Thursday, January 12, 2017

Are You Standing Still?

Recently I found myself disappointed by someone in whom I had trusted.  Ever been there?  And, conversely, I know that there are many times in my own life walk when I have let another person down.  It is a characteristic of humans that we are in a constant state of change and development. This is true of us all, Christian or non-Christian.  As Christians, we are all either growing closer to God, through Jesus Christ, or we are back-sliding.  There is no standing still.   By contrast, unbelievers are moving farther and farther away from God's salvation, or God's Spirit is drawing them to Himself in order for them to become saved.  Again, there is no standing still.

Why am I talking about this?  Because God is not that way!  God, The Unflickering Flame (James 1:17), never changes.  His holiness, His love, His mercy, His justice...all of His perfect attributes are unwavering.  The writer of Hebrews affirms this in today's scripture passage.

13For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15And thus Abraham,b having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17So 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, 18so 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.

Verse 13 refers to the Abrahamic Covenant, as it is often called - - - that promise God made to Abraham to the effect that he would become the father of many nations, that his descendants would be as the grains of sand in the desert.  And, God has kept that promise over these many thousands of years since Abraham's day.  Abraham, through Ishmael, became the progenitor of all Arab peoples; through Isaac, he became the father of the Hebrew people.

Interestingly, the One who had absolutely no need to swear for emphasis, did so.  Finding no one greater than Himself, He swore BY Himself that He would keep His promise.  He did this for mankind's sake, a creation with limited ability to comprehend changelessness.  We spiritual chameleons find His immutability, His changelessness, as difficult to embrace and understand as we do His other awesome characteristics.

By His character and by His oath, by these two things, God is emphasizing that it is impossible for Him to lie, whether about His promise to Abraham OR about the work He accomplished on our behalf through Jesus Christ, the Son.

When we find ourselves disappointed what do we do?  We find refuge in something or in someone, do we not?  Some seek refuge in drugs, others in promiscuous behavior.  Others in foods which trigger the soothing centers of the brain.  

Verse 18 depicts believers who run to and find their refuge in God's changeless promises, in that God who cannot lie, will never disappoint, is "the same, yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8).  It is in this section that the author begins to weave into his sermon the theme of Jesus Christ, our High Priest.

When we run to God in our time of need, we do so because of His sure promises that cannot fail. Still, here is an important point.  Even though this turning to, running to God is a type of perseverance, it is clear that the Holy Spirit living within us enables us to persevere in such a manner.  
Why is this an important distinction?  I overheard an elder Christian tell a younger believer the other day that he was going to just have to "suck it up" and "tough it out".  The implication is that the younger person was just going to have to work himself up to get things back on track.  But, clearly, that is not the Christian way.  "Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow"1 are not found within our own sinful natures.  Consequently, trying to achieve that in our own strength is hopeless.

Cockerill2 puts it like this, having just referred to Abraham as a godly example:  
"Provision for that perseverance is made certain, as it was for Abraham, through the faithfulness of God, which has now been fulfilled in the high priesthood of Christ.  Thus awakened, the hearers are ready to grasp that priesthood and its benefits as the ONLY means of perseverance." {emphasis mine}

In Hebrews 11, the author circles back to this theme of faith-based perseverance, as he lists "the roll call of faith".

What is it about Jesus Christ's current ministry as our high priest that makes this promise of refuge and perseverance so very exciting?  We will take a deeper look at that in upcoming posts.


2      Cockerill, Gareth Lee. The Epistle to the Hebrews. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2012. Kindle edition, p. 280.