************ Sermon on Hebrews 13:7-9 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on November 12, 2015
"An Unwavering Faith"
I Jewish Legalism
A The Christian religion and the letter to the Hebrews must have come as a shock to the Jewish Christians. The Jews at the time of Jesus, you must know, were very legalistic. Everything about the Jewish faith centered on the law. They lived by the law, functioned by the law, worshiped by the law, sacrificed according to the law. Their religious experience knew nothing of liberty and freedom. They were legalists in every sense of the word. Their legalism buried the grace of the old covenant and turned it into a list of do's and don'ts.
They had dietary laws -- what they could eat and even how to cook it. They had laws on clothing -- what they could wear. They had laws on home life -- servants, sewing, wineskins. They had economic laws. They had laws on tithes and offerings and gifts. They had laws on relationships -- marriage, children, in-laws, neighbors. They had moral laws -- theft, adultery, lying, murder. They had health laws -- related to disease and rashes and bleeding. They had religious laws -- dealing with worship and sacrifice and feast days and sin offerings and thank offerings and the priesthood. They had civil laws -- dealing with courts and boundary stones and restitution if someone got hurt. Laws, laws, laws, and more laws.
God expected the Jews to teach all these laws to their children -- not just the Ten Commandments but the moral and ceremonial and religious and other laws too.
(Deut 6:6-8) These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. (7) Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (8) Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.Do you hear what is being said to the Jews? "Don't forget the rules, the regulations, the laws, the ordinances. Teach them to your children." So laws were very important to the Jews.
B The Jews were expected to live according to the law. You should realize this was God's intention, God's design, so Israel would be a unique and special people in the world. By design, God wanted the world to be able to identify who was His people because of their food, clothing, relationships, morality, health practices, and worship. God wanted the Jews to stick out in the world as a special and different people. He wanted them to be separate. He wanted them to be holy. He wanted people to see that they were different.
God's intention in all of this was for His people to be a light to the nations.
(Isa 42:6) I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles,God's intention in all of this was for His people to live as His witnesses in a hostile and unbelieving world. The world was supposed to look at them, see that they were different, and want this and their God for themselves.
C God gave the Jews enough laws to make them stand out, to be different, to be holy. But the Jews took this way further than God intended. They started to invent laws. They came up with a whole series of laws that were passed on orally, laws that fathers would tell their children from generation to generation. These oral laws were known as the Mishnah; Mishnah is a Hebrew word which means "study by repetition." Father would say the laws over and over again and the children would repeat them back. Then the Jews decided to write this oral law down and they called it the Talmud; Talmud is a Hebrew word which means "instruction, learning, teach, study."
The Jewish Talmud is quite a book. Someone borrowed -- and didn't return -- my copy so I don't have one to show you. The Talmud has six sections:
-Seeds, dealing primarily with the agricultural laws, but also the laws of blessings and prayers
-Festival, dealing with the laws of the Sabbath and the feast days
-Women, dealing with marriage and divorce
-Damages, dealing with civil and criminal law, as well as ethics
-Holy things, dealing with laws about the sacrifices, the Holy Temple, and the dietary laws
-Purities, dealing with the laws of ritual purity
Everyone of these sections has law after law after law governing the conduct of the Jew.
Thanks to the Mishnah and the Talmud and the mindset that went with them, the Jewish faith developed into one of the most extreme forms of legalism the world has ever seen. By the time Jesus came into the world the Jews were absolutely paranoid about observing the law. Which is why they got so upset with Jesus and His disciples when they saw them doing things forbidden by their laws: like picking grain on the Sabbath, healing on the Sabbath, allowing a woman with bleeding to touch Him, eating with tax collectors and prostitutes, and so on.
D Hebrews is about the new covenant, right? Remember we looked at it in Hebrews 8-10. The teaching of the new covenant was a shock to the Jews. Because in the new covenant it is not law but grace. This totally rocked them and knocked the socks off their feet. They were so blinded by their legalism that they thought this was some kind of heresy. Even Jews who became Christians found this difficult to grasp. They kept looking for the law, for rituals, for ceremonies. Which is one of the reasons some of them went back to the Jewish faith. They just couldn't get over their legalism, their works of the law.
So, one of the false teachings circulating on the fringes of the early Jewish Christian community was that the Mosaic food laws were supposed to be kept. Evidently there were those who taught that keeping these food laws was a form of spiritual discipline that would strengthen the heart. Look at what verse 9 of our Bible reading says about this.
(Heb 13:9) It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them."Don't be legalists," says Hebrews. "It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by" what? By "grace." Not by law. By grace. Let your life be rooted and founded on grace and not on law. Superficial things like ceremonial laws, certain foods and clothes and holy days "are of no value."
The new covenant released the Jews from the ceremonies and rituals, from the Mishnah and the Talmud. No more feasts, no more sacrifices, no more holy days, no more rituals, no more Temple, no more priests, no more offerings, no more rules and regulations. All of that is gone, gone, gone. All the legalism is gone and replaced by grace. "It is finished" was the cry of the Son of Man Who died. What is finished? In the context of Hebrews the law is finished, the Jewish faith is finished, the legalism is finished. It has all been replaced by the perfect work of the perfect high priest Who offered a perfect sacrifice bringing a perfect salvation. No room for works here. No room for laws here. The typical Christian Jew had problems with this. "Isn't there something I can do?" I'm afraid there are some in our circles who are like the Jews: they want rules for themselves and others; they want to observe the works of the law in order to be saved. But salvation is not by works; it is never by works because our works are never good enough.
