Study On The Book Of Hebrews
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These last verses in Hebrews seem to gather together the major themes of the letter: peace, the resurrected Christ, the blood, the covenant, spiritual perfection (maturity), and God’s work in the believer. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ died for the sheep (John 10:11). As the Great Shepherd, He lives for the sheep in heaven today, working on their behalf. As the Chief Shepherd, He will come for the sheep at His return (1 Pet. 5:4). Our Shepherd cares for His own in the past, present, and future. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever!
Our Great High Priest is also our Great Shepherd. When He was on earth, He worked for us when He completed the great work of redemption (John 17:4). Now that He is in heaven, He is working in us to mature us in His will and bring us to a place of spiritual perfection. We will never reach that place until He returns (1 John 2:28-3:3); but while we are waiting, we are told to continue to grow. The phrase “make you perfect” (v. 21) is the translation of one Greek word, [katartidzo]. This is an unfamiliar word to us, but it was familiar to the people who received this letter. The doctors knew it because it meant “to set a broken bone.” To sailors it meant “to outfit a ship for a voyage.” To soldiers it meant “to equip an army for battle.”
Our Savior in heaven wants to equip us for life on earth. Tenderly, He wants to set the “broken bones” in our lives so that we might walk straight and run our life-races successfully. He wants to repair the breaks in the nets so that we might catch fish and win souls. He wants to equip us for battle and outfit us so that we will not be battered in the storms of life. In brief, He wants to mature us so that He can work in us and through us that which pleases Him and accomplishes His will. How does He equip us? By tracing this Greek word [katartidzo] in the New Testament, we can discover the tools that God uses to mature and equip His children. He uses the Word of God, prayer, and fellowship of the local church. He also uses individual believers to equip us and mend us. Finally, He uses suffering to perfect His children, and this relates to what we learned from chapter 12 about chastening.
The basis for this marvelous work is “the blood of the everlasting covenant (v. 20). This is the New Covenant that was discussed in chapter 8, a covenant based on the sacrifice discussed in chapter 10. Because this New Covenant was part of God’s eternal plan of salvation, and because it guarantees everlasting life, it is called “the everlasting covenant.” However, apart from the death of Jesus Christ, we can share in none of the blessings named in this profound benediction. As we close on this study blog on the book of Hebrews, lets reflect on the total impact that Hebrews has in answering the all too important question, “How can I stand firm in a world that is shaking all around me?” The answer: Know the superior Person, Jesus Christ; trust His superior priesthood; and live on the things of heaven that will never shake. Be confident! Jesus Christ saves to the uttermost!
Hebrews 13:20-21 Reflection Questions:
How are you continuing to grow spiritually?
What tools is God currently using to “perfect you”?
I’d like to challenge you to make Hebrews 13:20-21 a personal prayer: “Lord, make me perfect in every good work to do Your will. Work in me that which is well-pleasing in Your sight. Do it through Jesus Christ and may He receive the glory.” Amen!
While it’s true that a New Covenant Christian is not involved in the ceremonies and furnishings of an earthly tabernacle or temple, it is not true that he is deprived of the blessings that they typify. A Jew under the Old Covenant could point to the temple, but a Christian has a heavenly sanctuary that can never be destroyed. The Jews were proud of the city of Jerusalem; but a Christian has an eternal city, the New Jerusalem. For each of an Old Testament believer’s temporary earthly items, a New Covenant believer has a heavenly and eternal counterpart.
“We have an altar” (v. 10) does not suggest a material altar on earth, for that would contradict the whole message of the epistle. In the Old Testament sanctuary, the brazen altar was a place for offering blood sacrifices, and the golden altar before the veil was a place for burning incense, a picture of prayer ascending to God. A New Covenant Christian’s altar is Jesus Christ; for it is through Him that we offer our “spiritual sacrifices” to God (v. 15). We may set aside places in our church buildings and call them altars; but they are really not altars in the biblical sense. Why? Because Christ’s sacrifice has already been made, once and for all; and the gifts that we bring to God are acceptable, not because of any earthly altar, but because of a heavenly altar, Jesus Christ.
