In the passage we studied last week — which was the first 25 verses of chapter 10 — I said that the author was bringing to a close what he wanted to tell us about Christ being a better high priest than the Old Testament Levitical priests. And so he reminded us that what we read about in the Old Testament law about priests and sacrifices and sanctuaries was only a shadow of the good things that were coming. They were for the time being only and they were to make do until Christ came into the world. He’s the true high priest; and he offered himself as the true sacrifice for sins; and he has now entered the true sanctuary which is heaven itself. And the Old Testament animal sacrifices could not make anyone perfect. That is, no one received the forgiveness of sins they needed by means of those sacrifices, because it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sins. In fact, those sacrifices were merely a reminder that the people were sinners who deserved to die for their sins.
And so, what they needed was a true priest who could offer a true sacrifice to take away their guilt forever, because what it takes to take away our sins is not the blood of bulls and goats, but the blood of Christ. What it takes to take away our sins is his death on the cross when he gave up his life to pay for all that we have done wrong. That’s what it takes to take away our sins. And so, when the time was right, the Son of God came into the world. And when he came, God gave him a human body so that he could die on the cross as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins. And the Old Testament Levitical priests had to keep standing in the sanctuary. They had to keep standing because their work was never done and there was always a need to offer another sacrifice. But, after he offered himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins, the Lord Jesus was able to sit down. He was able to sit down, because his work was done.
And where did he sit? He sat down at God’s right hand in heaven. In other words, he sat down on God’s throne as our King to await the time when his enemies will be destroyed. And because of his once-for-all sacrifice of himself, his people — all those who trust in him — receive forgiveness, because God promises to remember our sins no more. And God also writes his law on our hearts which means he makes it our heart’s desire to do God’s will and to walk in his ways. And so, the author brought to a close what he wanted to tell us about Christ being a better high priest than the Old Testament Levitical priests. And having concluded what he wanted to say about that, he once again began to exhort us. And he appealed to us to do three things. Do you remember? Since we have confidence to enter God’s presence through Christ our great high priest, who has gone before us, let’s draw near to God, knowing that we have been cleansed because of Christ. That’s the first thing. The second is this: let’s hold on to the hope we have of eternal life in God’s presence. And here’s the third thing we’re to do: let’s consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, which means we should continue to meet together to encourage one another while we wait for our great high priest to appear once again. Just as the Old Testament high priest would appear from out of the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle and rejoin the people, who were waiting for him, so Christ our great high priest will one day appear out of heaven and rejoin his people who are waiting for him. And having appealed to us to do those three things, the writer continues to exhort us and to appeal to us in today’s passage.
In the first half, his exhortation is in the form of a warning not to give up the faith. In the second half, his exhortation is in the form of an appeal to persevere in the faith. I’ve said before that most commentators believe this letter was written to Jewish believers. That is, it was written to Jews who have been convinced and converted to faith in Christ. But now — because of persecution perhaps — some of them were tempted to give up the faith and to return to the old covenant religion of the Old Testament. So, back to the prophets and angels; and back to Moses and Joshua; and back to the Old Testament priests and their animal sacrifices in their earthly sanctuary. And so, the writer has been teaching them that Christ and the Christian religion is so much better. So, don’t give up, but persevere. And an unbelieving world puts us under pressure to conform to its unbelieving ways. And so, because of the pressure they place us under, we too can be tempted to give up what we believe. And as well as that, the Devil and our own sinful flesh can come up with lots of reasons why we’d be better off staying at home, instead of coming out to worship God and to encourage one another. And so, we must pay heed to the warning and respond to his appeal. So, let’s turn to today’s passage to see what the Lord is saying to us this evening.
Verses 26 to 31
And the warning begins in verse 26 where the writer says that if we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, then no sacrifice for sins is left. When he refers to receiving ‘the knowledge of the truth’, he’s referring to our conversion, when we came to a knowledge of the truth that we’re sinners; and when we came to a knowledge of the truth that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour. And so, knowing these things, we trusted in Christ for salvation.
