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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.

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?

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.

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.

[“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).]

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.

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.

’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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’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.

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).

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.

G. K. Chesterton, turn of the century British author, Roman Catholic, and journalist, once famously said: “Christianity has not so much been tried and found wanting, as it has been found difficult and left untried.” Each time I hear those words I have the same feeling of ambivalence rise up in my heart. In other words, I find myself wanting to say to Chesterton, “Well, Yes, . . . but, then again, No.”