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What We Are to Do with This Supreme Treasure
(Chapter 10 Verse 19 to Chapter 13 Verse 25)
Hebrews chapter 12 verses 25-28
See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”
Greater privilege involves greater responsibility. To abuse greater privilege results in greater blame. God spoke both at Mount Sinai on earth in the law and from the heavenly Mount Zion in the gospel. Those who refused to hear what he had said in the law soon found out how serious he was. When Israel said no to the Lord and his Commandments, such as with their worship of the golden calf and incident after incident during their wilderness trek, they did not escape. Their bones were laid in desert graves, and they lost also the heavenly Canaan.
The Hebrew Christians had heard God warn, or speak divine communications to, them from heaven. What this means Peter explains in 1st Peter chapter 1 verse 12 by describing the gospel as being preached “by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven.” The gospel is God’s voice from heaven. Through it his Spirit pleads in love, wooing and winning the hearts of sinners with love’s great power. To refuse him when he speaks in tender love is to be more reprehensible than those who refused the thunder of his law. For such there is no escape from damnation because there is no other provision for sin. Turning it around, what the author urges those Hebrew Christians to do is to listen more closely and cling more tightly to the better message of Christ’s pardon and peace.
Moreover, the voice that now speaks from Calvary with gospel grace will speak again. On Sinai when he spoke, the mountain shook. Exodus chapter 19 verse 18 records how “the LORD descended on it in fire” and how “the whole mountain trembled violently.” But that stupendous earthshaking was nothing compared to what was coming. In Haggai chapter 2 verse 6 the Lord gave his promise, which still stands, as the author reveals by quoting it in free-form. Once more the Lord will do some shaking. When Christ returns on the Last Day, not only the earth but heavens around it will rock and reel. The “created things” that seemed so permanent will perish. All the shaken things will be removed. “That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire,” 2nd Peter chapter 3 verse 12 says, “and the elements will melt in the heat.”
Only that which “cannot be shaken” will remain. The author does not explain what the unshaken thing is. He has already told us earlier. It is the heavenly Jerusalem, the city with foundations, Mount Zion, where the living God dwells and where all his children will live with him forever.
Dare any reader refuse to listen to the voice of such a King poised for that last great act? Turning it around, what the author tells his readers is to listen more closely and cling more tightly to that gospel word from heaven so that they might be part of that which will remain eternally unshaken in that Last Great Day.
Once more the author reminds his readers of what they have. Judaism with its outward ritual and outdated Mosaic covenant were things that could be shaken. But the treasures they had already received in Christ and the eternal heavenly kingdom already theirs in part would not—in fact, “cannot”—pass away. There could be only one proper reaction for such an unshakable treasure: not to trifle with or toss it aside, but to “be thankful” and to show that thankfulness in worshiping God “acceptably with reverence and awe.” The word “worship” is wider, including service in general. The grateful believer offers his life in service to God with reverence, with eyes cast down humbly in the presence of a holy God. He offers it also with awe, with diligent concern for avoiding whatever might displease his Lord.
It is a solemn appeal the author puts before us, combining both faith and fear. Those who possess the unshakable kingdom have no business dallying around or dividing their loyalty. It is all or nothing for God, who has given us all and promised us even more. “Our God is a consuming fire,” the author somberly concludes, quoting from Deuteronomy chapter 4 verse 24 where Moses had warned Israel never to leave the Lord and lapse into idolatry.
But even as the author warns us against deterioration and defection, we note his gospel tone. “Our God” the author calls him. His consuming fire of judgment comes only if we won’t let him be our God. To trifle with his grace is to receive his fiery wrath. To live in his grace is to live forever. “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts” (chapter 3 verses 7, 8, and 15; chapter 4 verse 7).
Let us live in faith toward those around us
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 1-3
Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
Christ and covenant, faith and fear have been well covered by the author. Now follows a concluding section that he has packed full of practical applications about faith in action and love at work. “Keep on loving each other as brothers,” he begins, highlighting the section. The flame of brotherly love had been showing in their midst; it was surely not to go out now. Where persecution strikes, brotherly love has a hard time staying lit as people pull back, cautious about identity and concerned about safety. So the author urges them to practice the kind of love and concern you would expect toward those born from the same womb.