The emphasis in this section is on separation from dead religion and identification with the Lord Jesus Christ in His reproach. The image comes from the Day of Atonement. The sin offering was taken outside the camp and burned completely (Lev. 16:27). Jesus is the perfect sin offering, suffered and died “outside the gate” of Jerusalem. All true Christians must go out to Him, spiritually speaking, to the place of reproach and rejection. “Why stay in Jerusalem when it is not your city?” asked the writer. “Why identify with the Old Covenant Law when it has been done away with in Christ?” The readers of this epistle were looking for a way to continue as Christians while escaping the persecution that would come from unbelieving Jews. “It cannot be done,” the writer stated in so many words. “Jerusalem is doomed. Get out of the Jewish religious system and identify with the Savior who died for you.” There is no room for compromise.
The writer named two of the “spiritual sacrifices” that we offer as Christians in verses 15-16. The first spiritual sacrifice is continual praise to God (v. 15). The words of praise from our lips coming from our hearts, is like beautiful fruit laid on the altar. How easy it is for suffering saints to complain, but how important it is for them to give thanks to God. The second spiritual sacrifice is good works of sharing (v. 16). This would certainly include the hospitality mentioned in verse 2, as well as the ministry to prisoners in verse 3. “Doing good” can cover a multitude of ministries: sharing food with the needy; transporting people to and from church and other places; sharing money; perhaps just being a helpful neighbor. Next the writer emphasizes the importance of prayer (vv. 18-19). He was unable to visit readers personally, but he did want their prayer help. It is possible that some of his enemies had lied about him, so he affirms his honesty and integrity.
Hebrews 13:10-16, 18-19 Reflection Questions:
Do you praise God daily (even through the day) for the blessing He has given you?
What are some ministry ideas God has put on your heart that you have been procrastinating on?
What will you do to improve your prayer life?
Three times the writer used the phrase, “Them that have the rule over you.” The phrase refers to the spiritual leaders of the local assemblies. The church is an organism, but it is also an organization. If an organism is not organized, it will die. Wherever Paul went, he founded local churches and ordained qualified believers to lead them (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5). “Saints, bishops (elders), and deacons” (Phil. 1:1) summarize the membership and leadership of the New Testament churches. Each Christian has three responsibilities toward the spiritual leaders in the local church.
Remember them (vv. 7-9): The word “remember” may suggest that these leaders were dead, perhaps martyred, and should not be forgotten. How easy it is to forget the courageous Christians of the past whose labors and sacrifices made it possible for us to minister today. But while we do not worship people or give them the glory, it is certainly right to honor them for their faithful work (1 Thes. 5:12-13). These leaders probably had led the readers to Christ because the leaders had spoken the Word to them. Today, we can read the Bible for ourselves, listen to the radio or TV sermons. We are in danger to taking the Word for granted. When local churches change pastors, there is a tendency also to change doctrines or doctrinal emphases (v. 9). We must be careful not go beyond the Word of God and the spiritual foundation of the church. That is why I believe the writer of Hebrews pointed to; “the outcome of their way of life” (v. 8) – “Jesus Christ, is the same yesterday, and today, and forever.” Their lives pointed to Christ!
Obey them (v. 17): When a servant of God is in the will of God, teaching the Word of God, the people of God should submit and obey. This does not mean that pastors should be dictators (1 Pet. 5:3). Some church members have a flippant attitude toward pastoral authority, and this is dangerous. One day every pastor will have to give an account of his ministry to the Lord, and he wants to be able to do it with joy. A disobedient Christian will find on that day that the results of disobedience are unprofitable, not for the pastor, but for himself. It’s much easier to “win souls” than it is to “watch for souls.” The larger the church grows the more difficult it becomes to care for the sheep. Sad to say, there are some ministers whose only word is to preach and “run the program”; they have no desire to minister to the souls placed in their care. Some are even “hirelings” who work only for money, and who run away when danger is near (John 10:11-14). However, when a shepherd is faithful to watch for souls, it is important the sheep obey him.
Greet them (v. 24): The Jews used to greet each other with “Shalom – peace!” The Greeks often greeted one another with “Grace!” Paul combined these two and greeted the saints with “Grace and peace be with you!” When Paul wrote to pastors, he greeted them with “Grace, mercy, and peace.” (I wonder why?) Of course, the writer of Hebrews was sending his personal greetings to the leaders of the church; but this is a good example for all of us to follow. Every Christian should be on speaking terms with his pastor. Never allow any “root of bitterness” to grow up in your heart (Heb. 12:15) because it will only poison you and hurt the whole church. While it’s true that each member of a local body has an important ministry to perform, it is also true that God has ordained spiritual leaders in the church.
