careful of complacency.

Which is the point of the words in chapter 4 verses 6 to 11.

Even in the promised land there’s A FAR BETTER REST just up ahead. And especially verse 8.

For if Joshua had given them rest, verse 8, for if coming into the land was really the rest, God wouldn’t have spoken about ANOTHER DAY. There remains, then, verse 9, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; it’s not just the promised land.

There’s still A REST TO COME. With all the harmony of the unspoiled world on the seventh day of creation. Where we’ll rest from our own work PERFECTLY.

So whatever you do, don’t be complacent at this point. And stop short of it. Verse 11. Let us therefore, MAKE EVERY EFFORT to enter that rest… so that no one will fall by following their example… of disobedience.

So number 1, don’t think that you’ve made it already. If you’re an Israelite in the time of King David, and you’re thinking, we’re living in the promised land, so now I can do what I like, there’s still a lesson to learn from the ones who DIDN’T ENTER THE REST IN THE FIRST PLACE. There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.

It’s the perspective some Christians need to hear TODAY. When it comes to the sorts of things they long for and pray for. Their view is that God wants to bless them materially and physically. Now.

That to be healthy and wealthy is our birthright as Christians. You’ll hear that view on any of the American Christian TV shows if you happen to be watching at about 4 am.

But that sort of person needs to BE WARNED. They’re at risk of MISSING OUT. Because their gaze is fixed on rest NOW. When God’s got a MUCH BETTER REST STILL TO COME.

And God DOES promise us complete healing, and vast riches. But only in OUR ETERNAL REST. They’ve got THE PROMISES right, just THE TIMING wrong.

There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.

And it’s the perspective that we need when A CHRISTIAN DIES. If we think this life is the best it’s going to get/ then we’re SAD for the person. They’re MISSING OUT.

But if our gaze is fixed on the HEAVENLY REST AHEAD/ then we REJOICE for them. Because their rest has begun. The existence they were MADE FOR.

And it’s the rest WE need to make sure WE keep going for. There’s a better rest to come. So keep going. And don’t turn back.

b) Hard hearts that refuse to Listen to God

I said there were two dangers. And the two go hand in hand.

The second danger is the danger of THE HARDENED HEART. The danger of having a heart that refuses to listen to the word of God.

Which is exactly what brought the first Israelites in the desert unstuck. Go back to the start. Verse 7 and 8 in chapter 3. Today, if you hear his voice, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS as you did in the rebellion. The problem starts AT THE HEART. The affections. The WILL. Or verse 10. There it is again. God says,

That’s why I was angry with that generation, THEIR HEARTS ARE ALWAYS GOING ASTRAY, and they have not known my ways. So see to it brothers that none of you has a heart like that.

Ultimately, you see, the problem is with a heart that hears the voice of God, hears the promise of God… and DOESN’T TRUST IT.

That’s the idea of v18 – have a look at it. The ones who didn’t enter the land were those who DISOBEYED. The word for DISOBEY has the idea of HEARING the command, but REFUSING TO BE CONVINCED BY IT.

It’s an attitude. An attitude of DISTRUST in God’s promises. In the hardness of their hearts they REFUSED TO BE PERSUADED by it. Which is perhaps the worst kind of disobedience of all.

And it’s the same in verse 6 of chapter 4. They didn’t go in… because they were UNPERSUADED. And verse 11. Don’t make the same mistake. Don’t follow their example. Make every effort to enter that rest that’s still up ahead… so that no-one will fall by following their example of UN-PERSUASION.

They’re the sort of person – no matter how much you try to persuade them to keep trusting the word of God – all they say is “Nuh – There’s absolutely nothing you can say. I’m UNPERSUADABLE.”

That’s an attitude that comes from the heart, isn’t it? Not the head.

Practical Pointers

a) Active Unbelief

Here’s the point. Here’s how the two dangers are connected. The Israelites in the wilderness heading for the promised land. They STOPPED TRUSTING GOD. And they DIDN’T MAKE IT TO THE PROMISED LAND.

Continuing to TRUST God. Every day, CHOOSING TO BELIEVE his promises. Choosing to fix your eyes on the REST TO COME. Is the way TO KEEP GOING. To stick it out.

Every day REFUSING to let your gaze be distracted by the good and attractive things that we rest on HERE. And fixing our gaze on our HEAVENLY REST. Which is BETTER BY FAR.

The bottom line is simple. Whatever you do, don’t harden your heart and stop trusting in Jesus.

There’s a confronting thought here. And I want to leave you with it.

The thought that refusing to listen to God is actually an active choice. The thought that refusing to listen to God actually requires a deliberate hardening of your heart.

The though that there are maybe people here today going through exactly that process. Hearing God’s voice. And deliberately saying, no, I’m not going to believe it. Deliberately saying, no, I’m fine how I am. Deliberately saying, “No, I’ll stop right here. And not go any further”.

If that’s you, there’s a word for you in verses 12 and 13 of chapter 4. But you know this already as well, don’t you? If you’re choosing to be unpersuaded, it’s not because God’s word isn’t getting through to you, is it? God himself is speaking to you. Just as clearly and powerfully as he did to Israel.

Because verse 12 says, the word of God is living and active… it’s sharper than any double edged sword. It’s finer than a scalpel. The word of God penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; the word of God, it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is laid bare.

It’s GOD. Warning you from the pages of this book. Through the example of the people of Israel. Through the writings of King David. God is speaking TO YOU.

And somehow deep down you know that. And yet the danger is, you consciously make a decision to remain UNPERSUADED. And you consciously make the decision to stop looking forward to the rest that lies ahead. And to make yourself comfortable now.

I’ll pull in at the first rest stop I come to. And set up house there. And surround myself with comforts and make myself number one.

Don’t let that be you.

Give yourself a heart healthcheck. Check you heart. And make sure it’s not telling you to stop listening. What things are catching you eye? Distracting your attentions from Jesus? Filling your thoughts, your diary. Flirting with your affections.

Is your heart set on Jesus?

And here’s a real practicality; verse 13 Ch 3. See, what can you do to make sure you’re not turning away? You can ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER. Watch out for each other.

The Psalm said, today if you hear his voice, don’t harden your heart. Well, every day, DAILY, encourage each other. Open your hearts to each other so you can watch out for each other; so that none of you may be hardened, in the words of verse 13, by sin’s deceitfulness. So very easy to fool yourself. Because the game plan is, verse 14, TO HOLD FIRMLY TIL THE END THE CONFIDENCE WE HAD AT FIRST.

You can HELP EACH OTHER in that. By being part of a small group. By being regular at church instead of only turning up when there’s no better offer. By doing your best to KNOW PEOPLE… and LET YOURSELF BE KNOWN. To spur on your friends. And be spurred on yourself.

I’ve heard your church camp was cancelled due to lack of interest. What A SHAME! What a GREAT OPPORTUNITY to SPUR EACH OTHER ON. To encourage each other to fix our eyes on heaven.

It’s SO important, Verse 1 in chapter 4, we need to BE CAREFUL. Don’t be complacent.

Be careful you set the right priorities. Be careful you keep meeting together to encourage one another. Be careful of the signs of a hardening heart.

And be very clear, says the next verse, that you’re not so complacent that you think just HEARING God’s word is enough. You might think it’s enough to just hear a sermon every Sunday that entertains your ears. Even better if you hear TWO. You might be kind of proud of your right doctrine. Or your attendance.

But Verse 2 sounds a warning. For we also have had the gospel PREACHED TO US, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them… because those who heard, didn’t COMBINE IT WITH FAITH.

Hear it. And take it to heart.

If only there was someone like that for Florence Chadwick. Some saying, “Florence, the coast is just up ahead. Keep going. You’re nearly there”.

If only there was someone who could see through the fog and say, you’ve nearly made it. You’d be crazy to stop now.

God has a BETTER REST planned for us. Let’s keep sticking at it, and make sure we all make it there.

Hebrews 4:14-7:38: A Better Priest

When you go to a doctor, you want to make sure he’s got THE RIGHT CREDENTIALS. If you’d been unlucky enough to require surgery in Bundaberg in QLD in 2003 to 2005, you might have been operated on by Dr Jayant Patel.

Despite having his medical license RESTRICTED by the Oregon Board of Medical Examiners in September 2000, and finally CANCELLED by the NY Board of Health in April 2001, he somehow managed to get EXCELLENT REFERENCES.

And with the help of these, he eventually found his way to Queensland where he was appointed head of surgery at Bundaberg Base Hospital in 2003, under the “Overseas Trained Doctors” programme.

Despite his impeccable credentials, it didn’t take long for his true abilities to surface. His surgical work was described as “sloppy”, and some nurses even claimed that they HID THEIR PATIENTS FROM HIM when they knew that he was in the hospital, referring to him as “Dr. E. coli”.

He’s alleged to have shown a poor regard for hygiene/ with claims that he responded to a nurse’s concern over his unwashed hands with “doctors don’t have germs”.

Overall, Patel is linked to at least 87 deaths out of the 1,202 patients he treated between 2003 to early 2005, 30 of whom died while under his care in Bundaberg.

When you place your LIFE IN SOMEONE’S HANDS, you want to make sure they’ve got the right credentials.

Concerns with Jesus’ credentials

And for the Hebrew Christians. The ones who received this letter. It seems like they were concerned about JESUS’ CREDENTIALS – his qualifications AS A PRIEST.

After all, it’s a fairly important matter. If someone was REPRESENTING you before the God of the Universe – your CREATOR AND JUDGE – then you’d want to know whether that person’s got the goods. Whether he’s QUALIFIED.

And when it comes to THIS LIFE. Whether he’s WORTHY of all your trust. Because if you’re risking your life to stand up as a Christian, you want to be confident that Jesus is going to be dependable when it counts.

And these chapters seem to be answering their doubts.

It wasn’t that these Jewish Christians had a problem with PRIESTS. Priests had been an everyday part of their whole lives.

They knew the sorts of credentials a high priest had to have. First, he had to be from the tribe of LEVI. But more specifically from Aaron’s family – the FIRST high priest.

And they knew the sorts of things the High Priest had TO DO. Like it says in Ch 5 v1

5:1 Every high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to REPRESENT THEM IN MATTERS RELATED TO GOD, TO OFFER GIFTS AND SACRIFICES FOR SINS.

But, for one reason or another, they were beginning to DOUBT JESUS’ CREDENTIALS. His ability to do a better job than the priests they’d left behind. They were tempted to go back to the EARTHLY High Priest – the one in Jerusalem – the one whose work they could SEE, whose sacrifices they could SMELL.

Concerns Answered – Jesus’ credentials

And so Hebrews wants to ANSWER THEIR CONCERNS. To spend some time CONFIRMING JESUS’ CREDENTIALS. Proving his references. In a way perhaps the QLD Health Dept should have done with Dr Jayant Patel.

Look at how it begins at Ch 4 v14. It sums up the whole argument. The next 3 chapters in a nutshell.

14 Therefore, since we have a GREAT high priest who has gone THROUGH THE HEAVENS, Jesus the SON OF GOD, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.

He’s not just ANY High Priest – he’s a GREAT High Priest. Because he doesn’t just go through the CURTAIN in the TEMPLE into the Holy of Holies – that just REPRESENTS heaven. He goes THROUGH THE HEAVENS into God’s VERY PRESENCE.

And he’s not just a son of LEVI, or AARON, but the SON OF GOD.

And finally, since all of that is true, you need to HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH YOU PROFESS.

That’s the argument. And he spend the next three chapters fleshing it out.

Let me show you. Into Ch 5. Look at Jesus’ credentials. First thing. V4. He’s been APPOINTED BY GOD HIMSELF.

4 No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was. 5 So Christ also did not take upon himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “YOU ARE MY SON; today I have become your Father.”  6 And he says in another place, “YOU ARE A PRIEST FOREVER, in the order of Melchizedek.”

