We are a desperate people. You see it everyday. People are searching. People are seeking. People are striving for something in this life, anything in this life to give them some sense of adequacy, some sense of purpose, some insightful information that can help them feel better about themselves. What can we do to make us feel more worthy, more secure, or more self-confident or self-assured?
Can we do enough good deeds so that we will finally feel fit for the Kingdom or will the thoughts of what we have failed to do continue to haunt us? Can we keep the Ten Commandments and go to bed snug and secure at night or will the hardness of our hearts continue to plague us? Can we give away all that we own, pledge our lives to poverty, and finally achieve the bliss that we long for in life? Can we sign-up for a cause, become an activist, and cross over the line of dissatisfaction and discontent into the land of peace and tranquility? Hardly.
The Scripture from the book of Hebrews that we will take a look at this morning addresses one of the biggest hurdles that people must overcome if we are going to trust in Jesus, truly trust in Jesus as our sufficiency, our adequacy, and our fulfillment in life. Let’s take a look at our Scripture and then we will look at how this Scripture applies to our lives today. Turn with me to Hebrews 13:7-9 and let’s read together.
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. (Hebrews 13:7-9 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews is drawing near to the close of his letter. As he approaches the end he encourages us to remember our leaders. Which leader is he referring to, which leaders would he like for us to remember? Is he talking about political leaders like Bill Clinton or George Bush or Governor Keating? How about cultural or business leaders like Oprah Winfrey or Martha Stewart or Bill Gates? Or pop icons like Bono, Brittany Spears, Nelly, or Rush Limbaugh? Hardly. We don’t need to wonder which leaders he is talking about because he comes right out and tells us in verse 7. Take another look with me.
7 Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.
The leaders that the writer of Hebrews wants us to remember are those who have done two things: They have spoken the Word of God to us and they have lived the life that they professed before us. Who are the leaders we are called to remember, to emulate, and to imitate their faith? It is quite simple – we are to remember those people who pointed us to Jesus and not themselves.
When I think about the “leaders” in my life that have made the biggest impact on me they are men and women who always pointed me to Jesus. They weren’t perfect by any means, but they were passionate in their efforts to nudge me towards the Lord. As a young guy just heading to college God used another young guy named John Doerner as an example for me.
I hadn’t really been to church too much, but the people that I knew who went to church and claimed to love Jesus were people that I didn’t really have anything in common with – I couldn’t really relate to them. When I met John there was something really different about him. John and I worked out together before my first summer of playing football in college. John was a great athlete, but football was just a small part of his life. John’s passion, his first priority in life was to live his life for the glory of God in everything he did. John knew God’s Word. He desired, more than anything in life, to live out God’s Word. His passion, his disciplined lifestyle, his devotion to the study of God’s Word was not to impress others around him, but to become more and more like Jesus. I had never known anyone like John. His sincerity, passion, and genuineness in his love for the Lord were so appealing to me.
As I have gotten older and met more and more Christians there have been others like John Doerner who have made a lasting impression on my life. My circle of mentors has grown immensely as I have learned from those around me and those who have gone before me that I never knew in this life, but who have left a lasting impact on my life. When I recall them I am drawn closer to the Lord, my faith is fortified, and my desire for the Lord grows.
I remember the passion of Charles Haddon Spurgeon who died studying his Bible and on his deathbed said, “If I lived seven lifetimes I could never exhaust the depths of God’s Word.” Oh, how I remember Pastor Spurgeon. I remember the boldness of Sojourner Truth, a woman born into slavery, who came to the Lord and heard the call to preach. When she was confronted by racist people in her community who warned her not to preach or they would burn the building down she said, “Then I will preach to the ashes!” Oh, how I remember Sojourner Truth! I remember the faith of George Mueller who took care of orphans and often faced days when there was no food to put on the table for the kids. When he would receive the news he would instruct his workers to call the kids to the table and lead them in prayer for the Lord to provide – and He did – He always did! Oh, how my faith is encouraged by George Mueller. I remember the conviction of Mother Theresa who stood to speak at the President’s National Prayer Breakfast and said, “All life is precious and God calls us to protect the lives of unborn children.” She knew that President Clinton, a staunch supporter of abortion and the most powerful man in the world, was sitting next to where she stood but she had to speak what God had put on her heart. I remember Mother Theresa!
I could go on and on with the long list of those who have stood for the cause of Christ, who have pointed others to the cross with no regard for their own lives and I am encouraged. I draw strength from their strong stands for the Kingdom of God when I remember their deep love for the Lord.
