March 4, 2018
On Friday, Tana and I were greatly privileged to attend Billy Graham’s funeral in Charlotte with many of you. The ceremony was very special. As is typical of most funerals, Dr. Graham was appropriately remembered and celebrated, with facts like, he preached the gospel to more people in person than anyone in history – almost 215 million. I’ve heard his message of the gospel, and he got it right. Not that I’m in any way his judge – I simply mean, he clearly preached sin and the need of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ – His death, burial and resurrection. The cross of Christ was central to his message – his singular message through eighty years of gospel ministry.
A big deal was made, both in the ceremony at the US Capitol building and at the funeral that Dr. Graham was faithful – it was said over and over – he was faithful servant of Jesus Christ. And he accomplished his lifelong ministry scandal-free – which is saying something in the world in which we live – when evangelical leaders fall left and right into blatant sin and immorality. Dr. Graham did not. He wasn’t perfect, but he was faithful. His message and character remained consistently the same. Dare I say he was one of God’s most faithful, spiritually successful servants in all of church history.
There have been many such faithful servants – giants of the faith – through Scripture and the history of the church. I do not think it inappropriate to include Dr. Graham’s name alongside such great servants as Abraham, Moses, Joshua, David, Daniel, Peter, James, John, Paul, Athanasius, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Knox, Wesley, Whitfield, Edwards – I’ll stop there because if I start naming current people and don’t name your favorite, you’ll be irritated. There have been many faithful servants of God throughout history – people God used to advance His kingdom and His church.
But notice, I keep using the word servant. Oh, it’s true, as we found in our study of Hebrews 2, God’s purpose in sending Jesus was to bring many sons and daughters to glory. It is true, as followers of Jesus, we become, incredibly, His brothers and sisters – such that Jesus is not ashamed to call us such – and we become children of God. We rejoice in that truth. But to be clear, we are still servants – and Jesus alone is the only begotten Son of God. This was also made clear at the funeral – yes, Billy Graham was a great man – one of the greatest – but all glory redounds to His Lord, Jesus Christ.
And so, we would not list Dr. Graham’s name alongside Jesus. Nor would he want us to. Nor would we name Abraham or Moses or David or the others alongside Jesus. This is the author’s point as we arrive at the next major section of Hebrews, chapter 3. Read it with me, Hebrews 3:1-6.
As you well know by now, the original readers of this letter were Jewish believers who were facing opposition – persecution because of their new faith. We’ll find they had faced the seizure of property, imprisonment, and soon, martyrdom. It seemed this new Christian faith was going to be challenging. By the way, what is interesting to note is the author nowhere says – just hang in there – there will come a time when the Christian faith will be more acceptable. In fact, there will come a time when you will be respected, healthy, wealthy, prosperous – you will live a problem-free, health-filled, prosperity-filled life. No, rather he reminds them it will be worth it to suffer as they look forward to a heavenly city – whose builder and architect is God. You see, we have a heavenly calling – this world is not our home.
He nowhere promises deliverance from problems in this life – rather, he promises a great High Priest who suffered as we will – who understands and will walk with us in the midst of the sorrows and pains and challenges and trials of life. This great high priest was faithful – and therefore worthy of our fixed attention and devotion to the very end of life – just as Billy Graham stayed focused till the end of his life. Did you know he was still doing crusades at the age of 87? Did you know he was 95 when My Hope with Billy Graham aired across North America? He serves as one of the great heroes of the faith – we follow him as he followed Christ. Because there is one infinitely greater – one over the house of God – the Church – His name is Jesus.
By the way, as we’re magnifying Jesus today – let me tell you about two young girls in our church who understand the centrality of Jesus to our gatherings. Every Sunday, Esther Jobe and Ava Curtis come running up to me at end of the third service – each carrying one of these connections cards. You’ll notice the tally marks. You see, they give me a report every Sunday as to the number of times I say God, Jesus or Holy Spirit. As I understand it, they don’t keep track of the pronouns – but typically, our great Triune God is mentioned between a 100 and 150 times. These young ladies are focused on the right person, and I trust it will stay that way.
