Hebrews 6:16-20

Sermon preached on June 04, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

If you want to get someone to believe what you're telling them—what do you say? When I was growing up there was an expression we'd use,

"Cross my heart and hope to die."

On looking it up to check if my memory was correct, I found that there was longer version of it that we never used,

"Stick a needle in my eye."

Yuk. That's just awful. Who would ever think of such a thing? But it does make the point—you really want the person you're telling to believe you, so much so that if you were lying they could stick a needle in your eye before and then you'd die.

As adults we're a little more sophisticated but sometimes not by a lot. I've heard people say,

"I swear on a stack of Bibles."

How many Bibles are enough? In court, one Bible is good enough. When you are going to give testimony, you place your right hand on a Bible and swear to tell,

"the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."

Some people swear by their mother's grave. The idea that they were so close to their mother and hold her in such high esteem that they would never lie when they were invoking her grave.

Other people invoke God's name. They'll call on God to be their witness to affirm that they are speaking the truth. They are invoking the highest power.

But to call upon God or swear in God's name is to invoke the highest power. To call on God as our witness to affirm that one is speaking the truth. It is the highest affirmation of trustworthiness that any man can make. (Hughes, Hebrews, p. 232)

But none of those sayings, the children's one nor the adult ones are enough to ensure that everyone tells the truth. Some people lie. We're so inundated with lies that we have a hard time believing what some people say. Lies are all around us. People in authority lie. On the campaign trail many politicians make promises yet when they get elected they do the opposite of what they said they would do. While they are campaigning they will criticize the incumbent for certain practices and yet when they get elected, they will do the very things that they criticized in the other guy. They will do them even more than the previous guy.

Some advertisers will lie to you. I loved a TV commercial from decades ago where it showed a guy picking up his mail from the floor inside his front door. He started looking at each piece of mail and reading them aloud. One said,

"You've just won a million dollars…"

Before he finishes reading it he casually throws it over his shoulder. He knows it's a lie. It's false advertising.

We're so inundated with lies that we have a hard time believing some things—even things that God tells us.

That's incredible but it's true. People don't believe what God has said. Eve was the first human being to doubt God's Word and people have been following her example ever since. The world today tells Christians that we're fools for believing the Bible, that science has disproved it, that it's not a divine book but merely writings that came from patriarchal, narrow and oppressive societies of old. Today's society is so against God, so against belief in Him, so against the morality of the Bible that it constantly barrages Christians with its lies.

To help us against this onslaught, to help us in our weakness, to strengthen our faith—her God tells us remarkable things about reliability of His promises. What He says here about the reliability of God's promise couldn't be better. This is a passage we should put into practice in our lives. God doesn't want you to be people of little faith. In this passage He gives you strong reasons to believe Him, to trust in Him, to have great hope and confidence. . The writer refers to two unchangeable things which are a strong encouragement to seize the hope before us. The two things are the promise of God and His oath. We have a twofold surety.

Consider first the character of God.

The One who has given us these promises is a God of truth. Truth is one of His attributes. He is truth Himself. Because His very nature is truth it is impossible for God to lie. As Philip E. Hughes writes, (Hebrews, p. 232)

"his word is indefectibly firm and reliable."

There is not room for room for the slightest doubt. Nothing in all the universe is more certain or true. God's promises are certain. They are sure, settled.

Old Testament Prophetic Perfect Tense

What the writer says reminds me of the Hebrew 'prophetic perfect tense'. That was a literary technique that some of the Old Testament prophets used to describe future events. These events were so certain to happen that the prophets used the past tense when writing about them—as if they had already taken place.

For example, we can say for certain that President Kennedy was assassinated on November 22, 1963. He was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas that day. It happened and it's in the history books. When we talk about it we properly use the past tense.

When we speak about the future, we use the future tense. We say,

"Next Sunday we will meet here at 10:30 am."

