Standing on the Promises

Posted: May 31, 2009 in Hebrews

Hebrews 6:9-20, “Standing on the Promises”

Famous hymn by R. Kelso Carter, “Standing on the Promises of God.” Verse 2: “Standing on the promises that cannot fail, When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail, Standing on the promises of God.” We don’t know the exact occasion for him writing the song – but it could have been easily applied to the last half of Hebrews Ch 6!

Hebrews 6 begins with a stern warning – telling the Jewish Christians of the dangers of walking away from the sufficiency of Christ Jesus in order to go back to the way they always used to do things in Judaism. The writer of Hebrews obviously loves the people to whom he’s writing, but he doesn’t pull any punches. Surely the 1st time this letter was read to the church in question, people started looking around the room to see if the warning applied directly to any one of them. Yet as we end Ch 6, the issue isn’t so much one of warning – but of comfort, with the author exhorting the Hebrew Christians to stand on the firm, sure promises of God, despite any wait that may have been involved.

Remember where we’ve been so far: the author is writing to a group of Hebrew Christians who had some people who were considering abandoning the faith to go back to Judaism. In response, the writer systematically shows how Jesus is superior to Judaism in every respect. He’s better than the angels – He’s better than Moses – He’s better than Joshua – He’s better than Aaron & the Levitical priesthood. It’s this last concept the writer is going to expand on the most, but he took a break before getting into the meat of things because the Church in question seemed to have a reputation for spiritual laziness…they had a tough time with deep doctrine (which led into the warning of apostasy).

He’s going to get back to this deep doctrine about the priesthood again in Ch 7 (and following), but 1st the writer is going to talk them down off the cliff of doubt, and reassure them of the promises of God.

Hebrews 6:9-20 (NKJV)
9 But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner.

A. “But”: in direct contrast to what he just got done writing about… The natural response to the warning in the 1st half of Ch 6 is to say, “Is this me?!?” It’s as if the Holy Spirit is saying through the author – “Don’t panic…I haven’t finished speaking yet.” The warning is very real – BUT, there’s more to say…

B. What is it that he is confident of? That they have not yet actually crossed over into apostasy. Had he always been confident? Perhaps not – could easily be translated “persuaded” (KJV)… Whatever the case had been in the past, as he thought about his Hebrew audience now, he feels sure that they (in general) are abiding in Jesus…

C. Question: If the writer was so confident of the fact that the Hebrew Christians had not yet apostasized, why give the warning to begin with? … Because that was the direction in which they were heading! … Even though most of them would never get to that point, they needed to be warned of the danger. The warning sign is still necessary. (The time to learn of a bridge being out up ahead is not when you’re driving over it; but long before you get there in order to give you time to stop & turn around…)
__a. Also necessary for future generations who would read the letter…i.e., us! Always keep in mind that the author (or authorS – “we”) was writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus the Holy Spirit was only writing to the original church in question, but giving instruction to every believer who would follow…

10 For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister.

A. One reason the writer had such confident assurance that this church had not yet apostasized? They showed much good fruit as believers…their lives matched their confession. They had “works & labor of love” towards the rest of the Church (believers around the empire). Not just a one-time expression of love; but ongoing – they have “ministered” & do “minister”… Because of their steadfast works for the Lord Jesus, the writer had little doubt that although the Hebrew Christian’s faith was under assault, they were truly following Christ.
__a. This is exactly what Jesus said would happen. People will know we are His disciples by our love for one another… (John 13:35)

B. God sees our works…He never forgets what we do in Christ. The acts of service we forget, He remembers for eternity. The tears of sorrow we’ve shared with brothers & sisters in grief or of ourselves in pain, He’s stored in His bottle (Ps 56:8). To say God is “not unjust to forget” is a gross understatement! He knows far better than we do the things we’ve done for His glory & kingdom.
__a. Not only will God remember what we did in the name of Christ, He’ll reward us for what we did. The Bema Seat…(2 Cor 5:10)
__b. It’s the opposite for our sin! Once we are covered with the blood of the Passover Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, God forgets our sin. That’s part & parcel with the new covenant we have in Christ Jesus! Through His Son, God forgives our iniquity, “and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jer 31:34) It’s a pretty amazing thing to consider that we remember our sin long after God does. To Him, we are clothed in the righteousness of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 5:21), we are already seated in heavenly places with Him (Eph 2:6), our sins have already been completely atoned for through the perfect sin sacrifice of Jesus (Isa 53:10-11). From a spiritual perspective, for every person who is a born-again believer in Jesus Christ, your sins are past tense. PTL!!

