|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. “Jack” Sequeira
Hebrews 5:11 to 6:12 is dealing with the cost of abandoning Christ. It is a very serious problem and a very important truth that is dealt with in this section. The book of Hebrews alternates between encouragement and warning. The last unit we covered was encouragement. We saw a High Priest who understands our feelings, who sympathizes with us. Now we are turning to a section that deals with warning.
Paul has just told us in Heb. 5:10 that Jesus Christ, after being made perfect through His life and death and thus becoming the Author of eternal salvation through His earthly ministry, God called Him to heaven and appointed Him as our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. Then immediately Paul digresses to warning. He says in Heb.5:11,12:
Of whom [concerning Christ as the Melchizedek High Priest] we have many things to say. For when ye ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat [i.e., strong food].
He is using the illustration of a baby. You know we have some wonderful babies in our church and they are very cute and they are wonderful but if they remain babies for five more years and you feed them with milk alone what happens? What happens if the growth of a baby is arrested? Are the parents happy? No.
And herein is what he is concerned about. He has hit on one of the main reasons why people leave Christ. The main reason is that there is no spiritual growth. The fact that you have been a Christian for twenty years does not mean that you have grown. Spiritual growth has nothing to do with time.
May I remind you, folks, that the main reason Paul writes the book of Hebrews was not to present a theological dissertation. The purpose the book of Hebrews was written was because the Jewish Christians were losing their faith. They were becoming discouraged. They were giving up Christ and returning to Judaism. They were giving up their faith in Christ. Paul is saying the main reason why you are weak is because you have not grown spiritually.
I want to show you another passage that is dealing with the same thing. This is as different church, a Gentile church, and that is the church in Corinth. Turn to 1 Corinthians 3. You will notice that both passages, Hebrews 5:11 onwards and 1 Cor. 3 are dealing with the same issue, and that Paul divides Christians into two categories. Look at 1 Cor.1:1-3:
And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.
So he divides Christians into two categories — babes in Christ and spiritual Christians. He identifies babes in Christ as carnal. Now the word carnal is fleshy. It means that these Christians are dominated by their sinful nature. Look at verse two:
I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: [he is referring now to the time when he first came to Corinth and converted them] for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, [not able to take solid food] neither yet now are ye able.
Notice that the letter to the Corinthians was written approximately twenty years after the Corinthian Church was established. He is saying, “When I first came to you I could not give you heavy meat. I had to give you milk. Now twenty years later you are still not able to take heavy meat, ‘neither yet now are ye able.’” Verse three gives us the identification marks of carnal Christianity:
For you are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?
What did he mean by that? He said, “Your behaviour is no different from worldly people. One cannot tell the difference.”
This is exactly what we are facing today. There is not enough spiritual growth. Now who do we blame? I suppose that the people in Paul’s day could say, “Well, we have no Bible so we cannot study. So the fault is with the pastors. They don’t feed us.”
But if anyone has no Bible in America he has no excuse. All you have to do is come to my office and I will give you a Bible. We have piles of them there. There is no excuse today for giving that excuse.
Now there is also a blame on us pastors. There needs to be more feeding. When I was holding a seminar in ________, the [Adventist General Conference] man who was in charge of the “Tape of the Month,” from the Ministerial Department, asked me to come and speak for the weekend at his church. Then he called me aside while I was staying at his home.
He said “Jack, we have a problem. I’m desperately hunting for tapes which are Biblical preaching. We have a drought, I’ve tried everywhere. The trouble is I cannot use non-Adventist preachers.”
I said, “Why?”
He said, “Because I get tremendous reaction from the tape subscribers.” (He had five hundred on the list.) “Please tell our pastors to preach the Word of God that we may have tapes to send around. We’re desperate!”
