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I’d like to see a show of hands. How many of you here today are by nature patient? Is there anyone who finds patience as natural as breathing? Anyone? Anyone? I’m looking for that man or woman, young or old, who instinctively responds to irritating people and aggravating circumstances with a calm and controlled spirit. Anyone? Anyone? Hmmm. I didn’t think so.

There is no way to exaggerate or overestimate what you could achieve by the grace of God if you were living in the full assurance of your hope in Christ. There is no way to exaggerate or overestimate how deeply you could enjoy the blessings of being a child of God if you were living in the full assurance of your hope in Christ. Let me turn that around and say the same thing in different terms. God wants you to know that you belong to him. His desire is for every one of his blood-bought children to be gripped and captivated by the certainty of the hope we have in Jesus. He wants you to rest in the full assurance of that hope so that you will live out of the overflow of his love for you. He wants you to rejoice in the assurance of that hope so that you can be both holy and happy in Christ.

Truth, or integrity in our speech, that sense of moral obligation to God according to which we represent things as they really are, both in word and deed, has gradually eroded in many segments of our society. This shouldn’t come as a total surprise insofar as the first sin in the Garden of Eden was an attack upon the veracity or truthfulness of what God himself had said. Recall the statement: “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). Man’s test consisted in his trust of the veracity of the God who uttered those words. Satan spoke to Eve: “You will not surely die” (Gen. 3:4b). Satan does not deny that God could inflict the punishment of death, as if to say that God’s power were at issue. Neither is it an impeachment of God’s knowledge, as if to suggest that Satan questioned God’s ability to anticipate the outcome of the whole affair. Rather, as John Murray makes clear:“He directly assails God’s veracity. ‘God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, your eyes will be opened, and ye shall be as God, knowing good and evil’ (Genesis 3:5). He accuses God of deliberate falsehood and deception. God has perpetrated a lie, he avers, because he is jealous of his own selfish and exclusive possession of the knowledge of good and evil!” (Principles of Conduct, 126).

To what lengths do you think God might go to provide you with rock solid proof that he loves you and will fulfill his promises to you? How extravagant might his efforts be? Is there a limit to what he might do or say in order for you to be encouraged and reassured that his promise to save you cannot be broken?

So, let’s be honest with each other this morning about why we don’t pray as much as we know we should. When I talk with Christians of all ages and both genders, I hear comments like these:

So, who the heck is Melchizedek? And assuming we can find an answer to that question here in Hebrews 7, what difference does it make to you and me? The best way for us to proceed in search of an answer is by pausing briefly and making certain that we know the flow of the book of Hebrews.

Many of you are new to Bridgeway and may not as yet fully understand what we mean when we say we are a church committed to both the Word of God and the Spirit of God. Or, upon hearing that, you may respond by saying: “Big deal. All churches believe in the importance of the Bible, and all churches believe in the existence of the Holy Spirit.” That may be true, but that’s not what we mean here at Bridgeway.

No matter how seemingly helpful the many psychological formulas that help you cope with life may be, no matter how transforming the practical counsel you might find in today’s world to help you with your problems may be, everything is either partial or periodic. What I mean by that is simply this: they only go so far and for so long before they lose their capacity to make a difference.

The responses I hear when I ask someone to pray for the sick that they might be healed are varied:

At our community group leaders gathering here on Friday night I spoke about what has been called the “scandal of particularity”. What many perceive to be the “scandal” of our evangelical faith is the idea we promote that there is only one particular pathway to God; only one particular and exclusive opportunity to be saved; only one particular person, namely, Jesus Christ, through whom we are reconciled to God.

In July of last year, when we began this series of studies in the epistle of James, I pointed out in the first message that most scholars agree that the “James” who wrote this letter was in fact the half-brother of Jesus (see Mark 6:3-6). That is to say, he was the natural born son of Joseph and Mary. Like his other siblings, he was initially opposed to the ministry of Jesus, but after the resurrection he became a committed and loyal disciple of his older half-brother (see Acts 12:17; 15:13; 21:18).

I did not plan for our study of Hebrews 8 to fall on the last Sunday of the month, the day on which we regularly celebrate the Lord’s Supper. I can only attribute that to divine providence! Of course, some of you may not immediately recognize the connection between the New Covenant, about which Hebrews 8 says more than any other passage in the NT, and our celebration of the Lord’s Supper. If that is true, I would simply remind you of the words spoken by Jesus when he celebrated the Passover meal with his disciples just before his betrayal and crucifixion.

