To recap from last week —
I. Who wrote the epistle?
We don’t know
Some of the characteristics found in all Paul’s epistles are nowhere found here. (No self identification of the author, no personal greetings, no names of traveling companions).
II. Similarities between Galatians and Hebrews
Both were addressed to folks who were intimately familiar with the traditions and customs of the Mosaic covenant. Both were also addressed to folks who were struggling with doubt over whether that covenant really had come to an end.
1. The Judaizers in Galatia were insisting Christians needed to be circumcised in order for Christ’s death to be counted to them. They agreed you need Christ, but they also claimed that unless you were circumcised then His death couldn’t be imputed to you for righteousness, because you had to first be identified with the covenant people of God before God’s work could be counted to you.
2. The folks addressed in the epistle to the Hebrews were a little different. They were Jewish people who kept wavering on the question of whether Christ’s finished work could be trusted?
III. The main theme
The author’s main purpose of the epistle is to show to his readers that Christ can be trusted, because He has a greater glory than Moses.
IV. Chapter 1
In the first chapter we talked about how the author of the epistle sets out to show us that Christ can be trusted, because He has a greater glory than that of angels. While angels are merely ministering spirits sent out to serve the elect, Christ is a Son under whose feet all authority in heaven and on earth has been placed.
Christ can also be trusted, because He is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact imprint of God’s nature. We spoke before about His name and what it means that His name is God with us for He shall save His people from their sins.
We saw that if all this is true, then we should take care to pay close attention to the Son’s testimony, because if the testimony of angels proved to be accurate, then how much more so the Son’s.
For this reason, since the Son’s testimony is at least as reliable as that of angels, then we should take care that we not shrink back from His testimony. And it is here that I would like us to slow down to look this week. Remember that we are still in the first three chapters of Hebrews.
V. Hebrews 3:1-6
Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses—as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope
Why would these Hebrew readers shrink back from their confidence and hope in Christ?
One reason a person would do this is because they believe they are saved by works. But that is too easy an answer for these guys, because they are gospel believers. The author is going to tell us this in a later chapter.
These guys do believe the gospel, but some of them are beginning to shrink back from the confidence that is found only in the cross of Christ. Why?
The answer is because the Mosaic economy offered something more tangible than the new economy does.
A. Self-righteous hypocrisy
Under the Mosaic economy my obedience served as tangible evidence of my righteousness. After all, the law gave me 600+ things to do that would make me righteous if I performed all 600+ of them perfectly. All I needed to do then in order to assure myself of righteousness was look to my obedience, which culminated in the sacrifices I offered as prescribed by the law, and to my keeping of the commandments as prescribed by the law.
But there is a problem with this. Number one, I’ve already been imputed guilty of disobedience. And number two, I don’t want to obey. I’m totally depraved.
So here I am then. I’m already guilty of disobedience and I also don’t want to obey, and yet I am still to look to my obedience as evidence that I am righteous. I’m a hypocrite. I’m self-righteous and I’m a hypocrite. I judge myself righteous by my obedience knowing the whole time that I can’t obey and haven’t obeyed. What I use to judge myself righteous then is not God’s law, but instead my own cut and paste version of God’s law. God says in the day you eat of it you shall die. I eat of it and then tell myself, well, I haven’t eaten too much of it. At least I haven’t eaten as much of it as some other people have.
Even though I am a self-righteous hypocrite though, I still have something tangible to assure myself that I am righteous. I can I can look to the law and I can say maybe I haven’t kept that commandment perfectly, but I have kept it better than most men have. Surely that has got to count for something, right?
B. Examples of self-righteous hypocrisy
I’m told that Mother Teresa helped to feed tens of thousands of the poorest children in the neighborhood of Calcutta. I’m told she and her nuns helped to build a global network of nurses, hospitals, health clinics and homeless shelters that stretch all the way from the US to Yemen. This proves something, doesn’t it?
I’m told Billy Graham has preached to more than 200 million people in at least 135 countries. I’m told that he and his son have helped to supply disaster relief to more than 28 million US families. This proves something, doesn’t it?
We have Protestant/Evangelical churches in this very county right now whose claim to fame is that they have helped to fed tens of thousands of the poor, and have built and operate homeless shelters and health clinics. This proves something, doesn’t it?
And in the Reformed camp alone, there are preachers and teachers who have traveled the world multiple times over preaching to and conducting countless numbers of debates with Muslims, Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses, and who have claimed to have been used in the conversion of countless thousands of people. This proves something, doesn’t it?
I could go on and on and on. All these things that can be pointed to, observed, studied. Sure, they may not be proof that I am righteous, and they might even be evidence of my own slavery to self-righteousness, but at least they’re something I can hang my hat on, something I can see.
C. Hebrews in Egypt
The Hebrews knew a little something about slavery. Their ancestors had lived in Egypt as slaves. They had been under the yoke of slavery to Pharaoh’s law and commandments. Sure, they were slaves, but at least they had food to eat and a place to lay their heads down at night. Where does the Son of God lay His head?
