We have a key word in our text: “Promise” (6:12,13,15,17). Before we unpack that, let me ask you a few searching questions:
Can you remember promises that have been made to you, but which weren’t kept? How did you feel about that? What impact did that have on your life?
And then these questions: Can you remember promises that you made and didn’t keep? What impact, do you think that has had on others, and what would have been the result of those broken promises?
Is there anyone in this world that has not experienced broken promises?
And then this last and important question: Is there anyone who never breaks a promise?
Last week Pastor Brits took you through that challenging text in 5:11- 6:12, in which the writer warns his readers concerning the real danger of apostasy – of falling away, of cutting yourself loose from the heavenly gift, the Lord Jesus (6:4), the promised Saviour and the chilling consequence of that:
“It is impossible in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared (tasted) in the Holy Spirit and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and of the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance…” (6:4-6)
The writer however expresses his confidence that this is NOT the case with his readers:
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Well, there we are. He is convinced that these men and women who are tempted to abandon Christ, the promised Saviour, will not do so, but that they will persevere in the full assurance of hope and that they will be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
The promises…This now becomes our connecting thought in 6:13, where we read concerning the promise God made to Abraham: “For when God made a promise to Abraham…”. Let’s stop and rehearse what we have learned so far.
We have learned that this letter was written to Hebrew Christians who struggled to hold on to their faith in Jesus alone. They were tempted to substitute the absolute glory of Jesus with the lesser glories of created glorious beings like the angels. They were tempted to substitute the Lord Jesus, that perfect man from heaven with great and revered, but imperfect men, like Moses.
The problem lay in the fact that the Christian life must be lived from the principle of faith in Christ ALONE. Here is the problem. We must live in the future hope of His promises (e.g. John 14:1-3), and that is not easy. We have believed in Him, and we believe that He has redeemed us from the consequences of sin, but we are groaning inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies” (Rom. 8:23). There is incompleteness while we are waiting and Romans 8:18-24 makes that very clear. We have been told that there is more to come. There is an inheritance in the waiting. We are heirs - we will inherit the full promise of our salvation, but it takes so long! We must wait for our promised inheritance in “faith and patience”. It is this waiting process, that is so very challenging. To live this Christian life we need faith and patience. We need to live in the hope of the future promises of God. This is very difficult for our generation which lives very much in an age of instant gratification.
We don’t like waiting.
We don’t do well with patience.
But that is what is required here, and again I ask you to consider 6:11,12, which introduce us to our text which deals with the certainty of God’s promise. God’s promise is obtained by patience, faith, hope – all looking towards the future.
This is what we learn here.
Abraham- an example
And now we are given the example in the person of Abraham, last mentioned in 2:16. Abraham is a massive figure in the Bible when it comes to illustrating the practical outworking of faith, hope and patience. These attitudes exemplified in the life of Abraham help to persevere in the Christian life and to obtain the promise. Faith, hope and patience in Christ are the antidote to drifting away (2:1) and falling away (3:12). They are the antidote to developing a hardened heart (3:7,13, 15; 4:7). They are the antidote to becoming dull of hearing (5:11) and sluggish (6:12).
And now we need to see something beautiful and so very encouraging in this. At the heart of this passage is not a call to self- effort, to do more. At the heart of this passage is a promise from God. The call is not to do more, but to trust more, to lean more upon God’s promises!
Back to Abraham! Remember that Abraham became God’s friend by virtue of the fact that God first appeared to him in Ur of the Chaldees (Gen. 11:31, 12:1). God sought out Abraham. Thereafter God called him and then He gave him a promise, that He would bless and multiply Abraham’s offspring (Gen. 12:2,3 cf.re- iterated in Gen. 22:15-18). The promise, was accompanied by an oath, and since there was no one higher to swear by, God swore the oath – which is “final for confirmation” (6:16), by Himself (6:13). An oath bears “the unchangeable character of His purpose” (6:17) and this purpose will stand because God cannot lie (6:18).
Having said that Abraham had to patiently wait for a very long time to obtain the promise. The promise was a son to be born of the covenant wife, Sarah. Isaac was born against hope when his wife Sarah was old and barren, and when he was already 100 years old (Gen. 21:5).