Let me give you the outline of the text:
- Consider Jesus (1) – Keep your eyes focused on Him. There are great heroes of the faith. We’re going to look a list of them in chapter 11. But we merely glance at them – we will fix our eyes on Jesus.
- Why? Because Jesus is Superior to [everyone, even] Moses (2-6a)
- So, Remain Faithful to Jesus to the End (6b)
As I suggested a moment ago, this is the second major section of Hebrews. The readers were questioning their faith – considering quitting and returning to Judaism. So the author started his letter with these great words, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son.”
Then, he spent the rest of chapters 1 and 2 demonstrating the Son is greater than angels. As such, implicitly, He and the New Covenant He brought is greater than the Old Covenant which was mediated by angels. Therefore, don’t quit – don’t return to Judaism and its Old Covenant. To you I would say, don’t return to your old way of life. It’s empty, and ultimately meaningless. He began chapter 2 with these words, “For this reason [that is, since Jesus is infinitely greater than the angels] we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it…how will we escape [judgment] if we neglect so great a salvation?” We won’t.
This great salvation, Jesus brought when He became a man – made for a little while lower than the angels, so that He might bring many sons and daughters to glory. Don’t neglect that glorious salvation. He accomplished this by destroying death and the one who had power of death, that is, the devil. He came to give hope – not to angels – but to the descendents of Abraham – those who have become his descendents by faith in Jesus – the merciful and faithful high priest.
Chapter 3 – Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, partakers of a heavenly calling. Let that sink in a moment. These words are meant to encourage. He’s just said we have high priest who was tempted in His sufferings, so that He can come to the aid of those who are also tempted in our sufferings. Therefore, holy brothers and sisters. Yes, I know you’re tempted to quit. I know your suffering is great. Yes, I know you’re wondering whether this is worth it. Life is really hard – and it’s still hard as Christians. Is it worth is? Yes it is, holy brothers and sisters.
These words are meant to encourage us, first, by reminding us, we are holy – sanctified by the one who sanctifies, that is Jesus. That’s from chapter 2 verse 11. Such that the author can call us, right now, holy – saints. In church history, the church unfortunately designated only a few very special people as saints. But the truth is, every follower of Jesus is holy – a saint.
Now, you may not feel like it right now. You may have had a tough week, a tough month, a tough year. You may have found your sinful failures overwhelming your less than faithful walk, your spiritual victories. But, you are holy – made so by the finished work of the incarnated Son of God. You are holy brothers and sisters. Maybe it’s time to start living like it. By the Holy Spirit, who lives in you, maybe it’s to plant a flag in the ground and say, by His presence and power, I will live a holy life – I will live up to my calling.
After all, you are right now a partaker of a heavenly calling. Your call to holiness, your call to Christ-likeness is ultimately a heavenward call. Your eternal home is a heavenly country, he’ll say in chapter 11. There is a sense in which you do not belong here – you are right now a partaker of and looking forward to something much greater – not of this earth – heavenly. Again, you may not feel like it. You may feel beaten down, tempted to quit in the midst of your sufferings. Don’t do it, brothers and sisters, partakers of a glorious, heavenly calling in Christ Jesus.
Instead, consider Jesus. Fix your eyes on Jesus – contemplate, consider, think about Jesus. He is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. This is the only place in the NT Jesus is called the Apostle. This author alone also calls Jesus our High Priest. Think about those two roles – one is directed toward us from God, the other is directed to God from us. He is the Apostle – an apostle is a messenger. He is the one who came from heaven with God’s message of love and forgiveness and redemption. In fact, He affected our redemption through His finished work. Further, He is our great High Priest – the one who represents us to God – the one mediator between God and man. Consider Jesus – think about Him. To whom else can you turn? He alone is the Apostle and High Priest of our confession of faith.
Which brings us to our second point. You’re considering going back to the Old Covenant – mediated by angels, brought, if you will, by Moses the great lawgiver. Listen, as much as Billy Graham is appropriately revered, no one was more revered in Judaism than Moses. As a baby, he was hidden by his parents before being placed in a basket in the Nile River, only to be discovered by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was then raised in Pharaoh’s house, actually cared for by his own mother. But when the time came, he chose rather to identify with his own people – the Israelites – and therefore forced to flee. And after fleeing Pharaoh, he was a shepherd in the wilderness of Midian for forty years – until God appeared to him in a burning bush and called him to go back to Egypt and deliver God’s people. Two million of them, suffering under cruel bondage.
