|Study of Hebrews|
By E.H. Jack Sequeira
In our last study we covered Heb. 12:5-ll. It dealt with a very important part of our Christian experience. I entitled that passage, “The Refining Work of God.” Let me remind you that when you accept Christ you are saved, but our nature still belongs to sin and the devil and that has to be kept in subjection. That is painful, folks, because we are human beings who have nerves and feelings. We hate to be deprived of the desires of the flesh. I gave you several texts which point out the refining process of God. Now in verses twelve to twenty-nine Paul tells us two things:
Let’s look now at verses twelve to seventeen, which deal with the practical results of God’s refining process. Look at verse twelve. Should a Christian become discouraged when God disciplines him? No. What does it say here?
Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed.
In other words, Paul is saying here, “Stop being down-hearted. God is not treating you like a sinner. He is treating you like a son.” Please remember, when He treats you like a son and puts you through the grill, it may be painful. Look at verse eleven which we covered in last chapter:
Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless, afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness.
“So stop becoming discouraged. Stop being down-hearted in regard to your Christian experience. Don’t let the refining process of God discourage you.” This is what Paul is saying here. This folks is the difference between a Christian and an unbeliever. A Christian is still happy even though life is difficult.
When we were at Uganda, we were deported. But we were not the only ones. There were eighty thousand families who were deported by Idi Amin. During that time it was very tense. When we were deported, they did several things. One of the them was they froze our bank account. Can you imagine what it would be like to go to the bank and they won’t give you your own money? Nothing doing. You are not entitled to your own money. You would say this is unfair. “Well, too bad,” they’d say. They also refused for us to take any of our furniture or belongings, except one suitcase that could not weigh more than forty-four pounds. That included our hand luggage. They weighed everything.
My wife said, “There are some things that can never be replaced, like photographs.”
And I said, “There are some books that can never be replaced because they are out of print.”
I had books and she had photographs, and folks that’s heavy so most of our luggage was filled with things that we felt were very important. But I’ll tell you what they did allow. They allowed the ladies to take one pair of earrings, and three bangles or bracelets. They allowed that as part of your belongings. So what did some of the people do? They took their gold or they bought gold and turned it into huge earrings, because gold is money. Right in front of us was a man with two daughters, one seven and the other about eleven. They had these huge earrings. They looked so uncomfortable for kids. Huge heavy stuff. So the seven-year old took hers off once she got on the plane. It fell from her hand and it rolled. Somebody must have grabbed it. I do not know who did it. At first she was dead scared to tell the father but he saw that she was looking for it. The father said “What are you looking for?” And she had to confess.
I looked around the plane and everybody was moaning and grumbling. One lady stood up in the plane (it was one of those big jets). She stood up and shouted, “I wish somebody put fifty bullets into Idi Amin.” She was angry, for she had lost three million shillings, which is half a million dollars, in her bank account. She could not touch it. She was angry and so was everyone else.
This poor father, when he discovered that his daughter had dropped that one earring, he was on his knees and searching for it. He was frantic. He was pleading for anyone who had it to please give it back. It was all he had. Nobody listened to him, because everybody was in a crisis.
My wife and I had lost everything too. We were smiling and one lady said, “What are you happy about?”
I said, “Because the difference between you and me is that I lost nothing. You lost everything.
She said, “What do you mean? Do you mean that you had no property, no furniture?”
I said, “Yes, but you know everything belongs to God and is in His hands. Idi Amin has not taken any of my things. God can give me back all that I lost in one jiffy.”
They could not understand. One man said to me, “I wish I had such a belief. The trouble is I don’t. I know that I have lost everything. I have no future.”
Eight months later we got everything back. Somebody sent it to us and the government allowed it to be sent. Prophetically I was right but at that time I did not know. What was it that made it possible for me? It wasn’t just ten percent we lost, like some people mourn when they give 10% tithe. I’ll tell you, we lost everything. We had no assurance of getting anything back. But all the gold and all the silver belongs to God and we knew that we were in His hands. And what made it possible for us to keep our heads high instead of groping around was because the truth had set us free.
That is what Paul is saying here. He is saying, “Stop being downcast and down-hearted. Let the world see the joy in Christianity.” I’ll tell you the worst witness you can ever be is to live a life without hope and without peace. When Christians reveal no peace in their heart, they are being the worst witness no matter what truth they may have, how true they may be theologically. We need to reveal to the world the peace we have. Now look at verse fourteen:
Follow peace with all men,...
