There’s a new addition to the manse family. A few weeks ago we got a second dog: a puppy called Nova as a companion for Sandy. And, of course, it’s almost like having a new baby in the house, because we need to watch her constantly to make sure she’s okay and isn’t doing something she shouldn’t be doing. And she cries in the night and we need to clean up after her and we need to give her special food for puppies.
And it reminds me of the time when the children were babies and we had to watch them continually. And we had to do everything for them: clean them and cloth them and feed them. And after feeding them, we had to make sure they burped. And then we probably had to clean them again and re-cloth them, before putting them down for a nap.
Those of you who have had children know that it’s a lot of work. But it’s great, isn’t it? Everything about them is new and interesting. And if it’s a second or third or fourth child, you’re able to compare this new baby with the ones that went before and see in what ways they’re the same and it what way’s they’re different. Those days are great. But though those days are great, in a way you’re also glad when they’re over and the children can wash themselves and dress themselves and feed themselves and they can strap themselves into the car seat. It’s a lot easier when they can start to do things for themselves.
And, of course, we expect children to develop, don’t we? When they’re born, they can do nothing for themselves. But we expect them to develop and grow as time goes by; and to move from infancy to childhood to adulthood. And it’s clear from today’s reading that the writer expected his readers to develop and grow as believers. He expected them to move out of spiritual infancy into spiritual maturity. But while that’s what he was expecting, it’s not what has happened, has it? Look at verse 12 of chapter 5 where he says they need milk, not solid food. And he means spiritual milk and spiritual solid food and what they need for spiritual growth. And he goes on to say that milk is for infants, whereas solid food is for the mature.
And so, in verses 11 to 14 of chapter 5, he’s saying to his readers that they’re still on spiritual milk, when they should be on spiritual solids. And then, in verses 1 to 3 of chater 6, he urges them, with God’s help, to add to what they already know and to go on to maturity. And then, in verses 4 to 8 of chapter 6, he warns them by telling them about certain people who fell away and how they can never be brought back to repentance. But he follows up the warning with a word of encouragement in verses 9 to 12: ‘we are confident of better things in your case.’ And the passage ends in verses 13 to 20 with the writer reassuring his readers about God’s promise of salvation. We’ll leave verses 13 to 20 to next time and focus our thoughts on the rest of the passage this evening.
And so, look with me at verse 11 of chapter 5 where the writer says to his readers: ‘We have much more to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn.’
When he says ‘We have much more to say about this’, he referring to what he said in the previous passage about the Lord Jesus as our great high priest who is greater than the old covenant high priests. As our great high priest, he has gone through the heavens. So, whereas the old covenant high priests only ever entered an earthly temple, the Lord Jesus has entered the true, heavenly temple where he appears on our behalf as a high priest who is able to help us with our weaknesses because he was made like us in every way apart from sin.
And do you remember the three points he made about high priests in general? Every high priest offers gifts and sacrifices for sins. And the Lord Jesus, as our great high priest, offered the perfect sacrifice for sins so that he became for us the source of eternal salvation. And then, every high priest is able to deal gently with the people. And the Lord Jesus, as our great high priest, is able to deal gently with us because he was made like us in every way and he’s experienced what we have experienced. And every high priest needs to be appointed by God. And the Lord Jesus was appointed by God, because didn’t God say to him in Psalm 110, ‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ So, the Lord Jesus is our great high priest.
Incidentally — and I should have said this last week — the writer is not saying that Jesus is like a high priest. He’s not saying, ‘Think about those old covenant high priests and what they did. Well, what the Lord Jesus does for us is kind of similar.’ He’s not saying the old covenant priests were the real priests and what the Lord Jesus does is kind of what they did. He’s saying the Lord Jesus is the real priest. He’s the true priest. They are copies of him, whereas he’s the original. They’re like him, but they’re not as good as him. In the same way as the temple in Jerusalem was an earthly copy of the true temple in heaven, so the high priests in the Jerusalem temple were an earthly copy of the true high priest who is in heaven. The reason the Old Testament says so much about the priests and about the work they did and about the sacrifices they offered was teach the people in those days that sinners need a high priest who can offer up to God on their behalf a sacrifice for their sins. And the only high priest who is qualified to do that is the Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the true high priest. The rest were only earthly copies, whereas he’s the true high priest. He’s essential for our salvation; and without him we cannot approach God in worship in this life and we’ll never be able to approach God in the life to come. He’s the true high priest.
