A sermon from March 25, 2012
Thomas Adams sermon from the early 17th century.
The sermon is based upon the text, Hebrews 13:8, Jesus, the same yesterday, and to-day, and forever.
The most remarkable things about Adams’ sermons lies in the turn of phrase. The substance is excellent, the theology correct. But the real brilliance lies in way he uses words.
In the first section he considers, “The center is Jesus Christ” (to the all of eternity).
The blessed restorer of all, of more than all that Adam lost; for we have gotten more by his regenerating grace than we lost by Adam’s degenerating sin.
When speaking of the matter of the Scripture, Adams gives a description which would put Neo-orthodoxy (which Adams obviously could not know), on its head. There is no Christ above Scripture:
This Jesus Christ is the center this text; and not only this, but of the whole Scripture. The sum of divinity is the Scripture; the sum of the Scripture is the Gospel; the sum of the Gospel is Jesus Christ; in a word, There is nothing contain in the word of God, but God the Word.
Adams has a long section in which he contrasts the unchangeable Jesus Christ with the fleeting, changing world, where even the greatest things will fail us. In touching on mutability, he considers a topic which was deeply pondered in his age (and a topic which I rarely see considered outside the occasional sermon).
Consider this paragraph about wealth; I can’t imagine it being seriously considered in a business school. (Although as an attorney, I more than once see wealth flee where someone thought it secure):
Wealth is like a bird; it hopes all day form man to man, as that doth from tree to tree; and none can say where it will root or rest at night. It is a like a vagrant fellow, which because he big-boned and able to work, a man takes in a-doors and cherisheth; and perhaps for a while he take pains; but when he spies opportunity, the fugitive servant is gone, and takes away more with him than all service came to. The world may seem to stand thee in some stead for a season, but at last it irrevocably runs day, and carries with it thy joys, thy goods, as Rachel stole Laban’s idols; thy peace and content of heart goes with it, and thou are left desperate.
Our Master, Christ, is constant. We are inconstant, irresolute — although we are told not to be double-minded men:
The double-minded man is a stranger in his own house: all his purposes are but guest, his heart is the inn. If they lodge there fore a night, it is all; they are gone in the morning. Many motions come crowding together upon him; and like a great press at a narrow door, whiles strive, none enter.
He then turns to the constancy of Christ in contrast to the variability of men. Here he finds a comfort in the perseverance of the saint — because it rests upon the act of God:
If God preordained a Savior for man, before he had either made man, or man marred himself, — Paul says to Timothy, ‘He hath saved us according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2 Tim. 1.9 — then surely he meant that nothing should separate us from the eternal love in that Savior. Rom. viii. 39 Whom he chose before they were created, and when they were lost redeemed, he will not forsake being sanctified.
When he speaks of the continued power of death of Christ to save, he writes,
This is sure comfort to us; though he died almost 1629 years ago, his blood is not yet dry. His woulds are as fresh to do us good, as they were to those saints he that beheld them bleeding on the cross. The virtue of his merits is not abated, though many hands of faith have taken large portions out of his treasury. The river of his grace, ‘which makes glad the City of God,’ runs over its banks, though infinite souls have drank hearty draughts, and satisfied their thirst. But because we cannot apprehend this for ourselves of ourselves, therefore, he hath promised to send us the ‘Spirit of truth, who will dwell with us’ (John xiv. 17) and apply this to us forever.
And here is the plea for repentance:
Time may change thee, though it cannot change him. His is not (but thou art) subject to mutation. This I dare boldly say: he that repent but one day before he dies, shall find Christ the same in mercy and forgiveness. Wickedness itself is glad to hear this; but let the sinner be faithful on his part, as God is merciful on his part; let him be sure that he repent one day before he dies, wherefore he cannot be sure, except he repent every day; for no man knows his last day….
Thou has lost yesterday negligently, thou losest to-day willfully; and therefore mayest lose forever inevitably. It is just with God to punish two-day’s neglect with the loss of the third. The hand of faith may be withered, the spring of repentance dried up, the eye of hope blinded, the foot of charity lame. To-day, then, hear his voice, and make him thine. Yesterday is lost, to-day may be gotten; but that once gone, and thou with it, thou are dead and judged, it will do thee small comfort that, ‘Jesus Christ is the same forever.’
And the conclusion:
Trust then, Christ with thy children; when thy friend shall fail, usury bear no date, oppression be condemned to hell, thyself rotten to the dust, the world itself turned and burned into cinders, still ‘Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for-ever.’ Now then, as ‘grace and peace are from him which is and which was and this is to come;” so glory and honor be to him, which is, and which was, and this is to come; even to Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever.’
(These notes are brief and not “tidied-up”.)
Hebrews 13:17 is often and easily abused passage. It has been more than once to justify lording over the congregation and making the pastor and other leaders beyond question. However, that is not what it means.
The congregation had been taught well (13:7), and the congregation should continue to follow in that path — even though it was difficult work (going outside the camp). Unfortunately, some new teaching had come (which the letter seeks to refute) which had upset the order in the church. The congregation is being told that they should not change their course, but continue to follow their leaders who were going in the same direction. As a further exhortation to follow their leaders, they are told that these leaders will be called upon to give an account for how they have guided the congregation.
There is no warrant to use this passage to mean that leaders are infallible. Christ is the head of the Church. Leaders have only the authority explicitly in the Scripture. They are to lead people to Christ, not to their own opinions. Understood rightly, there is no submission other than to Christ. There is no despotism or abuse in the passage.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Standing alone, this sounds like a free-floating command that the elders are all little popes (or at least a counsel of popes). I have heard this defended with the claim that “Jesus rules the church through his elders.” The argument, played out is
Jesus rules through elders
Therefore, whatever elders say is what Jesus commands.
This, of course, is the divine right of kings. We could call this the divine right of elders.
It is also a defective sort of sovereignty argument: God is sovereign over all things, but that does not mean that all things are “God’s will”. See John Piper’s “Are There Two Wills in God?”
The argument also proves too much: God is sovereign over everything. God is sovereign over the Red Sea, the insects of Egypt, Balaam’s ass, foreign rulers who attack Israel, the death of Christ:
Acts 2:22–24 (ESV)
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
Paul says in Romans 13:1 that God has instituted all governments. When you combine these two elements, you cannot conclude that, since God appoints governments all acts of governments are “God’s will” in the sense that God approves. The murder of Christ, which took place according to God’s plan, was sinful (“the hands of lawless men”).
The same applies for a man who has been appointed a leader in the Church. Just holding an office — even if we say God put him in place (because that applies to everything) — does not mean that everything one does with the office is morally correct.
The second problem with the divine right of elders is that wrenches the verse from its context.
The first word “obey” is a word that also means “be persuaded”.
The author’s concern is that the community “trust” (peithesthe) and “obey” (hypeikete) their leaders. I take the verb peithō in the passive imperative to mean “depend on” or “put trust” in someone (see also Heb 2:13; 6:9), in order to relieve what otherwise would be a redundancy, since hypeikō—found only here in the New Testament—means to give way or submit to someone (Homer, Od. 12.117; Plato, Laws 717D; Philo, Life of Moses 1.156; 4 Macc 6:35).
Luke Timothy Johnson, Hebrews: A Commentary, ed. C. Clifton Black, M. Eugene Boring, and John T. Carroll, 1st ed., The New Testament Library (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2012), 350–351.
The idea is that they are convincing. The obedience is not enforced slavery. The word submission means to be orderly. Lenski explains the pair as follows:
“Obey and yield.” One obeys when one agrees with what he is told to do, is persuaded of its correctness and profitableness; one yields, gives up, when he has a contrary opinion.
- C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Epistle to the Hebrews and of the Epistle of James (Columbus, OH: Lutheran Book Concern, 1938), 490.
There are two things here: Is this a blanket command to do anything someone says who is an “elder?” Second, what is the purpose of this command. I will take the second question first.
The real thrust of the verse is on the purpose: On Judgment Day, the elders will have to give an account to the Lord for how they have done their work. Since these men will be called to account by the Lord himself (“How have you treated my sheep?”), the writer of Hebrews is asking them to not make the elders’ life even more painful. Some people are needlessly difficult — don’t be one of those people.
logical dependence of these clauses is variously exhibited by different interpreters. It is simplest and best to understand all that follows the injunction as reason for it: ‘Obey your spiritual rulers, for they watch over your souls, &c. (Again, obey your spiritual rulers) in order that they may give their account of you with joy, and not groaning; (and obey your spiritual rulers) for such a sorrowful reckoning for your souls were unprofitable for you.’
Francis S. Sampson, A Critical Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Robert L. Dabney (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1856), 471–472.
The emphatic pronoun [they] serves to bring out the personal obligation of the rulers with which the loyal obedience of the ruled corresponded; for they, and no other … Comp. James 2:6 f.; 1 Thess. 1:9; Matt. 5:3 ff. The image in ἀγρυπνοῦσιν ὑ. τ. ψ. is that of the ‘watchmen’ in the O. T.: Is. 62:6; Ezek. 3:17.
Brooke Foss Westcott, ed., The Epistle to the Hebrews the Greek Text with Notes and Essays, 3d ed., Classic Commentaries on the Greek New Testament (London: Macmillan, 1903), 446.
Rightly understood, this is one of the most frightening verses in the Bible for a church leader. (This is the sort of thing Paul is talking about in 1 Corinthians 3 when he speaks of one’s work being burnt up.) The necessity of giving an account is one of the primary reasons for church membership (by the way). A leader who has a good and right fear of giving an account would never abuse the authority nor mistreat the sheep.
Now what is the scope of the elder’s authority. The rest of the context matters a great deal. Look up above:
Hebrews 13:7 (ESV)
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
There were leaders who started this congregation and set it in a good path. The “leadership” of the elder pertains to what they teach: Their job is to teach you the Bible and to model godliness. They are going to give an account for how well they teach the Bible and model godliness: Remember that Jesus gave only one command to the Church: makes disciples. We make disciples by what we teach and how we live.
The elder’s authority is solely what is in the Bible, no more or less. That means if the elder says something, he can only repeat what God has already said. If God says X, then we must submit. If an elder has an opinion, that’s nice but it is not a command.
To obey them. (Ver. 17.) The spiritual government of the Church is an ordinance of Christ, and a means of grace to his people. It is not, however, a despotic government. Pastors and presbyters are simply to administer the Law of Christ. They may not demand submission to what is based only upon their own will or caprice. But, within the limits of their rightful authority, they are to be honoured and obeyed.
D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Hebrews, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 403.
Jay Adams makes this point with respect to counseling:
Counselors, who exercise the authority of God, are not authorities in their own right. Although they must use the authority vested in them by God, they must not exceed the biblical limits of that authority. Nor by their authority may they conflict with the valid God-given authority of the state or the home. Counselors who advise illegal acts or who teach children to dishonor parents violate God’s authority rather than act according to it.
Nouthetic counseling is subject to the directives of the Bible and is not a law to itself. It is counseling that uses (and does not exceed) the authority of God. Therefore, it is neither arbitrary nor oppressive. Nouthetic counselors must learn to distinguish clearly between good advice that they think grows out of biblical principles and those principles themselves. The latter (“You have no grounds for divorce; it would be sin!”) they may enforce with the utmost authority; the former (“Why not set up a conference table in order to begin to learn how to speak the truth in love?”) they must present with more caution. It is possible that one’s deductions from scriptural principles may be false. The counselor must always allow such deductions to remain open for question by the counselee in a way that he cannot allow a plain commandment of God to be questioned. A conference table may be useful, may grow out of biblical principles, but cannot be commanded; speaking the truth in love must be.
Jay Edward Adams, The Christian Counselor’s Manual (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1973), 16.
Thus the counselor’s authority at every point is limited by the Bible itself.
Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 19.
This makes a tremendous difference. The ministry of the Word in counseling, as a result, is totally unlike counseling in any other system because of its authoritative base. This authoritative character stems, of course, from the doctrine of inerrancy. If the Bible were shot through with human error, and were no more dependable than any other composition—if it were not a God-breathed revelation—this note of authority would give way to opinion.6 But, because the Bible is inerrant, there is authority.
This authority must not be confused with authoritarianism.
Jay Edward Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling: Introduction to Nouthetic Counseling (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986), 18.
Thus, when elders decide to take out a loan, change a time for a meeting, pave the parking lot, or any number of other things, they are expressing opinions. When they read the Scripture and say, You can’t commit adultery, they are repeating God. This distinction must be maintained.
In the space between Hebrews 13:7 and 17 we read something which, at first, may seem to be on a different subject:
Hebrews 13:7–17 (ESV)
7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
But let us consider this a bit more: The Christians are being called to go outside the camp, to bear reproach. The leaders are those who are taking them to this place, who teaching, guiding, protecting (they are being “shepherds”, which rightly understood is a terrifying and difficult task). This instruction is, “There are faithful men who do not sleep as they seek to care for your souls. They wake and pray while you sleep; they teach what you do not know; they chase off the wolves and find a safe space to rest. Follow them, because they are doing you good.
Lane (and other commentators) note the concern about “strange teaching”. There was something which has invaded the church, something has gone wrong since the former leaders had taught them. There was a conflict in the church about how to proceed. Do they follow the old teachers or do they follow this new teaching? Hebrews says stay in the old paths, follow the same teaching:
The tenor of the passage is clear. The word that the former leaders proclaimed is now threatened by teaching that is inconsistent with the message the community received. The “various strange teachings” competing for their attention are incompatible with the original, always valid, instruction delivered by the founding fathers of the community (vv 7–8). Foreign teaching and the grace of God mediated through the new covenant are mutually exclusive.
William L. Lane, Hebrews 9–13, vol. 47B, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 530–531.
The reason for obedience:
The reason for the obedience is introduced by gar which is left untranslated in the NIV: “[for] they keep watch over you.” The Greek pronoun autoi, “they,” is overtly used by the author in its clause initial position for emphasis. The sense is “they themselves and none other.” This serves to place emphasis on the authority of the leaders. The implied predicate of “submit” may be the direct object “yourselves”712 or an indirect object “to them.”713 Lane and the NIV supply “to their authority” as the indirect object.714 The verb translated “keep watch” implies constant vigilance, wakefulness, or sleeplessness. It is used in Mark 13:33 and Luke 21:36 meaning “to be vigilant in awareness of threatening peril.” Here and in Eph 6:18 it connotes “to be alertly concerned about.”715 The shepherding aspect of pastoral duty seems to be implied in this verb, and this is supported by the author’s reference to Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep in the benediction in v. 20. The NIV renders the Greek “souls” as “you.” Lane, following Michel, wrongly interpreted “souls” here to be a reference to the eternal life of the readers.716 It is better to take it as referencing their “spiritual well-being,”717 or as simply referring to them as persons.
David L. Allen, Hebrews, The New American Commentary (Nashville, TN: B & H Publishing Group, 2010), 624–625.
Ἀγρυπνέω: first literally, then as here metaphorically “keep watch” (Eph. 6:18; Ep. Diog. 5:2; Barn. 20:2; MM; Bauer 2). The image of a shepherd is implied, thus indirectly in v. 20 their subordination to Jesus, the great or chief shepherd. As very widely in the biblical tradition, rule and caring are joined (Vanhoye 1980.256–259; Laub 1981–82).
Paul Ellingworth, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1993), 723.
Now, that does not automatically mean that every man with the title is a true leader. It is only to the extent that the leader is following Christ that one follows the leader. As Paul writes:
1 Corinthians 11:1 (ESV)
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.
This command must also be read in the context of all other instructions: Jesus, Peter, John & Paul all have only one common command for leaders: do not lord it over Jesus’ sheep.
An elder’s authority is not based upon his having a title — he is a true elder before God only to the extent he is qualified to the job. A man who is lording it over others is not “really” an elder no matter what he calls himself.
Therefore, rightly understood, the submission of Hebrews 13:17 is only a submission to Christ, because the elder only has derivative authority.
The text also ties with the following material:
Nevertheless, I consider this exhortation to be more closely related thematically to the closing material, which gives considerable attention to the leadership figures to whom the addressees ought to be looking for guidance and for the ascription of honor or censure—local leaders (13:17, 24), the author and his team (13:18–19, 22), God (13:20–21), and Timothy (13:23). These are the figures whose opinions should influence the addressees: the local leaders will “give an account” of the people with whose spiritual growth they have been charged (13:17); the benediction reminds the hearers a final time of the central importance of “pleasing God,” assuring them that God is working in them to produce those qualities and fruits that please him (13:20–21); the author and Timothy both expect to visit the hearers in the immediate future, when they will affirm the faithful and censure the wavering in person (13:19, 23) and discover and reinforce the effects of the written sermon delivered in advance of their impending visit:
David A. deSilva, Perseverance in Gratitude: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on the Epistle “to the Hebrews” (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), 508.
Hebrews 13:17–25 (ESV)
17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
22 I appeal to you, brothers, bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.
Again, the emphasis is upon the movement, the task: there is an emphasis on the ultimate end and the difficulty of the work.
By the way, the Corinthian elders abused Paul (2 Cor. 11). The Apostle John was abused by a church elder (3 John).
