SERMON: “Two Unchangeable Things”「変えることのできない二つの事がら」
TEXT: Heb. 6:11-20
Our passage today begins with a promise that God made to Abraham, and it ends with a promise that God made to all Christians. The specific promise God gave to Abraham is written in v. 14. God told Abraham, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And v. 15 adds, “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” But what is the second promise? Verses 18 and 19 mention “the hope set before us” which we have “as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” This great hope is based on God’s promise given to us as Christians. It is a hope based upon the promise fulfilled for us by Jesus Christ, who “has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (v. 20). Today I want to think about this hope that God has given us. We will also need to examine what Hebrews tells us about God’s promises. Finally, we will consider how Christ has become the guarantee that our hope will not be disappointed. Let’s proceed to think about each of these matters, as Hebrews explains them. Today’s passage introduces these matters, but we will see them more fully developed in the next 5 chapters.
II. Our Christian Hope, God’s Promises, and Their Fulfillment by Christ
The first occurrence of the word hope in our passage is in v. 11. The writer of Hebrews urges his readers to be diligent, so that they may have full assurance of what they hope for until the end. In other words, he does not want any believers to be lazy and forgetful, but rather keep their attention fixed on their hope. But what is it that they hope for? In v. 12, it says, “We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” The readers of this letter are urged to hope with diligence for the fulfillment of “what has been promised.” In vv. 13-15 we are given an example of someone who waited patiently for the fulfillment of a promise. That example is the founder of the people of Israel—Abraham. God had promised Abraham that he would become the father of countless descendants. After a long wait, v. 15 says, “Abraham received what was promised.”
But what is the promise that we should diligently seek and fix our hope upon? In the second half of v. 18, we find a clue concerning the object of our hope. It says, “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us.” In other words, we are fleeing from something terrible and we want to “take hold of the hope set before us.” That is, we hope for “safety” or “rescue” from what we are fleeing. This “rescue” or “salvation” is what God has promised us. This is the great hope that God has set before us. It is the hope of salvation.
But from what do we hope to be saved? Look for a moment at Hebrews 2:1-3. “We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him.” The terrible thing we hope to “escape” is the punishment we all deserve because of our disobedience to God. We all have violated God’s law and, therefore, should receive God’s “just punishment.” It is a frightening prospect! It is God’s judgment which we must try to escape from! But God Himself has also announced to us a way of escape; He has provided a means of “salvation” from His terrible—but completely fair–punishment. This is the “hope” that has been set before us. This is the “salvation” that God has promised. There is no other hope of escape from God’s righteous judgment. The only question is: will we accept it, or will we ignore this great salvation that God has announced? If we are not “diligent until the end,” Hebrews tells us, we will not “inherit what has been promised” (6:12). If our salvation depended ultimately on our own zeal or our own “faith,” I suppose no one would see this hope realized. But God has provided us all the help that we need. God has given us special encouragements, so that we will not fall away and lose such a great hope of salvation.
