Perhaps as you turn to Hebrews 3, you might want to glance at the first two chapters again and remind yourself where we have been, what we have said so far. This congregation was apparently being pressured or at least tempted by the teaching of the Essene community, a community of Jewish believers who had certain beliefs that were similar to the early Christians but they did not profess Jesus as Savior, Lord, and Christ; that is, they did not acknowledge Him as the saving Messiah sent by God, prophesied of in the Old Testament. We have said in the past that they believed in several Messianic figures and they didn’t recognize all those Old Testament figures, prophet, priest, and king, as culminating in the Lord Jesus Christ.
But their teaching was attractive enough to cause many of the Christians in the congregation to whom the author of Hebrews is writing to be tempted to go back to their previous Judaism, to say something like this, “Well, maybe we threw out the baby with the bath water. There is a lot of good teaching that is coming out of this particular community. Maybe we should go back to that. Maybe we went a little too far in breaking off from the traditions of Israel as we had and following after the Lord Jesus Christ as messiah. Maybe we need to go back to the place from whence we came.” And over against that, the author of Hebrews constantly reminds them of the significance of trusting the Lord Jesus Christ and the superiority of the Lord Jesus Christ to any figures, whether they be angels or whether they be figures from the Old Testament and he is going to continue that argumentation today.
Look at chapters 1 and 2 briefly. Remember that over and over in our studies, we’ve seen the theme that Jesus is better than the angels and that is set forth in various ways. In Chapter 1, in verses 4 and 5, He is said to have a more excellent name than the angels. In verses 6 and 7 He is said to have a superior position to the angels. In verses 8 and 9 He is said to be the ruler of the kingdom, whereas the angels are the messengers of the kingdom. In verses 2 through 12, we are told that He is co-creator with God the Father and He is co-eternal with God the Father. So, He wasn’t just around immediately after the creation of the world, he was the co-creator with the eternal Father of the world.
Then in verses 13 and 14, we see the author of Hebrews say in Hebrews 1 that God never promised to the angels what He promised to His son. The whole of the first chapter of Hebrews focuses on the person and work of the Son and showing Him to be superior to the angels. Then in chapter 2, we continue to see the subjection of all things to the Son stressed by the author of Hebrews. Jesus is the obedient second Adam according to the author of Hebrews and in Hebrews 2:5-8, he goes back to Psalm 8 and says the truth of Psalm 8 is fulfilled in Jesus Christ alone as the Second Adam. And even His humbling which led to His being crowned with glory and honor shows forth the superiority of Jesus Christ as we see in Hebrews 2:9. And then the very end of chapter 2 closes with the discussion of the necessity of Jesus becoming incarnate. The necessity of the Son of God, the second person of the Trinity, becoming in flesh taking on Himself humanity and it shows the connection between His incarnation and the atoning work that He did. We see that especially in verses 14 through 18.
So with that as background, we come tonight to Hebrews 3:1-6. Now Hebrews 3 contains a comparison between Moses and Christ. And you can see again how effective that would have been in arguing with Jewish Christians who were being tempted to go back to their Judaism. To show the superiority of Jesus Christ, even to Moses, the greatest figure of the Old Testament, was precisely calculated by the author of Hebrews to draw them back to the one Savior of mankind. Let’s look at God’s holy word in Hebrews 3:1-6.
Father, this is Your word. It’s meant for the edification of Your people. Surely, Lord, there are not many of us tempted by the precise temptation of this congregation of old. And yet the application is startlingly relevant to each us. We are constantly tugged by the world away from our Lord and away from that good confession that we have made. Strengthen us as you apply the word Christ to our hearts by the Holy Spirit. Illumine our minds; enable us to embrace this truth, not only understanding it, but living it out. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
In this passage, the author of Hebrews argues to his Jewish Christian friends in this congregation that they must not be tempted to go back to Moses, because they have already embraced someone who is superior, even to Moses. Now we may not be tempted ourselves to go back to Moses; but we are often tempted to go somewhere else, other than Christ, our ultimate hope for our ultimate comfort in which we put our ultimate trust. So these words are directly relevant to us, and I think you will see three or four things that are very important for all of us as we wrestle with that particular issue in our lives. As we, as believers, walk the walk of faith in this world and are from time to time pulled away from Christ, the first thing we learn in this passage is that we must remember who we are, by God’s grace.
