Endurance Training (Hebrews 12:3-29)

It’s easy to start something. It’s easy to quit something. What is difficult is continuing something. For example, it is easy to start a diet. It is easy to quit a diet. What is difficult is continuing a diet. Here is another example, it is easy to join a gym. It is easy to quit a gym. What is difficult is continuing to go to the gym. When it comes to our Christian life, we are counseled in Hebrews 12:1 to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” As we have learned in our last few sermons in Hebrews: Those who are truly born again endure to the end because they are preserved to the end. Genuine Christians who are born again and have the Spirit of God within them will endure as God preserves us through various means. What are some aspects of God’s endurance training? Let us discuss this further.

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Accept God’s Discipline (12:3-11)

The first aspect of God’s endurance training is His loving discipline. We must remember that God loves us and wants us to honor Him in all things. Because God loves us, He is a firm believer in corrective, redemptive discipline. We should “not take the Lord’s discipline lightly or lose heart when you are reproved by Him” (Heb 12:5). Proverbs 3:11-12 says, “My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, nor detest His correction; for whom the Lord loves He corrects just as a father the son in whom he delights.” The Lord disciplines those whom He loves and His discipline “yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb 12:11). 

How does God discipline His children? Like a loving parent, God disciplines us through: 1) conviction of sin – John 16:8, 2) kindness – Romans 2:4, and 3) trials – James 1:2-3. God’s discipline is never done in anger, always done in love and produces obedience and understanding, removes foolishness and helps us revere and worship Him. Christians need to be attentive to God’s voice and accept His correction as good for our souls.

Pursue Peace with All (12:12-17)

The second aspect of God’s endurance training is through our relationships. We must understand the importance of healthy and appropriate relationships. We have a relationship with God and we have a relationship with ourselves, but God knows that another key component of godliness is that it needs to be developed in relationships with one another. God puts us in relationships so that we learn to pursue peace and avoid bitterness and resentment. We are told to “pursue peace with everyone, and holiness–without it no one will see the Lord” (Heb 12:14). We are to live peaceably with everyone (Rom 12:18) and look after one another (Phil 2:4). 

As we look to the needs of others, we are being trained in endurance. Jesus said “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). Charles Dickens once said, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” As we live at peace we fight against bitterness that leads to sin. One of the burdens placed upon the local church is to care for one another. Hebrews 12:15 says we must be “looking diligently lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb 12:15). Christians need to be attentive to serving and loving those around us.

Remember the Destination (12:18-24)

The third aspect of God’s endurance training is to remind us of our promised destination. We must remember where God is taking us. Our destination is the new heavens and the new earth. When Moses and the Israelites came to Mt. Sinai they were prohibited from coming closer lest they die. Moses said, “I am exceedingly afraid and trembling” (Deut 9:19, Heb 12:21). Everyone was terrified and afraid. In contrast to this scene, we:

have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel (Heb 12:22-24). 

Christians are being trained to endure through remembering our eternal destination is with God. As we keep the end in mind and remember its certainty, we can endure in this life.

Hear the Heavenly Voice (12:25-29)

The fourth aspect of God’s endurance training is His encouraging voice. We must listen closely to the heavenly voice so that we may “serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” This is the fifth warning passage in Hebrews and it is a call for us to “not refuse Him who speaks” (Heb 12:25). We learned in Hebrews 5:11 that we must not become “dull of hearing.” If we refuse to hear God’s voice we shall not escape from Him “who is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). 

The God who shook the earth will not only shake the earth but also heaven (Hag 2:6, Heb 12:26). This is terrifying and encouraging. It is terrifying for the unbeliever because when God shakes the heavens and the earth they will be damned. It is encouraging for the believer because we cling to Jesus who cannot be shaken. Therefore all that is unreliable and unstable (e.g., house built on sand – Matt 7:26) will be shaken and destroyed. The writer of Hebrews concludes with this: “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear” (Heb 12:28). 

Run the Race (Hebrews 11:39-12:2)

Many times in the Bible the daily life of a Christian is referred to as a walk. For example, in Colossians 1:10 we are told to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord.” Ephesians 4:1 also says, “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” The Christian life is also referred to as a race. In Hebrews 12:1 we are told to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” In the Olympics, there are a few main types of races. Of the following, which do you think more closely reflects the race spoken of in Hebrews 12:1?

  • Sprint – a quick run completed at full-speed at all times, or
  • Hurdles – a run with ten or more hurdles of 3.6 ft in height evenly spaced along the race track, or
  • Steeplechase – a long distance run with 28 hurdles and seven water jumps during the duration of the race, or
  • Marathon – a 26 mile run. (Approximately from Scott City to Sikeston), or
  • All of the Above!
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If you are like me, sometimes it feels like all of the above. Sometimes the race we run feels like a sprint and we seem to always be moving from one thing to another as quickly as possible. Other times it feels like we seem to be jumping one hurdle after another. Other times it feels as if we are just continually going with no end in sight. We are counseled in Scripture to run with endurance the race set before us. We do so by looking back, looking around, and looking forward.

We Need to Look Back

Christians need to remember those who have gone before us. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. Hebrews 11 serves as an example of those who had faith and looked forward to the Gospel Age. Christians are living in the “day of salvation” (1 Cor 6:2). Whereas the Old Testament saints (cloud of witnesses) looked forward, we are called to look back to their lives of faith. They gained approval through their faith and they serve as examples.