Appointed by God as A SON, and an ETERNAL PRIEST. And something to do with Melchizedek – who we’ll come back to in a few minutes.

He’s been declared to be the man for the job by GOD HIMSELF.

Competencies

And then we take up the issue of COMPETENCIES. Job Skills. What was Jesus LIKE at actually DOING THE JOB OF A PRIEST?

EARTHLY priests represent men before God, and offer gifts and sacrifices to Him. Well, Jesus does the SAME. V7.

7 During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9 and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Jesus was EFFECTIVE as a priest. His prayers were HEARD. And so, he’s become THE SOURCE OF SALVATION.

And there’s that guy Melchizedek again! V10. Don’t forget about him, because we’re COMING to him.

You Are What You Eat

But before we get to Melchizedek, the writer needs to stop and give them a bit of A PEP-TALK. Because what’s coming isn’t easy to listen to. It’s going to take some concentration. Some hard-work. Some APPLICATION to THE TASK. Just like what you need in the Christian life.

The problem is/ as Christians/ they’re getting a little FLABBY AROUND THE MIDDLE – spiritually speaking.

A bit soft. A bit lazy.

And it’s all to do with their DIET. Because, just as with PHYSICAL FOOD, when it comes to the Christian life, YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.

There was a national health survey released a few months ago. And it showed Australians are GETTING FATTER and drinking more. Australians are eating themselves to death.

This is hard to imagine, but the Bureau of Statistics says 62 percent of Australian men and 45 percent of women fell into the overweight or obese categories, up about 10 percent in the past decade.

But the survey found that only one third of adults considered themselves fat.

Another survey found that, on average, Australians spend A QUARTER of their household budgets on takeaway food and restaurants. We’re eating ourselves to death.

The basic problem is WE ARE WHAT WE EAT. If we eat junk, then we can expect that to affect the way we look. Bad food leads to bad health.

And it’s the same here in Hebrews. As Christians, we are what we SPIRITUALLY eat. Our choice of spiritual food will determine what sort of Christians we are. And what we’ll BECOME.

And the sad news is/ these Jewish Christians have been pigging out on spiritual junk food. Comfort food. Easy to digest, but no nutrition.

Look at how they’re described. Ch 5 v11. They’re SLOW TO LEARN. It’s literally dull to HEAR. They’re LAZY LISTENERS. They should be TEACHERS by this stage, but they’re stuck on drinking milk. They’re spiritual babies.

Jesus says to take up a cross and follow him. But that’s a bit risky for these guys. There are some pretty intense consequences for taking their Christian faith too seriously. So they cool their heels, putter along in first gear, but don’t really get SERIOUS about LEARNING MORE ABOUT FOLLOWING AND OBEYING JESUS. There’s not a lot of CROSS-CARRYING to be seen.

V13. They’ve forgotten about the teaching about righteousness. About maturity and obedience.

And, so, they’re encouraged, at the start of Ch 6, TO GROW UP. To start eating REAL FOOD. HEALTHY food. “Leave the baby stuff – and go on to maturity!” Listen hard to the RISKY stuff. The life-changing stuff. The stuff that if you’re serious about following it, could get you into a lot of trouble.

But it’s more than just a choice of meat or fish for dinner. It’s deadly serious. In fact, their VERY SALVATION DEPENDS ON IT.

They’re scared of the EARTHLY consequences of growing in maturity. But there are ETERNAL consequences of wanting to stay IMMATURE.

What’s described next is the effect of staying on junk food. Of TASTING all the good stuff, but never really FEEDING ON IT.

People who deliberately choose POOR FOOD, who choose to stay as babies- risk MISSING OUT ON THEIR SALVATION.

They’re described in Ch 6 v 4 to 6. They’re people who haven’t taken the warnings and encouragements SERIOUSLY. The sorts of things he’s been saying right from the beginning.

Ch 2:1 Pay more careful attention so you don’t drift away.

Ch 3:12 See to it that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from God.

Ch 3:14 Hold firmly to the end the confidence you had at first.

4:1: Be careful none of you be found to have fallen short of God’s rest.

4:14 Hold firmly to the faith we profess

He keeps hammering the same point because the danger is REAL and IMMENSE. Their salvation is AT RISK.

But the OPPOSITE is also true. Look down to v9. People who FEED on the good things of God. Who WORK HARD at listening and learning and growing. Who take note of all those encouragements. Then they end up HEALTHY.

And the writer’s CONFIDENT that that’s what THEY’LL be. Because he’s seen evidence of their obedience and hard work.

But they’ve got to keep up the hard work of LISTENING WELL. And of putting what they hear in to practice.

He finishes up with ANOTHER ENCOURAGEMENT to STICK AT IT. V11 of Ch 6.

11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

It’s a terrible thing for someone to give up on what they’ve been promised. Because it all seems too hard. Or too long to wait. Or not worth waiting for.

In the last few months I’ve heard of a friend who’s decided to give up on being a Christian. He’s convinced himself that it’s not worth fighting anymore. It’s all too hard. And there’s something else he’d rather be doing. Something that seems more important than following Jesus. It’s TRAGIC.

Perhaps you’re feeling like that. You’re hanging on by the skin of your teeth. Or perhaps you know someone who is. Then SPEAK THESE WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT TO YOURSELF. Speak them to your friend.

Jesus is WORTH it. He won’t let you down. It’s rock-solid. Look down to v19 of Ch 6.

19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Mel – who?

And so we come back to Mechizedek again. And THIS TIME, we’re going to explain it all. Because all the answers to the questions about how different Jesus is/ center on this shadowy figure of Melchizedek.

Now, you might be thinking “Mel-who?” But don’t worry too much if you’ve never heard of him. Because he’s only mentioned in four other verses in the whole Bible – apart from here in Hebrews. Three verses in Gen 14, and one in Ps 110.

And you get a rough biography if you look at the first paragraph of Ch 7. Back in Abraham’s time, Melchizedek was King of Salem – which became Jerusalem. We don’t know anything about his ancestry. Or how he died. But he IS described as a priest of the Most High God.

And he comes into the Bible storyline/ because one day Abraham’s returning from a battle, and he comes to Melchizedek. And gives him a tenth of his spoils from a battle. And then Melchizedek BLESSES him.

Have you got that? Keep that in your mind.

The OTHER reference to Melchizedek is in Ps 110. And we’ve already seen that quote. Back in Ch 5 v6, and again over in Ch 7 v17.

“You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek .”

God’s promising to send a king. Someone LIKE Melchizedek. Someone who’ll be A KING. But who’ll also be a PRIEST.

And Hebrews is saying that this promise comes true IN JESUS. A priest like Melchizedek. And goes on to SHOW all the ways in which Jesus is LIKE Melchizedek.

Melchizedek’s name MEANS King of Righteousness. Which is just what Jesus is.

They were both kings of Jerusalem.

The old name for Jerusalem was SALEM, or SHALOM. Which is PEACE. And so Melchizedek was the King of Peace – Just like Jesus

And since we don’t know where he came from or how he died – without genealogy- there’s a sense in which he’s without beginning or end. Just like Jesus – who LIVES FOREVER.

And then the point REALLY gets hammered home. From V4. Melchizedek was so great, he received a tithe from Abraham. And then he blessed Abraham.

And so, in a sense, the whole Jewish race, INCLUDING the PRIESTS, paid tribute to Melchizedek. Because their father was Abraham.

The Jewish race pays tribute to Melchizedek. And were blessed by him. Which means/ the whole Jewish race is LESSER than the one who blesses them. Who’s GREATER.

So, if Jesus was a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. Then ALL OF LEVI’S priests are less important than Jesus. The one who’s like Melchizedek. That’s down to v10.

The temptation was to think that Jesus was LESS of a priest because he wasn’t FROM THE TRIBE OF LEVI. But down to v19, the point is/ that being in the order of Melchizedek actually made Jesus a priest of GREATER importance than the normal priests.

And it’s the phrase “A priest FOREVER” that’s important. And that’s where Jesus’ priesthood is seen to be SO MUCH BETTER than the human priesthood – the FIRST priesthood.

The FIRST priesthood is outdated. Passing. Old technology. Like mobile phones. Good for a time. But never meant to LAST. Look down to v18.

18 The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless 19(for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

Human priests DIE. V23. One comes along, works for a while, then DIES. And another is appointed. Who works for a while. But then HE dies.

But Jesus is a PERMANENT High Priest. V24

Your Perfect Middle Man

And so he comes to his conclusion. And it’s where the rubber hits the road FOR US, TOO. Jesus really IS our perfect middle man. V25

25 Therefore he is able to SAVE COMPLETELY those who come to God through him, because he ALWAYS LIVES to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest MEETS OUR NEED-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

Don’t settle for someone who can’t do the job. Whether it’s YOU, or someone else.

For all the reasons he’s just mentioned an EARTHLY priest just won’t do. But Jesus CAN. He saves COMPLETELY.

When you’re powerless to fix a situation. When you need someone to stand up for you, you need a middle man who can achieve the results. He can do the job.

One of the ladies on our church, Andrea, lives in a housing department townhouse. And she regularly has problems with her neighbours. And it seems like the police don’t seem to be interested in that particular address anymore.

Because when she tried to report some drug-dealers nearby, there was no response. They took no notice.

What she needed was A MIDDLE-MAN. Someone who could put a word in the right ear. Who could vouch for Andrea’s report. What Andrea needed was A POLICEMAN. Someone like Adam, who ALSO goes to our church. Who just happens to be A POLICEMAN.

Someone like Adam was The perfect middle-man. Someone who knows Andrea, AND who knows THE POLICE. Someone who could make a credible report, and see that it was ACTED UPON. And he DID. And it WAS.

And that’s what Jesus is – the perfect middle man. Someone who always lives to intercede for us. A high priest who meets our need-one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.

Therefore…

SO what’s it all mean FOR US? The first hearers of this letter were being tempted to let go of Jesus, and to trust HUMAN priests. They were convinced they needed a priest to stand between them and God. They’d lost their conviction that Jesus was any better than the Priests they’d trusted before.

I think, in a way, our problem is the opposite. Our problem is, unless your Catholic by background, WE’RE NOT CONVINCED WE NEED ANY PRIEST AT ALL. Because we work from the assumption that we’re SO IMPRESSIVE AS WE ARE that God and us are just mates. That we can just bowl in to his office and put our feet up on his desk.

But the RESULT of that thinking/ ends up at the same place as the Hebrews. Because we’re ALSO tempted to let go of Jesus. Tempted to think there’s SOME OTHER WAY.

We, together with those Jewish Christians, need the encouragements that keep coming at us through the pages of Hebrews.

Heb 4:14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, LET US HOLD FIRMLY TO THE FAITH WE PROFESS.

Heb 4:16 Let us then APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH CONFIDENCE, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

It doesn’t matter what sort of a day you’ve had – God still listens to your prayers, because it’s not about YOU, it’s about Jesus. So approach God CONFIDENTLY, but only if you do it through Jesus.

And when you’ve got that figured out, don’t let go of it. Especially not to turn back to human rituals and human priests and the regulations that came before. There are terrible warnings about that in chapter 6. Be patient. And press on.

Heb 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and GO ON TO MATURITY,

Heb 6:11-12 We want each of you to show this SAME DILIGENCE TO THE VERY END, in order to make your hope sure. 12 WE DO NOT WANT YOU TO BECOME LAZY,

Don’t be a Sunday- Christian. Don’t think you can be a Christian and be a SPECTATOR. It’s not a spectator sport. Get involved. Join a home group. Meet with someone to pray.

And finally, if you think this stuff is all too hard, make sure you’re not just being a lazy listener. Pay attention. Stay diligent to the very end. And keep your hope in the permanent priest who’s been made perfect forever.

