June 17, 2018
If you’ve had children most of us can remember time in youth sports. When I was growing up, it was primarily baseball and basketball – maybe football, but not with my, then, slender frame. Today, we’ve thrown in others like soccer, volleyball, tennis, golf, track, cross country, lacrosse, swimming. If I haven’t named your sport, imagine I have. On this Father’s Day, we can remember the hours of practice with dad or mom – the hours of practice with teammates and coaches. And then those inevitable game days with fans – also known as parents – filling thestands.
We can remember the words of praise. Good throw, good catch, great shot, great play. We can remember the words of encouragement as proud dad and mom yelled – keep your eyes on the ball, get back on defense, swing batter, swing.
My father was an athlete and played many sports well – his favorite was baseball. So I played baseball – for four, very long years. I played because he wanted me to play; he encouraged me to play because he thought I liked it. Why would I like a sport I could not play? I suppose it’s a fine sport – I was just no good. I was an okay fielder, but had no arm, and I certainly could not hit the ball. In my four years of playing – no kidding – I remember actually connecting with the ball one time – a line drive to the first baseman who promptly put up his glove and caught it. I ran with that for quite some time – two feet to the left and it probably would have been a double.
Well, for those four dreadful years, my dad would offer words of encouragement. Keep your eye on the ball, son. Swing earlier, you’re behind it, just make contact, blah, blah, blah. My favorite was, you can do it, son. No, actually I can’t. After four years, I decided I wanted to join the Boy Scouts. My dad said, well son, you probably can’t play baseball and join the scouts, so you’ll have to decide. With a pained look on my face, I think I even mustered up a tear, I said, well I guess I’ll have to give up baseball, Dad. I was in the Scouts for about three months – just long enough to make Tenderfoot, and miss out on the baseball season.
What’s my point? Don’t make your kids play baseball, it’s a lousy sport. That’s not it. You can do it, son. He wanted me to. I even wanted to. But his words of encouragement, as heartfelt as they were, did not insure success. No matter how many encouraging words he offered, it didn’t change the outcome. You see, in the end, it was dependent on me to keep my eye on the ball, to swing at the right time, at the right place, and make that all important yet elusive contact.
For the past few months, we have been in study of the book of Hebrews. It’s a pastoral letter, written to Jewish believers who were struggling in their faith. Infinitely more important than a base hit. Opposition – actually severe persecution – had arisen. As a result, some had remained spiritual infants. Others had removed themselves from the fellowship of the church.
Some had taken their eyes of the prize. Some were considering quitting and joining the Boy Scouts, I suppose. Actually returning to Judaism. And the author writes to encourage them – you can do it. Persevere. Remain faithful. But could they, or were their efforts as fruitless as mine?
And some of you, through our time in Hebrews, have maybe thought, blah, blah, blah. I know you’re encouraging me, even warning me – I’m just not sure I can do it. It feels like you’re in the stands, yelling meaningless words of encouragement, you can do it. I’m struggling. I’ve tried to keep on my eyes on the prize, but I keep failing. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve fallen into sin. Others, even professing Christian brothers and sisters, have sinned against me, egregiously. Left the church, and me. Some, who made vows, took oaths of commitment – to Christ, or me, to remain faithful till death do us part – have not.
Even I’ve made commitments I have not kept. And the rising opposition – from teachers, professors, family, friends, from our culture – has been an avalanche of ridicule and opposition I’m not weathering well. I’ve thought about chucking the whole thing. I come on Sundays, but I’m not sure I’ll make it. And that warning passage? That might be me. I might be the professing Christian who lost it. The almost Christian who walks away. The actual Christian who’s ready to give up. You’re warning is the only thing that’s kept me here. I’m not sure I’ll make it, but I’m too fearful to stop.
What do I do?
How I hope we have people like that here today – many of you. Because I have a word for you from God – your heavenly Father. He is offeringwords of encouragement to you today. You can do it. You will make it. How can He be so sure? Because your success is not dependent on you – but on the sure, rock solid promise of God, who does not lie. His word to you today is like an anchor is a stormed tossed sea.
We’ve just come out of the most severe warning in the book – maybe all the New Testament. And perhaps it has caused you concern – maybe even fear.