What is the cloud of witnesses? They testify to us, not for us. They are not witnesses in that they are witnessing what we are doing. They are witnesses who testify to us through their life that God is faithful. They serve as examples of God’s faithfulness to His promises and to His Covenant. We do not see them because they are already in heaven. We do not communicate with them (i.e., as in prayers to the saints). We are surrounded by the unified testimony of the faithful that God is trustworthy and true. 

It is Necessary to Look Around

Christians need to look around them for anything that may hinder their run. After seeing the encouragement of those who have gone before us, we look around for anything that will hinder us from running well and with endurance. Two specific things are mentioned: any weight and sin. Let’s consider the first one. We need to lay aside every weight. This is something that may not necessarily be sinful but it is not helpful. Let me reiterate what was just said. We are counselled in Scripture to live our lives in such a way that we intentionally purge things in our life that do not help us grow in Christian maturity. The imagery here is of a runner evaluating himself and removing things from himself that will hinder him in his race and keeping that which will help him. This raises many questions and I will try to give the best Biblical answer possible to a few of them: 1) Does this mean I have to give away all my possessions? 2) Does this mean I cannot have nice things? 3) Does this mean I have to move to Africa? The answer to these questions and questions like it is this: Does it help or hinder your pursuit of holiness? If it helps, keep it. If it hinders, get rid of it. This is between you and God. Ask Him to evaluate and reveal to you things in your life that help and hinder your race.

We also need to lay aside every sin which so easily ensnares us. This is different from the “weight” mentioned earlier. Whereas the weight may or may not be sinful, every sin in our life needs to be repented of and forsaken. Sin is dangerous and should not be trifled with. Sin can harden our hearts (Heb 3:13), deaden our conscience (Rom 13:5), bring God’s discipline (Rov 3:12), and rob us of our joy and strength (Psalm 51).

We Must Look Forward

Christians need to keep their focus on Jesus who leads them forward. Verse 2 tells us that as we run we must be “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith…” Many athletes speak of the goals they have when they run. Some mention that they run in order to make their parents and/or country proud. Others speak of the desire to win the Gold Medal or to be recognized as the greatest in that particular field. We are instructed in Hebrews 12:2 that our overarching goal and motivation is Jesus. When we fix our eyes on Jesus we can run with endurance and seek to eliminate the possibility of distraction. Ever wonder why horses wear blinders? According to the Dallas Equestrian Center, “Horses sometimes need to be made to focus and blinders keep the horse’s eyes focused on what is ahead, rather than what is at the side or behind.” This doesn’t negate what we have just learned but is the reminder that our focus must be forward towards Jesus. We look to Jesus as the author of our faith and the one who will bring our faith to completion. Jesus is the One who sets our Christian walk in motion and will bring it to its appropriate end. We can be assured of this because He endured ahead of us and “has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2).

Finally, we must remember that we “run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1). Christians run the race that God assigns to them. This brings us great comfort because we know that God has provided a “racetrack” that is specifically suited for us and our relationship with Jesus. When you are struggling, remember that Jesus is with you and is guiding you along His path that leads to Him. It will be difficult, but God is faithful. Trust Him and live by faith. 

Living by Faith (Hebrews 11)

In Hebrews 11, we are shown the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. In this glorious chapter, we are told of men and women in the Old Testament, living under the Old Covenant, who “gained approval” (11:2) from God through their faith. As we learned a few weeks go, Christians cannot live without faith because “without faith it is impossible to please [God], for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). In Hebrews 11:1, we are told: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is assurance and conviction that God is trustworthy and true. Faith operates even when you cannot see the end result of His promise. Faith enables you to believe it will come to pass. Paul David Tripp has a helpful reminder, “Faith surely does engage your brain, but it is fundamentally more than that. Faith is something that you do with your life.”

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The Faithful Hear the Call of God and Obey

Paul wrote in Romans 10:17, “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” Everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11 responded in faith by first hearing God’s call. They knew the voice of God and obeyed His instructions. By faith Abel had a better sacrifice than Cain. By faith Enoch was taken up because he was pleasing to God. By faith Noah built an ark. By faith Sarah gave birth when she was past childbearing years. By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau. By faith Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph. By faith Joseph knew about the Exodus. Everyone mentioned in Hebrews 11 who acted on faith did so because they heard God’s call and were obedient. The faithful have been described earlier in Hebrews 5:14 as those “who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Heb 5:14). Christians need discernment so that they may endure. This comes from knowing God, hearing His word, and obeying His commands. Hebrews 10:36 tells us, “you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.

The Faithful Don’t Need a Detailed Map; But They Do Need a Compass

Living by faith is not like putting a Lego set together. Have you built a Lego set lately? If not, you should. When you open the box, you are given specific, step-by-step instructions as to which Lego piece goes where and in what order. You also get to look ahead at future steps to see how it all fits together. Living by faith is not like putting a Lego set together; it is more like putting a puzzle together. It’s actually more like putting a puzzle together by having someone else hand you the pieces and telling you that you need to put it in a particular spot. You have to trust the person handing you each piece. You have to believe that this piece goes in this spot even though you don’t see how it ends up fitting. God guides us along each day of our life, telling us to trust Him and follow Him. Living by faith means that God calls you to a task and equips you to do it and then guides you through it. All along the way God grows our faith and our confidence in Him. You may get instructions like Noah did or you may just be told to go to a new place like Abraham. 

