Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 ESV)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

 o   Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

The Earth Remade and Christian Mission

Sunday I took a departure from the Gospel of John and prepared a devotional for both Sunday AM and Sunday PM that looks at Isaiah 66.  This isn’t a sermon, so its not as lengthy as one might expect my notes to be on this kind of passage, but I hope its an encouragement to you.  If you’re a Christian you can take comfort in a passage like this where your place in the larger scope in God’s redemptive tapestry is evident.  From front to back, the Bible proclaims the centrality of God’s glory and our mission to bring Him glory and worship.  Here is just one more passage that points to these truths.

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Isaiah 66:17-24

Our text comes from the final verses of the book of Isaiah.  This is not meant to be a sermon, but rather a short lesson to stir up your minds to worship God as you leave this place.  The goal of this lesson is to show that from first to last, from Pentateuch to Prophets to Gospels and General Epistles, God’s purposes and plans have not changed.  They are being fulfilled even now in the church, and will be consummated upon Christ’s second coming.  

The context for our passage is that in the final chapters of Isaiah’s writing (particularly 65-66, though the entire section from 40 onward is markedly different than 1-39) we are learning about what will occur during the interim of the Anointed One’s two advents, as well as some things which will occur upon His final return and kingdom consummation…The notion of “kingdom” and “mission” looms heavy here, but the overarching thrust of the passage is that the end and goal of all things is the glory of God.

As we walk through the passage, I want you to notice FIVE points of importance to our discussion this evening:

  1. The centrality of worship and the glory of God
  2. The mission of God’s people
  3. The scope of God’s kingdom and our mission
  4. The justice of God
  5. The renewal of all creation, and revelation of God’s glory

Alec Motyer sums up the passage this way, “…this final section spans the first and second comings of the Lord Jesus Christ: his purpose for the world (18), his means of carrying it out (19-21), the sign set among the nations, the remnant sent to evangelize them (19) and the gathering of his people to ‘Jerusalem’ (20) with Gentiles in full membership (21). Jerusalem is not the literal city but the city of Galatians 4:25-26; Hebrews 12:22; Revelations 21. Exactly so but for Isaiah, not privileged as we with hindsight, it was a vision of staggering proportions.”

First of all, this is a passage that tells us of the purposes of God for His people and all of creation.  Central to those purposes is that God’s glory is His primary concern.  His glory and fame and our worship of Him make up the main theme not only of this passage, but also of all redemptive history.  God desires worship from every tribe tongue and nation (vs. 18-20).  Furthermore, the central end (teleos) of all history is that God will receive glory. In fact, we were created for this end, as was all of creation.  Therefore it makes sense that the mission of His people, and the end goal of all things is, “they shall come and shall see my glory” (vs. 18) and that “all flesh shall come to worship before me” (vs. 23).  This is not an isolated bullet point, but the truth that permeates this entire passage.

The second thing we notice here is the mission of God’s people.  In verse 19 we read that God will “send survivors to the nations” who will “declare my glory among the nations. And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations, as an offering to the Lord…” As Peter Gentry says, “This text in Isaiah comes close to the Great Commission in Matthew 28.”  Motyer says this “is the clearest Old Testament statement of the theme of missionary outreach.”  Hundreds of years before the Great Commission, God had already expressed to Isaiah a plan to send us out to the nations as His Ambassadors (2 Corinthians) who would bring back converts to the Lord – literally turning people toward the Lord in repentance in order to bring Him glory.

He does this by setting “a sign among them.”  This sign is likely either meant to be the cross of Christ (Motyer, Gentry), the gospel of Christ, or the Spirit of Christ (Calvin), which indwells all believers. This work, this mission of bringing people back to the Lord will be our “grain offering” to the Lord (vs. 20).  What is likely in mind is the grain offering or the offering of “first fruits” (Motyer), which is appropriate because as James says, “Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures” (James 1:18 ESV – see also Rom. 8:23).

In fact Paul says in Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Rom. 12:1).  So we see why we were created, and now we see the purpose of our mission as well – to spread the good news of the Gospel to people all over the world in order to bring glory to God.  This is our spiritual act of worship, to obey the Lord in the spreading of His glorious message.

The third thing we see is that the scope of the mission is worldwide.  Remember the context of when God is speaking to Isaiah – this is 700+ years prior to the birth of Christ. Going to reach the nations with the message of God’s kingdom wasn’t exactly on the minds of the Jews right now.  If I had to guess, I’d say they were most concerned about fending off the Assyrians from invasion.

