May 22, 2022. Sermon Title: Greater Promises Come with Greater Cost

First Mennonite Church

May 22, 2022

Greater Promises Come with Greater Cost

In the last two Sundays, I have been saying that the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews compares the Christian life to Israel’s wilderness journey. Two main points in this comparison are the difficulty there was in the wilderness journey and the importance of trusting God through it. The first recipients of this letter were undergoing great tribulations, persecution, torture and all kinds of public abuse for the sake of Christ. In chapter 12, verse four, we are told that although these Christians have suffered greatly, no one had yet been executed (shed blood) because of their faith.

We know that following Christ is a way of life that is countercultural and goes against our human tendencies. The life of faith affects the way relate with one another. Love defines our actions and intentions in everything we do. And that can be costly at times because to love, as Christ loved, is not natural in us. The life of faith affects the way we spend our time and resources. It reorder our priorities in life. It dictates who we give our ultimate allegiance to because we are not our own bosses anymore. Christ is Lord and he now tells us how to live. The life of faith goes against how the world says we should live our lives.

On the other hand, those who are not followers of Christ do have the control over their lives, at least that is what they believe. They spend their time the way they choose to. They are free to choose who to relate and how they want to relate. They have the final word on what is good or wrong in their eyes. They can behave as they please and even may not have any regrets about what they do or say.

In the case of Israel, the end goal of their wilderness journey was to possess the Promised Land. But when the writer describes the final goal of the believer, throughout the letter he describes it in superlative terms. Thus, he speaks about:

6:9 better things

7:19 a better hope 

8:6 a better covenant and better promises

10:34 a better and more lasting possessions.

11:16 a better homeland, that is, a heavenly one

11:35and a better resurrection

Because the reward awaiting us is greater and better than the Promised Land, the warnings against unbelief and unfaithfulness to our calling is also passionate and urgent. As you might have already discovered, it is in the Letter to the Hebrews where we find some of the harshest warnings against turning back. Its call is powerfully prophetic in our times. Some warnings might seem unbearable to us, but they come out of love and great concern. And just let me say something here: these words of warning are not only for church members, but also to me, your pastor. Thus, I will let the Letter speak for itself. Let us listen to the following warnings:

Hebrews 12:14-16

Pursue peace with everyone and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble and through it many become defiled.See to it that no one becomes an immoral and godless person, as Esau was, who sold his birthright for a single meal.

The church is composed of people of all kinds of personalities. We are not a homogenous people. Thus, the call to pursue peace among ourselves is not without reason. Christians are called to worship together, work together, walk together, and take care of each other. That means, we have a commitment to interact with one another. Frictions happen when people interact. Differences arise when people interact with one another. And that is why pursuing peace with everyone is a necessity. We are also called to pursue holiness. Holiness requires us to subject our thoughts to Christ. Holiness requires diligence in what we say. We need to exert extreme caution on the things we get involved in our pursuit of holiness. The writer is very emphatic: without holiness NO ONE WILL SEE THE LORD. That is pretty serious!

The instructions continue: See that no one fails to obtain the grace of God, see that no root of bitterness grows and causes trouble and others get contaminated by it.

This is proper pastoral work, but it is not given only to the pastor. The task of giving spiritual support, of looking out for one another to remain in God’s grace is the task of everyone in the church. It is a task we all have towards one another. Therefore, we read in 10:24-25:

  And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Again, this pastoral task is given to the whole community—to the entire congregation. We are all called “provoke one another to love and good deeds.” The word translated “provoke” in Greek is paraxumos, from which comes the English word paroxysm-the sudden violent attack, as of an illness. We are called to incite one another to love and to do good deeds. We are called to pester, to egg, to goad one another to love and to do good deeds.

And then comes the call to gather together—literally: to synagogue. Do not neglect to synagogue as is the habit of some. While non-believers can do as the please on Sunday, we have a call to gather, to meet together, especially as the Day of the Lord approaches.  

Hebrews 12:12, 13

Therefore, lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

The purpose of gathering is to uplift one another. We gather to receive strength from the Lord and the affirmation of one another in this journey. We gather together to be corrected by the Word of God, so that our ways get straightened. We gather so that God would heal the wounds of sin and even the sickness in our body.

Hebrews 3:12

Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.

10:30 b, 31

“The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

For if the message declared through angels proved valid, and every transgression or disobedience received a just penalty,how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? (Hebrews 2:2, 3)

The one who is leading God’s people now is not Moses, but Jesus the Son of God. We are now in the hands of him who is the very reflection of the glory of God and who bears the very character of what make God, God. For you and me who are in this journey, we are dealing with the Living God. And it is a dreadful thing to neglect the one who is speaking to us.

The writer of this letter knows fully that his word of exhortation is strong; thus, he writes:

 Even though we speak in this way, beloved, we are confident of better things in your case, things that belong to salvation.For God is not unjust; he will not overlook your work and the love that you showed for his sake in serving the saints, as you still do.And we want each one of you to show the same diligence so as to realize the full assurance of hope to the very end,so that you may not become sluggish but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises (Hebrews 6: 9-12).

May the Lord impress his word in our heart. Amen!

Pastor Romero