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“At the heart of why people disbelieve and believe in God, of why people decline and grow in character, of how God becomes less real and more real to us – is suffering”

Supposing, just for the sake of illustration, that you come across an envelope in which there is a lengthy letter. It doesn’t belong to you but you are determined that it be delivered to its rightful destination. More than likely the first order of business would be to examine the front of the envelope to discover the individual or individuals to whom the letter is addressed. But to your dismay, there are no names there. To complicate matters, there is no address on the envelope. No city is mentioned, no state, no zip code, no country. You are left without a hint as to who might be the intended recipient of this letter.

Last week in our inaugural study in the book of James I briefly suggested that the primary theme of this epistle is that Christianity is not just a body of doctrines to believe but also a life to be pursued in the power of a living faith. In other words, James, perhaps more so than any other NT book, calls on us to put into practice on a daily basis what we profess to believe. In fact, James will go so far as to say that a work-less faith is a worth-less faith. In true, genuine Christianity, that experience of the soul that we call “faith” is alive and energetic and fruitful and productive. When we get to chapter two James will argue that whereas faith alone justifies us in the sight of God, such faith is never alone. It is always accompanied by or issues in the fruit of the Holy Spirit or obedience.

If you’ve ever wondered why Bridgeway Church exists, it isn’t so that those who don’t play golf might have something to occupy their time on a Sunday morning. Our mission statement is clear and to the point: We exist to exalt Christ in the City, through Gospel-centered Worship, Discipleship, Community, and Mission. But why? Why is it our individual and collective mission to exalt Christ? Why is it that we don’t make it our primary collective aim to promote brotherly love or compassion or economic justice or peace? After all, those are all excellent and much-needed virtues. What makes Jesus Christ so special that he should be elevated as preeminent in our thoughts, our hearts, our activities, and our energy as a local church?

My dad was a banker for most of his professional working life. He was also a remarkable judge of character. I think this came from at least two sources. One was certainly the Holy Spirit. In other words, I think God uniquely gifted my dad with powers of discernment. He could see through the false fronts that people put up and was remarkably accurate when it came to looking beyond and behind actions to the motivation in people’s hearts.

When we began our series in the book of Hebrews I mentioned several things about which we remain in ignorance. For example, we don’t know who wrote the book or when it was composed or where the author was located or who the people were to whom it was addressed. However, I think we can reasonably conclude one thing about the people who received this letter. Whatever else we may not know about them, I’m quite confident that they had never seen the Christmas movie, It’s a Wonderful Life! Yes, I know, they didn’t have movies in the first century; but let me make my point anyway.

It’s a refrain we’ve all heard countless times.

Jesus is better, or so the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews would have us believe. As good and great as was everything that preceded him during the time of the Old Covenant under Moses, Jesus is better. Jesus is immeasurably superior to anything your heart can conceive or your mind can imagine. Jesus Christ is God’s full and final revelation to the world of what is good and true and beautiful and eternal. He is the one who by God’s decree will inherit everything. He did, after all, create everything. He is the radiant effulgence of God’s glory and the exact, precise expression and embodiment of what God is like. He bears up and carries along by his powerful word the whole of the universe so that what God has ordained to come to pass will in fact come to pass. By the sacrifice of himself on the cross he cleansed us from the defilement and stain of our sin and then sat down at the right hand of God on high.

Now here’s a question for you, and yes it does have a purpose and it does have a direct relation to our passage this morning.

Let me come straight to the point. Our world, and sadly that often times includes the professing Christian church, is, contrary to James’ counsel, slow to hear, quick to speak, and has a hair trigger when it comes to anger. You can almost hear people justifying each of these:

[“The introductory formula [in v. 6a] is interesting. At first glance the wording seems cavalier, ‘But one has somewhere testified.’ The author is not betraying ignorance, as if he doesn’t know the text which he cites. The letter as a whole demonstrates that he is sophisticated and knowledgeable in his use of the OT. These are not the words of an uneducated novice. Hebrews doesn’t focus on the person who uttered the words or the exact place where they are found. The author wants us to pay heed to the OT scripture as testimony . . ., as the word spoken by God, and hence the human author remains unnamed” (Tom Schreiner).]

My guess is that the majority of people here today have at one time or another throughout their educational experience audited a class or course, whether in high school or more likely in college. I certainly have. I loved the courses I audited. After I had graduated from Dallas Seminary in 1977 I returned a couple of years later and audited beginning Hebrew which was being taught by my good friend Jack Deere.

Let me be entirely honest with you this morning. My guess is that most of you think I never have doubts about my faith in Christ or that everything in Christianity makes perfectly good sense to me. Quite honestly, that’s not true. I often find myself asking why God did what he has done. What reason did he have for doing it this way and not that way? On occasion, to be honest, it doesn’t strike me as being the best or most efficient way of doing things. On occasion, I say to myself, and to God, “That doesn’t make sense to me. It seems really odd that this is how you have chosen to go about achieving your ultimate glory in creation and redemption.”

Last week our time in this passage was devoted to exploring what it means to say that God the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, and how he, by dying and rising from the grave, was able to defeat and destroy Satan and to deliver men and women from the fear of death by which Satan kept them enslaved.

Today, traditionally known as Easter Sunday, more biblically known as Resurrection Sunday, is all about one theme and one theme only: Jesus of Nazareth, the God-man, following a sinless and altogether virtuous and obedient life, died a substitutionary and altogether sufficient and saving death, and then rose again to a new life in a glorified but still human body.

All of us know that some sins are more conspicuous and overt than others. Public drunkenness, for example, or profane speech are readily identifiable. It’s obvious to even the casual observer if someone is intoxicated. The same is true of obscene or profane speech. If you have eyes and ears you can know instantly whether such sins are being committed.

