MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Hebrews 4:14 – 6:19 Reader – Ariel Pacpaco
Priscilla Owens (1829–1907) was a Sunday School teacher in Baltimore, Maryland, USA in the late 1800’s. She had become concerned with the spiritual health of her students as they seemed to have been overwhelmed by and influenced by the false teachings that had gripped the Western world by the late 1800’s. Charles Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, Karl Marx’s anti-God hardline communism, and the “German historical school” in universities had all become fashionable and influential in their attacks on Christianity and, particularly, on the trustworthiness of the Bible. Christianity and the bible were under attack like never before and, frankly, devout Christians like Priscilla Owens saw people they cared for and loved abandoning their faith entirely, or, at the least, questioning whether Christianity was true and the bible trustworthy. Remember, God’s countermove of archaeology, which laid to waste all of those attacks, was just beginning. Much to the chagrin of liberal critics, archaeology didn’t disprove the bible, but instead, in dig after dig, proved its accuracy and trustworthiness. We need to realize, friends, that It is much easier, in this year of our Lord, 2022, for us Christians to feel confident in the truth of our faith and the trustworthiness of the bible than it was in the late 19th century.
In any case, Priscilla Owens was concerned for the faith of her students and those around her. One day, after reading Hebrews 6:19: which states, “We have a hope, an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”, Priscilla Owens felt that the answer to the doubting that her loved ones were going through was addressed. Thus, she wrote, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain?” Those were questions she asked, but the answer to them was this: “We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” Today, the wording might have been, “Are you going to give in and is your faith going to subside because of attacks by critics and skeptics? Or, will you cling to Jesus and in him, be kept safe and be saved?”
As we have seen these past three Sundays, the importance of anchoring one’s faith to truth was also the concern that drove the writer of the letter to the Hebrews to write as he did. False teaching had permeated and influenced the 1st century Hebrew Christian community. Hebrews is thus a letter of calling back to correct thinking and faithful living. The writer did so by elevating Jesus, stating that he is superior to angels, that his teaching is greater than that of any other human teacher, and that the work he did on the cross made null and void the Jewish sacrificial system so, “do not”, he wrote, “believe the false teachers within Judaism that have been telling you to get away from Jesus, to worship angels, to listen to the teachings of their leaders, and to return to offering sacrifices in Jerusalem’s temple. In short, the writer was stating, what those Christians had been taught when they first believed was true, that Jesus is the antidote to false teaching as well as the only truth that people need to know, so get right with him. The writer of Hebrews says, “you can’t fake being a Christian. Either you truly are, or you are not, but you need to be!” Those are blunt words, and in today’s passage, the writer ups the ante even more. Last week, we finished with the verses in chapter 4 which read, “nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight…each of us must give an accounting to God”. Going on from there, we read,
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 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 4:14-16)
Unlike the high priests that the Hebrew Christians had been told to idolize, Jesus was sinless. Sin can never be in the presence of our holy God, but our sinful nature was dealt with by Jesus the sinless one, who takes our “dirty robes” of sin off us and replaces them with “clean robes of righteousness” that he puts on us. The bible states Jesus is the “sacrificial lamb of God”, “the one who will take away the sins of the world”. Like in a hockey game, when a team’s goalie incurs a penalty for something he did wrong and that goalie stays in the game while his teammate goes to the penalty box to serve the punishment of his wrongdoing, we stay in the game of life and then stay alive throughout all of eternity because Jesus has served our penalty for us. As a result, we can come into God’s presence with confidence, for God sees us as totally clean, pure, forgiven. Jesus was divine but took on human form and, as our representative in the heavenly courtroom, speaks on our behalf. A prefiguring of that was seen in the Old Covenant Temple’s high priest.