This isn’t because the Jews were unaware of the scope of God’s redemptive plan, but rather they simply had forgotten it, or refused to believe it. As Motyer says, “they (the Jews) knew that the promise that was first their unique privilege was destined to be the privilege of all the earth.”Here are two places in the Pentetech where God’s plans for the nations were mentioned:

  • First in Numbers 14:21 God is speaking through Moses and talking about judgement the Jews will receive for disobedience, and almost as a “throw away” line He mentions that one day the entire earth will be “filled with (His) glory!”  That “glory” comes first in the person of Christ, second in the spreading of His gospel, and finally in the consummation of His kingdom.
  • Secondly, God had promised Abraham in Genesis 22:17-18 that He would bless the nations through His seed. “I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of his enemies, and in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because you have obeyed my voice.”  There is a clear tie-in with vs. 20 “your brothers from all the nations” and vs. 22 “your offspring.”  This is a clear reference to the spiritual seed of Abraham – that’s you and me!

Now as we continue to see the worldwide scope of this glory-spreading that we do, we read in verse 19 of a list of cities.  The list is indicative of the worldwide nature of the mission, and the fact that nothing will block the message from achieving its end.  As Alec Motyer says, “The place-names are intended to be impressionistic rather than literal, creating a sense of world outreach.” All the nations will receive this message (vs. 19) and it will cross all bounds of communication, technology, travel method, or means (vs. 20).  As Motyer says, “No distance or difficulty will stand in the way of bringing the brother’s home; every transport will be put under contribution.”

So this plan is expansive in scope, and its blessing will initially be carried to the nations by us, the church, His chosen people who are spreading the message of the gospel of peace.  As John Calvin rightly says of this passage, “The time when he (Abraham) became ‘the father of many nations’ was when God adopted the Gentiles, and joined them to himself by a covenant, that they might follow the faith of Abraham. And thus we see the reason why the Prophet (Isaiah) gives the name of ‘brethren’ of the Jews to us, who formerly were aliens from the Church of God.”

This is clearly articulated by John in his gospel when explaining the prediction of Caiaphas regarding Jesus, “He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (John 11:51-52).

But Isaiah takes it a step further!  Not only will the Gentiles be adopted into the family of God as “brothers”, but in vs. 21 we read that God will take some of them for priests and Levites!  How sacrilegious would this have been to Isaiah’s audience!  And this group of Levites and priests are those saved by the blood of the lamb.  Listen to what Peter says

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

That is your mission to “proclaim the excellencies” of God. Truly “Now Israel as a royal priesthood includes Gentiles; the context puts an emphasis on honor, privilege, absorbing the riches of the nations, and nearness to Yahweh” (Gentry).

The fourth thing we note here is justice and righteousness of God.  God’s reign is like God’s plan for blessing – they both extend to more than simply Jews.  God is the sovereign ruler of all nations and people, and at the consummation of our Lord’s kingdom He will judge every nation and every person ever born on this planet.  He has the right to judge every man and every woman because He is the Creator, but more than that, He judges in perfect righteousness because of His omniscience. 

This is what is assumed by verse 18 when He states, “I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues.”  This verse follows a statement in verse 17, which describes what Jesus would later call “the tares” in the church – the pretenders. Jesus promised that all things that are hidden would eventually be brought into the light (Luke 8:17), and that includes those who “sanctify and purify themselves” (vs. 17) and spend their days in the church, while their hearts are far from God. Here He declares, they “shall come to an end together.”

John Oswalt rightly says, “Those who are depending on mechanical rituals and physical membership in the elect people are not the servants of God about whom Isaiah spoke so eloquently in chapters 41-46. They are nothing more than the rebels who were described with equal eloquence in chapter 1. It is those who gladly keep God’s covenant, whether they be Jews or Gentiles, who are God’s true servants.”

We do not do the judging – we do the worship (vs. 18, vs. 23).  God is the One who does the judging. God is able to judge all men (vs. 24) because He can rightly and righteously judge based on His omniscience.  Calvin says, “The Lord here testifies that he sees and observes their works, and that one day he will actually manifest that none can be concealed from his eyes.” Not only is He omniscient, but because He is perfectly holy, he will rightly judge according to his own character.  The warning is that “there is a cemetery beside the city (of Jerusalem)” (Moyter).  The hope of the gospel message (vs. 19-20) resides alongside the absolute reality of eternal punishment for those who reject this message (vs. 24).

