Sunday Sermon Notes: June 9, 2019

Title: For as Long as it is Called ‘Today’

Text: Hebrews 3

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.  But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

Hebrews 3:1-6

Chapter 3 begins with a summing up from the previous chapter: Fix your thoughts on Jesus!  We acknowledge Him as our “apostle and high priest.” The next sentence is the transition to a comparison between Jesus and Moses…

“Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses” which really sets Jesus apart as an important figure in the Jewish mindset, for apart from Abraham, nobody would have been considered greater than Moses.  “Just as the builder of a house is greater than the house itself” is the comparison between the two. In saying that Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s house, but God is the owner of the house, and Jesus is the owner’s Son and Heir; Moses was working for Him. Thus, Jesus is far greater than Moses.  While Jesus is “over” God’s house, and Moses was a servant in God’s house, we are God’s house, if  “we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.”

Moses served in God’s house. We are God’s house.

Once again, we see a stark contrast between the relationship of Old Testament Israel and God, and the New Testament Church and God; the two are profoundly different.  Israel consisted of God’s covenant people, His Nation on earth.  He was their God and they were His people.  They did not, however have eternal life, the removal of sins or a direct relationship with God.  Christians have these things and more, because while the Israelites were born into their covenant as a function of biology, we are born again into a covenant relationship as a function of the life force of the Holy Spirit within us, and as a result, we are not just His people, but His children, whom Jesus calls brothers; Israel was God’s people, we are God’s family.

This is great news indeed, and I hope you are filled with joy at the thought… BUT… this is very much a conditional statement, for there is a great big IF in the middle of it. Depending on your doctrinal positions, you might start feeling a little uneasy right about now, but I would encourage you to recognize that this is not simply “Don’s crazy thinking” here, for you might have noticed that the rest of the chapter is another warning… and I’m not making that up, obviously.  Of course, you are free to see things differently than I do.

The IF is this: …if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory. What is this hope in which we glory business?  Does he mean just a hopefulness about things in general, or does this specifically refer to something?  Jesus is our hope for glory; our author is making remaining faithful as followers of Jesus a condition for the promises.  In the verses that follow, which will be our next subject, you will see that our author cites examples from the Old Testament that back this up, so if this statement of mine seems unsettling to you, I sure hope you’ll read on…

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 wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
 That is why I was angry with that generation;
    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.’ 

Hebrews 3:7-11; cf Psalm 95:7-11

As we begin, we need to recall that this is an expansion on the conditional statement in verse 6: “And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Heb. 3:6b)

These verses taken from Psalm 95 recount the experience of the people in the wilderness.  You’ll remember that they kept trying God’s patience, complaining, rebelling and being disobedient in the extreme, and of all those who were saved out of Egypt, only two of them were allowed to enter the rest, the Promised Land. Not even Moses was permitted to enter into it; they all perished in the wilderness.  God had promised to deliver Abraham’s descendants out of Egypt, which He did, and into the Promised Land, which He did, even though of the ones who left Egypt, all save 2 died en route.  Yet a vast number did enter the Land, but they were born during the 40 years between the exodus from Egypt and the entry into the Land, and thus we can see that God’s promise to Abraham was unconditional for the group called the descendants of Abraham, but conditional to the individuals within the group. God kept His promise to the Israelites in the Wilderness, in spite of the fact that most of them turned their backs on Him and never entered… see how this worked?

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”

Hebrews 3:12-15

As our attention is turned back to the “here and now” the author issues a challenge to his readers.  They are to “see to it” that they aren’t led to turn their backs on God.  Instead, they are told to “encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today'”.  As I read it, this reference to “Today” tells us that this is a command that is not just for the recipients of the letter, but for all generations until Jesus returns: Encourage one another daily, lest any should fall away from their faith!  This seems to harmonize nicely with the injunction that we love one another, don’t you think?  How can we love one another and not encourage and help our brother or sister in times of trial and testing?

With that warm and cheerful mental image of love, encouragement and community, the author drops another conditional statement: We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. “Share in Christ” refers to all that we have attained in Him: Salvation, forgiveness, freedom, joy, hope, peace, sonship, eternal life, God’s family, co-heirs… all of it… IF… we hold onto our faith until the “very end.”  Then, he repeats the warning from the Psalm…

 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

Hebrews 3:16-19

Hold on to your faith until the very end!  This is the clear message for both his original recipients in Nero’s Rome, undergoing persecution often unto death, and it is also the clear message to us today.  The various theologies might dispute what the alternative is, but all agree that we must hold on to our faith.

By now, three chapters into Hebrews, you should see the pattern: Something wonderful, followed by a warning, and then something wonderful…  What an amazing letter!  I hope you’ll also be seeing that it is not a theoretical kind of book, it is real, living and alive with vitality, the kind of life and vitality that can change a person’s outlook on life itself.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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