02 Sep Hebrews 10 – When God swore an oath
9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
If you have sibling, then you would know that there were times that you used to not like your sibling. Anyone? Today, me and my sister are very close. We are like best friend forever. But we used to be enemies. We used to fight all the time. And every time we fought, I would overwhelmed her with my strength. I am a guy after all. I don’t know how it was in your fight, but in the fight between me and my sister, the loser was the one who cried first. So, I might be stronger than her but I would lose the fight every time. She had this magic words that made me cry every time without fail. So this is what she said. You ready? She would look at me and told me, “You are not my brother. You are not Dad and Mom’s biological son. You don’t even look like them. They saw you at a trash disposal and felt sorry for you. So they took you home.” And every time she said that I lost the energy to fight and started weeping like crazy. Later on, my parents would come home and my sister would get into big trouble because of what she said. But then came one of the sweetest unforgettable moment of my childhood. My parents takes me aside, hugs me, kisses me, looks at me in the eyes and tells me, “You are our son. We love you. We want you.” And just like that, all the fear and doubt that were planted by my evil sister goes away. My parents gives me the assurance I need that I am their son and they love me.
This is what happens in the passage that we just read. If you remember the last sermon on Hebrews, the author writes one of the strongest and weightiest warning you can find in the New Testament. He rebukes them for becoming dull of hearing and he tells them that it is time to grow up. God does not want them to remain baby Christians forever. Drinking milk is good but eventually the milk that they drink should help them to grow up and enable them to eat rib eye steak. And then the author gives this warning that if they are not growing, then there must be something wrong. A living thing always grow. So if they are not growing, they might think they are Christians while in reality they are not. Be careful of continuing to resist the works of the Spirit and having their hearts hardened because of it. There is line that they must not cross. Don’t go there. So the author is rebuking his audiences. But the purpose of the rebuke is not so that the church would doubt their salvations, but in order that they can have assurance of their salvations. The author of Hebrews wants his audiences to be certain of their salvations. He does not want them to live in doubt but he wants them to have confident in God’s love for them. And the goal of today’s passage is to give us assurance as Christians.
All of us need this assurance. Because this is what I know about every Christians. Even though we are saved, we still struggle with sin. And in our struggle with sins, we often get frustrated and overwhelmed by it. We thought we had victory over it for some weeks and even months only for it to come back stronger than ever. We thought we forgave and let the bitterness go only to find ourselves agitated by the same person weeks later. The ladies begin to write in their diary, “dear diary, what is wrong with me?” and the men begin to curse themselves. We desperately want those things to go away from our lives and we are willing to do whatever it takes to kill it. And for others, in waiting for God’s promises to come true, we become weary to see it comes to past. We begin to wonder if God will come true with his promises. And historically speaking, church does not help much. Church loves to celebrate the supernatural testimony that none of us had, except that person. “Addicted to drugs for 20 years and its gone in a single night. Jesus is my new drug.” And then we begin to think, “What is wrong with me? Why am I still struggling? Am I broken or something? Am I even a Christian?” But this is not how God wants us to live. As we are about to see in this passage, God wants to take us aside, hugs us, kisses us, looks at us in the eyes, and tells us, “You are my child. I love you. I want you. You can trust me.” He wants us to live with assurance that he is for us.
Two things that we can learn from this passage. How we can be assured; why we can be assured. Just two points tonight. And then I’ll give you quick applications at the end.
How we can be assured
Hebrews 6:9-12 – 9 Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10 For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, as you still do. 11 And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Remember that the author just gave the harshest warning to his audiences. But then he turns around and calls them “beloved.” This is the only time the word ‘beloved’ is used in the whole letter. It tells us something about the heart of the author. Even though he just rebukes them strongly, the reason he does it is not that he hates the church but because he loves them. And it is precisely because he loves them that he needs to tell them things that might hurt them. If you are a parent you understand this well. Sometime you have to hurt your kid, not because you hate them, but because you love them. My parent used to say it to me all the time before they discipline me. “This is going to hurt me more than it hurt you. But this is for your good.” And in my mind I replied, “Then don’t do it. Why hurt yourself by hurting me? Why you don’t just let it go and no one need to get hurt?” But now that I am a pastor, I can understand that there are times that I need to hurt you because I love you. God’s warning works the same way. God wants us to have assurance as his children. He wants us to live with confidence that our salvation is assured. But in order for us to have this assurance, there are things we must avoid. That’s the purpose of the earlier rebuke. But now the author is saying, “Though I might sound harsh and angry to you, I actually love you. And when I look at your life, I feel sure of better things. You are not of those who abandoned their faith and forsake Christ. No. I can see things that belong to salvation when I look at you.” So what did the author see?