So there is a problem. We need to go back to Biblical preaching, no more philosophy, no more stories. We need to feed on the Word of God. There is a drought. This is not something that is in our denomination only. This is a cry from all denominations. Not too long ago I attended a seminar. It was a nondenominational seminar held by two very famous Biblical preachers in this country. They are both non-Adventist preachers. One is an Old Testament scholar by the name of Kaiser from Wheaton College. The other is from California, Ray Stedman. Both said that the Christian Church in America is going down the drain and one of the primary reasons is that there is not enough Biblical preaching in the churches. They pleaded, “Please pastors, go to the Word of God and preach it.”
But folks, when you get to the judgment-seat, you cannot blame God and say, “God, the pastor didn’t feed us.” Yes, God may rebuke the pastor for not doing his job but you can’t use that excuse because in this country you have learned how to read and write and the Bible is freely available. It is not enough simply to hear the Word from the pulpit. You need to study.
I have held four or five seminars in Los Angeles [California, U.S.A.]. There is a man there who is an elder of the church who has come to all the meetings and really rejoices in the gospel. He phoned me last night. They are having a huge seminar in Cedar Falls, Southern California. They have asked him to give two studies. He said, “I’m struggling.” He asked me a whole list of questions. He spent an hour; I don’t know what his phone bill will be like.
“I gave you all of this already,” I told him.
And he said, “Yes, but I did not study it for myself. I got it here [heart] and I’m rejoicing in it here, but to bring it out of here, I cannot do it.”
I said, “That is why God has opened the door for you to witness.”
And he said, “I’ve never studied so hard!”
So please do not just listen to the Word. Study it and witness it. Let’s go back to Hebrews chapter five and see what Paul is saying here. He is saying, “There has been no spiritual growth, therefore I can’t even give you this heavy meat.” Have you ever tried giving Loma Linda Fried Chicken to a baby? When we went to the mission field we took a case of that fried chicken. You can’t get that plastic food there and so we took a supply. Our little girl chewed and chewed and chewed and couldn’t swallow it. She said, “This is like bubble gum except there’s no bubble in it.” So she had to spit it out, and the dog enjoyed what she spat out. She could not swallow it. It was too fibery.
The Africans have a wonderful system. They teach their kids to eat heavy food quite early and they tap them on their stomach to find out whether they are full. It’s a wonderful way of finding out whether they are full or not. If you do that year after year after year, the parents get tired.
We have a friend who has a foster-son who is nineteen years old. When he was a baby his real parents abused him and he is brain-damaged. So mentally he is like a three or four year old child. He plays with cars, etc. It is not his fault but the thing is that it takes dedication and Paul is saying look, “How long are you going to remain babies?” Look at verse thirteen of Hebrews five:
For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat [food] belongeth to them that are of full age, [the Greek word means those who have reached maturity] even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
One of the problems of babies in Christ is that they are not able to discern truth from error. Every new idea that comes on the market they fall for it. Today we have a lot of independent ministries. Some of them are good and some of them are not good. We have all kinds of teaching and some people just fall for everything. You need to be able to discern truth from error and this is the only way for you to be mature Christians. Now look at chapter six verse one:
Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection [maturity], not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God....
How would you like to lay the foundation and then one week later say, “O.K. I have changed my plans.” So you break the foundation and lay another foundation and a week later say, “No I think I will make another design,” and you break it again. All you are doing is laying foundations.
When we were in Michigan they had an expression. They called it “basement dwellers.” People build a basement and then they stop there. They live in it like under-ground creatures. The house is never built. What Paul is saying here is that the foundation must be laid. What is the foundation? Repentance, which is conversion from dead works, from legalism (that is, dead works that produce no salvation or fruits), and of faith toward God. When you first come to Christ you turn from yourself to Jesus Christ. That’s the foundation. Continuing with Heb.6:2:
Of the doctrine of baptisms, [baptism is the beginning of the Christian experience] and of laying on of hands, [which was done in New Testament times for receiving the Holy Spirit] and of resurrection of the dead, [talking about the second coming of Christ] and of eternal judgment.
In other words, we must not keep on harping over and over and over again the same thoughts. He is not saying that we must put it away. We must build our knowledge into a clearer understanding of the gospel and the purpose of God. Heb.6:3:
And this will we do [referring to the Apostles], if God permits.
