In the opening verse of today’s passage, the writer of this letter addresses his readers and instructs them to fix their thoughts on Jesus. That is, consider him. Pay attention to him. Contemplate him. Think about him. That’s what the writer wanted his readers to do. And it’s what all of us should do. Every day, we should fix our thoughts on him. Of course, every day there are many things for us to attend to. We have lots of duties and responsibilities and activities which take up our time and attention. Every day there are lots of things for us to think about. But we must also make sure that we fix our thoughts on Jesus every day.
And every preacher in every sermon should be directing the congregation to fix their thoughts on Jesus. If a preacher preaches without leading the people to Jesus, then the preacher has fallen short of doing what he’s supposed to do. And that’s what the writer of this letter has already been doing, isn’t it? From the very beginning of this letter, he’s been teaching us about him.
He began, of course, by focussing on Jesus’s divinity. I said last week that Jesus Christ, the Eternal Son of God, is one person with two natures: the divine nature which he shares with the Father and the Spirit; and his human nature, which he took to himself when he entered the world as one of us. And those two natures are distinct, but inseparable. They are inseparable because the two natures are united now and forever in the person of the Son. But they are distinct in that they are not mixed together, because the divine nature remains fully divine and the human nature remains fully human; and they’re not mixed together to form a third thing which is partly divine and partly human. His natures remain distinct though they are inseparably united in the person of the Son. And so, he is God and man in one person.
And our writer focussed first on his divinity, because he opened the letter by telling us that the Son is heir of all things; and all things were made through him; and he is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation or imprint of God’s being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. In other words, he’s the repetition of God the Father. And since he’s God the Son, then he’s greater than the prophets and he’s greater than the angels. In the past God spoke through them, but now God has spoken his final and decisive word by his Son.
But then the writer has fixed our thoughts on the Son’s humanity, hasn’t he? For a little while, the Son was made lower than the angels when he became one of us. And he became one of us in order to taste death on our behalf and in order to provide us with purification for our sins as our great High Priest. And so, the Son has paid for our sins with his life and he has cleansed us from our guilt. And therefore he has made the Devil and death ineffective. He’s made the Devil and death ineffective, because the Devil used to terrify us with the prospect of death as the penalty for our sins. But Christ died to free us from the penalty we deserve for our sins, so that death is no longer the punishment for our sins and something for us to fear. Instead death has become for believers the doorway into God’s presence.
And then, since the Son of God became one of us, and because he suffered as one of us, and was tempted as one of us, then he’s able to help us when we suffer and when we’re tempted. He’s able to come to us when we’re suffering, and when we’re going through troubles and trials, and when we’re tempted to give up, and he’s able to provide us with the help we need to keep going.
Verses 1 to 6
So, our writer has helped us to fix our thoughts on Jesus. He’s helped us to fix our thoughts on his divinity. He’s helped us to fix our thoughts on his humanity. And in verse 1 of chapter 3, he refers to the Lord Jesus as the apostle and high priest whom we confess. Isn’t that an unusual title for the Lord Jesus? We know he’s our high priest. But we’re not used to calling him our apostle. In what sense is he our apostle?
The writer calls Jesus our apostle because the Greek word for apostle means messenger; one who is sent; delegate. The Lord’s apostles — Peter and John and Paul and the others — were appointed by the Lord Jesus and he sent them into all the world as his official messengers to proclaim all that he said and did, including how he gave up his life to pay for our sins and how he was raised from the dead on the third day. They were sent by Christ to be his messengers. And Jesus, who is God the Son in flesh, was sent into the world by God to be God’s messenger. And, as we heard in chapter 1, God has spoken his final and decisive word to us by his Son who is his messenger from heaven.
And then, in chapter 2, the writer taught us that the Son was made lower than the angels and became one of us so that he could be a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God and provide purification for our sins.
So, by calling Jesus apostle and high priest, the writer is referring to what he’s already said to us about Jesus.