Hebrews 13:7-9, 17&24 Reflection Questions:
Are on speaking terms with your pastor?
Are you obedient to your church leadership?
Do you honor church leaders for their faithful work?
As you read this last chapter in Hebrews, you get the impression that the writer had a great deal of miscellaneous matter to discuss and saved it till the end. In chapter 12, we were rejoicing on Mt. Zion; and now we are discussing such everyday topics as hospitality, marriage, church officers, and who was the last one to be released from jail. But in the Bible, there is no division between doctrine and duty, revelation and responsibility. The two always go together. The emphasis in this last section of the book is on living by faith. The writer presented the great examples of faith in chapter 11, and the encouragements of faith in chapter 12. Here in chapter 13, he presented the evidences of faith that should appear in our lives if we are really walking by faith and not by sight. We will study four such evidences as we study chapter 13.
The basis for this fellowship is brotherly love. As Christians, these Hebrew people no doubt had been rejected by their friends and families. But the deepest kind of fellowship is not based on race or family relationship; it is based on the spiritual life we have in Christ. A church fellowship based on anything other than love for Christ and for one another simply won’t last. Where there is true Christian love, there will also be hospitality (v. 2). This was an important ministry in the early church because persecution drove many believers away from their homes. Also, there were traveling ministers who needed places to stay (3 John 5-8). Many poor saints could not afford to stay in an inn; and since the churches met in homes, it was natural for a visitor to just stay with his host.
Love also expresses itself in concern (v. 3). It was not unusual for Christians to be arrested and imprisoned for their faith. To identify with these prisoners might be dangerous; yet Christ’s love demanded a ministry to them. To minister to a Christian prisoner in the name of Christ is to minister to Christ Himself (Matt. 25:36, 40). In our free country we are not arrested for religious beliefs; but in other parts of the world, believers suffer for their faith. We need to pray for them and share with them as the Lord enables us!
The home is the first place where Christian love should be practiced (v. 4). A Christian home begins with a Christian marriage in the will of God. This means loyalty and purity. Sex outside of marriage is sinful and destructive. Sex within the protective bonds of marriage can be enriching and glorifying to God. In these days, when sexual sins are paraded as entertainment in movies and on television, the church needs to take a stand for purity of the marriage bond. A dedicated Christian home is the nearest thing to heaven on earth, and it starts with a Christian marriage.
If we love God and others as we should then we will have a right relationship to material things (vv. 5-6). Times of suffering can either be times of selfishness or times of service. It’s not easy to take “joyfully the spoiling of your goods (Heb. 10:34). But with economic and ecological problems in our world today, comfortable Christians may soon find themselves doing without some luxuries that they now consider necessities. The word covetousness literally means “love of money”; but it can be applied to a love for more of anything. Contentment cannot come from material things, for they can never satisfy the heart. Only God can do that (see Luke 12:15). When we have God, we have all that we need. The material things of life can decay or be stolen, but God will never leave us or forsake us.
The affirmation of faith in verse 6 comes from Psalm 118:6. This is a messianic psalm and is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, so we may claim this promise for ourselves. It was a source of great peace to the early Christians to know that they were safe from fear of man, for no man could do anything to them apart from God’s will. Men might take their goods, but God would meet their needs. The important thing is that we know Jesus Christ as our Lord and Helper, and that we not put our trust in material things. Contended Christians are people with priorities, and material things are not high on their priority lists.
Hebrews 13:1-6 Reflection Questions:
Do you have the gift of hospitality, if so how often do you use it for the body of Christ?
Do you have a gift for those (of all ages) who are in incarceration?
Do you struggle with covetousness? Are material things a high priority for you?
If you were to lose everything (maybe like Job) would you be contended with your relationship with Jesus?
As we run the Christian race, what is our goal? The writer explained the goal in verse 14: Peace with all men, and holiness before the Lord. These two goals remind us of our Lord’s high priestly ministry – King of peace and King of righteousness (Heb. 7:1-2). It requires diligence to run the race successfully lest we “fail of the grace of God” (v. 15). God’s grace does not fail, but we can fail to take advantage of His grace. In this section, the writer encouraged his readers to depend on the grace of God by urging them to look by faith in three directions.