I. Christians must remember who we are.
In verse 1, notice the beautiful phrase which the author of Hebrews applies to these struggling saints. Now remember, he has already told us in the first two or three chapters of this book that these saints are struggling with some very significant things like the deity of Christ, the significance of His incarnation, and His atonement; and yet, look what he calls them. “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling.” And in that phrase, he reminds us that we must remember who we are by God’s grace. As we struggle with persevering in the faith, one of the things that we need to do as believers, is remember who we are, remember what God has made us by His grace.
Look at the first word. He calls us brethren, holy, set apart by God, set apart by God for Himself, saints, one’s characterized by godliness. Now remember again, these are struggling people. These are not perfected people, these are not people who don’t have sins. Some of these are contemplating the great apostasy. Some of them are thinking of turning their backs on Christ; and yet, because they have professed Him, because they have owned Him, they have professed Him publicly, he refers to them as holy brethren — that’s what they have been made in Christ, constituted in Him. Notice again, he calls them brothers — they have been made members of God’s family and, therefore, they are spiritually related to one another. We’re not saved merely as individuals into our own private club. We’re saved into a body. We become brothers and sisters and it is a beautiful phrase. They’re holy brethren. You’re now spiritually related to one another. He’s tying them all together, and then he is tying them up to God. It is God who has made them holy and it is God who has pulled them together now as brethren. He is appealing for them to contemplate what God has made them. And he goes on to expand on that when he uses the next phrase, “partakers of a heavenly calling.” They share in the heavenly calling. They are called to share in God’s eternal rest. They are called to share in the blessings of the kingdom. They are called to be citizens in a heavenly realm. They are partakers of a heavenly vocation, a heavenly calling. By addressing them in this way, the author is focusing them for a moment on what they have been made in Christ.
One of the very first steps of our spiritual growth is to realize what God has made us. If we will contemplate what the New Testament says that we are when God has changed us, we will never be satisfied with a halfway commitment to Christ. You can’t contemplate what God has made you and be halfway committed to Christ. When you realize what God has done for you in Christ, it calls for all of you to present yourselves a spiritual sacrifice which is your reasonable worship. That’s what Paul says the contemplation of what God has made you in Christ evokes from you. And that’s precisely what the author of Hebrews is pressing on you.
You probably got this same phrase from your parents when you were growing up, but when I was a little boy and I came home and I argued with my dad and I wanted to do it because everybody else was doing it. You got this speech too, I bet: “Lig, you’re a Duncan and Duncans don’t do — fill in the blank.” Did you get that speech before? “Duncans don’t do that.” Now the expression is not meant to be of arrogance as if there was this certain class of people entirely exalted and apart from humanity. The point is we walk by certain commitments in this family. We have certain priorities, certain values, we have certain standards; and we are not going to be swayed by what they do just because they do it, because we’re not like them. There was a sense of belonging in a family which called out to me that I had to live in a different way. That’s precisely how it is in the spiritual family. You are Christians, you are not like them. You are brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus Christ don’t do such and such. You see, that’s the appeal there. “Therefore, holy brethren, you are partakers of a holy calling.” I don’t care whether they are halfway committed to Christ. You are holy brethren, by His grace, made to be brothers and sisters; therefore, walk in Him.
II. Christians must consider Jesus.
Now the next phrase, the imperative comes in verse one also. You see it in the second half of that verse: “Consider Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” We learn a second thing in this passage and the second thing is as we struggle with persevering in the Christian life, we must focus our eyes and our hopes, we must focus our faith on Christ Himself. He must always be the focal point of our faith. We must contemplate the Christ. Christians must consider Jesus. The author is calling us here to fix our thoughts on Jesus, to consider Him, to dwell on Him, to mediate on Him, to reflect, to focus, to ponder the Mediator Himself. Consider the implications of His mediation on our behalf.
Now how can I get that out of that little phrase, “consider Jesus Christ?” Because of what he attaches to it. What does he call Him? “Consider Jesus, the Apostle and the High Priest of our confession.” He is reminding you there of two aspects of Jesus’ work. Jesus is the apostle — now that’s a very interesting phrase, because it is the only time in the New Testament that Jesus is called an apostle, directly. But the idea of Jesus being sent is found throughout the New Testament and that is what an apostle is. An apostle is one sent with the authority of one who sends. The phrase can be used technically to speak of that inner circle of disciples that was expressly sent by the Lord Jesus, Himself, or it can be used in a more general sense, as those who are sent out by God to do a particular task. In this case, Jesus is being spoken of as an apostle in the sense of He is God the Father’s handpicked representative to us.