C. Bottom line, there’s definitely a relationship between our faith & our works – as evidenced by the assurance that the writer had regarding the Hebrews’ walk with Christ. “But I thought we are saved by grace, apart from works!?” We are. But someone who has a true saving faith is naturally going to do good works as a result of that faith in Christ Jesus & what the Holy Spirit is doing in their lives. (James 2:17-18 – faith w/o works is dead…)
__a. Our problem is that we try to make too many theological subjects all-or-nothing. (All-gifts-all-the-time vs. no-gifts-at-all… All-predestination vs. all-freewill…) Regarding faith & works, it’s not an either/or – it’s a both/and, as long as we keep it in the right priority & order. We are completely saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ & His work – but with that, we do work & demonstrate our faith. If the 2nd half is missing, the 1st half may not have taken place at all…

11 And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

A. IOW, Keep it up! Run the race & finish the course… Persevere in Christ (which he’ll get to in Ch 12)…

B. Where do we learn how to persevere in the faith? By looking to the good examples of those who have gone before us… Going to give one of these examples in Abraham (he’ll show many more in Ch 11). If anyone in the OT was a prime example of patience, Abraham was! See vs 13…

13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, because He could swear by no one greater, He swore by Himself, 14 saying, “Surely blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.”

A. “God made a promise to Abraham”: What was the promise? Generally, it’s a reference to the single covenant God made with Abraham that He repeated so many times – that God would give Abraham (1) a land, (2) a people, (3) a Savior… [] More specifically, this quote is after Abraham had laid Isaac on the altar… Genesis 22:15-18 (15) Then the Angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time out of heaven, (16) and said: “By Myself I have sworn, says the Lord, because you have done this thing, and have not withheld your son, your only son— (17) blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies. (18) In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because you have obeyed My voice.” [] …
__a. When was the promise made? It depends on which version of the covenant we’re referring to. When Abram was 1st called & told about the heir to come, he was 75 years old (Gen 12:4). Quite a bit of time passes until Abram (probably in his mid-80’s) offered Eliezer as his heir & God reconfirmed the covenant (Gen 15:2). Abram was 99 years old by the time God yet reaffirmed the covenant & told him of Isaac (Gen 17:1) & finally 100 when Isaac was born. Beyond that, a likely 12 more years passed before Abraham offered Isaac up to the Lord in obedience & God affirmed the covenant yet one more time… Beyond Isaac – the promise of nations coming from Abraham only begun its fulfillment when Esau & Jacob were born, 60 years later…and a minimum of 40 more years (Gen 26:34) (perhaps another 14 on top of that after Jacob’s service to Laban for both his daughters) prior to the beginning of the 12 son birth-sequence. In the end, there was 25 years of waiting just for Isaac from the 1st covenant, but all totaled, 139 years until the nations began to appear from Abraham’s lineage. That’s a lot of promising & a lot of waiting!
__b. Was the promise fulfilled? Absolutely. Abraham may have only seen the very firstfruits of the beginning (in Jacob) – but the fact that we’re sitting here today is proof of the fulfilled promise to Abraham. All the nations of the earth were blessed b/c God sent Jesus Christ though the seed of Abraham & provided salvation to all who repent & call upon His name…!

