HYMN Who would true valour see
Who would true valour see
Let him come hither;
One here will constant be,
Come wind, come weather
There’s no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim.”
“Whoso beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound;
His strength the more is.
No lion can him fright,
He’ll with a giant fight,
He will have a right
To be a pilgrim.”
“Hobgoblin nor foul fiend
Can daunt his spirit,
He knows he at the end
Shall life inherit.
Then fancies fly away,
He’ll fear not what men say,
He’ll labor night and day
To be a pilgrim.”
READING Hebrews 5:11 – 6:20
11 We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 12 In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! 13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
6 Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2 instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And God permitting, we will do so.
4 It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age 6 and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7 Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8 But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.
9 Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case—the things that have to do with salvation. 10 God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. 11 We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realised.
12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
The Certainty of God’s Promise
13 When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.
16 People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 17 Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.
SERMON 6 Warning, Problem and Solution
5:11- 6:3 Logically, the writer should press on with further explanation of the priestly ‘order of Melchizedek’ but he is aware of the mental and spiritual lethargy of some of his readers, so he breaks off to address this serious problem of immature spiritual development (5:11).
The author dives straight in by claiming that the readers have been Christians for some time and ought to be teachers by this stage. The reality is that they really need to begin with the ABC of their theological thinking and spiritual understanding of the basics. They are still at the ‘milk’ stage, not the ‘solid food’ stage! (5:12-13)
These readers had settled down in their Christian lives, aware that growing in their faith would involve a deeper, and more costly, separation from their past lives and Jewish or other religious upbringing, especially perhaps the fact that the old order of priesthood and sacrifice was no longer valid.
Only those who are growing in the ‘word of righteousness’ will gain the knowledge and understanding to make moral judgments and exercise spiritual wisdom (5:14).
Some of these readers had stagnated and got stuck in the faith! It is also true of course that the teaching on the passing away of the old order might well have been unacceptable to some of these Jewish believers and that would have been another stumbling block on their road to maturity. We all face intellectual, moral and personal blockages that stop us from going forward.
Having told his readers that they are not yet ready for solid food, the author of the letter now surprises his ‘audience’ and ourselves by proposing to move on from the basics! Into the heavier stuff!
Strange that he now says ‘therefore’ in 6:1, rather than ‘nevertheless’! Like ourselves at times, these believers probably needed a jolt out of their complacency, by being given a fresh vision of the sheer extent of the glory of Christ.
Basically, they needed to be exposed to the love of Christ in His high priesthood and simply be blown away by it in their own lives!! In 6:1-3 our writer lists 3 pairs of issues that he does NOT want to re-visit at this point. He seems to start from a Jewish foundation and builds Christian Theology.
- a)Repentance From Dead Works/Faith Towards God. This could well include a list of all the evil ways of death featured in the Didache like adultery, idolatry, hypocrisy, envy and pride, to mention just a few. Repentance from these was vital (Rom 6:21; Mk 1:15) and it was tightly linked into faith, of which these believers had a substantial knowledge from their understanding of the OT (Gen 15:6; Hab 2:4; Isa 7:9).
- b)Teaching Of Baptisms/Laying On Of Hands. These were probably ceremonial washings carried out by groups of nonconformist Jewish groups, common in Rome and challenged here as invalid. Imposition of hands was probably understood here as imparting the Spirit.
- c)Resurrection Of The Dead/Eternal Judgment. The Pharisees held this doctrine from OT times with regard to Israel’s ancestral hope would be realised. The Jews had accepted the reality of God’s judgment (Gen 18:25; Isa 33:22; Dan 7:9ff). In NT terms, Christ will be the Judge of all.
If converts from paganism gave up Christianity and returned to paganism, it would be a clearly visible break BUT if a ‘Hebrew’ slid away from Christianity, he or she could slowly abandon the Christian elements of their faith but still hold on to the Jewish foundations listed in 6:1-2 and deceive themselves that they were truly growing in Christ when in fact they weren’t.
The writer thus sees no point in repeatedly stressing the basic Jewish foundation points in 6:1-2. He therefore goes on to the serious material on high priesthood and looks for Christ to work!
6:4-8 The Danger Of Falling Away – The writer now explains why there is no point in laying the foundation all over again, namely because apostasy is incapable of remedy. It is impossible to cure or put right. Those who persevere prove themselves to be the true people of God.
People who have shared the covenant privileges of God’s people, then reject and renounce them, are the hardest people to reclaim for the faith. It is true that nothing is impossible for the Lord to accomplish by the power of His Spirit.
This passage is not about nominal adherents to the Christian faith who have never known its power in their lives. This concerns those who know where the truth lies and over a period of time, they follow the faith but then for some reason renounce it. Thus, the seed that fell on rocky ground produced a believer who grew for a while but under testing, then fell away.
These are folk who have
- a)‘been enlightened’ – i.e. the light of the gospel has impacted their lives and they may well have been baptised. To reject the gospel now would be to sin against the light of God and as such, by its very definition, there would be no way back! It would be an incurable sin.
- b)‘tasted the heavenly gift’ – this could be a reference to the Lord’s Supper or might be a wider compass of all the spiritual benefits and blessings signified in, and resulting from, eating the Lord’s Supper.
