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Promise + Oath = Hope

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on May 5, 2013

Hebrews 6:13-20

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The Lord's Day Morning

May 5, 2013

“Promise + Oath = Hope”
Hebrews 6:13-20

The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I'd ask you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 6 as we continue our way through this book together.В We’re going to be looking at verses 13 to 20 today.В If you remember, last week we were looking at Hebrews 6 verses 4 to 8, a chilling passage in which the author makes a very clear and powerful warning against turning our backs on Jesus, ceasing to trust in Jesus alone for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel, falling away from, deserting our original profession of faith in Christ.В But immediately, beginning in verses 9 to 12, he starts to encourage the larger congregation.В It's very clear that his desire is not to undermine the assurance of true believers, but in fact to warn those who are tempted to turn their backs on Jesus.В And so if you look at verses 9 to 12, one of the things that he immediately does is he says to the larger congregation, “I expect better things from you.В I don't expect you to turn your backs on Jesus.В I don't expect you to apostatize from your profession of faith in Christ.В In fact, I see evidences of God's grace at work in your life.”В One of them that he mentions is the way that they love one another, the way they care for one another as a congregation.В He says that's an indication that God the Holy Spirit is at work with real grace in your life just the way that you care for one another, the way that you love one another.В And so he comforts that part of the congregation that might be unsettled by his warning by pointing to evidences of grace.В

But in the passage today, he's going to talk to us about what the very foundations of our assurance are.В His concern is for us not to locate assurance in ourselves or in our circumstances, but especially to locate it in what God says is its foundation.В And that's what he's going to address in this passage today.В So before we read God's Word, let's pray and ask for His help and blessing.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word.В We need it; we need every word that comes from Your mouth.В We don't live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.В And we especially need this word and we need Your Holy Spirit to apply it in all of the different ways that each and every one of us here and in the hearing of this Word need this truth in our lives.В So we ask that You would do this, in Jesus' name, amen.

This is the Word of God.В Hear it in Hebrews chapter 6 beginning in 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.’В And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.В For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.В 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.В 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.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.В May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

God wants us to have assurance.В God wants Christians to have a firm and certain assurance of our hope.В God wants His children to know that they are safe and secure in His love.В I think that's, by the way, one of the proofs of the inspiration of Scripture.В How would merely humans, dozens of them, writing this book over a period of fifteen hundred years, from thirty-five hundred years ago to two thousand years ago, have known that my soul would need to be repeatedly assured of God's love and His purposes for me?В How would they have known that?В It's one of the testimonies that this book is inspired of God that He so often addresses the issue of assurance.В He knows the weakness of our faith and He knows the difficulties of our lives, and both of those things are challenges to Christian assurance.

You know there are some people who are temperamentally inclined to and vulnerable to struggles with assurance.В Some of the godliest people that I've ever known, people that know their Bibles, who can explain the Gospel as well as any evangelist, who trusts in Jesus Christ and whose lives bear all sorts of evidences of God's grace, I've met them, I've met them by the dozens, can struggle with assurance.В And oftentimes I'm sitting there having a conversation with them and I'm thinking - this is the bubble above my head - “She's a better Christian than I am she she's struggling with her assurance?”В There are some people that are temperamentally inclined to struggle with assurance and God knows that.В And so He spends a lot of time in the Word giving us assurances of His love so that we are grounded in a firm and certain hope.В He doesn't want us to wander in this world wondering, “He loves me.В He loves me not.”В That's not how God wants us to live.