First, he sees their love for God’s name. It means that they love God. They adore God. They exalt God. They put God first in their lives. They are not those who are afraid to identify themselves as God’s people. Remember the audiences of the letter of Hebrews are those who are persecuted for being Christians. They are Christian Jews who are rejected both by society and by their own family. Yet these people are not ashamed to be called Christians. They love God’s name. But that’s not the only thing. The second thing that the author sees is their love for one another. Their love for God’s name is reflected in them serving the saints. Hebrews 10:32-34 – 32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one.
The author of Hebrews is saying that he feels sure of better things for his audience because he sees their love for God and their love for one another. With another word, you and I can be assured of our salvations if we see the fruits of salvation in our lives. What is the fruits of salvation? Love for God and love for one another. Not one over the other but both. It’s easy for us to choose one over the other. It’s easy for us to say that we love God and we are all about God’s name. But if that love for God is not reflected in our love for one another, then forget it. We do not love God. It is also easy for us to care about social justice and be highly involved in feeding the poor, helping the needy etc. But if the reason we do it is not based in our love for God’s name, then forget it. It is not the fruits of salvation. Fruits of salvations is reflected in both our vertical relationship and horizontal relationship. This is how we can be assured of our salvation.
Notice I keep using the word “fruits.” Your love for God and one another is the evidence of your salvation. It is not the requirement of salvation. I emphasis this because the author of Hebrews writes in verse 10 that “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work.” He is not saying that the reason God saves you is because he sees your work of loving God and serving the saints and it would be unjust for him to not save you after all your works. It is how a lot of people interpret this verse but it cannot be because it goes against everything else the author writes in his letter. And because just few sentences later in verse 12 he writes that we inherit the promises of salvation through faith and patience. What he is actually saying is this, “God sees. God knows. He sees you when you make sacrifices in order to honour God’s name. He sees your tears and pain when you serve other people. He takes notes of it. He will not forget. He remembers. And he will reward it. He is a just God.” I love it. The Bible again and again tells us that God remembers our sins no more but he always remembers the works we do for one another out of our love God’s name. He will not overlook your work.
And when this happen, verse 11 says that we can have “the full assurance of hope until the end.” The word “full” here is actually the verb “fill up.” The picture is not of a cup that is full and can’t be filled anymore but a cup that is continue to be filled until it is full. It means that the author of Hebrews wants his audience to have and know more of the full assurance of hope that can be theirs. If I can simplify it more, he is essentially saying, “your fruits is the fuel of your assurance.” The more you see your fruits, the more you can be assured of your salvation. So the steps goes like this.
1) You are saved because of your faith in Christ.
2) That faith produced fruits of love for God’s name and love for one another.
3) God sees your fruit and he will reward you for it.
4) You are filled with assurance because of it.
But it does not stop there. The author continues to say in verse 12 that the purpose of full assurance of hope is “so that you may not be sluggish.” Which mean there is another step.
5) The assurance prompts you to produce even more fruits.
It is a continuous cycle of having more fruits and filled with more assurance. It is God who gives you faith that produced the fruits in you. But then God sees the fruits and give rewards for it. And it produces assurance that bring forth even more fruits and greater assurance. This is how we can be assured of our salvation. And then the author encouraged us to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Why we can be assured
So now the question is, what is the foundation of the assurance of our salvation? How do I know that this is true and not just some empty talk? The author is going to tell us why we can be assured. There are three reasons we can be assured. First, God is faithful to keep his promises. Hebrews 6:13-15 – 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
So, let’s backtrack and looks at the life of Abraham for a while. Genesis 12:1-3 – Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
This is a grand promise. The rest of the story of the Bible is the fulfilment of Genesis 12:1-3. That’s how massive God’s promise to Abram is. At the end, all the families of the earth shall be blessed in Abram. Abram was already considerably wealthy at this time. He was a man with many possessions. But there was one thing he was lacking, an offspring. To have children, especially a son, is the value of their culture. To not have a child is almost considered as a curse. But God’s promise for Abram was that he will make Abram into a great nation, which meant he have to have children. However, the end of Genesis 11 told us that Sarai was barren. This is a big problem. Biologically speaking, it is impossible for Sarai to have children. But God promised that Abram would have an offspring. How? God would do it! How many “I” do you see in this promise? God wants Abram to know from the beginning that God is the one who is going to do it. God is saying that, “I and not you will be the one who will make this promise come true.”