Through ten plagues, God demonstrated His superiority over the Egyptians and their gods through His servant Moses. Moses then led the Israelites out after the tenth plague – the death of the firstborn. He led them through the Red Sea as the Egyptian army was drowned in the midst of the same sea. He led them to Mt. Sinai where he received from God Himself the Law – the Ten Commandments written on tablets of stone. He received instructions for the construction of the Tabernacle, where they would meet with God to offer sacrifices when they broke the Law. He led them through their 40 years of wilderness wanderings, preparing them with the Law again in Deuteronomy before handing the reigns over to Joshua. There is no greater person in Judaism than Moses – highly and appropriately revered.
He was faithful. God Himself said so in Numbers 12. Aaron and Miriam were jealous of Moses and his popularity – but God said of His servant, “He is faithful in all My household.” This is the reference the author alludes to in Hebrews 3. Look at verse 2, “He [that is Jesus] was faithful to Him who appointed Him.” How had Jesus been appointed by God? To come to earth, take on human flesh, and bear the sins of His people, making propitiation for their sins. This was God’s plan, carried out by the Son, and applied by the Spirit. He was faithful to His Father, who appointed Him. Just as Moses also was in all His house. There’s the reference. Moses was faithful. He carried out the responsibilities God gave him in His house, that is, among His people.
But notice, Jesus is worthy of more honor than even Moses for two very important reasons:
- First, Moses was faithful in the house, but God was the builder of the house. Look at verses 3-4 with me again, “For He [that is, Jesus] has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses, [why?] by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.”
Notice first, the implication is that Moses is in the house – actually, we’ll see part of the house. But the builder of the house is God. Now, what is the house? This is simply a metaphor – and God’s house in the OT was the nation of Israel. We know when they were not a people, God called Abraham and made them a people. Isaiah 43 is full of this truth, but listen to verse 1, “But now, thus says the LORD, your Creator, O Jacob, and He who formed you, O Israel.” The text over and over says God created Israel to be His own possession.
They were His people – His house. And Moses was a faithful member of the house – worthy of glory. But, not the same glory as the builder of the house. The author has already told us in chapter 1 that God was the builder of all things – and Jesus was the agent of creation – that is, God made all things through His Son. And so, the author’s point is, as great as the nation of Israel was – as God’s house – its glory pales in comparison to the builder, who is Jesus.
But second, Jesus is worthy of more glory than even Moses because Moses was faithful in the house as a servant, but Jesus was faithful as the Son over the house. Read verse 5 with me again, “Now Moses was faithful in all His house as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later.” Stop right there. Yes, Moses is due appropriate glory, because he was faithful in God’s OT house – in the people of God, the nation of Israel.
But, what does this “for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken later” mean? Jesus Himself said in John 5:46, “if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me.” What Moses wrote in the first five books of the OT, he wrote about Jesus. Now, the author is going to make that clear in chapters 8-10 – the Old Covenant with all its practices were types, shadows of things to come in Jesus. They were types of Christ, and shadows of the reality in Christ. Yes, Moses gave the Law, that people could not keep – but that Law was perfectly kept in Christ. Yes, Moses gave the instructions for the tabernacle and oversaw its construction – but it was merely as shadow of the New Covenant to come. All the sacrifices offered in the tabernacle and later the temple were simply pointing to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ to come.
We’ll talk about that more when we get to those chapters, but let me remind you – as followers of Jesus, we have been made His brothers and sisters, children of God, by the sacrifice of Christ on His cross. Through His death, burial and resurrection, we can know the joy of sins forgiven and reconciliation to God. We can actually become the NT house of God – the NT people of God through Christ.
