A man set out on a trip from Oklahoma City to Denver. He had never been to Denver before, but to prepare for his trip he decided to do his homework. He searched the Internet and found the most popular sightseeing spots, restaurants, and the cheapest motels. He viewed pictures of popular places like Coors Field, Red Rocks, the Rocky Mountains, and the downtown area. He had sent away for brochures and tourist information so that he could have a good idea of the lay of the land. He visited AAA to get his map and chart his travel route. When the day of his departure arrived he had a folder with all of the pertinent information neatly arranged in the seat next to him. As he drove down the road he saw things that were familiar to him because of his research. He saw signs that read, “Amarillo” and “New Mexico State Line,” and “Albuquerque.” Even though he didn’t see the mountains or any sign that said, “Denver,” the man wasn’t a bit distraught because he knew that these signs he was seeing were pointing him to his final destination. He kept to his route and suddenly out of nowhere he saw a sign. Hanging over the road the sign read “Denver: 150 miles.” He looked around, but there were no mountains like he had seen in the brochure. He kept driving believing in his heart that the signs were pointing him to the city where he would enjoy all of the plans that he had made.
Driving down the highway he saw the sign that read, “Denver City Limits” and he knew that he had arrived. Pictures that he had seen on the Internet, and in brochures, sprung to life as he saw them in person for the very first time in his life. The mountains were bigger, more majestic, that anything he had ever dreamed. When he stepped foot onto the baseball field and looked into the stands, he was overwhelmed with how much larger things looked than in the brochure.
The man was so glad that he hadn’t stopped when he had seen that first sign that read, “Denver: 150 miles.” If he would have stopped at the sign then he would have had to resort to reading the information about his destination instead of truly experiencing it. He thought to himself, “If I had only settled for the signs I would have never known the reality of the beauty and majesty of mountains, I would have never heard the crack of the bat or watched the ball sail into the stands, and I would have never had a chance to ride the trolley through the streets of downtown. I’m so glad I made the journey beyond the signs, slogans, and symbols to the city itself!”
That may sound like ridiculous scenario to you and me. I mean who would ever spend their vacation reading all of the tourist information from a roadside park announcing that the city was just down the road? And yet this is precisely what the writer of Hebrews was warning the early Church of when he wrote to them in Hebrews 6:1-8.
Last week we worked our way through the big debate that has raged throughout the centuries – “Can a follower of Jesus lose their salvation? Can I fall away from the Hand of Grace that holds me?” The debate is basically rooted in two different interpretations of this Scripture by two different doctrinal camps: the Calvinist, whose leader was John Calvin, and the Armenians, who are the followers of a guy named Jacob Armenius. I am not going to take the time to retrace those two different interpretations this morning since we spent our entire study time last week taking a look at them and coming to the conclusion, based upon God’s Word, that salvation is the work of God, that God will not lose even one person that He has saved. The real issue is, “Have you truly been saved by God and the sacrificial death of His Son offered for the complete forgiveness of our sins?”
I told you last week that we would spend our time in the next study taking a look at the six aspects of the signs of the coming Messiah given under the Old Covenant and the five advantages that God had given to His people, the Jewish nation. We will not have time this morning to do both so we will focus on the six basic aspects of Judaism that God gave to serve as signposts to help the Jews recognize the Promised Messiah.
The six signs that God had given to the people under the Old Covenant were signposts to point them to the Messiah when He would arrive. When you are driving down the highway and you get hungry, you begin to look for signs of food. As you approach a town there might be a sign on the side of the road that has four or five signs of the restaurants that are available at that particular exit. There are the Golden Arches, Burger King, and an Arby’s logo painted on a sign beside the road, but nobody in their right mind would dare pull over to the side of the road where the sign is located and place their order. We know that the sign points us to the reality. You have to go beyond the sign if you want to feast of the food.
If you plan a trip to Six Flags and begin your journey here in Oklahoma City you will travel down Interstate 35 all the way beyond Denton where the road splits in two – one road goes to Dallas and the other goes to Ft. Worth. As you make your turn onto the Ft. Worth exit you might see a billboard announcing the most awesome amusement park in the world – Six Flags Over Texas. There is lots of color, big pictures of roller coasters, smiling faces, and splashes of water spilling over the edges of the billboard. The billboard is not Six Flags. I will assure you that if you pull over to the side of the road directly underneath the Six Flags billboard and announce to the kids, “We’re here! Get out and have some fun!” – they will be sorely disappointed at the end of the day. The sign is not Six Flags; it only points us to Six Flags!