II Beware Strange Teachings
A Now look at the first part of verse 9: "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings." What kind of teachings? Those that want you to go back to the legalism of Judaism, back to the Mishnah and Talmud, back to all the rules you used to have. Or, to put it positively, "Stick with sound doctrine." What sound doctrine? We've been looking at sound doctrine in our morning services. We've been looking at sound doctrine in terms of the Apostles' Creed and Heidelberg Catechism. This sound doctrine is what verses 7 & 8 refer to:
(Heb 13:7-8) Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. (8) Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
"Remember your leaders." The apostles. And, before them, the heroes of faith mentioned in Hebrews 11. Look at them. Look at how they stayed true in spite of the enmity of the world. Look at how they stayed true in the face of temptation and trial. Did they change? Were they carried away by something new and different? Did they preach legalism? Of course not. They preached grace. So, imitate their faith. Imitate their steadfastness. Stick with their teaching.
And, look at Jesus. He preached grace, not legalism. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. Did Jesus change? Did the Gospel change? Of course not! Nothing about Jesus or the Gospel changes. So, there is no room for strange and different teachings and doctrines. There is no room for legalism. There is no room to go back to the law of the Jewish faith. And there is no room for the many strange teachings of our age.
B "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). You need to understand this is one of Satan's tools. Satan wants to move the Christian away from sound doctrine. Satan wants us to be tossed back and forth like the waves of the sea, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.
Do you remember what Paul said to the elders of the church at Ephesus? Paul was getting ready to leave Ephesus after three years of teaching and praying there. He knew something was going to happen after he left. It made him sick and sad. Listen to what he said:
(Acts 20:28-29) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (29) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock.Savage wolves. Who are they? False teachers. Keep watch. Remember my warning. Remember my teaching.
Strange teachings have always plagued the Christian church. Somebody begins to teach an exotic or bizarre idea that has no place in the historic doctrines of Christianity, and soon loads of people are fascinated by it. Books are written. Study guides are published. People study these rather than the Bible. Church after church and pastor after pastor tend to follow every new wave of whatever comes along. That is Satan at work, my brothers and sisters. Satan loves false doctrine. Satan hates sound doctrine.
One problem with our age is that some strange ideas have been in circulation for so long, they look normal. This is why people today, even Christians, have no problems with the Mormons or the JWs or Scientology or Christian Science or Seventh Day Adventists or any of the other belief systems out there. Sad to say, the ordinary Christian today has no ability to discern. They don't know what is good and what is harmful. They don't know the difference between false and true.
C "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). This is not the first time we have heard something like this in the book of Hebrews.
(Heb 2:1) We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.Sound doctrine is important to Hebrews. False doctrine is anathema, dangerous, a tool of Satan.
(Heb 4:14) Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess.
Let me put it this way: You are of no use to God if you are not sound in terms of doctrine. You are of no use in the church. You are of no use in any of the Kingdom causes we support: the Christian schools, Sierra Village, Love In the Name of Christ, Bethany Christian services, Tulare Kings Right to Life, Visalia Rescue Mission. We need sound doctrine to be useful in God's church and kingdom. Or else we get blown about by strange teachings and practices and ceremonies.
D "Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). What is the antidote to strange, false teachings? What is the antidote to Satan's attacks? I already told you. It starts with sound doctrine. As we find it in the Bible. As it is expressed in the creeds and confessions of the church. We need to study the Bible and read the Bible and put ourselves under the preaching of the Word. We need to have regular devotions in the home. And, we need to keep reading and studying and teaching the creeds and confessions of our church. We need to stick with sound doctrine.
"Do not be carried away all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). What else does this require? Let me go back to what Paul said to the elders at Ephesus: "Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers" (Acts 20:28). Keep watch, elders. Past elders, present elders, future elders. Guard. Protect. Who? The flock.
"Do not be carried away all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). Let me say something to parents and grandparents. Are you teaching the truths of Scripture to your little ones, to your children and youth? Are you equipping them to withstand the attacks of Satan? Are you sending them to Sunday School and Catechism and GEMS and Cadets and Youth Group? Are you giving them Christian schooling? To paraphrase Deuteronomy 6, are you impressing sound doctrine on your children? Do you talk about it when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up?
I mentioned that the ordinary Christian today has no ability to discern. They don't know what is good and what is harmful. They don't know the difference between false and true. This is especially true for our children and youth. Children and youth are so impressionable. When they are really young you can tell them almost anything and they will believe it. So we need to teach them sound doctrine. We need to teach them from the Bible. We need to teach them our creeds and confessions. So they become skeptical when they hear something different. So they become skeptical when they are told to do something different. So they can discern falsehood when Satan places it before them.
Remember why Hebrews 13 is in our Bible? First, Hebrews 13 tells us how to live for Jesus. Second, Hebrews 13 tells us how to live in glass houses before an unbelieving and hostile world that is watching us.
So what are we told to do this evening? "Do not be carried away all kinds of strange teachings" (Heb 13:9). Instead, have an unwavering faith in Jesus. Stick to the truths of the Gospel and the Reformation.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
Back to Index of Sermons Page