God’s Word for You
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, December 1, 2014
From time to time, and especially during the Christmas and Easter holidays, we have turned to the book of Hebrews to be reminded of the core of our faith: Jesus Christ crucified for our sins. This December I will pause from our meditation on the prophet Jeremiah to focus instead on the entire Eleventh Chapter of Hebrews—first finishing the writer’s thoughts from Chapter 10. We will return to Jeremiah in the New Year.
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
To properly understand these verses and those that follow, we must remember that verse 25 warned us not to “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” In the Greek text, our author follows this with the word gar (γὰρ) “for,” presenting the reason for what he has just said. This places the meaning of verses 27-31 into full view. Those who give up meeting—going to church—are in danger of falling deeper and deeper into unrepentant sin. Why? Because avoiding worship means avoiding God’s word and sacrament. It means failing to hear about the forgiveness we have in Christ, and failing to receive the encouragement and support of our fellow believers in our lives of repentance. If someone says, “I don’t need to go to church to worship God,” that might be true, but it will certainly become more and more difficult. Christ did not call Christians to become monks, nuns, and people who avoid contact with other believers. Christ called us to faith to be a group, to be built up by one another and to build up one another. If someone says, “I don’t need to go to church,” how can he build up my faith? How can he receive the sacrament? If he is elderly or injured, that’s different. He won’t say “I don’t need to go to church,” but will cry out to his pastor, “I can’t come even though I want to. Please come and bring church to me!.” How will the one who avoids church maintain a correct understanding of the gospel if he rejects the preaching of the gospel? How will he lift his prayers to God together with the rest of the church? How will he confess his faith along with the others who are there? How will he receive the sacrament? The first week he does this it will be difficult, but after months and years it won’t even enter into his mind anymore, and church will have become like an enemy to him.
So “if we deliberately keep on sinning” in this state of avoiding worship and the sacrament, “no sacrifice for sins is left.” Why? As the Formula of Concord puts it: “They willfully turn away from the holy commandment, grieve and embitter the Holy Spirit, and become entangled again in the filth of the world, and decorate their hearts as a tabernacle for the devil so that their last state will be worse than that first” (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, XI. Para. 42).
28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?
Our author now sets God’s law before us. Under the Old Testament covenant, anyone guilty of blasphemy was stoned to death. What should happen to someone who blasphemes against Christ?
Our author mentions this to shore up the resolve of Christians who might be persecuted in the future. We Christians are God’s sanctified vessels. If we are mistreated and trampled underfoot—which may well happen to some—we can remember that God has not forgotten about us, and that God will not allow our persecutors to go unpunished. Ours is the reward of eternal life, through faith in Christ. The Holy Spirit is preparing us to hear a list of Old Testament heroes of faith. They are reminders of people who shared our faith through difficult times. But first, one last thing needs to be said. It’s a reminder of who should and will punish those who reject God and blaspheme against him. Our place is to trust in God, not to punish those who don’t (this is what we will hear about in verses 31-35).
For now, remember that God’s grace covers us, and his mercy endures forever.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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