Hebrews 13:1-6

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Hebrews 13

Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”

 When I was a kid I heard a pastor pass along a story that Dwight L. Moody shared during his amazing ministry in the 19thcentury in Chicago.

In Chicago a few years ago a little boy attended a Sun­day school I know of. When his parents moved to another part of the city the little fellow still attended the same Sunday school, although it meant a long, tiresome walk each way. A friend asked him why he went so far, and told him that there were plenty of others just as good nearer his home.

“They may be as good for others, but not for me,” was his reply.

“Why not?” she asked.

“Because they love a fellow over there,” he replied.

I heard that a long time ago and I have never forgotten it: “Because they love a fellow over there.” And I think the reason I have remembered this is not the quaint phrasing of it—“Because they love a fellow over there.”—but because it is so self-evidently true.

When the church demonstrates the love of Christ, the church has the power of God in its midst.

We are most like Christ when we love, and the love of Christ draws people in.

It is telling indeed that as the writer of Hebrew begins His letter’s conclusion He offers a number of challenges, a number of charges, a number of commissions. And the first of these is the commission to love.

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Matthew 18:21-35

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Matthew 18:21-35

21 Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” 22 Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. 23 “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. 24 When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. 25 And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. 26 So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ 27 And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. 28 But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ 29 So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ 30 He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. 31 When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. 32 Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. 33 And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ 34 And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. 35 So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”

I have mentioned before Peter Mommsen’s beautiful book about his grandfather, J. Heinrich Arnold, one of the leaders of the Bruderhof Christian communities before his passing. The book is entitled Homage to a Broken Man: The Life of J. Heinrich Arnold – A true story of faith, forgiveness, sacrifice, and community. Mommsen writes of his grandfather:

Trust was an article of faith for him. Newcomers and old-timers alike sometimes shook their heads at his endless insistence on forgiving. Why, after such and such a person had stabbed him in the back time after time, did he insist on trusting him yet again? It went against all common sense. But Heiner saw it differently. As he once explained to Christoph, “I would much rather trust and be betrayed a thousand times than live in mistrust for a single day.”[1]

This is most interesting, is it not? I wonder if we too would consider this constant posture of forgiveness as unwise? And yet there is something very gospel about lavish forgiveness.

In our text, Peter comes to Jesus to discuss the matter. How much should we forgive? Jesus’ response is powerful and convicting and perspective-bringing. He tells him a story about a forgiven man refusing to forgive, and about the judgment that such haughtiness invites.

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Hebrews 12:18-29

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Hebrews 12:18-29

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

 

A friend recently told me something that I cannot stop thinking about. Sadly, I have heard this kind of thing before and I would be willing to wager you have too. But I keep thinking about this, perhaps because I have met this child before.

A lifelong friend and his wife have recently taken in a young relative, a young girl. They took her into their home out of a highly dysfunctional situation involving drugs and neglect. My friend was telling me about the little girl’s attempts to adapt to a normal home life having come out of a home of drug abuse and neglect. My friend shared with me that after a few nights in her new home it occurred to my friend and his wife that the child was taking food from the kitchen and hiding it in her bedroom.

The reason for this is obvious enough. All she knew was want and a terrifying uncertainty about one of the basic needs of life: food. Never having lived in a supportive and healthy home, the child could not conceive of the goodness of her new reality, namely, that the she would not be neglected, that she would not go to bed hungry, that she would never again have to wonder if there would be food tomorrow.

It is hard to imagine the better thing when all you have known is fear. Fear is a powerfully debilitating force and it walks hand in hand with uncertainty, with unknowing.

“We fear things in proportion to our ignorance of them,” said Livy. H.P. Lovecraft agreed: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” This is true.

The writer of Hebrews is beginning to approach the end of his amazing letter. He has one more chapter after this one and we can feel him pulling the ties together here in the second half of chapter 12. And what he wants the people of God to know—indeed, what he needs for them to understand—is that in Christ we have a better home: a better sacrifice, a better priest, a better deliverer, a better covenant, and a better understanding of the nature of God.