Much more is kindness and helpfulness to show among those born of the same Spirit. Jesus himself said so. In John chapter 13 verse 34 he told his disciples on Maundy Thursday, “A new command I give you: Love one another.” The apostles repeated it. Paul in 1st Thessalonians chapter 4 verse 9 reminds his readers, “You yourselves have been taught by God to love each other.” In 1st Peter chapter 1 verse 22 that apostle urges, “Love one another deeply, from the heart.” And that great apostle of love, who repeated it again and again, summarizes in 1st John chapter 3 verse 11, “This is the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.”
Do we need the reminder? What do we see as we look around at fellow believers? What do we see when we look at ourselves and our attitudes and actions toward fellow believers? Is it love for him as a brother and desire to help him succeed or self-centered thoughts that cause heated competition with him? Is it brotherly concern for his needs or calloused seeking of our own good? Is it acceptance of his talents and assistance in developing them or caustic criticism of what he says and does? Brotherly love such as our Lord asks of us requires constant practice and concentrated power that can come only from the cross of our Elder Brother.
Such love shows not only toward those known and near but also to strangers. In the ancient world where inns weren’t that plentiful nor their reputations that pure, hospitality was a prized virtue. Christians who were forced to flee from their towns because of persecution or who went traveling on a preaching mission were particularly in need of hospitality. They would benefit greatly, as would also those extending the hospitality. Great was Abraham’s benefit in Genesis chapter 18 verse 3 and Lot’s in Genesis chapter 19 verse 2 when the strangers they invited into their homes turned out to be angels.
We shall probably never entertain angels when we help strangers. Although it is becoming increasingly difficult to help strangers, let us not forget the value our Lord himself places on such Christian hospitality. What a surprise it will be to hear from him on the Last Day, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew chapter 25 verse 40). Also, as fellow believers move and travel more, let us make sure our churches are warm with hospitality. Let us welcome strangers to our services and new members to our midst warmly instead of watching them warily from a distance.
Not only were strangers to receive brotherly love, so should sufferers. The prisoner and the persecuted need more than pity; they need love that can feel with them and then act for them. First Corinthians chapter 12 verse 26 describes Christians as forming a body where “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it.” The Hebrew Christians had responded in just that way in earlier days of persecution, as chapter 10 verses 32-34 has pointed out. They were not to stop now in showing sympathy to suffering saints.
Certainly it is easier to shut our eyes and ears to the needs of our brethren. It may even appear safer to join the priest and the Levite in the good Samaritan parable and pass by on the other side. But that’s not brotherly love! Believers ridiculed in university lecture rooms, ostracized by unbelieving families, and brave enough to stand up for Christian principles on the job need more than our silent applause. They need our strengthening love.
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 4-6
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,
“Never will I leave you;
never will I forsake you.”
So we say with confidence,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?”
The author turns to another area where love is expressed, to marriage and particularly the marriage bed. The heathen world needed to be told that marriage was God’s institution—given, governed, and guarded by him. Even before sin’s entrance, it was there, but sin has stained marriage and sullied the marriage bed. “Honored by all,” the author urges, but what God gave as a precious gift is downgraded, disgraced, and discarded. The gift of sex brings blessings only in the marriage bed. Those who would defile it outside of marriage will be judged. Human courts may allow, and human eyes may not see, but God will certainly see and relentlessly judge every violation. Let the church bravely proclaim God’s holy will in this vital area even when most of the world doesn’t want to hear it. Let the believer find power to swim against the present tide of immorality and be blessed by God.
