Hebrews: Hold On To Hope

Sermon by Wiley Lowry on September 27, 2020

Hebrews 6:13-20

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Let’s turn once again to Hebrews chapter 6 tonight. We’ll pick back up with the study of this book, where we left off last week, and we’ll read tonight Hebrews 6, verses 13 to 20. And some of the most repeated words in the book of Hebrews are the words, “therefore” and “for.” The argument in this book has such a depth and a scope that there are links in each section with other parts of the book, with ideas and themes that are found elsewhere in the book. And so it can be hard at times not to preach everybody else’s sermon every week! And this passage is no different. This passage is picking up where we left off last week.

Last week we read in verse 12 to, “be imitators of those who, through faith and patience, inherit the promise.” And then the writer goes on to begin a discussion on Abraham who patiently waited and who inherited or obtained the promise. And then there are also some teasers in this passage as well. It mentions some things that will be picked up and discussed in fuller detail later on in the book; things like the new covenant as we hear about the promises in this passage. And there’s a mention of Melchizedek in verse 20; there’s much more that we could say about those things than we’ll be able to get to tonight. And so you’ll have to come back to hear more about the new covenant and more about Melchizedek. But let’s pick back up with our reading tonight in verse 13 and see what this writer has to teach us about hope tonight. Before we do that, let’s go to the Lord in prayer.

Our Father, we come before You tonight. We can come from different places and from different experiences, suffering from doubt and difficulties, even despair, and we need hope. Your Word gives us hope. Christ gives us hope. And so we pray that You would help us to hear Your Word tonight. Help us to see Christ. Would Your Holy Spirit work in us that we may understand Your Word and apply it to our lives, that we would go out to serve You with joy and with peace, with hope, to love You and to love our neighbor as ourselves. Only You can do that, so we pray that You would do it by Your grace tonight. And we pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Hebrews chapter 6, verse 13:

“For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”

This grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of our God endures forever.

Well we’ve mentioned several times in this series on Hebrews that there are multiple warnings in this book:  Pay attention so that you don’t drift. Look out for unbelief. Go on to maturity. Do not grow weary or faint-hearted. These are serious concerns that need to be addressed in this congregation; they need to be addressed in any body of believers. But what we haven’t spent much time noticing in this book is the emphasis on hope. Hope is the key to persevering in the Christian life. Hope is the key to avoiding the danger of turning away. And so listen to what the writer has to say about hope.

We read in chapter 3 verse 6, “Hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.” In this chapter, chapter 6, what we read last week, verse 11, says, “Show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end.” Verse 18 that we read just a minute ago says that we “have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” And chapter 7 verse 19, we find that “a better hope” is introduced in Christ Jesus. Chapter 10 verse 23, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” And then in chapter 11, that great chapter on faith, faith is defined as – what? As “the assurance of things hoped for.” You see, hope is foundational to the message of Hebrews, and if we’re going to heed the warnings of this book, if we’re going to go on to the fullness of the blessings that Christ has secured for us and for His people, we need hope. We’ve heard enough from the world about the things that we have to fear. We’ve had enough in our lives of disappointments and frustrations and tears. We need more about hope.

Alexander White, in his book about the characters in Pilgrim’s Progress, he says that part of John Bunyan’s great, pastoral wisdom was his giving such a place of prominence to the character of Hopeful in Christian’s journey to the Celestial City. “A neglect of hope runs all through our religious literature, and I suppose through all our preaching too,” says White, “but not in the Bible, not in the Bible. Hope is an essential grace and hope has a great place alongside of faith and love throughout the Scriptures.” So what is that hope? What is the hope to which we turn tonight?

Well, if you have your Bibles with you, would you turn with me to Hebrews, later on in the book of Hebrews, to chapter 12. Let me just point us to a few verses in Hebrews chapter 12, starting in verse 22. The writer really points us to this hope here. He says, “You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” That’s the hope that this writer is talking about, and you notice that it is a certain hope. He says, “You have come. This is there. These things are theirs in Christ.”