How did Abraham cope in this long, long wait? Well, he believed God! To be sure, Abraham doubted the promise at times, but that doesn’t mean that the promise itself was ever in doubt. The promise comes from God, who cannot lie. The same is true for us. Just because we, at times doubt God’s promises, that doesn’t mean that His promise is ever in doubt. He keeps His promises, because God’s character is unchangeable and “it is impossible for God to lie,” (6: 18). It may have taken a long time for it to come to pass, but God brought it about in His own time. God is never in a hurry, but always on time. And so, Abraham hoped against hope (Romans 4:18-25). He trusted God to build his covenant family line,…”and thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise” (6:15). This patience was built on the basis of faith and the assurance of hope (6:11,18). And that is all built on the unchangeable character of God’s purpose guaranteed by an oath (6:17), so that by two unchangeable things (i.e. the promise and the oath), in which it is impossible for God to lie, WE who have fled for refuge (to Jesus) might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us (6:18)
This hope, says 6:19, is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” An anchor keeps a boat from drifting away.
What is the nature of our soul anchor? How do we know that the anchor will hold? Again, we are reminded that, that anchor held for Abraham, because God had promised, on oath, that he would be the father of many nations.
Now we need to apply all this to these dull of hearing, sluggish, Hebrew Christians who were in danger of drifting away. We also need to apply this to ourselves. God's great promise on oath to them and to us is the Lord Jesus Christ, our great High priest, after the eternal order of Melchizedek (this will be explained in Chapter 7)
Hope in the Work of Christ!
6:19 says that we have, “a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.”
6:20 says that Jesus is “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” The concept of an OT high priest entering behind a curtain into the holy of holies to make atonement is a strange concept to us. To the Jews the concept of a priest in the order of Melchizedek (and nor according to the order of Levi) was even stranger. But the big point is that we do need a high priest to present the sinner before a holy God! That was the function of the Old Testament priest, and in many ways that is still the Roman Catholic model.
So then, who is the priest to whom the NT Christian must look? Many evangelicals are tempted to look to their pastor (cf. the Corinthian church problem with Apollos, Peter and Paul ). But we must not do that. Our great pastor and High Priest is Jesus ALONE.
He ALONE is the promised gift from God.
Jesus ALONE can deal with our sin and our guilt.
Jesus ALONE secures the promise and blessing of God.
Jesus ALONE secured the promised land (Heaven) and the promised rest for us.
Jesus ALONE can do this because He ALONE is qualified to enter into the presence of God, behind the curtain, into the holy of holies. His going into the holy place in heaven and offering Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf, His resurrection, His ascension, enables Him to be the Mediator between a holy God and a sinful people.
Jesus ALONE is God’s promise by whom and through whom we can enter into that great assembly of true believers. By Him ALONE we inherit that great promise and blessing of a city and country whose designer and builder is God (see 11:10). That is where we are heading. That is our promised destiny. That is our future hope.
So, in times of temptation and inclination to drift, when we become sluggish, we must hold on to the promise given by oath. God has fulfilled the promise and the oath by the blood of His Son on the cross. He is our anchor. The anchor is one of the earliest symbols in the history of Christianity. He ALONE is our promise and hope. Hold on to Jesus – and the fulfilment of His promise in patience, and faith and hope - to be where He is (John 14:1-3)
In 1572 the Scottish Reformer John Knox (1514 – 1572) was dying. In his last hours he asked his wife to go get his Bible. He asked her to “read where I first cast my anchor”. She read to him the verses where he had first come to faith in Jesus Christ, and the text where he had first found hope. It was in John 17:3: “And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.” In His death He held on to the promise of Christ.
The temptation for us to drift away may not be the same as those Hebrews who were tempted to turn back to Judaism, but the temptation for us is certainly always that we may be looking for hope somewhere else other than the Word of God and the work of Christ. We tend to regard this world as our only home. Therefore many put their hope in the solutions that man offers for our many earthly problems. We look at political and philosophical solutions. We put our hope in better education or in social reform, but what does it lead to? We still feel like being adrift in a sea of change and unpredictability.
We have a better soul anchor. We have that greater hope, and we must look to Jesus with patience and faith.
And it is no risk at all. You may trust His Word entirely, for all God’s promises are yes and amen in Christ (1 Cor. 1:20). He will not fail you.