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Sermon March 10, 2019

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1388

March 10, 2019 Hebrews 5.11-6.12

Rev. Dr. Ed Pettus

(This is an extended outline, not a verbatim transcript.)

 

Better Things”

 

  • Liquid Diet vs Solid Diet

 

In the first ten verses of Hebrews five, the author has been talking about the priesthood of Christ and prior to that, the superiority of Christ. Imagine you are reading and you are seeing all the points being made and everything seems to make sense and then you come to this line in verse eleven, “About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.” Now, I would normally not advise a writer to insult the reader. It can be a big turn off. But we know the Bible speaks truth to the reader. It does not seek political correctness, nor does it claim to be nice in all aspects. Sometimes we need to look to what is written and ask ourselves, are we among the dull of hearing? Are we like those the prophets often spoke: hard-hearted, stubborn, rebellious? At one point in Paul’s letter to the Galatians he calls them foolish. Jesus asks the disciples, (my paraphrase) “have I been with you all this time and you still don’t get it” (see Matt 15.16; Luke 24.25; John 14.9)?

Sometimes we are hard of hearing, slow to understand, and unwilling to obey. The original readers of this letter were being scolded for their lack of growth. While they should have been already teaching others about Christ, they themselves were in need of learning the basics. They were on the bottle, like a baby, drinking milk when they should have already moved on to solid food. This is how I understand this situation. There are plenty of Christians who, let’s say, come to profess faith in Christ at the age of twelve. Many of them might drink milk for a year like a newborn baby, but they never move on to solid food. They never move on to solid teaching beyond the basics. Then we they are 30 years old they have the faith of a twelve year old. Maturity in Christ is about growing up and learning more and more as we grow. Look at verse fourteen, “for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

Two signs of maturity: trained for discernment and capable of distinguishing good from evil. Every Christian should seek these goals in the life of faith. Every Christian should have these abilities because we know for certain that non-believers will lack this maturity. We see it when politicians want to kill babies in and out of the womb. We see it when the powers that be want to destroy the sanctity of marriage. We see it when the powerful symbols of a Judeo-Christian nation are threatened with destruction. We see it when doing the things of God are considered unconstitutional, like prayer in public, practicing Sabbath, or seeking to persuade others of the salvation given in Jesus Christ.

God calls us to become mature believers, grown ups, responsible, willing to defend the faith at all cost, willing to stand firm in the truth. We cannot afford to be like those who are tossed to and fro at every wind of doctrine, “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4.14). Grow up! Clean out your ears and hear. Eat solid food, the food of God’s Word. There are tons of deceitful schemes at work in the world. One of the most deceitful are those areas of the country where school children as young as kindergarten are being introduced to the world’s views of marriage, or I should say distorted, twisted views, and twisted views of sexuality, and all sorts of regressive evil schemes.

It is up to the church to reveal and proclaim the truth. We are to grow up to be mature, well versed, courageous voices – even like the prophets of old. But we begin with moving on to solid food. How did Jesus say it? “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matt 4.4). Get off the liquid diet and get on the solid diet of God’s Word! I don’t know exactly how things are going to go in our nation, but what I firmly believe is that the church, that is all of us, need to grow to maturity in order to stand for truth and speak that truth to the lies of the world. Too often in our world the loudest and most crisis oriented voices get all the press and spread those lies to younger immature ears. Take for example the debate over climate change. Most on the crisis end go so far to say there is no debate and for the past 40 years or so we’ve been warned every ten years the world will end, in ten years. Now we hear it once again, in the next 10-12 years the world is done. Now, don’t get me wrong, we do have a responsibility to “subdue and have dominion over the earth”, a biblical responsibility given us in Genesis. My biggest gripe with the climate changers is they have absolutely no view of God’s provision or soveriegnty over for the earth. God is not even in the picture for them. The old song is right, “He’s got the whole world in his hands.” Yes, we might do some damage, we may need to continue to care deeply about pollution and other ways we affect the land, but we can no more change the climate than we can change the rotation of the earth. I’m waiting for some of our brilliant politicians to suggest we just more earth a few more miles away from the sun.

The point is, we need mature Christians to tackle the problems of our world, not power hungry schemers who are tossed about with every wind of foolishness. But I do want to suggest my climate change solution...Hosea 4.1-3, Hear the word of the Lord, O children of Israel, for the Lord has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; 2there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. 3Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish,
and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away.

You want to clean up the pollution and stop the so called climate changes? Stop breaking Commandment! Stop trying to eliminate all knowledge of God in the land. (But I digress.)