Let us be careful: Jesus did not come to say we have a better God! Perish the thought! The Father of Jesus is the God of the Old Testament. God has not changed. God was as compassionate and loving in Genesis as He is in Revelation and God is as awe-inspiring and wrathful in Revelation as He is in Genesis. God has not changed.

But our experience of God, and our understanding of God, and the means employed to reveal God are greater and better now that Jesus has come. We have more light, so we need not fear.

We need not hide food in the bedroom just in case our Father turns out to be evil. No, that is not how the Kingdom works and that is not who our great God is! We must understand this, so we must heed carefully the words of this amazing chapter.

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Hebrews 12:1-17

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Hebrews 12:1-17

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness.11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

I do so love the “Just for Laughs” show out of Canada. Sometimes it is a bit much, granted, but sometimes it is just side-splittingly funny. Basically, it is a show of gags and pranks in which unsuspecting people find themselves in crazy or strange or scary circumstances that have been orchestrated by the producers in the show. There is a recurring cast of characters who are “in the know” and they lead these poor folks into and through the funniest of scenarios. The reactions of the victims of the pranks are the greatest!

One of my favorites is the prank pulled on bicyclers. Hidden cameras capture citizens casually riding their bikes down sidewalks. After they pass a U-Haul truck parked to the side, the back of the truck opens and a number of fully-decked-out and geared-up bicyclists come out of the truck, down the ramp, and up behind the person riding his or her back. That person then looks behind and realizes to his or her great shock that they appear to be in a race with this pack of cyclists closing on them. Their reactions are great: shock, horror, confusion, peddling faster! Then, as if that is not enough, a finish line complete with cheering crowd and line ribbon appears before them! They all pass the line and win the “race,” only to be applauded and cheered by the raucous crowd. Then, to top it all off, they are ushered to the first place spot on the platform, given flowers, a medal, and a kiss, all the while being photographed.

You can see the look of panic in their eyes. They are all saying variations of the same thing: “I am not in this race! I did not win any race! I do not know what just happened! What on earth just happened?!

It must be a surreal experience to find oneself in a race that one did not realize he or she was a part of! Such was the experience of those tricked on this show and such too, if we are honest, are some of us. For Hebrews 12 tells us that we actually are in a race, whether we realize it or not, and that we had better come to terms with this fact so that we can be all that God has called us to be!

Yes, it is true! We are in a race, and, like all great races, this means we have an audience, we have a finish line, we have training, and we have a coach.

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Matthew 18:15-20

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Matthew 18:15-20

15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

I used to enjoy reading the old minutes of the last church I pastored. They were full of fascinating characters and stories! Consider Hiram Wadsworth, who joined the First Baptist Church of Dawson, Georgia, on the first Saturday of November 1849, by transfer of letter. The minutes would go on to reveal that Mr. Wadsworth apparently struggled with alcohol and was repeatedly summoned before the church to answer for his behavior in the community.

In fact, Hiram Wadsworth was called to stand before the church and answer for his conduct on February 1852, November 1852, May 3, 1856, March 1857. These repeated summons to Mr. Wadsworth will sound alien to our foreign ears, and we might think that such actions were harsh on behalf of the church. However, in the minds of these Baptist Christians from long ago, the name of Christ and the witness of the church was at stake when a member lived an ungodly life. Furthermore, the church’s intentions become clear when we read on and see the verdict of the church once Mr. Wadsworth repented of his actions:

Date                Offense            Offender’s Response        Church’s Response

Feb. 1852        intoxication      repentance                            “forgiven”

Nov. 1852       intoxication      repentance                            “forgiven”

May 1856        intoxication      repentance                            “forgiven”

Mar. 1857       intoxication      repentance                            “forgiven”

This sounds so strange to us, does it not? What were these earlier Christians up to? What is this? They referred to this as “church discipline” and they looked to our text as the key text that led them through this process.