I wanted to clarify that, because otherwise we might get impatient with all this talk about high priests. ‘Why does the writer say so much about high priests? Sure, we don’t have high priests today. So, it’s all irrelevant. It makes no difference to us, because we don’t have priests now.’ That’s the way we might think. But it’s not irrelevant for us, because the reason we don’t have high priests on earth now is because the true high priest has already come and he’s now in heaven where he represents us before the Father. All this talk about priests is not irrelevant and out-of-date, because without Christ as our high priest, we could never ever come before God in this life or the next.
Having said that, the writer wants to say more to his readers about the Lord Jesus as our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. He wants to say more, and he will say more. However, he’s concerned that this is going to be too much for his readers, because they’re slow to learn. They’re dull of hearing. They’re sluggish. And he explains that, by this time, they ought to be teachers. He’s not suggesting every member of the church should be a teacher. Not everyone can be a teacher in the church. In fact, in his New Testament letter, James says that not many of us should presume to be teachers. So, what the writer means is that, by now, his readers should know enough to be able to explain their faith to anyone who asks them about it. So, by now they should be able to do that; but in fact they need someone to teach them the basics of the faith all over again.
He refers to the ‘elementary truths of God’s word’. We might say the ABCs of the faith. He’s referring to the basics. The fundamentals. The things every believer really needs to know and understand. By now, they should be able to explain these basic things to others, but in fact they need to be taught these basic things all over again. I remember talking to a woman who had studied music at university and she told me how she’d been playing the piano since she was a little girl and had moved through the grades. And then she ended up studying the piano at university. And in her first lesson with her university tutor, the tutor pointed out that the way she positioned her fingers on the piano keys was completely wrong. How humiliating! She’s been playing for years, but had to learn all over again one of the most basic lessons. Or, if you watch any of cooking competitions on TV, the chefs castigate themselves for making what they call ‘school-boy errors’: ‘Not enough salt. Not enough pepper. You need to taste the dish as you go along. It’s basic. It’s one of the ABCs. I should have known that.’
Well, you should be able to teach the ABCs of the faith, says our writer. But in fact you have to learn them all over again. And so, you need milk and not solid food. And he means: Milk is all you can take. It’s all you can handle. Your spiritual digestive system hasn’t developed to the point where you can handle meatier topics. Spiritual milk refers to the ABCs of the faith. Solid food refers to what he wants to teach them about Christ as our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. So, right now, all they can take is spiritual milk. But just as parents want to see their children move from milk to solid foods, so he wants to see his readers develop a taste for and an appreciation of and an ability to digest more than the ABCs of the faith.
In verses 1 to 3 of chapter 6 the writer says to his readers that we must leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity. So, we’re to add to what we know in order to grow. Now, when he says let’s leave the elementary teachings about Christ, he doesn’t mean we should leave these things entirely. One of my children has been studying for a chemistry exam and she’s been revising the periodic table. I was never very good at Chemistry, but I remember having to learn that periodic table with all the elements on it. It’s one of the first things we had to learn. Now, I knew I was going to give chemistry up at the end of the first year. And so, once the summer exam was over, I could forget all about the periodic table. But my classmates who intended to keep studying chemistry couldn’t forget it. And even Chemistry professors at university need to know the periodic table. It’s a basic thing for chemists to know, but it’s an essential thing to know. And it doesn’t matter what subject you think of, they all have basic, but essential things which everyone needs to know before they can become experts in that subject.
And the ABCs of the faith are basic things to know, but they are essential things to know. So, when the writer says we’re to leave those things, he doesn’t mean that we’re to forget about the elementary things. They may be basic things, but they’re essential things which we must never forget. But while we must never forget them, we must still add to what we have learned. And that becomes clear when he refers to laying a foundation. The ABCs of the faith are the foundation of what we know and believe. And he lists some of the thing that make up the foundation of what we know and believe.