Look back – the bad example of Esau (vv. 15-17): Esau certainly failed to act on God’s grace (see Gen. 25:27-34, 27:30-45). Esau was a “profane person” which means “common person, one who lives for the world and not God.” Esau despised his birthright and sold it to Jacob, and he missed the blessing because it was given to Jacob. Afterward, Esau tried to get Isaac to change his mind, but it was too late. Esau’s tears availed nothing. What sins will rob us of the enabling of God’s grace? These verses tell us: lack of spiritual diligence, bitterness against others, sexual immorality, and living for the world and the flesh. Some people have the idea that a “profane person” is blasphemous and filthy; but Esau was a congenial fellow, a good hunter, and a man who loved his father. He would have made a fine neighbor – but he was not interested in the things of God. God’s grace does not fail, but we can fail to depend on God’s grace. Esau is a warning to us not to live for lesser things.
Look up – the glory of the heavenly city (vv. 18-24): The writer now contrasts Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Law with the heavenly Mt. Zion and the blessings of grace in the church. He describes the solemnity and even the terror that were involved in the giving of the Law. The people were afraid to hear God’s voice, and even Moses feared and trembled! What a relief it is to move from Mt Sinai to Mt Zion! Mt Sinai represents the Old Covenant of Law, and Mt Zion represents the New Covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. He describes the “citizens” that make up the population of Mt. Zion. Innumerable angels are there. The church is there, for believers have their citizenship in heaven and their names are written in heaven. God is there of course, and so are the Old Testament saints. Jesus Christ the Mediator is there the One who shed His blood for us. When the days are difficult and we are having a hard time enduring that is when we should look up and contemplate the glories of heaven. One way to lay hold of God’s grace is to look ahead by faith to the wonderful future He has prepared for us.
Look ahead – the unshakeable kingdom (vv. 25-29): God is speaking to us today through His Word and His providential workings in the world. We had better listen! If God shook things at Sinai and those who refused to hear were judged, how much more responsible are we today who have experienced the blessings of the New Covenant! God today is shaking things. He wants to tear down the “scaffolding” and reveal the unshakable realities that are eternal. However, too many people (including Christians) are building their lives on things that can shake. The “shaking” quotation is from Haggai 2:6 and refers to that time when the Lord shall return and fill His house with glory. As events draw nearer to that time, we shall see more shaking in this world. But a Christian can be confident, for he shall receive an unshakeable kingdom. In fact, he is a part of God’s kingdom today.
What shall we do as we live in a shaking world? Listen to God speak and obey Him. Receive grace day by day to serve Him “with reverence and godly fear.” Do not be distracted or frightened by the tremendous changes going on around you. Keep running the race with endurance. Keep looking to Jesus Christ. Remember that your Father loves you, and draw on God’s enabling grace. While others are being frightened, you can be confident!
Hebrews 12:14-29 Reflection Questions:
Are you living for lesser things, like Esau?
Where do you look to when times get tough?
Are you frightened or confident by what’s going on around you in the world today? Why?
The key word in these verses is “chastening.” The writer viewed the trials of the Christian life as spiritual discipline that could help a believer mature. Instead of trying to escape the difficulties of life, we should rather be “exercised” by them so that we might grow (v. 11). When we are suffering, it is easy to think that God does not love us. So the writer gave three proofs that chastening comes from the Father’s heart of love.
The Scriptures (vv. 5-6): Verses 5-6 is the quotation from Proverbs 3:11-12, a statement that his readers had known but had forgotten (this is one of the sad consequences of getting “dull” toward the Word). This quotation is an “exhortation,” which literally means “encouragement.” Because they forgot the Word, they lost their encouragement and were ready to give up. God deals with us as adult sons and daughters because we have been adopted and given an adult standing in His family. The fact that the Father chastens us is proof that we are maturing, and it is the means by which we can mature even more. Satan wants us to believe that the difficulties of life are proof that God does not love us, but just the opposite is true. Sometimes God’s chastening is seen in His rebukes from the Word or from circumstances. At other times He shows His love by punishing us with some physical suffering. Whatever the experience, we can be sure that His chastening hand is controlled by His loving heart. The Father does not want us to be pampered babies; He wants us to become mature adult sons and daughters who can be trusted with the responsibilities of life.