There is one thing that each and every one of these people had in common and that is their desire to point others to Jesus. They never wanted to take credit for anything good that came from their lives – it was all Jesus. It is leaders like this that we are called to remember and to imitate their faith as we seek to be used by God to touch the lives of others.
When we come to verse 8, it appears to be totally out of place. We are called to consider and remember those who have pointed us to the Lord and have sought to live their life by walking in the steps of Jesus, but then in verse 8 we read, 8 “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Many Bible commentators have much to say about this little verse, but I will tell you that the heart of the message for you and me is that though our leaders, our mentors, may have gone on to be with the Lord or may have moved to another city or state — Jesus Christ is still with us. He is present in the here and now. What He has accomplished in the past, on the cross, for our forgiveness and salvation is still effective today. He is now busy interceding for you and me and what we are going through now. He has promised to come again to take us home where we will circle the throne of grace and mercy and our hearts will overflow with heartfelt praise throughout all of eternity.
As we come to the ninth verse the writer of Hebrews writes about “strange teachings” that were going on in his day and are still going on today if we will just take the time to look around and consider what is being taught and believed in our society. Read along with me.
9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. (Hebrews 13:9 NIV)
There were many strange teachings that were drawing people’s attention away from the hope that rests in Christ alone. The writer of Hebrews is especially concerned about “ceremonial foods,” or food regulations, as he sits at his table and writes the letter. The great Bible teacher, Dr. F.F. Bruce, has written in his commentary on the book of Hebrews,
The strange teaching which laid such insistence on food was probably some form of syncretistic gnosis, perhaps with Essene or quasi-Essene affinities. This kind of thing was so widespread at the time that the vague allusion to it here (vague to modern readers, not to the original readers, who probably understood the allusion perfectly) provides no clue to the destination of the epistle. It was current in Asia Minor, we know; but even to the Roman Christians Paul judged it necessary to point out that “the Kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17 NIV) To put such indifferent matters in a place of central religious importance would diminish the sovereignty of Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever. (F.F. Bruce, The Epistle To The Hebrews, pg. 377)
Why did these folks become convinced that their eating or abstaining from certain foods would please God? What was it that caused these first century seekers to look beyond the cross of Jesus for the security and salvation they longed for in their hearts? That is a great question. This has been an age-old problem, a problem that was not only present in the first century, but is still with us today. Instead of trying to figure out why those who have gone before us looked for something more, maybe it would be better for us to ask, “What is it today that causes us to look for something more, something better than God’s absolute best for us?”
For many of us, we are looking for something tangible, something concrete that we can grab hold of so that we can evaluate how we are doing. If God were to give us three things to do everyday in order to be in good standing with Him then we could arrive at the end of the day, check our list, stick out our chest, throw back our shoulders and say, “I did it!” Therein lies the problem. The Bible teaches us that we can’t do it — never could and never will. Yet we keep trying.
Still there is another group who stands on their tiptoes to try and look beyond the cross for something more, maybe something more exciting that would provide euphoric feelings of accomplishment or release. What brings euphoria today brings boredom tomorrow. What is new and exciting today will lose its luster and sheen in the near future. In Christ, God has given His absolute best for you and me. Jesus is the only provision for our sins, the only hope for our restless hearts, the only source of salvation, and the only peace in this turbulent life full of heartache and disappointment.
One of the strange teachings that we see throughout the ages is the propensity to try and add something to what God has already done. These first century Jewish Christians would have agreed that Jesus died for our sins, but they had bought into the lie that they also had to keep the food laws to be right with God. To break things down in the most simple of phrases: Jesus + Good Works = Righteousness. The equation is all wrong. “Jesus + Anything = Error” because you can’t add anything to what God has done – His acts are perfect.
The writer of Hebrews was not the only one who battled this mindset among the followers of Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote extensively about this problem to his readers in Colosse and Corinth. Paul writes,
8But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. (1 Corinthians 8:8 NIV)
16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 NIV)
20Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: 21″Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? 22These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. 23Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Colossians 2:20-23 NIV)
The idea that abstaining from certain foods or eating certain foods would please God is rooted in the Old Testament book of Leviticus where God gave His people the dietary laws. The food laws were good, but they pointed beyond themselves to the reality of sufficiency and salvation that is found in Jesus. Many Orthodox Jewish people are still practicing these food requirements today. In The Tennessean newspaper, dated April 4, 2000 there was an article called, “Keeping Kosher Commits Followers To ‘God’s Diet.’” The article reads,
A few years ago, Sandra Hecklin overhauled her kitchen. And her relationship to God. Refurbishing the kitchen and the cooking equipment gave her family a chance to do something else too: Go kosher, embrace the dietary laws set out in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. “God’s diet,” some call it.