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Hebrews 11

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Hebrews 11

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself received power to conceive, even when she was past the age, since she considered him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born descendants as many as the stars of heaven and as many as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. 14 For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. 15 If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. 16 But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city. 17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was in the act of offering up his only son, 18 of whom it was said, “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” 19 He considered that God was able even to raise him from the dead, from which, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back. 20 By faith Isaac invoked future blessings on Jacob and Esau. 21 By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. 22 By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones. 23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them. 29 By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. 30 By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. 31 By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies. 32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35 Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. 36 Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— 38 of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. 39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

“Faith” is one of those words that is part of church culture but also very much a part of secular culture as well. It is ubiquitous in inspirational media, religious or not, and it frequently shows up in the culture detached from any explicitly Christian moorings. One famous example would be George Michael’s 1987 song, “Faith,” with its catchy chorus:

‘Cause I gotta have faith
I gotta’ have faith
Because I gotta have faith, faith, faith
I got to have faith, faith, faith

That is a lot of faith, and, yet, that song quite clearly has nothing to do with the biblical idea. One might even say that our culture appears to have faith…in faith! And that is basically meaningless.

What is faith? And what is the proper object of faith? And why does it matter?

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Matthew 18:10-14

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Matthew 18:10-14

10 “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels always see the face of my Father who is in heaven. 12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13 And if he finds it, truly, I say to you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14 So it is not the will of my Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.

A month or so back I saw a seminary president online announcing the Fall chapel lineup for their school. He announced with pleasure how happy the school was to have so many “leading pastors” in the nation coming to speak. Last year a pastor friend of mind heard one pastor speak of another pastor as “a high impact leader.” And just recently I heard two larger church pastors speaking of another pastor as being “a small church” pastor and “unsophisticated.”

This is just a brief list off the top of my head. Examples could be multiplied considerably.

It is interesting, is it not, these power words we use?

Sophisticated.

Leading.

High impact.

Heard charitably, I suppose it might be a kind of compliment to those being discussed. And yet, I wonder. What is this check in many of our guts at this kind of language, these kinds of descriptors? I would propose that this check in our guts has to do with the way Jesus spoke about the Kingdom. His words sounded very different from these.

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Matthew 18:1-6

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Matthew 18

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Psychologist Paul T.P. Wong has listed three “hindrances to humility” in his article, “I’m glad that I’m a nobody: A positive psychology of humility.”

Competition is clearly the No.1 hindrance. Humility is probably the most difficult virtue to achieve, mostly because egotistic pride works so much better than humility in a competitive society. Think of all the star players in major-league sports; how many really stand out as a good role model of personal humility?

Success is another hindrance. Feeling good about success can easily lapse into pride, especially when others heap praises on you. Pastor Brett has this to say about the temptation of pride: “Of all the problems Pastors face, this is one of the hardest. On the one hand, you have to completely die to yourself and be a humble servant, and on the other you feel God’s power flow through you and experience His inspiration and begin to feel like God uses you because you are special. This is where pride sneaks in and your head begins to swell.”

Thirdly, even reflecting on one’s own humility can be a hindrance. Humility thrives only when one’s attention is directed away from it towards serving others. It withers away whenever attention is directed toward its presence. When I congratulate myself for making progress in humility, or when “I thank my God for my humility” (Shakespeare), I actually hinder its development.[1]

In many ways Wong’s three hindrances to humility are all present in the audacious question some of the disciples ask Jesus in Matthew 18:1. In response, Jesus uses the occasion to attack arrogance and point out what true greatness looks like. He defines greatness, tellingly, in terms of humility.

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Hebrews 10:19-39

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Hebrews 10:19-39

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. 26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

I would like to speak to the Christian who is in a rut, who is stuck, who believes but who feels very little joy about believing. I would like to speak to the Christian who is caught in a kind of spiritual depression, the Christian for whom his or her devotions are either nonexistent or minimal or are done purely by force of habit. I would like to speak to the non-attending Christian. You know the Lord but you feel very little pull to gather with the assembled body. I would like to speak to the Christian who does attend, who is present in body but absent in mind. I would like to speak to the distracted Christian, the Christian of bad attitude, the complaining Christian, the Christian who is lost his or her joy.

And I would like to ask you a question: do you remember what it used to be like, what you used to be like? Do you remember when you were first born again, when you came to know Christ, when the church was a privilege to associate with and to minister within?

I ask this because the writer of Hebrews asks his readers something very similar. He wants them to stop and remember what it used to be like, what they used to be like. We begin at the ending of our passage, with verse 32 and following.