Remember, the author’s words to you last week, “But, beloved, we are convinced of better things concerning you.” So, don’t be sluggish. Don’t be lazy. Persevere. Imitate those faithful followers around you – the ones who through faith and patience will inherit the promises. How do we know? How do we know we’ll make it? How do we know it’s not just, swing batter swing? Because of our text today – Hebrews 6:13-20. Having just warned us, having encouraged us, you can do it, having just mentioned God’s elusive promises, we read these words, starting in verse 13.
If you have been troubled over the past couple of sermons in Hebrews, I want to put your troubled heart to rest. Your heavenly Father, from heavenly stands, offers a rock solid anchor of strong encouragement to you today. The outline goes like this:
- The Example of the Promise (13-15)
- The God of the Promise (16-18)
- The Assurance of the Promise (19-20)
He just told his readers, we’re convinced of better things concerning you. And so, be imitators of those examples of faith and patience who inherited God’s promises. For example, consider Abraham. As you well know, Abraham is a key figure in the Bible. His story is covered from Genesis 12to
- Eight of the nine NT authors reference him; the only one who doesn’t is Jude.
We know Abraham’s story. He was from Ur of the Chaldeans, near Babylon, over a thousand miles to the east of Canaan. Which, think about it, makes Abraham an Iraqi. Well, God called Abraham to go to a land He would show him – a land flowing with milk and honey. He would give him the land – further, God would make a great nation of him, with descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky. Not only that, through a descendent of Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Abraham went, even though Hebrews 11 tells us he didn’t know where he was going. Just go west young man. Oh, but that was another problem. You see, what’s crazier is Abraham was an old man, and his old wife was barren. No children – and past child-bearing age. He was 75 when God made the promises to him. How in the world would God fulfill those outlandish promises? But Abraham believed God – and his faith was counted to him as righteousness. As such, he became the father of all those who believe.
He gets to Canaan, and no child is born to him. For eleven years, he waited for the fulfillment of the promises. Finally, his wife Sarah encouraged him to father a child through one of her handmaids – an Egyptian girl named Hagar. He did – and Ishmael was born when Abraham was 86. Oh, but there was a problem with that. Ishmael would not to be the promised seed – the one through whom the nation would come – the one through whom the Messiah would come. No, the promised seed would come through Abraham and Sarah.
So wait some more, Abraham. And he did – for thirteen more years – a total of 25 years he waited. Finally, God remembered and fulfilled His promise – and gave Abraham and Sarah a son – a single son, named Isaac. Abraham was a hundred, Sarah was ninety. But the promise was fulfilled. Here’s my question, why?
Because God said so. That’s the point. The central figure of this passage is not Abraham. The central figure in your story is not you. It is God, and that’s a good thing. For when God made the promise to Abraham, since He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself. Think about that.
When you’re going to take an oath, you swear by something or someone greater than you – binding you to the oath. So for example, when you are sworn into a court of law, you used to raise your right hand, place your left hand on a Bible, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Someone infinitely greater. And that is supposed to bind you to truth. Of course, you canstill lie – it’s called perjury.
Well with God, there was no thing greater than He – He couldn’t swear on the Bible – it’s His Word. He couldn’t swear by someone greater either – there is no one greater – so He swore by Himself. Verse 14, saying, “I will surely bless you and I will surely multiply you.” A couple things to note about that verse. First, the passage comes from Genesis 22:17, and the verse before it actually says, “By Myself I have sworn, declares the LORD…” That’s what the author means when he says God swore by Himself.
Now, taking oaths or swearing by another was a common practice – and in the OT, the strongest oath you could take began, “As the Lord lives…” In other words, by the name of God who lives, I swear. We probably shouldn’t do that today – occasionally you’ll hear people say, “I swear to God” or “I swear by God.” If you’re going to do that, you better be telling the truth, because there’s no one greater by whom you can swear. Yes, Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount not to swear by anything – but let your yes be yes and your no be no. In other words, as Christians, it shouldn’t be necessary to swear by anything –we should always be people of truth.
And that is certainly true of God, right? His divine word ought to be enough. But in order to make His promise even more sure, He swore by Himself.
And verse 15 says, “And so, having patiently waited – that’s Abraham – he obtained the promise.” God fulfilled it. Now a second thing to note about that quote in verse 14 is it comes, again, in Genesis 22, years after Isaac was born and when God told Abraham to take his son – his only son Isaac – the promised seed – and sacrifice him to the Lord on a nearby mountain.