Matthew 8:20 “Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Back before I was converted and still seeking to justify myself, I used to talk about all the works I did. I was proud of them. I would compare the works I did in and for my church with the works others did in and for their church. And when I wasn’t doing that, then I was counting up how many experiences I’d had with the Spirit that week (I was Charismatic if you will recall). Sure, I was unjust and self-righteous, but at least I had something to hang my hat upon, somewhere to lay my head at night. Surely, I was saved, right?
Now here you come along and you tell me that the only evidence of anyone’s righteousness is an event that occurred 2000 years ago at Golgotha, an event that I did not witness and will never witness. What am I supposed to do with that? What about all these works I have? What about all these experiences? Am I supposed to just discount them? How will I know I’m saved? How will I know I’m righteous?
God had told Abraham to leave the land he was born in and to go to the land He would show him, because He was going to give Abraham a son and through that son bless all the nations of the earth.
Abraham went. And sometime later, in Genesis 15, after God came to Abraham again and told him that God was going to make his descendants like the stars in the sky, Abraham believed God, and we are told God credited it to him as righteousness.
Credited what? His faith? No, the promise. God credited the promise to Abraham as righteousness. The promise was only in the immediate sense looking to Isaac, but it had as its ultimate goal the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That was, after all, what the promise was about; that the elect from all nations of the earth would be blessed through Him. Isaac wasn’t going to be a blessing to all the elect. He turned out later in life to not even be a blessing to his own son, Jacob. No, it was Jesus who was going to be the blessing to the elect.
E. Sacrifice of Isaac
Years and years later, after Isaac had been born, God then instructed Abraham to take his son, “your only son, the son whom you love” up to the top of Mount Moriah, which was actually a hill, and there sacrifice Isaac to Him. And Abraham went. He went without hesitation. The author of Hebrews is going to tell us why he went without hesitation. He went without hesitation, because he had reasoned that God was going to raise Isaac from the dead. After all, a promise from God was a promise from God, and if God had promised to bless all the nations of the earth through him, then that was what was going to happen.
Now, here’s the question. Did Abraham go up that mount looking to do some works that would serve as tangible evidence of his righteousness? No. If he had done that, then it would have proved that he had never believed God in the first place! No, he went up to the mount to sacrifice his son, because he believed God would keep His promise.
This is what James is after, and so, so many people miss this. James isn’t saying we must strive to get some works under our belt so we can use those works to prove we have been justified. If we were to do this, then it would prove we had never believed to begin with. No, what James is saying is do the works, because you believe the promise.
That is, honor your brothers and sisters in the Lord and take care of their needs, because you believe they have been imputed innocent in the Lord. Do not give honor to the unrighteous wealthy who abuse you over the honor due to those who have been made innocent in the Lord. Did not Abraham do the works, because he believed the promise? Well then, you do the same. Do the works because you believe.
Mount Moriah would in a few centuries after Abraham’s time become known as the Temple Mount. It was where the Lord’s Temple was built. Just down below in the valley near the foot of the hill, a mere ten minute’s walk from the Temple was another place that would become known in Jesus’ day as the Garden of Gethsemane. Take your son, Abraham, your only son, the son whom you love, and sacrifice him to Me.
The Moses economy offered tangible evidence of a person’s righteousness if they could keep the law. That was the problem. No one ever could. No one was ever supposed to, because that is not why God gave the law. God gave the law to imprison everyone under sin so that He could send His Son, His only Son, the Son whom He loves, to die and rise for those whom He had chosen for salvation. Under the Mosaic economy I succumb to a ministry of death, because under the administration of the Mosaic economy, I am instructed to look to my law obedience as evidence of my righteousness.
Under the administration of most of today’s Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian economies, I continue to succumb to a ministry of death, because under the administration of most of today’s Reformed Baptist and Presbyterian economies, I am taught to look to my performance as evidence of my conversion. Understand that no matter how well studied a pastor, preacher, teacher or elder may be, no matter how many debates he engages in, no matter how many books he writes, no matter how many followers he manages to gather to himself, understand that if he teaches that your works are evidence of your conversion then he is a self righteous hypocrite who denies that the glorious testimony of the Son is trustworthy.
Under Christ’s economy the only tangible evidence I have of my conversion is the testimony of the cross, the written testimony contained in the written word of God. Righteousness is found solely in what Christ did 2000 years ago and not at all in anything I do, have done or will do. The only evidence I have of my conversion is the written eyewitness testimony of an event I did not witness and can never witness. “Blessed is he who does not see and yet believes.”
This is what the Hebrews were struggling with. This is why they were shrinking back.
And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope
G. Numbers 13
The author cites an example from the Old Testament Scriptures of where people who had been given a promise from God shrank back from trust in that promise. We talked about it last week, but I want to mention it again. The example comes from Numbers 13, so let’s read the passage again.