I had an interesting experience in studying this passage in Hebrews 3 and in my preparation for this message. I got massively distracted! But in a good way! And I hope you will be happy and pleased that I was. So let me explain.

There simply is no more eternally important question that any man or woman can ask and then answer than this: “How might I, a hell-deserving sinner, be reconciled to God and made acceptable in his sight?” Or we might pose the question in yet another way: “How might I, a man/woman who is undeniably unrighteous and thus deserving of eternal judgment, be made righteous in the sight of God?” Other questions might feel more pressing or more practical, but rest assured that nothing else in all of life matters much in comparison with the issue of how we can be made right with God and thus assured of eternal life in his presence.

’d be curious to know what many of you think about your salvation and what God has done through Christ to reconcile you to himself. My guess is that most Christians today would respond by talking of personal faith in Jesus and repentance from sin, of being forgiven and becoming a child of God. A few of you would mention what it means to be justified or declared righteous in the sight of God through faith alone in Christ alone. And of course, all these things are true and wonderful. Don’t think for a moment that I’m not thankful for everything God has done for me in and through Jesus.

I’m sorry for having to begin on something of a downer, but I want to draw your attention today to the many ways that human beings have distorted some of the most precious of God’s gifts to us.

Back in Hebrews 2:4 our author encouraged us not to neglect this “great salvation” that we have in Jesus Christ. Do you know why your salvation is great? Do you think often of it? Have you exerted the mental and spiritual energy to meditate on the multi-faceted, multi-dimensional nature of what it means to be “saved” from sin and death and condemnation? How much time have you given to exploring the multitude of blessings that comes with being a child of God?

I think all of you are familiar with the oft-heard statement that Christians are people who are “in” the world but not “of” the world. There isn’t a specific biblical text that says it in precisely those terms, but James 4:4 does describe followers of Jesus as people who should avoid developing a “friendship with the world.” In fact, James says that to be a “friend” of the world is to be at “enmity with God” (James 4:4b). The apostle John exhorts Christians, “do not love the world or the things in the world” (1 John 2:15a).

Today, in our study of these two verses in Hebrews 4, you are going to hear something about Bridgeway Church and our philosophy of ministry that you may never have seriously considered before. You are also going to learn something about me, although I trust that those of you who’ve been here for a while already are aware of what I will say. You who are new to our fellowship likewise need to know what drives me and accounts for what I do on a Sunday morning and the way that I do it. Simply put, you will hear today what we believe about the Bible and how it governs all we do.

I don’t like oversimplification. I don’t typically give much credence to those who try to reduce complex problems to a single cause. But I’m going to make an exception to that this morning. And I’m making an exception because James does. Or I should say, God does through the writing of James.

Allow me to set the stage, so to speak, for what we read here in Hebrews 4:14-16, especially v. 16 on which we will focus most of our attention.

There is a radio commercial that I hear several times a week here in OKC. If you don’t listen regularly to sports talk radio you probably aren’t aware of it. Quite honestly, I can’t even tell you what product or service is being promoted, but I do vividly remember the opening comments that are designed to grab the listener’s attention. The spokesman says something along the lines of: “Few have mastered the art of name-calling.” He then plays a recording of one particular local sports talk radio host who on occasion, when provoked, refers to people who call into his show as: “Sissies. Gutless Amoebas. Yard birds.” Now, to be fair to this man, he doesn’t describe all his listeners that way; just the ones who ask silly questions or attack him without reason.

If you were to ask the average Christian to quote one verse in the Bible that best summarizes what we call the gospel, most would instinctively turn to John 3:16. And that’s ok. It is stunning to think that because God loved this world of fallen sinners he sent his only Son, Jesus, so that if we believe in him we have everlasting life. So, you can’t make a mistake or go wrong by pointing to John 3:16 as an excellent summation of the gospel.

Perhaps the greatest sound and light show in the history of God’s people took place in conjunction with the giving of the Ten Commandments. We are told in Exodus 20:18ff. that after God had spoken what are known as the Ten Words that “all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking” (Exod. 20:18a). Their response was anything but surprising: “the people were afraid and trembled and they stood far off” (Exod. 20:18b).

I have to suppress the urge to laugh out loud when I hear Christians tell me how great it would be if we could only return to the glory days of the early church. They appear to believe that in the first century the church was far better off than it is today, that it knew little of division or false teaching and knew a lot of power and purity. I have to be entirely honest and say that this sort of spiritual nostalgia is horribly misinformed.

Is it possible for a Christian to live like an atheist? I don’t mean “live like an atheist” in the sense that one actually denies the existence of God or commits sin repeatedly and feels no conviction or experiences no repentance. That person would have no basis for claiming to be a Christian in the first place. What I have in mind is a person who is born again going about his or her business and daily affairs without the slightest regard for God’s intimate personal involvement in what happens. I have in mind the person who gets up each day and pursues whatever responsibilities they have all the while presumptuously taking for granted that they are alive. I have in mind the person, born-again mind you, who rarely if ever pauses to consider that whether or not they live another 10 seconds or another 10 years is dependent on the sovereign will of God.

It has been slightly more than a year and a half since we concluded a brief series of sermons on the question of whether or not born-again believers in Jesus Christ can lose or forfeit their salvation. We looked at virtually all the passages in the NT to determine if a person who has been justified by faith in Jesus Christ can somehow experience de-justification. Can a person who has been fully forgiven of their sins do something that would lead God to once again regard them as guilty for their sins and thus liable to eternal punishment for them? Can a true child of God be cast out of the divine family? In other words, can someone who has been adopted by God as a spiritual son or daughter lose their status and be eternally ostracized from the family of faith? Can someone who has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus fall back into bondage and spiritual slavery?