Here are some commentators’ remarks:
Obey them, etc. I doubt not but that he speaks of pastors and other rulers of the Church, for there were then no Christian magistrates; and what follows, for they watch for your souls, properly belongs to spiritual government. He commands first obedience and then honor to be rendered to them.These two things are necessarily required, so that the people might have confidence in their pastors, and also reverence for them. But it ought at the same time to be noticed that the Apostle speaks only of those who faithfully performed their office; for they who have nothing but the title, nay, who use the title of pastors for the purpose of destroying the Church, deserve but little reverence and still less confidence. And this also is what the Apostle plainly sets forth when he says, that they watched for their souls, — a duty which is not performed but by those who are faithful rulers, and are really what they are called.
John Calvin, Hebrews, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Heb 13:17.
Starke:—The teachers of the church, are leaders, conductors, guides; they must therefore so point the way to blessedness, as themselves to lead the way therein, and conduct their hearers to blessedness, not only with their doctrine, but also by their life and example (Phil. 3:17; 1 Pet. 5:3).—It is one of the hidden ways of God that upright teachers of whom there are so few, and to whose preparation so much belongs, are removed by an early death. Disciples who have such teachers should follow them faithfully be times, and hold them as all the dearer and more worthy (1 Thess. 5:12, 13; Isa. 57:1, 2).—Righteous, faithful teachers shine in life and in death. Happy they who dwell in memory, upon their holy walk, and edifying death, and thus secure their own preparation for a future blessed departure (Matt. 5:14 ff.).
John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Hebrews (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 217.
Loyalty and obedience to the leaders of the church, as those charged with responsibility for the brethren, is enjoined. Them that have the rule over you. Better, your leaders. The officers of the congregation are probably meant. Cf. vs. 7, where former leaders are mentioned. They watch. Suggesting the watchfulness of a shepherd or a sentinel. This responsible and arduous service should call forth a ready response in obedience and devotion. That they may do this with joy, and not with grief. Better, groaning. Do not thwart their efforts and make their burdens still heavier by disobedience. This were unprofitable. Disobedience and wilfulness will not only disappoint their efforts, but bring disaster upon you as well.
Edgar J. Goodspeed, The Epistle to the Hebrews, ed. Shailer Mathews, The Bible for Home and School (New York: Macmillan Co., 1908), 121.
Our author evidently has as much confidence in the present leaders as in their predecessors. Perhaps they were leaders in the wider city church from whose fellowship and jurisdiction the group addressed in the epistle was tempted to withdraw. At any rate, the leaders carried a weighty responsibility; they were accountable for the spiritual well-being of those placed in their care. No wonder they lost sleep101 over this responsibility—for the “watching” could well involve this as well as general vigilance—if some of their flock were in danger of straying beyond their control. The readers are invited to cooperate with their leaders, to make their responsible task easier for them, so that they could discharge it joyfully and not with sorrow.102 The idea is on the same lines as Paul’s exhortation to the Philippian Christians to lead such lives in this world “that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain”103 (Phil. 2:16).
101 Gk. ἀγρυπνέω, “keep watch,” has the etymological sense of chasing away sleep.
102 Gk. στενάζοντες, “groaning.” Moffatt (ICC, ad loc.) quotes Sir Edward Denny’s lines:
O give us hearts to love like Thee,
Like Thee, O Lord, to grieve
Far more for others’ sins than all
The wrongs that we receive.
103 Cf. 1 Thess. 2:19f.
F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews, Rev. ed., The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 385.
As the section began (ver. 7) so it ends, with mention of their leaders. Then they were bidden to remember those who had passed away: now they are to be obedient to the injunctions and tractable to the wishes of their successors. Sleepless, as the shepherd when the wolf is prowling round the fold, such is the phrase which describes their watch for souls; and as the Church is thus exhorted, surely they themselves are searched and stirred. They must give account. Ezekiel’s denunciation of the evil shepherds, and our Lord’s of the hireling, both will apply to them if they are faithless (Ezek. 34:7–10; John 10:10–12). Nay, the flock must suffer if their watch, though vigilant, be joyless and discouraged, through their wilfulness. But a congregation, a parish, is often far more responsible than it suspects for a dull and ineffective pastorate. And then it suffers the penalty in its own spiritual shortcoming: ‘Unprofitable were that for you!’ Now who can read a passage like this, and doubt the scriptural foundation for a stated and authoritative ministry? We obey them as we obey our parents and governors. But as our submission to a sovereign or a father is not absolute, but only while it does not clash with our obedience to Christ, so it is with these: obedience is due to them ‘in the Lord.’
A. Chadwick, The Epistle to the Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary, ed. A. R. Buckland, Third Edition., A Devotional Commentary (London: Religious Tract Society, n.d.), 223–224.
TEACHERS and rulers* are again recognized, and the Hebrews are exhorted to obey them, and to yield themselves to their teaching and rule, to adapt themselves to their peculiarities, and to carry out their wishes and arrangements with a willing mind; for therein God is honoured, and the welfare of the congregation promoted. Ministers watch for your souls as they that must give account of their stewardship. Their responsibility towards God is great; their labour towards you is incessant and anxious. You may well meet them with confidence and a plastic mind, trusting that their counsels are the result of thought, prayer, and experience. Nothing discourages a minister more than the want of response on the part of Christians to his advice, entreaty, and plans. He returns from his work to God, not with joy, but with sighs and tears, with complaints and grief. “This is unprofitable for the people.” They only hinder and retard the blessing which would otherwise come to their hearts, homes, and neighbourhood.
* Verses 7 and 17 show that there was a stated ministry, that there were recognised and regular teachers and pastors in the congregation, whose gifts not only, but whose office was acknowledged. Adolph Saphir, The Epistle to the Hebrews: An Exposition & II, vol. 1 (New York: Gospel Publishing House, 1902), 879–880.
Verse 17. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, etc. The import of the phrase, τοῖς ἡγουμένοις ὑμῶν, “your leaders,” or “rulers,” which the Apostle again uses to designate the pastors of the Hebrew Christians, has been explained in the note on verse 7. It is, as we have seen, a very suggestive phrase, indicating the position and duties of those who stand at the head of the Churches.—Dean Alford has correctly marked the difference between the two verbs employed in the first clause, “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves,”—that the former refers to the cheerful following of their instructions, and the latter to a dutiful yielding in cases in which personal inclination or preference might be interfered with.—This exhortation is enforced by the consideration of the solemn responsibility which rests on Christian pastors. They have to “watch over the souls” of their people,—to maintain a constant, and, as it were, a sleepless, regard to everything that would affect their safety or impede their growth in holiness, and to strive, in every possible way, to lead them onward in the path of life and peace. And for the faithful execution of this trust they are responsible to the Lord Jesus. Before them lies an “account,” to be rendered to Him who has bought His people with His own blood; and the anticipation of this may well incite them to diligence and fidelity.—The latter part of the verse, “that they may do this with joy, and not with grief,” or, more literally, “that with joy they may do this, and not lamenting,” must be understood as referring not to the final rendering of their account to Christ, but to their present watchful care over their people. And the sentiment which is thus brought out is very impressive and beautiful. The Apostle exhorts the believing Hebrews to follow the instructions of those who stood at their head, and sought, with sleepless vigilance, to promote their spiritual interests, and even to yield to them in some things which might cross their own inclinations; in order that the exercise of this pastoral care, in itself so laborious, and involving a responsibility which might well oppress the strongest mind, might be rendered a matter of joy, and not be connected with deep and constant sorrow. “For this,” he adds, “is unprofitable for you.” If a pastor’s heart is grieved and wounded by the conduct of his people, he will not be able to contribute, as he might otherwise have done, to their edification and establishment; and thus the Church will lose the full benefit which was intended to result from the appointment of the Christian ministry.
Henry W. Williams, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews (London: Wesleyan Conference Office, 1871), 423–424.
The author is concerned that the listeners put their confidence in them and submit to their authority. The first verb means to put one’s trust in someone (2:13; 6:9), while the second, which occurs only here in the New Testament, is stronger and means ‘to give way, yield or submit to someone’ (usually in authority).155 In response to this exhortation the listeners will adhere to the word of God that their leaders speak and follow their direction rather than revert to Jewish ways of thinking or be influenced by other strange teachings (13:9).
The rationale for this appeal is ‘because they keep watch over your souls’. Hebrews recognizes that the whole community is summoned to be watchful against sin and bitterness and to care for others through encouragement and exhortation (note 3:12–13; 12:15). But leaders have a special, God-given responsibility156 to do this. The verb ‘keep watch’ means ‘to go sleepless’, and from the literal meaning it takes on the sense of being alert or watchful (Mark 13:33; Luke 21:36; Eph. 6:18).157 Godly leaders are diligent and tireless. They look after the lives of all in their care, but particularly those who are negligent or prone to spiritual laziness, or who fail to recognize the importance of fellowship with other believers (2:3; 5:11; 6:12; 10:25).158 As leaders watch over the souls of others, they will strengthen the hope that anchors the soul to heaven (6:19), and foster the perseverance that leads to salvation (lit. ‘to the preservation of the soul’, 10:39).159
Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Nottingham, England: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 529.
1 Peter 2:21, 2 Corinthians 4:4, Beale, Colossians 1:15, Colossians 3:10, Ephesians 4:24, Exodus 20:4, G.K. Beale, Garden as Temple, Garden of Eden, Genesis 1:26-29, Habakkuk 3:17–19, Hebrews 1:3, Hosea 2:8-9, Hosea 4:18, Idol, Idol Worship, idolatry, image of God, Imago Dei, Kingdom Through Covenant, Leviticus 26:12, Man as Worshipper, Matthew 22:20, Peter J. Gentry, Philippians 2:6-10, Practical Atheism, Psalm 115:2–8, Psalm 4:6–7, Psalm 8:5–8, Romans 1:18-32, Romans 8:28, Stephen Charnock, Stephen J. Wellum, temple, The Garden of Eden Was a Temple in the First Creation, Thomas Watson, We Become What We Worship: a Biblical Theology of Idolatry
The previous post in this series can be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/introduction-to-biblical-counseling-week-two-sin/
THE COUNSELOR AS A WORSHIP LEADER
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.
n A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy
I. Human Beings Were Created to Worship
A. Adam, the First Priest in the First Temple: Humanity was uniquely created for worship of God. Our first home was a sanctuary, a temple. (This discussion is unfortunately a bit technical. If you are interested, I have provided some details in this section. If it seems a bit too much or is unclear, just get this point: God created us to be in relationship with him; which is by definition, worship.)
1. Created in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-29
a. The matter of the image of God has been the subject of much investigation. The primary ways of understanding the doctrine have centered on what human beings are by nature or what human beings do:
But what is meant by the terms “image” and “likeness”? Three approaches to this question are commonly found, and no doubt all three have some merit. Many have concluded that humans are image-bearers due to their superior intellectual structure. Others have stressed that God mandates that humans function as rulers and managers of the creation as they image him (Gen. 1:26–28; Ps. 8:5–8). Yet another approach stresses the created relationships of humans; they image God as they relate to him, to each other, and to nature. Just as the Creator is a being in relationship, so are his creatures. Putting these views together, humans are like God in that they are uniquely gifted intellectually (and in many other ways) so that they may relate to God and to each other as they live as stewards of the world God has given them to manage. While an image is a physical representation of a person or thing (Exod. 20:4; Matt. 22:20), the human body does not mechanically image God, as if God had a body. Rather, the whole human being, including the body, images God’s attributes by ethical living in concrete settings.
b. In Kingdom Through Covenant (Peter J. Gentry & Stephen J. Wellum), G &W analyze the “image of God” referenced in Genesis 1:26-27 by reference to the Ancient Near East conventions and usage. They contend that the idea of man as the “image” of God means that human beings were placed into the Garden of Eden to re-present God’s presence [a detailed analysis of this point is appended in an endnote for those who would like to examine the issue].[i] This concept may be a bit more understandable when it is put into the context of the ancient world:
All ancient temples and sanctuaries had images of deities that had dominion over them. Likewise the garden sanctuary of the LORD had images, but they were very different from what the pagan world later developed. These images were made by God, not by people, for humans themselves were the image of God….They were then able to communicate with God, enjoy God, obey God, and serve God.”
Gentry and Wellum take the word “image” to refer to the capacity of the human being to be able to interact with God [again, see the endnote for the discussion of this subject].
c. Our sanctification in part is the restoration of that image:
Another major aspect of the doctrine of image of God is developed from Ephesians 4:24 and Colossians 3:10. These verses describe redemption in terms of re-creation in the likeness of God, in righteousness, holiness of the truth, and true knowledge. The argument is that what holds so prominent a place in the new creation must also have held a correspondingly prominent place in the original creation.
Paul argues that believers are destined to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8:29). We are to live as God would, to represent him and his character. Paul elsewhere refers to Jesus as the image of God (2 Cor 4:4). The writer of Hebrews uses the same verbiage, calling Jesus “the express image of God” (Heb 1:3). As humans gave visible form to God, so Jesus is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus was truly incarnate, becoming human to atone for humankind, but also an example for humankind (Phil 2:6–10; 1 Pet 2:21).
These New Testament passages convey that Jesus was the imager of God. As Jesus imaged God, we must image Jesus. In so doing, we fulfill the rationale for our creation. This process is gradual: “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18). Paul also links our resurrection to Jesus as the image of God in 1 Cor 15:49.
d. Human beings were created in a unique relationship with God, which is demonstrated in part by the fact that we were created in the image of God. We have a relationship to God which is unlike any other created being. Now, damage to that was done in some manner by sin and the Fall. But in our salvation, we are being “renewed in knowledge after the image of [our] creator” (Colossians 3:10). We were created for God in a unique manner.
2. “The Garden of Eden Was a Temple in the First Creation.” Dr. Beale makes that argument in A New Testament Theology, 617-622. The Garden of Eden was a unique place. It was a location where God walked freely with his people, just as God presented himself in the tabernacle (Leviticus 26:12). The words used to describe Adam’s charge to “cultivate it and keep it” are the same words used elsewhere to describe the work of the Levites in the Temple (Numbers 3:7-8, 8:25-26). Solomon’s temple echoed the Garden in many respects:
The Garden of Eden was a sanctuary, the place where the people had access to the living God. And because God was there, every good and beautiful gift from God was also provided for their delight and benefit. In time Israel built a sanctuary and then a temple patterned after Paradise, not only to recall the memory of Paradise but also to rekindle the hopes of glory in the Paradise to come. To remain in communion with this LORD of glory and enjoy his bounty, they simply had to serve him and obey his commands.
B. Human beings live in a state of corrupted worship. Romans 1:18-32.
1. Human beings know God yet suppress that knowledge.
a. The Bible asserts the existence of God as beyond question. For example, the Bible begins with, “In the beginning, God created …” (Gen. 1:1). God simply is. Paul uses the same process in Romans 1:18-32: He writes that “the wrath of God is revealed …” (18); “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because has God has shown it to them” (19); “his invisible attributes … have been clearly perceived” (20); “for although they knew God …” (21); “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (25); “they know God’s decree” (32). Thus, the basic proposition for all the theology which follows in the book or Romans is that there is a God and we know it. Thus judgment on all mankind is just, “So they are without excuse” (20). Man’s sin is in direct opposition to the God’s known existence and decree (32).
b. The problem of mankind is not that we do not know of God; it is that we do not want to know God –we suppress that knowledge. In each of the instances which involve the admission that God exists, Paul counters that with the proposition that humanity suppresses that knowledge: (1) “men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (18); (2) “they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened” (21); (3) “Claiming to be wise, they became fools”(22; cf. Ps. 14:1, “The fool says in his heart there is no God”); (4) “[they] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images”; (5) “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (25); (6) “they did not see fit to acknowledge God” (28).
It is important to note that such suppression does not entail utter denial of divinity. It is a well-known fact that even atheists will pray. Rather, it is best to understand such “suppression” as a denial of an aspect or attribute of God (see the chapter Charnock’s “Practical Atheism”): Thus, in 1:18, the suppression is as to the knowledge of the wrath of God. In 1:21, it is a refusal to honor or give thanks to God. In 1:25, they “exchange the truth about God.” In 1:19, it is rejection of his position as Creator.
2. Moreover, due to the fact that human beings are built to worship, when they suppress the knowledge and worship of the Creator they immediately and necessarily turn to the worship of the creature: idolatry is unavoidable (Rom 1:25). This leads to all other sin, “This introductory section to Romans affirms that idol worship is the root sin of all other sins.” G.K. Beale, We Become What We Worship: a Biblical Theology of Idolatry (Nottingham, England: IVP Academic, 2008), 203. “Men in our own sociologically and psychologically oriented age have all kinds of explanations for the moral problems of man. But according to the Bible, it is not moral declension that causes doctrinal declension; it is just the opposite. Turning away from the truth—that which is cognitive, that which may be known about God—produces moral declension. The modern artists, the dramatists, and the novelists show how far modern man has turned away into moral byroads. The Bible tells us the cause: men who knew the truth turned away; they are followed by men who do not know the truth, and this results in all sorts of moral turning aside”.
The result of this process of suppressing the knowledge of God is sin: both in desire and conduct. Paul explains that it entails God giving one over to a defective understanding of the world. That defective understanding leads to corrupt desires, which leads to corrupt conduct.