But that's not certain. Something may happen that will prevent us from meeting here. That's why James told us to say, (James 4:15)

"If it is the Lord's will,
we will live and do this or that."

But with God it's different. His plans are certain. Nothing can thwart His plans and purposes. He promises are so certain to be fulfilled that He can rightly refer to them as already being fulfilled. We see a usage similar to this also in the New Testament. Ephesians 2:6–7

"And God raised us up with Christ
and seated us with him
in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,
in order that in the coming ages
he might show the
incomparable riches of his grace,
expressed in his kindness
to us in Christ Jesus."

But someone might say,

"But I'm seated right in front of you, right here in this church."

That's true. But the other is also true for Christians. We've already been raised up with Christ and seated in heavenly places. We're united to Christ and in Christ right now. But it is also has a future component to it. Nothing can stop that future from coming to pass. As God said in Isaiah 46:9–11,

"Remember the former things,
those of long ago;
I am God,
and there is no other;
I am God,
and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
from ancient times,
what is still to come.
I say: My purpose will stand,
and I will do all that I please.
From the east I summon a bird of prey;
from a far-off land,
a man to fulfill my purpose.
What I have said,
that will I bring about;
what I have planned,
that will I do."

God showed His ancient people that His Word is true and that nothing can stop His purposes from coming to pass. His Word is true. His promises are true. They will surely come to pass. You all know the old saying that there are two things that are certain,

"Death and taxes."

But even those things are not true. Those who are alive when Jesus comes again aren't going to die. In the new heaven and new earth there won't be any taxes. A much more accurate saying is,

"All of God's promises are true. Every one will be fulfilled."

The second thing we are told in our text is that

God swore an oath to Abraham by His own name.

This was remarkable. God is truth Himself. He has never spoken anything but what is true and right. His word does not, in itself, need any support like an oath. It is sure. It is certain. It must come to pass.

But, to help us, to encourage us, our text tells us about God's oath to Abraham. God confirmed His promise with an oath so we have a double surety.

Many Christians are like Thomas, they doubt. They have a hard time believing God. They think,

"Jesus is so wonderful, so glorious. Could He possibly love me? Could He change His mind about me and forsake me?"

We wonder if it could possibly be true. We wonder how committed is God to us?

What we should see here is that God's promise to Abraham is like His promise to us. These words are to, (verse 18)

"we who have fled to take hold of
the hope offered"

that we,

"may be greatly encouraged."

Philip E. Hughes tells us that it's of great, (Hebrews, p. 234)

"importance to recognize that his language here and elsewhere applies to all believers of every age and clime, whatever their immediate circumstances may be…"

Go doesn't want us to be in doubt. The Holy Spirit draws our attention to Abraham and wants us to take hope from it.

Consider Abraham. It seemed impossible that God's promise would be able to be fulfilled. He was told to offer Isaac. But Abraham knew that the promise depended on Isaac. Isaac had to live. How could God then order him to sacrifice Isaac? Nothing made sense.

What has happening was similar to what happened before, when God first promised Abraham a son, when his body was a good as dead, and Sarah's womb was also dead. (Romans 4:18-21) But we read,

"Against all hope,
Abraham in hope believed and so
became the father of many nations…
he did not waver through unbelief
regarding the promise of God,
but was strengthened in his faith
and gave glory to God,
being fully persuaded that
God had power to do
what he had promised."

Against all hope Abraham believed. He saw God's promised fulfilled. It was the same way when he was ordered to offer Isaac as a sacrifice. Hebrews 11:19,

"Abraham reasoned that
God could raise the dead,
and figuratively speaking,
he did receive Isaac back from death."

After Abraham was tested, God said to him, (Genesis 22:16–18)

"I swear by myself,
declares the LORD,
that because you have done this
and have not withheld your son,
your only son,
I will surely bless you and
make your descendants as numerous
as the stars in the sky and
as the sand on the seashore.
Your descendants will take possession
of the cities of their enemies,
and through your offspring
all nations on earth will be blessed,
because you have obeyed me."