He refers to repentance and faith. So, repentance from acts that lead to death. That is, repentance from sin, because the wages of sin is death. And faith in God. That is, faith in God’s promises of salvation in Christ Jesus. Repentance and faith make up our conversion. That’s one of the ABCs of the faith. He then refers to instruction about baptism and the laying on of hands. Believers need to be clear about the meaning and purpose of baptism, because this visible sign which God has given his church of his promise to wash away our sin and guilt is a wonderful comfort to every believer, and especially when our guilty conscience accuses us. While our conscience may accuse us, baptism speaks of God’s willingness to wash my guilt away. We’re not clear what exactly our writer means when he refers to laying on of hands. In biblical times, the laying on of hands meant different things. You laid hands on people to bless them. You laid hands on people to heal them. You laid hands on people to ordain or commission them. You laid hands on people so they would receive the Holy Spirit. It’s not clear which he’s referring to, but no doubt his original readers understood. And then he mentions the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. So, Christ is coming again. That’s a fundamental of the faith. And when he comes, he will raise the dead: the righteous and the unrighteous. And then comes the judgment, when everyone who has ever lived will stand before God to be judged. Those who have trusted in Christ, will be acquitted and brought into enjoy eternal life in the new heavens and earth. Those who did not trust in Christ, will be condemned by God and sent away to be punished forever.
So, those are some of the ABCs of the faith: conversion comprising repentance and faith; baptism; the resurrection of the dead and the judgment to come. That’s the foundation. Now, without setting the foundation aside, without forgetting these things, without moving away from those things, we need to add to those things. There’s no point learning the same things over and over and over again and never advancing. We must lay the foundation and then build on it.
And God permitting, God willing, we will do so. Isn’t that interesting? It’s an acknowledgment that we need God’s help. He’s the one who knows all things infinitely and eternally and unchangeably. Before we know anything, he knows everything. And he has revealed to us some of what he knows. He’s revealed it to us in his word, which he’s given us so that we might know what to believe and what we’re to do. So, we need to rely on his word to us. But we also need to rely on his help to understand his word more and more. So, we need to rely on him for greater insight into his word. And that means, when we come to the Bible, we should come with humility, acknowledging that we know so very little of what he knows, and relying on his help to understand the things he has revealed. For instance, the writer wants to teach us about Christ as our great high priest in the order of Melchizedek. It’s difficult, isn’t it? It’s puzzling. I may even wonder why I need to know this. How is this relevant for my daily life? What’s this got to do with my day to day struggles? How can knowing this help me? But we need to be humble before God, don’t we? And we need to see that since God has revealed these things to us in his word, then these are things he wants us to know.
Sometimes we come to the Bible and make demands on it. Here are my problems. Here are my issues. Here are my questions. Tell me what I want to know. But instead we should come with humility and ask ourselves: ‘What is it that God wants me to know? What has he revealed in his word for me to know and believe?’ In school, it’s not the children who set the curriculum. There’s a teaching authority who decides what the children need to know. And God sets the curriculum for his people. He has decided what we need to know.
And one of the things he has decided we need to know is what he tells us in the book of Hebrews about the Lord Jesus as our great high priest. And since he has decided that we need to know these things, then we can rely on his help. So, God permitting, God willing, we will be able to add to what we already know and move past the basics of the faith and towards spiritual maturity.
And how does God teach us? How does he give us greater insight into what he has revealed? Well, he gives us the help of his Spirit, doesn’t he? And the Spirit helps us when we study the Scriptures. But he also gives us teachers. He gives us preachers to teach us God’s word. And he gives us Christian scholars who have studied these things and who have written books to help us to understand these things. And whereas the proud believer thinks he or she needs no one’s help, the humble believer is willing to learn from others.
You know, ministers are sometimes encouraged to keep things simple. Keep the message simple. Keep things simple for the people, because you don’t want to confuse the people and they won’t understand anything if it’s too hard. Keep it simple. Not too much theology. Well, it always seemed to me that, apart from insulting the intelligence of the average churchgoer, that advice contradicts what we read here in Hebrews. After all, note carefully what the writer doesn’t say. He doesn’t say: ‘All you can take is milk and therefore that’s what I’ll give you.’ No, he says: ‘All you can take is milk, but let’s move on from milk to solid food. Let’s move on from the ABCs of the faith to meatier topics.’ Isn’t that what parents do with their children? At some point, when their child is still drinking milk, the parents have to introduce solid foods into the child’s diet. The child will never develop a taste for solid food if he keeps drinking milk. And if he keeps drinking milk, his growth will be stunted, because he needs solid food and all the nutrients it provides in order to develop properly. And so, at some point, the parents have to introduce solid food into the child’s diet. And it’s the same with spiritual milk and spiritual solids. How do believers move from spiritual milk to spiritual solids? You have to introduce the solid teaching into their diet so that they develop a taste for it. At first, it’s hard work. Christ as high priest in the order of Melchizedek? That’s hard. Yes, it’s hard, but stick with it and soon you’ll get a taste for this kind of solid teaching from God’s word. And the solid teaching is what you need in order to go on to maturity.