B. When God makes a promise, we can bank on it! Even if we have to wait a bit. See vs. 15…

15 And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise.

A. With the knowledge that it took a looong time for the promise of God to Abraham to be fulfilled, what did Abraham do in the meantime? He “patiently endured.” He continued to walk with God, trust Him by faith. Even when it seemed nothing was going on & all hope of the promise was lost to history, Abraham endured by walking by faith. (Which is pleasing to God! Heb 11:6…)

B. Are you willing to endure? This was the question the author was posing to the Hebrew Christians. Jesus had promised to come back, but they were waiting for the fulfillment. Persecution was rampant – time kept passing on – every day they would have been pressured by their Jewish neighbors to abandon Christianity. Were they willing to patiently endure, like Abraham?
__a. Are WE willing to endure? Many Christians were crestfallen in 1984 & 1988, expecting Jesus to rapture them at that moment. Today it’s becoming harder & harder to maintain fundamental Christian beliefs & theology without the charge of being backwards & ignorant & intolerant… … And in the meantime we wait. … We need to endure patiently in faith!

C. Are we waiting in vain? NO! That’s the whole point of bringing out Abraham. Abraham waited & waited – but he finally saw the fulfillment of God’s promise. It’s that way throughout the entire Bible. Waiting on God to fulfill His promise is the rule; not the exception. Joseph waited through slavery & prison – Moses waited in the Sinai desert & then in the wilderness – David waited for the crown long after he had been anointed king – Paul waited in Tarsus & Sinai before ever being released to the ministry Jesus had called him to – humanity waited thousands of years from Adam to Jesus’ 1st coming…the fulfillment of a promise made in Genesis 3! Many times we need to wait… But besides waiting, what do all of these promises have in common? Every single one of them was fulfilled…
__a. Are you trusting in a promise of God that you haven’t yet seen fulfilled? God is faithful! Wait upon Him. Trust in His already fulfilled promises through Jesus Christ. Every promise is yes & amen in Him – 2 Cor 1:20…Jesus ultimately fulfills them all! Even if the day your specific promise is fulfilled is the day you see Jesus face-to-face, you can trust that God will ALWAYS keep His word. Let God be true & every man a liar. (Rom 3:4)

16 For men indeed swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is for them an end of all dispute.

A. At this time, people rarely had written contracts; they did business with each other with oaths. And to confirm the oath, the person had to swear their faithfulness to fulfill the promise based on someone else’s credibility (who was greater than them)… What happens if you have no one greater to swear by (such as God)? Thus God had to swear by Himself… (vs. 13)

17 Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath,

A. IOW, if oaths confirm promises made by men, how much more would it confirm the promises of God? Question: did God need to make an oath? Of course not – His word is sufficient in & of itself… So why the oath? Not because God needed it; but because people’s faith is by & large weak, including Abraham. God didn’t need to reaffirm His word to anyone, but in His grace, He did so for Abraham out of His abundant grace to underscore how serious God took His own promise. Even after Abraham’s faith had been confirmed – God gave him a sure promise & oath.

B. Likewise, our salvation is based upon the promise of God through the work of Jesus Christ – and bound by God’s same oath to Abraham. We are now “the heirs of the promise” – we are the nations of the earth blessed through his Seed (Jesus), we are his descendants through faith greater than the sands of the seashore. Galatians 3:26-29 (26) For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (27) For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. (29) And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. []

C. Basically saying here, God’s not going to change His mind. His counsel is immutable… Lit, it can’t be transposed/changed. Men & women may be double-minded about their opinions & counsel, but never God. NEVER God. God’s promise & word is unchangeable. The promise He made to Abraham is an unconditional covenant that will never change nor expire…He WILL see it through.

18 that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

A. What are the 2 immutable things? God’s promise & God’s oath… His promise was the covenant given to Abraham; His oath was the “extra” swearing to demonstrate the validity of His word. These things will never change; God has given His word & God is going to keep His promises.

B. Interesting insight to the character of God here: God does not lie. Actually the Scripture is stronger – not only does God not lie; God CAN NOT lie. “it is impossible for God to lie…” “Impossible” is just that…impossible. It’s the negative form of the word for “power/capacity/ability.” Numbers 23:19 “God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent. Has He said, and will He not do? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good? []
__a. ‘But I thought God could do anything?!’ God is indeed omnipotent, and there is nothing too hard for the Lord – all things are possible with the Lord. But there are some things that God cannot do. (Cannot be tempted by evil – Jas 1:13, cannot deny Himself – 2 Tim 2:13) Affirmed also in Titus 1:3, God cannot lie. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) – lying is completely antithetical to His character & nature, and thus He can’t do it.