On the other hand, there are certain circumstances in our lives that can cause us to struggle with assurance.В You know, we can find ourselves in situations where we say, “I didn't see that coming, Lord.В I didn't know I was going to have to deal with that.В Maybe the Lord doesn't love me because that happened.”В Or, sometimes it's, “Lord, I didn't know, I didn't know it was going to be like this.В I didn't know the Christian life was going to be this way.В I didn't know that I was going to struggle with chronic illness.В I didn't know that I was going to bury a daughter and her children.В I didn't know I was going to deal with marital infidelity.В I didn't know I was going to have to rear children on my own.В I didn't know that I was going to struggle with depression for year after year after year, and I've never gotten relief.В I didn't know that vocation was going to be a problem for me for much of my life.В I didn't know that my children would betray me.В I didn't know that it was going to be so hard to care for my parents.В It's been twenty years now that I've been caring for mom and she's hard to care for.”В And sometimes the sheer weariness of those experiences wear us down.В

We actually sang about that in one of the hymns.В Did you catch that in “O Quickly Come, Dread Judge of All”?В One of the reasons the author of that hymn says we pray, “Lord Jesus, come quickly,” is because our souls are worn down sometimes with weariness.В And it causes struggles with assurance.В And God in His kindness, in His Fatherly pastoral care for us, spends a lot of time addressing this issue of the assurance of our hope precisely because He knows some of us inclined to struggles with assurance and others of us, we're just in very hard places in life.В And if our assurance comes from our circumstances, it's not going to come at all.В And if our assurance is based, is grounded, in us, it's not going to come at all.В And so in this passage he's addressing precisely this issue because God wants us to have assurance.В Those who trust in Christ, God wants you to be assured of His love and He wants you to be assured of your hope.В How does that happen?В This passage tells you.В And I'd like you to see three things with me in this passage this morning.


First of all, look at verses 13 to 15.В In this section, the author of Hebrews takes us way back to Genesis chapter 22.В Now Genesis chapter 12 is where God makes His promise to Abraham and calls him out of Ur of the Chaldeans.В Genesis 15 is where He makes His covenant with Abraham.В Genesis 17 is where He gives circumcision as a sign of that covenant.В Genesis 22 is where He calls on Abraham to take Isaac, his only son, his beloved son, and take him to Mount Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice.В And these verses have that passage as their backdrop because he is going to quote from Genesis 22 verses 16 and 17 right in the middle of this passage in verse 14.В He says, “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.’”В Now what he's doing is he's reminding you of the way that God assured Abraham.В And he's saying, “Look at what God did in order to assure Abraham.В He took an oath.В He swore an oath to Abraham.”В

Think of that scene, my friends.В Abraham has been waiting decades to have a son of his own.В Ishmael was not that son; Ishmael was not born to Abraham and to Sarah.В And God makes it clear in Genesis 17 that the promised seed that God had made to Abraham back in Genesis 12 is going to come from Sarah's body, even though she's nine decades into life.В And so Isaac's finally been born.В And how old is he?В I don't know - eight, nine?В Twelve, thirteen?В He's a young boy and God says, “Now Abraham, now that you've been waiting decades to finally have a boy who's going to be your heir, I want you to take him to a mountain in the land of Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice to Me.”В And when he gets to the top of that mountain, as he lifts the knife to plunge it into the body of his son, the angel of the Lord calls out and says, “Abraham, do not touch that boy!”В And a ram caught in the thicket is substituted for Isaac and Isaac is spared.В And in the very wake of that substitution of that provision of God, the angel of the Lord says again the words of God, “Abraham, I swear I will multiply you and bless you.В I promise.В I take an oath.В I swear My oath to you that I will fulfill the promises that I've made to you.”В And the author of Hebrews wants us to remember that and realize that the way that God assured Abraham was in the context of that miraculous deliverance, swearing an oath to him.