If every Christian isn’t familiar with 2 Timothy 3:16-17, every Christian should be. There the Apostle Paul made what most believe is the most important statement in the Bible about the Bible. He said:

I’ll be the first to admit that on a number of occasions in our study of Hebrews I’ve wondered to myself: What does this book have to do with life in 2014? Its language seems so foreign and its images so distant and its symbolism so strange. We live in a world where a man has walked on the moon. We wake up each day to a life dominated by computer technology and threats of nuclear terrorism. And when we get sick we have antibiotics within arm’s reach. All this talk of high priests and blood sacrifices and ceremonial defilement and some guy named Melchizedek makes me wonder whether it’s really of practical benefit to study this book.

So Moses said, “Thus says the Lord: ‘About midnight I will go out in the midst of Egypt, and every firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the handmill, and all the firstborn of the cattle. There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt, such as there has never been, nor ever will be again (Exodus 11:4-6)

How seriously and sincerely do you look forward to the Second Coming of Christ? Does it occupy your thinking on a regular basis? I’m not asking whether or not you enjoy engaging in speculative debates with friends about the identity of the Antichrist or whether or not Russia will conspire with other nations to invade Israel. I’m not asking you about your opinion on whether or not there will be a so-called Great Tribulation and where you stand on the timing of the Rapture in relation to it.

I’m going to begin by asking you a series of questions, to each of which, in my opinion, there is one simple answer.

Most of you are too young to remember this, but in the 1970’s one of the most controversial books to be released came from the pen of Harvard University professor, B. F. Skinner. It was titled, Beyond Freedom and Dignity. The central thesis of that book was that inasmuch as humanity is on the verge of self-annihilation, it has become imperative that radically decisive steps be taken to control human behavior. Skinner, of course, was an advocate of biological evolution. You and I, said Skinner, are no more than the highest and most developed animal on the evolutionary scale.

Gina Welch is a graduate of Yale University, teaches English at George Washington University, and is the author of the book, In the Land of Believers: An Outsider’s Extraordinary Journey into the Heart of the Evangelical Church (Metropolitan Books, 2010). Here is the description she provided of herself: “I am a secular Jew raised by a single mother in Berkeley, where we took a day off school in October for Indigenous Peoples, not for Christopher Columbus. I cuss, I drink, and I am not a virgin. I have never believed in God” (2).

This passage in Hebrews 10 makes a lot of people extremely uncomfortable. More than a few of you were probably squirming in your seats as I read it just a moment ago. And it isn’t primarily because it seems to suggest that a Christian can lose his/her salvation. That, of course, is an important issue that I’ll take up shortly. No, I’m referring to the language here that speaks of such things as judgment, the fury of fire consuming sinful people, punishment, and vengeance.

This portion of God’s Word that we call the Letter to the Hebrews has occupied our attention now for thirty weeks. Although I had studied and even preached through Hebrews many years ago, its impact on me this time has been far beyond anything I experienced before. Over and over again, almost on a weekly basis, this letter has rocked my world. I’ve been encouraged one week and challenged the next. I’ve been deeply convicted by the Holy Spirit only then to be reminded of the glory of having had my sins finally and forever forgiven. I’ve been stunned by the majesty of Jesus, our Great High Priest, one week, only then to be overwhelmed by his meekness and mercy the next.

Before we so much as stick our big toe into the deep waters of Hebrews 11, I want to make two things crystal clear. The first has to do with the nature and meaning of Christian faith. The second relates to the place of Hebrews 11 in the context of the book of Hebrews as a whole.

In November, 1963, I was in the 8th grade at San Jacinto Junior High in Midland, Texas. We were in the cafeteria having lunch when news broke that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated in Dallas. After things quieted down a bit, our attention, somewhat surprisingly, turned to the question of whether or not Vice-President, Lyndon B. Johnson, known as LBJ, would be a fit replacement. I remember that somehow a rumor started that LBJ had himself suffered a heart attack, collapsing under the pressure of the moment and the prospects of becoming president following Kennedy’s death. Although the rumor proved to be false, it didn’t take away from our concerns for the competency of Kennedy’s successor.

Some of you probably think that I take a certain perverse pleasure in bursting your deeply cherished doctrinal bubbles or in slaying your sacred cows when it comes to certain long-held beliefs about the Bible. I don’t. Well, o.k., so maybe I do, just a little bit. But my real pleasure comes from providing you with a clear explanation of the truth of God’s Word, and if in the process of doing so I have to call into question some of the things you may have been incorrectly taught in the past, well, so be it.