In other words, “I’m going to try and build you up, if God allows me. I’m going to continue my ministry with you.”
Now we come to the most difficult section of Hebrews, verses four to six. What happens if there is no spiritual growth? The danger is of losing your faith. We must make a distinction between a backslider and an apostate. A backslider is one who has stopped coming to church, who maybe doesn’t pray any more, who has become what we might call a “non-attending believer,” but he still believes in Christ. He still believes the doctrines of the church.
An apostate is a person who deliberately, wilfully rejects Christ as his Saviour. Now backsliding may be the stepping stone. I’m not encouraging backsliding, I’m simply saying that we must make a distinction because this passage is not dealing with backsliders. It is dealing with apostates, those who knew the gospel, who understood the truth and who were born again Christians but have deliberately, wilfully said “goodbye” to Christ. They want nothing to do with Christ.
This statement has brought tremendous controversy in the Christian Church, especially among the Calvinists because it is against their doctrine of once saved always saved, which is based on predestination. Heb.6:4-6:
For it is impossible [That’s exactly what the Greek says. There is no misinterpretation of the word.] for those who were once enlightened [That means, they had understood clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ], and have tasted of the heavenly gift [They were rejoicing in Christ. They had accepted the truth and were looking forward to the blessed hope], and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost [They were not simply influenced by the Holy Ghost but they had experienced the new birth, they had become partakers of the divine nature], and have tasted the good word of God [They were rejoicing in the Bible], and the powers of the world to come [i.e., the blessed hope of the second coming of Christ], if they shall fall away [Now the word “if” does not appear in the original text. What the word should be is “when” they shall fall away], to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.
What Paul is saying here is, “If you have truly understood the gospel and you have really understood and accepted the truth as it is in Christ, and you have been born again and you deliberately reject Jesus Christ (not backslidden), but you reject Him, you want nothing to do with Christ, it is impossible to be restored.” Not that God won’t accept you back. That is not the problem. The problem is that you are now doing something deliberately which before you did ignorantly. Now what are you doing deliberately? Look at the middle statement of verse six:
Seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh.
What does the word “afresh” mean? It means “again.”
Have we crucified Christ? You say, “I was not there.” Let me explain. That which crucified Christ was sinful, human nature. You see, the problem of our nature is that it is egocentric. We want to live for self. Now you cannot live for self unless you push away anything that comes in your way. How far does the flesh want to rise? To what level will we rise in order to be happy?
Let me give you my experience. When I first graduated as an architect, I had to do one year of internship. In other words, I had to work under an architect for a year. During that year I began with a very low salary. I think it was $300 a month. We were in a six-floor building. Right down at the very bottom, at the entrance of this building, there was a leper. He was always there in rags. It was in Nairobi, Kenya, and if you think that Africa is hot, let me tell you that at six thousand feet above sea level it can get pretty cold. Addis Ababa was nine thousand feet and was awfully cold sometimes. Nairobi was six thousand feet and it could get cold.
I would give this leper on pay days sometimes ten cents and I said to myself, “When I get rich, I am going to buy this man a suit.” He was in rags. Now I was getting three hundred dollars a month and to me “rich” was five hundred dollars. Three months later my salary was raised up to five hundred. Did I buy him a suit? No. I still had the desire but my definition of richness became seven hundred. So it went on and on and on.
Two years and I ended up with three thousand a month and I was still looking at this man and I kept saying, “When I get rich.” How rich is rich? When will human beings be satisfied? If God allowed us to have full sway, do you know how far we would go? We would go as far as Lucifer wanted to go: to take the place of God. The only way Lucifer could take the place of Christ who sat at the right hand of God was to get rid of Christ. How do I know that he wanted to get rid of Christ? Jesus said so in John 8:44. He told the Jews:
You are of your father the devil. He was a murderer from the beginning.
Who did he murder in the beginning? Nobody, as far as the act is concerned; but he wanted to get rid of Christ in order to take His place.
