Series on Hebrews, III Superior Priest, B Superior by People, Text: 5:11-6:12, Title: Tasting and Testing

Introduction:

True Christians persevere in the work of love and in helping God’s people. The point of this passage which has been the cause of endless speculation must not be lost.  Faith without works is dead. The hottest fights between Calvinists and Arminians have been waged over this passage. The Arminians have read it and said that a real Christian can sin and backslide and fall from grace and be lost eternally. Calvinists have insisted that Jesus plainly said that His sheep should never perish. And they are emphatically correct that the Word of God cannot contradict itself. But in the course of explaining the harmony and integrity of God’s word we dare not lose sight of the awe inspiring language of this text. It is not a Scripture designed to foster theological debate, but rather to shake us out of our dogmatic slumbers. At the risk of being repetitious, let me remind you not to lose sight of the original audience. These are Jewish Christians in danger of forsaking Christ under persecution and returning to the safe haven of their Judaism. This text tells us why some of these professors could fall away and how they could prevent it. The writer is persuaded that the majority of them will not fall away. Verse 9 says  Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. The clue to the whole passage is found in this verse. Those who would stand fast displayed behavior which accompanies salvation. Those who might fall away did not display behavior which accompanies salvation. Therefore they were not genuine Christians and their profession was empty. Jesus Christ is a superior Priest and if he is our priest we will not fall away. But is he our priest? What is the evidence? Let us view three characteristics of the true believer here. They are progress, promise, and patience.


I Progress

As you read over 5:11-14  you may quickly jump to the conclusion that the author is concerned about the doctrinal sophistication of those to whom he is writing, We have much to say about this, but it is hard to explain because you are slow to learn. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. When he speaks of leaving the elementary teachings about Christ and going on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, He is talking about profound scriptural truth. He interrupts a discussion of Melchizedek as a type of Jesus Christ with this appeal. However, if you read carefully you will see that the problem here is not that the people of whom he speaks are stupid, but rather that they are foolish. Their immaturity does not come from an intellectual incompetence. Look again at verse 14, But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. The distinction here is between those who digest and assimilate the food and are trained in righteousness and those who are not. That’s why after the author first  reviews basic doctrines which everybody is expected to know in Chapter 6:1-3, Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so, After this he goes on to describe these immature babies twice in verses 4-6 as tasting, It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. This is the controlling thought. All of the experiences of these babies were just tasting, but as Paul says in  II Timothy 3:15, all Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, reproving, correcting and training in righteousness. This was not happening. They are to be sure members of the church. The early church fathers used the term enlightenment as a synonym for baptism. They are in the visible church but they are not progressing in righteousness. There is no point in giving meat to those are not digesting  and assimilating the truth. Babies cannot digest and assimilate meat. In other words if it doesn’t make a change in your lifestyle, then it is useless to indulge in intellectual stimulation. The point is that you cannot remain a baby. You either progress to maturity or you fall away. Progress is measured by training in distinguishing good from evil..

II Promise

The second characteristic of true Christians is the fulfillment of God’s promise.  Verses 7 and 8 tell us, Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned. Those who made a profession  are in a position where the rainfall of God’s grace, the showers of the Holy spirit, and the precipitation of His mercy is falling on them constantly. But instead of producing a useful crop, it is producing thorns and thistles. Instead of love, joy and peace, there is selfishness, idolatry and immorality. The promise of their confession is unfulfilled. The idea of the promise of our profession or confession of Christ being fulfilled is stressed throughout this letter as in 3:1, Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. Also in 10:25,  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. But this is not a new image in Hebrews. Throughout the Old Testament God stresses the fact that he is like a farmer who awaits the harvest from the mercy he has shown. Look at Isaiah 5:1,2 where we read, I will sing for the one I love a song about his vineyard: My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside.  He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines. He built a watchtower in it  and cut out a winepress as well. Then he looked for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit. The vine is Israel planted and cared for but fruitless and the passage goes on to say that God will destroy the vineyard. The message has not changed. The promise of righteousness must be fulfilled or God will destroy.

III Patience

The final characteristic of true Christians is patience but not just an idleness or inactivity. It is patience in well doing or deeds of love. As Paul says in Galatians 6:9 and II Thessalonians 3:13 do not become weary in well doing. The contrast here is between a labor of love and laziness. In verses 9-12 we read, Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised. The true Christian is diligent in doing good in order to make his hope sure as we read in verse 11. He is not perfect but he is persistent. Perfection is overrated. To improve your self-image, learn from the successful failures like Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth. Ty Cobb was thrown out more times trying to steal bases than any other man in baseball history. Babe Ruth struck out more times than any man in baseball history. Hank Aaron, who broke Babe Ruth’s record, has struck out more times than 99%  of the players who made it to the major leagues. Nobody - but nobody - considers them failures and few people even remember their failures. Virtually everyone remembers their successes. Enrico Caruso's voice failed to carry the high notes so many times his voice teacher advised him to quit He kept singing and was recognized as the greatest tenor in the world. Thomas Edison’s teacher called him a dunce and he later failed over 14,000 times in his efforts to perfect the incandescent light. Abraham Lincoln was well known for his failures but nobody considers him a failure. Albert Einstein and Werner Von Braun both flunked courses in math. Henry Ford was broke at age 40. Vince Lombardi became the most revered coach since Knute Rockne, but at age 43 he was a line coach at Fordham University. The professing Christians who were not genuine Christians were not persevering. The opposite of persevering is apostasy or falling away which the author mentions in verses 4-6, It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Is this saying anybody who makes a hollow profession or pursues an unfruitful confession of Christ condemned forever? I think not.  Repentance is still possible. The warning has to do with both the perspective of the author and the particular people to whom he was writing. He is saying that the Christian message which he preaches is the only answer. It is the fulfillment of Judaism, the essence of Old Testament religion, If they turn back to Judaism they will disgrace the savior. There is no hope in a religion which is desolate and dead without Christ. But worse than that they will be going back to the religion that rejected Christ and identifying themselves with His crucifiers so that it would hypothetically necessitate a crucifying of Jesus over again. It is an extreme folly. It is as if you were shipwrecked in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and somebody came and threw you a life raft and knowing that it was your only hope you took a knife and punctured it. I explain this so that if you have been playing at being a Christian or flitting around the edges of Christianity you may understand that there is still hope in repenting. Such repentance will issue in bringing forth fruit. It will mean that you digest and assimilate the word of God into your lifestyle. It will mean that you persevere in love to make your hope sure in your own mind.

Conclusion:

I want to leave you with a message of hope. In 1940 on those tiny Islands off the coast of France, ironically designated Great Britain stood a man who said to his people. “Death and sorrow will be the companions of our journey; hardship our garment; constancy and valor our only shield. We must be united, we must be undaunted, we must be inflexible.”  Winston Churchill’s call to arms was heeded. The price was paid. Jesus said, If any man will come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the Gospel will save it.