I can well imagine how excited Moses must have been as he watched the tens of thousands of Jewish men, women, and children make their way out of Egypt, out of slavery, out of bondage, in what we know and refer to as the Exodus. For 400 years the nation of Israel had lived in subjection to their Egyptian overlords. But now the time had come for freedom!

The purpose of Hebrews 11 is to encourage us in our own personal journeys of faith. As our author said in Hebrews 10:36, “you have need of endurance,” and as he will say yet again in Hebrews 12:1, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” To endure in the face of pressure, persecution, suffering, and general laziness, we need faith, the sort of faith that is modeled for us in the many people noted in Hebrews 11. Today we are going to look closely at what may well be the two most stunning examples of faith in this remarkable chapter.

Whenever we talk about great men of the Bible, names such as Abraham, Moses, David, Peter, and Paul immediately come to mind. Whenever we talk about great women, I think of Sarah, Ruth, Esther, Mary, and Martha. Perhaps the time has come to add one name to this list of famous females: Rahab!

I want to portray for you two similar scenarios, one that is applicable to men and the other to women.

There is one particular scene in the Academy Award winning, WWII, film, Patton, that seems appropriate for me to mention in conjunction with our text in Joshua today. George C. Scott, who starred in the title role, stood erect as his aides pinned on his shoulders the star signifying that he was now a three-star General. Omar Bradley, himself a two-star General, stood nearby, obviously horrified by what he was witnessing. “George,” he said, “I know you’ve been nominated by the President but that doesn’t become official until ratified by Congress.” To which Patton calmly replied: “Yes, well, Congress has its schedule, and I have mine!”

I wasn’t able to see the movie that came out a few months ago, but I do remember when the book first came out in 1972. I’m talking about Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. If you haven’t read it, you should. This one excerpt will give you a good sense for what it’s about.

No matter how badly conditions may deteriorate, no matter how cynical people may become, there will always be praise. We live in a world saturated with praise. Had you been with me last week on Sunday afternoon, watching the Masters golf tournament, you would have heard me praising the incredible accomplishment of Bubba Watson as he won his first green jacket. If you had been with me yesterday in Norman for the OU spring football game, you would have again heard me praising the efforts of certain players. And of course, one of the primary reasons we gather on Sunday, as we have today, is to praise God, to sing of his glory and grace and goodness to us in Jesus.

Not all Christians will appreciate or respond positively to what I have to say this morning about the nature of their relationship with Jesus Christ and what it means to live as a Christian. I’m sorry to have to begin this message on such a negative note, but the fact remains that many of those who profess to follow Jesus have a horribly distorted and unbiblical perspective on what is meant by the Christian life. Let me explain.

Every time I think it is but a passing fad, it makes a comeback. I’m talking about nostalgia. I’ve decided it will probably never go away. People love the past, particularly their own. I have to confess, aside from Christian music, the only kind I listen to is from the 60’s! I suspect that one day I’ll grow out of that, perhaps on my deathbed!

There are several things that I would love to be able to tell you, but I can’t. My commitment to the inspiration and authority of the Bible won’t allow it. For example, I would like to be able to say that you need not ever again be concerned about or pray for your unsaved family members or friends because there is no such thing as hell or eternal condemnation. I would love to be able to tell you that, but I can’t.

The famous story of the collapse of the city of Jericho is all about faith. That isn’t my interpretation. It isn’t a conclusion that I came to simply because I wanted to emphasize the subject of faith. That this narrative we’ve just read is all about faith comes from Scripture itself. Let me explain.

I’ve always been both intrigued and encouraged by something John the Apostle wrote in the fifth chapter of his first epistle: “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). Jesus said something almost identical in Matthew 11. In making his appeal for people to follow him, he gave this reason: “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:30).

Preaching through the Bible, verse-by-verse, has both its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantages are obvious: It exposes us to what the apostle Paul referred to as “the whole counsel of God.” It enables us to see the richness and depth and extent of God’s revelation. Nothing is left out. The disadvantages are no less obvious: It compels us to deal honestly with really tough texts. It forces us to come to grips with passages like Joshua 6:21. So without further delay, what are we to make of such remarkable and disturbing texts such as this?

There are numerous important spiritual lessons for us to learn from this passage, but my focus today is on only one. And as you can see from our reading of this text, it concerns the obvious and unmistakable contrast between the old covenant, as represented by Mt. Sinai, and the new covenant, as represented by Mt. Zion.

“And no creature is hidden from . . . [God’s] sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13). Do you believe that? Do you really and sincerely believe that? Or do you operate on the assumption that no one knows what you think or what you say or where you go or what you do? Is your attitude toward the moral choices you make one that says, “No one is hurt by my decisions except me. Therefore, it can’t be sin. Or if it is, it can’t be a very bad one.”