What distinguishes many of the people mentioned in Hebrews 11 is that they did not have to have a detailed plan for what was going to happen. They needed guidance and wisdom and instruction but they didn’t need God to reveal every detail before they acted in faith. By faith Moses’ parents hid him from the Egyptians not knowing what would happen to him. By faith Moses chose to endure ill-treatment with the people of God, left Egypt, kept the Passover, passed through the Red Sea. By faith the walls of Jericho fell in an unconventional manner. By faith Rahab hid the spies. We also see faith in action in the lives of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and The Prophets. 

The Faithful Know the Destination is Glorious and Leave the Results to God

When you live by faith, you leave the results to God. Did you notice that there is a shift in tone starting in verse 36? From Hebrews 11:4-35 we read of those who live by faith and their great deeds and actions. In verses 33-35, we read about those “who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…” In verse 36, we read that “others experienced mockings and scourghings, yes, also chains and imprisonment.” Living by faith does not always mean that you are victorious here on earth, but that the ultimate victory is secure with God. Sometimes the faithful escape the edge of the sword; sometimes the edge of the sword severs their head from their body. Living by faith does not mean that you will always escape trouble and trials. Ecclesiastes 3 makes this very clear to us. After discussing that all of us will experience times of happiness and success and in times of sadness and difficulty (Ecc 1:1-8), we are told that God “…has made everything appropriate in its time” (Ecc 3:11). 

I love how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego live this out in their lives. In Daniel 3, we are told that King Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image and “whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire” (Dan 3:6). The three Hebrews refused to worship the image and told the king: “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Dan 3:17-18). 

Are you living by faith? Are you trusting in Jesus as your Savior and Lord? Is the Spirit of God dwelling within you and can you hear His call in your life? Remember, faith is something you do with your life. Are you living in faith or in fear? What guides your decisions? Trust Jesus.

The Just Shall Live by Faith (Hebrews 11:1-3 & 6)

We now arrive at one of the most popular chapters in all of the Bible: Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is commonly referred to as the chapter of faith because it lists well-known individuals from the Old Testament and proves that they lived by faith. Verse 2 tells us that through their faith “the men of old gained approval.” While it is common to think that this chapter is important because it lists a lot of people who had faith, it is actually important because it solidifies the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. 

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Faith is not optional, it is required. Hebrews 11:6 makes it very clear that “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” In this section, we shall consider the first three verses of Hebrews 11 as an introduction to the necessity of faith in a Christian’s life. We shall discuss the definition of faith, the origin of faith, and the usage of faith. 

What is Faith?

Let’s begin with a definition of faith. In verse 1, we are told: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is believing that God is truthful and even though you cannot see the end result of His promise you nonetheless believe it will come to pass. Romans 4:18-21 has a very good definition of faith in the life of Abraham. It is well worth quoting in full here:

In hope against hope he believed, so that he might become a father of many nations according to that which had been spoken, “so shall your descendants be.” Without becoming weak in faith he contemplated his own body, now as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old, and the deadness of Sarah’s womb; yet, with respect to the promise of God, he did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform. (Emphasis mine)

In Hebrews 11:6 we learn that faith is related to belief and conviction of the truth of something/someone. Thomas Aquinas said, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” Richard Phillips wrote: “Faith is believing God’s Word in order to lay hold of things that are promised and make them real in our lives. Faith is the mode, or the manner by which we possess heavenly things on earth.”

Where Do We Get Faith?

Christians have faith, but where does it come from? The testimony of Scripture is that “faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom 10:17). When someone is born again, they hear the word of God and it is united by faith (Heb 4:2). While faith is something we have, it is not something we create. We receive faith from God. It is not something that we generate in and of ourselves. Ephesians 2:8 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The gift of God mentioned in Ephesians 2:8 is salvation which involves grace and faith. Hebrews 12:2 says that Jesus is “the author and perfecter of faith.” Philippians 1:29 says “it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.” Acts 3:16 tells us that the faith that comes through Jesus has made the beggar well. Faith comes from God and results in seeing His truthfulness and trusting Him. Faith is not something we make, but receive. It is not our creation, but a gift.

How do I Use Faith?

The next question is: When we receive it, what do we do with it? The answer is: We use it! 2 Corinthians 5:7 says, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” Faith is granted to us in order to use it. Romans 14:23 says that “whatever is not from faith is sin.” Faith must guide all of your actions. Hebrews 11:6 says “without faith it is impossible to please Him.” If we want to please God–which we do–we should live, think, speak, and act in faith. Paul said in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.” We must live by faith. There is no other way to live that is pleasing to God. 

How Do I Know if I Am Living by Faith?

What does it look like to live by faith? We shall explore this more as we go through the rest of this chapter and the rest of Hebrews. For now, consider the following questions:

  • Do I trust God with my life? And the lives of those around me?
  • Am I regularly asking God to grant me wisdom for the decisions I need to make?
  • Am I regularly asking God for “divine appointments”? Divine appointments are situations and/or circumstances that you believe have been arranged by the Holy Spirit.
  • Do I only do things that I know I can accomplish or do I attempt to do things that only God can accomplish? Do you operate on God’s power or your own?
  • What is most of my money spent on? How much of it is used to bless others and grow the Kingdom of God?
  • Do you live in fear and paranoia?