And now we come to verses 4 to 8 of chapter 6 where he warns his readers by telling them about certain people who fell away and how they can never be brought back to repentance.
Look what he says about these people. They’ve been enlightened. They’ve tasted the heavenly gift. They’ve shared in the Holy Spirit. They’ve tasted the goodness of the word of God. They’ve tasted the powers of the age to come. Who are these people? The commentators debate this among themselves, because it’s not clear. Some think he’s referring to true believers who have renounced the faith. However, when he describes them, the writer doesn’t say anything about their repentance or faith. And so, it seems to some commentators that he’s describing people who have experienced something of God’s power, but who never came to a true saving faith in Christ. Think of the Lord’s parable of the seed and the sower and how the seed on the rocky ground stands for those who immediately receive the word with joy, but who soon fall away. Their faith was never genuine. Or think of someone like Judas Iscariot who was numbered among the disciples, but in the end, he betrayed the Lord Jesus.
And so, perhaps the writer is referring to people, known to his readers, who once joined the church and who made a public profession of faith. But then, because their faith was never genuine, they fell away. And he says they’re crucifying the Son of God all over again. In other words, they’re rejecting the Lord Jesus as their Saviour. And how then can they ever be brought back to repentance so long as they continue to reject the only Saviour of the world?
And the reason the writer mentions these people to his readers is because he wants to warn his readers not to be like them. Don’t be like those people who fell away from Christ. Don’t be like them, because it’s impossible to bring back to repentance those who fall away from Christ and reject him as Saviour. So, don’t become like them, because if you turn away now, then how will you ever come back again?
And this is one of those warnings which we need from time to time to shake us up, isn’t it? The teacher say to her students that they need to knuckle down to their revision otherwise they’ll fail their exams. And her students listen to her warning, and they get their heads down in their books and they get to work. And as a result of their teacher’s warning, and how they responded to it, they end up passing their exams with all A-stars. So, the writer is saying to his readers and to us: You need to watch out. You need to wake up out of your sluggishness. Stop being satisfied with the ABCs of the faith only. Don’t be put off by the hard stuff. And above all, make sure that you keep believing in the Saviour. Don’t be like the field, which — even though it’s well-watered — only produces thorns and thistles and is in danger of being cursed. Be like the field which is well-watered and which produces a useful crop and is blessed by God. After all, haven’t you been well-watered with God’s word? He’s given you his word to feed your faith. So, be like that field which is well-watered and is growing.
And having issued the warning, the writer goes on to encourage his readers in verses 9 to 12. He says: ‘We are confident of better things in your case.’ You see, some people need a warning to shake them up. But other people need encouragement, because they’re struggling. And so, he encourages those who are struggling. God is not unjust, he says. He knows that you love him; and he’s seen the things you’ve done for him and how you’ve helped his people and how you continue to help them. It’s not as if he hasn’t noticed these things, because he knows all about you and your love for him. But even those believers who need encouragement need a little push, don’t they? So, make sure you keep going. What you’ve done in the past is all well and good, but show the same diligence right to the very end.
I was listening to another minister (Sinclair Ferguson) preach on this passage. And this other minister quoted another minister. So, this is me telling you about another minister telling you about another minister. And what did the last minister say? That the Christian life is like riding a bicycle. Why is the Christian life like riding a bicycle? Because if you stop pedalling, you’ll fall over. In other words, we have to keep believing. We have to keep believing in Christ. And as soon as we stop believing in him, we’ll fall. That’s obvious.
But how do we keep believing in him? We keep believing in him by learning more and more about him. We need to learn more and more about him and about how he is so much greater than anyone who came before him. We need to learn more and more about how great he is. We need to learn more and more about what he has done for us as our great High Priest who has become the source of eternal salvation. We need to learn more and more about how he’s gone through the heavens to represent us before the Father. And so, we need to learn more and more about what he is doing for us right now in heaven. We need to learn more and more about Christ our Saviour. And by learning more and more about him, we’ll see why we ought to trust in him and in no one else.
So, that’s how we keep believing. We keep believing by concentrating on him. By fixing our eyes on him. By hearing about him. By learning about him. In that way, we’ll keep believing in him. And the person who keeps believing will never fall away from him.
And so, we need his warning to shake us up and to remind us that we all need to keep believing. And we’ll keep believing by learning more and more about the greatness of our Saviour. And God permitting, as we study God’s word week by week, we will do exactly that.