But what does he mean by the words ‘if we deliberately keep on sinning’? Does he mean that God will not forgive the believer who sins deliberately? Does he mean that God will only forgive the believer who sins by accident or thoughtlessly? But he can’t mean that, because that idea contradicts what he’s been saying about Christ’s once-for-all, perfect sacrifice by which we are cleansed from a guilty conscience so that we can approach God with confidence and in full assurance of faith. How could we approach God with confidence and in full assurance of faith if we thought our deliberate sins are unforgivable? And surely that idea contradicts what John wrote in his first letter that if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
And so, he can’t mean that there’s no forgiveness for deliberate sins. So, what does he mean? He’s referring to apostasy, isn’t he? Giving up the faith. Abandoning our faith in Christ the Saviour. So, by the words ‘deliberately keep on sinning’, he’s referring to those who have turned away from Christ. Perhaps they were once members of the church. Perhaps they once made a public profession of faith. Perhaps they were baptised as new believers. But now, for whatever reason, they have abandoned the faith they once professed. For that kind of person, for the person who has given up their faith in Christ, no sacrifice for sins is left. There’s no sacrifice for sins left, because they have turned away from the only Saviour who offered himself as the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins. And so, if they turn away from him, where else can they turn for forgiveness? What other sacrifice is available to them if they abandon the only sacrifice that can save? Will they go back to the old covenant animal sacrifices? But those sacrifices cannot save. They made no one perfect. No one received forgiveness through them. There were only an annual reminder of sins. So, where else will they turn? What other sacrifice will they rely on? There is no other sacrifice for sins, which is why, if they turn away from Christ, no sacrifice for sins is left. And if no sacrifice for sins is left, what are they left with? Only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
In last week’s passage, the writer alluded to Psalm 110 where God invited the Son to sit beside him on his throne until his enemies are made his footstool. And whoever turns away from Christ, and gives up their faith in him, has gone over to the other side. Instead of being members of God’s people, they have joined the enemies of God. And in the end, the enemies of God will be destroyed. Christ will come in power and with glory to judge the living and the dead; and he will condemn his enemies as worthy of eternal punishment and he will send them out of the presence of God to be punished forever.
When the writer refers to ‘raging fire’, does he have in mind the sons of Aaron? Do you remember them? They were priests, but we read how they offered up to God unauthorised fire. That is to say, they brought the Lord an offering of incense which he had not commanded. And fire came out of the presence of God and consumed them so that they died before the Lord. Whether the writer has them in mind or not, he’s warning his readers that if they turn away from Christ and abandon their faith in him, then all they can expect from God is condemnation, because there is no other sacrifice for sins apart from the one sacrifice of Christ. And so, we’re to rely on Christ and on him alone.
But even today, people rely on other things. They rely on the fact that they go to church; but going to church cannot save. They rely on the fact that they are members of the church; but being a member of the church cannot save. They rely on the sacrifices they have made and the things they have given up for God; but giving things up for God cannot save. Going to church is good. Being a member of the church is good. Giving up our sins for God is good. But none of those good things can save us. The only thing that can save us is trusting in Christ and in his once-for-all, perfect sacrifice for sins. We’re to rely on him and on his sacrifice for sins and on nothing else.
And in verses 28 and 29 the writer uses an argument from the lesser to the greater. So, he mentions the lesser thing first. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. He’s referring to Deuteronomy 17:2–7 where it describes what should be done to an Israelite who violates God’s covenant by worshipping other gods. If such a charge is brought, and if there are two or three witnesses who can confirm that the charge is true, then stone the offender to death. And in Deuteronomy 13:8, God’s people are told to show those people ‘no mercy’. So, in the days of Moses, when someone turned away from the true and living God and worshipped false gods, they were to receive no mercy. That’s the lesser case, the lesser situation. How much more severely does a man or woman deserve to be punished who has turned away from Christ.
You see, greater revelation brings greater responsibility. God has revealed more to us than he ever revealed to the Israelites in the days of Moses. They had to make do with shadows and copies, whereas God has now revealed to us the reality. They had to make do with animal sacrifices in an earthly sanctuary, whereas God has now revealed that Christ has offered himself as the true sacrifice and he has enter the true sanctuary which is heaven. God has revealed more to us than he ever did to them. And God’s greater revelation to us puts greater responsibility on us if we reject what he has revealed. And so, if they deserved to be shown no mercy, then how much more severely will we be punished if we reject what we have heard about Christ the true sacrifice.