John Piper answers the question this way: 1) It involves a resolve for good, 2) It involves trusting God’s power to enable us to do it, and 3) It aims at the glory of the name of the Lord Jesus. Let us walk by faith. Trusting God and believing in His name.

Fourth Warning: Do Not Draw Back (Hebrews 10:26-39)

We are now in Hebrews 10:26-39 and in the final section of the book of Hebrews. We have been away from our sermon series in the book of Hebrews for a few weeks so it would be helpful to recap where we have been. Hebrews demonstrates the supremacy of Jesus and the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. Jesus is superior to the Prophets, the Angels, and the first High Priest of the Old Covenant: Aaron. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant and is our Great High Priest who intercedes for us with God the Father. In the final section, the writer of Hebrews makes some important points of application of these great truths. In the section of Scripture before us today, we learn that when the Holy Spirit indwells us, He secures us; therefore, being secure, we are able to endure. 

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Our verses today comprise the fourth of five warnings found in the book of Hebrews. The first warning was to not drift away (Heb 2:1). The second warning was to not harden your heart (Heb 3:12). The third warning was to not fail to grow up (Heb 5:11). In the fourth warning, we learn about the danger of drawing back from Christ and throwing away our confidence (Heb 10:29-39).

The Problem: Drawing Back from Christ

In verse 26, we are presented with a problem: “If we deliberately go on sinning after receiving the knowledge of the truth…”. This type of sin is deliberate, intentional, and habitual. For this type of sin, there is no forgiveness. If someone sins before receiving the knowledge of the truth, there is the hope that they will repent and believe. If someone deliberately, intentionally, and habitually sins after receiving the knowledge of truth, “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins.” (10:26). If someone deliberately rejects the only means of salvation, how can they be saved? This is the basis for Church Discipline as Jesus discussed in Matt 18:15-20. Did you know that expulsion from a local church is only appropriate for one sin? The only sin that excludes you from the church is lack of repentance. We are told in our text that those who sin willfully will receive judgment. There is nothing for them except “a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire about to consume the adversaries” (10:27). After using a comparison from the Old Covenant, we are given this terrifying warning: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (10:31).

The Solution: You Need to Endure

In order to stay close to Christ and not draw back, we must endure. The writer of Hebrews encourages his readers to “remember the earlier days when, after you had been enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings” (10:32). The Christian life calls for endurance. What does endurance look like? To endure means to remain. Rather than draw back you remain. Enduring means to suffer patiently and continue without giving up. An aspect of Christian endurance includes “sympathy” and “joy” (10:34). In verse 35, we are told “do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward.” You can more easily endure when you understand that your enemies can take nothing of eternal value from you. If they take your house, you have a better home waiting for you. If they kill your fellow Christians, you will see them again soon in heaven. If they take your life, you will immediately be in the presence of Jesus (2 Cor 5:8). Verse 36 tells us, “you need endurance, so that after you have done God’s will, you may receive what was promised.

The Promise: Christ Preserves You

We have a warning to not draw back from Christ and the counsel to endure through trials. We then have the writer of Hebrews write: “We are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul.” The preservation/keeping of the soul is in contrast to the destruction (eternal damnation – see Rev 20:15) that comes upon those who shrink back. 

We have a great promise in these verses. We are told that “My righteous one shall live by faith” (10:38). This is a wonderful promise because it means that our perseverance does not depend upon us but upon God Himself. When we are told to live by faith it is in contrast to living by works. The great promise is that Christ preserves us. Jude 1:24 is one of my favorite verses. It says, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy.

The Conclusion: Live by Faith

Here are a few points to remember:

  • The purpose of trials is to test the genuineness of our faith (1 Peter 1:6-7). God knows whether or not our faith is genuine and He uses trials to reveal this to us. This reveals to us God’s good purpose of allowing trials to come to us.
  • God prevents certain trials from coming upon us and the trials that do come upon you are specifically allowed by God (1 Cor 10:13).
  • There are those who profess to be Christians yet draw back and fall away under trials. Their falling away reveals their lack of faith (Matt 13:18-22). 
  • The trials God allows are specifically designed to expose the false faith of the unbeliever and lead them to repentance (2 Timothy 2:24-26).
  • Those who endure trials do so by faith and the trials which God allows are specifically designed to grow the Christians faith (1 Peter 1:7).

When you become a Christian, the Holy Spirit indwells you. When the Holy Spirit indwells you, He secures you. Being secure, we are able to endure during trials. One great way to help you endure is knowing that Christ Himself preserves us. Trust Him and depend upon Him. Live by faith.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Two hundred and forty-five years ago, the United States of America declared its independence from Great Britain. With its declaration and subsequent war, the United States emerged as a beacon of liberty and freedom. While at times not living up to our ideals, the United States has nonetheless made great strides in promoting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness throughout the world. Five years away from our nation’s Sestercentennial, let us take a moment to consider the pursuit of happiness from a biblical perspective.

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Do You Know What You are Looking For?