Stop fighting with your neighbours. Let them see that you are a Christian who wants to live in peace with all men.
And holiness [in the Greek, “sanctification”].
Let the people see your sanctified life. The greatest evidence that we are Christians is not our theology even though we may be correct. It is what people see in us. Jesus said in John 13:35:
By this shall men know that you are my disciples, when you have love one for another.
We need to know that the gospel is more than words. So Paul is saying: Live peaceably with all men. Let them see your holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.
If you don’t submit to the refining process of God, eventually you’ll give up your faith, the devil will get you. Now look at verse fifteen:
...Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled...
Defiled with unbelief. In other words, when you see a member becoming bitter because of something that went wrong in the church, what do you do? Do you try to help that person? You know we need to help each other. Verse seventeen:
For you know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected...
That’s why I keep repeating that the most valuable thing you have is your faith in Jesus Christ. Don’t you ever give it up.
For he found no place of repentance.
He is talking about Esau here. Esau despised his birthright. What was his birthright? It was that through the descendent of Abraham the Messiah would come. This hope was passed on from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob. Did Esau get it? No. Why did he not get it? In His foreknowledge, did God know that Esau would despise the birthright? Yes. We must never despise our inheritance in Christ. It is future, but we must never despise it. If we do, we will give up that hope and will end up lost. So even here Paul is saying, “You are not once saved, always saved.” You have to hold on to the end. Now look at verse eighteen for this verse is dealing with the old covenant:
For you are not come unto the mount that might be touched, and that burned with fire, nor unto blackness, and darkness, and tempest...
What is Paul talking about here? What is this Mount Sinai? What happened there on Mount Sinai? What did God give? The Ten Commandments. What did the law do with the sinner? Does it save the sinner or does it kill the sinner? Turn to Romans, chapter seven. The Jews misunderstood the function of the law. Did God give the law to save the Jews? No. What did God give the Jews that they might be saved? The Promise. (That, of course, is Christ.) God gave them the promise. Look at Rom.7:9:
For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and [what happened to Paul?] I died.
What does the law do? It kills. Look at verse eleven:
For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me...was then that which is good made death unto me? [Is the law responsible for your death? That’s what the question is in verse 13.] God forbid. But sin, that it might appear sin, working death in me.
Who is responsible for death? Sin is responsible for death. Here is another text that may help, 1 Cor.15:56, for here you have the connections. What is the sting of death in verse fifty- six?
The sting of death is sin.
What gives sin the power to kill? The law. So the law is not responsible for death but the law demands that the sinner should die. If there is no law, can sin kill you? No. But the law kills. Not that the law is responsible for your death, but the law demands that the sinner must die. So when God gave the law, what did it do to the people? Why was it given in thunder and quaking? Go back to Heb.12:18-21 because that’s the old covenant. Verse nineteen:
And the sound of a trumpet, and the voice of words; which voice they that heard entreated that the word should not be spoken to them any more: (For they could not endure that which was commanded, And if so much as a beast touch the mountain, it shall be stoned, or thrust through with a dart: And so terrible was the sight, that Moses, said, I exceedingly fear and quake).
Why did God do that when He gave the law? Did He want to put fear into the people? Not really. He wanted them to turn to Him. By the way, Galatians three brings this out. The law is our schoolmaster which keeps us in prison until we come to Christ. Did God give the promise at the same time at Mount Sinai? Yes. He gave the sanctuary service to point them to Christ as their Saviour. Where did they put the law, by the way? Where did they keep those tables of stone? In the ark. What covered the ark? The Mercy Seat. That was the promise. In the New Testament, the Mercy Seat is Jesus Christ. Paul is saying to the Jews, “Stop living like Judaizers with fear and trembling without hope and without peace.” How should we live? Look at verse twenty-two:
But we are come unto Mount Zion,...
So there are two mountains. One is Mount Sinai, which condemns you, and the other one is Zion. What does Mount Zion represent? What happened on Mount Zion? Jesus died on the cross there. Turn to Galatians. You will find the two mountains mentioned here in chapter four of Galatians. By the way Galatians 4 is also dealing with the two covenants. In Gal.4:21 Paul says:
Tell me, you that desire to be under the law [i.e., the Old Covenant], do you not hear the law?