Hebrews 8-10: A Change in Royal Protocol

In 1992 Queen Elizabeth visited Australia. And during the visit, Prime Minister Paul Keating caused a diplomatic scandal felt around the world. Do you remember what it was?

He was at a function with the Queen, and as they walked along, he reached out a hand to guide her in a certain direction, and he TOUCHED HER.

Photo’s of Paul Keating with his hand on the Queen’s back appeared in newspapers worldwide. In England, the headlines read “Unhand Queen!” And “The Lizard of Oz”

One article went like this

English press and politicians rallied round Queen Elizabeth II on Tuesday, accusing Prime Minister Paul Keating of Australia of having BREACHED PROTOCOL by putting his arm around her. “Nobody puts his hand on the queen,” said Geoffrey Dickens, a member of Parliament for the Conservative Party. “This was a demonstration of discourtesy.” “I was horrified,” said another Conservative member of Parliament, John Stokes. Mr. Keating’s wife, Annita, also reportedly failed to curtsey.

Apparently the Queen wasn’t at all concerned by the gesture. She’s said to be a lot less fussed by the rules and protocol than previous rulers.

Down through history there’s been rules that LIMIT your contact with the Queen. That raise BARRIERS between her and the general population.

Rules about what you wear, and how you address the Queen. Rules about curtseying and bowing. Rules about not speaking unless the Queen speaks first. Rules about NOT TOUCHING.

If Paul Keating had attempted what he did a couple of hundred years EARLIER, he might have ended up in the Tower of London, or hanging from a rope.

But ROYAL PROTOCOL HAS CHANGED. Access to royalty is now more open. And that’s what Hebrews 8-10 is all about. All about A CHANGE IN ROYAL PROTOCOL. Not towards British royalty, but a change in DIVINE protocol.

It USED to be that access to God was RESTRICTED. But NOW, things are DIFFERENT.

All the world’s religions want to show you HOW TO GET CLOSE TO GOD. And it’s a desire ALL HUMANITY shares. Whatever AGE you’ve lived in. Whatever country, or culture, or civilization, or education. Everyone’s wanted to EXPERIENCE GOD. They’ve followed rules or procedures or techniques/ for DRAWING NEAR TO him.

It might be through offering sacrifices, or through spiritual experiences. It might be through music, or meditation. It might be through walking through the bush. Or fasting for long periods of time. It might be through taking drugs like the Rastafarians. Or beating yourself with a whip, or letting yourself be crucified. Like people in the Philippines.

One guy in the Middle Ages even sat on top of a pole for years on end because he thought it would get him CLOSER TO GOD.

We ALL DO IT, because it’s part of OUR HUMAN MAKE-UP. We were CREATED for intimacy with God. It’s the way it was IN THE BEGINNING. When Adam and Eve WALKED with God.

And we want to RETURN to that closeness. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre described it as the “god-sized hole in our consciousness”.

But how well do any of these methods actually WORK? How approachable IS God? CAN he be discovered, and known, through any of these ways?

Or do they all just reveal THE HUGE GAP between God and us. Is the LONGING for God/ all we can expect in this life? Is there any expectation that we truly can experience God?

The Problem of Distance

And it was no different EVEN WITH JUDAISM. Even though Israel were the MOST PRIVILEGED of nations. Chosen by God to be his precious possession out of all the other nations. Rescued from Egypt as his first-born son.

And even though God had come down and DWELT among his people. CAMPED in their midst – represented by the Tabernacle.

If ANYONE could expect to get close to God/ Israel was IT.

But for all God’s condescensions and accommodations. For all his efforts to come and BE CLOSE to his people. All that resulted was DISTANCE. And BARRIERS. SEPARATION. Pointlessness and frustration. It was THE PROBLEM OF DISTANCE.

Because the OLD WAY of meeting with God DIDN’T WORK. Ch 8 v13 calls it OBSOLETE. AGING. Soon to disappear.

Because, for all its ceremony. And there was RITUAL by THE BUCKET-LOAD. Literally. For all its regulations, the Jewish sacrificial system couldn’t deal with the basic problem of DISTANCE FROM GOD. Of sin. Of separation. Of A GUILTY CONSCIENCE that CONDEMNED you before God.

The start of Ch 9 describes the Tabernacle. And if you go back to Exodus 26 to 30, you can read the FULL description.

The OUTSIDE area was enclosed by a series of curtains on poles. It was called the OUTER COURT. 30 m long by 15 m wide. You could only enter it through the gate at one end.

As long as you were an Israelite, and you were ceremonially clean, you could come in THERE. And offer your sacrifices. But no closer.

Unless you were a PRIEST. From the tribe and family of Aaron. In which case you could go into the NEXT section. Also separated by curtains, and this time a roof. It was called the HOLY place. It’s described there in v2 of Heb 9. It was 10 m by 5 m. And you could only enter it through a door.

If you were a priest, you COULD GO IN THERE. And light the candles. And offer the consecrated bread. But no closer.

Unless you were … the HIGH PRIEST. The only human who could enter the MOST HOLY PLACE. Separated from the Holy Place by ANOTHER curtain. The VEIL. The room was only 5 m square. Very dark. No windows. Lit only by candles. Probably felt quite claustrophobic.

And in that room (v4) was the Ark of the Covenant, which represented God’s throne. God’s DWELLING PLACE.

And even though the High Priest could enter the room. There were strict conditions. Royal protocol. Look at them there in v7.

Only THE HIGH PRIEST. No substitutes allowed.

Only ONCE A YEAR. No other day was possible.

Only WITH BLOOD. Don’t bother coming empty-handed.

Barrier after barrier. Condition after condition. All separating you from God.

A constant reminder of a broken relationship.

And that was the POINT. The point of it all (v8) was to show how DISTANT God actually was. To emphasise THE PROBLEM OF DISTANCE. How far removed God was from people. How much their sin had separated them from God. A constant reminder of a broken relationship. V8

8 The Holy Spirit was showing by this that THE WAY INTO THE MOST HOLY PLACE HAD NOT YET BEEN DISCLOSED as long as the first tabernacle was still standing.

In Ch 10 v 3, it says something similar

3 But those sacrifices ARE AN ANNUAL REMINDER of sins,

So many conditions and regulations that it just reinforced how IMPOSSIBLE it was to actually come CLOSE to God. Rather than SATISFYING their hunger for God/ all it did was make them realize how hungry they really were.

Like a mirage in the desert. Just makes you realize how THIRSTY you are. But does NOTHING to actually satisfy your thirst.

Day after day, year after year the priest would perform his duties. Cut off from the people. And all it would do/ would reinforce to the people how DISTANT they were from God. How sinful they were. How much they needed a REAL solution. That really worked.

A constant reminder of a broken relationship.

Like a child born as a result of adultery.

Imagine a husband who forgives his wife’s affair, only to discover several months later she’s carrying her lovers child.

Imagine the emotional turmoil for a husband to RAISE that child, and LOVE it as his own, all the time BEING REMINDED of the dreadful betrayal that brought it about. The bittersweet, and frustrating, emotions of closeness and intimacy and love, together with hurt and betrayal and sadness. Sadness at what MIGHT HAVE BEEN.

And it’s the same with the Tabernacle. Whetting the appetite for God – giving a glimpse of who he is, and how we can be close to him. But then slamming down the barriers on EXPERIENCING that closeness. Doing nothing but REMINDING the people of their distance from God.

Only A Copy

And what made it even worse/ was that it WASN’T EVEN GOD HIMSELF they were separated from. It was only a REPRESENTATION of God’s throne. A picture. A shadow. It was ONLY A COPY. Ch 8 v5.

Priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.

Which is where God’s REAL THRONE ROOM is. And people could get nowhere NEAR that.

They thought they were drawing closer to God. When the reality was something much less. It’s like queuing up all day to meet the Queen. Going through checkpoint after checkpoint. Security searches. Metal detectors. X-ray machines. Waiting in waiting rooms. And drafty hallways. Finally you get ushered into the room. Where there’s a gold chair.

And sitting on the chair is the Queen’s assistant assistant under-Secretary. Who says the Queen’s too busy to see you, but who promises to pass on your good wishes.

All that time. And you were only drawing near to a SHADOW.

A Useless Shadow

And just like a shadow. The Tabernacle couldn’t actually DO anything. It was USELESS. It couldn’t DEAL with the sin that was the cause of the distance from God in the FIRST place. That’s in v9 and 10.

The gifts and sacrifices offered at the Tabernacle WEREN’T ABLE TO CLEAR THE CONSCIENCES OF THE WORSHIPER. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings-external regulations applying until the time of the new order.

It explains it a bit more fully over at the start of Ch 10. Flip over there. V1

10:1 The law is only A SHADOW of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves. For this reason IT CAN NEVER, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, MAKE PERFECT THOSE WHO DRAW NEAR TO WORSHIP. 2 If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have FELT GUILTY FOR THEIR SINS (or had a CONSCIOUSNESS of sin – it’s the same word as CONSCIENCE back in Ch 9). 3 BUT THOSE SACRIFICES ARE AN ANNUAL REMINDER OF SINS, 4 BECAUSE IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE BLOOD OF BULLS AND GOATS TO TAKE AWAY SINS.

Animal sacrifices can NEVER actually DEAL with SINS. They’re very messy and dramatic and even violent. But they DON’T WORK. Because they only deal with THE OUTSIDE. EXTERNALS. That’s what it says back in Ch 9 v13.

13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are OUTWARDLY CLEAN.

“What use are they, then?” you might ask.

God put them in place to help US. To drive us to him. In repentance. Begging forgiveness for our sin. To show us the lengths that had to be gone to in order to forgive sin. To show us its enormity.

But the sacrifices of the Tabernacle could never WASH AWAY the sin. Could never satisfy the just wrath of a righteous and perfect God.

A Better Cleanser

What was needed was A BETTER CLEANSER.

One of the top-selling books over the Christmas period. And still on the Dymocks best-seller list. Would you believe it? Is a book about household cleaning?

It’s by Shannon Lush, and it’s called “Spotless: Getting the Stains Out of Virtually Anything.”

The promo says this

Shannon Lush is the goddess of stain removal. Her adoring radio audience around the country know that whatever household ills afflict them can be cured by her encyclopaedic knowledge of the repair of stains, scratches and other disfigurements! Spotless is the essential book for the kitchen bookshelf. Each chapter addresses the stains, cleaning and household problems that may come about in each room of the house: the kitchen, laundry, bathroom, bedroom, children’s room – even outdoors on a deck or a patio. Spotless will be referred to again and again and again.

Shannon Lush might have solutions for virtually EVERY sort of stain. But I bet she can’t do anything about the STAIN of A GUILTY CONSCIENCE. Of the feeling of distance from God because of SIN.

Do you ever LONG for something that will DEAL with the INSIDE? That can get rid of your feelings of guilt? Make you FEEL clean? Maybe there’s a sin you committed years ago. Everyone’s forgotten about it, but YOU. Perhaps you’ve never actually TOLD anyone. And you’d LOVE for someone to be able to GET RID OF THE STAIN.

If that’s YOU, I’ve got GOOD NEWS. I don’t know whether the Israelites Longed for it. But we ARE told that GOD DID.

Back in Ch 8 it quotes Jeremiah 31, where God’s promised something NEW. A new way of dealing with people. One that will actually WORK. A better cleanser. Have a look at it there from v8.

What separates the New from the Old/ is that it’s going to do something about THE INSIDES. V10

10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws IN THEIR MINDS and write them ON THEIR HEARTS.

A genuine closeness. An intimacy that’s real on the inside. Because. A bit further down in v12.

12 For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

God will actually DEAL with the sin. Forgiven. Gone. Forgotten. And closeness can BEGIN. He will be their God. And they will be his people.

God longed for a better cleanser. A TRUE cleanser.