Now let’s go back to chapter 6, chapter 6 verse 18. “We have a strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” This hope, verse 19 says, is a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” What a great phrase – “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” Because sometimes, sometimes it can feel like the soul just might be carried away by shifting tides, or it might be threatened by the crushing storms of loneliness, grief, anger, lust, by unbelief, doubt, lies, pressure, or by sickness, by pain, by suffering, and by death. But no, in all of these things, we have “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”

You know, an anchor is such a simple concept. It’s basically a weight or a hook that’s attached to a rope or a chain, but basically it’s the only thing that keeps a boat in place; it’s the only thing that can keep a boat from drifting away. And I find that there’s something satisfying about the fact that the basic concept and design of an anchor is essentially the same today as it was thousands of years ago. In fact, the word is even the same. The Greek word for “anchor” is “anchor” or “agkura.” It’s nothing fancy. It’s not fancy machinery. And yet, it’s an essential part of the boat’s equipment. It seems like in every story or movie that you’ve heard or seen about an adventure at sea, it seems that the anchor, more or less, plays the part of a main character in those stories. That’s true in the Bible. Think about in the book of Acts, towards the end of the book of Acts as Paul is making his way to Rome. And the book of Acts is read, missionary report after missionary report after missionary report, and then it turns into an all-out suspense of a shipwreck at sea. It reads more like Swiss Family Robinson or Robinson Crusoe as Paul and the ship crashes into this island. And the anchor, the anchors play a major role in how the events unfold in that chapter.

I read recently a story about a man who was telling about the worst night he ever spent at sea. He and his shipmates were caught in a terrible storm off the coast of South America and they thought at several times during the night that all was going to be lost, that it was all over for them. But they were able to round a point and they anchored there. “And that night,” he said, “the skipper put me on anchor watch. I will never forget it as long as I live. The night was black at pitch, I could barely see my hand before me, the wind was shrieking through the rigging, I could hear the breakers booming on the shore. ‘Look here, youngster!’ the skipper said to me. ‘Everything depends on that cable, do you see? If that anchor threatens to drag, you get me double quick.’” And he said, all these years later, that night was the longest night that he had ever spent. He said, “I kept feeling that cable to see if the anchor held or if we were drifting shorewards before the gale.” Everything depends on that cable. Everything depends on if the anchor holds.

Hope in the Word of God

And that’s true in the Christian life as well. We’re told here that we have a “sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.” How do we know? How do we know that the anchor will hold? There are two things in these verses. There is the Word of God and there is the work of Christ. There is the promise and the Priest. Number one, hope in the Word of God. There are three words in this passage that really indicate or describe the certainty of God’s Word. There’s “promise,” “swear,” and “oath.” Verse 13, “God made a promise to Abraham” and “He swore by Himself.” Verse 17, “He guaranteed it with an oath.” Not only did He make a promise, but He confirmed it with an oath. There’s a double certainty, a double confirmation to God’s Word that He gave to Abraham. What God says, He will bring it to pass.

You know, none of us can make that claim. None of us can guarantee a promise. Even the most simple promises like, “I’ll see you later,” or, “I’ll call you right back,” those things may or may not come true because everything about us is changeable – our circumstances, our motivations, our memories are changeable. And what we say, even if we sincerely intend to do them, it may slip out of our minds or our circumstances slip out of our control and we are unable to carry them out. But God is able. God is able and He will fulfill His promises. He did it for Abraham. He gave him a son. He gave him a son in his old age against all possibility, making him the father of a multitude – like stars in the sky and sand on the seashore. Think of how true that is, especially as we consider all of Christ’s people as offspring of Abraham by faith. A father of a multitude. God’s Word came true to Abraham. “He obtained the promise,” verse 15 says.

And the word that God spoke to Abraham was an emphatic promise. You see, the way in the Hebrew language to emphasize something or to indicate the force of the word was to bring about repetition. We saw that this morning from Isaiah chapter 40, if you remember. “Comfort, comfort my people.” There’s an emphasis there on the comfort. Well our translation of verse 14 says, “Surely, I will bless you and multiply you.” But the way that it actually reads is, “Blessing, I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” That’s what God said to Abraham. And the repetition is there to emphasize the force of the promise. It may have taken a long time for it to come to pass, but God brought it about in His own time. Never in a hurry, but always on time. And just because Abraham doubted the promise at times, that doesn’t mean the promise was ever in doubt.