In the same article is a list of kosher food laws taken from Jewish Literacy by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. Let me give you a sampling of what one can and can not eat.
o Kosher meat is limited to animals that have cloven hooves and chew their cud. The most commonly eaten kosher animals are cow and lamb. Forbidden meats include pig and rabbit.
o Kosher meat can only come from animals killed in a certain way — with one quick stroke against the throat to minimize suffering.
o Jews are forbidden to kill animals through hunting. This method of slaughter automatically renders an animal unkosher.
o Genesis 9:4 forbids consuming an animal’s blood. This law is for everyone, not just Jews.
o The only kosher fish have fins and scales. All shellfish are forbidden. Some Jewish branches disagree over whether sturgeon and swordfish qualify as kosher. Do their scales qualify under Jewish law? Orthodox Jews say no, Conservative Jews say yes.
o Birds that prey on other birds are forbidden. Permitted birds include chicken, turkey and duck.
o It is forbidden to prepare meat and milk products together, or eat meat and milk during the same meal. Kosher homes have two sets of dishes and silverware, one for meat, one for dairy.
o Since meat takes a long time to digest, a person should wait a designated period after eating meat before ingesting milk products. According to tradition, Dutch Jews wait one hour, while German Jews wait three. In most of Europe, rabbis insist on a six-hour wait.
If God gave the Law then why shouldn’t we still carry it out? That is a great question, a question that needs to be asked and answered. In Galatians 3:21,24 we read,
Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law….Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:21,24)
The law was never meant to impart life to you and me – the Law was meant to usher us to the One who can impart life, even eternal life. It is in Jesus that we learn that we are justified by faith and not by what we have done, not by our good works. This justification by faith flies in the face of all religions in the world that teach that we are made right with God by what we do. So many of the cults and world religions teach that you must be a little better than you are, do a little more than you are doing, and give a little more than you are giving if you really want to “earn” your salvation. Genuine followers of Jesus want to do more, be better, and give more but for totally different reasons. Because of what God has freely done for us through His Son Jesus our most natural response is to completely surrender our lives to Him – not because we can earn anything, but because God has so freely given to us what we did not deserve. Compare this biblical teaching of “grace” with the mandate to work issued to all Jehovah’s Witnesses. Lorri MacGregor writes,
…the prospective Jehovah’s Witness begins on a course of working out his own salvation by attending five meetings a week, going door-to-door in the “preaching work” (obtaining donations for the Watchtower Society in exchange for literature), underlining his Watchtower magazine for Sunday meetings, and generally developing “clone” characteristics. He learns to listen to the same message over and over again at the Kingdom Hall and other studies. His dreary life as a Watchtower drone becomes one of endless striving to be good enough, to do enough, to meet all the requirements for salvation. Stress levels are deliberately kept high. It is important that he never slacks off because Armageddon could arrive at any moment and Jehovah God will check his record of field service and meeting attendance (which he must report each week) to see if he is worthy. Jehovah’s Witnesses are warned that if the end of the world should come when one is deliberately “goofing off” (relaxing) or enjoying a weekend with his family rather than working the streets, he could lose it all! Years of faithfulness don’t count-just present activities. This dark thought spoils any carefree time he might carve out for himself. Guilt trips are very big at the Kingdom Hall. Salvation is conditional, and uncertain. (Lorri MacGregor, “When Does A Jehovah’s Witness Actually Get “Saved?”)
Make your list and check it twice to ensure that you are okay with God. There is absolutely no evidence in God’s Word for that belief. The Bible teaches us that our sin separates us from God, our sin taints everything we do, and that God has loved us anyway. As a matter of fact, He has loved us so much that He determined that His Son would pay the price for our sin – a price that we were unable to pay. Paul wrote to the Romans and said,
28For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. (Romans 3:28 NIV)
1Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. (Romans 5:1-2 NIV)
30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the “stumbling stone.” 33 As it is written: “See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 1 Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. 2 For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. 3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. (Romans 9:30-10:4 NIV)
Paul said that Christ is the end of the Law so that there might be righteousness for everyone who believes. Do you believe that God has done for you what you couldn’t do for yourself in Jesus’ death upon the cross? If you do then God’s Word says that you are justified by faith. We have had such a difficult time with trusting that what God has done is sufficient that we have come up with all kinds of strange theologies, strange beliefs to help us deal with the unrest of our soul. God’s Word says,
3For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 NIV)
Let me share with you some of the strange teachings that I have run across this past week as I was studying this section of Scripture. First of all, from the “RawHealth.net” website I have discovered the modern-day “God diet” and learned that Jesus didn’t allow anyone to be a disciple of His unless they were vegetarians. Let me read to you.