So yes, Moses was faithful in the house – and that is glorious. But look at verse 6, “but Christ was faithful as a Son over His house.” Do you see the infinite difference between the house and the builder, the servants and the Son? Yes, Moses, and Dr. Graham and host of other faithful servants are worthy of glory for their faithful service to God – but Jesus is worthy of infinite glory – not only did He build the house, He is the Son over the house. Pleas notice – as members of the house, both Moses and Dr. Graham and every person in history, no matter how great or small – needed the work of Christ for His house – every servant needed the sacrifices of the Old Covenant which pointed to Christ – every servant needed the sacrifice of the New Covenant found in Christ. Do you see what I’m saying here – every servant needs the work of Christ.
Now, just as the Israelites were the OT house built by God under the provisions of the Old Covenant, so also the Church is the NT house built by God under the provisions of the New Covenant. Look at the rest of verse 6, “but Christ was faithful as a Son over the house—whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm until the end.”
As followers of Jesus, we are the house God is building – it’s called the church. Listen, in a world today where people like to say, I’m spiritual, I’m just not religious. I like Jesus, I just don’t like the church – I just don’t like organized religion. They don’t get it. You can’t love Jesus and not love the church, of which you are a part. Our society is way too individualistic. It’s not just you and Jesus – it’s you, as part of the people of God, the church, and Jesus. We need each other – we need the church. We are the house of God. Listen to the way Peter says it in I Peter 2 – he uses the same metaphor of a building,
4 And coming to Him as to a living stone which has been rejected by men, but is choice and precious in the sight of God,
5 you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
6 For this is contained in Scripture: “BEHOLD, I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.”
7 This precious value, then, is for you who believe; but for those who disbelieve, “THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE VERY CORNER stone,”
8 and, “A STONE OF STUMBLING AND A ROCK OF OFFENSE”; for they stumble because they are disobedient to the word, and to this doom they were also appointed.
9 But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light;
10 for you once were NOT A PEOPLE, but now you are THE PEOPLE OF GOD; you had NOT RECEIVED MERCY, but now you have RECEIVED MERCY.
Do you see – God is building you into a spiritual house – you are living stones, with Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. We were not a people, but now we are the people of God – sons and daughters of the living God – brothers and sisters in Christ. Once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy because of the work of Christ.
And so, he finishes verse 6 with another encouragement and warning all rolled into one. We are this spiritual house God is building called the church – if we hold fast our confidence in Christ and His finished work and the boast of our hope – again, not in ourselves, but in Jesus – if we hold fast our confidence and boast of our hope firm to the end. But what if we don’t?
Now this, and other passages in Hebrews are quite challenging. The implication seems to be if we don’t hold our confession of faith, that we can be saved – children of God – then lose our salvation – our confidence and hope if we do not hold fast firm to the end. For lots or reasons, I do not believe a person can lose their eternal salvation – but nor will I water down this text. Remember to whom the author was writing – Jewish believers who were facing difficulties for being Christians. And so, they were considering quitting and returning to Judaism. The author is writing to say, don’t do it. There is no salvation to be found there. Salvation is only to be found in Jesus and His work on the cross.
So don’t quit. Persevere, in the midst of the challenges and difficulties of life. Hold on to Christ, firm to the end. Remain faithful – just like Moses was in the midst of great difficulty. Just like Billy Graham was. Remain faithful. Don’t give up your faith. And I believe you have everything you need through the indwelling and empowering Spirit of God to remain faithful.
You see, look closely at what the author says, “whose house we are, if we hold fast our confidence and the boast of our hope firm to the end.” But what happens if we don’t hold fast? What happens if we quit, and return to our old way of life. Look closely, whose house we are if we hold fast. And if we don’t hold fast? Then we are not His house. We are not part of the church. Ours was simply an empty profession of faith. Ours was the seed of the gospel that fell among the rocky places that Jesus talked about in Matthew 13, and when affliction and persecutions arise because of the word, because there is no real root, no real life, they fall away. They are not really part of the house – part of the church. John says it this way in his first letter (I John 2:19-20):
19 They went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us; but they went out, so that it would be shown that they all are not of us.
20 But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know.
Again, you have what it takes to persevere in the midst of the opposition and persecutions and challenges and trials of life. So when they come, hold onto Christ. Strengthen your grip – don’t let go. You have an anointing from the Holy One – you know the truth – remain faithful to the end.