And so he sent Jesus. The TRUE priest. Into the TRUE Tabernacle. God’s HEAVENLY THRONE ROOM. To offer the TRUE sacrifice. His OWN blood. A sacrifice that would TRULY cleanse people from sin. Because it deals with our GUILT. Our CONSCIENCES. Look at Ch 9 v11.

11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through THE GREATER AND MORE PERFECT TABERNACLE that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all BY HIS OWN BLOOD, having obtained ETERNAL redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are OUTWARDLY clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

The TRUE sacrifice. Offered in our place. Only a PERFECT LIFE would do. Because any other person deserved death for their OWN sin.

But Jesus never sinned. And so, God counted his death as the acceptable punishment in our place. And so his wrath was satisfied. His forgiveness was won.

Guilt is gone. Consciences are cleansed. And closeness can be restored.

Is that a clean-ness YOU know? A freedom from guilt – a closeness to God – that’s your experience. It CAN be.

Today can be the start of a whole new CLEAN you. Whatever your past. Whatever your sin. All you need to do is to accept the offer of Jesus’ gift.

The Lettuce Patch

Most of us have already DONE that. Jesus HAS dealt with our blackness and sin. But that’s only the FIRST step. Because being washed clean now means we can DRAW CLOSE TO GOD. We can experience an intimacy – a connection with God – that’s not possible any other way.

What Jesus has done for us has REAL IMPLICATIONS for what we think and do about God. Have a look down at Ch 10 v19. I call it the LETTUCE patch because it says “LET US do this or that”.

19 Therefore, brothers, SINCE WE HAVE CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 LET US DRAW NEAR TO GOD with a SINCERE heart in FULL assurance of faith, having OUR HEARTS SPRINKLED to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.

What does intimacy with God LOOK like? Is it about communing with nature? Or perhaps zoning out, meditating in some sort of mystical way? Is it about speaking in tongues, or falling down on the floor.

Intimacy with God is about THESE words. Look at them again in that section I just read. Do these words describe YOUR relationship with God?

Confidence, sincere heart, full assurance of faith, cleansed from guilt, holding unswervingly to hope.

And it all comes because Jesus, our High Priest, has won it on our behalf. Focus on what Jesus has done. THAT’S THE WAY TO EXPERIENCE CLOSENESS WITH GOD.

And it’s closeness to God that has effects in our relationships with other people too. Look at the next verse. V24. More lettuce.

24 And let us consider how we may spur ONE ANOTHER on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We have a RICH PRIVILEGE. We need to TAKE HOLD of it. And make sure OTHERS inherit that TOO.

Love and good deeds is what an intimate relationship with God LOOKS LIKE on the outside. They’re the sign of someone walking close to God.

We need to be encouraging each other to be SHOWING that. How are we DOING at those sorts of things? How LOVING are we towards each other, and towards those around us?

And while things are pretty easy for us here in Australia. Remember these Hebrews were being tempted to go back to Judaism because of PERSECUTION.

And so they’re WARNED NOT to deliberately turn away from Jesus.

And they’re reminded of how they USED to work out their relationship with God. V32. They stood their ground. Insulted and persecuted. Looked after their brothers and sisters in prison – even at the risk of imprisonment themselves!

And so the writer concludes. V35.

35 So DO NOT THROW AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE; (that’s confidence to approach God because of Jesus) it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to PERSEVERE so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. 38 But my righteous one will live by faith. And IF HE SHRINKS BACK, I will not be pleased with him.”  39 But we are NOT OF THOSE WHO SHRINK BACK and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.

What does confidence in Jesus as our priest mean? Confidence in our closeness to God? CONFIDENCE IS THE OPPOSITE OF SHRINKING BACK.

Let me finish on THAT point. The Hebrews were tempted to SHRINK BACK. To withdraw into their world. To a safe world. A comfortable world. But to shrink back is the OPPOSITE of confidence.

Is your life showing CONFIDENCE in the same way? Or is it more about SHRINKING BACK?

Shrinking back is about staying quiet when Jesus is mentioned. Speaking up LESS than you did five years ago.

Shrinking back is about NOT suggesting your family reads the Bible and prays after dinner. You do that LESS than you did five years ago.

Shrinking back is about READING less. PRAYING less. And doing less around church. Because you’ve got a million excuses.

Shrinking back is about being LESS godly than you were 20 years ago. Because now you’re just tired and frustrated. A cranky old man or woman. Are you someone younger people are ATTRACTED TO – who they SEARCH OUT. Because you’re PATIENT and WISE and CONSIDERATE and SERVANT-HEARTED?

Or are you someone younger people AVOID? Because they never know if you’ll bite their head off. Or complain about something. Or put them in their place. Or are inflexible, and unwilling to listen to their point of view.

Are you an incredible shrinking man or woman of God? LESS than you were five years ago?

WE ARE NOT OF THOSE WHO SHRINK BACK!

Or is your life REFLECTING the confidence you have to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus? The full assurance of faith you have in your priest. The spotless white conscience you have when it comes to your guilt?

DRAW NEAR, Don’t SHRINK BACK!

Hebrews 10:19-25, Ps 133: So stick at sticking together: wbpc: 20 yr anniversary

I love this church. I even come here when I’m supposed to be on holidays. I think, “I could go somewhere nobody knows me, and just SIT”. And sometimes I do that. But it’s never the same as being HOME. Which is how I think about WB.

In fact, a few weeks ago, I had two weeks study leave. Gordon even suggested I visit other churches for study purposes. To learn what they’re doing well. But I’d rather be HERE.

It’s the same love that King David had when he thought about his brothers and sisters in the Jerusalem temple. The people of God. He wrote PS 133 to describe it.

It’s a simile that’s probably lost a bit in meaning in the years since, and as it’s travelled from Israel to Australia. But I think you get the drift.

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!

2 It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes.

3 It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion.

For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life forevermore.

It’s about followers of God who work together in unity. A common purpose. Serving God together. And the comparison is with the anointing of oil that was poured on the High Priest at his commissioning. And that symbolised God’s presence through his Spirit.

And the point is that God’s presence is poured out on his people when they work together united. He LOVES to see that. And King David reckons it’s FANTASTIC!

And when church works well. That’s what it’s like. Good and pleasant. And Western Blacktown IS a GOOD place to be. It’s an ENCOURAGING place. Somewhere that’s growing followers of Jesus. Somewhere that EQUIPS you to live for Jesus in the week ahead. It’s what church SHOULD be. It’s something we’ve been doing for 20 years, and God willing, will STILL be doing in ANOTHER 20 years.

And so, that’s what I want to encourage you to KEEP DOING. To STICK AT / STICKING TOGETHER. Or, as v25 of Hebrews 10 puts it. “DON’T GIVE UP meeting together, but let us ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER.”

The problem with preaching on the importance of meeting together as Christians is that the people who most need to hear it / AREN’T HERE LISTENING.

You’re here this morning because you’ve MADE THE EFFORT. You’ve recognised the importance of meeting together, hopefully. You’ve counted the cost. Prioritised things. Organised yourself so that other stuff happens at ANOTHER TIME. And you’re HERE.

But there are OTHERS, who, for one reason or another, AREN’T. Perhaps they’ve found something more important to do today. Or they’re sleeping in. Perhaps they can’t see the RELEVANCE of church. It just doesn’t SCRATCH WHERE THEY ITCH.

Some make the decision OVERNIGHT. Here one week, gone the next.

But for most people it’s a GRADUAL process. A slow slipping away. It’s like when the train next to you starts moving. And you can’t really tell if you’re moving or not. If it’s YOUR train or the OTHER train that’s moving.

At the start you can’t even tell you’ve moved. People don’t REALISE they’re priorities are changing. First they miss one week a month. Just to give themselves a chance to catch up on OTHER things. Then it’s every SECOND week. Then once a month. And before they know it, they’re GONE.

I was talking to another minister who was telling me a story just like this in the last week. A guy was super keen – involved in everything at church. Then he bought a new business. A fish and chip shop. And it gradually changed. My friend had the hard talk with him. But the guy assured my friend it was only temporary. Until the end of year. THEN things would change. And he’d get back into church.

But things never did. And HE never did either.

Preaching to those in church on the importance of being in church. It’s FRUSTRATING because there’s others who just need to hear the message so much more. And they’re NOT HERE. THESE are the people I REALLY want to be preaching to. I want to shout it from the roof so they can hear.

And this is just what the letter to the Hebrews was for. A sermon preached to people who were tempted to give it all away. To give up on Jesus, and go back to their old way of life. To backslide. To fall away. To turn away from God.

And the writer has just spent 10 chapters giving theological arguments about why following Jesus is FAR BETTER than the old Jewish ways of religion. How Jesus’ once for all sacrifice has done what the animal sacrifices could NEVER do. Guarantee access to God convincingly, permanently, wholly. Deal with our sin and guilt completely, totally.

We are confident

And so he gets to Ch 10 v19, and he begins. “THEREFORE..” Because of everything I’ve just said, he’s what it means FOR YOU. Here’s where the rubber hits the road.

19 THEREFORE, brothers, SINCE we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and SINCE we have a great priest over the house of God,

Re-capping everything he’s been saying. It mightn’t sound too much like what church is like for US. (Entering most holy places, curtains, priests) But he’s using the language of the Jewish temple to describe the access we now have to God through Jesus.

We have CONFIDENCE to approach God. Not on the basis of our own efforts, but by a new and living way. Jesus himself is the Son who’s given us the keys to the castle.

I was at Buckingham Palace last year. And I looked through the big iron gates. At the palace guards, and all the security. And I’d never have DREAMED of trying to get in. But if the royal son, Prince Charles had been sitting on a bench outside, and he said, “Look, here’s an invite for dinner. Mumsy will be there. Here’s the keys to the gate and the front door. Here’s the alarm codes. Just let yourself in, and make yourself at home.”

I still would have felt weird, and I’d worry about getting tackled by a security guard. But it would have been COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. To just trying to get in on my own. And it’s exactly that sort of access Jesus has given us to God.

And I think we take it for granted. The ease with which we bring things to God in prayer. Non-Christians just can’t get their heads around it. They think it astounding that we just start talking as if we know God personally. WHICH WE DO.

So draw near

And SINCE we have that confidence, the writer goes on. V22. Therefore, since these things are true…

22 let us DRAW NEAR TO GOD with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,

We have CONFIDENCE to approach God, let’s make sure we DO it. We should DRAW NEAR to him. We should be CULTIVATING CLOSENESS to him. Make God, experienced through Jesus, and by his Holy Spirit, your greatest treasure. Your number one. Search him out. Focus on him. Meditate on his word. Sing to him, and about him. Read books about him. Talk to him. Out loud, in your head, eyes closed, eyes open. Walking, kneeling, sitting. In the car, on the train, or on your lounge.

Since we have the confidence that comes from Jesus, draw near to God.

And it’s not simply AN INDIVIDUAL task. “Let US draw near” he says. You and me TOGETHER. As I listen to you, and you listen to me. We can draw near to God. We can experience him in our midst. See his hand at work in the lives of others, when we struggle to see it in our own.

I don’t know about you, but I can nearly ALWAYS experience God being close/ BETTER when I’m WITH HIS PEOPLE. It might be singing, or praying, or hearing someone speak.

Drawing near to God is best performed as a TEAM SPORT. It’s like volleyball… THEORETICALLY you can do it on your own – imagine that! But it’s not much fun. Not the way it’s designed to be played.

And we’re to do it WITH A SINCERE HEART. That means Be REAL. No masks. No pretence. God knows your heart anyway. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not with God. He doesn’t accept you because of YOUR performance, so don’t TRY to perform.

You can be REAL with someone, only when you TRUST them. When you know they won’t reject you when they find out what you’re REALLY like. And it will never happen with God. You can have full assurance of faith. Because of what it says next.

having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Jesus has done it. Whatever we’ve done. Whatever we WILL do. Jesus has washed it clean. Got rid of the guilt and shame. And so we can come to God SINCERELY.

