The Latter Epistles -Hebrews 3

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest.  He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house.  Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.  For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything.  “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future.  But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.
So, as the Holy Spirit says:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion,
    during the time of testing in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested and tried me,
    though for forty years they saw what I did.
That is why I was angry with that generation;
    I said, ‘Their hearts are always going astray,
    and they have not known my ways.’
So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.’
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.  As has just been said:
“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts
    as you did in the rebellion.”
Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt?  And with whom was he angry for forty years?  Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness?  And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

  • Hebrews 3:1-19

Noted Biblical Scholars, Teachers, and Preachers Comments

Hebrews 3:1-6 ‘The application of the doctrine concerning the priesthood of our Lord Jesus Christ’: “The apostle exhorts Christians to have this high priest much in their thoughts. … The duty we owe to him who bears all these high and honorable titles.  Look unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.  Even those that are holy brethren, and partakers of the heavenly calling, have need to stir up one another to think more of Christ than they do; the best of his people think too seldom and too slightly of him.”

  • Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (quoted Scripture without bold-italics)

Hebrews 3:6 ‘persevering in grace’: “None are truly Christ’s but those who persevere in grace.  Temporary Christians are not really Christians.”
Hebrews 3:7 ‘Today’: “Every command of Christ bears today’s date.  If a thing is right, it should be done at once.  If it is wrong, stop it immediately.  There is an immediateness about the calls of Christ.  Whatever he bids us to do, we must not delay to do.  Duties that are put off tend to harden the heart.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

Hebrews 3:12-13 ‘faith and truth’: “What is overlooked in all this is good only when it engages truth; when it is made to rest upon falsehood it can and often does lead to eternal tragedy.  For it is not enough that we believe; we must believe the right thing about the right One.  To believe in God is more than to believe that He exists.  Ahab and Judas believed that.  To a right faith knowledge is necessary.  We must know at least something of what God is like and what His will is for His human creatures.  To know less than this is to be thrown back upon the necessity of accepting the affirmations of the soul and substituting ‘Thus saith my soul’ for the biblical ‘Thus saith the Lord.’
“True faith requires that we believe everything God has said about Himself, but also that we believe everything He has said about us.  Until we believe that we are as bad as God says we are, we can never believe that He will do for us what He says He will do.  Right here is where popular religion breaks down.  It never quite accepts the severity of God or the depravity of man, the stresses the goodness of God and man’s misfortune.  Sin is a pardonable frailty and God is not too much concerned about it.  He merely wants us to trust in His goodness.
“To believe thus is to ground faith upon falsehood an build our eternal hope upon sand.  No man has any right to pick and choose among revealed truths.  God has spoken.  We are all under solemn obligation to hear the affirmations of the Holy Spirit.”

  • A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men

Hebrews 3:12 ‘Watch out’: “Watch over one another as well as over yourselves.  Take heed lest sin hardens you before you are aware of it.  True religion is not a thing that can be acquired by carelessness or neglect.  One may go to hell heedlessly, but one cannot so go to heaven.  Many stumble into the bottomless pit with their eyes shut, but no one ever yet entered into heaven by a leap in the dark.”
Hebrews 3:13 ‘Sin’s deception’: “If sin were to come to us labeled as sin, I trust we would reject it.  Sin does not uncover all its hideousness or reveal its horrible consequences, but it comes to us in a subtle way offering us advantages.  If the devil would come in the shape of a devil, he would do little mischief.  But he assumes the fashion of an angel of light, and that is how he causes us so much sin and sorrow.  Satan knows more about us than we know about ourselves; he knows our raw places and our weak points.”
Hebrews 3:14 ‘holding firmly’: “It is not true that one act of faith is all that is required – unless you will consider that one act to be continuous throughout life.  Faith at the beginning and faith at the close – faith all the way through – is the one important matter.”

  • Charles H. Spurgeon, from his sermon notes

My Thoughts

Again, Old Testament Scripture is quoted:  Numbers 12:7 and portions of Psalm 95.  It is probably not a coincidence that the author quotes Numbers 12, and then follows with the example of being rebellious and wandering in the wilderness for forty years.  In Numbers 12, Miriam and Aaron rebelled against the rule of Moses over the people.  Miriam becomes leprous and the people stop travelling for the seven days after Miriam is cured of leprosy before continuing.  But this minor rebellion is followed by two other rebellions, or maybe one rebellion in two parts.  In Numbers 13, the spies go into the Promised Land.  In Numbers 14, the people hear of giants and are afraid, refusing to take the land.  God removes His protection from the people for their rebellion and then the people realize they had done wrong and attacked the people of the Promised Land, without God’s protection.  This led to a resounding defeat and God requiring them to wander in the wilderness for 40 years until that generation that lacked faith would die off.

Secondly, the word “apostle” is used in the Scripture and in Matthew Henry’s Commentary.  In the Scripture, Jesus is called an apostle.  This may be confusing in that there were first eleven apostles, until they selected Matthias to take Judas’ place among the twelve (Acts 1:12-26).  Then Paul becomes an apostle to the Gentiles.  But Jesus?  Let’s look at the word.  The Greek root of the word means ‘one who is sent off.’  The word could refer to an early Christian teacher.  It could be the missionary who brought the Gospel to that region, and thus honored.  In the Greek meaning, God sent Jesus off from Heaven, outside time and space, to occupy time and space as fully human and fully God.  And Jesus was a great teacher.  Jesus was and is worshipped as God, because He is God.  Thus, apostle could be a title for Jesus, but Jesus is so much more.