3. Having explained the act of suppression in verses 18-21, Paul writes in verses 22-23, “[T]hey became foolish in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.” Plummer draws the connection from their suppression, through their ingratitude (a failure to worship) to their folly and sin:
These people not only might have known God, but actually did know much concerning him, and then refused to honor him as he deserved. To this they were led by one gross, master sin, ingratitude, to which their wicked hearts naturally and powerfully inclined them. The same depravity made them vain in their imaginations….Wicked men are as foolish as they are perverse. They are awful left to themselves. They are benighted. They are lost. [W]ickedness leads to folly, and folly in divine things is wickedness. So the Bible is right in not carefully preserving the distinction between fools and sinners.
Plummer rightly notes the movement from suppression, through perverse thought, through corrupt lives. Paul makes the same movement in this passage, returning to the issue of the mind in verse 28, “And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind.”
4. A debased mind. “As a punishment for their thus reprobating the knowledge of God, God gave them up to a “reprobate mind:”—a mind reprobate in respect to those things which concerned their own honour and well-being. A reprobate mind signifies a mind that has lost its powers of just discrimination. The human mind had so ill and wickedly discriminated in rejecting the knowledge of God, that it was doomed forever to the same wayward choice, and to the same practical insensibility to the beauties of virtue and holiness. Thus, in the shocking instances just recorded, it desired and chose things, not only incompatible with the welfare of man, but absolutely unsuitable to his nature”
5. Turned over in desire and conduct.
a. Desire. In verses 24 and 26 Paul writes that “God gave them up … .” In verse 24, they are given over to “the lusts of their hearts to impurity ….” In verse 26, they are given over to “dishonorable passions.” The human being have suppressed the knowledge of God, finds himself unable to even think straight (v. 21, 28). Getting God wrong, the physical, particularly the sexual life, of the human being becomes disordered. In such a state, the passions and desires find full reign.
b. Conduct. It is no surprise that a man who cannot think and who is a slave to his passions is a man who will live and act in a manner consistent with darkened thinking and sinful passions. This shows itself in: (1) idolatry (23 & 25); (2) sexual sin (24-27); and (3) every manner of sinful conduct (28-31).
6. Some counseling implications.
a. In salvation and sanctification, the process is one of renewing this mind so that it can discern the will of God. The proposition here is that the generating mechanism for sin (the “flesh” in much of Paul) is this defective knowledge of God/suppression of the knowledge of God. In the believer, the suppression is not absolute: thus, the believer is no longer under the “dominion” of sin. However, the suppression is still partial: thus, sin persists with the believer. Since the suppression is at the level of perception and thought, the results effect every aspect of the human being (depravity is “total” although it is not “utter”). This would explain why sin will take various forms in various persons based upon their experience and temperament and circumstances: the precise nature of the suppression and subsequent action will vary from person to person. This also leads to a model of counseling—show them Christ, teach them the will of God that their mind may be renewed so that the mind can now discern the will of God.
b. A key ingredient for biblical counseling must be is a larger and larger view of our God. Sin is what we do when we don’t believe what God says (faith). Sin is what we do when we don’t hope in what God says we should hope in and for (hope). Sin is what we do when we don’t love, yearn for, treasure what God says is valuable (love).
Therefore, the local congregation and the particular acts of counseling and discipleship must be organized to help in this context, because sin tends to blind us to its actions within our own lives. Thus, another believer examining one’s life, opening the Scripture and teaching the will of God is an invaluable tool for sanctification. It functions in the same manner as the public proclamation of the Gospel—but the close connection between counselor and counselee (ideally, such a relationship would be reciprocal, “confess your sins one to another” (James 5:16) permits clarification on points which are misunderstood; and accountability to encourage and admonish on a regular basis (Heb. 3:13; 1 Thess. 5:14). Facilitating the ministry of a local congregation is such a way as to encourage and support such counseling is necessary to fulfill the Church’s function of making discipleship who observe all that the Lord commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).
C. Humans Always Worship
1. Romans 1:25. Note that when human beings leave off worshiping God, they immediately turn to worshiping creation.
2. Worship in everyday life.
a. Consider the formal aspects of worship in any religion.
iii. Common actions: functioning together as a group.
vi. Special clothing
vii. Special places
viii. Special times
ix. Special food.
x. Special language
xi. Directed thinking: meditation and study.
xii. One’s happiness and well-being hinge upon matters greater than oneself.
b. Compare this to a college football game, a concert, a political rally.
c. The nature of “gods” as extremely powerful but not wholly different human beings. Compare that with the understanding of “gods” and “idols” in terms of celebrities.
D. The end of all redeemed humanity is worship. Revelation 4-5.
A. Definitions of Idolatry
1. JohnDavid Thompson in his ThM thesis on the doctrine of idolatry in the matter writes:
The focus of biblical idolatry is not primarily upon what is falsely worshipped but what, or more accurately whom, is not worshipped. Herein lies the source of confusion when it comes to understanding idolatry and its ubiquitous application within Christianity. The sin of idolatry does not begin with the worshipping of an idol, or little “g” god, rather it begins by not worshipping the God of the Bible. To summarize: idolatry is not the worship of the creature, it is not worshipping the Creator. Once idolatry has taken root, it is manifest in the worship of the creature, but it begins by a change in direction of worship. (11)
2. Thomas Watson in his sermon on the first commandment in the Ten Commandments explains:
To trust in any thing more than God, is to make it a god.
If we trust in riches we make riches our god. . . .
If we trust in the arm of flesh we make it a god. . . .
If we trust in our wisdom, we make it a god. . . .
If we trust in civility, we make it a god. . . .
If we trust in our duties to save us, we make them a god . . .
If we trust in our grace, we make a god of it. . . .
To love anything more than God, is to make it a god. . . .
If we love our pleasure more than God, we make a god of it. . . .
If we love our belly more than God, we make a god of it. . . .
If we love a child more than God, we make a god of it.
3. Idolatry is not in the thing itself, but in our relationship to the thing:
Other things are only evil respectively as they prove idols or snares to us; and so life, and all the ornaments, comforts, and conveniences of life; as liberty, honours, wealth, friends, health, they are all called self. The reason is, because by love, which is the affection of union, they are incorporated with us, and become parts of us: Hosea 4:18, ‘Ephraim is joined to idols;’ they are cemented with them. Now that which is to be denied in these things is not so much the thing itself, but our corruption that mingleth with them, and causeth them to become a snare to the soul.
B. Idolatry is really about fulfilling my own desire.
1. A self-exalting heart.
This is how idolatry functioned in the Old Testament. The fundamental problem with the Israelites in the Old Testament was that they reserved for themselves the prerogative to determine what they needed and when they needed it, instead of trusting the Lord. The self-oriented hearts of the Israelites then looked to the world (the neighbors in their midst) and followed their lead in bowing to gods that were not God in order to satisfy the lusts of their self-exalting hearts. When this is comprehended, it portrays the terrible irony of Israelite false worship. When the Israelites followed the lead of their neighbors and bowed before blocks of wood, that act of false worship underlined their desire for autonomy and, in an ironic way, was an exultation of themselves even more than of the idol. The idol itself was incidental; (in our world it could be a pornographic picture, a spouse as the particular object of codependency, or an overprotective mother’s controlling fear attached specifically to her children) the self-exalting heart was the problems, which remains the problem today.
The main problem sinful people have is not idols of the heart per se. The main problem certainly involves idols and is rooted in the heart, but the idols are manifestations of the deeper problem. The heart problem is self-exultation, and idols are two or three steps removed. A self-exalting heart that grasps after autonomy is the Grand Unifying Theory (GUT) that unites all idols. Even though idols change from culture to culture and from individual to individual within a culture, the fundamental problem of humanity has not changed since Genesis 3: sinful people want – more than anything in the whole world – to be God.
Hosea 2:8–9 (ESV)
8 And she did not know
that it was I who gave her
the grain, the wine, and the oil,
and who lavished on her silver and gold,
which they used for Baal.
9 Therefore I will take back
my grain in its time,
and my wine in its season,
and I will take away my wool and my flax,
which were to cover her nakedness.
Note in these verses the revelation of the heart of the idolatrous Israelites: They looked to a god (not God) who could give them what they desired. They worshipped Baal, because they thought Baal gave them stuff. To cure them of their idolatry, God will have to cause them pain by depriving them of grain and wine – not because he seeks their hurt, but because he desires to cure them of their idolatry.
Contrast this with David’s exaltation in Psalm 4:
Psalm 4:6–7 (ESV)
6 There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
7 You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
Or Habakkuk 3:
Habakkuk 3:17–19 (ESV)
17 Though the fig tree should not blossom,
nor fruit be on the vines,
the produce of the olive fail
and the fields yield no food,
the flock be cut off from the fold
and there be no herd in the stalls,
18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will take joy in the God of my salvation.
19 God, the Lord, is my strength;
he makes my feet like the deer’s;
he makes me tread on my high places.
To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments.
2. The self as a bundle of idols.
For the object—A man’s own self, it is a bundle of idols. Since God was laid aside, self succeeded in the crown; we set up everything that we call our own. Everything before which we may put that possessive ‘ours’ may be abused and set up as a snare, all the excellences and comforts of human life, both inward and outward.
For the understanding of this, and that you may know how far self is to be denied, I must premise some general considerations, and then instance in some particulars; for it seemeth harsh and contrary to reason that a man should deny himself, since nature teacheth a man to love himself and cherish himself: Eph. 5:29, ‘No man ever hated his own flesh;’ and grace doth not disallow it. Therefore—
[1.] In general, you must know when respects to self are culpable. There is a lawful self-love—‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,’ James 2:8; in which there is, not only a direction to love our neighbour, but a concession and allowance implied to love ourselves; and in so doing, we do well. By an innocent and natural respect nature fortifies itself, and seeks its own preservation. A man may respect himself in a regular way. That self which we must hate or deny is that self which stands in opposition to God or competition with him, and so jostleth with him for the throne; lay aside God, and self steppeth in as the next heir; it is the great idol of the world, ever since the fall, when men took the boldness to depose and lay aside God, as it were, self succeeded in the throne. Fallen man, like Reuben, went up to his father’s bed. Self intercepted all those respects and embraces which were due to God himself, and so man became both his own idol and idolater. It is with God and self as it was with Dagon and the ark; they can never stand together in competition; set up the ark, and Dagon must fall upon his face; set up Dagon, and the ark is deposed and put down. 
3. The great idol self.
Because self is the greatest enemy both to God and man. (1.) It robs God of his honour. Self, it is a near and dear word to man; it is both the idol and the idolater. It receives the worship which it performeth; as the sea sends out waves to the shore, and then sucks them in again. Self is made a god, and then god is made an idol; Phil. 3:20, ‘Whose god is their belly.’ All their toil and labour is to feed and delight themselves, and to exalt themselves. Self hath such sacrifices and devotions as God requires. Self hath solemn worship. A carnal man prays, and what then? He makes God the object, and self the end; so that self is the god. So self hath private and closet duties, vain thoughts, and musings, in which we lift up ourselves in our own conceit—‘Is not this great Babel that I have built?’ Some time of the day we consecrate to the great idol self, to puff up ourselves with the conceit of our own worth. This is a more secret worship of self. The public worship of self is in self-seeking, and the private in self-conceit, when we feast and entertain our spirits with whispers of vanity, and suppositions of our own excellency and greatness.
C. We become debased by our idols.
1. We are limited by our concept of G/god(s): “Man does not rise higher in thought and life than the Deity before whom he bows and to whom he submits himself; but he may, and too generally does, adopt the worst features of the character and conduct of his gods. What we constantly meditate upon transforms us into its own lineaments.”
2. We become what we worship (this is also the title of an outstanding book on idolatry by Beale):
a. Psalm 115:2–8 (ESV)
2 Why should the nations say,
“Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens;
he does all that he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
8 Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
D. Identify Idols: As an appendix hereto, I have attached 13 Tests for Heart Idolatry.
E. What to do with the knowledge of an idol:
1. Idolatry identifies the defect in our theology. The Israelites thought that their happiness and good lay with (1) getting corn and oil [which are stand-ins for anything which we want], (2) no matter what they had to do to get it. They falsely thought this life was everything; and effectively lived as if there were no God (Psalm 14:1) and as if death ends one’s existence. Thus, finding an idol merely shows what we think God should be doing and how he should respond to us.
2. Realize that idolatry is a defect of worship and thus the solution is correct worship.
a. Psalm 4: David’s confidence in God flows from right worship (note the aspects of worship which David demonstrates in the Psalm) and this results in a confidence which idolators cannot know. Thomas Watson’s words on Psalm 4:7 (quoted in The Treasury of David) are marvelous:
Thou hast put gladness in my heart. The comforts which God reserves for his mourners are filling comforts (Romans 15:13); “The God of hope fill you with joy” (John 16:24); “Ask that your joy may be full.” When God pours in the joys of heaven they fill the heart, and make it run over (2 Corinthians 7:4); “I am exceeding joyful;” the Greek is, I overflow with joy, as a cup that is filled with wine till it runs over. Outward comforts can no more fill the heart than a triangle can fill a circle. Spiritual joys are satisfying (Psalm 63:5); “My heart shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips;” “Thou hast put gladness in my heart.” Worldly joys do put gladness into the face, but the spirit of God puts gladness into the heart; divine joys are heart joys (Zechariah 10:7 John 16:22); “Your heart shall rejoice” (Luke 1:47); “My spirit rejoiced in God.” And to show how filling these comforts are, which are of a heavenly extraction, the psalmist says they create greater joy than when “corn and wine increase.” Wine and oil may delight but not satisfy; they have their vacuity and indigence. We may say, as Zec 10:2, “They comfort in vain;” outward comforts do sooner cloy than cheer, and sooner weary that fill. Xerxes offered great rewards to him that could find out a new pleasure; but the comforts of the Spirit are satisfactory, they recruit the heart (Psalm 94:19), “Thy comforts delight my soul.” There is as much difference between heavenly comforts and earthly, as between a banquet that is eaten, and one that is painted on the wall.
These words point to a proposition which will be examined in a later lesson: A lesser pleasure is displaced by a greater pleasure.
b. The way to stop worshiping and serving the creature is to turn and serve the Creator; there is no other way to put off idolatry than to engage in right worship. As Thomas Watson says in his sermon the first commandment:
Let it call us off from idolizing any creature, and lead us to renounce other gods, and cleave to the true God and his service. If we go away from God, we know not where to mend ourselves.
(1) It is honorable to serve the true God. “To serve God is to reign.” It is more honor to serve God, than to have kings serve us.
(2) Serving the true God is delightful. “I will make them joyful in my house of prayer.” Isa 56:7. God often displays the banner of his love in an ordinance, and pours the oil of gladness into the heart. All God’s ways are pleasantness, his paths are strewed with roses. Prov 3:17.
(3) Serving the true God is beneficial. Men have great gain here, the hidden manna, inward peace, and a great reward to come. Those who serve God shall have a kingdom when they die, and shall wear a crown made of the flowers of paradise. Luke 12:32; 1 Pet 5:4. To serve the true God is our true interest. God has twisted his glory and our salvation together. He bids us believe; and why? That we may be saved. Therefore, renouncing all others, let us cleave to the true God.
(4) You have covenanted to serve the true Jehovah, renouncing all others. When one has entered into covenant with his master, and the indentures are drawn and sealed, he cannot go back—but must serve out his time. We have covenanted in baptism, to take the Lord for our God, renouncing all others; and renewed this covenant in the Lord’s Supper, and shall we not keep our solemn vow and covenant? We cannot go away from God without the highest perjury. “If any man draws back [as a soldier who runs away from his regiment] my soul shall have no pleasure in him.” Heb 10:38. “I will pour vials of wrath on him, and make my arrows drunk with blood.”
(5) None ever had cause to repent of cleaving to God and his service. Some have repented that they had made a god of the world. Cardinal Wolsey said, “Oh, if I had served my God as I have served my king, he would never have left me thus!” None ever complained of serving God—it was their comfort and their crown on their death-bed.
III. Practical Atheism
I have posted as a separate essay, a summary of Stephen Charnock’s Practical Atheism.
1. We can understand our trouble in this life as a worship defect. It is a failure to recognize God as God. Instead, we make our own desires to be our god and then worship that desire in the form of an idea.
2. The solution to our problem is two-fold (1) having lower (and thus right) thoughts of ourselves and (2) having greater thoughts of God (the fear of the Lord). This is not to debase ourselves. When we worship God, we are exalting in our humanity – for we were created for this purpose. This is not to leave ourselves hopeless; rather it is to commit ourselves to the One who truly loves us and cares for us. This results in our greatest happiness.
3. Worship as an affirmation of the greatness of God:
Thus, when Climacus says that the religious life is one of suffering, he does not merely mean that it involves pain, though it does, but that it requires a person to recognize the limits imposed by their creatureliness, to understand what is within a person’s power and what be accepted as something one cannot control. At this point the theistic context Climacus presupposed becomes more prominent. Though human persons may have the illusion that they are autonomous, “self-made men,” in reality we are all completely dependent on a reality outside and beyond ourselves that we cannot control. Climacus expression tis by saying the religious task is to learn that “without God a person can do nothing.” …If we are creatures of God it is literally true that without God’s creative and sustaining power human beings would not exist, would be nothing at all. The recognition of my own nothingness before God and complete dependence upon God is essentially to recognize that God is God and I am not. It is in fact a form of worship, since worship is at bottom a recognition and affirmation of the greatness of God.