You remember the story. Abraham obeyed God, took his son, the wood for the altar, even the fire, but no sacrifice. When Isaac asked Abraham, Dad, what about the animal, Abraham responded, God Himself will provide. And He did. As Abraham lifted the knife, God stopped him and there was a ram caught in the thicket. Abraham sacrificed the ram. And in a real sense, he received his son back, in fulfillment of the promise. So God said, I will surely bless you, and multiply you, Abraham.
The point is not to get sidetracked by that story, but to see that God promised Abraham a seed, and not only did He give Abraham a son, He spared him years later in fulfillment of the promise. Why? Because God promised and swore by an oath. He didn’t need to swear an oath – He did to make His promise even more sure.
Which brings us to our second point, the God of the promise in verses 16-18. It’s a bit confusing at first, but just know the author is giving us a little cultural lesson. Verse 16 is filled with legal language – for even men swear by someone greater – and in so doing, the oath is given as sure confirmation that what is said is true, and thereby ends every dispute. Again, you could commit perjury, but the principle is, when you take an oath, what you say is supposed to be true, ending any disagreement or argument.
So also, verses 17 and 18, God, desiring to show the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose – that is, what He has promised to bring about – He confirmed it with an oath. He didn’t have to. He’s God – He is a God of truth. It’s His character. But He confirmed it with an oath – not to bind Himself – He’s already bound, if you will, because He is always truthful. But He confirmed it with an oath for us – heirs of the promise – so that we could have absolute confidence that what He promised will take place. Now, who are the heirs of the promise? The heirs of Abraham. Look at Romans 4:
1 What then shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, has found?
2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.
3 For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
4 Now to the one who works, his wage is not credited as a favor, but as what is due.
5 But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness,
9 Is this blessing then on the circumcised, or on the uncircumcised also? For we say, “FAITH WAS CREDITED TO ABRAHAM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS.”
10How then was it credited? While he was circumcised, or uncircumcised? Not while circumcised, but while uncircumcised;
11 and he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had while uncircumcised, so that he might be the father of all who believe without being circumcised, that righteousness might be credited to them,
12and the father of circumcision to those who not only are of the circumcision, but who also follow in the steps of the faith of our father Abraham which he had while uncircumcised.
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith.
And so Paul would write in Galatians 3:29, “And if you belong to Christ Jesus, then you are Abraham’s descendents, heirs according to the promise.”
The point of all that is – the blessings of salvation come to the heirs of Abraham. And who is that? Those who are justified – made right – by faith, and not by the works of the Law. So, back in Hebrews 6 – desiring to show us – those who believe God’s promises like Abraham did are heirs of the promise – promises that God not only made, but swore by an oath, making them doubly sure. His promises and purposes are unchanging.
Now, in this verse and the next, there are a couple attributes of God that give us assurance in His promises. First is the attribute of immutability – that is, God is unchanging. You don’t have to worry that God said salvation would by grace through faith to those who believe like Abraham, and then later God change His mind. Well, I know I said you would be saved by grace through faith, but now you have to do something else. Nope – His character and nature and purposes are unchanging. He is immutable.
Further, verse 18 speaks of His veracity – His truthfulness – so that by two unchangeable things – stop right there. He just said God was unchangeable in His purpose because of His immutability – His unchangeableness. So, by these two unchangeable things – what are those? His promise and His oath by which He swore the promise – in which it is impossible for God to lie.
Because He is always a God of truth.
When we speak of God’s omnipotence – that is, He is all powerful and can do anything – there are some things He cannot do, because, they would go against His nature. He is in very nature true. And as such, it is impossible for Him to lie. That does not limit God – it does not somehow make His law over Him – He is by nature, true. Numbers 23 says it like this, “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has he said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?”
Do you see? Because God is altogether powerful, good, unchanging and truthful, what He has said He will do. He will keep His promises – you can take that to the bank. It is absolutely sure and true. Unchanging. So that, we who have taken refuge – what a great picture – we have taken refuge in the hope of Christ in an increasingly hostile world with rising opposition – we who have done so would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us. This is his encouragement throughout the book. Not just encouragement – strong encouragement take hold of the hope you have, knowing God has promised with an oath, and cannot lie. His promise is unchanging and inviolable. So, persevere. Take hold. Stay faithful. You can do it. And He will not withdraw His promises to you.