So hold fast

The next practical consequence of being confident to approach God is there in v23. So hold fast. Since we have confidence to approach God (v23)…

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

If you’re confident in the one who’s holding you, then your hope is certain, and you can hold fast.

Sometimes Youth Group goes indoor rock-climbing. It’s great fun. Especially if you trust the person at the bottom who’s holding the other end of the rope. As long as he’s paying attention, and knows what he’s doing, you can have a go at all sorts of tricky climbs. Hold unswervingly to the smallest of holds. Because you’re confident that he’s FAITHFUL.

And it’s the same with God. When we know he’s dealt with our sin and guilt. That he’s changed us from enemies to friends. That he’s dealt with our YESTERDAY. Then we trust that he’ll deal with our TODAY and our TOMORROW. Romans 5:9-10 puts it like this

9 Since we have now BEEN JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

God’s done the HARD THING. Changed us from enemies to friends. So we can confidently HOPE that he’ll save us from judgment, because we’re ALREADY his friends.

“Since we have confidence… let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess”.

But the verse is saying something MORE than just holding onto your hope in God. Here’s what it LITERALLY says:

“Let us hold fast to the CONFESSION of our hope unswervingly.”

It’s as much about WITNESSING as it is about holding on to our faith. When things are getting tough, when you’re ridiculed for going to church, or for giving your money for ministry, or for believing in the Bible, or maintaining a moral position. When they laugh at how POINTLESS it is. When your friends drop you from the invitation lists. Cause you just make them feel awkward. Hold onto the confession of your HOPE.

Our hope is back there in v12.

12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,

That’s our hope. That Jesus IS seated at God’s right hand. He IS ruling over everything. Even if we don’t always SEE that. Even if Christians still suffer, are persecuted. Even if the wicked seem to prosper.

Hold fast the confession of your hope. Don’t give up speaking up for Jesus. Speak him to non-Christians, to your family, to your friends and workmates.

Speak him to each other. Here at church. Do it because God is faithful. He’s promised to be WITH you. To give you words to say. To USE you. To keep you to the end. And to save you for himself for all eternity.

(Since we have confidence… hold fast to the confession of your hope)

So spur one another on

The next practical action that shows our confidence is there in v24. (Since we have confidence..)

24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS.

In other words, BEHAVIOUR MATTERS. If we are really God’s people, brought to him by Jesus, then what we DO. How we LIVE. Is important. God requires certain attitudes and actions from his children. Specifically, love and good deeds.

Our individual relationship with God MUST have consequences for our relationships with OTHER PEOPLE. They’re not isolated.

But this isn’t just a command to DO GOOD STUFF. Notice it’s a THREE PART ACTION? 1. Consider – spend time THINKING about it. TOGETHER. What are the needs of God’s people? What are our gifts? How can we thoughtfully, and lovingly, and wisely, look after each other.

2. Consider how to SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON. We need to be thoughtful in stirring each other up. Provoking each other. It’s not enough to for you to individually be loving and doing good deeds. It’s a group task. I was talking to Kelly about the group assignments she has to do at Uni. Sometimes it’s great because everyone does their part. But other times it’s a pain because, ONE PERSON does the work, and everyone else sits back and watches.

But our love and good deeds are not to be THAT sort of group work. We’re to consider how to spur one another on. Be well thought-out in how you develop and engender an ATMOSPHERE of love and good deeds. Set an example. Take people with you. Rebuke them when they DON’T. We want people to CATCH the desire to express love and good deeds like a contagious DISEASE.

We’re to consider how to SPUR ONE ANOTHER ON (3.) To love and good deeds.

So stick at sticking together

And the final practical action that flows from being confident in approaching God is there in v25. Since we have confidence…

25 LET US NOT GIVE UP MEETING TOGETHER, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

It’s pretty difficult to show love and good deeds towards each other, or spur each on, unless we’re making opportunities to actually MEET. It’s not SPECIFICALLY talking about Sunday morning at church, or weeknights at Home Group. But getting together for ALL sorts of reasons, in all sorts of places, at all sorts of times. You don’t need an excuse.

I LOVE it that the men go fishing, the women have card-making, and book club. People catch up for coffee, or lunch. They play golf.

Let’s meet together and ENJOY each other. But remember, there’s a big picture for all that meeting. A REASON. To ENCOURAGE each other. Spur each other on. Remind, and teach, and correct, and comfort and cheer up and rebuke and train.

The treasure we have in being able to approach God confidently and washed clean is SO GREAT. We daren’t miss out on it. ANY of us.

And it’s SO EASY to slip away. To be distracted. To gradually DRIFT away. We want to make sure no one does.

And the day is coming SO QUICKLY. Notice how the verse finishes. “All the MORE as you see the day approaching.”

The next few paragraphs go on to describe the situation of someone who’s heard it all, hung around church, knows all the Bible verses, talks the talk. Someone who’s heard the gospel so many times, but never truly turns to God. Never repented. And trusted in Jesus’ work on his behalf.

When judgment day comes, no excuse will do. No membership certificate, or attendance award. No theology degree, or charity tax deductible invoice. V27.

27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Don’t let that be YOU! It’s not enough to be sitting here in church this morning. Make sure you do what it says down in v35.

35 So do not throw away your… CONFIDENCE; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.

Confidence. The word we STARTED with. Confident to approach God on the basis of Jesus’ work before us. Don’t throw that trust away. Persevere. Encourage those around you to do the same. Encourage those who’ve slipped away to do the same.

Church is important. Planting churches is important. Meeting together is important. Training people to encourage each other is important. It’s important for Western Blacktown to keep going for another 20 years. Not because WB is important, but because the confidence to approach God is a treasure we want to make sure EVERYONE experiences. That’s what REALLY matters.

Hebrews 11-12: No Pain, No Gain

How much of the World Cup did you watch? It was great, wasn’t it? A celebration of football. The only truly WORLD game. A celebration of elite athletes – super-fit, breathtaking skills with the football, amazing speed.

Some of the Socceroos spent their whole life building and training and playing for that moment. And they had the chance to achieve something amazing. With the weight of expectation of the whole country on their shoulders.

Many left Australia as teenagers. And have spent the last decade or more making sacrifices for this goal. Moving families to new countries. Forgoing a nice climate, or a proper education. Putting up with disappointments, injuries, operations, painful recuperations.

It’s a well-used expression. But it’s true. NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

It’s true in soccer, and it’s true IN MUCH OF LIFE. And most of the time, it’s true in THE CHRISTIAN LIFE too.

And it’s the message Hebrews has for these Jewish Christians. Over these past few sermons we’ve seen that they’re at the point of throwing in the towel. Of giving up. Of just sitting back on the lounge with their feet up on the coffee table. Because they’ve discovered being Christian isn’t quite the easy ride they expected. There’s PAIN involved. And lots of it.

But the message is/ NO PAIN, NO GAIN.

Faith is setting your eyes over the horizon

Ultimately, what it means/ is they’ve MISUNDERSTOOD THE NATURE OF FAITH. They’d thought faith was THE GUARANTEE OF A PAIN-FREE PRESENT. Instead of what IT IS. A confident focus on the future GAINS / that come AFTER THE PAIN. Setting your eyes OVER THE HORIZON.

We’re looking at Ch 11 today, but just cast a glance back to the end of Ch 10. Because it sets the scene.

In verse 35, there’s the direct appeal. Don’t throw away your confidence. Keep going. Persevere. Don’t shrink back. Live by FAITH. And v39

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who BELIEVE (who HAVE FAITH) and are saved.

And then, in Ch 11, we see what that sort of faith LOOKS LIKE. What it MEANS to NOT SHRINK BACK. In a way a very simple chapter that traces through the Old Testament story from Genesis chapter 1. With a long list of examples. And time after time makes the same point.

So often these days, we’re sold the lie that faith is kind of a LEVERAGE you get over God. That if you’ve got ENOUGH of it, God will deliver what you want. And deliver it NOW.

That the key to success in your business, that the key to prosperity and health, it’s faith. Which I gather/ in that definition/ means you WISH REALLY HARD FOR SOMETHING. Or NAME IT AND CLAIM IT. And if you do it RIGHT, you’ll get it NOW.

When the reality is, faith at every point and in every example/ is about SETTING YOUR EYES OVER THE HORIZON. On the goal that’s still out of sight. Faith is about LOOKING FORWARD. To the UNSEEN. With a kind of confidence that keeps you on track. And keeps you going. Because ultimately, you’re going to trust in the promises of God.

Hebrews 11 – The Faith Hall of Fame

So as we come to chapter 11, there’s a long list of examples of exactly that kind of faith.

Which is defined in verse 1. Faith hopes confidently… and looks with certainty… BEYOND THE HORIZON. To what we CAN’T YET SEE.

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

And here comes the list. Run your eye through the chapter and you’ll see those words “by faith” recurring as a refrain. Again and again. 22 times, in fact.

All to do with A CERTAINTY IN WHAT CAN’T BE SEEN. Confident in the power of God to do what he promised. A confidence based, in verse 3, on the fact that for a God who can speak a universe into being, everything else is easy. He’s made everything that can be seen out of the invisible. So why not trust him for the other stuff you can’t yet see?

And so the list. The faith hall of fame. Abel, verse 4; the son of Adam and Eve in Genesis 4 who God counted righteous because of his faith. Enoch, verse 5. Likewise, commended for pleasing God. Which is impossible without faith.

Noah, verse 7. Even though he can’t even SEE A CLOUD IN THE SKY, starts building the boat. Because God says.  “By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.”

And Abraham. Verse 8, even though God doesn’t say where he’s going, even though he can’t see the destination; starts out on the journey. Genesis 12, God says, leave your father’s house in Ur, and go where I tell you.

And he was prepared to live in a tent like a tourist; because at every point, verse 10, he was looking forward.

“For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.”

And you know what? If they were looking for a quick fix, if they were looking for INSTANT RESULTS, none of them got it. They had THE FAITH, but they never SAW what they’d been promised. V13.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. THEY DIDN’T RECEIVE THE THINGS PROMISED; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.

These heroes of faith were still looking forward. Right to their last breath. Because they were looking for something better than a bit of Palestinian real estate. They were looking for something more than the good things of THIS LIFE.

See, if it’s earthly stuff he wants, Abraham can just head back home. But ultimately, God has bigger plans. V16.

Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them.

Because they were trusting the INVISIBLE God. The God OUTSIDE creation and time and space. A God who’d promised them a city. They were longing for God’s city. And so they treated THIS PLANET as a stop-over. A temporary residency until they could GO HOME.

And they won’t be disappointed.

And on it goes. Isaac, verse 20. And Jacob. Passing on the blessing of God’s future promise. Joseph, verse 22, confident in the future.

Moses, verse 24, If you read his story in Exodus sometime, he could have had a life of luxury in the Pharaoh’s court. But chooses to be mistreated with the people of God instead. Rather than enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time, he takes THE LONG VIEW. And is prepared to put up with the PAIN. Because of the GAIN. The gain that comes from being counted as part of the people of God.

There’s an obvious message there, isn’t there, for these Hebrew Christians who are so tempted to just blend back in. And stop standing with their Christian friends who are suffering. Who are so tempted to put material things ahead of their faithfulness. Their comforts ahead of the challenges.

Well, look at Moses for a minute. Verse 26,

He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward. 27By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.

And verse 28 and 29, stands against the power of Egypt; and does exactly what God tells him to do. Until by faith the walls of Jericho fall in a miraculous way, verse 30. And even Rahab the gentile prostitute, by faith and against all the odds… throws her lot in with the people of God.

That’s a summary of about half the Old Testament already. And verse 32, there’s an summary of a whole lot more.

Some of the great victories of faith. But BALANCED WITH SOMETHING ELSE. Those who DIED for their faith AS WELL.