Every high priest is selected from among the people and is appointed to represent the people in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. He is able to deal gently with those who are ignorant and are going astray, since he himself is subject to weakness. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. And no one takes this honor on himself, but he receives it when called by God, just as Aaron was. (Hebrews 5:1-4)
The sacrificial system practiced in the Temple in Jerusalem, had people bringing sacrifices and offerings, which the high priest would then take and put on the altar, going before God and declaring that the people were doing penance for their sins with those sacrifices and offerings. So, the high priest performed an important temporary role, but in Jesus, that temple sacrificial system was a “one and done”. There is no more need of it so stop participating in it, was the writer’s message. The Hebrews to whom this letter was originally written had been led astray into believing that they still needed the Temple sacrificial system with its high priest to speak for them to God. “No! Jesus has done it all for you. Get back to understanding this truth. After all, he is God’s son, and the ultimate high priest.”
In the same way, Christ did not take on himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Hebrews 5:5; Psalm 2:7) And he says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 5:6; Psalm 110:4)
This mysterious “order of Melchizedek”, we will look at in the coming weeks, so we won’t speak to it today. As for Jesus, though, we read,
During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:7-10)
Now, we come to the heart of today’s passage so listen up, please:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. 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. (Hebrews 5:11-14)
The author of Hebrews was heartbroken and discouraged. Think about his words: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.” That would be a tough situation to speak to, where the people did not care about what he was saying, to the point where they were not even trying anymore to “understand” the truth of the situation. And, so, the author writes about milk. Milk, being high in calcium, is good for one’s physical health, vital for strong bones, and it is known that strong bones are necessary to adequately support the muscles and nervous system of the human body. Through her milk, a mother can pass on antibodies to her baby which will help the infant’s body fight off infectious agents that a newborn might be exposed to, particularly in the first 96 hours after childbirth as the breast milk contains colostrum, which carries immuno-globulins that greatly enhance the newborn’s immunity against disease. Babies deprived of colostrum have considerably higher rates of viral and bacterial infections. So, for our body’s physical health, the drinking of pure milk is crucial.
In 1973, The New Internationalist magazine published an expose, “Babies Mean Business”, on the giant food company Nestle’s, and its marketing practice of targeting impoverished mothers in poorer countries. The Nestle’s representatives would go to those places and convince the mothers to buy their more expensive infant milk formula rather than feed their newborns natural, healthier breast milk. In 1974, a follow-up booklet entitled “The Baby Killer”, was published by the “War on Want” organization. Nestle’s took the criticisms but fought against them. The resulting boycott of Nestle’s by people such as me has almost brought them to their knees – NOT. What was exposed has mattered little to them, as is shown in Nestle’s record $11 billion in profits last year.
Here’s the thing: false teaching is always going to be around, particularly if there is some benefit for it to the ones doing the teaching. Plus, it is difficult to convince the targets of the false teaching to actually care about it or be concerned by it. Remember the writer to the Hebrews lament, “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand.” On the spiritual level, the writer to the Hebrews was trying to both expose the false teachings and convince the recipients of it to care enough about what he was saying to do something about it. But it seems they didn’t care. They were quite willing to go along with the false teachings that had been told them. Historically, we don’t know whether or not his original recipients cared about what he was saying – we don’t know their response to his message – but we do know that his message has been widely appreciated by others throughout the centuries and is still pertinent for us to heed today. Hebrews is the second most quoted letter in the New Testament. Only Romans is quoted more. So, people love it, but do enough people care about spiritual truth and growth? That’s the issue.
1 Peter 2:2 reads, ‘like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation.’ It is the pure spiritual milk of truth that we are to be craving – not impure milk fed by false teachings. The choice is ours to make. So, let’s crave pure spiritual milk of good teaching. However, we must reach a point where milk is not enough. A person can’t survive spiritually on a diet of milk alone. We are to go on to solid spiritual foods for adequate growth and development. Otherwise, a person can get taken in by false teachings and put themselves in danger of shrivelling up and dying spiritually.