Turn back to John 17, in the High Priestly Prayer, you will see a passage in which Jesus, Himself, acknowledges that that is the case. In fact, this is one of the great passages for mission sermons, for instance in verse 18. “As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.”
Here is Jesus praying, and He is saying to the Heavenly Father, “as You have sent Me into the world, I’m sending them into the world.” So there is a direct correlation between Jesus being sent and the apostles being sent. If you need any other motive for world missions beyond that, I don’t know what it is. If we had nothing else but John 17:18, we would have an imperative to go into all the world, because Christ came from Heaven on high for our salvation. He sent His disciples into the world, even as He came into the world sent by the Heavenly Father and, therefore, there is our imperative for doing the work of missions all across the earth.
Jesus in this case is the apostle sent by God. He is the one sent with the authority of God as His representative before men. And so the author of Hebrews says, “I want you to consider Jesus. You consider that One who was sent as God’s representative to us. You contemplate what He came to do. What He came to represent. What He came to preach and tell and live and die. Why did He do those things? You contemplate that.” And then he gives the flip side of that: “Consider Jesus the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” You will also see that in Hebrews 3:1. And, of course, an apostle represents God before men, a priest represents men before God.
A lot of times our Catholic friends think that Protestants don’t like priests. Well, that’s actually not the case. It’s just that we have one. Jesus is our High Priest; we don’t accept substitutes. We love the priesthood of Christ; but it is a soul-sufficient priesthood. We don’t need any extra priesthood added on top of it. So in this passage you see Christ as priest, representing men before God. The High Priest is the prime representative of the people of God to God. He is the one who offers the sacrifice of atonement. And the author of Hebrews is saying, “I want you to stop for a minute. I want you to consider who Jesus is, He is both God’s representative to man and He is man’s representative to God.”
Notice again that He is called the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Paul assumes that everyone who embraces Jesus Christ has confessed Him openly with his mouth. “If you will confess Jesus as Lord” are Paul’s words in Romans 10. That confession is essential to being a believer. It is essential to Christianity. Essential to Christianity is a confession of who Jesus is and what He did. The author of Hebrews is asking us to go back and think about those things. Think about who Jesus is, think about His role, think about the divinely given role that He has. Think about what He has done on our behalf. Why? Because we draw all our spiritual strengths from Christ. The whole of the Christian life is about drawing from Christ. As we in a vital, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, that is where we draw our strength for Christian living. We can’t talk about persevering in the faith apart from a vital personal knowledge and relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. The author of Hebrews is just calling us back to basics here. He is saying that if you are going to persevere, if you are going to survive the temptations to turn aside, you are going to have to focus yourself on Christ. You are going to have to consider Him.
III. Christians must realize the superiority of the New Covenant Mediator.
Notice again in verses 2 through the first half of verse 6, he adds some arguments to that point. In verses 2 through 6, he focuses you for a few moments to the superiority of Jesus over Moses. If you haven’t been moved to focus upon Christ at this point, the author wants to give you some arguments as to why He is worth focusing on. He is superior to Moses, in fact. Notice the words. “He was faithful to Him who appointed Him.” Let me read that again, inserting the names: Jesus Christ was faithful to Him who appointed Him (God the Father) as Moses also was in all his house. For He (the Lord Jesus Christ) has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses by just so much as the builder of the house has more honor than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant for a testimony of those things which are to be spoken later, But Christ was faithful as a son over His house.
In that passage we have both a comparison of Jesus to Moses and a contrast of Jesus to Moses. The comparison comes in verse 2. There we are told that Jesus was faithful like Moses. Nowhere here does the author suggest that Moses was unfaithful. He was by and large a faithful servant of the Lord. Did he sin? Yes, he did. Did he pay for that sin? He did. But the verdict on the life of Moses here, from the mouth of God is that he was a faithful servant. Furthermore, we are told that Jesus and Moses were both appointed by God. Notice the phrase, “He was faithful to Him who appointed Him.” The idea is that neither Moses nor Christ took onto themselves a role or a responsibility that God had not called them to. Moses was called to be the redeemer of his people, the leader of his people, the man to lead his people out of bondage. He was called by God; that was not something that Moses took upon himself. It was something, a vocation that God had placed upon him.
