32. Hang on in there

Meditations in Hebrews 6:    32.  Hang on in there

Heb 6:12,15   We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised…… so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

This letter (?book) to the Hebrews is a strange mixture of theology and pastoral care – but then perhaps the two should always go together. Theology on its own becomes intellectual sterility that leaves people uncared for, and pastoral concern without explanation becomes ‘nice’, warm, fuzzy, pat-you-on-the-back encouragement that fails to build foundations for faith. Theology is explaining the ways of God, and true pastoral care is caring for people in the context of Biblical truth.

So we finished the previous meditation at this point in verse 12 where there is a challenge to overcome the tendency to laziness by looking to, and following the example of, those who have gone before and walked the path of faith, faithfully. It is that reason that causes the writer to start referring to Abraham. As a good pastor he is aware that people so often have a variety of things with which they struggle and one of those struggle-issues is having to wait to see fulfilment of God’s word. I am in a phase at the moment of having a longing for something in God but it is not yet coming and therefore the call has to be one for patience, the ability to hang on in there, remaining faithful while waiting for the outworking of God’s word.

It may be in respect of a whole variety of things. You may have a loved one who does not know the Lord and yet you have a sure sense that they will come through – one day – but it doesn’t seem yet. A call for patience. Maybe you have a vision for something to do with the kingdom and it doesn’t seem to be coming about, even though you feel you’ve done all you should but it still doesn’t seem like it’s coming. A call for patience. Perhaps you are longing for a partner, or maybe even a child and you have sought the Lord and received reassurance, but still nothing is happening. A call for patience. You see bad circumstances and are challenged by them but seem unable to do anything about it but pray and it has gone on and on. A call for patience.

So here is God and Abraham as the example we have to consider: When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” (v.13,14 quoting Gen 22:17) What a situation that was! Abraham, who had left his home at God’s prompting with a wife who was barren (Gen 11:30), a man of faith who followed God, and the Lord promised him descendants, again and again – and he believed God – but the years passed and nothing happened. Eventually Sarai his wife started making suggestion about how that word might be interpreted, maybe he would be a father via one of his servant girls, and so Ishmael was born and Jew and Arab have not been comfortable with each other ever since!  But he still waited and waited and eventually – yes, eventually – Isaac was born to Sarah. But what a period of waiting – 25 years! Possibly one of the greatest examples of impatience followed by patience we have: “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (v.15) It happened.

The writer starts thinking about this in more depth, about how God had gone about reassuring Abraham: “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.”(v.16) In human experience, making an oath, swearing by something greater than yourself, has always been a way of adding weight to your promise. “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath.” (v.17) Abraham had Isaac, had then had to sacrifice him – but was stopped – and then we read in respect of his descendants, “The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.” (Gen 22:15-18) The Lord did this because He did not want Abraham to live out his final years with any doubt that God would do it. Now note this: The Lord had said to Abraham several times that he would have a child – and Abraham believed him – and also that he would become a great nation – but this far on in his life there were few signs of that!

So here’s the theology, the thinking behind this story: “God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” (v.18) The JBP version puts this well: So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us”  i.e. you can utterly trust God because He doesn’t lie. That is point 1. But then God swore by Himself as if to say, “I want you to understand that this is ABSOLUTELY true; if you can’t trust this, you can’t trust me!” That was point 2. i.e. the honour of God’s name hangs in the balance when He used it as a guarantee. If He failed to honour this promise using His own name, then you could never trust God with anything. That is how powerful this is.  Two things that UTTERLY CONFIRMED God’s will for Abraham. Absolutely no room for doubt left!

Now why is he saying all this? Because he is now apply it to us: “we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.”We fled from our sin and our lost-ness to take hold of the salvation that was being offered to us by God and so now we can utterly trust all that God has said – even if we have presently having to wait for it to be worked out. So, he says, “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” (v.19)  Our hope is rooted in heaven, “where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (v.20) This closing verse of the chapter opens the door into the next phase of understanding which we’ll consider in the next meditation. Again the JBP version puts it all together well: This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”. Our hope is assured because it comes from God and Jesus comes from God with the message for us. But he also carries us to God in heaven and as such he acts as this great high priest. More to come!

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