The same is true for us. Just because we, at times, doubt God’s promises, that doesn’t mean that His promise is ever in doubt. God is the God who by His Word makes something out of nothing, He creates beauty out of chaos, He brings life out of death. He is the God who makes and keeps His promises. Even when God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, even when He told him to sacrifice his son, the promise would not be sacrificed because God provided a substitute as a sacrifice and He kept His promises to Abraham. He keeps His promises to us because God’s character is unchangeable and “it is impossible for God to lie,” verse 18 says. And so have you fled to Him for refuge? Have you believed His promise of salvation in Jesus Christ? Then you have a strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us because God will keep His promise to you. He will fulfill His oath. His Word will not fail.

I’ve found in studying these verses that really there are two parts of the argument that may not register with us in the time in which we live. And one of those is the mention of an oath being binding in the disputes between men or between men and women. It says in verse 16, “In all their disputes, an oath is final for confirmation.” What the writer is saying here is that in all human interactions, a person’s word, his oath, matters. But is that the case for us? Because so often in our own experiences we find that words are just words. We got a letter in our mail the other day and it came from a neighbor and it said, “Do not trust the person living at a certain address around the corner from us.” And it said that, “This man promised that he would do a certain amount of work and we paid him for it and then he didn’t finish the job.” In other words, his word was not binding, and we’re all too used to those things happening. Aren’t we? We live in a world of contracts and form after form after form to sign, and yet we still have a hard time trusting people. Don’t we? But God’s Word is dependable. His Word is true. His oath and His covenant is binding. It is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus on the cross. It is sealed by His resurrection. So in a world of phonies and hypocrites and liars, we can trust the Word of God. We have hope. We have hope in God’s Word.

Hope in the Work of Christ

Now the second thing, the second thing that can be hard for us to grasp in this passage is, I think, the work of a priest. Many of us, most of us, I don’t think have a category for what a priest does or why we need one. But verse 19 says that we have, “a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain.” Verse 20 says that Jesus is “a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” Now if a priest is strange to us, then the mention of Melchizedek is even stranger. Isn’t it? But what we’re being told here in these verses is that if we want hope, then we need a high priest. We are being told here to, secondly, not only hope in God’s Word but hope in the work of Christ, to hope in His work as our priest.

Now it may be that we just need to update the job description of a priest in our modern culture in order to understand what is hoped for in a priest. In the Old Testament, the priest was the one who represented the people before God. And if the people wanted to maintain their ritual purity, their cleanliness, then they needed the ministry of a priest. If they were going to enjoy God’s blessing in their lives and in their land, then they needed the work of a priest. But to whom do we look in our day for dealing with our consciences? Who do people look to, to provide what they think they need or what they think they want. Sometimes it can be a favorite pastor, and that’s been an issue that was the case going all the way back to Paul’s day in the church in Corinth. But other times it could just as well be some type of expert or guru or celebrity or maybe a mix of the three.

There was a New York Times article a few years ago that had the headline, “Oprah:  Prophet, Priestess…Queen?” And the writer called Oprah Winfrey a preacher, a spiritual guru, a religious teacher, an apostle, and a prophetess of a specifically American religion of an individualism that blurs the line between the god out there and the god within. And he says that it’s a religion of clichés that promises a gospel of health and wealth and of happiness and of the pursuit of “your truth.” And what the writer is saying is that Oprah and those that she promotes are mediators of the life you want, of the good life. It’s a priest, in a sense. Or maybe it’s coaches. Maybe not sports coaches but there was a podcast recently that spent a season looking at the rise of coaches in American society – life coaches, financial coaches, test coaches, even dating coaches. What are those coaches but mediators, priests to the good life, to the life you want.

They’re very different kinds of priests, for sure, but you can see there that in those connections there is a connection between the priest and hope, that hope depends on the effectiveness of the work of the priest. And what Hebrews is saying to us is that Jesus is the only one who gives us a clear conscience. Jesus is the only one who can deal with our hearts. He’s the only one who can deal with our sin and our guilt. He is the one who secures the blessing of God. He is the one who guarantees life forever in the presence of the glory of God. He can do that because He is the only one who is qualified to enter into the presence of God. And His work as a priest, His going into the holy place in heaven and offering Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf, His resurrection, His ascension, enables Him to be the mediator for a holy God, between a holy God and a sinful people. That, that work of a priest is the only thing that will give us love and joy and the peace of God. Jesus’ work as a priest is our only hope and what He has done on the cross by His death and by His resurrection and ascension, it is a complete work. What did Jesus say on the cross? “It is finished.” It is finished. You see, nothing more is needed and nothing else will suffice.

