By Blake E. Jones
HEBREWS CHAPTER III
The Call to Consider (3:1,2)
W. E. Vine aptly opens this segment of Scripture for us with a simple overview that suggests the sensitive subject at hand. He points out that "the Hebrews had an esteem for Moses almost amounting to veneration, and the writer has shown that he is not disparaging Moses, but that a greater than Moses is here, and this in the various ways mentioned in these six verses".1 Yes, this is a tender issue for the Hebrews, but an issue that must be broached, nonetheless.
With inspired carefulness, we are first directed to linger in reflection and thoughtfulness on the faithfulness of our Apostle and High Priest. Christ's faithfulness is suggestive of the like characteristic exemplified by Moses. Here is a gracious commendation given to the Hebrew people's hero of the Old Testament, and an acknowledgement of God's pronouncement in Numbers 12:7. Now, with this polished and polite introduction, the fact of Faithful Jesus being greater than faithful Moses is unfolded in verses 3-6.
I. Jesus, the Builder, not the House (3:3,4)
In these verses the writer presents the figure of a house and a builder. The house may be understood as the people of Israel, or more specifically, the people of faith. Moses was a faithful part of that building, or design. However, he was not the designer. God was the Architect and the Builder; and since Christ has already been shown to be divine, Robert Tuck notes that "Christ was really the Founder of the house in which Moses was an official".2
In the same line, Moses was faithful to administer and proclaim the law of God and to lead the people God-ward, but the law was of God's making.
II. Jesus, the Son, not the Servant (3:5,6)
In the house of Israel, Moses is named as a servant. However, this term does not imply a slave but one who has chosen, of his own free will, to serve. In contrast to this picture of servanthood, Christ is the Son, the Owner, the Master of this house. Because of this, we find two graphic prepositions used in theses verses; one is "in" and the other "over". Moses was faithful "in" this house, but Christ was faithful "over" His own house. What a world of difference.
The line is being drawn more and more clearly. Christ is greater than their revered Moses. If you please, Christ is Moses' Boss, his Master, the One to whom Moses is accountable.
III. Jesus, the Fulfilment, not the Type (3:5,6)
Orten Wiley, looking back to the Old Testament structure and rituals, has said that "the Mosaic dispensation was typical of, and witnessed to, both the person and work of Jesus in the gospel age".3 In John 5:46, Jesus declared to the Hebrews of His day, "Had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of Me". Moses ministered in a system of spiritual pictures, figures, or types that were "a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after".
Jesus had come as the fulfilment of those clouded or dim figures. He brought it all to light and meaningful perception. All that Moses had taught and administered was merely a shadow of Christ, the cross, Calvary and the great salvation that it purchased.
The value of these three truths is shown by Charles Carter in that "to accept Christ's superiority to Moses automatically forced the honest mind to recognize that Christ and Christianity had superseded Moses, the law and the Jewish nation".4
What a joy is ours to be a part of the great fulfilment and not to be merely grasping at shadows and types. We have the Builder, the Master of the house, to love and worship. How privileged we are to live in the "New Testament House".
Wonderful examples of faithfulness have already been cited in the persons of Jesus and Moses. From this basis, we who are part of Christ's house are called to remain in the embrace of Christian faith. This warning seems to be directed to Hebrews who are looking backward to a system of shadows and types. Oh, that they would not regress and turn their backs on the Divine Son who has brought light and life to a religion of anticipation.
The danger of departure must necessarily preclude that there has been an arrival. It is in this light that we will consider the call to faithfulness.
I. The Fact of a Definite Arrival (3:1)
In verse one, there is no room for questioning the state of those to whom the call for faithfulness is delivered. These are not adherents to Judaism who are now considering the claims of Christianity. No! Clearly these descendants of Abraham have already become "partakers of the heavenly calling" and in the words of Adam Clarke they have "already embraced the Gospel and have been brought into a state of salvation".5 There has been a point of definite arrival in this privilege of participating in Christ's house.
So much of current religious thinking lacks the ring and the clarity of a positive assurance of personal salvation. The church is trusted; a moral life is accredited; a loving God is anticipated; and yet, it leaves nothing but a hope-so religion. There must be a time of definite arrival in the knowledge and witness of the Spirit "that we are the children of God" (Rom. 8:16). This inner confidence comes only when, as contrite sinners, we abandon every other hope and place our full weight on the mercy of God and the merit of Christ's shed blood. Merely signing a card, shaking the preacher's hand or joining the church is not to be equated with, or considered the same as, a clear cut, definite praying-through experience in divine grace. You can really know that you have passed from death to life. This is the moment of definite arrival that you can point back to with delight and assurance.
I fear that many people have not been honestly shown the way to heaven and will someday find themselves outside the company of the redeemed. How sad indeed! There must be a true encounter with the Saviour.
II. The Possibility of a Dreadful Departure (3:6b-12)
Let us note that a very small word, with a very large significance, is used in verse 6 to show that our place in Christ's house is conditional. That tiny word "if" totally eliminates the claim of unconditional security, or "once in grace always in grace", doctrines. The Christian's security, as Richard Taylor notes, "is not in past experience but in present experience, not in feeble but in triumphant faith, not in a grim and glum clinging to the Christian hope but in a vibrant possession that is on the offensive rather than the defensive".6
The example of the Israelites, who had safely left Egypt under the miraculous hand of God and then rebelled at Kadesh, is cited as a warning to these Hebrews. There was the dreadful possibility that after entering membership in Christ's house, they might now harden their hearts, rebel and walk out of this great salvation. What a heart wrenching disaster that would be, for Judaism now had nothing to offer since the God-Prophet, the Eternal High Priest had come!