4. The counseling implication: The purpose of counseling is not to solve a problem per se; it is to help another worship. You could think of the counselor as a “worship leader”.
Thirteen Diagnostic Tests for Heart Idolatry:
1. Esteem: God calls us to esteem his name:
Then those who feared the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the LORD and esteemed his name.
Malachi 3:16. Now, esteem alone does not constitute idolatry; for we should rightly esteem those who labor most diligently for Christ’s Kingdom (1 Thess. 5:12-13). Rather, whom we must highly esteem is our God.
Only one object can be held in highest esteem. Thus, we each must ask ourselves: What do I most highly esteem? What do I count as most honorable, most desirable, most excellent, most valuable? For the very act of counting some object as most valuable is to make God somehow less valuable.
In this place, special mention must be given to self: Our heart seeks its own. By nature, we esteem our self, our hope, our dream, our desires, our honor, in the first place. Indeed, we consider it a positive evil to prohibit the self’s desire as the standard of all good.
Our culture in particular creates idols after this manner. The moral value of thing, whether it is good or evil lies in subjective human estimation. Morality is relative, not because we have no standard. Rather, the standard exists in the personal valuation. Thus, the public moral standard is to protect the right of personal valuation. I cannot condemn any moral decision other than to call someone else’s valuation wrong.
How do I test for estimation? Given a choice between X & Y, which do I choose? Which do I think best? We must measure this against our actual actions, because we often & easily say we esteem X when our practice shows that we esteem Y. We must look to our actual conduct, because sin by its nature deceives.
2. Mindfulness: God calls us to mind him:
Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; Ecclesiastes 12:1
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your wonders of old. 12 I will ponder all your work, and meditate on your mighty deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy. What god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; you have made known your might among the peoples. Psalm 77:11-14.
What gets your attention? Look to your thoughts: When you have idle moments, what do you first consider? When you wake & sleep, what first captures your heart?
This requires great self-consciousness. Our thoughts and intentions (Heb. 4:12), may be disclosed in our conduct, our choice of words. But by their nature, our thoughts and intentions cannot be seen by others unless we bring them forth.
Here the Scripture brings a knife:
12 For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. Heb. 4:12-13.
When we read the Scripture; when hear the Scripture preached, how do we respond? The Holy Spirit uses the Scripture to uncover and display the seemingly hidden thoughts and intentions. We realize that we cannot keep our heart secret from God. Romans 8:27 calls the Spirit, “he who searches hearts.”
Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD; how much more the hearts of the children of man! Proverbs 15:11
That which we consider most, that makes up the meat of meditation, that captures our heart’s attention — that is our God:
5 My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, 6 when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; Psalms 63:5-6
3. Intention: The thing we make our chief aim, our intention – that thing is our God. It is here we can misuse God and make our seemingly devoted actions sin. It as on this ground that Jesus rebuked the crowd:
26 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.27 Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” John 6:26-27
They sought Jesus, but only as a means. They did not search for him for himself; they sought for him the way one would search for a door: to go through for something better. They sought him to fill their true god, their bellies:
18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. Philippians 3:18-19
When we intend any other end than to obtain Christ, we have made an idol:
13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. Philippians 3:13-15.
It is at this very point that the reward offered to those believe is mistaken. No true follower of Christ desire heaven or the new creation for itself; rather, such things are sought because that is where we may see our Lord.
Look to intention, consider your goals. Note this carefully. The sin of the people who came to Jesus was not hunger: Jesus had just fed. Jesus acknowledges food and clothing as rightful and needful. The sin lies in seeking such things first and most:
31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:31-33
4. Resolution: That which is our aim – that thing for which we resolve to set our efforts is what we worship as God. We can see this in three ways.
First, we can consider the degree of our resolve: When we consider the degree of our resolve toward God and compare that with the degree of our resolve toward creature – be it anything – that which gains your most intense resolve is your God. What promise will you not break? Which end will you not miss?
Second, do you resolve for things in this world without condition (our job, a relationship, a material good) and yet put limitations upon our resolution toward God? That which has no condition is our god or God.
Third, if we must have something of the world now – but leave our resolution for God for the future – then that which has our resolution now is our God. If we think, the world can have my morning and God have my deathbed conversion, then God is not your God.
5. Love: That which we must love is our God. Love is the essential act of soul worship. God unquestionably demands the place of the highest and greatest love – he claims the place of that which we must love:
You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. Deuteronomy 6:5 (ESV)
Jesus called this the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37). Other things may be loved, but God must be loved first:
He loves You too little who loves anything together with you, which he loves not for Your sake. – Augustine
John lays all sins as contrary to the love of the Father:
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15–17 (ESV)
Those that love pleasure have pleasure as a god (2 Tim. 3:4). Those that love their appetites have their belly as a god (Phil. 3:19). God even demands place before our dearest human relatives (Matt. 10:37; Luke 14:26).
6. Trust: That which we trust most is our God. Trust, a settled dependence upon God and God alone is at the heart of worship and faith. Faith necessarily entails trust. Thus, in Proverbs 3:5, we are instructed to wholly trust God:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5 (ESV)
Do you trust in your riches – your ability to make money or the money you have (or dream you will have)? Then that is your god. Do you trust in friends – or the ability to make friends? Then such is your god. Yet the LORD is the rightful object of our trust:
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. 9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes. Psalm 118:8–9 (ESV)
To trust in something other than the LORD is to make that an idol and seek God’s curse:
5 Thus says the LORD: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the LORD. 6 He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. 7 “Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.” 9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? 10 “I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:5–10 (ESV)
Trust in the creature is always idolatrous.
7. Fear: That we fear is our God; for fear is in the heart of worship. Thus, Scripture often terms worship to be “fear” of the Lord (Matt. 4:10; Deut. 6:13). In Isaiah 51:12-13 God equates fear of “who dies” with forgetting the Lord. That which we fear most is our God.
Thomas Watson in The Great Gain of Godliness explains the rightful fear of the Lord:
[It] is a divine fear, which is the reverencing and adoring of God’s holiness, and the setting of ourselves always under his sacred inspection. The infinite distance between God and us causes this fear.
God is so great that the Christian is afraid of displeasing him, and so good that he is afraid of losing him.
This is not to be “afraid of God”, because a godly fear is mixed with love, faith, prudence (caution), hope, diligence (in the things of God).
That which we fear we make our greatest concern. If we first fear man, then man’s judgment is the basis of justification – we bring ourselves into judgment before that which we fear.
This is especially a deadly matter, because when we fail to fear God we cannot help but sin against him. That thing we fear other than God, that god which is no God, will lead us surely. Thus, the fearful and cowardly are reckoned among the idolaters (Rev. 21:8).
8. Hope: That object of our hope is our God – it is the place to which we journey and subject our life. A drowning man thinks of nothing but the air – the place of the air is his hope and all his life he directs to getting air.
The Christian’s hope must be solely in the Lord Jesus Christ:
Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:13 (ESV)
God, himself is our hope and joy:
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. Romans 15:13 (ESV)
Just as saving faith must entail trust so it must entail hope. Therefore, Jesus is called our “hope” (1 Tim. 1:1). This is the effect of Christ:
To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27 (ESV)
There are many who hope for “heaven”, by which them the fulfilling of their desire for the creature. They think heaven to be a place of all their current delight – when heaven (and better still, the New Heavens and the New Earth) are a place of love and joy in our Savior.
There is a subtle danger in our hope: For one can learn to hope in her own prayers, and obedience, and service. In so doing, salvation is no longer the gift of a God who justifies the ungodly, but rather the merit of my efforts. If we will hope in God, then we must hope in him alone.
That upon which we fix our immovable hope, that is our God – and thus is often an idol.
9. Desire: Anything we desire as much as or more than a desire to enjoy God – that is our god. David’s desire was for the Lord:
One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4 (ESV)
When the Sons of Korah despair, they desire to appear before God:
1 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? Psalm 42:1–2 (ESV)
When you fall into a crushing hole of sorrow and despair, what do you desire – what do you think or feel could lift the weight? That which you desire in your joy – and that which you desire in your depression, that is your God:
1 Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me! 2 For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy? 3 Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! 4 Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God. 5 Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 43 (ESV)
10. Delight: Delight is the heart of one in rapturous worship – it is a transcendent joy. And thus, the object which brings on delight is that which is our God. For some it may be comfort, or pleasure, or control, or entertainment, or sex, or drugs, or music, or power, or adulation of others, or success, or food.
When you sit and think, What would give me the greatest delight? That which comes to your mind is your God.
This is not a speculative venture: look carefully, run through member and think of moments of delight: does God ever come into your heart as the object of delight? What delight tempts you first and most? You do delight in your God.
On this point, the counsel of Thomas Brooks is most astute. If you delight in anything other than God, consider:
Look on sin with that eye [with] which within a few hours we shall see it. Ah, souls! when you shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before a judgment-seat, sin shall be unmasked, and its dress and robes shall then be taken off, and then it shall appear more vile, filthy, and terrible than hell itself; then, that which formerly appeared most sweet will appear most bitter, and that which appeared most beautiful will appear most ugly, and that which appeared most delightful will then appear most dreadful to the soul.1 Ah, the shame, the pain, the gall, the bitterness, the horror, the hell that the sight of sin, when its dress is taken off, will raise in poor souls! Sin will surely prove evil and bitter to the soul when its robes are taken off. A man may have the stone who feels no fit of it. Conscience will work at last, though for the present one may feel no fit of accusation. Laban shewed himself at parting. Sin will be bitterness in the latter end, when it shall appear to the soul in its own filthy nature. The devil deals with men as the panther doth with beasts; he hides his deformed head till his sweet scent hath drawn them into his danger. Till we have sinned, Satan is a parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant. O souls! the day is at hand when the devil will pull off the paint and garnish that he hath put upon sin, and present that monster, sin, in such a monstrous shape to your souls, that will cause your thoughts to be troubled, your countenance to be changed, the joints of your loins to be loosed, and your knees to be dashed one against another, and your hearts to be so terrified, that you will be ready, with Ahithophel and Judas, to strangle and hang your bodies on earth, and your souls in hell, if the Lord hath not more mercy on you than he had on them. Oh! therefore, look upon sin now as you must look upon it to all eternity, and as God, conscience, and Satan will present it to you another day!
That in which you delight is your God. Pray that your God be no idol and thus be the tyrant to accuse you at the Judgment.
11. Zeal: Where do you place your effort? Are you lukewarm toward God? Are you weak in meditation and prayer but zealous at “self-improvement”? Are you careless in love, forgiveness, patience, and yet zealous for your own reputation? Zeal is a mark of worship. The one who knows & loves God, that one is zealous for God. You will be zealous in the cause of something.
Do not ask this question abstractly, but consider it factually. Look at your life – take the last year. Where and when have you expended zeal? That object which pulled forth your zeal is your God.
12. Gratitude, thankfulness: For what, to what, to whom are you most painfully thankful? Where does your gratitude aim – for thankfulness will always find out one’s true God.
Consider this passage in Hosea: the children of Israel were thankful to Baal for their plenty – and not to the Lord. Thus, the Lord charges them with idolatry on the basis of their gratitude:
5 For their mother has played the whore; she who conceived them has acted shamefully. For she said, ‘I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ 6 Therefore I will hedge up her way with thorns, and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths. 7 She shall pursue her lovers but not overtake them, and she shall seek them but shall not find them. Then she shall say, ‘I will go and return to my first husband, for it was better for me then than now.’ 8 And she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal. 9 Therefore I will take back my grain in its time, and my wine in its season, and I will take away my wool and my flax, which were to cover her nakedness. Hosea 2:5–9 (ESV)
God strips Nebuchadnezzar of his sanity when he thanked himself:
29 At the end of twelve months he was walking on the roof of the royal palace of Babylon, 30 and the king answered and said, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” 31 While the words were still in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, “O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is spoken: The kingdom has departed from you, 32 and you shall be driven from among men, and your dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field. And you shall be made to eat grass like an ox, and seven periods of time shall pass over you, until you know that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he will.” 33 Immediately the word was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven from among men and ate grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven till his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers, and his nails were like birds’ claws.
Daniel 4:29–33 (ESV)
In Romans 1 Paul says that those who were not thankful to God are turned over idolatry:
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21–23 (ESV)
Who or what do you truly believe has given you good? To whom are you thankful? There is your God.
13. Where do you spend your efforts? Take a measure of your time. Take out a calendar and mark off your days and hours. What receives your industry? For whom do you work?
Let us think more deeply and peer into the heart: When you do the work, whom do you seek to please? You may quickly say God, but is that so?
When you work diligently and no one thanks you – or even worse, you must suffer some pain for your efforts, have you been cheated? Are you angry? Your reward from God is safe and cannot be lost merely because a man or woman treats you poorly. Indeed, it is often the opposite for the believer (Matt. 5:10-12).
If you are dark and angry, then you have not worked for God but for human approval? You have seen your god. (Adapted from David Clarkson’s sermon, “Soul Idolatry Excludes Men Out of Heaven”).
Walter A. Elwell and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, Baker Reference Library; Logos Library System (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1996).
 Allen P. Ross, Recalling the Hope of Glory: Biblical Worship from the Garden to the New Creation (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2006), 104.
“The extrabiblical context of the concept of the image of God should also be considered. In the ancient world images were apparently viewed functionally, as a means by which deities became present and visible in the world of humans. A statue or image of a god represented that god on earth, just as the image of a king represented the authority of a king in a land he had conquered. In Genesis, therefore, humanity takes the place of God on earth, a point that becomes clearer if we adopt the suggestion that Genesis 1:26 should not be translated “in our image” but “as our image, to be our image” (understanding the preposition beth as the beth of essence)”(Gerald F. Hawthorne, Ralph P. Martin, and Daniel G. Reid, eds., Dictionary of Paul and His Letters (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1993), 427.)
 Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1018.
Michael S. Heiser, “Image of God,” ed. John D. Barry and Lazarus Wentz, The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012).
 A full development of the issues which tie the garden and the temple would take an entire lesson in itself.
 Ross, 108.
Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer: a Christian Worldview (Westchester, IL: Crossway Books, 1982)
“When the central light of creation is put out, men undertake to walk by the guidance of the phosphoric glare of their own most depraved passions” Abiel Abbot Livermore, Epistle of Paul to the Romans; With a Commentary and Revised Translation (London: Edward T. Whitfield, 1854), 96.
Plumer, Commentary on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, 66-67.
John Fry, Lectures, Explanatory and Practical, on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Romans, Second Edition (London: James Duncan, 1825), 38-39.
“LANGE: The connection between religious and moral ruin is exhibited also in the world at the present time.—The barbarous disregard of the human person in all sexual sins, as often concealed beneath the most refined masks of culture, is closely connected with the irreligious disregard of the personality of God and man.—A fundamental sanctification of the sexual relations can arise only from the vital knowledge of the dignity of personal life.—Sin taking on the form of the devilish nature in wicked maxims”John Peter Lange, Philip Schaff, F. R. Fay et al., A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Romans (1869; repr., Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2008), 92. This comment is especially telling in that the original English publication was dated 1869.
 “[T]o correctly judge God’s will, the mind must be renewed” Moses Easterly Lard, Commentary On Paul’s Letter to the Romans (Lexington: Transylvania Printing and Publishing Company, 1875), 381.
One could analogize to a person from an old Iron Curtain country who had access only to propaganda: the person would be under the dominion of such information. When the person gains a new degree of knowledge by freedom, the old confusions would still remain. Plainly, one’s desires will be affected by one’s knowledge. No one wanted a “smart phone” in 1965.
 Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 15 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 181.
Heath Lambert, The Biblical Counseling Movement After Adams (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), 148.
 Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 15 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 182.
 Thomas Manton, The Complete Works of Thomas Manton, vol. 15 (London: James Nisbet & Co., 1873), 190.
 H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., The Pulpit Commentary: Romans, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 42.
 Thomas Brooks, The Complete Works of Thomas Brooks, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Balloch Grosart (Edinburgh; London; Dublin: James Nichol; James Nisbet and Co.; G. Herbert, 1866), 17.
[i] The key clause is:
Let us make adam [man, human beings]
In our image
According to our likeness
In our image:
ANE background G & W rely upon the work of Paul Dion “Ressemblance et Image de Dieu” for the pre-Mosaic Egyptian usage of the concept “image of god”. From (at least?) 1630 B.C. onward, the phrase “image of god” was used to convey the notion that the Pharaoh was a son of a god and conveys or reflects “the essential notions of the god” (Kingdom, 191). Moreover, since the Pharaoh conveyed the essential aspects of the god as a son of the god, the Pharaoh also held the status as ruler over the world: “To sum up, the term ‘image of god’ in the culture and language of the ancient Near East in the fifteenth century B.C. would have communicated two main ideas: (1) rulership and (2) sonship. The king is the image of god because he as a relationship to the deity as the son of god and a relationship to the word as a ruler for the god” (Kingdom, 192).