Just as the signs for restaurants and amusement parks will never give you the full experience of having visited them, so the signs of the coming Messiah will never give you the full benefit of actually knowing Him. The writer of Hebrews is urging us to move beyond the signs to the Savior. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for today found in Hebrews 6:1-8.
1Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, 2instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3And God permitting, we will do so. 4It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. 7Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. 8But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. (Hebrews 6:1-8 NIV)
In this Scripture we see the six signs and the five advantages that God had given to His people, the Jewish nation that He had called from bondage into His Promised Land. Let’s take a look this morning at the six signs given by God under the Old Covenant.
Remember that we need to always keep before us this fact, as we read the Scriptures, we need to know the audience, the context in which the teaching is being offered. The writer of Hebrews tells us that we are to leave the “elementary teachings of Christ and go on to maturity.” Does he mean that we should forget about the basic teachings of our faith and go on to some mystical, deeper understandings about Jesus? Are Shirley MacLaine and the modern-day palm readers and spiritual advisors right about there being more to our spiritual life than what the Bible teaches? Absolutely not.
When you really take a look at our Scripture for today you can see that the writer of Hebrews is writing a letter to a congregation of Jewish folks. The book of Hebrews is the most Jewish book in the New Testament. The church was filled with Jews – some believers, some fascinated and curious, and others who were clinging to their Judaism. The “elementary teachings” that he is writing about are not Christianity 101, they are the signposts that God offered through the Old Covenant in the Old Testament. Let’s look at each of them.
First, the repentance from dead works. What are the “dead works” that he tells us to move beyond? I can tell you what “dead works” we need to move beyond today. It is going to Sunday school and worship and yet remaining unfazed by the lessons from Scripture God is trying to teach us. It is coming to the Lord’s Table and eating the bread and drinking the cup as a snack and not as a reminder of the sacrifice offered by our Lord. It is hearing the sermon or a Bible lesson as a lecture rather than the life-giving Word of God. It is coming to the Lord’s Supper and throwing down the juice and bread so that we can catch up on the latest gossip with our neighbor while the organ plays. It is studying God’s Word as a textbook, but not seeing its words as having anything to do with our own personal lives. We are to go beyond these dead works to the life giving intimacy that is found only in a relationship with Jesus.
The dead works that he is speaking about to his congregation are quite easy to understand if we will interpret Scripture with Scripture. He uses a unique phrase here in Hebrews 6, to get his point across. The phrase, “nekrw/n e;rgwn” (nekron ergon), is translated “dead works.” The phrase is made up of two Greek words, “nekro,j” (nekros), which means “dead, no longer physically alive dead, lifeless, what is of no benefit morally or spiritually, utterly useless, or completely ineffective.” The second word in the phrase is, “e;rgon” (ergon), which means “work, anything done or to be done, a deed, action, anything brought about as the product of an action or process, workmanship, accomplishment, in contrast to faith.” What is interesting about this phrase is that it is used in only one other place in the New Testament. Listen to this powerful Scripture found in Hebrews 9:13-14 and see if you can figure out what “dead works” are and how we can move beyond them.
13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13-14 NIV)
“Acts that lead to death” and “dead works” are the identical phrases in Greek. We are to turn from keeping the Law and serve God with a heart that has been cleansed by the blood of our Savior’s sacrifice. We serve God in freedom today, not constrained by the Law, but freed by the Lord to love Him, serve Him, and give our lives for Him in selfless service.
Secondly, the writer lists, “Faith toward God.” Why in the world would the writer of Hebrews tell us to move beyond “faith toward God?” Isn’t faith in God what is most important for you and me today? That is what some in our society would tell us today, but God’s Word gives us better counsel.