Then in Genesis 15, God appears to Abram in a vision. Many years has passed by this time and Abram is still childless. He has no child of his own so his solution is to make Eliezer, one of his trusted servants, his heir. In Abram’s mind, for the promise of God to come true, Abram need to do something; Eliezer was Abram’s solution. But then the Lord comes to him and says that His promise will come true through Abram’s son. Genesis 15:5-6: And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the Lord, and he counted it to him as righteousness. This is one of my favorite verses. Abram looks at the impossibility in his situation and he chooses to believe God over his situation. And the LORD counted it to him as righteousness.
Genesis 16. After years of barrenness, Sarai has an idea. God says it will be Abram’s son but God never says it will be through Sarai. So Sarai reason with Abram and try to help God out by telling Abram to sleep with Hagar, Sarai’s servant. Through Hagar, Abram has a son by the name of Ishmael. Problem solved? Not at all. God would have none of it. Apparently, God has a different plan in mind.
Genesis 17. Thirteen years after Ishmael was born, God appears before Abram to change His name into Abraham, which means, father of many nations. Then God gives Abraham greater details into God’s promise for him. Kings and nations will come out of Abraham and God will establish an everlasting covenant with Abraham’s offspring. Then God suddenly drops the bomb. Genesis 17:15-16 – And God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai, your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her. God reiterates his promise but this time He makes it clear it will come through Sarah and not Hagar! Abraham is confused. Genesis 17:17-18 – Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, “Shall a child be born to a man who is hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child? And Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” Don’t miss it. Abraham laughed at God! And this is not a laughter of joy. It is a cynical laughter. First, they are old! Paul said in Romans that they are as good as dead. Translation – It’s not going to happen. They don’t have what it take to make it happen. The system is already crashed and rebooting it won’t do a thing. Second, Abraham already has Ishmael. Abraham tries to reason with God that Ishmael is the answer to God’s promise. Genesis 17:19 – God said, “No, but Sarah your wife shall bear you a son, and you shall call his name Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his offspring after him. God flatly rejects Abraham’s answer to God’s promise. It is not Ishmael but Isaac! So why wait so long? He waited for 24 years now already by then.
Genesis 21. After twenty-five years of waiting, the picture of God’s promise to them finally comes true. A seed of the promise is born, Isaac. Isaac brings joy and laughter to the family. Abraham celebrates with his people and makes a great feast! Isaac begins to grow and suddenly God comes to Abraham to test his heart. God asks Abraham to sacrifice his one and only beloved son, Isaac. Ishmael was already thrown out of the family by this time. Isaac is it. Abraham has no other son. Father Abraham does not have many child. After all those years of waiting, Abraham finally has Isaac and now he has to give him up. God is asking the question, “Who do you love more? Do you love me or my promise more?” And Abraham doesn’t know. Genesis 22. So after twenty-five years of waiting for God’s promise, Abraham is being tested on whether he loves God or God’s promise more. Abraham’s answer is God. Then God swears by Himself to bless Abraham. And this is what the author of Hebrews is quoting. Genesis 22:15-17 – 15 And the angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, declares the Lord, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.
What can we learn from the life of Abraham? It is simply this. God is faithful to keep his promise. Abraham waited 25 years for the glimpse of God’s promise to become a reality. 25 years. That is a long wait. And Abraham messed up a lot along the way. He was not perfect. He wavered and made mistakes again and again. But God is faithful. And the faithfulness of God enables Abraham to wait patiently to inherit the promise. The promise of God for Abraham does not depend on Abraham’s faithfulness to God but God’s faithfulness to Abraham. God always deliver on his promises. The life of Abraham is the prime example of it. Abraham persevered through ups and downs and he finally obtained the promise. So if you are weary and tired in waiting for God’s promise, all you have to do is look at the life of Abraham. This is wonderful and it should be enough already. God is faithful to his promises. But God raise the stake even higher.