In the Declaration of Independence, we are told of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Let’s consider more closely the pursuit of happiness. What does the pursuit of happiness mean? Most likely historian Arthur Schlesinger got it right when he said that the pursuit of happiness is best understood in this context as the practice of happiness rather than the quest of happiness. This does not mean the government is to sanction anyone’s quest to find whatever they determine to bring them happiness. This leads to anarchy and moral decay. Happiness, in this context, is determined by God not man. In other words, God desires that mankind find and obtain the happiness He provides and the government should be a support, not a hindrance, in this effort.

This is very important because our society has either intentionally or unintentionally failed to understand this crucial point. We live in a society that is determined to find happiness. We live in a hedonistic age in which people live their lives to maximize pleasure and minimize pain. John Cooper, the lead singer of Skillet, recently mentioned that the prevailing spirit of the age seems to be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves. Most people are on a quest for happiness and one key area in which this quest occurs is the issue of identity. Far too many people mistakenly believe that the way to maximize pleasure is to discover their true identity. If they can find their “authentic self”, then they will be happy and feel good about themselves.

How Do You Know When You Have Found It?

The Search for the Authentic You. In his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Carl Trueman discusses how certain Enlightenment poets and authors popularized the idea that our inner self was our true self. Soon after came an attempt to define humanity without any reference to God. Closer to our own time, it became popular to speak of being true to one’s inner self. Because—the belief is—our inner self is our true self. So the focus shifted from God to yourself.

The Search Involves Sex and Gender. Trueman presents the progression of thought further. He wrote that as human nature became defined inwardly and became severed from God, human nature became defined in terms of sexuality. Sexual desire—in this progression—is central to personhood, therefore, those who seek to inhibit your sexual desire are oppressors. The triumph of transgenderism was made possible by those who defined “the self” as an expressive individual. The idea that men would claim to be women and women would claim to be men would have been entirely foreign to previous generations. Trueman says that this wholesale rejection of sexual ethics that has been assumed for millennia is rooted in: 1) the acceptance of expressive individualism, 2) the primacy of the inner self, 3) the necessity of therapeutic well-being, and 4) The absolute authority of the inner self. This is happening in our culture. This is why there are debates about pronouns. This is why there are debates about bathrooms. Our culture has bought into these lies. 

Maybe You Should Ask for Help?

You are the problem. If you are on a quest to find your true self, you are on a fool’s errand. Happiness is not a pot of gold and the end of the “find the authentic you” rainbow. Happiness is not found within you, it is found within Jesus. The sooner you understand this, the sooner you will be happier. But, we need to be careful with our words. We keep using the word happiness, but it is the wrong word. The word the Bible uses is joy. I have made this point numerous times and I will continue to do so: happiness is based on what is happening around you. We really don’t need happiness, we need joy. Joy is not dependent upon our situations or circumstances. Our joy is given to us by Jesus. The “fruit of the Spirit” (Gal 5:22) includes the attribute of joy. This is one of the spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3) granted to us by our merciful and loving God. God blesses us with joy and it is up to us to cultivate it in our lives. 

Jesus fixes our identity. You will not find happiness by discovering the “real” you. The real you is a sinner with a wicked heart (Jeremiah 17:9). The prevailing spirit of the age may be that we are meant to be happy and feel good about ourselves, but God’s plan for our lives is to love Him and enjoy Him forever. Jesus doesn’t help you find your true identity, He fixes your identity. We are created in the image of God. We are given our bodies to glorify God. We are called to love God and love others. We find the most joy when we delight most in Him. We are called to serve. Becket Cook wrote about his testimony in his memoir: A Change of Affection: A Gay Man’s Incredible Story of Redemption. This is what he wrote: “In fact, because I’m now who God created me to be, I’m finally authentic. Becoming more and more like Jesus—the truest human who ever lived—is a far more authentic transformation than becoming more and more like whatever “self” my fluid feelings suggest on any given day.”

Let there be no mistake. God neither wants us to be miserable nor feel bad about ourselves. God created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. This is the key to finding joy: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all these things will be added to you” (Matt 6:33). Let us examine ourselves this week. Have you bought into the spirit of the age? Do you believe that your main purpose of life is to be happy? To maximize pleasure and minimize pain? Examine the decisions you make on a daily basis. Are they made after seeking God’s will and wisdom? Is your life committed to the advancement of God’s kingdom? Are you encouraging unbelievers to take their first steps in following Jesus? Are you helping people grow in their relationship with Jesus? Are you being deployed in service to Christ through His church and mission? Pursue happiness by going to God the Father through Jesus and finding forgiveness of sin. Then you will find rest for your soul.

Fruitful, Faithful Followers (Hebrews 10:19-25)

We now enter the final section of the book of Hebrews. Hebrews demonstrates the supremacy of Jesus and the New Covenant over the Old Covenant. Jesus is superior to the Prophets, the Angels, and Aaron. Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the Old Covenant and is our Great High Priest who intercedes for us with God the Father. In the final section, the writer of Hebrews makes some important points of application of these great truths. 