And in verses 2 to 6, he tells us something else about him. He compares and contrasts him with Moses. Look at verse 2: Jesus was faithful to God who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. So, he compares Jesus and Moses and he tells us that both of them were faithful to God. And Moses was faithful to God, wasn’t he? He’s one of the great heroes of the Bible. Even people who don’t know much about the Bible know about Moses. And when we were growing up and hearing Bible stories for the first time, didn’t we love to hear about Moses and how, when he was a baby, he was hidden in a basket among the reeds along the river? And then he was brought up in the palace by Pharaoh’s daughter. And then, when he was an adult, he killed an Egyptian and had to flee. And then, God spoke to him in the burning bush and he was told to take off his sandals. And then God sent him to Pharaoh. And then, after the ten plagues, he led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea and into the wilderness. And then he received the Ten Commandments; and he smashed the tablets of stone when he saw the golden calf which the people had made. And on and on the stories go. We loved to hear them as children. We still love to hear them. And we know that Moses was faithful. The people often complained, but Moses remained faithful. Yes, once, he disobeyed God’s word when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it. But otherwise, he was faithful and God used to speak to him face to face. He was a faithful servant. In fact, when the writer mentions Moses’s faithfulness, he probably has Numbers 12:7 in mind where God said of Moses: ‘he is faithful in all my house’.
And the Lord Jesus was faithful too, because when he was serving God on the earth as one of us, he never did anything wrong; and he obeyed the law of God perfectly; and he carried out his Father’s will completely. And when he suffered and was tempted, he remained faithful and obedient. He may have prayed for the cup of God’s wrath to pass from him; but, when it was time for him to suffer and die, he did not refuse to do his Father’s will. So, he was faithful, just as Moses was faithful.
So, they had that in common. But then the writer contrasts them. He tells us in verse 3 that the Lord Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses. Why was he found worthy of greater honour than Moses? Look at verse 5 where he says that Moses was faithful as a servant in God’s house, whereas the Lord Jesus was faithful as a Son over God’s house. Moses was only a servant, whereas the Lord Jesus is the Son. Think of a stately home, which is filled with servants. Some servants are more important than other servants. Some servants never leave the kitchen, and they only wash dishes all day long. But some servants are upstairs, serving the family at dinner. And some servants are in the master’s bedroom, helping him to dress and they have the master’s ear. Some servants are more important than other servants. But all of them, even the most important servant, is still only a servant. And even the most important servant is nothing compared to the master’s son, who is in the house and who is also over the house. And while Moses was one of the great heroes of the Bible and while he was a faithful servant who spoke to God face to face, he was still only a servant; whereas Jesus is the Son, the Eternal Son of God, equal to the Father and Spirit in glory and honour.
And the writer highlights Jesus’s superiority to Moses in another way. He says in verse 5 that Moses was faithful, ‘testifying to what would be said in the future’. In other words, Moses’s ministry was about the future and about the one who would come after him. So, Moses was a faithful servant, but the focus of his ministry was on what would happen later, in the future, when the Son came into the world as God’s apostle and high priest and as our Saviour.
So, Jesus and Moses were both faithful, but Jesus is superior to Moses because Moses was a servant, whereas Jesus is the Son. And Moses was to prepare for the coming of the Son. Now, why is our writer telling us this? Why is he contrasting Jesus and Moses? It’s because the people who read this letter first were being tempted by what they were suffering to abandon the Christian faith and to go back to the Old Testament religion of the Jews: back to the prophets through whom God used to speak; back to the angels through whom God gave the law; back to Moses who was God’s faithful servant. And the writer is saying to them: But what are you going back to? Yes, God spoke through the prophets, but only in bits and pieces; whereas he has now spoken his final and decisive word by his Son who is far greater than the prophets. And yes, God gave us his law through the angels, but the angels were made to worship and serve the Son, who is far greater than the angels. And yes, Moses was faithful; but Moses was only ever a servant, whereas Jesus is God’s Son; and therefore he’s far greater than Moses.
And so, don’t give up what you have come to believe. That’s the point of the second half of verse 6. You see, he’s been referring to God’s house. Moses was faithful in God’s house. Jesus is faithful over God’s house. But he’s not referring to a physical house made of bricks. He’s referring to a spiritual house. He’s referring to God’s people. God’s church. And so, he says to his readers: We are his house. However, we are his house only if we hold on to our courage and the hope of which we boast. The word translated ‘courage’ should perhaps be ‘confidence’ and it refers to our confidence in God’s promises. And so, he’s appealing to his readers and to us to persevere in the faith. Keep going in the faith. Keep trusting in Christ the Saviour. Keeping trusting in the promises of God. Don’t give up the faith. Don’t turn away from Christ. Persevere.