Personal experience (vv. 7-11): If a child is left to himself, he grows up to become a selfish tyrant. The point the writer made in verses 7-8 is that the father chastens only his own sons, and this is proof that they are his children. Why do earthly fathers correct their kids? So that their offspring might show them reverence and obey what they command. This is why the Heavenly Father corrects us: He wants us to reverence Him and obey His will. A child who does not learn subjection to authority will never become a useful, mature adult. Any of God’s children who rebel against His authority are in danger of death! Verse 9 suggests that, if we do not submit, we might not live. God chastens us for our profit so that we might share His holy character.
The blessed results (vv. 11-13): No chastening at the time is pleasant either to the father or to his child, but the benefits are profitable. The Father does not enjoy having to discipline His children, but the benefits afterward make the chastening an evidence of His love. What are some of the benefits? For one thing, there is “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Instead of continuing to sin, the child strives to do what is right. The rebellion has ceased and the child is in loving fellowship with the Father. Chastening also encourages a child to exercise in spiritual matters – the Word of God, prayer, meditation, witnessing, etc. All of this leads to a new joy. Paul describes it: “righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).
Of course, the important thing is how God’s child responds to chastening. He can despise it or faint under it (v. 5), both of which are wrong. He should show reverence to the Father by submitting to His will (v. 9), using the experience to exercise himself spiritually (v. 11) The example of God’s Son, and the assurance of God’s love, certainly should encourage us to endure in the difficult Christian race. But there is a third resource, which we will study next week.
Hebrews 12:5-13 Reflection Questions:
Are you studying God’s Word daily? If so how has that kept you encouraged?
In what ways have you been chastened by God?
Are you exercising in spiritual matters (the Word of God, prayer, meditation, witnessing, etc.) or are you falling away?
If the Apostle Paul were alive today he would be a huge sports fan. Why? because several athletic references in his letters indicate his interest in sports. Of course, both the Greeks and Romans were keenly interested in athletic contests, not only for their physical well-being, but also for the honor of their towns and countries. It was a patriotic thing to be a good athlete and to bring glory to your country. The writer of Hebrews combined these two themes of athletics and citizenship in this important twelfth chapter. First the writer pictures the race, and then emphasizes citizenship in the heavenly city. In the minds of his readers, these two themes would go together; for no one could take part in the official games unless he was a citizen of the nation. The one theme that runs through this chapter is endurance. The Jewish believers who received this letter were getting weary and wanted to give up; but the writer encouraged them to keep moving forward in their Christian lives. He pointed out three divine resources that encouraged a Christian to keep going when the situation is difficult.
Today we are going to look at the first resource; the example of the Son of God. There are three approaches that are used in these verses (vv. 1-4) to encourage us in the Christian race. Look around at the winners (v. 1a): “The great cloud of witnesses” was introduced in Hebrews 11. They are the heroes of the faith that bear witness to us that God can see us through. God bore witness to them and they are bearing witness now to us. One of the best ways to develop endurance and encouragement is to get to know the godly men and women of the Old Testament who ran the race and won.
Look at yourself (v. 1b): A baseball player who swings a bat with a heavy metal collar on it before he steps to the plate helps him prepare for the fast pitches. Too much weight would tax one’s endurance. What are the “weights” that we should remove so that we might win the race; everything that hinders our progress? They might be even “good things” in the eyes of others. A winning athlete does not choose between the good and the bad; he chooses between the better and the best. We should also get rid of “the sin that so easily entangles” (v.1). While he does not name any specific sin, the writer was probably referring to the sin of unbelief. It is unbelief that hinders us from entering into our spiritual inheritance in Christ. The phrase “by faith” is used twenty-one times in Hebrews 11, indicating that it is faith in Christ that enables us to endure.
Look at Jesus Christ (vv. 2-4): “Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith.” It was in “looking to Him” that we were saved, for to look means “to trust.” “Looking unto Jesus” describes an attitude of faith and not just a single act. When our Lord was here on earth, He lived by faith. The mystery of His divine and human natures is too profound for us to understand fully, but we do know that He had to trust His Father in heaven as He lived day by day. The fact that Jesus prayed is evidence that He lived by faith. Our Lord endured far more than did any of the heroes of faith named in Hebrews 11, and therefore He is a perfect example for us to follow.