I remember when I was in Seminary, I was often told that my theology was too “Christocentric.” Now you need to know that this means nothing more than putting too much of an emphasis on Jesus and not enough emphasis on God. That same criticism of me is still around today on seminary campuses all over the country. We need to emphasize “God” and downplay “Jesus.” Why would Bible teachers encourage us to do such a thing? Great question! I can give you the reason. The reason is because God is more palatable to a wider audience. Muslims believe in God. Jews believe in God. Christians believe in God. Many people of others faiths believe in God, but when you mention Jesus then division comes about. Muslims believe Jesus was a good man, but He wasn’t God. Jews don’t believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus is the stopping point in our discussion and dialogue with people of other faiths so we must talk more about God and leave Jesus out of the discussion.
The writer of Hebrews tells us to move beyond “faith toward God.” Let’s look at some Scripture to see what we are to move toward.
Paul wrote in the book of Acts,
21 I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. (Acts 20:21 NIV)
Paul urged the people to turn to God in repentance and then put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – the one who is God with us. Jesus Himself spoke quite clearly about how central He is in our efforts to have a relationship with God. Jesus said in John 14:6,
6Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6 NIV)
Once again, the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians and educated them about the person of Jesus, and God’s placing Him as preeminent over all of creation as Lord and King. Paul writes,
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:9-11 NIV)
We must believe God — that He has come to us in Jesus. That He has provided for us through Jesus. That He calls us to place our faith in Jesus and Jesus alone!
The third sign given to the people under the Old Covenant is the “instruction about washings.” Some have taken this section of Hebrews 6 to mean that we need to move beyond our baptism, but those who would say such a thing do not understand the Old Testament. The word used for “washings” in the verse is a different Greek word than the word used for “baptism” in the New Testament. The word that we find here is, “baptismo,j” (baptismos), which means, “washing, to wash (in some contexts, possibly by dipping into water), with a view to making objects ritually acceptable – to purify.”
In the Old Testament there were ritual “washings” for everything under the sun. When the High Priest went into service he had to wash his hands and feet. The people had to wash their hands before they ate a meal. Mark gives us a good idea of how important it was to the Jews to adhere to the ceremonial washings and how Jesus scolded them for holding onto empty practices while neglecting the things of God. In Mark 7, we read,
1The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3(The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.) 5 So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with unclean’ hands?” 6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ 8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” (Mark 7:1-8 NIV)
Washing a person’s hands before they ate a meal may have cleaned their hands, but it sure didn’t clean their hearts. All of the ritual washings that the Jews practiced couldn’t wash the sin away, but God promised that one day He would wash them, He would cleanse them, and He would take care of their sin. Way back in Ezekiel 36 we read,
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God. 29 I will save you from all your uncleanness. (Ezekiel 36:25-28 NIV)
God gave the practice of ritual washings to His people so that they would know when the real cleansing came to visit them in Jesus. It is not the washing of our hands or feet that make us clean, but the washing of our hearts by the blood of the Lamb that cleanses us. John tells us, the book of Revelation, about those who have truly been cleansed when he writes,
13Then one of the elders asked me, “These in white robes-who are they, and where did they come from?” 14 I answered, “Sir, you know.” And he said, “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, “they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:13-17 NIV)
What a day that will be! Those who are cleansed in the life-giving fountain of the blood of the Lamb will be spotless, without blemish or defect. Ivory soap can’t do it. Irish Spring can’t get the job done. Lava can rub the skin right off of your hands, but it can’t remove the sin from your hearts. The only cleansing that can wash us clean and pure is the precious blood of the Lamb who was slain for our forgiveness!
The fourth sign of the Old Covenant is the “laying on of hands.” We are use to seeing people “lay hands” on those who are sick or are going through a rough time and pray for them, but the Jewish congregation who read these words knew that this was not what was being talked about in this passage of Scripture. In the Old Testament, “laying on of hands” had everything to do with identifying with the sacrifice that you were offering for your sins. In Leviticus we read,
3″‘If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. 4He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. (Leviticus 1:3-4 NIV)
There are many passages in the Old Testament that speak about this practice. The priest would lay his hands on the sacrifice as a sign that the sins of the people were being transferred to the sacrifice. Here in Hebrews the people are being urged to move beyond the practice of laying hands on the animal to be offered and having the hands of healing and forgiveness laid upon us. John Mac Arthur says in his commentary on Hebrews,
Our identification with Jesus Christ does not come by putting our hands on Him; it comes by the Spirit’s baptizing us into union with Him by faith. ‘Forget the teaching about laying hands on the Temple sacrifices,’ the writer is telling these immature Jews. ‘Lay hold of Christ by putting your trust in Him.’ (pg. 140)
Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb, the Lamb of God offered for our sins. We are called to lay hold of Him through faith.