And before we move on to the next part of today’s passage, let me take you back to verse 1 where he refers to our ‘heavenly calling’. Do you see that? A heavenly calling is a calling from heaven. In other words, it’s a calling from God in heaven. And a heavenly calling is also a calling to heaven. God in heaven is calling us to heaven. He’s calling us into his presence in the life to come. He’s promising us eternal life in the glory to come, where the troubles and trials of this life will be over and where we’ll enjoy perfect peace and rest for ever. God is calling us into his presence. And the reason he sent his Son from heaven to earth was to bring us to God in heaven.
And so, we’ve received this heavenly calling. But we need to persevere. We need to hold on to our confidence in God’s promises and we need to hold on to our hope. Don’t give up the faith, but stand firm in the faith. That’s what you’re to do, because only those who stand firm in the faith will enter the glory to come, which is what God is calling us to.
Verses 7 to 19
And that takes me to the second part of today’s passage which is a warning not to fall away. And the writer bases his warning on Psalm 95.
Look at verse 7 where he writes: ‘So, as the Holy Spirit says….’ And then he quotes verses 7 to 11 of Psalm 95. And let’s pause for a moment to think about the way he introduces the psalm. As the Holy Spirit says. We don’t know who wrote Psalm 95. Many of the psalms were written by David, but we don’t know who wrote Psalm 95. That is, we don’t know who the human author was, but we know that Psalm 95 like all the other psalms and like the rest of the Bible was written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, and who inspired this person and that person to write this psalm and that psalm and this book of the Bible and that book of the Bible. And since all of it was written under his inspiration, then all of it is the word of God which we’re to receive and believe and obey, because it is the word of God.
But notice as well how the writer refers to what the Holy Spirit is doing. He wrote: ‘As the Holy Spirit says….’ He’s using the present tense of the verb ‘to say’. Though the Holy Spirit inspired the psalmist many years ago, the Holy Spirit was using that psalm to speak to the people who first heard the letter to the Hebrews. God the Holy Spirit was speaking to them. And he’s still speaking to us today. Though the psalm was written long ago and though the letter to the Hebrews was written long ago, the Holy Spirit is still speaking to us today through these words. Whenever God’s word is read, God is speaking to us. He comes to us in the reading and in the preaching of his word. It’s not that he spoke in the past and never again. He speaks to us whenever his word is read.
And what is the Holy Spirit saying to us today? He’s saying: Today, if you hear God’s voice, don’t harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness. The psalm is referring to the time when the Israelites were in the wilderness in the days of Moses. And there was that time, recorded for us in Exodus 17, when the people complained at the place called Meribah and Massah that there was no water. And they tested the Lord’s ability to help them. But God gave them water from the rock. And then, later, they came to the edge of the Promised Land. They’d left Mount Sinai a mere 11 days before. And they could have gone straight into the Promised Land. But instead of listening to the voice of the Lord who commanded them to go in and take the land, they listened to the voice of the spies who said it was too hard. And so, because they did not listen to God’s voice, God was angry with them and he made an oath that none of that generation — apart from Joshua and Caleb who believed — would ever enter the Promised Land, but all of them would die in the wilderness; and their children would possess the land. And so, they were made to wander through the wilderness for forty years until all of them had died.
They had all seen God’s power, because hadn’t they seen the Ten Plagues which the Lord sent on the Egyptians? Hadn’t they seen how he opened up a way for them through the Red Sea? Hadn’t he given them water from the rock? Hadn’t he given them manna and quail to eat? Hadn’t he helped them defeat enemy armies? They had seen his power. But they hardened their hearts. And so, instead of having a good, believing heart, they had a sinful, unbelieving heart.
That’s what the psalm was about. And the writer applies to his readers — and to us — when he says in verse 12 that we’re to see to it that we don’t have a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. See to it. He means: Take care. Watch out. Beware. Be warned. Make sure your heart does not become hard and unresponsive so that you no longer listen to what God has said to us by his Son about our salvation. Make sure your heart does not become hard and unresponsive so that you no longer believe what you once believed.