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The Faithful Draw Near

We are told to enter “the Holiest” (19) with boldness. Our boldness comes from the fact that Jesus’ blood has purified us and granted us access to enter God’s presence. Jesus’ death was a sacrificial death that reconciles us to the Father. Therefore, we draw near to God “with a true heart in full assurance of faith” (22). We learned earlier in Hebrews 7:19 that “there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.” We have our “hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (22). Don’t miss the important implication found here: unlike Adam and Eve who hid from God because of their sin and shame (Genesis 3:8); Christians have been cleansed from their sin and shame and are called to draw near to God and delight in Him.

The Faithful Hold Fast

As you draw near, hold fast. We are told: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” This is the second time we have been told to hold fast our confession (Heb 4:14). What does it mean to hold fast? This means we are to be intentional about holding onto something. What exactly are we to hold fast to? We hold fast “the confession of our hope” and we are also told to do so “without wavering.” Our confession is a confession of hope! Our hope is not found in a successful career or lots of money or anything other than our confession. What is our confession? We were told in Hebrews 3:1 that Jesus is “the Apostle and High Priest of our Confession.” We confess the “gospel of Christ” (1 Cor 9:13). Our confession is that “Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11).  As the old hymn says: My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness!

We are told not to lose hope nor waver because “He who promised is faithful.” We have no idea what will happen tomorrow or today, we do not know if things will get worse or better, but praise be to God, this one thing we know: “God is faithful” (1 Cor 1:9; 10:13), “Christ is faithful” (Hebrews 3:6), “the steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lam 3:23), “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it” (1 Thess 5:24), and “He who promised is faithful” (Heb 10:23). Our God is faithful; therefore let us continue in faith.  

The Faithful Stir Up

As we draw near and hold fast, we stir up. We are told: “And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works.” What are we called to consider?  We are to consider one another in order to stir up one another. This, by the way, is a fascinating statement.  Literally, God is calling us to provoke and incite one another. If it sounds like an odd choice of words, it is. The other time this phrase appears is in Acts 15:39 when Paul and Barnabas had a “sharp disagreement” over including John Mark on their missionary journey. Are we to stir up one another in order to have sharp disagreements? Thankfully, this is not what the writer of Hebrews is advocating. Rather, he is saying we should stir up, provoke, agitate, incite one another “to love and good works.” We should literally be provoking one another to love God and love others so as to be stirred up to do the “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Eph 2:10). Christians are called to love God and love others to such a degree that you cannot help but encourage one another to love God and love others more. 

The Faithful Don’t Forsake

Drawing near, holding fast, and stirring up are very important so that we do not forsake the assembling together as a local church. Every Christian is a part of the Universal Church, but sadly not every Christian is a part of the local Church. The Universal Church consists of every Christian who has ever lived in every part of the world. The local church is an assembly of Christians who have bonded together in a specific place and in a specific time. The local church is no less important than the Universal Church because it is in the local church that Christians grow in their faith. 

I was once asked: “You have 5 minutes to give advice to an 18 year old single brand new convert to Christianity, what advice would you give? My answer was: “Find a Church with people who love the Lord and believe the Bible is true.” Why did I say that? Because that is where God has determined spiritual maturity will occur because it is the place where Christians have to deal with other Christians. The local church is where the faith of the faithful is put to the test! Christians who love the Lord are forced to put that love to the test by loving one another. Those who have been forgiven by God will face the fateful day of finding out if they have the ability to forgive others or if they will just try to flee. When the church gathers, we should be intentional about “encouraging one another.” 

The Day Draws Near

What should help motivate us to draw near, hold fast, stir up, and not forsake the gathering? You see the Day drawing near! The writer of Hebrews previously stated that we are “in these last days” (Heb 1:1). The Day mentioned is the Day of the Lord in which everyone will stand before God for judgment. You will stand before your Maker to give an account of yourself. Are you prepared? On what basis can you stand before this judgment? Only through Jesus.

Our Great High Priest: Part 4 (Hebrews 9:15-10:18)

Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the Old Covenant and is therefore the Mediator of the New Covenant. A Mediator is someone who stands between two parties. Jesus is the One who stands between men and God to reconcile them. As the Mediator, Jesus holds a three-fold office in the New Covenant: Prophet, Priest, and King. As our Prophet, He reveals God’s word to us. As our King, we submit to His rule and reign. As our Priest, He intercedes for us before the Father. In our sermon this morning, we will consider in more detail Jesus’ role as High Priest: His work, His Death, and His Perfection.

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The Mediator’s Work

Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant. He “came as High Priest of the good things to come” (Heb 9:11). What have we learned thus far about Jesus being High Priest? Hebrews 2:17 tells us “He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” Hebrews 3:1 describes Him as “the apostle and high priest of our confession.” Hebrews 4:14-15 reveals to us that “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” 

Jesus passed through the heavens “where [He] has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb 6:20). Hebrews 5:5 says, “So also Christ did not exalt Himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by Him who said to Him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you.” Hebrews 5:10 goes on to say that Jesus was “designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 7:26 says, “For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.” Hebrews 8:1 summarizes this by saying, “Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, One who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” 

Jesus’ work as Priest is to be the mediator of the New Covenant which was prophesied in Jeremiah 31. God said He would put His law in their mind and write them on their hearts and forgive their sin. Why did Jesus come to earth? He came “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Jesus saves the lost through His sinless life, sacrificial death, magnificent resurrection, and glorious ascension. Jesus came to do the Father’s will (John 6:38). 