As best I can remember, it was the spring of 1971. Ann and I had been dating for about seven months. I’m not sure how committed she was to me but I was absolutely certain that we were going to get married. As far as I was concerned, she was my girl and nothing or no one was going to get in the way of our future together.

On a couple of occasions in our series on Joshua, I’ve mentioned how some people make the mistake of thinking that they can take the experience of the people of Israel in 1,500 b.c. and impose it, somewhat simplistically, upon our own situation in 2012 a.d. The reason why this is a mistake is that Joshua and the people of Israel were living under the Old or Mosaic Covenant. Their relationship with God, therefore, was governed and shaped by the laws set forth in Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy. We, on the other hand, live under the New Covenant established by Christ. We as the Church are not a theocratic nation with definable geographic boundaries. The Church is an international spiritual body governed primarily by the Scriptures of the New Testament.

I read the other day that currently lists for sale 151,000 books on marriage, 27,000 books on dating, 12,000 books on attraction, and more than 190,000 books on sex. One would think that with this massive focus on sex and marriage and the plethora of books from which people might draw more information than they could ever hope to process that we, as a society, would have grown up and matured by now and that marriage as the foundation of the family would be strong and held in high regard by all thinking people. But such is so very, very far from reality.

The title to my message this morning may sound a little strange, so let me explain where it came from.

I’m not a huge fan of ranking the comparative benefits or blessings of the gospel. I know some believe that adoption into the family of God as spiritual sons and daughters is the greatest blessing of the gospel. Others prefer justification, the truth that through faith we are declared righteous in Jesus. Occasionally you will hear someone talk about forgiveness of sins or the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as the greatest benefit we gain through faith in Jesus.

Everything I say today is grounded in one central and all consuming truth. It is simply this: How you perceive and think about God will inform and shape how you perceive and think about everything else.

Change is inevitable in virtually every sphere of our existence. Next year we will witness a change in the presidency of the United States, and with it, regardless of who is elected, will undoubtedly come changes in our economy and our foreign policy and how much we pay in taxes. All of us who live in Oklahoma know that if there is anything that is change-less about the weather in our great state it is that it changes not just daily but hourly! Our jobs change. Our bodies change. Our circle of friends changes. Change can be unsettling and even frightful, but the reality of it will never change. As someone once said, the only changeless thing about life on this planet is that everything in it and about it changes.

How many otherwise good relationships have been destroyed by unwarranted suspicion? How many life-long friendships have crumbled because someone misjudged the motives of another? How many times have you heard about, seen, or perhaps even personally experienced the devastating consequences of ill-informed presumption about why someone acted in a particular way?

How’s your heart? No, I don’t mean that organ in your chest. I’m not asking if you’ve recently suffered cardiac arrest. I’m not asking for information about your pulse rate or your white blood count or how high or low your cholesterol may be. I have no interest today in the results of your most recent electrocardiogram or how many times your heart beats in a minute. And I’m not interested in your family’s history of heart disease. None of this means that I don’t care about your physical health. Far less does it mean that you shouldn’t care. Of course you should. Your physical body is a gift from God and serves as the temple of the Holy Spirit. You must be diligent to take good care of your body. Don’t neglect your physical health.

A little more than two months after I was born, General Douglas MacArthur stood before the Congress of the United States and spoke these now famous words:

I want to dispense today with any prolonged introduction and jump right into the deep end of the pool. In Hebrews 13:14 our author says that Christians, and I assume that means you who are in attendance here today, are people who know and believe in the depths of your heart that “here” on this present earth, in its present form, “we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).

The only way I know how to begin this concluding message from the book of Joshua is by saying, “This isn’t a sexy sermon!” Don’t be offended that I use those terms. I’m not saying this message isn’t about “sex”. One only has to look at Joshua 24 to realize it has nothing to do with sex. What I mean when I say it isn’t a “sexy” sermon is that at first hearing it doesn’t seem to sizzle. It’s not dazzling or glitzy or eye-popping or the sort of sermon that causes people’s jaws to drop in amazement. Let me explain a bit more what I mean.

Two weeks ago the Pew Research Center released the results of its most recent survey of America’s religious landscape. I wasn’t at all surprised by the statistics. The survey indicated that whereas in 2007 more than 78% of Americans identified as Christian, that number has plummeted to just over 70%. In other words, there was a 7.8% decline in those who identify as Christians. The biggest losses were in mainline Protestant denominations and among Roman Catholics. The percentage of those identifying as Evangelicals remained basically the same.