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. (Hebrews 6:1-3)
We have to admit that those “elementary teachings” for the 1st century Hebrew believers were at a level of spiritual depth that mature 21st century Christians would do well to understand, for in understanding them that would help us to go on in our spiritual growth. It is a known fact that Mormon missionaries target Baptists, particularly in the USA, for converts because while Baptists tend to know what they believe they do not usually know why they believe what they believe and thus their beliefs are easily challengeable. Thus, the largest group of new Mormons are people who grew up in Baptist churches. That is why we try hard to teach spiritual truth, so you won’t be lost to any group that teaches false doctrine.
I had a university professor who claimed to know these kinds of “elementary teachings”. He had read through the bible, but he was not a Christian. He had been enlightened by some of the teachings of scripture, attended worship services, had seen the Holy Spirit working, but he couldn’t accept the idea of the lordship of Jesus over his life. I wondered how that could be until I realized that Judas Iscariot had spent 3 years with Jesus sitting under his teaching, seeing and perhaps even performing miracles by the power of the Spirit, but he rejected Jesus in the end. So, it is possible to be so close enough to the truth to be saved, but to reject it. The warning by the writer of Hebrews is strong on this:
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. (Hebrews 6:4-6a)
In Jesus’ Parable of the Sower, he said this, “There was a farmer who went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.” His disciples didn’t understand what he had just said so Jesus explained it to them:
“Listen then to what the Parable of the Sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart. This is the seed sown along the path. The seed falling on rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away. The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful. But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”. (Matthew 13:18-23)
So, the people written about by the writer of the letter to the Hebrews as having made it impossible for themselves to be saved are people who, at some point, kind of believed and were very close to having eternal security and peace in this world but once persecution or trouble came, fell away. About such people the apostle John wrote:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us. (1 John 2:19)
This passage has given many people who have fallen away industrial grade heartburn. They ask, “will God take me back? Is God’s mercy big enough to forgive my sins? Am I forever lost?” Spoiler alert! The answer is all throughout scripture. Absolutely yes! God will forgive and restore. But before we hear the writer of Hebrews state that welcome news in his own words, first he states that such people both do damage to the cause of Christ as well as bear no fruit in their lives.
To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:6b-8)
Last week, we heard Jesus’ speaking another parable, the one about a prodigal son, and Jesus’ message in that parable is that God the Father will always welcome back the prodigals and wanderers. So, as we will hear next, as things turned out, the original recipients of the message of Hebrews were declared by the writer to be safe from a bad finale, as is anyone who truly believes in Jesus.
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. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. (Hebrews 6:9-12)
The hope the writer refers to is the hope of salvation, of inheriting what, “through faith and patience”, can provide: that being God’s promised inheritance. The question is, do we care? We should!
When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so, after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised. People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. 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. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It 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. (Hebrews 6:13-20)
When life gets hard, when trouble or persecution are coming at you and you feel like quitting, don’t! If you are following Jesus, just hang in there! Persevere. The hope of your inheritance is real. Hold fast your confession. Don’t give up on your faith and you will be kept safe.
In closing, I will return to where we started: the writing of the hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold?”, by the American hymnwriter Priscilla Owens. She passed on to glory in 1907 but her hymn was widely popular and influential. A few years later, in 1913, another hymnwriter, a British lady, Mary Fawler Maude, was on her death bed. Gathered around her were Christians singing Priscilla Owens’ hymn, “Will Your Anchor Hold?” Mary Fawler Maude heard the singing those questions, “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift or firm remain?” Mary Fawler Maude listened to the sung questions and whispered to a loved one, “Tell them that it does not fail – it holds.” A few minutes later she passed on to glory.
Let’s be like her and hold to the anchor that is firm and true, the message about Jesus and the safety and salvation he brings.
“We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.” Verse 2 – “It is safely moored, ’twill the storm withstand…” Verse 3 – “It will firmly hold in the straits of fear…”
Verse 4 – “It will surely hold in the floods of death…” Let’s pray…