Finally, God will finish the work He began.  Upon this great consummation He will reveal to us His glory (vs. 18) – a glory mediated now through the person of Jesus and His gospel of peace (John 1:14) will one day be manifested for all to see.

We read here that upon His return He will renew the heavens and the earth (vs. 22) – a completely new creation which He began inside you and will consummate physically throughout the entire earth when He comes back.

How do we know He will do this?  Well, as Peter Gentry says, “His name and his offspring are preserved because now God has joined Jews and non-Jews into one family. The new world involves two things: a new place and a new people. Verse 22 shows that both of these are certain because they are in God’s mind; he can actually see them before him.”  His promises are sealed by the trueness of His own character – He sees it, He knows it, therefore it’s a done deal.

Oswalt brilliantly sums up:

God has re-created his world, and sin can never stain it again. The tragedies of the old world, which called into question the very faithfulness of God, are gone. God had promised to Abraham a name and seed, children, but the sin of Israel and the rapacity of the world rulers made it seem as if even God could not keep his promises. Nonetheless, God is greater that human sin and human pride and is able to keep his promises. The old heavens and earth had been called to witness the justice of God in punishing his people (1:2); they had also been called to burst into song over the redemption of those people made possible by the work of the Servant (44:23; 49:13). Now the eternity of the new heavens and earth stands as a testimony to the eternity of God’s promises.

So Jesus is the light to which men are drawn or repulsed in blindness (John 3:19-21), and His gospel message is a glorious message that either blinds or softens.  As Matt Chandler says, “The gospel is such power that it necessitates reaction…The heart of the hearer of the gospel must move, either toward Christ or away from him” (The Explicit Gospel).

Paul tells us, “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4).  This is the message that is going out to all the nations. But this message, this glory, which is going out to all the nations right now, will be most fully revealed upon the consummation of the kingdom when Christ returns, for as John says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).

In conclusion, we ought to be encouraged and awed by God’s plan for us and by the scope of His plan for human history, for it far outstrips our own perspective.  Yet the role we as Christians play is enormously important. We are chosen people, priests to God, and are sent on a mission to proclaim the “excellencies” of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light – a light that will one day cover all creation (Num. 14) and transform us into the likeness of His beloved Son (2 Cor. 3:18).  Until that time, we have a “missionary obligation” as a church: “to create a magnetic community” (Motyer) that reflects that glory of Christ and turns people toward the glory of God, and shares a saving message of the hope of the gospel (Motyer), without which those who reject it will perish in eternal fire and torment (vs. 24).

This passage makes clear the linear nature of history to which all things are driving; the urgency of our mission could not be more apparent.

 

Study Notes 6-23-13: The Greeks Seek Jesus

John 12:20-26

The Greeks Seek Jesus

12:20 Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks.

I think that it might be helpful to note just a few things about this section before we look at the theological and spiritual significance of the event.

First, from what multiple commentators say about the word “Greeks” here, the meaning is not Jewish Greeks from the Diaspora, and not Greeks as in people from Greece necessarily (though it may have included these types of people), but rather it is foreigners as a whole. The term “Greeks” served as a sort of Jewish umbrella term for those outside their own ethnicity (Gentiles).

James Boice comments, “…they were Greeks in the gentile sense, not Hellenistic Jews…” and D.A. Carson remarks, “These Greeks were not necessarily from Greece: as elsewhere in the New Testament, the term refers to Gentiles who come from any part of the Greek-speaking world, possibly even a Greek city as near as the Decapolis.”

Second, John doesn’t give us a time when this occurs. James Boice says, “From my reading of the other Gospels I doubt that it was on the same day Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, for on that occasion he seems to have returned quickly to Bethany. Perhaps it was the next day…”

Lastly, it is evident that these Greeks are God-fearers. They weren’t in Jerusalem for sightseeing or for the draw of the great marketplace, but rather there were there “to worship.”

12:21 So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

The significance of the Greeks asking to see Jesus is recognized by every commentator, and is evident in that it “triggers” (Carson) Jesus to declare that the hour has come for Him to be glorified.

As Leon Morris puts it, “Clearly John regards their coming as significant but he does not treat their presence as important. Jesus recognizes in their coming and indication that the climax of His mission has arrived.”

But why is this?

I think it is because it indicates the pregnancy of the historical and biblical timeline as prophesied by God’s prophets according to His plan. The moment where the entire world would hear of the wonders of His plan, and all the nations would be blessed was converging in upon Jesus. The time had come when God would gather from all nations a chosen people for Himself (1 Pet. 2:9).