The second reason we can be assured is because God swore an oath. Hebrews 6:16-18 – 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.
Now we need to slowdown to understand the insanity of what the author of Hebrews is saying. I promise you this is beautiful and life-altering. Stick with me. First, we need to understand the character of God and his word. God is a faithful God. He is not only faithful but he is also all-powerful. God can do whatever he wants, however he wants, and whenever he wants. That’s what makes God, God. So when God says something, you can be sure what he says will happen. He is different from us. When we give someone our words, we can’t give certainty that it will happen. We can only do our best. But God is different. You can trust his words. His words is powerful enough to create everything out of nothing. He speaks and it happens. His words is unchangeable because God is unchangeable. We can trust his words. If all God gives us is his words, it is more than enough. His words will not fail to accomplish what it sets out to do. He can come through with what he promised.
But what happens next blows my mind. Hebrews 6:17 – 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath. Take note that it is God’s desire. It is God’s willingness. It is what God wants. No one force him to do it. He acts out of his own desire. What does he wants to do? He wants to convince the heirs of the promise. Who is the heirs of promise? All the children of Abraham by faith is the heirs of the promise. That’s you and me, Christians. So in order to convince us of God’s unchangeable character of his purpose… in order to convince us that he does not change his mind about us… in order to convince us that we can be assured… God did the unthinkable. God swore an oath.
When we swore, we swore on something greater than ourselves. I do not say, “I swear on my cat.” No. First, I don’t own a cat. Second, who cares about a cat? When we swear, we swear on things bigger than ourselves. “I swear on my mom’s grave.” What we are saying when we swear by that thing is that if I lie, may that very thing become a curse to me. Now when God wants to swear, it put him in a dilemma since nothing is bigger than him and everything is created by him. “Should I swear on heaven? Wait, I created heaven. What about the archangel Gabriel and Michael? Wait, they are my servants. What should I swear on? What is the greatest and most precious thing out there that I can swear on? Oh I know. It’s me. I am more valuable and precious than all the universe combine. So I’ll swear on myself.” So God swears by himself! With another word, what God is saying is that, “If what I said did not come to pass, then let me accursed. I’ll die.” This is absurd.
So now the author of Hebrews is saying that by these two unchangeable things, that is first because God is faithful to his word and his word always come true, and second because on top of being who he is, God swore an oath, it is impossible for God to lie. Now, why did God have to go to such extend? Why did he swore an oath to let us know that it is impossible for him to lie? Hebrews 6:18 – 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. Here is the bottom line. The reason God went to such extend to swear an oath by himself is for one purpose – it is so that you and I might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope we have in him. Wow! I love the way John Piper explains it. So in God’s mind, God is asking the question, “What is the strongest encouragement I can give to RSI for them to hold fast to me? Oh, I know. Let me swear to them upon my own name.” If God can raise the stake in order to give us stronger encouragement, he would. But there is nothing higher than himself. So hear this. The only way God can break his oath to us is if God stop being God. Translation – that day never exist. Therefore, God can be trusted. God is a promise-keeping God. So, flee to him for refuge.
As if these two reasons are not enough, the author of Hebrews gives us the third reason why we can be assured. Third, we have an upside down anchor. Hebrews 6:19-20 – 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
What is an anchor? An anchor is what is used to help a boat remain steady and stable above water. Couple of months ago, some of us decided to rent a boat for few hours and have fellowship on the boat. I don’t know why but in my mind when they said they wanted to rent a boat, what comes to my mind was a yacht. But yeah, it was a boat, not a yacht. We can’t afford a yacht. We are not in that tax bracket. So we get into the boat, we drives it to a nice location and we let down the anchor. The purpose of letting down the anchor is so that the boat will remain where it is and not drifted by the wave. However, for some reason our boat is not steady. It keeps moving. So we pull out the anchor and we let it down again. Why? Because for the anchor to function properly, two things must happen. First, the anchor must be attached to the boat. But that alone is not enough. The second thing that must happen is that the end of the anchor must be attached to something firm and permanent that can hold the weight of the boat. Are you with me? It does the boat no good if the other end of the anchor is not attached to anything firm and permanent.