Jesus Christ, also in the eternal covenant of redemption, took on this responsibility appointed by God, in agreement with that which God had done for the sake of His people. The stress there is that Jesus and Moses both did their work of redemption in accordance with the will of God. Remember constant phrases about this in Jesus’ ministry in the gospels. Over and over He says thinks like, “it is My meat to do the will of my Father.” It’s not like Jesus is off on a jag on His own doing His own thing. He is doing precisely what the Father wants Him to do. It’s all part of the beauty of the covenant of redemption, as the Lord Jesus works out this commitment to save His people.
Neither Moses nor Jesus took office upon Himself. This is so important. Do you remember what happens in the Old Testament when certain people take offices upon themselves? For instance, when Saul took upon himself the office of priest, was God pleased? No. God cursed Saul for taking on an office that did not belong to him. And so it is very important that we recognize that Christ is doing and Moses did precisely what God had called to them.
Now Moses’ faithfulness is not downplayed here. He was faithful in all his house. But Jesus is said to be considered worthy of more honor than Moses for at least three reasons:
First in verse 3 you will see that we are told that God counts Jesus worthy of more honor than Moses because Jesus is the builder of God’s house. And he says that the builder has more honor than the thing itself. Moses was a faithful servant in the house, but Jesus is the builder of the house. Jesus is the founder, the inheritor of the household. Moses was a chief administrator, but he wasn’t the builder of the house of God.
Notice again in verse 4, Jesus is considered by Christians as worthy of more honor because He is the builder of the household of God and of all things. God, we are told in verse 4, is the builder of all things. That is an assertion of Jesus’ divinity. You don’t have to be an expert in Jewish theology to know that the one who is the builder of all things is God alone. He is the only builder of all things. And if Jesus is the builder of the house and of all things, He is co-equal. He is very God.
I want you to know in verse 3 and 4, it is very clearly implied that God is building one household. We have certain friends in different branches of theology than our own who believe that there are two peoples of God, two plans of God, two households of God. But the author of Hebrews makes it clear that God has one household that is made up of both Jews and Gentiles; in fact that is what Paul tells us in Ephesians 3 and in Ephesians 2 — that is the mystery of God that He has made into one household both Jew and Gentile. That’s the beauty of the plan of God. He has brought them both into one household under the Lord Jesus Christ.
In verse 6 you will see again that we are to consider Christ and offer Him more honor than Moses, because He has a more prominent place in relation to the household. In verse 5 we learn that Moses was God’s servant. In verse 6 we are reminded that Jesus is God’s son. Moses was a faithful and exalted servant, but he wasn’t the very Son of God. That’s the first way we see that Jesus is worthy of more honor. He is a son, Moses is a servant.
Then again in verses 5 and 6, we see that Moses was a servant in the house, but Jesus was a son over the house. And in both those ways, Jesus is superior to Moses. In fact, Jesus’ ministry is the fulfillment of Moses’ ministry.
Look at that very interesting phrase in verse 5: “Moses was faithful in all his house as a servant for a testimony of those things which would be spoken later.” In other words, Moses’ faithful ministry points to something that would transcend his own time and his own ministry and even his own understanding. And according to the author of Hebrews, that thing is the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. What Moses represents in Jewish history is incomplete. And he points forward to what would be said in the future.
Christ’s ministry, however, is eternal and fulfills that which Moses spoke. And so Moses’ ministry is completed in Christ’s ministry. All of these things in verses 2-6 are arguments as to why we ought to consider Jesus, why we ought to hold fast to Jesus, why we not only to focus, but why we ought to continue to trust in Jesus alone. The author is giving us a variety of reasons as to why Jesus alone ought to be our hope. You may be in one of those places in your life right now which is a pleasant pasture. The Lord may have put you down in a green place right now. You may be experiencing some refreshment here that you haven’t experienced in a long time. Or you may be one of those hard places that the Lord puts us in from time to time. When we are in those hard places, it’s easier to fall out of love with the world and to desire to be with the Lord. When we are in those green places, sometimes you kind of start feeling like Peter and say, “Lord, could we set up a tabernacle here?” I don’t know where you are right now, but all of us need to remember our ultimate hope must always be placed in Christ alone for the hope that He has set before us. It is a future hope which is not now accomplished. It’s a heavenly hope and that phrase is used in this passage. Constantly, heavenly is contrasted to earthly here by the author of Hebrews. Not because he is spiritualizing life, but he is wanting us to remember that there is more to reality than the now.