 

  • Foundations on Which to Grow

 

6.1Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

 

Hebrews speaks of moving out of the elementary doctrines of Christ (6.1). We have to build that foundation and then build on that foundation. We don’t start off in elementary school and then never move on to middle school and high school and beyond. The same is true in our Christian life. We must go deeper than just knowing, “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so.” We are not seeking to know just enough to get us to heaven, but we want to know more that we might follow Christ more faithfully and be able to stand firm in the days ahead while the world around us opposes everything of God.

Take for example our essentials of faith in the EPC. These are the basic teachings we require leaders to adopt. Things like the authority of scripture, the existence of God, the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, the power of the Holy Spirit, and so forth. These are at the root of our understanding of Christian doctrine. But we do not stop with those; we build on them. There are riches beyond imagination throughout the Bible that takes a lifetime for us to learn. There are depths of theology that help us to mature in knowledge and wisdom. There are profound experiences in spirituality that build us up in faith. There are broad visions of God’s purposes that enable us to better discern the ways of the world.

You know that old phrase, “to read the writing on the wall”? We get that from Daniel 5 when Daniel was the only one who could read the writing the king saw written on the wall. We seek to mature in the Christian life and faith so that we can see the writing on the wall. It means that we might discern what’s going on, that we can see the end product or end result. I love Psalm 73 in this case. The Psalmist begins with the woes of seeing the wicked prosper and fails to understand why, until he goes to worship, then he can see the writing on the wall.

 

16But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, 17until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end. 18Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. 19How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!

 

I’m not overly anxious about politicians or groups or forces in the world who oppose all things godly. Their day will come when God causes them to fall to ruin. There might be trouble here for a time, but God will eventually end the evil, end the deception, and redeem all things.

 

  • Warning: Receptive or Unreceptive Soil

 

4For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, 6and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. 7For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. 8But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned.

 

Hebrews 6.4-8 has long been a troubling section for people. Some take it to mean that we are in danger of losing our salvation. Some believe that it promotes our ability to backslide. Some use it as an argument against Calvin’s teaching on irresistible grace. Let’s look at it more closely! It is impossible for those once enlightened, who have tasted of heaven, shared in the Spirit, tasted the goodness of God’s Word and then fall away, it is impossible for them to be restored to repentance. Who are these people? To what degree are they seen as believers and then as non believers? We know plenty of people who seem to fit this scenario.

Let’s look at verses 7-8, a garden scene. Rain falls on the land, all the land. Some of the land produces useful crops, but other parts of the land produce thorns and thistles, weeds, absolutely worthless! Compare that to the parable of the sower we heard read a moment ago.

 

Matt 13.18-23 18“Hear then the parable of the sower: 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path. 20As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, 21yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. 22As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. 23As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

 

According to this, there are those who taste of God’s Word, who for a time share in the Spirit, who dabble in heavenly gifts. They are those who receive the word with joy but have no root and at the first sign of trouble, they fall away. They are the ones who are enlightened by hearing the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of the world chokes the word out of them. (Remember the deceitful schemes from Eph 4.14?) My point is that there are people who sometimes put a toe in the water of faith...but they will not jump in. They appear to be in for a time, but not so. Hebrews is a description of those folks as is Jesus’ parable.

John speaks of this as well in 1 John 2.18-19, 18Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. 19They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.

 

There were some who walked with the Christians for a time, but they went out from them because they were not of them, not of the flock, not of the called.

Or consider one more text from Matthew 7.21-23, 21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

Not everyone who professes Christ is of Christ. Not everyone who tastes of God’s gifts will persevere. Not all who seem to be what they say are telling the truth.

Now, I don’t want us to take this as reason to suspect everyone! The Bible also tells us we will know them by their fruits. We will know them by their perseverance. We will know them by their character. We will know them by the evidence of the presence of the Spirit. We will know them by their solid diet of God’s Word.

 

  • Better Things in Salvation

 

9Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. 10For 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. 11And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

 

I love this phrase in verse 9, “yet in your case”. The Hebrews to whom he writes are not those who have fallen away. They may be immature, they may even be dull of hearing, but they are not fallen away. The author is confident of better things for them. He is confident of the things that belong to salvation and if we take the context of the previous verses, to the better things of maturity. Their service has been noted; their love has been evident. They have shown all the signs of devotion to Christ. The only warning is that they not grow sluggish, not be dull of hearing, not be immature, but instead, grow to become teachers of the faith. These are better things! Maturity in Christ, able to teach, able to profess truth, able to rest in full assurance of hope, able to live in faith and patience, knowing that we are the heirs of God’s promises. Maturity is in knowing the bread that Jesus gives us, solid food, the Word. Maturity is in seeing God’s Word discerning the ways of the world. Maturity is trusting Jesus for our time and for our future. Maturity is knowing that God has better things in store for all who believe! Amen.