In Africa, we have a very strange system of taxis. Here, when you pay for a taxi, you alone ride in that taxi, but in Africa it isn’t so. They stop for every person who wants a ride. They can put in a small car eleven, twelve, twenty people. They have three layers. One is on the seat. The second row sits on the top of the first layer and the third row sits hunch backed. They have a word in Swahili which means move, “Songa.” You may be packed in the taxi like a can of sardines and the driver stops for an additional passenger and yells, “Songa!” One day a car had an accident and they found eleven people in one small car, besides twenty-two chickens and some goats. One chicken went under the pedal and the driver couldn’t put the breaks on because the chicken was there.
Satan knew that he could not say to Christ, “Move! I want to sit next to you.” The only way that he could take the throne of Christ was by getting rid of Him.
At the cross, Jesus said something to the people who arrested Him. He said, “When I was with you in the temple nobody could touch me because my hour had not yet come. But this is your hour and the prince of darkness.” What did Jesus mean by that? God said, “I’m going to remove my protection from my Son and let sin have its full dominion, let the flesh have its full dominion.” And what did the flesh do with Christ? It crucified Him. Pilate gave the Jews two choices: Barabbas, who was a criminal, and Jesus, in whom he found no fault. And what did the people chose? Barabbas! Why? “Because he was one of us. He may be bad but he is still one of us. This Man, let’s kill Him.”
What God revealed on the cross was that sinful flesh if given the chance will end up putting Christ on the cross. This means that all of us, without exception — all of us, including myself — have a nature, if allowed to control ourselves, will end up crucifying Christ. God is going to prove this at the end of the millennium. When the New Jerusalem comes down, what will the people under Satan do? Will they say, “You are so lucky; I wish we were there”? No, they will not say that. They will attack the city. They are revealing their true nature. That’s why God cannot take them to heaven. Because they are murderers in their hearts.
God will ignore this fact in terms of your ignorance. He will wink at our ignorance. But after you have discovered this truth and you have surrendered your flesh to the cross (that’s where it belongs) and you have become a Christian and realize that it was our sins that put Him there, then if you turn your back you are saying deliberately, “Let us crucify Him!” It is no longer out of ignorance. How can we do that and then return back? Paul says, “You have reached the point of no return.” That is why we need to establish our people in the gospel. The clearer they understand the gospel, the harder it is for them to say “goodbye.” It is not easy to say, “I deliberately crucify Christ.” It is not easy.
This is why we need to grow in maturity so that it becomes harder and harder to reject Christ. We Christians are in a danger here. The problem is not that we are lost. The problem with us Christians is that we are very easily swayed away from Christ. And if you visit the backsliders you will discover that most of them have left the church for flimsy reasons. They were hurt by somebody. Nobody talked to them in the church. Are you going to give these excuses in the judgment? “Nobody talked to me in church so I gave up.” We must be clear, because Paul says that it is impossible for us to repent if we have crucified Christ deliberately. We are doing it deliberately, not out of ignorance.
Let me conclude now, because we’ll continue with this next study. When the Jews crucified Christ, God was willing to forgive them. They had not reached the point of no return. But when Christ rose from the dead and the soldiers came to give their report, “This man that you crucified must be the Son of God for He rose from the dead,” then they had no more excuse. They realized they had deliberately, wilfully crucified Him. They had discovered that they had crucified the Son of God for, when you look at Acts two, the first sermon preached by the Christian Church by Peter, do you remember what he said? After convincing them that Jesus was the Messiah he said in Acts 2:36:
Therefore let all the house of Israel [that is, the Jewish nation] know assuredly, that God hath made this same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ [anointed one]. Now when they heard this they were pricked in their hearts and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?
In other words, “Have we reached the point of no return?” And Peter said, “No, if you accept Christ now, heaven is yours.”
