Monday, July 26, 2021

The Claims of Christ (Heb. 3:1-6)


For all the individualism of our culture, and all the so-called efforts toward and celebration of self-actualization, the reality is that everyone gravitates toward an authority in their lives.  This is true even if they say they are anti-authoritarian, that they are marching to their own drumbeat, taking their own path, the captains of their own souls.  You can see this in the fact that culture (even as ours appears to celebrate “diversity”) tends to be monolithic.  There aren’t really that many people who are marching to their own tune, if any at all.  They are taking their cues from society, from social media, from their friends, from professors, from scientists, from government officials, from philosophers – which in most cases are all saying pretty much the same thing.  In every society there emerges a dominant belief system, a worldview, that controls the way people think and see things.  No one is really free from this.  And this is the authority from which they consciously or unconsciously plot the course of their lives.

I’m not here to claim that Christianity is any different in terms of obedience to an external authority.  But my point is that no one is really free from external authority.  The question is not whether we are going to steer our lives by some authority outside of ourselves, but which authority will it be?  Will it be the one adopted from the culture?  The one that is most popular?  Are we just going to live by a belief system that makes us feel good about ourselves?  How should we live?  What is the authority that you are living by?

This is relevant to what we are going to be considering this morning because the small congregation of Jewish Christians to whom this epistle of Hebrews was written were beginning to drift away from the truth (2:1).  And one of the things aiding this drift was a failure to appreciate the claims of Christ upon them.  In other words, they were facing – whether they in fact had realized this or not – an authority crisis.  As a result, they were drifting toward other sources of authority.  In particular, they were drifting toward a Christless Law.  They were beginning to be tempted to replace Jesus with Moses.

This is of course not surprising due to the fact that Moses was the authority figure among the Jewish people.  This is illustrated in the fact that the authority of the Books of Moses was one of the few things that the Sadducees and the Pharisees could agree on.  Our Lord himself points out that they trusted in Moses (Jn. 5:45).  Later, when the Pharisees were disputing with the man born blind who had been healed by Christ, they said, “We know that God spake unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from whence he is” (Jn. 9:29).  Perhaps the readers of this epistle were beginning to feel this way too.

So the goal of our author in this section of the epistle is to compare and to contrast the claims of Moses and Jesus Christ.  As he does so, he will show that Christ is superior to Moses.  Basically, the argument comes down to this.  They were both faithful in the work for which God had sent them (3:2, 5-6).  They share a similarity in that respect.  But there it ends.  Christ is worthy of more glory (3-4) and the reason for this is that though Moses was a servant in the community of God’s people, Christ is God’s Son over the community of God’s people (5-6).  And the obvious implication is that though the claims of Moses were legitimate in that he was sent by God and was faithful to God in his service for him, yet the claims of Christ supersede the claims of Moses.  The authority of Jesus is not that of a servant but of a Son.  It is not the authority of someone who is part of the household, but who is over the household.  That is the argument. 

And the application is also obvious, isn’t it?  Our author will work it out in the following verses, but you see it at the bookends of this section.  He begins with a call to “consider” Jesus (1) and he ends with an implicit exhortation to “hold fast” to the confession of their hope in him (6).  In other words, they need to reorient themselves in light of the claims of Christ upon them.  They need to consider what they are and then they need to act upon this reality.

Now we may not be in exactly the same condition, but the exhortation to consider Christ and his claims upon us is just as relevant today as it was then.  And the way our Lord is described here is still the way we need to consider him.  For Jesus is “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb. 13:8).  Let us therefore look at this passage and see what it has to say about our Lord, and what this has to say about the claims of Christ over our lives.  In particular, we want to consider the authority and claims of Christ in terms of his origin, his mission, his dedication, and his position.

The Claims of Christ in light of his Origin

We see the origin of the authority of Christ in terms of his description in verse 1: he is described as the “Apostle . . . of our profession.”  This is an interesting description partly because he is never described explicitly in this way elsewhere in the NT.  However, it is perfectly consistent with how our Lord describes himself in other places.  The meaning of “apostle” is “one who is sent,” and this is invariably the way our Lord describes himself, for example, in John’s gospel (cf. Jn 6:39-40).  The apostleship of our Lord is the basis for the mission of the church: “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I sent them into the world” (Jn. 17:18).   

This is the author’s way of saying that our Lord’s authority is an authority from heaven.  He did not come to do his own will but the will of him who sent him.  And this means that we can bank on his word.  His word is the word of the Father.  God spoke in many ways and at many different times through the prophets (including Moses), but now he has spoken the definitive word through his Son (Heb. 1:1).  What we profess and confess as Christians has the authoritative stamp of heaven upon it.