First of all, God has given us His promise. Just as God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many descendants, so He has promised us that we will be saved from the punishment that we deserve for our sins. But God did something more. He also confirmed His promise with an oath. Why did God take an oath concerning His promise? Was His word not sufficient? Of course, God’s word is entirely sufficient. God will never lie. In fact, God cannot lie; His own nature will not tolerate deceit. Then, why does God add an oath to His promise? God confirms His promise with an oath because it will be an added encouragement to us. When God promised Abraham that he would become father of many descendants, Genesis 15:6 says, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness.” But Abraham’s faith was not very strong. In the next verse, God promised to give the land of Israel to Abraham. But Abraham could not quite believe that God would really give him the entire land. So he said to God, “Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” In other words, Abraham asked God to confirm His words with some further proof of God’s trustworthiness. So God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 15:18) and repeated His purpose to bless him. As many as 30 years passed and Abraham had become the father of Isaac, the first son of the “many descendants” that God had promised to give to Abraham. Abraham had become stronger in his faith. In fact, his faith was strong enough that when God told Abraham to offer Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord, Abraham obeyed God. But Abraham was a very old man by that time. Once again, the Lord encouraged Abraham to continue to trust Him. In Genesis 22: 16 the angel of the Lord appeared to Abraham and said, “I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.” God gave Abraham the encouragement that he needed. And God will give us the encouragement that we need to strengthen our faith and our trust in Him. Hebrews tells us in v. 17-18, “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of His purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, He confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” God gives us encouragement through two unchangeable things: His promise and His oath. We have seen how God did that for Abraham, but how does God provide such encouragement for us? Hebrews will explain this more fully in chapter 7, but for now we will just take note of what Hebrews says in vv. 19-20. It tells us that our hope “enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The high priest had a very special work that only he could perform. He performed his special ministry on behalf of the people only once each year. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest entered into the temple of the Lord and went behind the veil into the presence of God. There the high priest sprinkled the blood of a sacrificed victim on the “mercy seat” of the ark of the covenant. By this act, the high priest made atonement for the sins of the people. The high priest—in fact all of the priests in Israel—belonged to the tribe of Levi. But Jesus belonged to the tribe of Judah, and He was a descendant of King David. There is no mention of any priest in Israel coming from the tribe of Judah. What the writer of Hebrews says here about Jesus was a shocking claim to the Jews. On what grounds could he make such an amazing claim? The answer is provided in Psalm 110. The first half of this Psalm describes the Savior Christ as a King who will sit at the right hand of the Lord God in heaven. But in the second half of the Psalm Christ is described as a priest. Listen to Psalm 110:4. “The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind: You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The Lord God has decreed in the most authoritative manner—confirming His word by an unchangeable oath—that Christ is a priest. But He is not the “usual” Levitical priest; Christ belongs to a special “order” of priests: “the order of Melchizedek.” We will think more about the importance of Melchizedek when we read chapter 7. But the main thing to notice here is that the Lord God has “sworn and will not change His mind” concerning Jesus Christ. Jesus has been appointed High Priest on behalf of His people. By God’s special decree Jesus has been authorized to carry out the high priest’s work. Jesus has performed His work by atoning for the sins of His people. He has already entered into the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. And Jesus will never be replaced by any other high priest, because He is our high priest forever!
For these reasons, our hope of salvation is certain! Our hope rests upon the completed work of Jesus our High Priest who has been appointed to serve forever as our final and perfect Redeemer. This is not what the Jews expected, but it is the plan and purpose of God, who has sworn and will not change His mind! Jesus has completed His work as our High Priest, and now, “having made purification for sins, He has sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb. 1:3). Jesus has entered into the presence of God, our righteous Judge, and there He makes continual intercession for us. For this reason, we can “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Jesus is the One who has fulfilled God’s promise and His oath. He has offered up the sacrifice of His own body and blood to atone for our sins. He has secured our salvation. And by fulfilling God’s unchangeable plan and purpose, Jesus has glorified His Father in heaven.
If Jesus Christ has in fact done all of these things, just as God has planned and decreed, what should we do? First of all, like Abraham, we should believe God! God has made His purpose very clear; He has confirmed His promise with an oath. (v. 18) “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged.” God will do whatever is necessary to encourage our faith in Him.
Second, we should personally “take hold of the hope set before us.” Because of our High Priest Jesus, we can live each day with real hope. We can be secure in the knowledge that our sins have been redeemed. The debt we owed to God has been paid for by Christ. This is the good news of the Christian gospel. It is really good news of great joy for all the people. We have a Savior who has rescued us from the wrath of Almighty God! Do not ignore such a great salvation! Claim the hope that God has set before you! Hold fast to this hope; it is your only hope for life–now and forever!
Third, be diligent “to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized” (v. 11). Be diligent in your obedience to the Lord Jesus, who is both our High Priest and our King. And be diligent in your love toward one another. Hebrews 10:23-25 is a good summary of the diligence we must show. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”