The proposition is supported by references to various inscriptions. For example, An inscription from the time of Esarhaddon, 681-668 B.C. (LAS 125, in PSimo Parpola, Letters from Assyrian Scholars to the Kings Esarhaddon and Assurbanipal, Part I: Texts): reads:
What the king, [my lord] wrote to me: “I heard from the mouth of my father that you are a loyal family, but now I know it from my own experience,” the father of the king, my lord, was the ery image fo the god Bel, and the king, my lord is likewise the very image of Bel (quoted in Kingdom, 193).
That is, the king was the image of the god Bel, who thus conveys the authority and majesty of the god.
Doing a quick search, I noted the following additional references to “image” which support the concept. First, from the Stela of Amenhotep III:
Amun’s blessing to the King
Speech of Amun, King of Gods:
My son, of my body, my beloved Nebmare,
My living image, my body’s creation,
Born me by Mut, Ashru’s Lady in Thebes,
Mistress of the Nine Bows,
Who nursed you to be sole lord of peoples!
My heart is very joyful when I see your beauty,
I did a wonder for your majesty,
You repeat your youth,
For I made you the Sun of the Two Shores.
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 46.
From “Hymn to Aten and the King”:
You love him [the King], you make him like Aten.
You dawn to give him eternity,
When you set you give him infinity.
You create him daily like your forms,
You build him in your image like Aten.
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume II: The New Kingdom (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 93.
When my brother sent Mane, his messenger, saying, “Send your daughter here to be my wife and the mistress of Egypt”, I caused my brother no distress and immediately6 I said, “Of course!” The one whom my brother requested I showed to Mane, and he saw her. When he saw her, he praised her greatly. I will l[ea]d her7 in safety to my brother’s country. May Šauška and Aman make her the image of my brother’s desire.
William L. Moran, The Amarna Letters, English-language ed. (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).
From the Victory Stela of King Piye:
“Hear what I did, exceeding the ancestors,
I the King, image of god,
Living likeness of Atum!
Who left the womb marked as ruler,
Feared by those greater than he!
His father knew, his mother perceived:
He would be ruler from the egg,
The Good God, beloved of gods,
The Son of Re, who acts with his arms,
Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature: Volume III: The Late Period (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973–), 68.
In our image:
Next relying on the research of Ernst Jenni, Die hebraishen Prapositionen, Band 1, 1992, G&W state that the preposition beth (b), English “in” marks an “equating status”. “Thus, again, be indicates something locative and proximate” (Kingdom, 199). Thus, humans are closest to God in the matter of “image”. When the creation looks upon Adam, they will see the “image” of God: the one conveying God’s rule in creation.
According to our Likeness:
G & W, relying (in part) upon the Tell Fakhariyeh Inscription, explain that , “‘image’ refers to the king’s majestic power and rule in relation to his subject while ‘likeness’ refers to the king’s petitionary role and relation to the deity” (Kingdom, 302). (A discussion of the inscription can be found here:http://www.wtctheology.org.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Garr%20Image.pdf)
In the article cited by G & W, Garr makes this observation: Fakhariyeh uses the Aramaic “image” to refer to himself in respect to the god and “likeness” to refer to himself in respect to the subject:
In the first section [which uses the word ‘likeness’ to describe his relationship to the deity], the ruler is a supplicant. He deflects attention from himself, placing himself in a position subordinate to his divine addressee and requesting that his prayer be answered. In the second section [which uses the word “image” to refer to his relationship to the deity], the governor is center-stage. He beings by addressing his own needs for recognition, sovereignty and respect. Later, he becomes focused on power, and his use of power to direct events. Whereas the first part of the inscription depicts Had-yit‘I as a supplicant, the second depicts him as sovereign. (Israel Exploration Journal 50/3-4 (2003), W. Randal Garr, “’Image’ and ‘Likeness’ in the Inscription from Tell Fakhariyeh”, 231).
In other words, the two representational terms reflect and implicate complementary function of the object/or ruler himself. “Likeness” [ atwmd] is petitionary and directed at the deity; it is cultic and votive. ‘Image’ [mlx ] is majestic, absolute and commemorative ; it is directed at the people. Thus, these two Aramaic terms encode two traditional roles of the Mesopotamian ruler – that of devout worshipper and that of sovereign monarch (231-232).
When this is coupled to analysis of the preposition ke, according to (again, relying upon the work of Jenni) they state, “ke indicates something similar but distal and separate” (Kingdom, 199)
Hans Walter Wolff, in Anthropology of the Old Testament, wrote:
Accordingly, man is set in the midst of creation as God’s statue. He is evidence that God is the Lord of creation; but as God’s steward he also exerts his rule, fulfilling his task not in arbitrary despotism but as a responsible agent. His rule and his duty are not autonomous; they are copies. (quoted in Kingdom, 200).
G & W thus argue that “image of God” refers first to covenant relationship which human beings are to hold toward. It references the relationship one has toward God; and the relationship which one holds to the creation, both the human beings and the non-human creation.
This does not mean that human beings did not suffer significantly at the Fall.
21 For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools, 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21–23 (ESV)
However, that loss is not distinctly related to the matter of the “image” of God. It also helps explain a passage such as Colossians 3:10:
10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. Colossians 3:10 (ESV)
The previous post in this series may be found here: https://memoirandremains.wordpress.com/2013/12/15/edward-taylor-raptures-of-love-4/
To heav’n went he, and in his bright throne sits
At God’s right hand pleading poor sinners’ cases.
With golden wedges he of promise, splits
The heav’ns ope, to shew to show what glory ‘braces.
And in its thickness thus with arms extended,
Calls, come, come here, and ever be befriended.
To heav’n went he: This refers to the Ascension of Christ:
9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes,
11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:9-11
Upon ascending to heaven, Christ sits upon the throne as king. This is recorded in Hebrews 1:
3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,
4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
Revelation 1:5 refers to the Ascended Christ as “the ruler of the kings of earth”.
At God’s right hand: see Hebrews 1:3, “he sat down at the right hand of majesty on high”.
pleading poor sinners’ cases. Christ has ascended to the right hand of majesty where he pleads for those who have sinned against God. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 1:1. It must be noted that Jesus Christ is not pleading with an angry Father, for it was the Father who sent the Son to procure forgiveness.
We are encouraged to come to Christ for help in our time of need:
14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 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.
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:14-16
Christ’s pleading from this throne is based upon his work as sacrifice and priest:
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)
12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.
13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,
14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. Hebrews 9:11-14
With golden wedges he of promise, The “wedges” refer to a wedge placed into a block of wood, which is struck at one end and hit with a hammer on the flat end. The wedge pushes into the wood and splits it open.
Calls, come, come here, and ever be befriended
This petition is based upon the offer of Jesus recorded in Matthew 11:28-29:
28 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
1 John 3:4, 1 John 4:7–11, 1 Peter 1:13, 2 Corinthians 1:8–9, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Acts 1:4–11, ascension, christology, Colossians 3:1, Colossians 3:23–24, Colossians 3:2–3, Hebrews, Hebrews 1:1-4, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 3:1, Hebrews 9:24, High Priest, Isaiah 53:3, throne of grace
(notes on a sermon for March 24, 2013):
The Church of Jesus Christ begins with Jesus leaving. After the resurrection, Jesus lives with and teaches his disciples over the course of 40 days:
4 And while staying with them he ordered them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, “you heard from me; 5 for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.”
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 9 And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
10 And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, 11 and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” Acts 1:4–11 (ESV)
Think of how crushed the disciples must have been. The Lord, the one who loved them and gave himself for them, was gone. They had depended upon him for years. They had lived with himm for years. When John was an old man, he wrote to a church about Jesus. John still remembered that he looked upon Jesus with his eyes, and had touched Jesus with his hands, and his ears had heard the very words of the Lord. Peter remembered that he had seen Jesus and had been with Jesus.
I too have had many friends leave. I know that I will not likely not see or hear or touch them again. It hurts to see a friend leave. Death has stolen people from me. There is too much loss in this world.
But to lose the Lord, to lose one’s dearest friend – that must have been an overwhelming grief. They had lost the Lord to death – but he returned in resurrection. Now, they had seemingly lost the Lord again. He would no longer be with them.
I can imagine standing there, looking into the sky, having no words to express my fear and sorrow and wonder. Even the promise of the angels may have seemed too little. Yes, he will return – but when? How long will I have to wait until I hear his voice again?
There is the birth place of the church – waiting for the Lord. We are like the wife in the Song of Solomon asking,
Have you seen him whom my soul loves?
Or, at least we should be.
But let us consider this truthfully. Too many Christians live as if Jesus is nice and all and heaven sounds good, but Jesus is gone. For many Christians, Jesus is an idea – not a man – certainly not “him whom my soul loves.”
In 2 Corinthians 5:15, Paul describes a Christian like this:
and he – that is Jesus — died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Now you say, that describes you. Really?. Where he is just now? What he is doing? Do you want to know?
Jonathan Edward wrote a sermon called, “The Kind of Preaching People Want.” People want to know how to make their lives better. When someone comes into to see me for counseling about their marriage, they want to know how to make their life more pleasant – and I do feel sympathy for them. Their marriage has often made their life a matter of grief – sometimes even a matter of fear. Those are real problems.
But when I tell people that their real problem is a matter of living no longer for themselves but for Jesus, they often seem perplexed.
Consider the church at Philippi: A dispute had broken out between two women which threatened to destroy the church. How should Paul respond? He taught them about Jesus.
What did Peter do when Christians were collapsing under the weight persecution? He told them about Jesus – he also told the Christians that it is more important that they know and love Jesus than it is to avoid suffering. He told wives in bad marriages, that Jesus was more important than escaping their sorrow. He told servants that Jesus was more important than being physically mistreated. He told everyone that Jesus was so important that they were to respect the government, so that Jesus would receive glory when he returned. He told Christians that they must respond with faith toward God and love toward their enemies – because Jesus was that important.
When John wrote to churches suffering persecution, he explained that Jesus was more important than even being killed.
I could go through every letter and every command in the New Testament and prove the point.
Let me take just one simple example: Paul wrote to Colossae about how a servant should work. A servant must understand that when he is busy digging a hole that he must live for Jesus and act for Jesus – in fact, Jesus is involved in digging the hole:
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, 24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. Colossians 3:23–24 (ESV)
Consider that command – in the midst of giving instructions to a servant, Paul mentions the Lord three times. He also brings up the return of Christ and the eternal state. He also draws the servant’s immediate work into direct relationship to Jesus, to show the servant that digging a hole or carrying water is a distinct act of worship to God.
Go back and read through anything in the NT: even the most “practical” passages, commands about family life or work are stuffed with references to Jesus and worship.
Husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church
Your real problem is not your “practical” problem. Your real problem is that you don’t know Jesus well enough, that you don’t love Jesus deeply enough.
Let me prove the point: How much can you tell me about your children, your husband, your wife, your parents, your employer, your work?
How much can you tell me about what Jesus is doing right now?
Peter’s first command in his letter is to “set your hope fully upon the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13). Which is your greater hope? That your children will obey or that Jesus will return – not what it is supposed to be, but what you really want?
Before Paul begins to give his practical instructions, Paul spends pages exalting Jesus, describing Jesus, praising Jesus. Listen to his command:
2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. Colossians 3:2–3 (ESV)
So, do you set your minds this world – and I am talking about your home, your marriage, your children, your work, your car, your rent, politics, sports, movies, music – or upon the things above. What are the “things above”:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Colossians 3:1 (ESV)
Quick, which movie won the academy award this year? Which team has moved ahead in the basketball playoffs? What is Jesus doing right now at the right hand of the Father?
Your god is whatever is your greatest hope, your greatest joy, your greatest love. If you know your children better than you know Jesus, then you should ask yourself some painful questions about idolatry.
Take a different direction: How much of your life is really different from a well behaved Mormon? Mormons love their families. Mormons train their children to be respectful, obey their parents, say prayers, clean their rooms. Mormons go to classes to learn how to be better parents. Mormons go to marriage seminars. There are atheists who have lovely families, well trained children, happy homes. The things we generally expect in one’s home and work is what most people would have generally affirmed in the culture 50 years ago. There was a time when every politician would at least give lip service to Christian morals.
Let me ask you this question: Jesus has ascended – do you miss him like the first disciples missed him? Do you stare and wonder, When will he return?
Let’s make this question more painful and more real: Do you have real communion with the Lord, today? Is Jesus an idea, or is Jesus your dearest friend? Could you pick Jesus out of a crowd? When the Lord returns, will you see your dearest friend face to face or will you be meeting a second cousin once removed?
Hebrews 3:1 commands:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession,
Do you consider Jesus? Do you know what it means that he is your high priest?
What did Jesus do when he ascended? What is he doing now? Would you rather know about what Jesus is doing right now, or would you like to have advice on how to get along better at work? Are you more interested in the work of Jesus or in how to best save for retirement? If you could have a perfect marriage, obedient children, a clean house and a safe retirement – or communion with the Lord, which would you pick? Which have you spent more time trying to get?
It is no secret what Jesus is doing. The New Testament is filled with this information. Jesus has ascended and today he is sitting at the right hand of Majesty on high. I’ll show you. Turn to Hebrews 1 and I’ll read verses 1-4:
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs. Hebrews 1:1–4 (ESV)
We are going to consider only the clause at the end of verse 3, “He sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high”.
The language means that Jesus is both King and Priest. As King, Jesus rules the universe. Jesus gives gifts as conquering king. Jesus will return to vindicate his people and to judge his enemies. But we cannot speak of that this morning. There are many things about these words which we simply cannot discuss. Perhaps later we’ll look at Jesus again. For this morning, we will do one thing:
I am going to show a glimpse of what it means that Jesus is our priest. First, we need a priest because our relationship with God has been destroyed through sin.
Christians – especially good and careful Christians – know about sin. Sin describes a creature breaking God’s law. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 John 3:4). But there is another aspect of sin – sin is alienation from, rebellion against God.
Sometimes we think that our trouble is merely a matter of keeping the law. We – human beings — have this bizarre idea that somehow we can simply do the stuff God “wants” and everything will be okay. We treat God like an idea – we treat the law like it was gravity or some-thing which just needs to be dealt with properly.
Human beings were built to live with God. Life and love come from God alone. Without God we will die. Sin is worse than merely breaking a law – sin is losing God.
Cutting a rubber tube is no big deal, unless you are diving and you need the tube to get air.
Sin is like cutting the tube. You break the relationship to God and you will die.
The one requirement of God is that we love him and that we love our neighbor. Yet, true love can only begin in God. Therefore, we cannot love him unless he first loves us:
7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7–11 (ESV)
That is the joy in the Gospel: God loves the world. God sent his Son into the world to carry the curse of sin and to fulfill the law. The Son out of love fulfilled the will of his Father. Jesus lived a perfect live. He died on the cross and carried all the curse of sin and death. Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus ascended into the heaven and sits at the right hand of Majesty on high. There on his throne of grace Jesus makes reconciliation between human beings and God.
The Spirit of God comes into the life of a human being. The human being sees his rebellion against God. He sees his sin as hateful. He sees Christ as beautiful. He then repents – that means he turns from his sin and rebellion and turns to God in Jesus Christ and seeks reconciliation with God.
God credits our sin to the death of Jesus, and credits the life and righteousness of Jesus to us. The love of God comes into our life and we love God and we love our neighbors. It is not perfect at first, but it grows slowly and our lives become transformed into the image of Jesus. We are brought into union with Christ.
Our union with Christ transforms our lives. Gradually, we learn to love God more fully, to receive the love of God and to express the love of God to human beings – we do this in our marriage, with our children and parents, at our place of work. The love and desire for God grows in strength causes us to overcome the world.
That is Gospel change.
Today, Jesus will be reconciled to any man, woman, child who comes to him in repentance and faith. But the day is coming when Jesus will no longer be reconciled. When he returns, or when you die, the time of reconciliation will end. Some day you will stand before him. On that day, Jesus will either be your Savior or your judge.
Now you believers: God has called you to a life of love. That is your command.
But such love is impossible without Jesus. Augustine once noted that the grace of God flows through the wounds of Jesus. Love begins in the Father, it flows through the Son and it is poured out into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
You can only have that love if you are in union with Christ. You can only drink in that love if you are in communion with Christ.
Even Christians forget this. Even Christians act like unbelievers. We know we are supposed to obey – and we make valiant efforts to obey the law. We struggle with sin and shame and falter and fall because we think our trouble is with doing and keeping. We pride ourselves that we are not like the world.
What could be more sad than to see someone possessing an unending treasure – and yet live like a beggar; to lie down beside a stream flooding with pure, sweet water and yet die of thirst; to possess the never ending grace purchased by the blood of Christ and yet struggle with sin and the world and death and the flesh alone.
Nothing makes me as sad and as angry as to see you, my brothers and sisters struggle under the weight of the law when Christ has freed you for grace and life.
Do you want to know why you struggle so with sin? Do you want to know why you grow angry with your children? Do you want to know why you are so burdened with depression? Do you want to know why the world is so weary? Do you want to know you grow so discouraged in your life as a Christian?
It is because you are trying to be a Christian without Christ.