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; 38 but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” 39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

The author encourages the readers to remember, to recall, to return to what they were. Now to the beginning of our passage. For a few pretty heavy and amazing chapters the writer of Hebrews has been laying out in great detail and with beautiful arguments a case for the greatness of the person of Jesus and the work of Jesus: who is He and what He has done! In verses 19-21 he gives us his brief summary:

19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God

Now, he turns to the church and tells them why all of this matters.

Draw near!

Hold Fast!

Stir one another up!

Meet together!

Encourage one another!

These five exhortations are given to Christians who need to remember and who need to be restored to the joy of their salvation!

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Hebrews 10:1-18

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Hebrews 10:1-18

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” 17 then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Ron Sider died this week, on Wednesday, July 27. He was an interesting and, at times, controversial theologian. His best-known book is Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger in which he attacks materialism and indifference toward the poor among Christians. It is a fascinating book. However, I was most struck by his 2005 work, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like the Rest of the World?. As the title suggests, in this book he takes a close look at the moral and ethical lives of self-professing believers. What he finds is troubling to say the least. That book begins like this:

Once upon a time there was a great religion that over the centuries had spread all over the world. But in those lands where it had existed for the longest time, its adherents slowly grew complacent, lukewarm, and skeptical. Indeed, many of the leaders of its oldest groups even publicly rejected some of the religion’s most basic beliefs.

In response, a renewal movement emerged, passionately championing the historic claims of the old religion and eagerly inviting unbelievers everywhere to embrace the ancient faith. Rejecting the skepticism of leaders who no longer believed in a God who works miracles, members of the renewal movement vigorously argued that their God not only had performed miraculous deeds in the past but still miraculously transforms all who believe. Indeed, a radical, miraculous “new birth” that began a lifetime of sweeping moral renewal and transformation was at the center of their preaching. Over time, the renewal movement flourished to the point of becoming one of the most influential wings of the whole religion…

Then the pollsters started conducting scientific polls of the general population. In spite of the renewal movement’s proud claims to miraculous transformation, the polls showed that members of the movement divorced their spouses just as often as their secular neighbors. They beat their wives as often as their neighbors. They were almost as materialistic and even more racist than their pagan friends. The hard-core skeptics smiled in cynical amusement at this blatant hypocrisy. The general population was puzzled and disgusted. Many of the renewal movement’s leaders simply stepped up the tempo of their now enormously successful, highly sophisticated promotional programs. Others wept.

This, alas, is roughly the situation of Western or at least American evangelicalism today.[1]

Church, the crisis of our day is a crisis in the area of sanctification. What is sanctification? Let me offer two definitions. First, Grant Osborne and George Guthrie define it like this:

Sanctification is the process by which we step by step become more like Christ, and this is a “perfect process” and goal for the Christian life.[2]

F.F. Bruce writes:

The sanctification which his people receive in consequence is their inward cleansing from sin and their being made fit for the presence of God, so that henceforth they can offer him acceptable worship.[3]

I might put it like this: sanctification is our journey toward becoming perfectly holy.

Does that trouble you? “Perfectly holy”? I wonder why it does? Surely perfection must be our goal, no? Jesus, in Matthew 5, plainly says:

48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

So we “must be perfect.” Note that I defined sanctification as “our journey toward” perfection. Yes, we are beset by sin and the weakness of the flesh, but when is the last time you reminded yourself that the end goal of the Christian life is union with Christ in perfect holiness?

Hebrews 10 is going to argue for sanctification, but it does so in interesting ways. Above all, however, it links our sanctification to the cross of Christ. The question, then, is not, “What must I do to be sanctified?” No, the first question is, “What has Christ accomplished for us on the cross?” If we get that wrong, then any other conversation about sanctification, about holiness, about becoming like Jesus, is doomed to be misguided.

The first nine verses are essentially a restatement of the previous few chapters in which the author has argued for both the superiority of Jesus and the superiority of the sacrifice that Jesus offered on the cross.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second.

In verses 10-18, however, he gives further insight into what exactly was accomplished on the cross of Christ.

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