C. Knowing that God cannot & does not lie, what does that tell you about the promises He’s given about your salvation in Christ? It means we have “strong consolation” in Whom we have “fled for refuge.” It’d be tough to get stronger – after all, who better to trust than Someone who cannot lie? God will never break His word.
__a. Possible reference to the cities of refuge (Num 35)… Like those ancient cities, we find safety in Christ & hope for the future…

19 This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil,

A. Not only is Jesus our hope; He’s our “anchor of the soul…” Very poetic, but very true. The purpose of an anchor is to keep a vessel from drifting. What is the only hope we have from drifting into eternal punishment & death? Jesus Christ. Through His work alone, we are anchored to God’s grace & we find our rest & hope in Him.

B. As an Anchor, Jesus is “sure & steadfast…” “Sure” = lit “not to make totter” “Steadfast” has the idea of a board not breaking when something steps on it. [Imagine an old rotted rope-bridge…] Jesus (our Anchor) is exactly the opposite! Infinitely stronger than the Golden Gate Bridge… [Ever seen battleship anchors? PIC] Like those anchors, Jesus is immovable.
__a. Do you understand how solid the promise & hope for your salvation is? If you’ve trusted in Christ Jesus as your Lord & Savior, forsaking your sin, knowing that He’s the Risen Son of God who was crucified for your sins – then you’ve got unfathomable assurance for your eternal salvation! You’ve got the word/promise of God – His oath – and Christ Jesus Himself anchoring you to the covenant of God! …

C. Where is our Anchor of hope located? Behind the veil in the Holy of Holies. Jesus is our Anchor, but He’s also our High Priest, who’s allowed to go behind the veil into the Holy of Holies in the Temple of God…and He’s brought us there with Him.
__a. One immediate result of Jesus’ crucifixion? The veil was ripped in two!

20 where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.

A. Jesus is our hope – our anchor – and our “forerunner.” Gk has several possibilities of context for the word: it was used of spies that ran ahead of the troops to survey the battle – runners that went ahead of the other athletic team – ships that sailed on ahead to ensure sea depths were sufficient for larger boats to dock. Some think the writer of Hebrews is continuing the “ship” theme – that Jesus is not only the anchor for our hope, but He’s the vessel by which we arrive at the destination for which we hope. Others think that Jesus is running on ahead of us, clearing the way for our salvation. Whatever the original intent behind the word, the concept is clear: Jesus goes before us. Jesus is the only one who could truly enter the Holy of Holies, and as our High Priest, King, Savior, and Friend, He brings us along with Him into His inheritance & relationship with the Father. Glorious!

B. Again, Jesus is our High Priest. Not of Levi, but of Melchizedek – the writer will spend most of Ch 7 on this point.

The bottom line from the last half of Ch 6? God is faithful to His promises; so let us be faithful to God. Do we need to be warned about the dangers of apostasy? Absolutely. Do we need to take time to examine ourselves to see if we’re in the faith & abiding in Christ? No doubt. But once we’ve done that, we don’t need to live in doubt, constantly questioning the goodness and the promises of God. When God makes a promise, He’s going to see it through. He’s sworn an oath – He cannot lie – and our assurance of that is in the anchor of our souls, Jesus Christ.

So Christian: keep trusting – keep walking patiently with Christ – keep doing good works for your King’s glory. Every day Jesus has left you on earth is another opportunity for you to glorify God & witness of His salvation. Rest in His grace, and live for His kingdom! …

If you haven’t trusted Jesus as Lord – if you haven’t yet received Him as your Savior, then don’t waste this opportunity to be saved! For the person who’s been born of the Spirit of God, Jesus is the anchor for our soul, but without Christ you don’t have that hope. You’re left to be judged for every sin you ever committed – and make no doubt that every sin leaves us condemned before God. Even the “littlest” sin (in our opinion) is an act of rebellion & treason against the God who gave you life & breath…and every one of us has committed more than just one or two “little” sins. The good news is that God wants to save you & forgive you through Jesus Christ – but you must receive that forgiveness…

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