It’s a similar message to the one from Ruth this morning, isn’t it? Orpah and Ruth both had a choice to make: to return to the paganism and death of Moab or to go on to Bethlehem to worship the true and living God. They had a choice to make. And we have a choice to make. Every time we hear God’s word, will we harden our heart to it or will we receive and believe and obey it? God has spoken his final and decisive word by his Son; and it’s a message about our salvation. But will we believe what he has said? That’s the choice we always have to make whenever we hear God’s word. It seems the first readers of this book were being tempted to disregard what they had heard from God about Christ and our salvation. They were being tempted to stop believing in him and to return to their old ways. Believing in him was becoming too hard. They were perhaps being persecuted for their faith. They were perhaps suffering for what they believed. And they were being tempted to give up the faith and to disregard what they had heard.
And it might be the same for you. Being a Christian is becoming hard for you. Maybe it’s too hard being a Christian in work. Maybe friends or members of your family don’t understand. Maybe it’s because believers are scorned by the world. Maybe you look at your unbelieving friends and you think things are so much better for them. And perhaps you’re tempted to think you would be better off if you gave up the faith. But what happened to the Israelites who saw God’s power but who did not believe his word? They fell in the wilderness and they did not see the Promised Land. And what about you? If you give up the faith, if you stop believing God’s word, then the danger is that you will not see the Promised Land of Eternal Life. And so, watch out!
And we need to encourage one another. Do you see that in verse 13? Encourage one another daily. When I was preaching through 2 Timothy, we saw that Paul told preachers to preach God’s word, correcting, rebuking and encouraging. And I suggested we should think of the shepherd with his stick, prodding the sheep gently to encourage them, or to direct them, along the right path. So, when Hebrews tells us to encourage one another daily, think of a shepherd, prodding his sheep gently, to encourage them along the right path. That’s what we’re to do with one another. At home, the members of the same family, can encourage one another. Friends can encourage one another. When we meet together as a church, encourage the people you talk to. Let’s help each other to keep going along the right path.
And let’s help each other so that none of us are hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. Sin deceives, doesn’t it? It deceives us by making us think we’d be better off if we listened to the voice of sin, instead of listening to the voice of God. In the Garden of Eden, Eve thought she’s been better off if she took the forbidden fruit. But she was dead wrong, wasn’t she? Sin deceives, because sin always causes misery and it never leaves us better off. And so, we should encourage one another so that we’re not taken in by sin.
And the writer warns us as he did before. Do you remember what he said earlier? You are God’s house but only if you hold on to your confidence in God’s promises. And in verse 14 he says to us that we have come to share in Christ, but only if we hold firmly till the end the confidence in God’s promises which we had at first. So, we need to persevere. We need to stand firm. We may have believed in the past, but we need to believe today and the next day, and the next and the next and every next day. We need to keep believing. We need to cling to Christ continually.
And at the end of today’s passage, the writer goes back to the example of the Israelites to reiterate for us what he’s been saying throughout this chapter. First he quotes the psalm again in verse 15: Today, if you hear God’s voice, do not harden your hearts as they did in the rebellion. And then it’s as if he underlines the word ‘hear’, because he asks the question: ‘Who were they were heard and rebelled?’ Who heard God’s voice? And it was the ones Moses led out of Egypt. So, they started off well, because they were the ones who experienced God’s salvation when he saved them from the Egyptians. But, before reaching the Promised Land, they hardened their hearts to God’s voice and they would not listen to him or believe his promises; and they turned away from the Promised Land and they turned away from God to go back to Egypt.
Go on in, God said. I will give you the land. Listen to me. Believe me. I will give you the land. But they would not listen. They did not believe. Ans so, they sinned against him by not believing and by not obeying his word. And he was angry with them and their bodies fell down dead in the wilderness. He had offered them rest in the Promised Land of Canaan. I’ll give it to you, an Eden-like land, flowing with milk and honey, where you will have all that you need and more besides. I’ll give it to you. But they stopped believing. And therefore they did not enter his rest.
And the writer’s point is this. We have started off well. We’ve started off well, because we’ve made a profession of faith and we’ve become members of the church. We’ve begun to follow Christ who is leading us heavenward. So, we’ve started off well. But we need to watch out and we need to encourage one another lest our hearts become hard and we no longer believe what God has said to us by his Son about our salvation. We need to watch out and encourage one another lest we turn away from the living God and turn back to an unbelieving world, instead of pressing on to enter the promised rest in the life to come.
And so, when you hear his voice, speaking to you in the pages of his word, do not harden your heart; but believe what he has said and trust in Christ, the only Saviour of the world, who promises forgiveness and eternal life to everyone who believes in him and who keeps believing in him.