And look how he describes what apostasy entails. Apostasy means trampling the Son of God under foot. Trampling someone under foot means despising that person and it means showing them no honour. You trample over something that he not value to you. And then, apostasy means treating the blood of the covenant as an unholy thing. The blood of the covenant is the blood of Jesus Christ. It refers to his death on the cross and how he gave up his life so that we could be cleansed of all our sins and made acceptable to God. And so, his blood, his death on the cross, is a precious thing to believers. But those who have turned away from Christ have despised his death and have treated it as something worthless.
And apostasy also involves insulting the Spirit of grace. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of grace because the Spirit graciously works in us to sanctify us. And those who turn away from Christ insult the Spirit, because they’re saying that they do not need or want the Spirit in their lives. And so, if they deserved to be shown no mercy in the days of Moses when all they had were shadows and copies then how much more severely will we be punished if we trample the Son of God under foot, who came into the world as one of us to give up his life on the cross to pay for our sins. And how much more severely will we be punished if we treat his death on the cross as something worthless. And how much more severely will we be punished if we insult God’s Holy Spirit by saying we don’t need him or want him.
And God will punish such people, because, as he announced in Deuteronomy 32: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay’ and ‘The Lord will judge his people.’ Who will he judge? He will judge his people who turn away from Christ our great high priest and our only Saviour. Someone once made a profession of faith and they were members of the church for a time. But then they gave up their faith. They turned away from Christ, even though they once professed that Christ is the only Saviour. They gave it up. And times passes. And no lightning strikes them. The earth doesn’t open up to swallow them. Nothing happens. They go on with their life and it seems God does not know or God does not care or God does not exist. But just because God is patient doesn’t mean he will not one day judge those who spurned his love, because the day of judgment is coming when everyone will have to give an account of themselves to God. And those who once made a profession of faith, but who turned away from Christ, will face God’s fearful judgment and his raging fire. And so, the writer concludes this part of today’s passage by saying that it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
Notice, of course, that this is a warning. This has not happened yet. The people to whom he was writing had not abandoned the faith yet. They might have been tempted, but they have not yet fallen. And to keep them from falling, the writer warns them of the consequences if they do fall. And we need to pay heed to the warning, because what he says is true; and if we ever abandon the faith and give up trusting in Christ, then the only thing that is left is a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire. And it’s true that it’s a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. And so, we need to pay attention to this warning and make sure that we do not fall. Cling to Christ. Hold on to him by faith. Keep going in the faith and do not turn away from him. And the message to any who have fallen is to remind them that God is patient. He is patient and he does not want anyone to perish. And so, there’s still time to repent and to return to him. Turn back to Christ and trust in him all over again for the forgiveness of your sins and for peace with God. Turn to him while now, before your life in this world is over and you come before the judgment seat of God. But instead of falling and having to repent, it’s better to persevere. And that’s what the second part of today’s passage is about.
Verses 32 to 39
He asks his readers to remember: remember those earlier days. Which earlier days? The earlier days after they had received the light. So, remember those days when you first believed. And in those earlier days, when you first believed, you had to stand your ground in the face of suffering. And you did stand, didn’t you? You were put under pressure, but you stood firm in your faith and in your convictions. In those days, you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution. And when you weren’t being insulted and persecuted yourself, you stood side by side with those who were being insulted and persecuted. And you sympathised with those in prison. So, some of the believers were imprisoned for their faith. And when that happened, you helped them. And presumably helping those in prison meant they were exposing themselves to danger because those who helped prisoners might be imprisoned themselves. And look at what he goes on to say about them in those days. He says they joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property. They accepted it joyfully.
Why would they accept it joyfully? It’s because, in those days, they were looking forward. They were looking forward to something better. And they were looking forward to something permanent. He’s referring to the inheritance which the Apostle Peter writes about in his first letter which can never perish, spoil or fade and which is kept in heaven for God’s believing people. He’s referring to eternal life in the presence of God and to all the good things that will accompany it. So, remember those earlier days, when you first believed and you didn’t mind when your earthly possessions were taken from you, because you knew that your Heavenly Father had something better in store for you in the life to come.