But what did Caiaphas do? He bribed the soldiers. In other words, Caiaphas had two choices. One of them was to admit that he was responsible for crucifying the Messiah. The other was to deny, and to cover up what he had done, and bribe the soldiers and Pilate. What did he do? He did the latter. He reached the point of no return. Remember what Jesus said, “I leave your house desolate.” And the final evidence of their rejection of the Christ was when they stoned Stephen to death. Now I’m talking of the Jews as a nation. Remember that there were individuals in that group, like Saul, who had not yet been fully convinced. When he was convinced on the Damascus road, he turned around.
Paul is talking here about people who deliberately, wilfully say, “We want Him crucified.” In other words, there are only two things that you can do with Christ. That’s exactly what will happen at the end of time, only two things. We can either be crucified with Christ or we can crucify Him. There will be no middle ground. Gal. 5:24:
All who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.
I am crucified with Christ.
That’s one alternative. The other one is to say with the world, “Crucify Him.” There will be only two groups. The question is to which group will you belong? That is why we need to grow in maturity because the weaker you are as a Christian and the longer you remain immature, the easier it is for the devil to pull you out; and you become an enemy of God.
I tell you, the greatest enemies of God’s church in the last days will be people who have deliberately, wilfully turned their backs to Christ. And the reason they have turned their backs is that they have not taken the time to grow spiritually. So I plead with you to spend some time with the Word of God. I know that we are living in a country where life is hectic. It is so easy to get bogged down with many things, but always remember that if you do not grow spiritually, you are on dangerous ground. This is what Paul is warning about:
May God bless us that we understand and heed this warning. Okay are there any questions in the few remaining moments.
[Question: “What should we study?”]
I can only give you my experience. I would suggest that you take a book of the Bible. You know, I’m really glad that during our Sabbath School lessons we are going through books of the Bible. Do not confuse studying the Bible with reading the Bible. There are some people who have read the Bible through and through a dozen times and have not studied. Let me put it in simple language, the Bible is hidden treasure. And for anyone to discover hidden treasure you have to do some digging.
We must not get the impression that you cannot study the Bible unless you have theological training. That’s a fallacy. In fact, the more education that you have in theology, the harder it becomes. I’ll tell you why: because you tend to depend on your intellect rather than the Spirit. That’s the danger. So you have an advantage, laypeople. You don’t need to know Greek and Hebrew. There are many tools that you can use that are available today.
But don’t take a book and skim through it. Take every verse and analyze the verbs, look at the grammar, look at the sentences. Study it with all your heart! And if you do not understand a verse, please don’t say, “Well, I’ll skip this and go to the next passage.” Don’t skip any passage; wrestle with it.
I’ll tell you, I wrestled for five long years with Romans 6:14. Not that I didn’t study anything else. But I stopped there, I would not go further. I said, “God, give me an understanding of Romans 6:14.” Every commentary I read, hours and hours, did not satisfy me. Now I can see some of you looking up the text:
Sin shall not have dominion over you because you are no longer under law but under grace.
What did Paul mean? Does it mean that a Christian doesn’t sin? Well one commentary said that before you could sin often, but now as a Christian you sinned occasionally. No way! You sin once, and at that point sin has dominion over you. What did Paul mean? And I wrestled with that. And I’ll tell you what you may want to do. Take a passage. Take a verse. Read it. Study it.
You know, we spend a lot of time in this country driving. When I was in Idaho one church was 25 miles away. Most of my members, about 60 of them, lived another 25 miles beyond that, in Boise. So I would spend two hours travelling just visiting one family. I wrestled with texts during that time. Or when I’m having a shower, I do the same.
Do not be satisfied until God gives you understanding. Even if you eat the wrong food, there is hope of some growth. But if you eat nothing, you’ll stop growing. Am I correct? So at least eat. Then I would suggest that you read as many books as you can that will feed you spiritually. The Spirit of Prophecy [by Ellen G. White] is excellent material to read. But even that can be heavy. You have to read her slowly, and take every sentence and understand it. So this is what I would suggest in answering your question. But please don’t go to your Sabbath School lesson and read the text and remarks, have a prayer and close it. That’s not enough, you need to go deeper than that.