So here is what the author of the Hebrews is saying. Your soul and my soul have an anchor. And that anchor is not lose but it is attached to something firm and permanent. It is a sure and steadfast anchor. Yet what is weird about the anchor of our soul is that it does not go down but it goes up. It is an upside down anchor. Our anchor is not attached to anything located in the deep sea but in the high heaven. He says that our anchor is a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain. It is an Old Testament language that refers to the presence of God. It is a place where once a year, a high priest would enter to offer a sacrifice of sins in order to make peace between God and God’s people. So our anchor is a hope that enters the presence of God to make peace between God and us. And our hope has a name. His name is Jesus. Our anchor is attached to Jesus who enters the presence of God, having become a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. It simply means that Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. It is unchanging. It is firm and permanent. We do not need another priest. Jesus is forever our priest and he is right now interceding to God on our behalves. This is the third reason why can be assured. Because Jesus enters the presence of God and offers himself as an offering sacrifice for our sins. Jesus establishes peace between us and God. And not only that, Jesus is forever praying for us in the presence of God. There is not a single second that Jesus does not pray for us as our high priest. And if Jesus prays for us, he will not fail. That is why the author calls Jesus a forerunner. A forerunner is someone who make a way for others to follow. Jesus has entered God’s presence as our forerunner and he is right now interceding for us in the presence of God. Therefore, you and I have the confident that we too will enter the fullness of the presence of God and be with Jesus. Our hope is not a mere wish but our hope is a sure and steadfast anchor in the heaven. Jesus is the anchor of our souls.
Let me give you three quick application and I am done. But hear me out. This passage applies for those who are struggling to follow Jesus. This passage is given for a strong encouragement for those who experience difficulties in living Christian lives. If you are not experiencing difficulties in Christian lives, it can only mean one thing. You are living in disobedience and this passage is not for you. What you need is to repent of your sins before it is too late. This passage is for those who are like Abraham, who are willing to go and trust God at his words, but struggle along the way. This passage is for those who are weary and tired in your walk with God. It is for those who are waiting patiently for the fulfilment of God’s promise in their life.
First, look at the Anchor. Life is hard. Waiting is difficult. Abraham’s life is the proof of it. He stumbles a lot but God’s faithfulness continues to uphold him. And the same faithfulness will uphold you. And not only that, he also gives you the strongest encouragement. God swore an oath to you. He will not break it. Look at what he has done to keep his words to you. He send his one and only beloved son to die for us so that we may live and become heirs of promise. Look at Jesus. Look at everything he went through for you and me. Look and keep looking. God does not change his mind about you. He loves you and he wants you. It is impossible for him to lie.
Second, trust the Anchor. What Jesus did for us is a not mere hope. He left heaven for us. He died for us. Romans 8:32 – He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? If God gave his own son to save you, what makes you think he would give up on you in the middle? It is illogical. We need to trust the anchor. It does not mean that God will give us all things and make our life a smooth sailing. No. The purpose of an anchor is to keep you steady even in the midst of the storms. There are days that it seems like we are not going to make it. Maybe not days. Maybe its months, seasons, years. Storms of life will come but we are steady because we have Jesus. Our anchor is strong enough to hold us firm in the midst of the biggest storm. Our confidence is not in our own strength but in the strength of our anchor. Trust him.
Third, hold fast to the Anchor. Run to him. Hold fast to him. Flee to him for refuge. He won’t fail you. And you did not do it by your own strength. It is God’s strong encouragement to hold fast to you that enables you to hold fast to him. So this is not God has done his part and now you need to do your part. It is God has done his part and he is enabling you to do your part. He has given you every reason for you to trust him and hold fast to him. And he is right now enabling you to hold fast to him. So hold fast to the anchor.
- Notice the contrast between the severe warning in the previous verses, and the author’s confidence in this passage. What does it tell us about certainty of salvation?
- How can we be assured of our salvations?
- “For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work.” Explain what the author meant by writing this phrase.
- Name other Old Testament examples (beside Abraham) who obtained God’s promise through faith and patience. How can we imitate their examples?
- How did the fact that God swore by himself encourage and equip Abraham to wait patiently for the promise? How should it encourage and equip us to wait for the fulfilment of God’s promises to us?
- Read Hebrews 6:18. How does the fact that it is impossible for God to lie, encourage us to hold fast to the hope set before us?
- What is the anchor of our souls? How does this anchor enable us to stand firm in the midst of difficulties?
- Jesus is our forerunner. What does it mean and how does it affect our lives?