And so, when you first believed, you were orientated towards the future. You were thinking about the life to come. In those days, instead of focussing on your present troubles, you were focussed on the better things in store for you in the life to come. ‘So’, he says in verse 35. ‘Therefore’. Since that’s the way you were when you first believed, don’t throw your confidence away now. When he refers to their confidence, he probably means their confidence in God and in God’s promises. So, in those earlier days, when they were suffering for the faith, they relied on God’s promises. And God’s promises were precious to them in those days. They held on to them carefully, keeping them close to their heart, so that they would not lose them. But now you’re in danger of throwing those promises away: treating them like rubbish which you toss in the bin. So, don’t do that.
And, of course, this is God’s word to us today. He’s saying to us today: Don’t throw away your confidence in God and his promises. Don’t toss them out like rubbish, because your confidence in God ‘will be richly rewarded’. It will be richly rewarded, because those who trust in God and his promises will enter eternal life and will be with the Lord forever. And so, this is not a reward we deserve or which we can earn, but it’s a reward which God freely and graciously gives to all who trust in him and in his promise of salvation. The world puts us under pressure. It pressurises us to to conform to its unbelieving ways. So people mock us. They despise us. They pity us as fools. They are scornful. How can you still believe in God in this day and age? They put us under pressure to conform. And the Devil tempts us. And our own sinful flesh tries to persuade us that we’d be better off without Christ. What did believing in Christ ever get you? Stay at home. Don’t bother with church. Don’t bother with your Bible and with prayer. None of it is necessary. Christ is not necessary. He’s not real. Throw away your old beliefs. That’s what we’re told. That’s what our sinful flesh tells us. That’s what the Devil tells us.
But God comes to us in his word and he tells us not to throw away our confidence. He tells us that you need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. What is the will of God for you? God’s will for you is for you to keep going in your faith and to continue to trust in him and to walk in his ways, even when it’s hard.
The Lord Jesus, when he was on the earth, devoted himself to doing God’s will, even when it meant suffering death on a cross. And so, he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, ‘Not my will, but yours be done.’ And God calls us to follow his example and to do the will of our Father. And after we have done that, you will receive what God has promised, which is eternal life in the presence of God where there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore for those who remained faithful and continued to believe. But it’s hard. How long will I have to keep going? How long will I have to persevere? Well, what does God say in his word to his people who are struggling? Look at verse 37. He says: ‘in just a very little while….’ It will only be for a little while. In a little while, he who is coming will come. He’s quoting from Habakkuk. And the one who is coming is Christ our Saviour. So, in a little while, Christ will come again. He will not delay, but will come at the right time. So, he won’t come any earlier; and he will not come any later; but he will come at the right time. He will come and will not delay. And while we wait for him to come again, what must you do? You must live by faith. In other words, you must keep believing. All of God’s people — his righteous ones — are to keep believing. We must keep believing, because he will not be pleased with those who shrink back and who give up the faith. So, keep believing.
And look how the writer ends. He’s confident that his readers are not those who shrink back. He’s confident that his readers are those who believe and who are saved. What about you? Are you focussing on present-day troubles when you should be focussing as well on the glory to come? Do you go through the day thinking about this world only and not thinking about the world to come? Remember the example of the Lord and how he endured the suffering of the cross because of the joy which lay before him. And our life in this world is often filled with trouble and trials and sorrow and suffering of one kind or another. And if all we do is focus on our troubles, then we’ll conclude that it’s too much trouble. And so, we need to remember that Christ is coming. And all who persevere and kept trusting in him will be saved and will enjoy eternal life in the presence of God where we will see him and where we will have everlasting joy. And so, for the joy set before us, let’s endure all things and keep believing. But as well as looking forward to the coming of the Lord and to eternal life in his presence, we can also look upwards to heaven, where our great high priest is seated. And he’s able to sympathise with us, because though he’s the Eternal Son of God, he became one of us. And since he became one of us, he knows what it’s like to suffer as one of us and he’s able to sympathise with us in our weakness. And our great high priest is always interceding for us and appealing to God on our behalf to give us everything we need so that we will keep going right to the end. So, we’re to look forward to his coming; and while we wait for his return, we’re to look up to heaven and rely on him for the help we need each day.