Next the author speaks about another love, only this time in warning. “Keep your lives free from the love of money,” he urges. From warning against immorality, he turns to the love of money. Quite naturally so, for Scripture often links these two together (1st Corinthians chapter 5 verse 11; Ephesians chapter 5 verse 3). A covetous person pays little attention to anyone else’s well-being as he selfishly pursues his own aims, be they sexual or financial. Christians are to keep their lives, their way of thinking and living, free from such money love. Those who don’t, those whose greedy hearts and grasping fingers reach more for gold than for God, would do well to remember Paul’s warning in 1st Timothy chapter 6 verse 10: “Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”
The antidote is to “be content” with what we have. Christians believe that God knows what is best for them. Whatever they have they regard as having come from him, to be managed for him. And there they stop! To go beyond invites either sinful worry or ungodly greed. In a world that revolves around the possessions you have and the position you hold, it is not easy to practice contentment. It is not easy to join Paul in the words of Philippians chapter 4 verse 11: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.”
What is the secret of contentment? The author points it out. It is to remember our God’s promise, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” First given to Joshua as he took over Moses’ heavy mantle (Deuteronomy chapter 31 verse 6; Joshua chapter 1 verse 5), this gracious promise applies also to us. Never will he leave or fail to uphold us. Never will he forsake or abandon us. Always he goes with us. Always he is our eternal Resource. What more could we ever want? Constant mindfulness of God’s fatherly presence and of his never-failing promises is the key to contentment.
When God speaks, the believer responds. With confident courage he declares on the basis of Psalm 118:6, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?” Content with God’s perfect provision, covered with God’s perfect protection, the believer walks toward heaven’s shores unafraid. He knows that with God on his side he has a majority of one, regardless what foes or fears he faces. Were those Hebrew Christians afraid of persecution listening? Are we?
Hebrews chapter 13 verses 7-9
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them.
The author never loses sight of his goal. Weakening Christians were to be encouraged, wandering ones warned. That is why he points his readers back to their former leaders. “Keep on remembering your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you,” he urges. Their leaders’ faithful proclamation of divine truth had brought the readers much benefit in the past. Benefit could be had also in the present time of persecution by thinking back to those leaders and their teachings.
“Consider the outcome of their way of life,” he also urged. The readers were to scan carefully the faithful lives and fearless deaths of their past leaders. Whether death had come from martyrdom or natural causes, their falling asleep in Jesus provided inspiration for all, especially for those facing violence by persecution.
The author further urged, “Keep imitating their faith.” Those leaders had been true to Christ up to the end. None had weakened or wavered in the faith as some of the readers were now tempted to do. Here were examples for the Jewish Christians to consider and follow. Have we had such faithful leaders? Then thank God for them! Only such faithful leaders deserve to be followed. God help us imitate them!
The former leaders are gone, but what they taught and believed remains eternally the same. Their Savior is our Savior and will be our children’s Savior. He is always the believer’s contemporary. What he did for believers in the past, he will do for us. What he does for us, he will do for those who follow us. Note his full name—“Jesus” to refer to God come in the flesh to save us and “Christ” to refer to his great office of Prophet, Priest and King. The winds of time invariably shift the sands of earth but leave the eternal Savior untouched. Jesus Christ and all that he offers, Jesus Christ and all that he promises “is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Believers of any century have but one ground for their faith and goal for their life: “Jesus Christ.”
The author follows with a warning about teaching anything other than the eternal Christ and his changeless Word. Such a warning was in place, for the readers were in danger of being carried off course “by all kinds of strange teaching.” What these various false teachings foreign to the gospel were, we are not specifically told. Both the author and the readers knew what was meant. The phrase “ceremonial foods” seems to indicate some promotion of Judaism at the expense of Christianity. For Jewish Christians facing persecution because of Christ and his Word, Judaism with its many rituals seemed to offer a safe and satisfying retreat. But the author warns them such action would be listening to the wrong things and following the wrong track. Ceremonial foods have no value for the heart. Holiness comes not from outward ritual but from Christ’s redeeming work and God’s sanctifying grace.
Did those readers need strengthening for their faith? In John chapter 17 verse 17 the Savior in his prayer to the Father for believers shows the only way. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth,” he prayed. Only God’s grace can strengthen the inner life of man, and it does so only through the Word. Do we desire strengthening of faith? Then head to the Word, the eternal gospel of God’s grace!
End of Part 2.6