See, the Old Testament tells the stories of SOME GREAT ESCAPES. The lions mouth’s shut; the flames that don’t burn. Twice in the Old Testament, widows who received their kids back to life again.

(slowly) But OTHER CASES, in verse 35, something different. Of those who’d rather DIE than be unfaithful. Because they had their eyes on what was up ahead. A better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging. While still others, verse 36, were chained, put in prison, stoned, sawed in two, put to death by the sword.

They were JUST AS FAITHFUL as THOSE WHO WERE SPARED.

Do you see? It’s not as if faith guarantees one outcome over the other. But that NO MATTER WHICH WAY IT GOES, faith keeps CONFIDENTLY LOOKING FORWARD.

We sometimes think our testimony needs to be a VICTORIOUS one to be encouraging. A story of God’s RESCUE, or TRIUMPH, or empowering presence. Of things turning out alright in the end.

But it can be JUST as encouraging to hear of how someone’s stuck it out through terrible trials. Like Diane’s going through with her mum, or Ross is going through with his divorce.

Or like Kirk and Lisa Patston. Some of you know them. Kirk was the minister at Presbyterian Church at Swansea. He and Lisa were having a wonderful ministry there. Both wonderfully gifted by God. The church was growing. Showing signs of success. If THAT had been their story for the next fifteen years/ it would have been a great witness to God.

But their first son was born with some severe medical difficulties. SO difficult they had to give up pastoral ministry. And then Kirk began teaching at SMBC. And then when Lisa was pregnant with their third child, they discovered the baby had such severe medical problems, it wouldn’t live more than a few days.

It would be enough to make many people give up on God. Or at least give up on the marriage. Plenty of people before them have done just that.

But they’ve somehow kept life together. And are still faithfully following Jesus. And still encouraging others to do the same.

Faith that looks BEYOND the present. Over the horizon. To the future. Their story and example are a GREAT ENCOURAGEMENT to me.

Whether good or bad comes your way in life. Faith looks to the FUTURE. That’s the point. After the pain, comes the gain. Verse 39:

These were ALL commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. GOD HAD PLANNED SOMETHING BETTER FOR US SO THAT ONLY TOGETHER WITH US WOULD THEY BE MADE PERFECT.

Faith takes THE LONG TERM VIEW. It looks past today, or next week, or even next year. And looks to the NEXT LIFE. The REAL long-term view sees God’s ETERNAL plan as the important thing.

Keep Running… (12:1-3)

And so we come to the end of Ch 11. The end of the Hall of Fame. And then we come to the POINT of the whole thing. The LESSON FOR US. “THEREFORE”. Have a look at it there in v1. KEEP RUNNING!

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

Follow their example! That’s the point! Run the race with perseverance. Don’t sit on the couch and WATCH them. Get rid of  EXCUSES. Remove the obstacles. Cut out the bad food and the poor lifestyle. Start running!

It might be SIN that’s holding you back. Habits you can’t break. Thoughts, actions, and ways of dealing with life that are unhealthy, and black. That are a cancerous growth just eating into your heart for Jesus.

But it’s also ANYTHING that hinders. They may not necessarily be sin. Like the weeds in the parable of the sower. The cares of this world can choke our spiritual life. It might be finances, or the kids’ education, or saving for retirement. Or concern over your employment future. It might be a desire to be married, or a desire NOT to be married.

And Christianity just doesn’t seem so important anymore.

Get rid of it. Throw it off. Cast it aside. And run with perseverance. Run like Peter Robertson. Run like Diane. Run like Ross. Run like Kirk and Lisa Patston.

Run like Jesus.

Because it’s not just the saints of the past we’re to imitate. It’s Jesus himself. Have a look at v2. Jesus is the real focal point of faith. The great reminder that faith doesn’t mean a pain free ride.

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary… and lose heart.”

Keep at it. Copy Jesus.

And more than that. CHANGE YOUR PERSPECTIVE on the tough times. Rather than think that God was being vindictive, or couldn’t care less about you. Think of there being A PURPOSE behind it.

It would be easy to think, wouldn’t it, that having your business go under or losing your job, it would be easy to think that having your whole office sniggering behind your back at the fact you’re a Christian, it would be easy to think stuff like that means God isn’t INTERESTED. Or is ANGRY with you. That God wouldn’t let that stuff happen to you… if he loved you.

But here’s a thought. Maybe it’s the opposite. Maybe it’s the sort of PAIN THAT LEADS TO GAIN. Maybe it’s TRAINING. Maybe it’s actually discipline. To teach you what REALLY matters. And maybe that discipline is not a sign of God’s DISINTEREST at all. But his LOVE.

What if  your illness, or unemployment, or loss, or struggle was actually DESIGNED by God to TRAIN you? To PROTECT you. To GROW you?

See, that’s the sad thing; parents who don’t discipline their kids are saying they don’t care. There’s a quote from Proverbs in verse 5 and 6. Which is a reminder that the Lord’s discipline is actually a sign of his love. And so verse 7 says, instead of throwing in the towel, keep going.

Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? In fact, If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons.

Tough times are for your ultimate good. Verse 10 says,

“Our fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

In other words, no pain… no gain.

So stop complaining, verse 12. STRENGTHEN YOUR FEEBLE ARMS AND WEAK KNEES. Get off the couch. Stop moping around. And get on with it. REJOICE at the tough times. Because it’s making you stronger. James 1 says to consider trials as PURE JOY. Because there’s GAIN to be had through the PAIN.

It’s hard, isn’t it? To keep going. Even if you’re not being marginalised or persecuted. Even without the threat of your house being confiscated and the possibility of prison.

Maybe in your situation, it’s hard just being here this morning. Getting out of bed, persuading the family; hard just keeping on as a Christian because there are so many good reasons not to be. Maybe you’re just tired.

Maybe you’re so caught up in the treadmill of making yourself comfortable in this life that it’s almost like that’s all you’ve got time for.

Maybe you just feel distant from God, emotionally unsatisfied; you’re thinking there’s got to be something more. Or you’re disappointed with how life’s turning out.

See, faith doesn’t promise to fix that. Faith says to keep looking beyond it. Faith says, I’m not going to find my satisfaction here… which is exactly why I need to keep trusting Jesus and pressing forward.

I’m not going to find my security here no matter how big my house; I’m not going to find my satisfaction here no matter how bright my career. As I switch off the office light and head home on retiring day I’ll still come home empty.

So I need to follow the example of the past. And cheerfully press on. Because there are better and lasting things up ahead.

Hebrews 12:14-13:25: Outside the Camp

Do you know what it means to be TREATED AS AN OUTSIDER? To be left out? Overlooked?

What about because you’re A CHRISTIAN? Perhaps the conversation stops as you walk into a room. People know you don’t fit into the conversation, or the dirty joke. So they just LEAVE YOU OUT.

Perhaps you don’t get invited to the movies. Because people know it’s not the sort of movie you’re going to approve of.

Or you don’t get invited to the party? Or the morning tea? Or the weekend away? Because people just don’t understand you. Don’t know how to ACT around you?

Or perhaps you DO get invited. And people behave as if you’re not there. SAY things and DO things you’d NEVER think of being part of. And they just don’t understand. And you feel like the outsider.

The good news AND the BAD news/ is that being a Christian always means BEING AN OUTSIDER. Always HAS, and always WILL.

It’s BAD NEWS because you’re still an outsider. GOOD NEWS because it’s just the same for every other Christian who’s serious about their faith.

I know of a minister of a church in Adelaide. He was speaking recently about a young Asian doctor from his church, whose family were from Hong Kong.

This guy – we’ll call him Chris – had been investigating Christianity for a while during his time at Uni. He’d grown up a Buddhist. But by the time he graduated, he’d decided – the claims of Jesus couldn’t be ignored.

For Chris, that’s when the problems started. Because when his parents back in Hong Kong heard about it, they WERE FURIOUS. They told him in no uncertain terms that he could no longer consider himself their son. He was excluded from the family. Written out of the inheritance. Excluded from family events and occasions. “Don’t bother turning up to your sister’s wedding. Because you’ve brought disgrace to the family”.

That’s not where the story ended. Because a few months later Chris had a call from his brother in law who’d flown to Adelaide from Hong Kong. Chris agreed to meet him. And over lunch, his brother in law brought out a cheque from the family. For one million dollars. He said to Chris, “The family is tired of the disgrace you’ve brought on them. They want you back. The money’s yours. If you give up your Christianity”.

Chris looked at the cheque. Shook his head. And refused. The brother in law tore it up. Started writing another cheque. He said, what’s it going to take… to make you change your mind?

And Chris shook his head. And excused himself from the table. And left. And hasn’t heard from the family since. Excluded because he’s a Christian.

The good news AND the BAD news/ is that being a Christian always means BEING AN OUTSIDER. Always HAS, and always WILL.

Just Like Jesus

After all, it was just that way for Jesus. So how can we expect anything different? Have a look at Heb Ch 13 v 11. It’s the central idea in this whole last section.

11 The high priest carries the blood of animals into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering, but the bodies are burned OUTSIDE THE CAMP. 12 And so Jesus also suffered OUTSIDE THE CITY GATE to make the people holy through his own blood. 13 LET US, THEN, GO TO HIM OUTSIDE THE CAMP, BEARING THE DISGRACE HE BORE. 14 For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come.

The picture is of Jesus. Part of the Jewish people. Part of Jerusalem – the city of his ancestor, King David. And yet, he’s REJECTED by his people. Cast aside as an outsider. Dragged out of the city, stumbling under the weight of a rough wooden cross. Insulted, spat upon, beaten.

Suffering to make us holy.

If he’s done THAT, then let US go to HIM outside the camp. Follow him. Imitate him. Leave behind the people who reject him. And suffer rejection together with him. Bear the disgrace he bore.

That’s the call. The call to those first Jewish Christians. Tempted to fit in with the Jews around them. And it’s the call to US, AS WELL. Who’re tempted to blend in with the culture around US. To change what we say and do and think. And who we are. So that we’ll FIT IN.

Be an outsider, just like Jesus!

A REAL city LASTS

And you can see the REASON we can do that. It’s there at the end of v14. The PERSPECTIVE that empowers us to do that. “For HERE we do NOT have an enduring city, but we are looking for the CITY THAT IS TO COME.”

Christians look BEYOND what they can TOUCH, and HEAR, and SEE. To what’s REAL nevertheless – to the city that can’t be touched or heard or seen AT THE MOMENT. The HEAVENLY city. Beyond acceptance in a civilization that WON’T endure. To a city that WILL.

It’s the difference between REALITY and MATERIALITY.

We always think that something CAN’T EXIST unless we can TOUCH IT. That something has to be MATERIAL/ to be REAL. And so most of the world SCOFFS at Christians who long for heaven. Who laugh when we submit our lives to a Lord they can’t see, hear, or experience.

But the city WE long for/ is NO LESS REAL than EARTHLY civilization. To cities you can touch and feel and smell.

n fact, our HEAVENLY city is MORE real.

Why? Because THIS WORLD will PASS AWAY. It won’t LAST. V14 – it’s NOT an ENDURING city. Whereas the CITY to COME. Is BUILT FOR ETERNITY. Just like US.

A REAL city/ LASTS.

Back in Ch 12 it talks about God promising to JUDGE. And to DESTROY this world. Look at v26 of Ch 12.

Now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.”  27 The words “once more” indicate the REMOVING of what CAN be shaken-that is, CREATED THINGS-so that what CANNOT be shaken may remain –

(that’s our HEAVENLY CITY)

If you know a storm’s coming that will flatten EVERYTHING, it makes sense/ to be somewhere that CAN’T be shaken.

Do you remember earlier this year Cyclone Larry whipped through Innisfail, in far nth QLD? It destroyed every second house with 290 km/h winds. Roofs gone, walls flattened, houses washed away in the floodwaters, banana plantations and sugar cane farms destroyed.

