“Favourite Verses and Strong Warnings”


Hebrews 12 and various verses from Hebrews

Everything written in the letter to the Hebrews is aimed at changing the lives of the readers. The whole letter is built this way – weighty, lengthy sections of the importance of good doctrine (right-knowing), all aimed at motivating the readers to get serious about their faith. The writer exhorts his readers, stripping away at their wrong way of thinking and their ease with sinning. It is not an easy read. It is a sober letter calling on the Hebrew Christians who were the writer’s original audience – but we also benefit from his teachings today – to get past their self-pity, to straighten up, to intentionally engage in Christian living and spiritual growth, and to have the endurance to run the race and fight the fight and finish well. It’s not a letter that people gravitate toward — unless they have suffered and struggle for some explanation of how their suffering relates to God. In other words, the easier and pain-free one’s life has been, the less likely one will cherish the kind of spirituality taught in this letter. But, conversely, the more one has suffered, the more one will cling to the precious teachings of this letter – if one is willing to accept them. This letter is most likely, after Romans, the New Testament letter most quoted from. So, I told you last week that we would do a quick review today of some of the more significant verses, the highlight or favourite verses, found in the first 11 chapters we have already preached through. So, chapter 1:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So, he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs. (Hebrews 1:1-4)

Those Hebrew Christians had been taken in by false teachers who claimed that Jesus, being a human, was inferior to angels. The letter’s author said otherwise.

Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation? (Hebrews 1:14)

Angels were created to serve humans and God. Jesus is far superior. Chapter 2:

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. (Hebrews 2:1)

In other words, “Recall the truths you were earlier taught. Don’t listen to these false teachings that have led you astray.” That is a word for us, as well, today.

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death — that is, the devil — and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14,15)

Soon, we will be in the Christmas season, and you will then hear me preaching from the Gospel of John concerning the reason Jesus came to earth. So, I won’t be preaching about Bethlehem or shepherds or the birth of Jesus historical narrative this year. Instead, I will be doing a theological deep dive relaying what John and others wrote about why Jesus came to earth that first Christmas. So, we just heard the writer of Hebrews give one of those reasons: to free all those who have been held in slavery to the devil by their fear of death. Jesus came to destroy Satan’s power. No angel could do that. No other human could do that. No sacrifice in the temple could do that. But Jesus could – and did. Specifically, what Jesus did was grant us freedom to choose whether or not to sin. It is called, “free will”. We can choose to serve God, or not! Chapter 3:

As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:15)

So, the writer of Hebrews feels God is saying, “In your free will, choose wisely. Do not be like the Israelites at the time of Moses who were set free to escape from Egypt, only to then be longing for slavery back in Egypt.” Chapter 4:

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12,13)

The writer was warning them and is warning us: God knows all. But then he explains that the difference between the people in those two time periods was that in the Old Covenant the people lived in fear, but we in the New Covenant live in hope, loved by God, confident in being welcomed into His presence, via Jesus.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet he did not sin. Let us then 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. (Hebrews 4:15,16)

Jesus is the difference-maker and yet, the Hebrew Christians had allowed themselves to be misled, to believe in belittling things untrue about Jesus, beliefs that did them no good and stunted their growth. Chapter 5:

In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore, let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so. (Heb 5:12-14;6:1-3)

Next, we come to one of the most shocking set of verses in the Bible. Before we read them, though, first consider that Judas Iscariot lived and travelled with Jesus for 3 years, seeing miracles, even doing some himself by the power of the Holy Spirit, and yet, in the end, he chose to reject Jesus and the salvation he offered. That fact may be incomprehensible to us but, as the writer of Hebrews says, it is possible for people to be close to the Lord and experience Him, but, in the end, reject him. The writer of Hebrews warns to not be like that! Chapter 6:

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. (Hebrews 6:4-6)

The writer hastens on to add that he was not worried about his readers, though.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case — the things that have to do with salvation. (Heb 6:9)

The difference in eternal destinies between those who turn away from God and those who cling to Him, is stark but God made a way to Him through Jesus.

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. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. (Heb 6:18,19)

What were the two “unchangeable things” the writer was writing about? God’s Word and His oath to look after us. When we understand and accept them, we have assurance. If we don’t know, spiritual turmoil results, as was the case with the original recipients of this letter. They had allowed themselves to be led astray, a thing that brought them grief and torment. When Jesus is excluded from one’s life, anxiety sets in. The writer was determined for his readers to understand clearly who Jesus is, one so different from angels, and from all the revered priests of old, men who tried hard to serve God but through whom perfection in a person’s relationship with God could not be achieved. Chapter 7:

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood — and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood — why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:11,18,19)

Faulty teaching elevating Melchizedek, Aaron, and their priestly descendants to be above Jesus, God dealt with by dismantling that Old Covenant sacrificial system and establishing, instead, a New Covenant through Jesus. Chapter 8:

But God found fault with the people and said: “The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord. This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:8-13)

Blood represents life. Old Covenant blood sacrifices were offerings to God of the most precious thing a person could give, but Jesus, with his own blood sacrifice of his life, gave the offering that brings life to all who accept it. Chapter 9:

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:14,15)

Humans live only once. There is no reincarnation for such would make Jesus’ sacrifice meaningless as he died to set us free from the effects of our sins in this life, not over and over again, in life after life. That would make no sense. This life is the only chance we have to be set free so let’s make good on it.