It is often propounded that Christian sonship is irrevocable and though a relationship and rewards can be lost, salvation is beyond the choice of man's will after he is saved. We are told that we can never "unbecome" the son of our earthly parents and that it is the same in spiritual sonship. This argument does not hold true, however, for I did not have any choice in becoming a son of my parents. But when I got saved it was by my choice, an act of my will, that I repented and found mercy and adoption in Christ. By an act of that same will, salvation can be forfeited when I wilfully transgress the law of God and violate my love covenant with God.
The writer flashes before these people, and before us also, a caution in regard to the sinful nature that still lurks in the heart of the unsanctified believer. This defiled streak is in its very essence rebellion and enmity against God. It is hatred toward God! It is an "evil heart of unbelief". Regarding this, Adam Clarke says, "He who begins to give the least way to sin is in danger of final apostasy; the best remedy against this is to get the evil heart removed, as one murderer in the house is more to be dreaded than ten without".7 This evil heart is bent on departure, while the believer's desire is to remain. A civil war ensues within the life of the Christian until he is entirely sanctified or, dreadful as it may be, until he departs the household of faith.
III. The Call to Deliberate Perseverance (3:13-19)
Three directives are given that should shape the Christian's personal disposition and attitude to spiritual light. However, prior to this, we are encouraged to "exhort one another daily" lest we grow calloused to truth and become deceived by sin. We need the prodding of fellow believers in a world where the philosophy and demeanour of the unbelieving ones tends to rub off on us, if we do not stay very sensitive to the checks of the Holy Spirit. Not only do we need exhortation because of the outside world, but sin in the heart of the unsanctified Christian is so tricky and deceptive. It struggles to postpone or bypass its own crucifixion. It deceives by playing dead, promising good behaviour and a million other ploys, but it is a liar as is its father the devil. Let us not grow silent on the call to holiness of heart and life, but exhort one another "while it is called today".
The first personal admonition to faithfulness brings our attention back to the basis of our faith that truth, or that One, that we embraced confidently at the outset of our Christian walk. In the writer's statement of condition (verse 14), we understand the plea to "hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end". Hold on to your utter dependence on Christ. Without it you are a homeless wanderer, a destitute pauper, a lonely waif and a hell bound soul.
On the heels of the plea to hang on, comes a further word to those of Christ's house. Simply clinging to the past is not enough. We must hear from God today. Give heed to His voice and do not content yourself with the memory, however glorious, of a definite arrival in the past.
Now, with holding and hearing, harden not your heart as new light is shed on your path. Do not stiffen against what God commands you to do. Make a deliberate choice to remain submitted and pliable in God's hands. Don't balk, like the provoking Israelites, at every turn in the path. That very nature that balks and grumbles at the will of God needs to be dealt with. This evil heart of unbelief is not "a rejection of orthodoxy, necessarily, but a subtle wavering of confidence in the integrity of God",8 says Richard S. Taylor. You cannot mature gradually out of this problem; it must be remedied by God Himself. There are no older saints who are testifying to having grown out of the nature of sin or matured into the grace of heart cleansing.
Oh, the danger of the heart of unbelief subtly hardening to God's intended rest of heart cleansing. You see, "unbelief is the child, not of the head, but of the heart", expounds F.B. Myer. "If unbelief were the creature of our intellect, we must needs meet it there with argument; but since it is the product of a wrong state of heart, of an evil heart, we must meet it there."9
These Hebrew Christians are in danger of forfeiting their own promised rest, or Canaan rest of soul "by dragging their feet", Richard Taylor says. He goes on to state that "refusal at their Kadesh will be as disastrous as the refusal of their forefathers--indeed infinitely more so"10 for Kadesh represents the place where we either submit our will and nature to God or turn around and wander in the wilderness of refused light.
Reader, perseverance involves two grand themes; the keeping power of God, and the deliberate watchfulness and submission of the soul. Dr. H. E. Jessop probes our too often complacent spirits as he suggests that "all of this brings us to the solemnizing thought of our personal responsibility for the continuation of our own spiritual experience. As the Scriptures are carefully studied, it will be seen that while they are rich in their declarations of divine keeping power, they are also searching in their demands upon the believing soul, calling for watchfulness and faithfulness on the human side."11
Be sure in your faithfulness, that your heart is not fighting the privilege of heart cleansing. Persevere until you experience it. Then, persevere in its added aid to growth and fruitfulness.
Two frogs fell into a can of cream
"Oh, what's the use?" said No. 1,
But No. 2 of sterner stuff,
"I'll swim awhile, at least," he thought
An hour or two he kicked and swam
1. W. E. Vine, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (London: Oliphants Limited, 1952) p.34.
2. Robert Tuck, The Preacher's Commentary on Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, St. James, (New York: Funk and Wagnalls Co. 1896) p.174.
3. H. Orten Wiley, The Epistle to the Hebrews, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press, 1959) p. 115.
4. Charles Carter, The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972) Vol. VI, p. 54.
5. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p. 702.
6. Quoted in Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p.22.
7. Adam Clarke, Clarke's Commentary, (Nashville, New York: Abingdon Press) Vol. VI, p. 706.
8. Richard S. Taylor, Preaching Holiness Today, (Kansas City, Missouri: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1987) p. 103.
9. F. B. Meyer, The Way into the Holiest, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1950) p. 53.
10. Quoted in Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p.23.
11. Quoted in Lois I. Crooks, Ed., Adult-Hebrews, (Overland Park, Kansas: Herald and Banner Press, 1976) Vol. X, No. 3, p.23.
12. D. Maxey, 3000 Sermon Illustrations on Computer Disks, #1912