You do not need my experience or my opinion. I’m certainly not important. You don’t need what I think is a good idea. You need Jesus. When I teach you the Bible, I have only one responsibility: Take you to Jesus, show you Jesus. If I leave and you know Jesus better and you love Jesus more, then I have succeeded. If I teach you something and it’s not in the Bible, chuck it. I don’t want you to follow me – I you want to follow Jesus.
But Christians are like anyone else. We look on life and think, I would sure like for it to better, what do I do? We make the mistake of thinking Jesus is too far away.
Why do you think Christians chase after every marriage and parenting fad? Because we don’t think the Holy Spirit is able to change our hearts – because we don’t think Jesus will really do anything about our situation – so we have to go it alone.
Christians are too often like a disciple who saw Jesus ascend into heaven and then thinks, Well Jesus is gone. Yes he will come back some day. And yes he will save me – so I won’t go to Hell. But until he returns, I’m pretty much on my own.
You do this, because you do not understand something – you do this because you do not rightly consider Jesus. You see, Jesus – Our Lord – has sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high. Hebrews 1:3
Did you ever think that the reason your life is so painful lies with you? Did you ever think that maybe the reason you feel overwhelmed lies with the fact that you are shouldering a burden which God never intended for you to bear?
In 2 Corinthians Paul explained the reason why God may give us an overwhelming burden – a burden too great to bear:
8 For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. 9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 2 Corinthians 1:8–9 (ESV)
He has sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high.
This means that Jesus has bodily entered into heaven – Go to Hebrews 9:24. We’ll read it twice – and I want you to engrave these words on your heart:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)
Did you hear that? When we say that Christ has sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high it means that Jesus – the man Jesus, God incarnate, Jesus is in the very presence of God. Do you know what that means?
There is a human being – God incarnate, Jesus Christ – who is at this very second in the presence of God!
And why is he there? Listen again:
For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Hebrews 9:24 (ESV)
Right now – as I am speaking to you – Jesus is appearing in the presence of God on your behalf!
Since that is true – why do you look to men to give you help? Why do you not look to Jesus first? Because you don’t know him well enough.
Go back to chapter 2, look down at verse 16:
For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Hebrews 2:16 (ESV)
Jesus loves you. He helps you. But keep going – look at 17:
Therefore 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 2:17 (ESV)
Three things: First, again make certain you understand this point: Jesus is like you in every respect. He does not have our sin. But he is every bit as much human as you and I.
Second, he did this – God did this – so that we could have a high priest. A priest is someone who stands before God on our behalf. We have such a high priest: Jesus. He is not only a high priest – but he is a merciful and faithful high priest. He is merciful toward us. He knows our weakness. And he is faithful, he never fails in his work.
Third, he has made propitiation for our sins. That means that the sacrifice of Jesus clears away all our sin.
For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:18 (ESV)
You who think, my temptation is too great, my trial is too deep: Hear me. It is. You cannot carry such a weight alone. God never intended that for his children. Your marriage is too hard. I believe you. It is! But God never intended for you be married without him. My children – my work – my parents – my finances – the government – the world! You have a high priest who in mercy and love stands ready with unending supplies of grace to pour into your broken heart.
You are bearing pain you were never called to bear.
Look to the next verse:
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, Hebrews 3:1 (ESV)
Now that we have come back to those words, do they not sound sweeter? Consider Jesus. Let us consider him more.
Go now to chapter 4, and look at verse 14:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. Hebrews 4:14 (ESV)
Here again, we see that Jesus is our high priest – the one who has passed through the heavens and is now sitting at the right hand of Majesty on high. What then do we do? Hold fast our confession.
Now holding fast to your confession will be a burden to you if you think of this as just one more task. But what if you see the beauty of your Savior? Open the eyes of faith, they will rest upon your high priest – he is more beautiful, more glorious than anything in heaven or earth. In him shines the glory of God, the glory of redemption.
No one has to tell the bride to-be to hold fast to her engagement ring. She can think of little else. The child on his birthday, when he receives a favorite toy does not to be told to hold fast.
If you find that you have trouble holding fast, the trouble lies with your desires. You will more happily and easily hold fast if you find Christ beautiful. If your hold on your confession is weak, perhaps the trouble lies with a heart that is more concerned with this world than with your Savior.
Let me stir you up to love and good deeds. Let me show you here in the sacred text some further beauty of Christ. Look to the next verse:
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. Hebrews 4:15 (ESV)
The Father – your Father in heaven – wants you to come to his Son. Therefore, the Father sent the Son into the world as a man so that Jesus could sympathize with your weakness. Christians sometimes hesitate before they go to Jesus. They think I am a sinful man. Well yes, you are sinful. So what?
Jesus sympathizes with your weakness. Do you see that when stay away from him, you are saying that Jesus does not sympathize with your weakness. When you hide from him because you have sinned, you are saying that he is not loving, not kind, not merciful – not full of grace.
Do you know shame? Jesus was born a bastard. He was crucified naked and mocked as he died. He would have known mocking and jeers from the time he first knew the meaning of words. The other children would have mocked the fact that he was not Joseph’s son. He experienced poverty, hunger, thirst. He knew death and sorrow and loss. He knew betrayal. He knew pain:
He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:3 (ESV)
And more than this, Jesus also bore in his body on the cross, the shame and sin of the world.
Do not think that he will not sympathize with you. You do him wrong, you don’t understand him if you think your sin too great, your shame too deep.
He is all of mercy and gentleness. He did not have to become a man to rescue you. The Father did not have to send his Son. The Spirit did not need to come bring you to Christ. God willingly poured out rivers of love and mercy and grace. Do not let stubbornness and pride hold you back.
Consider Christ further:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:16 (ESV)
I told you earlier that Jesus is at this moment in the presence of God. He sits on a throne – a throne of grace.
Think of what that means: His throne is made up of grace, it was built by grace. It was the grace of God which put him upon that throne.
Grace means a gift – something perfect, something prized, something you need and desire – but it is also free. It can be had by any for the asking, but it cannot be purchased with all the gold in the universe.
One more beauty of this priest, turn to Hebrews 7:23:
23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:23–25 (ESV)
This high priest cannot die – he has the power of an indestructible life. His priesthood will continue forever. What does this mean for you?
He is able to save to the uttermost.
He cannot merely save you from hell – although he does that – he will save you even now. He saves to the uttermost. He makes intercession for you, always.
Now I have to answer an objection: You have heard these words and you think to yourself: This all sounds like so much poetry – pretty, but not very realistic. My life really is painful. I really cannot pay my rent today. Today, I don’t know where my son is. Last night, my daughter ran away. My wife didn’t come home last night and I don’t know where she went. My husband hates me. My work is a misery which I don’t think I can bear. My wife is dying from cancer. My father beats me.
I could continue. I know that all of these things are true. I have heard all of these things – and more. I know worse than these things are true.
Let me tell you something else. Not one thing I have said means that you will not have trials. Not one thing I have said means that God will take your trials away.
You may be a perfect wife, and your husband may never love you. You may be a perfect husband, and your wife may never be gracious. You may be a perfect parent, and your child may end up in jail. You may be a perfect employee, and you may end up bankrupt.
It is even worse than that:
Let us assume that you are a perfect human being from the moment of conception. Let us assume that you never for a moment do wrong. You do not even sin in your heart; your intentions never drop below perfect love toward God and man. You may be perfect. That happened once in this world – so we murdered him.
Your savior has already gone down that road:
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1 Peter 2:21 (ESV)
He does not promise you that you will never suffer. Suffering and trial are guarantees. I’m not going to deceive you.
God will almost certainly try you on the point you are most tender. He will permit you to be tried on the exact place that you cannot bear. He will do this to tear up your sins and expose your idols –but that is for another time.
Listen again to Peter’s words, “For to this you have been called”. Those words should bring you to a sure sobriety. Suffering is certain.
Now, my friend with the objection will return and say, That is exactly my point. If suffering is certain, then how can I possibly believe that Jesus has sympathy for me? What kind of a priest shows sympathy by permitting me to suffer?
One that loves you.
If the goal of God were to make our lives pleasant here and now, he has done a poor job. But if God’s goal is greater, then perhaps God is wiser. Perhaps the goal of God is not our immediate ease. Perhaps the goal of God is his glory and our joy.
The Westminster Shorter Catechism famously begins:
Q. What is the chief end of man? — What is our purpose in life?
A. To glorify God and to enjoy him forever.
Teach that to your children.
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, 7 so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:3–7 (ESV)
That’s why God can be good and still let you suffer difficulty in this world.
Our hope is not that we will not suffer in this world. Our hope is that we will live with Christ in glory.
Our hope is not that we will not suffer in this world. Our hope is that God will conform us to the image of Christ.
In Colossians 3:10, Paul writes that we are being conformed to the image of the one who created us. In Romans 8:29, Paul writes that we are being conformed to the image of Jesus.
God has brought you to a trial so that you can know and love him better. God has given you difficult children, a hard job, a painful marriage, financial troubles so that you can go to Christ for help and strength. – There is another element of responding to trials. The body of Christ must exercise real tangible love to those in trial. However, I have no space to teach you about that today.
How to respond to a trial:
You must exercise faith. When you come to Jesus in faith, the Holy Spirit brings the grace of Christ into your life.
Here is how you exercise faith.
The first part of faith consists of knowledge. You cannot exercise faith unless you know. That is the point of a sermon: You come here so that you may learn about Jesus. The knowledge from the sermon becomes material which faith uses. That is why a sermon must be based in Scripture. That is why a sermon must display Christ. A sermon without Jesus is a lecture.
Here is what you must know: Christ is a merciful and faithful high priest who can and will save to the uttermost.
However, you must do more than merely listen to a sermon. You must study, memorize, meditate. You must fill your mind with Scripture. The Holy Spirit uses the Scripture in your heart to develop your faith. Without Bible, you cannot begin. There is nothing more dangerous than a man in a pulpit who either does not open or does not rightly use Scripture.
Your primary job as parents is to … worship Christ in your home. Demonstrate the love and joy and mercy of Christ daily before your children. Tell your children the wondrous love of Jesus. You cannot save them, but you can evangelize them. Tell them the good news morning and evening. Ever lay the mercy of God before them. As Paul writes in Romans 2:4, “God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.” You show and teach your children of the Lord by loving the Lord before them. When they see your desire to know the Lord, you are teaching them that the Lord is worth knowing.
The second part of faith consists of seeking: You must not merely know about Christ, you must come to Christ. The primary element of seeking Christ is by prayer. God lays trials and temptations before us so that we will come to him for help.
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! 1 Chronicles 16:11 (ESV)
When the armies of Moab and Ammon threated Judah, King Jehosophat sought the Lord:
3 Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. 4 And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. 2 Chronicles 20:3–4 (ESV)
When David was tried he called to God for help:
3 But you, O LORD, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head. 4 I cried aloud to the LORD, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah 5 I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the LORD sustained me. 6 I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around. 7 Arise, O LORD! Save me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked. Psalm 3:3–7 (ESV)
Our Lord sought help.
35 And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36 And he said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14:35–36 (ESV)
Faith must move in prayer. Faith without prayer is a ticket without an airplane. The ticket can stand at the terminal and look out the window, but the ticket can never leave the airport until it boards a plane. Faith without prayer stands still and dies.
The third part of faith is obedience: You hold the ticket, the airplane has come, but until you board you will not leave.
Faith gains strength from obedience. God does not give grace until it will be used. Consider Christian martyrs. Do you think they are more brave than you? Not without Christ. Yet, as they followed Christ in obedience, Christ gave them grace for obedience to death.
Christ has grace that can sustain your faith and uphold you in any trial. You may lack faith because you have yet to move, to act.
But none of this will be true of you, if you do not know and love Jesus. Even if you have sworn allegiance to Jesus in baptism, you will not know him well until you know him often. He is a man with whom you can cultivate the most dear and deep friendship. Like all friendships, it takes time to meet this man, to know this man, to hear from this man. And oh when you know God in human flesh, when you see the love of the Father displayed in the wounds of Christ, when the Holy Spirit shows to you his surpassing beauty – then you will know and love him dearly.
Come, consider Jesus – seated at the right hand of Majesty on high.
Oh Lord, as wait expectantly for you, we pray, Come quickly Lord Jesus!
1 Corinthians 8:1, 1 John 3;124-15, 1 Peter 1:21-22, 2 Peter 1:7, brotherly love, Colossians 3:12-14, Faith, faith, Francis Schaeffer, Galatians 6:10, Hebrews, Hebrews 10:19-22, Hebrews 11:6, Hebrews 12:14-17, Hebrews 12:28, Hebrews 13:6, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 2:17-18, Hebrews 3:12-16, hEBREWS 3:18-19, Hebrews 5:11-12, Hebrews 5:14, Hebrews 8:1-2, Hebrews 8:10-11, Hebrews13:20-21, High Priest, Love, Mark of a Christian, Matthew 25:40, Matthew 7:21-23, New Covenant, Obedience, Old Covenant, Praise, Preaching, Romans 12:17
(Following are the notes for the monthly men’s breakfast lesson at Calvary Bible Church. As with other lessons, the oral presentation contains essentially the same doctrine, albeit with substantially different presentation. This year’s lessons have been on the book of Hebrews. They can be found here:
Chapter 13 seems like an appendix to the rest of Hebrews. Some commentators have argued that it is not really part of the letter and was some one page letter glued onto the back of a beautiful sermon. It certainly begins strange. After the mountain tops of rhetoric; after theology which ascends into heaven itself and uncovers the mystery of the cross, we find some brief seemingly simple commands. It seems too plain to even rightly be part of such a letter. Be kind, be generous, be faithful to your marriage, be respectful of your church leaders, pray for us.
I must confess that as I began to study for this lesson, I had trouble seeing the way in which these commands attached to the rest of the letter. And yet, as I studied and meditated and prayed the connection between the parts became clear.
I learned that rather than being an appendage to the whole, this final chapter in a manner is the point of the book. The book exists to teach us doctrine so that it can teach us how to worship. The book teaches about Jesus, so that we can glory God and enjoy him forever.
Let me show you. First, I want you to see the overall doctrinal purpose of the letter – and then how that doctrine ties into the practice. In the second part of this exhortation, I will speak with you briefly about the content and manner of our worship.
First: A Call to Worship
At the end of the fifth chapter of Hebrews, comes a section which almost seems a joke. The writer explains that he cannot go further in setting forth doctrine because those who received the letter “had become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God” (Hebrews 5:11-12). Can this be serious?
Hebrews contains perhaps the most difficult doctrine in the entire Bible. Here we read of the divinity and humanity of Jesus, his work as the true high priest, the relationship between the old and new covenants, the true purpose of the Temple, the mystery of Melchizedek, the mystery of the cross, the nature of the church, the necessity of faith, the kingdom to come. The short sermon — for it is indeed a sermon — acts like a commentary on the entire rest of the Bible. To read the book of Hebrews one must drink in the entire Scripture at a gulp. There is nothing elementary about it.
Seeing that the book contains such difficulty, many Christians will prefer to leave it alone. After all, “knowledge puffs up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). And, we will not be saved by a final theology exam given at the gates of heaven. If I know the contents of a gospel tract, then I know enough to be saved.
But look back again at chapter 5. The reason why those who received the letter could not take more “solid food” is because they had not lived as God required, “But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).
There is a motion of the Christian life: First, we learn. What we learn affects our desires. What we desire affects our conduct. Our conduct itself changes our heart and thus gives us more capacity to learn – and so the process continues like a system of gears, each which pushes on the other.
But that still leaves one with the excuse that I don’t need to learn more to be saved, and I don’t need to behave to be saved, so why bother anyway? I may not be perfect, but I am better than most people. I may not know everything about Jesus, but I know Jesus loves me. Why struggle so hard with this book?
Turn to chapter 8: verse one identifies for us the purpose of the book of Hebrews: “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, a minister in the holy places, and the true tent that the Lord set up, not man” (Hebrews 8:1-2). There you will find the central doctrine of the book of Hebrews: Jesus is the true high priest.
As we read through chapter 8, we learn the effect of this change of high priest: It came about as part of the institution of the New Covenant. Throughout Hebrews, we learn that the Old Covenant – that is, the Old Testament – was temporary: it operated with temporary high priests, who worked in a man-made temple, and offered sacrifices repeatedly – and yet these sacrifices never saved anyone of sin, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4).
But in Jesus, the weakness of the Old Covenant passes – for Jesus is in every way superior to the Old Covenant. That old covenant was merely a picture of the true covenant to come: As Paul writes in Galatians 3:24, the old covenant – which Paul references as “the law” “was our guardian – or school master – until Christ came”. That Old Covenant could not remedy sin, but it did instruct until the true High Priest came into the world to offer the sacrifice which could redeem and reconcile us to God.
This does not mean that the law of God has vanished. In the New Covenant, the law is no longer written on tablets of stone. In the New Covenant instituted by Jesus, the law is written in us:
Hebrews 8:10–11 (ESV)
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
Hebrews 2 explains that the promise and command of the Dominion over the creation given to Adam is now fulfilled in Jesus, the one whom even angels worship. This same Jesus is also our brother and our high priest:
Hebrews 2:17–18 (ESV)
17 Therefore 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. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
You see, all the various strands, promises, problems, of the Bible finally come together in Jesus: Jesus undoes the damage of the First Adam. Jesus takes up the story of Israel and the Old Covenant and brings into the world the New Covenant which brings the law of God into the hearts and minds of those redeemed.
