************ Sermon on Hebrews 10:32-39 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 6, 2016
"Don't Throw Away Your Confidence"
Is it well with your soul? Let me ask you again: Is it well with your soul? If your answer is YES, how do you manage to keep your faith and hope in the midst of a culture that is increasingly godless? How do you keep your faith and hope when everything we stand for and believe in is constantly under attack?
Consider what is going on in our country. Our presidential candidates make any true Christian shudder. Our Supreme Court has allowed gay marriage and abortion on demand. Our culture prizes toleration above anything else and despises us when we stand for the truth of God's Word. Turn on the TV and people slip in and out of marriage and sexual relationships at the drop of a hat. Almost every new TV show portrays a gay person or a gay couple as if this is normal and acceptable. Our newspaper this past week celebrated the grand opening of the LGBT center here in Visalia. Under the guise of Christian love even church members find ways to accommodate themselves to our culture.
I was sent a news article on best-selling author and HGTV star Jen Hatmaker. She says she is an evangelical born-again Christian. But she finds nothing wrong with gay marriage and gay relationships. She is also very easy on the eyes. She makes me think of what Paul says about Satan who masquerades as an angel of light.
Is it well with your soul, congregation, as you live in a culture that not only is non-Christian but even is antagonistic to the Christian faith?
What we face as Christians is not all that different from what was faced by the Hebrew Christians. They were striving to be Christian in a culture that was totally pagan. A culture that hated the Christian faith because the Christian faith does not allow compromise. A culture that hated the Christian claim that Jesus is the only way to the Father, that Jesus is Lord, that Jesus must be obeyed. A culture that persecuted Christians.
To avoid conflict with culture the Christian has three choices. First, withdrawal from the world like the Amish. Second, a silence that never mentions the Gospel to unbelievers. Third, compromise so you are not in conflict with culture.
Hebrews does not want us to avoid persecution at all costs. Hebrews does not tell us to avoid conflict with culture. Hebrews does not tells us to withdraw from culture, to be silent, to make compromises. Rather, Hebrews tells us to endure in the face of conflict and persecution. That is, Hebrews tells us to make sure it is well with our souls. And do you remember why Hebrews tells us this? Because, as was said last time, those who forsake the Gospel find out how dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God.
So, how do we endure in the midst of a culture that is increasingly hostile to the Gospel?
I Confidence and Perseverance
A Our text contains two statements: the first is negative and the second is positive.
Notice the negative statement in verse 35: "So do not throw away your confidence ..."
The Greek word for "confidence" appears 31 times in the New Testament. In the Gospels it is translated as "boldness." Again and again we are told that Jesus speaks with boldness -- about Himself, the Kingdom, the death of Lazarus, and so on. In the book of Acts the same word is used to describe the apostles: Peter spoke boldly on the Day of Pentecost. Remember the miracle done by Peter and John in Acts 3? They healed a man crippled since birth. Peter and John were hauled before the Sanhedrin and were asked "By what power or what name did you do this?" (Acts 4:8). Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, told the assembly about Jesus "whom you crucified but God raised from the dead" (Acts 4:10). He told them "Salvation is found in no one else ..." (Acts 4:12). Then we are told the Sanhedrin saw their "courage." Courage. It is the same word. So what is Hebrews saying to us? "Don't throw away your confidence." "Don't throw away your courage." "Don't throw away your boldness." "Don't throw away your confidence, courage, and boldness in proclaiming the Gospel and believing the Gospel and holding fast to the Gospel."
Remember, that's exactly what some of the Hebrews were doing. They were throwing away their confidence. They were leaving Jesus to go back to Moses. They were going back to the Jewish faith because the Christian faith was being persecuted by the Roman culture whereas the Jewish faith was being tolerated.