God fulfilled what He promised to Abraham. He confirmed His promise by an oath to help Abraham. So he had a double a guarantee.

So do we. William L. Lane writes, (Hebrews 1–8, WBC; p. 152)

"The relevance to Christians of the oath sworn to Abraham lies in the proof that God is absolutely trustworthy in the act of promising.… The unchanging purpose of God provides a strong reason for emulating the trust and steadfastness of Abraham."

The great hope that we have is described in Revelation 21:3–4

"And I heard a loud voice
from the throne saying,
Now the dwelling of God is with men,
and he will live with them.
They will be his people,
and God himself will be
with them and be their God.
He will wipe every tear from their eyes.
There will be no more death or mourning
or crying or pain, for the old order
of things has passed away."

God has made promises and He wants us to believe them, to take great hope from them, to be greatly encouraged by them.

But there is more.

Notice how the author of Hebrews describes this hope. This hope is an

anchor for the soul.

If you're on a ship an anchor keeps you safe. You find a good safe spot and drop anchor. That anchor keeps you from drifting onto the rocks or sandbar. An anchor provides safety in the face of changing tides and rising storms. (Hughes)

But in a way the image is quite different. Philip E. Hughes, notes that the anchor of Christians is different than the anchors that are cast down into the sea, (Hebrews, p. 235)

"whereas sailors cast their anchors down into the depths to grip the ocean bed, the Christian's anchor ascends to the supreme heights of heaven: it is a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain…"

Verses 19 and 20 read,

"We have this hope as an anchor
for the soul, firm and secure.
It enters the inner sanctuary
behind the curtain, where Jesus,
who went before us,
has entered on our behalf.
He has become a high priest forever,
in the order of Melchizedek."

As a ship is held fast when at anchor, so the Christian is safe and secure. His anchor has entered the heavenly sanctuary, the very Holy of Holies. John Calvin says,

"As the cable also by which the anchor is suspended joins the vessel with the earth through a long and dark intermediate space, so the truth of God is a bond to connect us with himself, so that no distance of place and no darkness can prevent us from cleaving to him. Thus when united to God, though we must struggle with continual storms, we are yet beyond the peril of shipwreck. Hence he says, that this anchor is sure and steadfast, or safe and firm. It may indeed be that by the violence of the waves the anchor may be plucked off, or the cable be broken, or the beaten ship be torn to pieces. This happens on the sea; but the power of God to sustain us is wholly different, and so also is the strength of hope and the firmness of his word."

Our anchor enters the heavenly sanctuary. This is a result of Jesus' going before us. Matthew's gospel tells us that when Jesus died the curtain in the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The curtain that kept people out of the Holy of Holies was taken away

After His resurrection Jesus ascended into heaven and entered the Most Holy Place. William L. Lane writes, (p. 154)

"Jesus is our eternal high priest who has opened for us the true presence of God (cf 10:19–21). His presence behind the curtain is the firm pledge that we also shall pass through the curtain and enter within the inner sanctuary."

This whole section of Scripture is declaration of the reliability of God's promises, illustrated in Abraham and extended to us by Jesus, our great High Priest, offering Himself and entering the Holy of Holies for us. He went before us. (verse 20) William L. Lane writes, (p. 154)

"Jesus… has entered behind the curtain as our precursor in his office as high priest like Melchizedek. The assured character of God's promise is confirmed in the life, death, entry, and high priestly investiture of Jesus."

We have more than Abraham. We like Him, have the promise. But we now have much more—the completed work of Jesus. As a human being, as our priest, as our precursor—He has entered behind the curtain with His own blood. Our salvation is guaranteed. Nothing is more certain.

Christians, believe God. Trust Him. Trust His promises. Be like Abraham, in this dark world, in spite of all—believe. Nothing is more certain than the promise we have in Jesus Christ.