Not the night to choose to go CAMPING, or even to sleep in your car, or a flimsy fibro and tin shed.

When you know a cyclone like THAT is coming, you want to be in a place AS SAFE AS POSSIBLE. Solid brick. Cyclone-resistant roofing. Concrete floors. Double-glazed windows.

And it’s the same with THIS LIFE. It  makes sense to be somewhere that WON’T BE SHAKEN. Like the HEAVENLY Jerusalem, rather than the EARTHLY city.

And so Christians hope in ETERNITY. Because the things of THIS LIFE, which seem so attractive and important – are nothing but flimsy shacks standing smack-bang in the middle of an oncoming tropical cyclone. They won’t last. But our heavenly city WILL.

Offer a sacrifice

And so we’re to come OUTSIDE the city. The city that LOOKS so solid. To walk away from possessions, and fame, and power, and money, and success. And to bear the disgrace of NOT FITTING IN. The same disgrace Jesus bore.

So what does all that MEAN? What does it mean to choose the heavenly Mt Zion instead of the Earthly Mt Sinai? What does it LOOK LIKE to go outside the city, outside the camp, following Jesus?

Does it mean we’re to form a Christian community out in the bush somewhere. To PHYSICALLY and LITERALLY come out of the city? No, that’s not it at all! The answer’s there in the very next verse. V15. We’re to OFFER A SACRIFICE.

It’s perhaps not the OBVIOUS thing you’d expect to see in the book of Hebrews. Since MOST of the book’s been talking about how USELESS sacrifices actually ARE. How the whole Jewish system of temple, and altar, and burnt offerings is second-rate. Outdated. Superceded.

And yet, there it is. V15. “Let us offer to God a sacrifice.” But take a closer look, and see what the writer’s getting at. V15.

15 Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.

Firstly, our sacrifice is THROUGH JESUS. Because of the GREATER sacrifice he’s made on our behalf. The sacrifice of himself that makes us acceptable to God.

Secondly, it’s a sacrifice of PRAISE – the fruit of lips that confess his name. It’s not a dead goat that God’s interested in. But a LIFE that directs praise and thanks to God. That points people to the One who’s given us everything.

THAT’S the sort of sacrifice God’s interested in.

And that’s not all. Not just WORDS, but ACTIONS TOO. V16.

Do good, and share with others FOR WITH SUCH SACRIFICES GOD IS PLEASED.

It’s the contrast between the sacrifices on the physical altar in the physical temple. Rituals that do nothing but point out the enormity of sin and guilt, and our distance from God.

And the sacrifices that fill the life of a Christian. Sacrifices of words and actions, of desires and goals, of choices, and priorities. A life that’s focused on following Jesus OUTSIDE THE CAMP. A life that DOESN’T CARE if it bears the disgrace of the world. As long as GOD is pleased. As long as GOD accepts us.

The same point’s made at the end of Ch 12. v28. What acceptable sacrifices to God look like. And not only is it right WORDS and right ACTIONS. But right ATTITUDES as well.

28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and SO WORSHIP GOD ACCEPTABLY with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.”

The “worship” word there/ is the one used in Hebrews to describe the priest’s work – the service they give at the temple.

We’re to give service as well. But service and sacrifices that actually PLEASE God. Acceptable service for God isn’t about getting the candles lit in the right order, or washing your hands the right number of times. Or cutting the lamb up the right way.

It’s about RIGHT ATTITUDES. Be THANKFUL – you’re inheriting an unshakeable kingdom. And since God is A CONSUMING FIRE – HOLY and JUST, have the attitude of REVERENCE and AWE – of circumspection and caution. Of respect. With a full sense of the seriousness of the task we’re performing. Because we serve the God who made the Universe.

Acceptable sacrifices. Acceptable worship. In word, and deed, and attitude.

And then straight after – the start of Ch 13 – we see how that attitude towards GOD shows itself in our attitude TO OTHERS. How our worship for God is played out in the sphere of life.

Counter-cultural Worship

And as we look through the list, notice how COUNTER-CULTURAL it is. How OUTSIDE normal behaviour it is. If Christians did a bit more of this, people would probably treat us even MORE as outsiders. Because so much of this stuff just seems like NONSENSE to the world.

But it’s what it means to offer acceptable sacrifices to God.

13:1 “Love each other as brothers”. Have a look around. This is a bunch of people who are SO DIFFERENT to each other. If it wasn’t for Jesus, most of us would have nothing in common.

People out there NEVER get together with people like THIS. The way WE do at church. Because it’s HARD WORK with someone who’s different from you/ to meet them in the middle. And the world is ALL THE POORER for it.

But for us, it’s Jesus who brings us together. Who gives us the interest in each other’s lives that energises us to HELP, to WEEP with each other. To CRY. TO CARE. To LOVE.

Counter-cultural worship.

Or v2. Don’t forget to entertain STRANGERS. Who does THAT? Most people don’t even entertain their CLOSEST friends. Yet Christians are called to entertain STRANGERS. Those we have to work HARDEST with.

Or v3. Remember those IN PRISON. And those who are suffering. It’s talking about their fellow-Christians locked up for their faith. It’s counter-cultural to make yourself feel uncomfortable – to put yourself at risk – for the sake of someone else. But the Christians were doing it.

A few years later the Christian writer Irenaeus talks about the way Christians in prison were cared for. The older women in the church would cook for them, the kids from the church would play in the courtyard outside the jail cells; while Christian friends would bribe the prison guards so they could be locked in the cells overnight as well. To keep their imprisoned brothers and sisters company.

That’s counter-cultural!

Or look at the next paragraph. Counter-cultural worship in the area of VALUES. There’s nothing that shows a Christian as an outsider MORE/ than their attitude to SEX, and MONEY.

Which are more powerful forces than most of us probably like to admit. Sex and money have been the undoing of more lives and relationships and careers than you could start to imagine. The world says you can never get enough of either. And never be satisfied with what you’ve got.

And for Christians, in the areas of SEX, we’re going to be, very visibly, outsiders. Because these days, fidelity – marital faithfulness – is apparently a JOKE.

Spicks and Specks is a show I catch on TV sometimes. The music quiz on ABC. And they were talking about Jon Bon Jovi, the rock star. Who somebody mentioned had been happily and faithfully married to his high school sweetheart for something like 18 years.

And the thing that was striking was that everyone on the panel laughed. At how UNLIKELY it was that a rock star would stay faithful to his wife when he was surrounded by adoring and available female fans.

Well, fidelity might be unusual with rock stars… but for Christians, it’s one of our key distinctives. Because we know what a great GIFT marriage is. We know how BEAUTIFULLY God has designed our sexuality. And how much he HATES it when we misuse it. Take a look at verse 4.

4 Marriage should be honored by all, and THE MARRIAGE BED KEPT PURE, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.

I wonder if you’re struggling with that. Keep in mind that God DELIGHTS in pure sex. And no matter how much the world devalues marriage, God delights in it. And he’s going to judge adultery. And sexual immorality.

Honour marriage. VALUE it. Whether you’re married or not. But verse 5 says, whatever you do, don’t love your money.

You know, there’s always been a sort of a conventional wisdom that money can’t make you happy. But I heard the other day that new research has actually proved that it can. And apparently – this is true – apparently they’ve proved there’s a simple formula for the amount of money you’ve got to have for it to make you happy… whatever culture or country you in, whatever income you’ve got. The amount is… MORE THAN MOST OF YOUR FRIENDS.

University research has proved it. If you’ve got more money that most of your friends, it’s going to make you happy.

Which says just about all there is to say about human nature, doesn’t it?

Time to come outside the camp. Read verse 5.

5 Keep your lives FREE FROM THE LOVE OF MONEY, and BE CONTENT WITH WHAT YOU HAVE, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

If you’re saying that, you really are going to be very different. Being CONTENT. Because you trust that God is WITH you, providing, meeting your needs, working for your GOOD.

The whole advertising industry works on the understanding that people are NEVER content. They always want something new, or bigger, or faster, or better looking.

Be counter-cultural. Come outside the city. But you don’t need to join a hippy commune to do it. Be content with your salary, with your car, your house, your spouse.

And one final counter-cultural command. Something the world doesn’t do naturally. And, to be honest, it’s a bit hard for me to talk about. Because I’m pointing to myself.

But it’s there in v7 and again in v17 – so it’s got to be important. RESPECT YOUR LEADERS. Don’t put them down, or criticize them. Obey them. Support them. Back them up.

Have a look at v17

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

Submit to their authority. Because good leadership isn’t about building a personal empire. It’s not about what’s in the LEADER’S best-interests. But what’s best for the PEOPLE. See it there near the end? If you make a leader’s job a burden, that would be of NO ADVANTAGE TO YOU.

That’s what leaders are trying to do. To keep watch over you. To protect and guide and build-up. In fact, the word for “keeping watch” is literally “stay awake”, or “lose sleep”.

Your leaders are the ones who lose sleep over you. Who fret and fuss. Who will have to give an account before God of how they’ve treated their precious cargo.

So, make their job easy. Obey them. Listen. Support. Help. Encourage. Give feedback. Tell us how we can do it better.

Because your leaders DO lose sleep over you. They DO keep watch over you. And it IS a joy. It’s something they do because they LOVE it.

And when their work is a joy, it’s TO YOUR ADVANTAGE.

There’s a whole range of practical things you can be doing. Things which are acceptable sacrifices. Ways that you can be counter-cultural. That you can come out of the city, and bear the rejection Jesus bore.

Ultimate Acceptance

But our rejection won’t be forever. Because we ARE headed for ANOTHER city. A city where our disgrace will be over. Where instead of rejection, we’ll experience inclusion and intimacy and acceptance. Ultimate acceptance.

It’s an experience we’ll only know COMPLETELY into eternity. But it’s one we can begin to enjoy, one we can GLIMPSE, with each other at church, as we follow Jesus together. As we learn to love and accept each other.

Listen again to the wonderful words of Ch 12 v22. Describing the eternal city we’re coming to. Accepted by God, washed clean by Jesus, and accepted by his people. Gathered together for eternity.

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

Hebrews 13:20-21 Equipped with everything good

When COVID-19 first struck, one of the biggest problems was sourcing enough personal protective equipment, or PPE, especially for health care workers. (Do you remember how hard it was to buy face masks? It took a few months before manufacturing and distribution networks caught up with demand.) Now, we see EVERYONE wearing the proper equipment.

Being PROPERLY EQUIPPED. It’s important for health care workers. But it’s even MORE important for SPIRITUAL health care workers. That’s US. Seeking to bring Jesus’ cure for sin to an infected world. A world suffering under the effects of sin – something far worse than a virus.

There are dangers all around us. Risks of infection. We’re attacked with different priorities and moralities on all sides. In the media, in politics, in movies, from our friends and neighbours. A constant, nagging pressure to think and behave differently in relationships and business and personal ethics and decision-making.

The Christian needs to be PROPERLY EQUIPPED. In the language of Ephesians 6, there’s a BATTLE going on, and we better not be un-equipped, or even UNDER-equipped. It says

11 Put on the FULL ARMOR OF GOD so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is NOT against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.

It’s GOD’S armour. And he wants us wearing it. His armoury is fully stocked with the best equipment. Perfectly suited for the task. Fail proof, and effective.

And the writer to the Hebrews puts it like this in his closing words. Hebrews 13:21. “May the God of peace… EQUIP YOU WITH EVERYTHING GOOD FOR DOING HIS WILL.

It’s God’s WILL, and God’s PROMISE. That every believer be THOROUGHLY EQUIPPED to do what he wants us to do.

We’re going to think about what that means in THREE WAYS. Equipped BY, equipped WITH, and equipped FOR.

  1. Equipped BY

The God of peace

Firstly, equipped BY. Who’s doing the equipping? From v20. The God of PEACE. The God who IS peace, and who MAKES peace. It’s a phrase that summarises the way the whole book of Hebrews describes God.