Isn't this sad to hear -- that the Jewish faith was not a threat to the pagan culture? Which means the practicing Jews did not evangelize and try to win souls and change lives -- like the Christians did. Which means the practicing Jews did not speak out against the social evils of the day like abortion, murder, slavery, alcoholism, abandoned children -- evils that Christians spoke against. Which means that in the midst of a polytheistic Roman society the practicing Jews were silent about their belief that there is only one God -- something that the Christians emphasized. The Hebrew Christians were bold, and courageous, and confident. They were in your face about Jesus and the Gospel. So they were the ones who were being persecuted.
B And now the positive statement of verse 36: "You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised" (Heb 10:36).
"You need to persevere ..." Need. Not optional. Not desirable. Rather, absolutely necessary. Perseverance is absolutely indispensable to complete salvation. Full and complete salvation requires perseverance. To emphasize this, the word "persevere" is mentioned first in the Greek: "Persevere so when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised." Persevere. Endure. Be steadfast. Stay in a place. Stand against opposition. Hold out. Remain. In the Parable of the Sower, what is one of the marks of the seed on good soil? The seed on good soil stands for those who persevere. In Paul's writings, perseverance is one of the marks of the true Christian. "You need to persevere." You need to endure in the faith -- in spite of a godless culture that hates you and despises you. You need to stand fast. You can't withdraw. You can't be silent. You can't compromise. Instead, persevere. Hang in there.
Again, this is exactly what some of the Hebrew Christians were not doing.
C My brothers and sisters in Trinity URC, don't throw away your confidence, your boldness, your courage when it comes to Jesus and the Gospel. Instead, persevere and hold fast to what you have.
I am sure you realize from the elder reports in the bulletin that some of our members are exactly like the Hebrew Christians who abandoned the Christian faith. We have members who boldly and confidently profess faith in Jesus. But then, in the midst of our godless and hostile culture, they throw it all away. They do not hold fast to the Gospel. They stop attending worship. Our elders pray about them. They visit and encourage and admonish and instruct. But eventually we have to remove their membership.
Dear friends, don't be like them. So I say again, don't throw away your confidence, your boldness, your courage when it comes to Jesus and the Gospel. Instead, persevere and hold fast to what you have.
How are we to do this? What specifically can we do to hold fast and persevere? The rest of our Bible reading tells its audience to remember the past and to look forward to the future.
II Remember the Past
A Our passage starts with "remember." Remind yourselves. Actually, continually remind yourselves.
Of what? Remind yourselves of "those earlier days after you had received the light" (Heb 10:32). Remind yourselves of your baptism and conversion. Remind yourselves of when you first came to know Jesus. Remind yourselves of God's grace, of leaving the Jewish faith, of trusting in Jesus, of your commitment.
B Remind yourselves of "when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering" (Heb 10:32). The word for "contest" is the language of sports and athletes, of Olympic games and competition. But in this instance the contestants on the one side are Christians and the contestants on the other side are sufferings.
What sufferings? Verses 33 and 34 can be broken down into four lines. First, remember you were "exposed to insult and persecution." "Insult" means verbal abuse, scorn, hostility, contempt, disrespect. And all of this was done publicly, out in the open, for all to hear. The Greek word for "public" is the root word for "theatre." On a stage. In front of everyone. Humiliate publicly. Scorn publicly. Shame publicly. Sneer publicly. Christians were openly mocked and laughed at and insulted. But, then, Christians are being like Jesus. Remember how Jesus also endured this? He was accused of being a drinker, a glutton, a madman, demon possessed, a son of Satan.
Second, remember "you stood side by side with those who were so treated." The early Christians comforted one another. Stood up for one another. Linked arms with their brothers and sisters who were being mocked.
Third, remember "you sympathized with those in prison." The early Christians had a prison ministry. In fact, one of the often repeated themes of the apostles was to remember those in prison. Who were these prisoners? Some were thieves and murderers, deserters and debtors. Others were fellow Christians who were put in prison because they dared to confess Christ before men. The early Christians "sympathized with those in prison." Now, you need to realize that prison ministry in New Testament times was nothing like prison ministry today. Unlike today, prisoners back then were not pampered. Food, drink, clothing, medicine, and blankets had to come from outside of prison (it is the same way in many other countries today). The early Christians sympathized with those in prison. They came with food, drink, clothing, medicine, and blankets for their brothers and sisters in the faith. Some of these visitors never came out of prison because in visiting the prisoner they revealed themselves to be Christian. But like Jesus Who left the glory of heaven to identify with us in our needs, so they left the safety of home and family to sympathize with those imprisoned for their faith.