Since these things are true, we are called to live in a new and different way. The doctrine of the book of Hebrews is not a matter of intellectual or academic interest. It is a matter of the gravest importance:
Hebrews 10:19–22 (ESV)
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
Here is a command: We are commanded to draw near to Jesus by faith. Now we can certainly not draw hear to a God whom we do not know: And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. Hebrews 11:6.
And, we cannot draw near to God of surpassing holiness without seeking to come as he commands:
Hebrews 12:14–17 (ESV)
14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.
This should cause the shutter and the bleeding heart. It is not to say that we are saved by works, but that there is no true saving faith unless there is obedience:
Hebrews 3:18–19 (ESV)
18 And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? 19 So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief.
A belief which entails no obedience is no true belief. A belief which does not draw nearer to God is not a belief which will end in salvation. We cannot live as if we were bound for hell and expect that we will end up in heaven. We cannot expect that we will be the dearest of friends with the devil upon her and the dearest of friends with the Lord in the new earth.
This letter of Hebrews was not given so that we could gain a trunk of theology to drag to heaven. This letter was given to make us fit to see the Lord. We cannot willfully ignore our God and think that he will remembers us:
Matthew 7:21–23 (ESV)
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
The book of Hebrews is filled with such warnings. Now many think that such warnings are given to the unbelievers in the midst of the congregation: unbelievers certainly should take such warnings to heart. A faith which exists in one’s mouth but not in one’s hands is not a true faith.
Yet, it is only the true believer who can hear and respond to such warnings. If it takes faith to draw near to God, and if faith is a matter of head, heart and hands, then only a believer can hear the call to live as one drawing near to God and follow up that command. If a man were to come in this room and shout a command in Spanish, only those who speak Spanish could obey. If God gives a command of obedience, only those who have an obedient faith will obey.
This beautiful sermon we have as the book of Hebrews was given as a guide to bring us safely through this world to our Lord. Our Lord knows our weakness and frailty, he knows the surpassing darkness of this world and so he gave a radiant guide to show a path through that darkness. We will pass through the valley of the shadow of death – but we will pass through with Jesus.
The radiant display of the glory of Jesus, our great High Priest, must stir in us a desire and thankfulness and love to draw near to him. If we do not see Jesus as a beautiful Savior, the supreme object of our desire, worthy of all the glory and praise, then we will not have the strength to persevere until the end. As our Lord says in another place: “And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mark 13:13).
We see all these strands of thought brought together in the final chapter of Hebrews. Beginning in verse 12 of the 13th chapter we read:
Hebrews 13:12–16 (ESV)
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. 15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
When we read the command that we are to go to Jesus outside the camp, we may not understand what that means. It sounds very far away and foreign. Perhaps it means to be a missionary, or perhaps it means to go out of the world altogether and be with the Lord death. When we read that we are to acknowledge his name, we may think that we have done our duty when we sing the song or say a prayer and then are done.
Now certainly we are to sing and pray. It may be fitting for one to be a missionary. But we will certainly all out some day go out of this world. But in the context, the Lord calls upon us to do something much more physical and practical.
Look at the end of chapter 12, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and doesn’t let us offer to God acceptable to worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28-29). Here is a command frightful warning. We must offer acceptable worship, worship with reverence and awe. Such worship must be given because “our God is a consuming fire.”
Chapter 13 ends with a prayer in verses 20-21:
Hebrews 13:20–21 (ESV)
20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
This prayer tells us what the book is intended to do us and in us. The letter tells us at profound length of our Lord Jesus not so that we know about Jesus, but rather that we would know Jesus. The letter was given to “equip up with every good thing. The words “that which is pleasing in his sight” match the earlier command of 12:28 that we must offer “acceptable worship” (NASB “acceptable service”).
The purpose of all this doctrine in the book of Hebrews is that we know of Jesus so that we can offer acceptable worship to God in Jesus Christ. Earlier we spoke of the Christians who pass off the study of the Scripture and obedience by claiming that they know to be saved and so they are through with their duty. But here at the end of Hebrews we learn the answer to such people:
You must learn and obey so that you can offer acceptable worship to God in Jesus Christ. The first 12 chapters of Hebrews are a call to worship. The letter ends with a prayer that you may know God so that you may worship God.
Point Two: Love God and Man
What then is the acceptable worship? The temple no longer stands; bloody sacrifices are no longer needed. What then is our worship? How do we go to Jesus outside the camp?
That is the point of chapter 13 – in fact, in a manner, the rest of Hebrews exists so that we can receive this brief instruction.
First command: Let brotherly love continue, remain. Believers are commanded to love all persons – even our enemies. But to our brothers, we are called to special service. “So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10).
This is no ordinary command. It occurs over and again throughout Scripture. As Francis Schaeffer put it, brotherly love is the true “mark of a Christian”. In John 13:35, Jesus said that love for the brother demonstrates true faith, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Paul repeatedly commands brotherly love:
Romans 12:17 (ESV)
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
Colossians 3:12–14 (ESV)
12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.
1 Peter 1:21–22 (ESV)
21 who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. 22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart,
Peter also commands brotherly love in 2 Peter 1:7. Jesus, Paul, Peter, John all command brotherly love – it also commanded here in Hebrews 13:1. In fact, it stands at the head of commands in this chapter.
One way to understand the flow of the commands in the next few verses is that such commands help to flesh out the command of brotherly love: Show hospitality. Care tangibly for the persecuted brother. Flee sexual immorality – and honour your marriage. Do not be greedy; rather be content with what God provides. Be respectful of your leaders, those who teach you the Scriptures – because it is by the Scriptures that you will come to develop brotherly love.
Before I give some practical advice on how one develops brotherly love, I want you again to see the connection between the call to worship and brotherly love. True brotherly love is true worship. A sacrifice of thanksgiving is giving praise to God, but it is also showing hospitality to a stranger.
Jesus, in Matthew 25, explains that at the judgment we will be commended for showing true, tangible love to other human beings because such service to our brother is service to Christ himself:
And the King will answer them, Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. Matthew 25:40.
The call to brotherly love is not some throw away, not some addition to the Christian life. Brotherly love is the Christian life – you cannot be a Christian and not love your brother:
We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers. Whoever does not love abides in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.
(1 John 3:14-15 ESV)
Remember all the discussion of faith and obedience and salvation? Here is where that comes together. Without love there is no true faith and no true obedience. True faith necessarily produces brotherly love – and this brings us back to an earlier point: Obedience makes it possible for us to better understand the Scripture.
In the very act of loving of our brother, sacrificially, we come to know God in Jesus Christ. When I was a boy growing up in Burbank, I often wondered what I could see from the top of the mountains which mark on edge of the city. Only when I climbed up those mountains did I get the sight from those mountains. I could see things from the mountain top which I could not see elsewhere.
The same is true of obedience. Only when we love of our brother can we gain the sight of Christ which comes from that perspective.
How then does it one increase in brother love? Here are some practical steps adapted from William Gouge: Read the Scripture, a lot. Know the Scripture thoroughly. Attend to the teaching and preaching of the Scripture. Speak about the Bible, frequently. You need the Scripture read and exposited as dearly as a newborn baby needs milk.
Such knowledge of the Scripture will enflame your heart with love toward God – for it will teach you and convey to you God’s love for us. The more that we are certain of God’s love toward us, the more we will love others. Therefore, increasing our knowledge of God’s love toward us will generate our love toward brothers.
Prefer others before yourself. Always assume the best; don’t be suspicious about one-another. Such suspicion and rivalry will poison love and provoke the wrath of God.
Communion, friendship, familiarity: You cannot know brotherly love with those whom you do not know. If you are not in friendly relations with other believers, then you cannot say that you love them. When you keep separate from one-another, you bottle up the gifts of the Spirit. How can one show love or liberality or help or instruction or exhortation alone. The gifts are given to be spent for the glory of God. The servant who kept his master’s money hidden in the ground brought on his master’s anger and punishment. If we hide away our gifts and do not give our brother the space to show his gifts, then we steal from the Lord and harm those we are called to love.
Do good and receive good. Doing good shows love. Receiving good encourages love. There are some who take and never give – such persons provoke wrath and do not rightly understand love. There are others who do good to others and refuse good in return. Such persons are as proud as the first sort. No one of us is beyond the need of others. Be fervent in doing good and humble and thankful in receiving good.
Do this work and be courageous. Do not fear that you will fail. We cannot fail if God is with us. Even if we lose everything we own, if we have the Lord we are wealthy beyond believe.
Do you see how such work is counter to the world. The world says that we must protect ourselves that we must provide for ourselves. The Lord says that we must spend not merely our money but our very lives for Jesus. Brotherly love is madness – except that the world has been turned upside down because Jesus has conquered death. Go to him, outside the camp. Lay aside the wisdom of this world. Offer to the Lord acceptable worship.
We can confidently say
The Lord is my helper
I will not fear
What can man do to me?
Behave Yourselves: Hebrews 13
1. Verses 1-3 require (a) brotherly love, (b) hospitality, and (c) concern for martyrs and prisoners for Christ. Give three ways in which you could live in accordance with such commandments.
2. Verses 4-6 require you to be content with your sexual and economic situation. What would obedience to these rules require? Does that describe you?
3. Verses 7-17 place an extraordinary burden on the spiritual life, learning of Christ, following after Christ. To what extent do you honor the knowledge of the Scriptures? If I were to compare your diligence in following after Christ with your interest in following after sports, politics, money, et cetera, what would win? Do you know more about Jets QB problems or the book of Micah? If you say Micah, quickly say something about the content of the book.
4. In verse 23 the writer of the book (Luke?) speaks of being in prison. What sort of dedication to the Lord does that indicate? Does that describe you? If you say “Yes”, compare this answer to your answer to the previous three questions.
7 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Draw near to the altar and offer your sin offering and your burnt offering and make atonement for yourself and for the people, and bring the offering of the people and make atonement for them, as the LORD has commanded.”
8 So Aaron drew near to the altar and killed the calf of the sin offering, which was for himself.
9 And the sons of Aaron presented the blood to him, and he dipped his finger in the blood and put it on the horns of the altar and poured out the blood at the base of the altar.
10 But the fat and the kidneys and the long lobe of the liver from the sin offering he burned on the altar, as the LORD commanded Moses.
11 The flesh and the skin he burned up with fire outside the camp.
11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp.
12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.
13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.
14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.
1 Peter 5:8, Ephesians 1:4, Exodus, Exodus 3:16-17, Ezekiel, Ezekiel 20:6-8, Genesis 3:15, Hebrews, Hebrews 10:1-4, Hebrews 12:18-29, Hebrews 1:1-4, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 3:12-14, Isaiah 53:10, Jere, Jeremiah, Jeremiah 7:16, John 6:37, John 6:40, Last Supper, Luke, Luke 22, Luke 22:14-15, miah 31:31-34, New Covenant, Old Covenant, Passover, Prayer, Preaching, Psalm 50:19-22, Resting on God, Titus 1:2, Valley of Vision
(Sermon to be preached on March 25, 2012, at Calvary Bible Church):
Making Purification for Sin:
This will be a sermon without a porch. I’m not going to ease you into the text. There will be no introductory story. Instead, I’m going to bring directly into the living room. Our subject reaches from the beginning to the end of the Bible. Now please turn to Hebrews 1 and read with me.
Hebrews 1:1–4 (ESV)
1 Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.
You can learn a great a lot by merely paying attention. You can understand most of the Bible by merely taking your time to think and read. It takes patience and attention.
Hebrews 1:1-2 is one long sentence which contains one main verb: to speak. To understand a sentence, start with the verb. The verb has a subject, the one who speaks: God. This sentence is about God and what God has done.
The sentence tells us about how God spoke. Long ago, God spoke by prophets. In these last days, God spoke by his Son.
There are two times spoken of in these verses: “long ago”; and, “these last days”. Time has been divided, and now we are living in a new age – the “last days”.
Why the division? The text implies that the great difference between the ages stems from the manner in which God spoke. “Long ago …. God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” Then a break takes place at the beginning of verse 2 – your translation may or may not have a “but”. There is a shift from the time past to the present, there is a change from speaking through prophets and now speaking through the Son.
This leads to a question: Why does the Father move to speaking through his Son? Why does speech through the Son put an end to the old order, to the previous age? What happened to change the relationship between God and the world?
The key to understanding the shift is found at the end of verse three, where we see the words
After making purification [of if you have an NASB it reads “When he had made purification”] for sins, he sat down at the right hand of Majesty on high
The action of making purification lead to the incarnate Son being exalted. That movement of purification and exaltation radically transformed the universe – it changed how the Creator relates to the creation; it moved the universe from “long ago” to “these last days”.
The next time I am here, we will look to the exaltation of Jesus. This morning we are going to examine the words, “making purification for sins.”
If you have been around Christianity for any time, you will think, that means Jesus died on the cross for our sins. And that is true: Jesus did die on the cross for sins. However, those few words contain far more than just a statement of Jesus dying for our sins.
Jesus making purification for sin fulfilled the promise God gave to our first parents. Jesus making purification for sin decisively defeated sin and death and the devil; it made the New Heavens and the New Earth, possible – not just possible, but it has actually begun in a manner with the resurrection of Jesus from dead.
Making purification for sin instituted the New Covenant. A covenant is a word which means an agreement or a contract. There are many different covenants in the Bible. Two of the most important covenants in the Bible are the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant is the covenant on Mount Sinai. You have heard of the Ten Commandments? That is the Old Covenant – well a part of it. The Old Covenant involved Moses, Israel, and the Promised Land, and Priests, and sacrifices and a temple. God took Israelites out of Egypt, made a covenant with them and put them in the Promised Land. They disobeyed the Covenant, and so God sent them into exile.
However, when it looked like the Old Covenant failed, God promised to make a New Covenant. Jesus made the New Covenant at the Last Supper.
We are going to walk through that history from the time before the Old Covenant until we get to the New Covenant. There are some names and places, so pay attention. None of it will be too hard to understand.
We need to cover this history, because the book of Hebrews is all about this history. Our clause for this morning, making purifications for sins is a very short hand way of talking about the Old Covenant and the New Covenant and all the history involved. The book of Hebrews assumes that you know all these things already. The writer is explaining what the Old Testament means now that Jesus has come. However, I know that many of you are not familiar with the entire Old Testament. Therefore, I need to give you a sketch of some key events.
We are going to look at four times: First, Why did we need a covenant? Second, what happened with the Old Covenant (Israel broke it). Third, The Time of Cursing under the Old Covenant (God sent them into exile and promised to make a New Covenant). Fourth, What happened in the New Covenant.
As I sketch this out, I am going to make some observations along the way. One thing that you need to understand to follow this history is that at each step of the way God had the goal in mind: making purification for sin. The covenants were created to deal with sin.
Part One: Why Did We Need a Covenant?
We needed a covenant because Adam and Eve sinned. God created Adam and Eve and placed them in a Garden. God commanded them to exercise dominion over the creation and to work to glorify God. That was their reasonable worship.
Unfortunately, when Adam and Eve sinned, they wrecked everything. Sin ruined every human being, it ruined the animals, it ruined the entire creation. God is going to fix this problem by making a New Heavens and New Earth.
However, to fix the problem between God and the creation, God must deal with sin. You see, sin is worse than just doing some bad action. You must think of sin as the most deadly poison which could exist. It is an incurable disease. We usually don’t understand how bad sin is until we see someone commit a particularly grotesque act of evil.
Many of you heard of the man who murdered the people at the Jewish school in Paris. The man who committed the murder videotaped himself killing the people. One of his victims was a beautiful little eight year old girl. He chased her down, grabbed her by the pony tail and shot her in the head. Then the monster posted the video as a brag. He also murdered a 30 year old man and the man’s sons aged 6 and 3.
Does that make you sick? It should . Do you feel revulsion, hatred, anger. Good. That is what sin looks like when it takes off its costume and shows itself for real. The Puritan writer Ralph Venning when he wanted to express the utter hatefulness of sin called it sinful, he wrote of the sinfulness of sin.
Now, what would you think of a judge would simply forgive the man who murdered that little girl? You would hate him – and you should.
Adam murdered all his children with his sin. Adam’s sin brought death into the world. Adam’s sin created a problem which could not be solved. There was nothing in creation which could ever atone for that sin. That sin created a breach between God and man. God justly hates sin. To even begin to understand the revulsion of God toward sin, think of your revulsion toward that man who murdered that little girl.
This creates an unsolvable problem. God utterly and rightly hates sin. God hates sin with a hatred you cannot begin to understand.
But this creates a problem for man and for all creation. Nothing in Creation can satisfy God’s justice. God would be a monster to ignore sin or forgive sin without punishment. And yet all of Creation is insufficient to satisfy the judgment of sin. It is like a debt which cannot be paid.
Moreover, Creation cannot make God find a way to deal with sin. God would be right and just to merely judge the entire creation. God would be just to send every human being to hell and to burn the creation.