Listen to these words: “The Christian future is a future of qualified optimism. God has given an assurance that right and love and grace will triumph and that one day all the evil that has ever been will be banished to hell. That is the foundation for the infinite optimism of the church. The triumph of right is guaranteed by the cross and resurrection of Christ. But the Christian hope also represents consolation. C. S. Lewis once said in the depths of his own bereavement, “Reality looked at steadily is unbearable.” There is no earthly comfort. That is why we need to look beyond the present reality, beyond earthly comfort, to that moment when God will wipe away all tears from our eyes.
It is quite wrong for the Christian to banish the consolations of God and try to live without hope, without the prospect of Heaven, without the assurance that God will one day wipe away the tears. Christ, Himself, endured because of the joy set before Him. And in the shadow of the cross, He found consolation in turning to God and asking, “Father, glorify Your Son that Your Son may glorify You.” I wouldn’t want to complain about the way it has been, goodness and mercy have followed me all the days of my life. But I would not live always. There is no earthly comfort, instead we set our hope fully on the grace to be given to us at the resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what the author of Hebrews is saying. Your focus must be on Christ. And the grace which is His and yours at His revelation. That is our hope and nothing else must take our eyes off of that hope or we have already begun the process of slipping away. And Christ will never fail to satisfy us. There are things in this life that sometimes feel like they satisfy us. And then in the light of the stark glaring intensity of the light of God, those things crumble in terms of their ability to satisfy. Rutherford once said, “Every day we may see some new thing in Christ. His love has neither brim nor bottom.” Christ will never fail to satisfy if we will keep our eyes on Him.
III. Christians must persevere in the faith.
One last thing. The author’s point culminates here in verse 6 is to call us to persevere in the faith. He wants us to contemplate what it means to continue in this new way of life. “Whose house we are if we hold fast our confidence and boast of our hope firm until the end.” Notice the stress here of the importance of continuing to hope, continuing to focus our faith only in Christ. That “if” is there, not to unsettle our assurance, but to make sure that we are neither resting our hope solely upon a past experience which has no relation to our present walking with Christ, our present faith in Him, nor to have started with Christ and shifted our faith to something else. the author’s “if” is not designed to unsettle our assurance, it is designed to make sure that our assurance is rightly grounded in Christ alone. We must not rely solely upon a past decision as an index of our present spiritual health. We must be able to answer the question, not simply “Have you trusted in Christ (past tense)?” but “Are you trusting in Christ?” That’s the question I want to know. And it is from that continued trusting in Christ that God piles up those evidences of the graces in his life that we use as a shield against the darts of the evil one as we can say, “Yes, I am a sinner and I deserve hell, but I am trusting in Jesus Christ.” Not just once, 20 years ago, I trusted in Him. Now I am trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ. This is what the author of Hebrews is calling us to. He is calling us to perseverance.
My brother, having listened to some of our sermons on tape, said, “Ligon, if you are going to quote Calvin and Rutherford regularly in sermons, then you need to quote Yogi Berra every once in a while.” And so he sent me a book entitled, “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said,” by Yogi Berra. Yogi Berra, for all of you who are not sports fans, was a famous catcher of the New York Yankees. He went on to manage in the major leagues and he is famous for Yogiasms. Saying things that don’t quite make sense when you look at them, but they seem to make sense when you hear them. Like the time the lady asked him if he wanted her to cut his pizza into eight pieces or four. And he said, “You had better cut it into four, I don’t think I can eat eight pieces.”
The Yogiasm that applies here is Yogi’s famous phrase, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Yogi said that when he was the manager of the New York Mets in 1973. They were nine games out with a few weeks to go before the end of the season and sports writers were asking him if the season was over. He responded, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” They came back and won their division that year. The author of Hebrews is asking us to think about that kind of perseverance. “It’s not over until it’s over.” He’s not interested in us making an original confession and then turning our backs on Christ. He wants us to continue to walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Alexander MacLaren said many years ago, “The root of that kind of perseverance is consecration to God.” Are our eyes on Christ? That’s where the author of Hebrews is pointing us tonight. Let’s look to the Lord in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we pray that You would show us Christ and that we would be satisfied with nothing else. Keep us from the siren call of the world. There are so many false objects of satisfaction offered to us and they seem enticing and even fulfilling sometimes. In the end they will leave us in ruins. Help us to embrace Christ alone in all His superiority and in all His glory. We ask it in Jesus name. Amen.
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