In this article I will describe the Essene Friutarian Diet practiced and advocated by Jesus Christ. While it is true that Jesus only required basic vegetarianism — no meat — to become a baptized disciple, it is also true that he strongly encouraged those who were able and willing to go on to become Essene Fruitarians. THE LAW OF GOD FOR THE HUMAN DIET IS EXPRESSED IN THE FOLLOWING WORDS FOUND IN BOTH THE MAINLINE BIBLE AND THE ESSENE BIBLE: GOD said,”I give YOU all the seed-bearing plants that are upon the earth, and all the trees with seed bearing fruit; this shall be your food.” (Genesis 1:29) Certainly, Christian and Jewish Bible readers are familiar with this law of God for the human diet. But not only Christians and Jews are responsible for implementing this dietary injunction; for the Bible — both Essene and mainline versions — declares that God has engraved his law upon our hearts. In other words, encoded into our hearts, minds, consciences, and digestive anatomy, is the dietary injunction of God. (www.rawhealth.net/jesusdiet.htm)
Secondly, from the “Jesus-diet.com” website comes an interesting biblical “truth” that I was totally unaware of before this past week. Maybe some of you know the verse Jesus spoke, 38 “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” I will assure you that you’ve never thought what I am about to read to you when you have read that verse. “Jesus-diet.com” – here we go.
The life (“life-force”) of the flesh is in the blood, and as urine comes from the blood, it contains that life-force…Urine is a medicinal, cleansing, and nourishing food… with a surprising ability to cure an amazing variety of ills… which has been scientifically-proven, and medically-documented. “If you believe in me, you will never thirst.” “Rivers of living water shall flow from your bellies.” – Jesus (in John 7:38) (www.jesus-diet.com)
Although this is an extreme example of “strange teachings,” it is a powerful demonstration of what all of the erroneous teaching includes – taking Scripture and putting a twist on it. Let me assure you that when Jesus spoke about “rivers of living water flowing will flow from you,” He never had urine in mind.
These are just a couple of examples, really extreme examples, of how strange teachings, credited to Jesus can easily lead others astray. How are we so easily led astray? Great question. We are being led astray and believing things that are contradictory to God’s Word because we are lazy in our study of God’s Word. We don’t think, we don’t study, we don’t go out of our way to get together with other believers who are more mature in their faith than we are so that we can grow in our walk with God and the understanding of His will for our lives. Let me close with this:
False ideas are the greatest obstacles to the reception of the gospel…. Our churches are filled with Christians who are idling in intellectual neutral. As Christians, their minds are going to waste. One result of this is an immature, superficial faith…. Intellectual impoverishment with respect to one’s faith can thus lead to spiritual impoverishment as well. But the results of being in intellectual neutral extend far beyond one’s self. If Christian laymen don’t become intellectually engaged, then we are in serious danger of losing our children. In high school and college Christian teenagers are intellectually assaulted on every hand by a barrage of anti-Christian philosophies and attitudes. As I speak in churches around the country, I continually meet parents whose children have left the faith because there was no one in the church to answer their questions. For the sake of our youth, we desperately need informed parents who are equipped to wrestle with the issues at an intellectual level. (J.Gresham Machen)
What about you? I know there have been those in your life who have exhibited genuine Christian faith, an absolute trust in the sufficiency of Jesus alone, before your eyes. What are you doing with that foundation? Have you made a decision to accept Christ as your Lord and Savior or are you designing your own beliefs? Are you diligently studying God’s Word on a daily basis? Are you sitting down with other believers to study God’s Word? If not, why not? I will assure you that if you are not engaged in a disciplined study of God’s Word then you are going to find yourself out in left field sooner or later.
If you have never accepted Jesus as Lord of your life then won’t you make that decision this morning? Don’t wait another day, let Christ come in and begin to transform your life as He shows you that He is sufficient in every way.