Now that's stunning, isn't it?В Because human beings swear oaths because we're untrustworthy.В That's why we have to take oaths - because we lie!В And God doesn't lie.В And yet because Abraham's faith is weak, God is willing to stand up on the witness stand and take an oath.В So God stoops to swear an oath to Abraham in order that he can be assured of the promise.В And what the author of Hebrews is saying is this - Christian, you understand that it's not just to Abraham that God has sworn an oath; it is to you.В If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you are, the apostle Paul says, Galatians chapter 3, you are, the apostle Peter says, Acts chapter 2, you are, Luke says, Luke 22, Acts chapter 1, you are the heir of God's promise to Abraham.В So that oath that God swore to Abraham, guess what, believer?В He swore it to you.В God stooped to take an oath because He was so concerned that you would be able to believe His promise, that you would be assured of His love and of His purposes, that you would have a hope that could not be taken away from you in the midst of all the hard things that you face in your life.В God swore an oath to you.В And the author of Hebrews is reminding you of that event in Genesis 22 because God has sworn an oath to you.В That's how much God wants you to have assurance.В He's willing to take an oath.

Now here's the second thing.В Look at verses 16 to 18.В Here, the author of Hebrews is going to tell you what the two-fold ground of your hope is.В It's not in you, it's not in your circumstance; it's in something else.В Look at what he says.В “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.В 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.”В Now humans swear oaths because humans lie. The reason that we put our hands on a Bible and hold our hand up in a courtroom and say, “I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God,” is we are acknowledging a higher accountability to tell the truth because we know our inclinations.В And we when we think our hide is on the line, what are we tempted to do?В We’re tempted to lie.В And so we swear a higher accountability, “So help me, God.”В Why are there seals and official symbols in courtrooms - the seal of the city, the seal of the county, the seal of the state, the seal of the federal government?В Because it indicates a higher accountability.В This isn't just some people together having a conversation.В This is you, representatively, before that judge.В And what does he represent?В He represents either the city or the county or the state or the nation.В And the whole thing is designed to create a solemn environment in which you realize your obligation to tell the truth.В

Well God doesn't have a problem with lying.В So why is He taking an oath?В Not because His word is weak but because our faith is weak.В God knows that we struggle with believing His promises and so He says, “Child, I know that it's hard for you to believe My Word so here's what I'm going to do:В In addition to My promise, I'm going to swear an oath to you.”В That's the two inviolable things that he's talking about in this passage.В In other words, notice what God is doing.В He's relocating your hope.В He's relocating your hope from circumstances, from something in you, and He's relocating it to what?В To His promise and His oath.В This is hugely important.В You know, when we go through crisis moments in our lives, we often call out to God and we do put our trust in God and then things get better and what happens?В We start to get comfortable again and we start to put our hope in the comfortable circumstances in which we now find ourselves.В And then trouble comes again and that hope disappears.В And here's what God is doing.В He's lifting up that hope out of the shifting sands of circumstance and He's plopping it right down in the middle of something that will not change.В And the only thing that will not change is Him.В It's His Word.В It's His promise.

Look at what He did in Genesis.В First He gave Abraham a promise, Genesis 12.В Then He gave Abraham a covenant, Genesis 15.В Then He gave Abraham a covenant sign, Genesis 17.В Then He swore an oath to Abraham, Genesis 22.В Over and over, what is God saying?В “Abraham, sure, you’re a hundred and Sarah's ninety.В You’re still going to have children.В Don't put a lot of hope in those circumstances.В Put your hope in My promise, My oath, My covenant.”В He's relocating the hope of Abraham and that's exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying to you and me.В If you want to have assurance of your hope, your hope has got to be in the Lord, it's got to be in His Word, it's got to be in His promise.В The true ground of assurance is in God.В It's in His promise, His covenant, His oath.В And you need to ask yourself this morning, “Is that where my hope really is?”В Crises come in the Christian life when people profess to be Christians but their hope is somewhere else other than the Lord.В When their real hope is not in the Lord, that's when crises come in the Christian life.В And the author of Hebrews is simply saying, “You want to have assurance?” - and God wants you to have assurance, believer.В Your hope has got to be in the Lord and His promise and His oath.