Yet, there when it seemed impossible that God could ever help and that sin would ever be resolved, God uttered a promise. It was a strange sounding promise. To the Serpent, it was a threat; to Adam and Eve, it was a promise which they could not fully understand. It promised a war:
15 I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Genesis 3:15 (ESV)
That war would end with Jesus making purification for sin. Genesis 3:15 predicts the purification described in Hebrews 1:3. Until Jesus came, human beings only had this and other promises from God. Until Jesus came, human beings could only rely upon the promise of God that one day he would make purification for sin. How God could do that, was difficult for them to understand.
At that point, God opened up a means for forgiveness of sin. This is how it worked. If someone would trust – that is, have faith that God in the future would keep his promise and some how make purification for sin, then God would save that person. God did not reveal fully how this work would be done, he merely promised that he would do so.
The next big step in this promise comes when God chose an idolater named Abraham and promised that through Abraham all the world would be blessed. God promised also to give Abraham’s descendants the land of Canaan – only it would be hundreds years after Abraham died.
Part Two: The Old Covenant
Abraham’s descendants end up in Egypt, were the Pharaoh reduced them to slavery. But God, who is rich in mercy, remembered his promise to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and determined to free the Israelites and so keep his promise. God found Moses in the wilderness and spoke to Moses:
16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’ Exodus 3:16–17 (ESV)
The Israelites in Egypt likely had heard – at least some had heard about the promise that God would deliver them and take them to the land of Canaan. But they did not wait for God. They were not faithful toward God. They were busy worshipping the Egyptian gods when they should have been faithful toward the Lord.
The Israelites wanted deliverance from sin. In the end, deliverance from sin is the only thing we want or need. Every single problem in your life, every disappointment or pain is the result of sin: whether your sin, the sin of others against you, or sin generally in the world. Death and disease come from sin. Hunger and oppression are the result of sin. Sorrow and loss are the result of sin. Every evil is the result of sin. The Israelites were not content to wait for the Lord to save them from sin. So they took matters into their own hands and made idols with their hands and worshiped the idols in a vain hope to be delivered from sin.
I must make an application here: This is how temptation always works. God has promised us good, but we don’t want to wait – or we don’t want good in exactly the manner God has promised. Since we are unwilling to live by faith, we turn to sight. We want an answer we can see right now, and so we make idols: something we can hold and control and manipulate. Like Adam and Eve we think we know better than God; we hope to be creatures without a Creator. Every time you sin, you are impatient, you are discontent, you say God has failed and you must take matters into your own hand. Every time you sin you are acting exactly like the slavish Israelite worshiping the gods of Egypt.
Now, Moses came to the people and told them of God’s promise. God then mocked the gods of Egypt: each plague was designed to ridicule a god of Egypt. But even after the Lord delivered them and conquered the gods of Egypt, the Israelites continued to worship the gods of Egypt. We know this because Ezekiel tells us this on the authority of God himself. It is recorded in Ezekiel 20, verses 6-8
6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands. 7 And I said to them, Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. 8 But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Ezekiel 20:6–8 (ESV)
Even though the Israelites rebelled against God, God still made a covenant with them. God made an agreement. He said, I am the Lord and I have rescued you. I am going to teach you how to worship me and how to live with one-another. If you do this, I will let you live a land flowing with milk and honey. If you disregard my covenant, I send drive you from the land and send you into exile.
With the covenant, God gave the people a temple, along with sacrifices and priests. Here is an important point, which many people get wrong. The sacrifices and the temple and the priests did not actually take away sin. These things were given to remind the people that God had still not made the final way to take away sin. These things were pointers toward the need for a final solution, to the need for God to make purification for sin:
1 For since the law [the Old Covenant] has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Hebrews 10:1–4 (ESV)
Get that clear. In verse 3 of Hebrews 10, it says that God gave the sacrifices to remind the people of their sins – not to take their sins away. Then, to make sure the point is clear, he writes in verse 4:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.
I want to make one other comment on the Old Covenant. This concerns the Passover. The reason I want you to know a bit about the Passover, is because Jesus institutes the New Covenant at a Passover meal which we call the Last Supper.
The covenant between God and Israel has its start in the night of escape which the people celebrated as the Passover. The night before the Israelites left Egypt, the night before the final plague, the final judgment the Lord brought against Egypt, the Lord commanded a meal and remembrance of the Israelites.
That is remarkable in and of itself: Just before they were to flee from the country, God told them to remember this: to stop and eat and remember. God instituted this meal so that they would remember what God had done, and by remembering what God had done they would have grounds for their faith about what God would do.
Since God had rescued them from Egypt, God would one day deliver them from their sins. The meal was given to remind them of the past deliverance so that they would have faith in God’s future deliverance.
This has a pointed application for us: Consider your faith – do you trust God as fully as you should? Why not? Why don’t you trust him well? Because you are solely looking forward and you can see no way in which God could possibly solve this problem. Faith looks forward, but it is based upon trust of God. That trust is strengthened by repeatedly remembering what God has already done. That is one reason that God gave us the Bible. That is one reason there are so many stories in the Old Testament. Those stories are a record of God’s faithfulness. Since God kept his promises in the past, we have good reason to believe God will keep his promises in the future.
Thus, God gave them the Passover as a reminder. They were to sacrifice a lamb and eat the lamb in a very special meal. The blood of the lamb was to be painted on the doorpost, and the people to remain inside with expectation of fleeing from slavery. Those who obeyed and painted the blood on their door where spared. The Angel of Death passed over their house. But those who disobeyed saw their own first born sons killed.
And thus, God institutes their escape from Egypt with a meal – a memorial for all generations to remind the people of the gracious salvation of God.
To understand how important remembering is, let us consider an instance where Israel forgot. Shortly after God had rescued the people, he took them to Mount Sinai and gave them the Covenant. It was a terrifying sight. The mountain shook with fire and the voice of God thundered from the Mountain and the people shook with fear.
God then called Moses up on the mountain, where Moses stayed for forty days. During those forty days, the people forgot what God had just done. They lost their courage, their faith failed. They looked for some means to solve the problems of the world and they came upon the stunningly brilliant idea of turning their jewelry into a golden calf and praying to that calf.
There is an easy application: Sin always looks stupid – spectacularly stupid from a distance. It is easier to see in someone else. Consider someone else’s sin. It looks pathetic and stupid from where you sit. It is often so stupid that it is funny, if it is not tragically sad. Take that evaluation and apply it to yourself. Your sin is that stupid, that foolish. Sin is always foolishness.
Now, despite their idolatry, God rescued and forgave the people. God forgave them time after time for hundreds of years. God kept his part of the covenant. God gave them a land and prosperity.
Yet even with the constant reminder of sin, and the constant promise that God would deal with sin – for the Old Covenant was a reminder and a promise — the people plunged themselves into idolatry. God sought to show them their desperate strait so that they would turn in faith and hope toward the promise that one day God would take away sin. But the people would not wait, they would not believe.
God sent ten of the tribes into exile. Still, the two tribes that remained continued in sin against their God.
God sent them prophets, and they ignored the word of the Lord. This went on for hundreds of years. Finally, we come to Jeremiah, the prophet who pleads with the people as destruction gathers its fist to strike and destroy Jerusalem. But the people will not listen.
The evil has become so great, the darkness has covered the city for so long, that God will no longer tolerate their rebellion. The Lord tells Jeremiah:
16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you. Jeremiah 7:16 (ESV)
Think of that: Do not pray …. I will not hear. Do not pray. Can you imagine how dark and black a hole that is? God will not hear. Even the most wicked sinner thinks in his heart of hearts that if he were to call, God would hear. But God says to Jeremiah, do not pray, for I will not hear. Is there a hell darker, an end more dismal?
Part Three: The Time of Cursing Under Old Covenant
With the final rejection recorded in Jeremiah, Israel will go into exile, the temple will be ruins, the sacrifices will be gone.
God promised blessing under the Old Covenant. But God also promised a curse. God promised that if the people violated the Covenant, he would curse them and drive them from the land.
Now, consider this: What would have happened for us if the Bible ended at Jeremiah 7:16, “I will not hear you.” What compels God to go on? We have not put God under any obligation to hear us. God has no obligation to save. The Old Covenant was utterly gracious on God’s part. God need do nothing more.
So stop and consider, what if God had stopped with, “I will not hear you.”
The Israelites had rejected God. Human beings do not want God. But God rescues human beings. Men sin to stay far away from God, but God draws near to man. Slaves worship idols, but God rescues from Egypt.
But there in that deep well God brought a new promise. God said that he would make a New Covenant and this New Covenant would make purification for sin:
31 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: 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. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Jeremiah 31:31–34 (ESV)
There is a beautiful prayer entitled The Valley of Vision which includes these lines:
Lord, in the daytime stars can be seen from the deepest wells
And the deeper the wells, the brighter thy stars shine.
Here in the deepest well, the brightest star could be seen shining in the distance. Here, God finally, plainly promised to forgive sin. God had forgiven sins before this point, but only for those who believed and trusted that one day God would deal with sin. Here, when it seems all hope is lost, God expressly says, I will make a new covenant – a covenant that will make purification for sin.
This New Covenant was the passion of God, the desire of God from before time began. Ephesians 1:4 says God determined this plan of salvation, this purification of sin “before the foundation of the world.” Titus 1:2 says that this promise was “before the ages began”. And in John 6:37, Jesus says that elect have been given by the Father to the Son. Before the ages began, before the foundation of the world, the Father determined to give the elect to the Son – before ages began the Son determined to save.
You see, even before Adam sinned, God determined to make purification for sin. Before Adam fell, God determined to resurrect fallen humanity. Before death came into the world, God determined to kill death. Before Israel broke the Old Covenant, God determined to make the New Covenant. This was the earnest desire of God.
You see, the Old Covenant proved the point: We need a savior. And it was the earnest desire of the Savior to save. Another old prayer (Resting on God) reads
O God must high, most glorious
The thought of thine infinite serenity cheers me,
For I am toiling and moiling, troubled and distressed
But thou are ever at perfect peace
Thy designs cause thee no fear of unfulfilment
They stand as fast as the eternal hills.
Israel failed, we failed, but God never failed.
Part Four: The New Covenant
Turn to Luke 22, and we will read verses 14-15. This records the Last Supper. This was the last Passover under the Old Covenant. In just hours, Jesus will be betrayed, crucified. Yet Jesus is going to do something wonderful. And just like the Passover, God does not want us to forget his covenant. So God institutes a meal which must repeat so that we will not forget. So read with me in verses 14-15:
14 And when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him. 15 And he said to them, “I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. Luke 22:14–15 (ESV)
Consider carefully those words. First in verse 14, at the very beginning, And when the hour came. What hour? The hour God had promised so many of thousands of years before. Here was the time when God would finally reckon with sin and destroy death.
I want you also to see the words of Jesus, I have earnestly desired. For how long Lord? How long have you desired this hour? Since before time began. Since before light shone on the Earth, I desired this moment to rescue Creation from sin and death, to destroy the curse and redeem what was mine.
Remember at the beginning of this sermon, we read the introduction to Hebrews 1? In that introduction, we saw the credentials of the Son – he was God himself, Monarch over the Creation. That is why the Father sent him to the world. The Son came to redeem what was his own. The Son earnestly desired to redeem this creation, to institute the New Covenant, to make purification for sin.
In making purification for sin, Jesus did far more than merely die that you could be saved. Jesus redeemed the entire Creation. Jesus destroyed death and the Devil. Jesus delivered the world from the thralldom of sin. Jesus proclaimed the glory of God in Creation. Jesus undid the thousands of years of rebellion. Jesus proclaimed the victory of God.
Oh how the heavens and the highest heavens must have been transfixed by the words I have earnest desired. They knew what was coming. Peter says that angels, long to look into these things. Cannot you imagine the hush of the Cherubim and Seraphim and the Living Creatures and the myriads upon myriads who watched as Jesus said, I have earnestly desired.
What did Jesus desire? Read on:
17 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, “Take this, and divide it among yourselves. 18 For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” 19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:17–20 (ESV)
There it is! This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.
Oh let that break your heart! God finally dealt with sin, God finally made purification for sin – but oh the cost! The ransom was his blood. The Father from before times began determined to redeem, but oh the cost! The Father shed his Son’s blood to make purification for sin. Let that break your heart.
What language shall I borrow to thank Thee, dearest friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow, Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever, and should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never outlive my love to Thee.
Oh let that sacred moment break your heart. Those words made purification for sins means that the king of all Glory became your sacrifice. That sacred head was battered down by man and devil and bore the wrath of God himself. That sacred head made purification for sin by bearing sin.
What does this mean?
To know that Jesus made purification for sin means damnation, wrath and judgment for some. John 3:18 tells us:
18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. John 3:18 (ESV)
God does not play at sin. The Father who would not spare his Son the weight of sin will not spare you. Isaiah 53:10 says
It was the will of the Lord to crush him
He has put him to grief.
The Father who would not spare his Son will not spare you. Do not toy with God. He is not a puppet who can be played. In Psalm 50 God says:
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit. 20 You sit and speak against your brother; you slander your own mother’s son. 21 These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself. But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. 22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! Psalm 50:19–22 (ESV)
You do not want to tempt the Father. Think of Judgment Day. You will stand before God and God will ask for his account. God has given you life and breath, and how have you spent your time. He will ask for an account of every idle word, every glance, every thought. You say, I would not trust the work of the Son. What your Son did was not good enough for me! I will stand on my own righteousness. Do you think it will go well with you? The Father gave his Son to save his enemies, and you will mock the blood of Christ? You will make an account, and he will tear and there will be none to deliver. Do not think your hell will have an end. One who would mock a Son to his Father is a fool.
You must fly, you must escape. Your blood will be on your own head come judgment day. I am glad that you are hearing, for I do not want to stand surety for your sin. You have no choice. God will not play. You must repent, you must cast your hope solely upon the Savior or you will be lost. You are no friend of God who are an enemy of the Son. If he is not your king, then you are a traitor. Traitors are killed, not coddled. Do not fool yourself.
I say that out of the deepest love. I have no better good to give you than to plead for your repentance. I do you no kindness to lie to you and make your bed in Hell. Repent. Trust that you cannot made purification for sin and trust that Jesus, the true High Priest in the true sanctuary will be your surety. Trust him, fly to him. He has promised to receive you:
40 For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:40 (ESV)
Now to those of you who know him. I have a warning and an encouragement. First the warning:
Do not grow slack in your faith. You are not safe because you are saved. Oh, you will not be damned, but this is still a dangerous world. It is filled with devils and traps. There are snares about every corner. You would careful if you were to walk about where lions roamed, and yet you wander aimlessly about demonic lions and your own lusts and you are thoughtless. Peter writes to believers:
8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)
Put your name in the place where you read “someone”. The Devil is seeking to devour you. Jesus told Peter that Satan was asking for him by name so that he could sift him like wheat. Have you ever seen wheat sifted? Peter’s faith failed. He sinned. Peter knew all too well what it was to be attacked by this lion.
You see, the worst thing that can happen to you is not that you suffer, but that you sin. Satan devours a Christian not by the persecution but by the sin. Persecution is horrifying and wicked and we do not care enough for our brothers and sisters who know real persecution. But the true injury to a Christian comes not with sorrow but with sin. Sin is our great fear.
Do not let your faith fail that you may not fall into sin.
And sin may bring correction from the Father. Do not go there. Do you feel concerned at all at this point? You should. I mean to make your heart race. What shall I do to avoid this end?
12 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. 14 For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12–14 (ESV)
Do you see that person sitting next to you? You need her or him to be safe from sin.
Pastor Tim has a particular heart for this. You will hear him a hundred times exhort you and encourage you to love one another, to be with one-another, to exhort and encourage one –another, to eat with one-another and enjoy fellowship with one-another. He is not doing this because he wants our congregation to be an exalted social club. He wants this because the Bible commands this. We want this, because we are deeply concerned for your soul. The elders of this church love you dearly and seek nothing but your safety from sin. We are all too easily distracted, we all too easily follow our own ways.
Oh beloved, trust in what Christ has done. Look on to the Savior and you will be changed. Our trial is that we trust too little, that we love too little, that we do not admire our Savior as we should. We will receive a kingdom!
Have you ever hoped that you could be great, truly marvelous – a wonder? That is the hope of glory. That is the hope to be forgiven from sin so that you are set free to glory in God in Jesus Christ. Do you fear death? That is the fear of sin. Sin in its plain colors is death. Sin leads no other way. But you were created for something greater. You were created for God himself.
The chief end of man – the reason why you were created is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. The greatest joy a human being can obtain, the greatest joy we can hope to obtain is to glorify and enjoy God. We were created for that end – and a great and glorious end it is.
I can guarantee your misery: Live for yourself. Make you, you own desires and wants your chief end. Do what pleases you right now and ignore the wisdom of God. You will enjoy just long enough to be made miserable. The Devil, that master fisherman, will allow you to swallow the hook and line and it will slide down into your gullet. Only then will he set the hook. The barb will draw into the space beneath your rib. You will feel the tug of the line and the pain of the hook, but you will not escape unless God miraculously sets you free. Do not toy with the Devil’s baits, he intends only your horror and misery and ruin.
But for you, I hope for something better.
18 … you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. [That was the making of the Old Covenant]20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire. Hebrews 12:18–29 (ESV)