The fifth sign given under the Old Covenant is “resurrection from the dead.” Resurrection in the Old Testament is present, but not prominent. There are great Scriptures in Isaiah and Daniel that speak about resurrection, but the number of times “resurrection” is talked about is minimal. In Isaiah we read,
19 But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead. (Isaiah 26:19 NIV)
In Daniel, the people who have been going through great difficulties are given the assurance by God that though they may die, they will live. Listen to Daniel’s word in chapter 12.
1″At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people-everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered. 2Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:1-2 NIV)
If “resurrection” in the Old Testament is somewhat of a nebulous and undeveloped idea, in the New Testament it explodes from the pages as a central, foundational truth which is embodied in a person. Listen to Jesus speak in John 11:25.
25Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; 26and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25 NIV)
Do you believe this? Do you believe that Jesus is the resurrection and the life? Do you believe that everyone who believes in Him with all their heart, who cling to Him with everything they’ve got, and who longed for Him like they long for their next breath will live forever? Oh, you’ve got to believe it my friend. Jesus is the resurrection — trust in Him.
The sixth sign given under the Old Covenant is “eternal judgment.” What the Old Testament lacks in speaking about the resurrection it makes up in talking about eternal judgment. The Old Testament is very clear that all people will stand before God one day and they will receive what is due them. In Ecclesiastes we read,
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:14 NIV)
How will you stand in the Judgment? How will you fare? Have you lived a good life? What is “good?” Is your “good” good enough? The Bible teaches that anything less than perfection is not good enough. The Scriptures call us to perfection. How are you feeling about your appointment before the throne of God now? A little uneasy? A little queasy? I would too if it were not for the hope that I have found in God’s Word. I am so glad that God has given the judgment into the hands of His Son Jesus. In John 5 we read,
21For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. 22Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, 23that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. 24″I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. (John 5:21-27 NIV)
Jesus is our Judge, but Jesus isn’t going to lower the bar my friend. The same judgment that is spoken of the Old Testament is still the judgment that the New Testament writers speak of. Jesus doesn’t lower the bar; Jesus took our punishment upon Himself. This is the only reason why Paul can write in Romans,
1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. 3For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, 4in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4 NIV)
Praise God! Somebody ought to say, “hallelujah!” There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. For those who reject their own “goodness” and cling to the goodness of our Savior as being the only thing that will stand in the Judgment there is no condemnation.
How could someone who was so familiar with the things we have taken a look at this morning miss out on the Savior? How could you mistake the signs? That is really not too hard to understand is it? The Lord stands before us this day and yet so many of us would rather hold on to whatever it is that we are clinging to. We need to move beyond any belief that places Jesus in any other position than the King, Master, and Sovereign God over your life and mine.
God gave the Jews all kinds of signs so that they would recognize the real deal when He came, but let’s not judge too quickly. God has given you and me sign after sign of His grace, mercy, and awesome power so that we might see our need for His Son and our Savior. We don’t have to live life too long to know that our power is limited, that there are times we need help when no person can help us. God’s Word teaches us that God has all the power we need. We go through situations where our hearts break and no person can offer us the comfort and consolation that soothes our aching hearts, but God’s Word teaches us that “He is the Father of all compassion and the God of all comfort.” We try our best to be “good” and yet every single one of us knows that we mess up more often than we would like to admit. Even our best efforts seem to fall short of what we know is right. Yet God’s Word teaches us that we are justified not by works, but by faith in the grace of God poured out upon us through Jesus. There are signs all around us this morning, but I am wondering if anyone would be so bold as to walk on past the signs into the loving arms of the Savior this very morning? If the Lord has been speaking to your heart then won’t you ask Him to come in and be your Lord and Master beginning today?