What was it that enabled our Lord to endure the cross? Please keep in mind that, during His ministry on earth, our Lord did not use His divine powers for His own personal needs. Satan tempted Him to do this (Matt. 4:1-4), but Jesus refused. It was our Lord’s faith that enabled Him to endure. He kept the eye of faith on “the joy that was set before Him.” He knew that He would come out of the tomb alive. Throughout this epistle, the writer emphasized the importance of the future hope. His readers were prone to look back and wanted to go back, but he encouraged them to follow Christ’s example and look ahead by faith. Since Christ is the “author and finisher of our faith,” trusting Him releases His power in our lives. Christ is both the exemplar and the enabler! As we see Him in the Word and yield to His Spirit, He increases our faith and enables us to run the race.
Hebrews 12:1-4 Reflection Questions:
Have you ever wanted to give up when the life gets really difficult? How did you handle it?
During hard times (financial, physical, illness, etc.), what do you look to for encouragement?
Which of the three approaches do you lean towards? Can you see the need for all three?
Abel – faith worshiping (v. 4): Abel was a righteous man because of faith (Matt. 23:35). God had revealed to Adam and his descendants the true way of worship, and Abel obeyed God by faith. In fact, his obedience cost him his life. Abel speaks to us today as the first martyr of the faith.
Enoch – faith walking (vv. 5-6): Our faith in God grows as we fellowship with God. We must have both the desire to please Him and the diligence to seek Him. Prayer, meditating on the Word, worship, and discipline; all these help us in our walk with God. Enoch walked with God in the wicked world, before the Flood came; he was able to keep his life pure.
Noah – faith working (v. 7): Noah’s faith involved the whole person: his mind was warned of God; his heart was moved with fear; and his will acted on what God told him. Noah’s faith influenced his whole family and they were saved. It also condemned the whole world, for his faith revealed their unbelief. Events proved that Noah was right!
The patriarchs – faith waiting (vv. 8-22): The emphasis in these verses is on the promise of God and His plans for the nation of Israel. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they had to wait twenty-five years for the fulfillment of the promise. Their son Isaac became the father of Jacob and Esau, and it was Jacob who really built the nation through the birth of his twelve sons. Joseph saved the nation in the land of Egypt, and Moses would later deliver them from Egypt. We have to admire the faith of the patriarchs. They did not have a complete Bible and yet their faith was strong. They handed God’s promises down from one generation to another. In spite of their failures and testing’s, these men and women believed God and He bore witness to their faith. How much more faith you and I should have!
Moses – faith warring (vv. 23-29): Three great themes relating to faith are seen in the life of Moses. First, the refusal of faith (vv. 24-25); Moses could have led an easy life in the palace, but his faith moved him to refuse that kind of life. He chose to identify with God’s suffering people. True faith causes a believer to hold the right values and make right decisions. Moses’ refusal of faith led to the reproach of faith (v. 26a). Moses left the palace life and never went back to that life. He identified with Jewish slaves. Men and women of faith often have to bear reproach and suffering. Finally, there is the reward of faith (vv. 26b-29). God always rewards true faith, if not immediately, at least ultimately. The faith of Moses was rewarded with deliverance for him and his people. Faith brings us out (v. 28), take us through (v. 29), and brings us in (v. 30). When we trust God, we get what God can do; but when we trust ourselves, we get only what weak people do. The experience of Moses is proof that true biblical faith means obeying God in spite of circumstances and in spite of consequences.
Joshua and Rahab – faith winning (vv. 30-31): The account of the conquest of Jericho is found in Joshua 2-6. From a human point of view, Jericho was an impossible city to conquer. Joshua’s first act of faith was not the defeat of the city, but the crossing of the Jordan River. By faith, the nation crossed the river just as the previous generation had crossed the Red Sea. This was a witness and a warning to the Canaanite nations that Israel was marching forward by the power of God. Rahab was a harlot, an unlikely person to put faith in the true God of Israel. She was saved by grace, because the other inhabitants of the city were marked of death. God in His mercy and grace permitted Rahab to live. But she was saved by faith. She was saved unto good works. True faith must always show itself in good works (James 2:20-26).