The Claims of Christ in light of his Mission

The next descriptor of our Lord is the term “High Priest.”  This describes the mission of our Lord, as we have seen in several places already (1:3; 2:17).  He made purification for sins; he has made reconciliation for the sins of the people.  Our Lord is not merely a guru; his is not just another prophet.  He did not come to tell people how to save themselves.  No: he came to save his people from their sins (Mt. 1:21).  This is something we cannot do; we might be able to ignore guilt or cover it up, but we can never fully expiate it before God.  This is what Jesus Christ did on the cross.  There is no other person in the universe who has done such a thing.  The name of Christ is the only name under heaven given among me whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). 

To reject Christ is to reject any sure salvation.  To reject Christ and to turn to other sources of religious authority means that we are taking it upon ourselves – we who are dust and ashes, we whose righteousness are filthy rags – to make things right with a holy God.  To turn from Jesus to Moses, from the cross to Mount Sinai, is to trade grace for works.  But in truth to turn from Jesus to anything or anyone else is to turn from grace to works, from dependance upon God’s free acceptance of us through Jesus to a dependance upon personal performance of some kind.

Both of these terms, “apostle” and “high priest” summarize what the author has carefully argued for Christ in the previous two chapters – hence the word, “Wherefore” at the very beginning of verse 1.  If we have paid attention to what has been said, if we consider it carefully, we will see that these perfectly describe who Jesus is and what he has done.  And it will be easier to see why it is folly to abandon the claims of Christ upon our life for anyone else, no matter how great or good they are.

The Claims of Christ in light of his Dedication

The one place where Moses and Jesus are at least partially compared and similar is in the term “faithful.”  Our Lord was “faithful to him that appointed him, as also Moses was faithful in all his house” (2).  This is picked up again in verses 5 and 6.  In saying this about our Lord, it is in some sense also a repetition of what has already been said, for he is a “merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God” (2:17). 

But even though our author doesn’t highlight the fact, the reality is that surely his readers would have been aware that, although Moses in the main displayed remarkable faithfulness and dedication to the Lord, yet even he was not without his faults.  He smote the rock when he should have spoken to it; he did not treat God as holy before the people, and as a result he was forbidden from entering the Promised Land.  However, there was no corresponding fault in our Lord.  He could say, “Which of you convicteth me of sin?” (Jn. 8:46), a question which remained unanswered.  Even in his trial, they could only convict him by condemning him for being who he really was.  He was and is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Heb. 7:26).

The bottom line for the original reader and for us is this: Jesus was not only sent by the Father to be our High Priest, but he also perfectly fulfilled the mission he was sent to accomplish.  Moses didn’t quite make it to the Promised Land; Jesus brings many sons to glory.  Look at any great man or woman in history and you will find a flaw somewhere.  But look at Jesus and you see only perfection.  He was tempted in all points like as we are, yet without sin (2:18; 4:15).  There was no one like him and there is no one like him.  To reject Christ is to reject the only one who has perfectly fulfilled God’s will upon the earth.

The Claims of Christ in light of his Position

This is where the author camps out on.  It is the main point in verses 3-6.  Though Jesus and Moses were both faithful to God, Moses is infinitely inferior to the Lord, and our author explains why in these verses.  The main reason, given in verses 3-4 and repeated in verses 5-6, is that whereas Moses is part of the house, our Lord is over the house.

What is meant here by “house”?  In this context, “house” refers to the community of God’s people.  In the OT, this meant primarily being a part of the nation of Israel.  In the NT, this means being a part of the church.  In numerous places the apostle Paul calls the church the house of God (cf. Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15).  But this does not mean merely being a part of an external organization.  It means belonging to Christ.  In verse 6, the author says that we belong to the house of Christ if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm to the end; in verse 14, he says that we are partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our hope steadfast to the end.  This seems to indicate that belonging to the household of Christ and being a partaker of Christ is the same thing.  You are truly a part of the NT church when and only when you truly belong to Jesus Christ through faith (cf. 12). 

Now what is the argument?  In verse 3, we are told, “For [this is the reason why you should consider Christ] this man was counted worthy of more glory than Moses, inasmuch as he who hath builded the house hath more honor than the house.”  He then goes on to explain, “For every house is builded by some man; but he that built all things is God” (4).  In other words, Jesus, being the eternal Son of God, is the one who built the house in which Moses served.  Moses was not the architect of the Old Covenant community of God’s people; God was – and that means that Jesus was.  Incidentally, here we have another evidence of the Biblical witness to the divinity of Christ.  Verse 3 depends on the fact that our Lord is the one who built the house in which Moses served.  Verse 4 says that God is the one who built it, as the one who builds all things.  Putting these two verses together indicates again that our Lord is God manifested in the flesh.