At the end of forty days they returned from spying out the land. And they came to Moses and Aaron and to all the congregation of the people of Israel in the wilderness of Paran, at Kadesh. They brought back word to them and to all the congregation, and showed them the fruit of the land. And they told him, “We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan.” But Caleb quieted the people before Moses and said, “Let us go up at once and occupy it, for we are well able to overcome it.” Then the men who had gone up with him said, “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are.” So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, “The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height. And there we saw the Nephilim (the sons of Anak, who come from the Nephilim), and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
Now, we remember what we saw last time. God had brought Israel out of captivity, out of slavery to Pharaoh’s law in the land of Egypt. He had done it by a series of miracles culminating with the death of the firstborn son.
Having led Israel out of captivity, He promised to go before them, to fight for them, to put the fear of them into the hearts of their enemies, and to give them the land that He had promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob He would give them. The only thing they had to do was believe Him. Believe He would do this. Trust His testimony.
But they didn’t trust His testimony. Even after He already proved His word several times over by fighting for them, they still did not trust His testimony. Instead, as Numbers 13 shows us, when it came time for them to take possession of the land God had promised them, they instead shrank back in unbelief.
Notice the last verse in our passage. “. . . and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.”
That is, in our own minds we thought of ourselves as grasshoppers, and so then we naturally assumed that this is what the giants thought about us in their minds too.
Rather than trusting God and thinking of themselves as giants in Him, they instead turned their eyes from the memory of the almighty God who had delivered them from Egypt with a strong right hand. Rather than fixing their eyes upon the almighty God who had delivered them and had promised to deliver them again, they instead fixed their eyes on their own shortcomings. We are short folk. We pale in comparison to giants. We are as mere grasshoppers.
This is exactly what the self righteous hypocrite does in the face of his own sin. Rather than fixing his mind upon God’s testimony of the cross, he instead fixes his mind upon his own failure to obtain righteousness by his obedience of the law. I am as a grasshopper, he thinks.
Now, if we read the book of Joshua, we discover from the testimony of Rahab that the giants of the land did not at all think of Israel as grasshoppers. Instead, they were quaking at the knees and shaking in their boots at the thought of them. They were terrified of Israel, because as Rahab says, they had heard of all that the Lord God had done for Israel and they knew they were next. In fact, they were mystified as to why it had taken forty years for them to get here.
Notice in our passage text that Caleb said nothing about not seeing giants. No, he saw giants, but he also saw a bigger giant. He saw the Lord God. And when he considered the giants in the land, you know what he said? It’s easy pickings. That’s what he said. “Let us go up and occupy it for we are well able to overcome it.” It’s easy pickings.
Like Caleb, we see the giants. That is, we see our sin. We’re not stupid. We’re not like those who pretend they’re sinless and that it’s impossible for Christians to sin. No, we sin. We sin every day and so much that it’s ridiculous. What we don’t do is shrink back from the trustworthiness of Christ’s testimony by thinking of our sin as evidence of unrighteousness.
Instead, we fix our minds upon the Son’s testimony, and we agree with God that it’s true. His righteousness has been reckoned to us.
G. Hebrew Roots
In closing, there is today a new heresy that is actually an old heresy, but it goes by a new name. This heresy is known as the Hebrew Roots Movement. Sometimes it also goes by the moniker “The Sacred Name Movement.” You can spot their followers on Facebook. They spell God by writing G-d, and they refer to Jesus exclusively as Yeshuah, and to Old Testament figures by their Anglicized Yiddish spelling. Moses becomes Moshe and so forth.
The Hebrew Roots Movement insists Christians are required to keep the law of Moses. The movement calls itself “Torah observant.” In addition, it requires the observance of a Saturday Sabbath. It also requires circumcision, the wearing of shawls and the celebration of Jewish feast days.
Modern so called Orthodox Judaism is the direct descendent of the Pharisee teaching that emerged after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple at the Babylonian captivity. The Pharisees were a religious group that arose within Israel and claimed the authority to rework the Jewish religion. They fashioned a number of so called pillars that would serve as the theological basis for their new religion.
The first pillar is that there is now not just one Torah (Old Testament Scriptures), but two; the written and the oral. The oral is a set of Jewish traditions that were passed down orally. These oral traditions were written down and comprise the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmuds.
The second pillar the Pharisees forged was the absolute authority of the rabbis to interpret the scriptures. From this notion, long-held traditions which the rabbis teach eventually become elevated to the level of law.
Basically, what we are talking about here is a Roman Catholic version of Judaism. Just as Rome claims both church tradition and the Scriptures as authoritative, so Orthodox Judaism claims rabbinic tradition and the Scriptures as authoritative. And just as Rome claims that Scripture must be interpreted in accordance with church tradition, so Orthodox Judaism claims the Old Testament Scriptures must be interpreted in accordance with the rabbinic traditions.
It is from this desire to merge Christianity with Orthodox Judaism that the Hebrew Roots Movement was born.