Then he goes into verse twenty-two about Abraham’s two sons. Then in verse twenty-four he says that these two sons represent the two covenants. Notice the new covenant is called here a promise. The free woman was a promise.
Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the Mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, [bondage of what? Fear and hopelessness.] which is Hagar.
Continuing in verses twenty-five and twenty-six:
For this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage. [Remember, Jerusalem represents the Jews who are still unconverted.] But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all. [Mount Zion is implied here.]
Going back to Heb.12:22:
But you are come unto Mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem [which Galatians is talking about], and to an innumerable company of angels.
Here we have two mountains, Sinai represents the law that kills. Mount Zion represents the cross which saves. So stop being droopy folks, you have not come to Mount Sinai. You have come to Mount Zion.
I climbed Mount Sinai in 1980. I gave a series of workers meetings to the Egyptian pastors. They said, “In exchange, we will give you a trip to Mount Sinai. So I said “Thank you.” It took us eight hours, not forty years, by car. Thanks to the Jews, they have built a road now from the Suez Canal right up to Mount Sinai. Tarmac, black-top road. Except that, half the time, it is covered by sand because of the sand storms. It took us eight hours from Goshen, the place where the Jews were, to Mount Sinai. I tell you, I did not see a blade of grass. It was barren. I thank a Catholic monk who for thirty years (Imagine!), he spent thirty years carving steps in the solid rock from the bottom to the top of the mountain. So we actually walked up on steps. Otherwise it is very difficult. I said, “Thank you.” But he did it for salvation. For thirty years he had no peace. Sweat, blood, and tears for thirty years. I looked and all I saw was barrenness. I said, “God, maybe you are teaching a lesson here.”
The law without Christ is meaningless. That’s why I love the expression Sister Ellen G. White used about the 1888 message, “They preached Christ in the law.” When you preach Christ in the law you have life. But the law by itself cannot save you. All the law can do by itself is to kill you, but the moment you put Christ into the law, then you have life. This, of course, was where the big issue was in the 1888 conference. They did not put Christ in the law. They wanted the law without Christ. They did not know what they were talking about. Heb.12:22 says:
But you are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.
Look at verse twenty-four. When you come to Mount Zion you come to Jesus, the mediator of the new covenant. Remember what we covered in Hebrews chapter seven and eight and on. The new covenant was based on a better promise. Was the old covenant based on a promise? Yes. Was the new covenant based on a promise? Yes. What is the difference? Who made the promise in the old covenant? The people. Did they keep their promise? No. Therefore, what was the agreement if they did not keep their promise? The law says: if you obey me, you will live. Did they promise to obey the law? They failed. So what does the law say? “Cursed is the one who does not keep the law.”
In the new covenant, who makes the promise? God. What was the promise? That, in Jesus Christ, He will give you all that you need before the law to be saved. Christ is the end of the law for righteousness. Turn to Acts and listen to the sermon that was preached by the apostles. Acts thirteen. I’ll show why “thirteen” is not an unlucky number. It is a lucky number sometimes if you have the gospel. This is a sermon preached by Paul concerning the resurrection of Christ which was part of the gospel of good news. Look at verse thirty-seven:
But He whom God raised again saw no corruption.
Who is this verse talking about? Christ. Did sin put Christ in the grave? Yes. Our sins put Christ there. Did our sins keep Him there? No. He conquered, folks. Now look at verses thirty-eight and thirty-nine:
Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins. And by him all that believe are justified from all things [all sins, not just your past sins], from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.
The law of Moses could not justify you. Did Jesus Christ justify you? Yes. So we come to Jesus Christ in the new covenant. Go back to Heb. 12:24:
And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.
What is he talking about here? Did Abel offer a good sacrifice or a bad one? There is one problem. He offered the blood of the lamb. Could the lamb take away his sin? No. He was offering this sacrifice as an acceptance of the promise because of the blood of Christ. In the New Testament period, when we come to God through Christ, we are not bringing the blood of the lamb but the blood of Christ. Does the sprinkling of the blood of Christ clear our evil conscience? Yes. Verse twenty-five continues by saying:
See that you refuse not Him that speaketh [please don’t refuse the promise that God gave]. For if they escaped not who refused him that spake on earth, much more shall not we escape, if we turn away from Him that speaketh from heaven.