Not only was Rahab delivered from judgment, but she became a part of the nation of Israel. She married Salmon and gave birth to Boaz who was an ancestor of King David. Imagine a pagan harlot becoming a part of the ancestry of Jesus Christ! That is what faith can do! Rahab is certainly a rebuke to unsaved people who give excuses for not trusting Christ. “I don’t understand very much of the Bible; I’m too bad to be saved; what will my family think?” are some of the excuses I often hear. Rahab knew very little spiritual truth, but she acted on what she did know. Rahab was a condemned heathen harlot! Rahab’s first concern was saving her family, not opposing them. She stands as one of the great women of faith in the Bible.
Various heroes of faith (vv. 32-40): Faith can operate in the life of any person who will dare to listen to God’s Word and surrender to God’s will. Gideon was a frightened farmer whose faith did not grow strong right away (Jud. 6:11-7:25). Barak was a resounding victory over Sisera, but he needed Deborah the prophetess as his helper to assure him (Jud. 4:1-5:31). Both Gideon and Barak are encouragements to us who falter in our faith. It’s not possible for us to examine each example of faith, and even the writer of Hebrews stopped citing names after he mentioned David and Samuel, who were great men of faith.
Man’s estimate of these heroes of faith was a low one; so men persecuted them, arrested them, tortured them, and in some cases killed them. But God’s estimate is entirely different. He said that the world was not worthy of these people. Faith enables us to turn from the approval of the world and seek only the approval of God. If God is glorified by delivering His people, He will do it. If He sees fit to be glorified by not delivering His people, then He will do that. But we must never conclude that the absence of deliverance means a lack of faith on part of God’s children. Faith looks to the future, for that is where the greatest rewards are found. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (v. 6). But this kind of faith grows as we listen to His Word (Rom. 10:17) and fellowship in worship and prayer. Faith is possible to all kinds of believers in all kinds of situations. It is not a luxury for a few “elite saints.” It is a necessity for all of God’s people. Lord, increase our faith!
Hebrews 11:4-40 Reflection Questions:
Where in the gospels does Jesus use Noah’s experience to warn people to be ready for His return?
Which of the patriarch’s faith do you admire the most?
How much do you trust in God versus trusting in yourself?
What are some of your excuses for not trusting Christ fully?
This chapter introduces the final section of the epistle (Heb. 11-13) which I like to call “The Superior Principle – Faith.” The fact that Christ is a superior Person and that He exercises a superior Priesthood ought to encourage us to put our trust in Him. The readers of this epistle were being tempted to go back into Judaism and put their faith in Moses. Their confidence was in the visible things of this world, not the invisible realities of God. Instead of going on to perfection (maturity), they were going “back to perdition [waste]” In Hebrews 11 all Christians are called to live by faith. In it, the writer discusses two important topics relating to faith.
This is not a definition of faith but a description of what faith does and how it works. True Bible faith is not blind optimism or a manufactured “hope-so” feeling. Neither is it an intellectual assent to a doctrine. It’s certainly not believing in spite of the evidence! That would be superstition. True Bible faith is confident obedience to God’s Word in spite of circumstances and consequences. Read that sentence again and let it soak into your heart and mind.
This faith operates really quite simply. God speaks and we hear His Word. We trust His Word and act on it no matter what the circumstances may be. The circumstances may be impossible, and the consequences frightening and unknown; but we obey God’s Word just the same and believe Him to do what is right and what is best.
The unsaved world does not understand true Bible Faith, probably because it sees so little faith in action in the church today. The world fails to realize that faith is only as good as its object, and the object of our faith is God. Faith is not some “feeling” that we manufacture. It is our total response to what God has revealed in His Word. There are three words in verses 1-3 that summarize what true Bible faith is: substance, evidence, and witness.
The word translated “substance” means literally “to stand under, to support.” Faith is to a Christian what a foundation is to a house: it gives confidence and assurance that he will stand. The word evidence simply means “conviction.” This is the inward conviction from God that what He has promised He will perform. Witness is an important word in Hebrews 11. It occurs not only in verse 2, but twice in verse 4, once in verse 5, and once in verse 39. The summary in Hebrews 12:1 calls this list of men and women “so great a cloud of witnesses.” They are witnesses to us because God witnessed to them. In each example cited, God gave witness to that person’s faith. This witness was His divine approval on their lives and ministries.