Of all the prophets, Isaiah has a lot to say about this, so let’s look at a few of those passages so we can see what the Lord had planned from of old:

In that day from the river Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt the LORD will thresh out the grain, and you will be gleaned one by one, O people of Israel. And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the LORD on the holy mountain at Jerusalem. (Isaiah 27:12-13 ESV)

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;

I will take you by the hand and keep you;

I will give you as a covenant for the people,

a light for the nations,

to open the eyes that are blind,

to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,

from the prison those who sit in darkness.

(Isaiah 42:6-7 ESV)

…“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant

to raise up the tribes of Jacob

and to bring back the preserved of Israel;

I will make you as a light for the nations,

that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
(Isaiah 49:6 ESV)

Incline your ear, and come to me;

hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

my steadfast, sure love for David.

Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples,

a leader and commander for the peoples.

Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know,

and a nation that did not know you shall run to you,

because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel,

for he has glorified you.

(Isaiah 55:3-5 ESV)

In their groundbreaking book Kingdom Through Covenant Peter Gentry and Steven Wellum comment on how the prophets foretell a time when salvation will come back to Israel and spread to all nations, the effects of sin are reversed, and a new creation is consummated:

…among the postexilic prophets there is an expectation that the new covenant will have a purpose similar to the “old covenant”, that is, to bring the blessing of the Abrahamic covenant back into the present experience of Israel, and even more than this, to the nations. The new covenant, then, will bring about the Abrahamic blessing in that it will benefit both Israel and the nations and thus have universal implications…Within the Old Testament, the new covenant is viewed as both national (Jer. 31:36-40; 33:6-16; Ezek. 36:24-38; 37:11-28) and international (Jer. 33:9; Ezek. 36:36; 37:28). In fact, its scope is viewed as universal, especially in Isaiah (in the passages I quoted above). These Isaiah texts project the ultimate fulfillment of the divine promises in the new covenant onto an “ideal Israel”, i.e., a community tied to the servant of the Lord, located in a rejuvenated new heavens and new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). This “ideal Israel” picks up the promises of Abraham and is presented as the climactic and ultimate fulfillment of the covenants that God established with the patriarchs, the nation of Israel, and David’s son (Is. 9:6-7; 11:1-10; Jer. 23:5-6; 33:14-26; Ezek. 34:23-24; 37:24-28). Furthermore, in the story line of Scripture it is not enough to say that the new covenant merely brings about the Abrahamic blessings to Israel and the nations. One cannot understand the Abrahamic covenant apart from the “covenant with creation,” so, in truth, when the new covenant arrives we have the ultimate fulfillment of all God’s promises, the reversal of the effects of sin and the death brought about by Adam, and the establishment of the new creation. (pg. 645)

I especially love the anticipation of a new creation in Isaiah 66 and how the plan of God is not limited to one race or people, but to all people everywhere:

And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the LORD, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the LORD, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the LORD. And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the LORD.

“For as the new heavens and the new earth

that I make

shall remain before me, says the LORD,

so shall your offspring and your name remain.

From new moon to new moon,

and from Sabbath to Sabbath,

all flesh shall come to worship before me,

declares the LORD.

“And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:20-24 ESV)

The reason I wanted to quote such an extended section from Gentry and Wellum has to do with their grasp of the magnitude of the new covenant ushered in by Christ. When these gentiles came to see Jesus, He clearly saw this as a sign that His hour had come, and that soon all the promises and covenants made with His people in ages past, were about to be fulfilled in Him (2 Cor. 1:20).

Morris says, “Plainly their coming is important. Jesus views it as evidence that his mission has reached its climax and that he is now to die for the world, Greeks included.”

12:22-23 Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. [23] And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.

Boice says there are two ways in which Jesus would be glorified. First, the Greek’s seeking Him indeed gave Him glory. It showed that He was a significant person, but more than that, it showed that those outside of ethnic Israel who were looking for the light of life thought that perhaps they had found it in Him.

Secondly, and most prominently, Christ would be glorified in His death and resurrection. In His sacrificial atonement, and triumph over the grave, Jesus would show the world the meaning of His coming in plain terms, and put Satan and his army of demons to open shame by triumphing over them (Col. 2:15).

In saying that “the hour has come” Jesus undoubtedly is referring to his death, yet as Morris notes, “…He speaks not of tragedy but of triumph.” And so it is that He sees in His death the anticipation of victory, and that is what is meant by “glorified.”