Through whom did God give the law? Moses. Through whom did God give the promise? Christ. Now He’s in heaven. What did Paul mean by “who speaketh from heaven”? What did God speak when Jesus was baptized? The voice from heaven, what did He say? “This is My beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” What was He pleased about? That He was obedient even unto death. He was pleased because Jesus fulfilled the will of the Father. What was the will of the Father? “God sent His Son not to condemn us but to save us.” In John seventeen, Jesus prays. In verse four, He says, “Father, I have finished the work that You have given Me to do.” What was the work that God gave Him to do? To fulfil the promise of our salvation. Verse twenty-six continues:
Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised saying, Yet once more I shake not the earth only, but also heaven.
When is God going to shake the earth and the heaven? At the second coming of Christ. There will be two groups then. Please turn to Rev. 6:13. I want you to look at the first group:
And the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.
This is a much greater shaking than took place on Mount Sinai. Look at what the people do as given in verse fifteen:
And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman (slave), and every free man.
It didn’t matter whether you belonged to the middle class or to the slave class, or to the rich class. And what did these people do? In verse sixteen:
And said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of Him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb:
Will the trembling and the fear be worse at the second coming of Christ? But to whom? Those who refused the heavenly voice. “This is My Son.” And the question that is asked in verse seventeen:
For the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?
Will there be anyone who will be able to stand? Who? The righteous whose faith has been sealed. And chapter seven deals with that. This chapter is answering the question of chapter six verse seventeen. Never read chapter seven without the question posed here. Notice what chapter seven is saying. God is saying “Please hold the winds of strife until His servants are sealed.”
And folks, God is preparing you for that. So when He puts you through the grill, remember that He is preparing you for the time of trouble. So please don’t say, “God doesn’t love me.” He’s preparing you. He wants to seal you. He wants a people whose faith is unshakeable. That’s the question Jesus asks in Luke 18:8: “When the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the earth?” Chapter seven tells us, “Yes.” Going back to Hebrews twelve and reading the last verse we are told:
For our God is a consuming fire.
Look at verse twenty-eight:
Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear:
What does it mean to have “godly fear?” Is it the same as being scared? What does it mean? Prov. 8:13:
The fear of the Lord is to hate evil.
Why? It was evil that put Christ on the cross. You see the legalist hates punishment. The Christian doesn’t hate punishment because he is free from it. What does he hate? He hates sin. Why? Because it was our sins that put Christ on the cross. Turn to Ex. 24:17:
And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel.
This is the basis of the text in Heb.12:29:
For our God is a consuming fire.
So to fear God does not mean to be scared of Him. The Jews had misunderstood the fear of God. They were scared of God. When the scribes copied the Bible do you know what they did when they came to the name of God? They would not use the common pen. They had a special pen that they would pick up only for the name of God. And when, in the ninth century A.D., the Hebrew Bible was changed from the old Hebrew, which had no vowels, to the new Hebrew with vowels which is spoken today, the Jews were scared to write His name, so they only wrote the vowels.
When Jesus came and prayed, the disciples were a bit shocked at the way Jesus prayed to His Father. So one day the disciples said, “Jesus, we are surprised the way you talk to God. Can you teach us to pray?” Please notice how Jesus introduced His prayer, “Our Father.” The word “Father” did not mean someone who is mistreating you or abusing you but somebody who loves you and is concerned about you. “Our Father which art in heaven.” That was a new concept to the disciples. You mean that we can call God “Father”? Yes, you can call Him, “Abba,” which means “Dear Father.” Isn’t it wonderful to live under the new covenant? Look at Ex. 24:17:
And the sight of the glory of the Lord was like devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the eyes of the children of Israel.
They did not see God as a loving Father because they came out of paganism. And paganism looks at God as somebody who is angry, ready to curse you and put fire on you. So the pagans offered sacrifices to appease an angry God. All pagan sacrifices had that purpose. Did Christ die to appease an angry God? No. God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not putting their trespasses on them but on His Son. So please remember that when Christ offered a sacrifice, it was not to appease an angry God. That’s paganism. But God was in Christ. He loved us. He so loved the world that He gave us His Son that we should not perish.
So when you come to God, please don’t come with fear so that every time you make a mistake you think of God as Someone with a fork pushing you into the fire. If you have that mentality about God you will never be able to stand in the time of trouble. That’s what the whole book of Hebrews is saying, “Please don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up your Christianity. Don’t go back to Judaism. It can’t save you. That’s the old covenant. Come to Mount Zion and there on Mount Zion you have a Saviour, the Mediator of the new covenant.”