And then you see in verses 19 and 20 the way he applies this particular truth.В He tells you that Christian hope stabilizes the soul.В “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.”В In other words, the author of Hebrews is saying, “If you understand that in order for you to be assured, God has condescended to swear an oath to you, and if you understand that your hope is not in you and it's not in your circumstances it's in Him and it's in His promise and in that oath that He swore, then you will have a hope that will hold.”В

I love this passage because it mixes metaphors - anchor and holy of holies.В What's behind that curtain that he talks about here?В That's the holy of holies.В What is that?В That's the place that represents the presence of God with His people.В And he says, “When you dropped anchor, where did it end up?”В You know if you drop anchor, you’re thinking, “Okay, it's at least the lake.В It's not the Gulf; it's not an ocean somewhere.В That's normally where you drop anchor.”В But you drop this anchor and it ends up in the holy of holies!В And not just in the earthly holy of holies but in the heavenly holy of holies that Jesus has already passed into.В In other words, he's saying, “If you put your trust in God's faith and promise, let me tell you where your anchor lands.В It lands right in the presence of God.В And Jesus has gone there before you and sooner or later He's going to pull you on in with Him because your hope is anchored in the very presence of God.В And so it will hold no matter what.”В That's what the author of Hebrews saying.В He's saying, “Your hope is based on the fact that God has made a promise to you.В The same promise, if you’re a believer, the same promise that He made to Abraham.В And He has given His Son as the pledge for the fulfillment of that promise.В And so you can be certain that your anchor will hold.”В

We’ll sing it in just a few moments in verse 25 in song 521.В “His oath His covenant His blood, support me in the overwhelming flood.В When all around my soul gives way, He then is all my hope and stay.”В That song, you’re going to see, is built around this passage.В Over and over, lines and thoughts and ideas out of Hebrews 6, come up in that great hymn, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”В But this, you’ll find this throughout the hymnbook.В That's one reason why you need to go to Boopie Beard and you need to buy a copy of the hymnbook for yourself and you need to take it home and you need to use it for your devotions and you need to memorize it.В And when you’re singing them, Sunday morning, Sunday evening, Wednesday night, work on memorizing those hymns.В Let me give you an example.В Turn with me to number 670.В Here's a hymn that is talking about this exact theme.В Look at stanza 1 of “If Thou But Suffer God to Guide Thee.”В “If thou but suffer God to guide thee” - that's beautiful language and it just means this.В When you are in a hard place, if you will just trust God to guide you and hope in Him through all your ways, “He will give you strength whatever betides you,” whatever happens, “and bear you through the evil days.”В And then I love this concluding line of the first stanza.В “To trust in God's unchanging love, builds on the rock that nothing can move.”В Your circumstances will move, your faith will ebb and flow, wax and wane.В God's unchanging love will not.В God's promise will not; God's oath will not.В And then look at the last stanza.В “Sing, pray, and keep His ways unswerving, so do thine own part faithfully, and trust His Word; though undeserving, you shall yet find it true for you.”В And then this line.В “God never yet forsook at need, the soul that trusted Him indeed.”В You will find the ideas of Hebrews 6:13-20 scattered throughout your hymnal.

And the author is simply saying this.В “Christian, are you temperamentally inclined to struggle with an assurance of your hope or is it just the condition of your life that's making it really hard right now for you to believe?В Either case, or both, if you will trust His oath, His covenant, andВ blood, you will find that they will support you in the overwhelming flood and you will find that they are a foundation that cannot be moved.”В God wants us to be assured, brothers and sisters.В It's one of the things that gives us energy for the fight because we're in a fight; we're in a fight to the death.В And many of us will die in that fight to the death, but Jesus lives and so shall we.В And to have assurance of that enables you to face even death with hope.В Let's pray.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your Word.В Grant to all who trust in Jesus this kind of firm and certain and unshakable assurance of hope.В We ask this in Jesus' name, amen.

Turn with me to number 521 and let's sing, “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.”

And now may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God our Father and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all, now and forevermore.В Amen.

© First Presbyterian Church.

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