Fourth, remember how you "joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property." Their possessions were taken from them: homes, furnishings, beds, clothing, money, horses, wagons, farms, businesses, family heirlooms. We aren't sure if this was done by government decree or by the disorderly actions of a mob. But many Christians lost all that they had.
Remember these four things. Remember what happened just because you dared to confess Christ before men. Remember how the world hates you and reviles you because you love Jesus. Remember -- and here is the main point -- remember how God brought you through, how God sustained you, how God stood by you, how God gave you strength and courage and boldness. Remember the past and therefore have courage for the present. He Who was faithful then will also be faithful today.
C What we endure today is not the same as what the Hebrew Christians endured. But make no mistake about it, my brothers and sisters, we live in a godless culture that hates Christ and hates Christians who dare to stand up for the truth of God's Word. The God Who sustained the Hebrews also sustains us -- regardless of who is elected on Tuesday. The God Who saw them through trials and tribulations will also see us through trials and tribulations. So remember. Remember God. Remember His faithfulness. Remember His love and His grace.
III Look Forward to the Future
A Our next point has to do with the future. Those early Hebrew Christians endured confiscation of property, contempt, prison, and stood side by side with those who were mistreated for the sake of Christ. Here is the reason: "because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions" (Heb 10:34). Verse 35 speaks of being "richly rewarded." Verse 36 promises "you will receive what he has promised."
Why did they endure? Why were they joyful, for instance, about the confiscation of property? Because, to borrow a phrase from Jesus, their treasure was in heaven and not on earth. Because they set their minds on things above in heaven and not on earthly things. Because great is their reward in heaven:
(Mt 5:11-12) Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Hebrews is talking about the final and full experience of salvation. Eternal life. Life with Jesus. Life in the new heaven and new earth. Life without pain and suffering and crying and tears. Life without persecution because of your faith. Life where everyone acknowledges Jesus and loves the Lord. Life where you are loved and not hated because you love Jesus.
Keep your eyes on these blessings. Hold these promises before your eyes. They kept you going in the past. They will keep you strong and faithful in the present.
B This is what we must do, congregation. We must not live our lives here as if this is all there is. Life is more than Trump and Clinton. Life is more than America. Life is more than health and wealth, birth and retirement, jobs and school. None of this is our ambition. None of this is our goal. Because if this is what we live for, we will not endure. Because if this is what we live for we will throw away our confidence. Because if this is what we live for, we will choose withdrawal, or silence, or compromise.
Remember this: we are aliens and strangers on this earth. We are those who look forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. So I say to you: Look forward to the future and keep the faith.
C How can I be sure of God's promises? How can the Hebrew Christians be sure that theirs is better and lasting possessions? Hebrews anchors their hope and our hope on the Old Testament promise quoted in verses 37 and 38:
(Heb 10:37-38) For in just a very little while, "He who is coming will come and will not delay. (38) But my righteous one will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him."
This quote comes from Habakkuk 2. When Habakkuk wrote this the children of Israel were oppressed by Babylon. Habakkuk cried out to the Lord,
(Hab 1:2) How long, O LORD, must I call for help, but you do not listen? Or cry out to you, "Violence!" but you do not save?How long? How long will the oppression and persecution last? God's answer: Someday my revelation will come. Someday my promises will be realized. But in the meantime, live by faith. Don't shrink back. Or, to use the words of Hebrews, don't throw away your confidence.
You and I are to see ourselves in this passage. So let me end by asking, are you one of those who shrink back and are destroyed? Or, are you one of those who believe and are saved? Is it well with your soul?
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