Hebrews twelve is ending with this wonderful thing. Now chapter thirteen deals with how the Christian should live while he is waiting for the coming of Christ, “The Intended Life.” Should they sit down and do nothing? This next chapter is talking about what Christians should do while they are waiting for the second coming. And it’s an important lesson for us.
Can you see how Paul is giving us a wonderful concept of Christianity under the New Covenant? He is saying that we are no longer living in fear. Christianity is not a religion of do’s and don’ts, otherwise you will be punished. Please don’t tell your children, “You better do this otherwise Jesus won’t love you and take you to heaven.” That’s the Old Covenant. Please remember that our kids need to get a picture of God, especially in these days when many fathers abuse their children. They need to get a picture of a Father that is different from what some fathers are presenting in life today. They need to see a father as a loving God Who has one concern, to save them, and to look after them, and to help them in the time of need.
So this is why we need to understand that we are living under the New Covenant and we must raise our children to see that. They need to see that God cares and that should be the major emphasis. You know, when my son first came to Walla Walla [Washington], we were in Idaho. On one of his stays home, my wife asked him a question, “Are you going to church?” A typical mother’s concern. And I will not forget what he said, “You know Dad, they don’t feed us. There’s a lot of philosophy there. I take a book and read.”
My wife said, “I’m glad you still go to church.”
And he made a statement, “I only go to church because I know it would hurt you if I didn’t.” If he had his own way: ”Why should I go there?” He said, “A lot of the kids don’t go to church.” It’s a tragedy. It’s a tragedy that some of our kids don’t want to go to church. But you see, we must present God as one Who loves them.
Do you remember what Joseph said when he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife? He didn’t say, “I’ll be lost if I yield.” He said, “How can I do this and sin against my God.” Not against the law, but against “My God.”
And this is the attitude which we must implant in our kids. They must realize that God is infinitely concerned about them, so that they hate to sin, not because they will be lost, but because sin was very expensive for God. It cost Him the life of His Son. He gave us something that He could never replace, His only begotten Son. He emptied heaven for us. How can we treat that gift lightly?
Let me put it this way. What He’s saying is: “Nobody forced me to die. I was voluntarily willing to die.” There’s another statement to support this, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep.” You have stories about dogs, who will lay down their lives for their master. Jesus was the Good Shepherd. Now, there is a difference between a shepherd who is hired for pay, and when a wolf comes, what does he do? He runs. Look at the story of Esther. Mordecai said, “Please go to the king and request redemption for the Jews.”
She said, “If I go there they will kill me because there is a law.” You remember, she didn’t want to die.
And Mordecai sent a message back to her, and said, “Look, Esther, you have to die in any case. They’ll find out eventually that you are a Jew. But could it be that God had placed you there in the palace for such a time as this?”
And then she made that wonderful statement, “I will go. If I perish, I perish.” She surrendered to death. “I am willing to die for the cause of God.” And did God use her? Did He change the whole situation? Yes. And so folks, as the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who died under Hitler, said, “When God calls you to be a disciple of His, He calls you to die.” Are you willing to die for Christ? Are you willing to go to that extent because of His love? Jesus was willing to die for you that you may have life. Are you willing to give your life for the Brethren, says 2 Corinthians 5:15:
The love of Christ must constrain us because One died for all. And we which live must be willing to lay down our lives for Him.
That, folks, is the manifestation of the Gospel. And that comes only through God’s love. The law can never produce such things. You go to a Communist country, where I lived five years under Marxism, and they do solve a lot of problems. For example, in Ethiopia, they didn’t have public toilets. They had no toilets in the homes. They went out in the bush. Men, women, on the streets. When the Marxist government took over, they said the first thing they would do is solve this problem. They built public toilets all over Addis Abbaba. Nobody went. Nobody used it. They weren’t used to it. They solved the problem. They didn’t plead with them. They said, “Anyone who is found messing the streets will be shot without questions.” Everybody went.
And one Russian said, “Look, we have solved a problem that you could not.”
But how did they solve that problem? By force. They produce sharing by force. They produce everything by compulsion. God doesn’t use force, folks; He is love. There are two powerful drives in human life: love and fear. Kids can be taught to do their homework by fear. That’s the way I was raised. Boy, when we did not do our math homework, our math teacher would put a pencil like this on us, and then he would whack us. And he would whack us for the number of sums that we did not do. For every one he gave us one whack. And so, because I was scared, I would do my homework.