The Mediator’s Death

In this section, we shall focus on the sacrificial death of Jesus. Jesus’ death was not an accident. A vital part of Jesus’ mission on earth was to die. He predicted it at least three times. The first time Jesus predicted His death is detailed in Matthew 16:21–23, Mark 8:31–32, and Luke 9:21–22. Jesus predicted His death a second time in Matthew 17:22–23, Mark 9:30–32, and Luke 9:43–45. Matthew 20:17–19, Mark 10:32–34, and Luke 18:31–34 describe the third time Jesus predicted His death. Jesus told the religious leaders in John 2:19, “Destroy this temple [the temple of His body], and in three days I will raise it up again.” 

Why did Jesus have to die? His death was for His people. In John 10:11, Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus is the Mediator of the New Covenant because of His death. A covenant/testament (Heb 9:16) goes into effect after a death because it is enacted through blood as “not even the first covenant was dedicated without blood” (Heb 9:18). Hebrews 9:22 says, “And according to the law almost all things were purged with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission  of sin.” It is “not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins” (Heb 10:4) but Jesus offers his own blood. He “has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb 9:26).

The Old Covenant sacrifices brought “a reminder of sin every year” (10:3). The wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23).The New Covenant is the covenant in which God forgives sins and offers eternal redemption. Sin cannot be forgiven until it is punished. In the New Covenant, we have the Holy Spirit within us and God chooses to not remember our sins anymore. We are specifically told that we have remission (cancellation of sin through forgiveness) of sin. 

The Mediator’s Perfection

As the Mediator of the New Covenant, Jesus offers forgiveness of sins, justification before God, and the promise of being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). Jesus does not have to offer sacrifices continually year by year (Heb 10:1) but “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Heb 10:12). For “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified” (10:14). What does this mean? Pay close attention to that verse. Jesus “has perfected” those who “are being sanctified”. Jesus’ one offering (at one point in the past) has perfected the one who is continually being sanctified. This means that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil 1:6). The One who sweat drops of blood (Luke 22:44) willingly laid down His life (John 10:18) in order to redeem us (Heb 9:12). The lamb that was slain (Rev 5:6) is the lion that conquers (Rev 5:5).

Jesus Christ is King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Rev 19:16). The Apostle Paul wrote that God the Father sent the Son “to reconcile all things to Himself all things…having made peace by the blood of His cross” (Col 1:20). What does this mean for us? Knowing Jesus as Savior and Lord, we should “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power for all patience and longsuffering with joy” (Col 1:10).

Our Great High Priest: Part 3 (Hebrews 9:1-14)

We are in part 3 of our study of Jesus as our Great High Priest. Last week we learned how the Old Covenant was good, yet weak; therefore, it was made obsolete in order to pave the way for the new and better covenant initiated through Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 9, the writer of Hebrews reminds us of the rituals of the earthly priesthood (9:1-10) and how it foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice and its significance (9:11-28).

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The Earthly Priesthood (9:1-10)

We begin Hebrews 9 with a description of the first covenant regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary (also called tabernacle and/or tent) in which all this was performed. When it speaks of the “earthly sanctuary” (9:1) it refers to belonging to the world. This does not mean it was “worldly” in a bad sense, but that it was located on Earth. This tabernacle is described more fully in Exodus 25-31. In the first tabernacle, there were two sections: Holy Place and Most Holy Place.

The Holy Place. The first section of the tabernacle was called the Holy Place. Only priests could enter this section as they carried out the rituals prescribed in the Law of Moses. In the Holy Place was the table for the Bread of the Presence (Ex 25:23-30), the Golden Lampstand (Ex 25:31-40; 37:17-24) and the Altar of Incense (Ex 30:1-10; 37:25-29). This section was necessary because of the holiness of God and the uncleanness of the people.

The Most Holy Place. The second section of the tabernacle was called the Most Holy Place. The Most Holy Place resides behind the veil which separates the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. In the Most Holy Place was the Ark of the Covenant. Originally it contained the two stone tablets God gave to Moses on Mt. Sinai. Later a golden urn holding manna (Ex 16:32-33) was placed in it along with Aaron’s staff that budded (Num 17:10). This is where God chose to have His Spirit dwell among the people. No one–except those authorized by God–could touch it or look upon it. Only the High Priest went into the second section. He did so only one time a year (Day of Atonement) with blood offering for his sins and the sins of the people (9:7).

The Holy Places were Closed. The Holy Spirit indicates that the way to the Most Holy Place was not open (9:8) while the first Holy Place still stood. The fact that there was a “1st tent” showed that the “2nd tent” was not open. This is used as a word play. Just as the presence of the Holy Place showed that the Most Holy Place is not open; so too, the presence of the earthly tabernacle shows that the heavenly tabernacle is not open. These rituals and sacrifices were good, but they “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper” (9:9). It was in place until a time of reformation.

Christ’s Priesthood (9:11-14)

The writer of Hebrews has made it clear that the Old Covenant was good, but weak because it could not cleanse one’s conscience. This brings us to the New Covenant that is initiated in Christ’s blood which can cleanse the conscience. 