Then in verse 5-6, this argument is repeated in different terms.  “And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; But Christ [was faithful] as a son over his own house.”  Moses was in the house as a servant; our Lord was over the house as a son.  And the covenant community that Moses administered existed for the purpose of pointing to the future ministry and work of Jesus Christ.  God didn’t put Moses in charge in order to have people look to him; he put him in his house in order to point people to Jesus Christ.  This is what our Lord said to the Pharisees: “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust.  For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me” (Jn. 5:45-46).

The gist, therefore, of the argument is this: Christ stands over Moses.  Christ is the Son of God; Moses is his servant.  For the Hebrews to reject the claims of Christ on them to turn to Moses was to fundamentally misunderstand both Christ and Moses.  And in reality, honoring Moses would mean to honor Christ as the Lord of Moses and the one to whom Moses pointed.  And so to return to a Christless Law would be to gut the Law of its true meaning.

Christ over all

But Jesus our Lord doesn’t just stand over Moses: he stands over all things (cf. ver. 4).  He is King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 17:14).  If you ask how we know this, it is this fact to which the resurrection points (Acts 2:36; 17:30-31).  Our Lord conquered death in his rising from the dead; and this surely points us to one whose supremacy cannot be matched by any mortal man.  To substitute the claims of Christ over your life for anyone or anything else cannot enjoy any lasting success.  Eventually we will all have to come to terms with the supremacy of Christ over all things.

And this means that belonging to the household of Jesus Christ and being a partaker in his saving blessings is the most important consideration we can give attention to.  You can of course ignore Jesus, but you will not be able to do so forever.  So consider him!  See the one who is over all things, who is your Lord and King.  And that brings us to a very important question: do I belong to house of Christ?

Do I belong to the household of Christ?

The answer to this is at least partly answered at the end of verse 6: “whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” 

Let me begin by saying that this is not just a test of who is a part of the visible church.  This is a test for those who belong to Christ.  It is correlative, as we have seen, with being a partaker of Christ.  It means to be a participant in the saving blessings of our Lord.  In other words, it means to be saved.  It means being forgiven of your sins and being a child of God.  This has eternal implications.  This is not just about some temporal blessing.  To reduce this text to that is to gut it of its meaning.

At the same time, it doesn’t say that we become the house of Christ if we hold fast the hope to the end.  What the author says is that we are the house of Christ if we hold fast to the end.  That is a very important distinction.  He is saying that it is the sure and inevitable evidence of belonging to Christ is that we persevere in faith and hope to the end.  The ground of our belonging to Christ is the grace of God not perseverance in the faith.  But the evidence of our belonging to Christ is perseverance in the faith, and to say that is not in any way to diminish the power or the effectiveness of God’s grace or to make it depend decisively upon man.  In fact, I would say that to deny the doctrine of perseverance is to diminish the grace of God, for you are essentially saying that the work of God’s grace and Spirit in the heart is not effective enough to keep the believer believing.  You do not honor God’s grace either in its freeness or in its power by saying that our corrupt human nature is able to overpower God’s work in the heart so that we may not persevere to the end.

There is often a hidden assumption lurking in the shadows behind the objection to the necessity of perseverance.  That assumption is that any human involvement in matters of eternal salvation is a denial of the freeness of the grace of God in salvation.  But that is a false and unbiblical assumption.  That is not what the NT Scripture is getting at when it says that we are saved by grace and not by works.  Consider Eph. 2:8-10, for example.  There the apostle writes, “For by grace are ye saved through faith: and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”   Note that even as the apostle says that we are saved by grace and not by works, he also affirms that this is “through faith.”  Now I am aware that some people try to make this about God’s faith.  That’s extremely unlikely.  We are saved by faith because we are justified through faith, as Paul says repeatedly in his epistles.  And in Paul it is clear that the faith by which we are justified is our trusting in Christ. 

This is beyond dispute, for example, in Gal. 2:16, where Paul writes, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.”  (Some people might respond, “But see, he says ‘faith of Christ!’”  But “faith of Christ” here is a use of what grammarians call the objective use of the genitive case in Greek and could be translated, “faith in Christ” or “faith of which Christ is the object.”  It certainly doesn’t refer to Christ believing or to the faithfulness of Christ.)  Note that we believe that we might be justified.  Faith here is not the seed of faith or the principle of faith – it is faith in action; it is believing.  But notice also that Paul does not in any way think that this gets in the way of God’s grace in salvation.  In fact, it is because we believe in order to be justified that we are not justified by works.  Salvation through faith is the basis for salvation apart from works.