As for Matthew Henry calling the author of Hebrews, the apostle, Henry thought that the apostle Paul was the author, as I mentioned in the study on Hebrews 1 two weeks ago, and I also mentioned that a variety of other authors have been suggested as the author of this epistle.  Some of these were not apostles as far as the Biblical and traditional definition of the word.  Yet, as an author of Scripture, they could qualify as an apostle as being a great teacher.

Matthew Henry’s last statement should pierce each of our hearts.  We do not think enough of Jesus.  We often think of Jesus as a talisman in our pocket to take out and rub after our plans have failed.  My wife lamented about how things in one endeavor and another were not going as planned and accused herself and me of this, thinking too seldom and too little of Jesus, the very day that I typed the quote.  And if I had heeded God’s warnings and followed God’s Law more closely, I might have been a better influence on others.  But is that not, and this Scripture not, the way we fallen humans behave?  Even as true believers, we drift from the path at times, especially when we are not listening to God’s voice, telling us that His plan is better than the direction we are going – often when we think we are doing God’s work at that very moment – unfulfilling work, because God intended it for someone else and He intended better (at least different) for us.  We mustn’t be rebellious.  I believe God uses those 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, even today.  Not as a punishment, but as a teaching tool – so, do not wallow in self-pity when you look behind you and see the 40 wasted years.  Those were the years that you grew up.

Thinking back on my life, 40 years before I started this blogsite was about the time that my wife and I and our first born travelled to Germany with me in the military.  Yep, there was a lot of learning going on, and a lot of wilderness, much of it jumping from frying pan and into the fire.  But as Scripture teaches, fire refines.  And since I have taught how fire refines in the steel and aluminum industries – during those 40 years – I can attest that fire indeed refines.

Do we need fire?  Are all born-again Christians as stubborn and pig-headed as I was, at times?  Caleb and Joshua entered the Promised Land.  They were the spies who trusted God.  They knew, with God on their side, no one could stand against them.  Yet, they wandered, along with their doubting brethren for 40 years.

This chapter is somewhat of a warning that to be useful in God’s service, we must be unwavering in our trust in Jesus, the prophet, the priest, and King of kings.  Only with that unwavering faith can we avoid the wandering and be more effective in our witness toward others.

But with so much talk of forty years, let us not lose the beauty of Hebrews 3;13, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  Let us not forget that whatever day it is, it is always ‘Today.’  Regardless of what happened yesterday or what foreboding thing might be anticipated tomorrow, today is still today, and we must encourage one another.  Otherwise, sin might deceive us and rob us of the power available in Jesus.

Some Serendipitous Reflections

“1. What are some practical ways that your church or small group could put verse 13 into practice?  How can that help you?  What apprehensions does it cause?
”2. What was one of the most rebellious times in your spiritual life?  What resulted from it?  Who (or what) helped to bring you back?
“3. How would you describe your heart now?  Soft?  Hard?  Cold?  Warm?  Why is that?”

  • Lyman Coleman, et al, The NIV Serendipity Bible for Study Groups

The first question mentions church and small group, but that could be modified to an individual except in one sense.  Verse 13 above includes quotes from two consecutive verses of Isaiah 8:17-18.  While the first quote talks of trusting God, the second mentions the individual and those ‘children’ with the individual – thus the verse begs a group setting.  The question is still a bit strange.  The verse helps us in that Jesus is fully human, understands our plight, and is with us.  But there is a warning to wait on the Lord.  Then the second part of the verse is to step forward for God with those ‘children’ who God has given you.  In this fallen world, what apprehensions would you have of stepping forward publicly, to announce your faith or to stand against injustice toward Christians – what seems to be a popular activity these days, attacking Christians for their faith.  In some places, the attack is verbal, humiliation, but in other places, the attack could be deadly.

The second question is quite odd if you never were openly rebellious in your spiritual life.  Many people, as I am one, were brought up in a Christian home, never doubted the historicity of the Bible, but, as I was, they could be ambivalent spiritually.  Instead of striking out in rebellion, they rebel by simply “having better things to do” or deciding that “God is not that important.”  When God convicts you of that sin, of simply ignoring Him, thinking that anything is more important – thus creating a small god to keep in your pocket – you can end up feeling just as wretched as the drug-addicted thief that is confessing all at the altar right next to you.

The third question, in my opinion, has two veins to explore, a third if you have not accepted Jesus into your heart.  You could examine your heart as a saved Christian who is being sanctified, made more like Jesus.  Or you could look at your present emotional state that could vary rapidly with circumstances, even if you know that you have the assurance of salvation.  In that way, how can your present emotions betray the love, joy, and peace that you get from having Jesus in your heart?  Now that might open several cans of worms (subjects that may be hard to discuss).  But if you have not accepted Jesus, you need to know that whether your heart is hot, cold, soft, or hard, Jesus can penetrate your heart and make you whole.

If you like these Thursday morning Bible studies, but you think you missed a few, you can use this LINK. I have set up a page off the home page for links to these Thursday morning posts. I will continue to modify the page as I add more.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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