The Holy One. Let us remember that we are also in the midst of a larger discussion of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Law of Moses. He is our Redeemer, Advocate, Savior, and Lord—worthy of all praise and glory and honor. He is greater than the Prophets (He is the final Word), the Angels (He is the Son), and Moses (He is the Builder of the House of God). He is greater than Aaron as He has a more superior priesthood. He has “appeared as a high priest of the good things to come” (9:11). He is the Son who has been appointed heir of all things (1:2). He is “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3).

The Holiest Place. Jesus is the Holy One of God (John 6:69) who has “entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle” (9:11). Hebrews 4:14 says “we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God.” Hebrews 6:19-20 says, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us.” Hebrews 8:1-2 says, “we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary, and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.” Hebrews 9:24 says, “Christ did not enter a Holy Place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.

The Holy Places are Open. Jesus entered into heaven as our substitutionary sacrifice. Hebrews 9:12 says, “Through His own blood, He entered the Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Hebrews 9:14 says, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” It is important to note that we are cleansed by Jesus in order to serve Him.

The time of reformation has come. The New Covenant has been instituted and the Old Covenant has been made obsolete. Jesus is the high priest of the New Covenant enacted on better promises and provides eternal redemption.

Our Great High Priest: Part 2 (Hebrews 8:1-13)

What do the following things have in common: Rotary Phone, VHS, 8 Track, Black and White TVs? They have all become obsolete. They served their purpose at one time but not they have been set aside for something better.

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As we arrive at Hebrews 8, we remember that we are in the midst of a discussion of the superiority of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of everything in the Law of Moses. He alone is our Redeemer, Advocate, Savior, and Lord—worthy of all praise and glory and honor. He is greater than the Prophets (He is the final Word), the Angels (He is the Son), and Moses (He is the Builder of the House of God).. He is greater than Aaron as He has a more superior priesthood. In this sermon, we will discuss how the Old Covenant was good, yet weak; therefore, it was made obsolete in order to pave the way for the new and better covenant initiated through Jesus Christ.

The Old Covenant was Good; Yet Weak

Good Because it was Holy. 

The Apostle Paul was a staunch proponent of abandoning the Old Covenant with its law-keeping and embracing the New Covenant in faith. However, this does not mean that Paul thought the law was bad or a mistake. On the contrary, in Romans 7:12, he wrote: “So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” The Psalmist wrote: “The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart’ the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:7-8). In fact, Psalm 119 is a meditation on the excellencies of God’s rules, statutes, and ordinances. The Law of Moses was based on God’s covenant with Abraham and revealed the character of God and His holiness.

Weak Because it Exposed Sin, Yet Did Not Remove Sin. 

The Old Covenant and the Law of Moses revealed God’s holiness and exposed sin. Paul wrote in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” He also wrote in Romans 3:20, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” The Law of Moses was holy, but it was a “ministry of death” (2 Cor 3:7) and a “ministry of condemnation” (2 Cor 3:9) because it brought awareness of sin. With the awareness of sin brought death (Rom 6:23). One major weakness of the Old Covenant was that—while it exposed sin—it could not remove sin (Heb 10:4). Hebrews 10:4 reminds us that “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” It exposed sin and brought condemnation because of our inability to obey the law. Galatians 3:10 says, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’”

The Old Covenant Became Obsolete; And Replaced

Obsolete Because of Disloyalty. 

According to Hebrews 8, we are told that there was a need for a new covenant because of the failure of God’s people to keep the old one. Hebrews 8:7 says, “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.” Also, in Hebrews 8:13, we read: “In speaking of a new covenant, He makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” The Old Covenant had priests who “serve a copy and a shadow of the heavenly things” (8:5). The Old Covenant was conditional (If…then) and continual (repeated sacrifices). The reason the Old Covenant was continually broken was because of the people’s failure to abide by the terms of the covenant. God said, “Keep the whole commandment that I command you today” (Deut 27:1). He also said, “If you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God…these blessings shall come upon you” (Deut 28:1-2). He also said, “But if you will not obey…these curses shall come upon you” (Deut 28:15). The people broke the covenant (see Neh 1:6-8 & Dan 9:5-6).

Replaced with God’s Faithfulness.

The Prophet Jeremiah prophesied about the New Covenant God will establish with His people. It is “not like the covenant that I made with their fathers…” (Jer 31:32). In this covenant, “I will put My law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Jer 31:33). The new covenant is different because God promises to transform them internally. Also, the promised new covenant involves the complete forgiveness of sin: “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jer 31:34). The Old Covenant was not abolished but fulfilled. Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Matt 5:17). Being fulfilled, they are now obsolete and replaced with the New Covenant in Jesus’ blood: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20). The New Covenant is not based on our faithfulness, but on God’s. This is not an “If…then” based on how well we perform. This is an eternal covenant based on the perfect work of Jesus.

New, Better, and Forever Covenant

As we learned in Hebrews 7, we have a High Priest who is the guarantor of a better covenant (7:22). He ministers forever (Heb 7:24). He is able to save completely (7:25). He is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners” (7:26). He does not have to first purify himself (Heb 7:27). Jesus is not a man who is weak, but the Son of God who is perfect forever (Heb 7:28). In Hebrews 8, we are reminded that Jesus ministers in the holy places…seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven (8:1-2). Christ “has obtained a ministry that is more excellent than the old as the covenant He mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises” (Heb 8:6). As we continue in Hebrews, let us praise our Lord Jesus Christ.