The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that faith is a very practical thing (v. 3), in spite of what unbelievers say. Faith enables us to understand what God does. Faith enables us to see what others cannot see. As a result, faith enables us to do what others cannot do! The best way to grow in faith is to walk with the faithful.
Hebrews 11:1-3 Reflection Questions:
How much confidence are you putting in the visible things of this world versus the invisible kingdom of God?
Are you obedient to God’s Word regardless of the consequences and circumstances?
Journal on what and when God‘s divine approval on your life and ministry has been to built your faith.
How could reading the Bible daily build your faith? Do you?
No Old Covenant worshiper would have been bold enough to try to enter the holy of holies in the tabernacle. Even the high priest entered the holy of holies only once a year. The thick veil that separated the holy place from the holy of holies was a barrier between people and God. Only the death of Christ could tear that veil and open the way into the heavenly sanctuary where God dwells.
A gracious invitation (vv. 19-25): “Let us draw near…Let us hold fast…Let us consider one another.” This threefold invitation hinges on our boldness to enter into the holiest. This boldness rests on the finished work of Christ; on the Day of Atonement, the high priest could not enter the holy of holies unless he had the blood sacrifice. But our entrance into God’s presence is not because of an animal’s blood but because of Christ’s shed blood. This open way into God’s presence is “new” and not part of the Old Covenant that “grows old and is ready to vanish away”. It is “living” because Christ “ever lives to make intercession” for us. Christ is the new and living way! On the basis of these assurances – that we have boldness to enter because we have a living High Priest – we have an “open invitation” to enter the presence of God. The Old Covenant high priest visited the holy of holies once a year, but we are invited to dwell in the presence of God every moment of each day. What a tremendous privilege!
A solemn exhortation (vv. 26-31): This is the fourth of the five exhortations found in Hebrews. It is written to believers and follows in sequence with the other exhortations. The believer who begins to drift from the Word will soon start to doubt the Word. Soon, he will become dull toward the Word and become “lazy” in his spiritual life. This will result in despising the Word, which is the theme of this exhortation. The evidence of this “despising” is willful sin. This exhortation is not dealing with one particular act of sin, but with an attitude that leads to repeated disobedience. How does an arrogant attitude affect a believer’s relationship with God? It is as though he trods Jesus Christ underfoot, cheapens the precious blood that saved him and insults the Holy Spirit.
What should a believer do who has drifted away into spiritual doubt and dullness and is deliberately despising God’s Word? He should turn to God for mercy and forgiveness. There is no other sacrifice for sin, but the sacrifice Christ made is sufficient for all sins. It is a fearful thing to fall into the Lord’s hands for chastening, but it is a wonderful thing to fall into His hands for cleansing and restoration. David said, “Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord; for very great are His mercies” (1 Chron. 21:13).
An encouraging confirmation (vv. 32-39): In case any of his readers should misinterpret his exhortation, the writer followed it with words of encouragement and confirmation. His readers had given every evidence that they were true Christians. He did not expect them to despise God’s Word and experience the chastening of God. The readers had been willing to suffer reproach and persecution, even to the spoiling of their goods. At that time they had great confidence and hope; but now they were in danger of casting away that confidence and going back into their old religion.
The secret of victory was in their faith and patience (“courageous endurance”). The believer who lives by faith will “go into perfection”. But the believer who lives by sight will “draw back unto perdition”. What is perdition in this context? To put it simply; a believer who does not walk by faith goes back into the old ways and wastes his life. “The saving of the soul” is the opposite of “waste”; to walk by faith means to obey God’s Word and live for Jesus Christ. We lose our lives for His sake – but we save them (see Matt. 16:25-27)! We can be confident, as we walk by faith, that our Great High Priest will guide us and perfect us!
Hebrews 10:19-39 Reflection Questions:
What is the gospel verse that talks about the tearing of the veil between the holy place and the holy of holies at Christ’s death?
What does it mean to you to dwell in the presence of God every moment of each day? Do you do it?
The major theme of Hebrews is “God has spoken – how are you responding to His Word”?