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:26-28)

Ok, that is some weighty, bludgeon-like, reading, I know, but the writer desperately wanted his readers to understand that their acceptance of false teachings elevating angels, certain Old Testament priests, and the Old Covenant sacrificial system was flawed and harmful. The writer wanted his readers to understand who Jesus is. John Renfree will join us at this point, in order to soften things for you by giving you a different voice to listen to. But we have seen in Hebrews the truth of the well-known saying:

The New Testament is in the Old concealed; the Old is by the New revealed.

You have probably heard that saying. It is true! Note what biblical teacher

Malcolm Smith said that Hebrews was the bridge between the Old Testament and the New Testament.

That is a wise observation. The only way to understand the Old Testament sacrificial system, sin, being set free or ransomed from slavery to sin, as well as about the devil and angels, is through knowing the truth about Jesus, and that revelation comes in the New Testament. The New Testament teachings are there, concealed in the Old Testament but not clearly revealed. But those Old Testament truths are then revealed in the New Testament when Jesus, the one who gives us access to God, came to this earth to be our sacrifice. Chapter 10:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus…let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:19,22)

The false teachings the Hebrews had come to believe which the author was writing against had led to bad practices within their churches in that they had stopped caring and meeting.

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. (Hebrews 10:24,25)

The Day of God’s judgment is approaching so be sure that your doctrine is correct and your way of living pure. Don’t be like the “unbelievers” earlier written about.

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:31)

Now, that is a warning to all, but it does not need to be the Christian’s destiny.

But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved. (Hebrews 10:39)

So, the results of having a saving faith which produces salvation are, first, that it brings a firm hope and assurance that we are safe, on the right road. Chapter 11:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

Even if we don’t see the results we are hoping for, we can have peace because we know that we are in God’s hands. He is looking after us. A second beautiful result of saving faith is one that may be even sweeter than the first, that being that we are pleasing to God. What a moving thought and reality that is!

And without faith it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Hebrews 11:6)

Last week, as we read through the so-called “Hall of Faith” chapter, we saw that the giants of the faith in the Old Testament all had that kind of saving faith, yet,

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39,40)

Ok, that’s our review of the most quoted and important verses of chapters 1-11. Today, as we turn to chapter 12, we will see that the writer offers four pointers on who to live out our Christian faith, as a result of everything already said.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3)

Fix your eyes on Jesus as you walk through this life and onto the next life. This is the first of four pointers on how to live out one’s Christian faith. Secondly,

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined — and everyone undergoes discipline — then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us, and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!

They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. Therefore, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees. “Make level paths for your feet,” so that the lame may not be disabled, but rather healed. (Hebrews 12:4-13)

  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus as you walk through this life and onto the next.
  2. Realize that your sufferings can be used by God to bring discipline to you. This is the second pointer as to how to live out one’s Christian faith.

The story is told of a North American tourist traveling in Syria who became acquainted with a local shepherd. Each morning, the tourist noticed the shepherd carrying something to his flock of sheep. The traveler followed him one morning and found that he was taking food to one sheep in particular that had a broken leg. As he looked at the animal, he said to the shepherd, “How did the sheep break its leg? Did it meet with an accident, fall into a hole, or did some animal break its’ leg?” “None of those things,” said the shepherd, “I broke this sheep’s leg myself.” “You broke it yourself?” queried the traveler. “Yes, you see, this is a wayward sheep; it would not stay with the flock but would lead the other sheep astray. Plus, it would not let me near it. I could not approach it. So, I had to break its leg that it might not lead the other sheep astray and that it will allow me, day by day, to come to it and feed it. In doing this, that sheep will get to know me as its shepherd, trust me as its guide, and keep with the flock and not lead the other sheep astray.”

Some of the Hebrew believers the author of this letter was originally writing to had come to doubt the Lord’s love, simply because they were suffering. But any pain or trouble a person may be experiencing is not necessarily a sign of abandonment by God of His people, nor hatred of us by God, but a sign that He is with us, loving, disciplining, teaching, correcting, and transforming us so that we might be fully trusting of Him, a faithful sheep who will not lead others astray.

Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done. (Hebrews 12:14-17)

  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus as you walk through this life and onto the next.
  2. Realize that your sufferings can be used by God to bring discipline to you.
  3. Understand the necessity of fleeing temptation or a life of quick fixes. Don’t be like Esau was, who for the sake of a delicious meal, gave up his inheritance and lived to regret it forever.
  4. Always remember the difference Jesus makes. Now, instead of fear while in God’s presence, there is nothing but love, acceptance, and joy.

These are the four pointers on who to live out our lives of faith. Point 4 is found in the closing verses of chapter 12, which we will now hear read.

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned to death.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.” But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” The words “once more” indicate the removing of what can be shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:18-29)

Moses and the Israelites on Mount Sinai were afraid to be in the presence of God. They cried out in fear when He spoke, “No more! No more!” By comparison, we Christians when we come into God’s presence in the symbolic and spiritual Mount Zion, that place of God’s presence in which we reside, when God speaks, we cry out, “More! More!” We want to hear more from Him, not less. Why? Because we have, through Jesus, a deep assurance that the Lord loves us and welcomes us into His presence with open arms. So, the four pointers from chapter 12 on how to live out your Christian faith:

  1. Fix your eyes on Jesus as you walk through this life and onto the next.
  2. Realize that your sufferings can be used by God to bring discipline to you.
  3. Understand the necessity of fleeing temptation or a life of quick fixes. Don’t be like Esau was, who for the sake of a delicious meal, gave up his inheritance and lived to regret it forever.
  4. Always remember the difference Jesus makes. Now, instead of fear while in God’s presence, there is nothing but love, acceptance, and joy.

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