Listen – this is so important. When God took Abraham outside, and showed him the innumerable stars in the sky, and said, so shall your offspring be – God was pointing to us. Abraham received the promise, we are its objects. When God promised innumerable descendents, in Christ Jesus, we are those descendents. We are those who have received the blessing – through Him, all the nations of the world will be blessed. Again, Paul said it this way in Galatians 3:
16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as referring to many, but rather to one, “And to your seed,” that is, Christ…
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…
28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise.
Which brings us to our third point, the Assurance of the Promise in verses 19-20. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, is a hope both sure and steadfast. So, the going within the Christian faith had gotten tough.
Challenging. Persecution was rising, and these believers were thinking of quitting. Is it worth it? What about us? Further, will we make it? And the absolutely sure answer is yes on all counts. Our hope is not a hope in an uncertain tomorrow. It is not just wishful thinking. It is not the power of positive thinking. It is based on God’s character and His promise and His oath – and He will keep His promises to the heirs of the promise – that is, heirs of Abraham who by faith have believed and been justified.
We live in an increasingly faith-less, and therefore hope-less, society. As our nation becomes more secular, chasing the American dream, we become more empty. And material success and fame and fortune apparently does not bring hope. More and more people are attempting suicide. More and more are clinically depressed and on anti-depressants. More describe themselves as lonely, aimless, hopeless than ever before. Our culture fails to give people meaning and purpose. We are living in what has been called the “Age of Despair.”
My brothers and sisters, you have a rock solid, unchanging hope. It is as sure as God Himself. It is an anchor of the soul. This is the only place in the NT that uses the word anchor metaphorically. The few others times it’s used, it is an actual anchor of a ship – to hold is steady and sure. That’s the point. Despite the storms and challenges of life. Despite the opposition and persecution that will come. Your soul has an anchor that is both sure and steadfast and will never give way. So in the midst of the challenges, hold on to your faithful, unchanging, powerful, truthful God and His promise. He is shouting from the stands of heaven – you can do it. You will make it. Hold on. Persevere. And you will. Because His words of encouragement are effective and sure.
How can I say that? Because your hope is both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil. What’s that mean? It’s taking us back to the tabernacle and later the temple. And the author is going to talk about that for several chapters now. But remember, the most holy place, in which God dwelt above the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant – where only the high priest could enter once a year to make atonement for his sin and the sins of the people – our High Priest has entered beyond the veil and opened the way for us. His name is Jesus and He has gone as a forerunner – that is, before us. Our access to God is secure through the finished work of Christ. The anchor of our hope is attached to the unfailing, unchanging character of God, held fast by Christ’s own nail-pierced hand. Now you know what it means when we sing:
When darkness veils His lovely face, I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale, My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood, Support me in the whelming flood; When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.
Finally, that High Priest – Jesus – is a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Which brings us full circle back to chapter 5:10. Remember, he wanted to talk about the Melchizedekan priesthood – but his readers were too immature. So, he shamed them, graciously, and warned them severely, then encouraged them with hope – and now says, okay, let’s talk about it now.
By the way, I’ve told you before this author is brilliant – building layer upon layer of truth – intertwining them in amazing ways. Remember Melchizedek is mentioned in Genesis 14 after Abraham returned from rescuing Lot. He then disappears for a thousand years, until Psalm 110:4 – a messianic Psalm, which reads, “The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind (does that sound familiar? The author is tying this all together. The promise included the unchangeable truth that the Messiah, the Lord, is sitting at the Father’s right hand until all His enemies are made His footstool. The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind), You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
Melchizedek disappears again for another 1000 years, until Hebrews 5, 6 and 7 – where we find, because God’s promises are sure and steady and unchangeable that Jesus is forever a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek. And He has entered within the veil for us.
So, do you think God is trustworthy? Do you think you can trust His promises, and remain faithful to Him, despite the trials and challenges of the Christian faith? My brothers and sisters, He will keep His promises to you – He will hold you fast with an anchor for your soul – and you can do it – you will make it, because He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ.
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.