The Word of God and the work of Christ, promise and priest, we have a strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope that is set before us. That’s what this congregation to whom the writer of Hebrews is writing, they needed that sort of hope for the dangers that they were facing. We need it for the dangers that we are facing as well. It just may be that the dangers we face are not the same as the dangers they face. I would be very surprised if any of us are at risk of turning to Judaism or even to some other religious option, but there are dangers out there. There are dangers for us to avoid. There is always the threat of looking for hope somewhere else other than the Word of God and the work of Christ. It could be looking for hope in political platforms, and that goes for both sides of the political divide in our country and even in this congregation. We can be so emotionally tied to the outcome of an election or we can be so gripped by a political ideology that our thinking, our hearts, our decisions, are guided more by the Republican or Democratic party than they are by the Word of God and the way of Christ. We can be so invested in our nation, in the economy, or in social causes, that our contentment is completely wrapped up in those things. But have you ever noticed what that leads to? It leads to something that feels like being adrift in a sea of change and unpredictability.

I think there’s something else that is a temptation that can lead to a sea of change and unpredictability, and that is looking for hope in popularity. A few days ago I came across this comment from Charles Bridges writing in 1846. He says this:  “The mass of mankind deal with their children as if they were born only for the world. The only thought is, ‘Must they not be like others to make their way in the world?’ They concentrate their grand interests on accomplishments or scholarship, not godliness; refinement of taste and manners, not soundness of faith. Need we say that this is an education without God, without His promises, without rest?” Popularity. Keeping up with the crowd. Fitting in. It can be a real temptation at any age, young and old alike, at any time in history. But it’s also fleeting and it’s also fickle.

Those things, politics and popularity, or any other promise of satisfaction or reward that comes apart from Jesus Christ, they cannot provide hope. They will not be a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. It’s only trusting in Jesus and resting in God’s promises that we have hope. And it’s only by having that hope that we can persevere in faith, that we can follow God’s Word obediently and that we can wait patiently for His blessing. So hold fast. Hold fast the hope set before us. It is a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.

The anchor is one of the earliest symbols in the history of Christianity. In the catacombs – those were underground tunnels, burial sites in Rome – in those catacombs, the Christians in the early days gathered together for worship because it was a place where they could escape the persecution of the culture around them, of the people around them. And among those burial sites, those catacombs, the places where they worship, there have been found various Christian inscriptions and symbols; they are personal testimonies of faith in Christ. There are Biblical scenes. There is the imagery of a shepherd. And then, there are images of anchors. You see, in persecution and in death, the anchor was a symbol of their hope.

John Knox, in 1572, he was on his deathbed. He had faced persecution and he had led a reformation, and when he sought comfort in his last hours he asked his wife to go get his Bible. “Go,” he said. “Go read where I first cast my anchor,” and she read to him the verses where he had first come to faith in Jesus Christ and trusted in Him for salvation, the place where he had first found hope. It was in John 17:3. That was his anchor, and his anchor had held in life and it would hold in death. When Christians today are beaten and battered by various storms, by trials and temptations of this life, what do we need? We need hope. We need a sure and a steadfast anchor of the soul. And we sang it earlier, “In the suffering, in the sorrow, when my sinking hopes are few, I will hold fast to the anchor; it shall never be removed.”

Let’s pray.

Our Father, we give You thanks for the great hope that is ours in Christ. We thank You that You are the God of all hope and we look to You tonight that You would bless us by Your Word and as we contemplate the glory of Christ and of His great sacrifice on our behalf, His great work as a priest, that we would again be renewed with hope to hold fast and to walk faithfully and to live for Your glory and to enjoy Your blessing. Would You do that tonight? And use us in our callings, in our circumstances of this life to radiate that hope, to show forth joy that we have in Christ. Would You use us to bring glory to Your name. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

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