- c)‘partaken of the Holy Spirit’ – some scholars have tried to argue that the writer here means partaking of the gifts of the Spirit rather than the actual Person of the Holy Spirit, but that cannot be proved from the text. Some claim that it is impossible for a genuine ‘partaker’ of the Spirit to subsequently commit apostasy. The writer to the Hebrews does however seem to believe that it is possible in this way to ‘insult the spirit of grace’ (10:29) eg Simon Magus was stated by Peter as being still ‘full of bitterness and captive to sin’ (Acts 8:23), as is evidenced in following decades by his continuing opposition to the gospel. This does raise the question of ‘In what way, and to what extent, had he partaken of the Holy Spirit?’
- d) ‘tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age’ – Simon Magus HAD realised how good the word was when spoken by Philip and saw God’s signs at work – see Matt 12:28 – authenticated and acknowledged by Christ Himself, but Jesus also warned that some had claimed to prophesy and exorcise demons in His name but they never knew Him – see Matt 7:22f. Ultimately only the Lord knows who truly belongs to Him!
This warning was a very real warning against a very real danger, as long as there are ‘evil hearts of unbelief’ around that can cause us to turn away from the living God (3:12). In 6:6, the writer recalls that those who crucified Christ also refused to accept Him as the Son of God, exposing Him to deep, public humiliation and crucifixion. There were and are Christians who in effect place themselves in the same position of the willful sin of deliberate apostasy. Their rejection of this salvation leaves possible no other salvation. Some will reach a point at which they can no longer repent, following their continual and implicit crucifying of Jesus. No way back! 6: 7-8 stress that fruit will come by endurance, but some land has no yield at all.
6:9-20 The Writer’s Confidence And Hope – Such was the appearance of the fruits of righteousness in these readers’ lives in the form of acts of service for their fellow-Christians, that the writer felt sure they were not actual, or even potential, apostates (see the evidence in 10:32-34). Only here in the letter does he confidently write to them as ‘my dear friends’ (6:9). God regards such acts of kindness as having been done to God Himself (6:10). Indeed, these acts need to be continued right to the end, showing that Christian works do indeed hold a place along the road of perseverance that confirms them as heirs of salvation (6:11-12).
Our writer now presses his point (6:13-15) that the heirs of Abraham are those who have responded to the gospel, rooted in Abraham’s own experience, namely that ‘he believed the Lord and He reckoned it to him for righteousness’ (Gen 15:6, quoted in Rom 4:3; Gal 3:6).
The key point is that Abraham and his spiritual descendants persevered to the end, thereby confirming the reality of their faith and their hope. The writer recognises God’s faithfulness to His promise to Abraham but also to His promise regarding the high priesthood of Melchizedek.
Abraham waited patiently – so must we! Abraham believed God and eventually, against all the odds, Isaac was born with the confirmation that God’s ultimate but distant promise for all his descendants would indeed be fulfilled. This was even confirmed with an oath, sworn by God Himself, after the offering up of the life of Isaac (6:16-17).
God’s promise to Abraham by an oath helps the readers of this letter to realise the enormity of God’s oath to use the Melchizedek high priesthood to fulfill His divine purposes (Ps 110:4). Only God knows what He will do. His word alone is sufficient, but God swears an oath to give us double assurance – this is grace upon grace. This oath was fulfilled in the glorious gospel of Christ!
This great and strong encouragement is intended for US (6:18-20) and because it is impossible for God to lie, we have His promise and His confirming oath. The ‘double glazing’ of complete assurance in these twin anchors of hope. Our hope is absolutely anchored to the One who is now behind that thick curtain behind which the Christ has entered as our Great High Priest to deliver for us an eternal salvation by the shedding of His own blood.
He it is who will intercede for His Church for ever and His purposes can never be thwarted, even in the midst of a passing, crumbling and dying world that yields no hope of its own.
Our writer is now ready to proceed from where he left off in 5:11. He is ready to declare the utter marvel of the Melchizedek priesthood, however tough it may be for some of his readers to understand, because it is by this route that the writer will lead his people to a maturity of their Christian faith and Christian life. This author is following a very definite agenda in his letter to take the believers to that place that he knows God wants them to be, both at that point in history and by perseverance to the end of their journey. Such is also God’s intended purpose for us as believers living in 2022.
Hymn Courage, brother, do not stumble
- 1.Courage, brother, do not stumble,
Though thy path be dark as night;
There’s a star to guide the humble:
Trust in God and do the right.
Let the road be rough and dreary,
And its end far out of sight,
Foot it bravely; strong or weary,
Trust in God, trust in God,
Trust in God and do the right.
- 2.Perish policy and cunning,
Perish all that fears the light!
Whether losing, whether winning,
Trust in God and do the right.
Trust no party, sect, or faction;
Trust no leaders in the fight;
Put in every word or action,
- 3.Some will hate thee, some will love thee,
Some will flatter, some will slight;
Cease from man, and look above thee:
Trust in God and do the right.
Simple rule, and safest guiding,
Inward peace and inward might,
Star upon our path abiding,