Going back to Ephesians 2, verse 10 underlines in another way what we are arguing for here.  The apostle says that we are God’s workmanship created in Christ unto or for good works.  We are not created through good works or by good works, but unto or for good works.  And this is God’s work.  He has ordained it.  To argue that an elect individual can go through life without ever trusting in Christ or doing good works is to despise God’s grace, not to celebrate it.

The human element in salvation, trusting in Christ and growing in grace and persevering in the faith, does not in any way therefore undermine the freeness of God’s grace.  For all this ultimately depends on God, not us.  When Paul says, “and that not of yourselves,” the word that refers to everything in the phrase “by grace are ye saved through faith.”  Faith is God’s work in us.  We believe in Christ because God works the faith in us by sovereign grace.  To say that faith is not necessary is not upholding God’s grace, it is an attack on God’s grace.

So suppose you are a wavering Christian.  You are beginning to wonder if it is worth it to keep being a disciple of Christ.  It is beginning to look like your life would be much easier if you just stopped believing in Jesus.  No more persecution that way.  No more getting beat up for Christ.  No more losing your property or your privileges in society or your reputation because of your association with Jesus.  I think that is where a lot of these Hebrew Christians were at.  What do you say to them?  Well, one of the things that our author says to them is that if you don’t hold fast to the hope and the confession of our faith in Christ to the end, you don’t belong to Christ.  And if you don’t belong to Christ, you are not saved.  And that is in the end infinitely worse than losing earthly goods and comforts and privileges.

That is not of course all he says.  As we have seen, he is reminding them of other things as well, including the scope and the magnitude of their blessings in Christ.  He starts there, in fact.  He begins by reminding them that they are “holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling” (1).  He is assuming that they are what they profess to be: genuine followers of Jesus, the people of God.  God’s people can be called holy brethren because of what Jesus has done for us – he is the one who through his death has sanctified us and made us sons and daughters of the Most High (2:11).  We have been called by a “heavenly calling;” that is, those who are called by God to faith in Christ have a heavenly inheritance.  We are not primarily citizens of this world, but we seek a country that is to come.  As we look to heaven and to the glories to come, we are reminded that the sufferings of this time are not worthy to be compared to the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8:18).  And this hope causes us to purify ourselves even as our Lord is pure (1 Jn. 3:1-3). 

And this hope, when it is held fast by us, will produce great confidence and rejoicing (6).  As we rejoice in hope, we become patient in tribulation (Rom. 12:12). 

To be balanced, we need to be reminded, therefore, of two things – both of which are in verse 6: “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”  First, if we are to persevere through trials that test our faith and make us want to give up, we need to have this confidence and rejoicing in the hope.  To put it in terms of Heb. 11:6, we need to be confident that God is and that he is a rewarder of those who diligently seek him.  Note that this is not rejoicing in any hope – it is rejoicing of the hope.  This is a particular hope, a hope which is contained within the boundaries of our confession (1).  It is hope in Christ.  How then do you maintain and grow in this confidence and rejoicing?  You do so by obeying the command of verse 1, by considering carefully Christ Jesus our Lord, who is he and what he has done and is doing.

But that is not the only thing.  As we’ve noticed, there is an implicit warning in verse 6, a warning that will be expanded upon in the following verses.  It is that if we don’t continue in the faith, if we abandon our confidence and rejoicing in the hope of Christ and his salvation, we are not truly saved.  We don’t belong to Christ.  And as we’ve argued in our message on 2:1-4, warnings like this are here to remind us of the seriousness of what we are dealing with.  It is meant to give us a healthy fear of the consequences of turning away from Christ.  And so it is another means that God uses to keep us faithful to him.  Warnings like this are not a whip so much as a loving warning from a Savior who genuinely cares for his own.  After all, he is the one who warned his own disciples on multiple occasions, “He that endureth to the end shall be saved” (cf. Mt. 24:13).

 Let me summarize the argument in terms of Psalm 2.  We are to consider the claims of Christ, who is God’s Son, upon us.  He is our Lord and King and Savior.  How are we to relate to him, especially in light of the temptation to abandon our faith in him?  We are to heed the exhortation of Ps. 2:11 – “Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.”  It is not a contradiction to say that we are to rejoice and tremble!  We need both.  We need to tremble in light of the danger of falling away.  But we also need to rejoice in light of the heavenly hope.  One without the other will leave us imbalanced.  But when we are motivated by both, we will more readily turn from temptation and run to Christ.  May the Lord grant us to consider Christ Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, in such a way that we will indeed rejoice with trembling in the hope that we have in him.

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