Way back in Ch 1 v3. Through Jesus, God provides PURIFICATION FOR OUR SINS.

Or ch 4 v15 (as well as lots of other places). He’s provided Jesus, the great high priest, SO THAT WE MIGHT APPROACH THE THRONE OF GRACE WITH CONFIDENCE.

Flip over to Ch 7. v18. The old law was weak and useless. It couldn’t bridge the gap, so God SET IT ASIDE, and introduced a better hope by which we DRAW NEAR TO GOD. Removed a barrier, AND built a bridge. (He’s the God of peace.)

Or in Ch 8 v8. Quoting from Jeremiah 31. God LONGED for the time when he would make A NEW COVENANT, and write his laws on his people’s hearts. A time when he could be their God, and they could be his people. And that’s available for US, NOW.

We could go on. But you get the idea. Now jump back to Ch 13. Here at the end, the writer prays. “May the GOD OF PEACE equip you with everything good for doing his will”.

In other words, THIS is the God who wants to equip you. If he’s already done ALL THAT in THE PAST, you can have COMPLETE CONFIDENCE he’s going to equip you into the future.

Raised Jesus from dead

Let’s move on to the next aspect of who’s equipping us.

20 May the God of peace, WHO THROUGH THE BLOOD OF THE ETERNAL COVENANT BROUGHT BACK FROM THE DEAD OUR LORD JESUS,

A couple of ideas here. As we’ve already seen in Hebrews, God’s replaced a temporary, ineffective covenant with a PERMANENT, POWERFUL one. And he’s SEALED the contract with the blood of the perfect sacrifice, his Son Jesus. In other words, the God who wants to equip you is completely TRUSTWORTHY and RELIABLE. He’s written his promises IN BLOOD. Promises that can’t be undone.

And he’s also POWERFUL. He brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus. He RAISED him. And he’s now REIGNING WITH God. That’s the power at work in the equipment he supplies us with!

The Great shepherd of the sheep

And another aspect of what God’s like is that he’s COMPASSIONATE. The Jesus he raised from the dead is THE GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP.

The God who wants to equip us is the One who provided us with A GREAT SHEPHERD.

Which is just what we need. We’re wandering, dumb animals. Who easily get lost. Wander off the safe path. Who need a great shepherd. To lead us beside quiet waters, to lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, as Psalm 23 puts it. We need A GOOD shepherd, says Jesus in John 10:11 who LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE for his sheep.

That’s the sort of shepherd our COMPASSIONATE God has given us. 1 Peter 5:4 calls Jesus the CHIEF Shepherd. Which is great news for those of us who are UNDER shepherds. Who care for a small portion of God’s flock. We’ll never do the job as well as the CHIEF shepherd. We WILL fail, we WILL fall asleep on the job. And that’s because we’re SHEEP FIRST. (Sheep who need a SHEPHERD, TOO). But we have a GREAT shepherd over US, as well as over our flock.

The point of all these descriptions is THIS. The God who wants to equip you with everything good is not some fallible, mismanaged, under-funded, over-worked government department. But the powerful, trustworthy, compassionate God who paid the ultimate price to secure our peace.

  1. Equipped WITH

The second point. What are we equipped WITH? The word for equip has a few ideas connected with it. It can just mean to MAKE or FORM. God FORMED the world in Hebrews 11:3.

The word also has the idea of MENDING or RESTORING. In Matthew 4:21, the disciples are MENDING nets. EQUIPPING them for their original purpose. And in 1 Thessalonians 3:10 Paul wants to see his readers again so he can SUPPLY WHAT IS LACKING in their faith.

It’s why God gives gifts to the church in Ephesians 4:12, so that his people might be PREPARED for works of service. (Same word again). And that’s the idea here. That God equips us so that we might be COMPLETED, FILLED UP with what we’re lacking. And ready for his purpose.

So, what are we equipped WITH? The SHORT answer, from v21: “equipped with EVERYTHING GOOD FOR DOING HIS WILL.” In other words, whatever’s needed.

And perhaps the key to that is found in the verse before. God’s given us THE LORD JESUS, THAT GREAT SHEPHERD OF THE SHEEP. HE’S what we need in every situation.

His victory over sin and death means he has the full arsenal of weapons to deal with any situation. Whether it be the spiritual WEAPONS of Ephesians 6. Like faith, truth, righteousness, salvation, and the word of God. Or the spiritual GIFTS of Ephesians 4, or Romans 12. Like pastoring, evangelising, encouraging, leading, giving, or governing. All for building up God’s people. Or the spiritual FRUIT of Galatians 6. Like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, humility, self-control.

Jesus, our great shepherd of the sheep. Will PROVIDE for us, and PROTECT us, and LEAD us. He said THIS to his disciples in Luke 21:14. He warned they’d be persecuted, arrested, and brought to trial. Then he said.

14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 FOR I WILL GIVE YOU WORDS AND WISDOM that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

That’s a GREAT shepherd who provides for his sheep!

Jesus promised to equip us. (That he’ll give us WHATEVER we need, in whatever SITUATION we need to do his will). PAUL know that equipping. I wonder if you’ve ever EXPERIENCED that?

A few months after I’d started in ministry, I got a call from Blacktown hospital about 11 o’clock at night. I’d never been to the hospital, and done very little hospital visiting at all. The nurse said a guy was dying, and wanted a Presbyterian minister to visit. To be honest, I was trying to think of someone else to do it instead. But I agreed to go.

In the car on the way, I was praying for God’s help. I felt completely ill-equipped. I walked into the room at the hospital, still not knowing what I was going to do. The guy was still alive. His family was surrounding him, looking devastated. Everyone was looking at me, as if I had the tools to deal with the situation!

I don’t remember exactly what I said. But I introduced myself. I read a Psalm. I talked about the hope we have in death because of Jesus. And I prayed. Only took about ten minutes. And when we opened our eyes at the end of the prayer, the guy had just stopped breathing. Like he’d been waiting for that. It was quite extraordinary.

I don’t know what the outcome was for that guy, or for his family. But, somehow, I’d felt EQUIPPED for the TASK.

The feeling of not knowing what I’m going to do is a fairly common one for me in this job. And that’s OKAY. Because I DON’T have all the answers. I’m a sheep who needs a great Shepherd. On my own, I’ve got nothing. God promises to equip us with everything good for doing his will.

And to comfort a family, to point them to Jesus, and to pray with them – that’s God’s will. So he’ll equip me.

Or what about THIS? Your kids are growing up. Situations come up that you feel completely unequipped to deal with. Bullying, boyfriends, or alcohol. Driving, learning difficulties, or not wanting anything to do with Jesus anymore. No friends, or the wrong friends.

God promises to EQUIP you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s God’s WILL to raise your kids healthy, well-adjusted, and following Jesus. So he’ll EQUIP you for it. So look to him with trust. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or perhaps it’s ENDURING A DIFFICULT RELATIONSHIP. With a spouse who’s either cold, or hostile. Or judgmental parents or in-laws, who can never say a positive word to you. You feel like giving up. You just don’t have the STRENGTH any more.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to be faithful to your marriage vows. It’s his will to honour your parents. So he’ll equip you for it. So look to him with trust. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or perhaps you’ve been dreadfully HURT. Cut to the core. Someone’s BETRAYED you. And it’s just eating you up inside. And you just can’t imagine how you can love them. How you can move on.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to love your enemies. And to FORGIVE as you have been forgiven. His will for you to LIVE IN PEACE with everyone. So look to him. He’ll equip you for it. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself.

Or, let’s try one more. It’s been a shocker of a day at work. Deadlines missed, stuff-ups galore. Some major dummy spits. The drive home was a nightmare. You pull into the driveway. And the first thing you can hear are the arguments and screams. It sounds like the kids are tearing each other apart. You hope it’s next door. But no, it’s YOUR family. You can only imagine what state your wife is in. You feel like turning around and going straight back to work. You just don’t have the energy to cope. The tool kit’s empty.

But God promises to equip you with everything good for doing his will. And it’s his WILL for you to lead your family by serving them. To support your wife. To love them like Jesus. So look to him. He’ll equip you for it. ASK him. Pray these verses for yourself. Toughen up. Turn off the music, get out of the car, and get into it.

Working in us

But perhaps you think you just haven’t got the strength. Then listen up, because there’s more! Not only is God the God of peace who provides the great shepherd to guide and lead us. And who equips us with everything good for doing his will.

He works WITH us to achieve what’s pleasing to him. He doesn’t just hand out the equipment and leave us on our own. He’s the ENERGY SOURCE, the PARTNER and CO-WORKER, as well as the PROVIDER. See it there in v21?

God equips you with everything good for doing his will, WORKING IN US WHAT’S PLEASING TO HIM.

It actually repeats the same word for DOING. He equips US for DOING HIS WILL, then DOING IN US what’s pleasing to him.

There’s a COOPERATION, God AND us working together. To do what pleases him. But it’s not like riding a tandem bicycle. If God’s doing the pedalling, we can just put our feet up and enjoy the ride. No, when God is doing in us what’s pleasing to him, that should MOTIVATE us, EMPOWER and ENCOURAGE us, to work all the HARDER. Because there’s A POINT to it. REAL CHANGE is POSSIBLE. In yourself, and in the situations you’re working for.

Paul puts it like this in Colossians 1:29.

28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 TO THIS END I LABOR, STRUGGLING WITH ALL HIS ENERGY, WHICH SO POWERFULLY WORKS IN ME.

US working hard, BECAUSE we know God’s at work in us, making our work EFFECTIVE. That’s the sort of equipping we’re thinking about in these final verses in Hebrews.

  1. Equipped FOR… to give Jesus glory

Finally, let’s think about what we’ve been equipped FOR. Short answer. Obviously, it’s there in v21. We’ve been equipped with everything good FOR DOING HIS WILL. FOR WHAT’S PLEASING TO HIM. Which is all sorts of things. In all sorts of areas. In all sorts of ways. And we’ve thought about a few of them already.

But let me focus on just ONE ASPECT of what we’ve been equipped FOR. To give GLORY to Jesus. See it there at the end of v21?

through Jesus Christ, to whom BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. Amen.

God equips us with everything good. And works all these pleasing things in us THROUGH Jesus Christ, our great shepherd. (BECAUSE of him. At his initiation and by his authority.) AND SO ALL GLORY BELONGS TO HIM. FOREVER. That’s your PURPOSE in LIFE. (It’s why God elected you, called you, saved you, reconciled you.) It’s the goal of your church ministry, the goal of your work life, your family life, the goal of your marriage, your friendships. The goal of your education, your recreation, your retirement. It’s the purpose of your words, your actions, your thoughts. And, when you die, it’s what your purpose will be for all eternity. TO CAUSE ALL GLORY TO BELONG TO JESUS.

In one glorious sentence in Ephesians 1, from v3 to 14, Paul paints a huge picture of the meaning of life. What we’re here for. V5 of Eph 1. God predestined us to be adopted as his sons TO THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORIOUS GRACE. Or down to v10. Actually still the same sentence in Greek. The mystery of his will is TO BRING ALL THINGS TOGETHER UNDER THE HEADSHIP OF Jesus. In other words, that everything might give JESUS ALONE all the honour and glory. Or finally, down in v12. We were chosen so that we MIGHT BE FOR THE PRAISE OF HIS GLORY.

That’s what God’s equipped you FOR. For the praise of his glory.

Is that what you’re DOING? Are people looking at YOUR LIFE, and saying “Praise Jesus for what he’s doing in … David’s life! How GOOD is Jesus!? How powerful, and precious, and lovely, and gracious and forgiving, and loving?!”

Let me send you out into this week with THAT GOAL in mind.

20 May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, 21 equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, TO WHOM BE GLORY FOR EVER AND EVER. AMEN.