The Lord's Day Morning
February 17, 2013
“More Glory Than Moses”
The Reverend Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III
If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 3. We’re going to be looking at verses 1 to 6 as we continue in a new chapter in our study of the book of Hebrews together. We've said all along that Hebrews is a book that is focused on Jesus. The theme for our series is “Better” and that's drawn from the book of Hebrews which constantly compares Jesus to all sorts of other significant people in the providential rule of God and then proclaims Jesus to be superior to them. Today, Moses will be affirmed as a faithful servant of the Lord but Jesus will be proclaimed to have more glory. And so the reason we've chosen the theme, “Better” is because it adequately emphasizes that this book is about Jesus and it is about His supremacy, His sufficiency, His superiority.
But we've also said that the book of Hebrews is about the Christian life, and it is. In fact, one of the things that I love about the book of Hebrews is how it emphasizes that the way we live the Christian life is by keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus. We’ll come to almost those exact words before this book is done, but that message, that theme, is found long before the author of Hebrews ever utters those words. How do you live the Christian life? You keep your eyes fixed on Jesus. And the passage that we're going to study today is one of those passages that tells us how to do that. Another thing we love about the book of Hebrews is how realistic the author of Hebrews is about the Christian life. He understands that the Christian life is fight. It requires endurance. It’ a long race and sometimes you want to give up. And he comes to help you in knowing how to respond when you’re in those circumstances.
As we read the passage today, I'd like you to be on the lookout for four things before we read. First of all, if you look at the very first verse, I want you to notice what the author of Hebrews wants us to realize about ourselves. If you’re a Christian today, if you’re trusting in Christ for salvation as He is offered in the Gospel, the very first words of Hebrews chapter 3 verse 1 says something about you. Do you realize those things about yourself? I want you to be on the lookout for that. Secondly, if you look at the second half of that verse, immediately the author of Hebrews turns our attention to Jesus and he wants you to realize something about Jesus. So I want you to see what he asks you to realize about yourself and then second I want you to see what he says that he wants you to realize about Jesus. Then, if you look at verses 2 all the way down to verse 6, he's going to tell you something about what Jesus has done and what Jesus has done for you and he wants you to realize that. He wants you to take it in. And then finally in the very last phrase of verse 6 he wants to tell you something about your perseverance. He wants you to realize something about your perseverance. Those are the things that I want you to be on the lookout for as we read. Before we do, let's pray and ask for God's help and blessing.
Our heavenly Father, we thank You for Your Word. We need it. Speak Your Word deep into our own hearts. Whatever troubles we are wrestling with this morning, whatever cares and concerns and disappointments overshadow us as we come into this place to meet with You today, and make Your Word, by Your Spirit, to be powerful and effective and profitable for reproof, correction, and training in righteousness because we ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
This is God's Word in Hebrews chapter 3 verse 1. Let's hear it:
“Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses — as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
One of my favorite book is by a man named Thomas Brooks, and it's a little book called Precious Remedies Against Satan's Devices. I talked about it in Sunday School class today. I've read that book so often that it has fallen apart twice. The first time it fell apart I sent it to my father, the printer, and got him to put it back together again. And so he re-glued the book back together again and it fell apart again. I've used it in small groups, I've used it in private devotion, I've used it for Sunday School classes; it's one of my favorite books. One of the things Thomas Brooks says, this famous Puritan author, in the introduction to that little book, is that there are four things that every Christian must know in order to live the Christian life. Now when a great and faithful pastor says that there are four things that every Christian must know to live the Christian life, I don't know how you are but my ears perk up! I want to know what they are. And he says in that introduction that every Christian, in order to live the Christian life, must know four things: Christ, the Scriptures, ourselves, and Satan's devices. And really that whole book is built around the theme of knowing Christ, knowing ourselves, and knowing Satan's devices from Scripture. He plows through Scripture pulling together what it teaches about those three things so that we can live the Christian life.
Well the passage that we're looking at this morning speaks of two of those things in particular — Christ and ourselves. Now very often in the Bible, when the Bible tells us something about itself, it's doing what we found Jeremiah doing in Jeremiah 19 and reminding us that we are sinners and that we need to be forgiven and that we need to repent. But isn't it interesting that that's not where the author of Hebrews begins in this passage today. Look at where he begins.
A HEAVENLY CALLING
In verse 1, the author of Hebrews says, “Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling.” Notice what he does to begin with. He asks you to realize and remember who you are in Jesus Christ. If you are a believer, if you have trusted in Christ for salvation, then he wants to realize what God has made you; who you are in Christ. And he says three things in particular. First of all, he calls you “holy.” I don't know how you react, but when I read that passage said about me I'm very tempted to say, “Who? Me? Are you talking to me? A holy brother who is a partaker of a heavenly calling? You must be talking about somebody else in the room, not me!” But he says three things about you. First of all that you’re holy, secondly that you are a brother and that means not simply that you are brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ but that you are brother and sister to Jesus Christ. He is your elder brother. You are related to Him. You've been, by grace, been brought into His family and He is your older brother. Third, he says that you are a partaker, a sharer in a heavenly calling.
Isn't that incredibly encouraging? He begins this passage on the Christian life by saying, “Believer, you need to stop and realize who you are in Jesus Christ.” The New Testament describes us as believers in various ways. Sometimes it reminds us that we are sinners; other times it reminds us that we are saints. And we need to understand all of the things about us that the Bible teaches us or we will live a Christian life that lacks the boldness and confidence that God intends us to have. And isn't this a wonderful encouraging way of starting a passage about the Christian life? I was talking to a dear friend about this book a couple of weeks ago and he said, “You know what? The book of Hebrews and I have not always been friends.” He said, “I often get hung up by the warning passages in the book of Hebrews and the conditional passages in the book of Hebrews and spend all of my time thinking about the fact that I have not done things that I was supposed to do and I have done things that I wasn't supposed to do and I've felt discouraged by the book of Hebrews.” But understand, my friends, this book is a book filled with encouragement, even when it's warning. We've going to see that in the sixth verse in just a few minutes. And isn't this an encouraging way to start a passage? Brothers, sisters, realize who you are! You have been made holy in Christ. You have been made brothers. You are fellow heirs. You are related to the inheritor, Jesus Christ, and you have been given a heavenly calling.
You know one thing that parents of teenagers, whether they’re in high school or college and sometimes even a little bit after college, wrestle with is their teenagers or their young people trying to figure out what they’re vocation is going to be in life. “What is it that I'm called to do? What is it that I'm suited to do? What is it that I'm gifted to do, that I'm inclined to do, that I would be happy and effective and useful doing for the rest of my life?” That's a good question and sometimes it takes a long time for a young person to find out that answer. But here, the author of Hebrews says, “Let me tell you what the vocation of every Christian is. your vocation is a heavenly vocation. You are called to be a sharer, a partaker, in heavenly glory. God's made you for that! You are a pilgrim on the way to a city which has foundations. Whatever else you are in this life, whether you’re called to be a nurse, or a teacher, or an attorney, or a doctor, or whatever you’re called to do, as a Christian, you are called, you are destined, you are a partaker, you are a sharer in a heavenly calling that's going to take you all the way to glory. And that defines you.” And so the author of Hebrews just asks you to pause for a minute and realize who you are.
I can remember as a boy, when I had done something that was inconsistent with the family code that my father had pronounced and I pulled out the ever trusty, “But dad, all the other kids are doing it!” I would be met with the word, “Son, you’re a Duncan and Duncans don't do that.” And that trumped whatever I had said that all the other kids were doing. Well the author of Hebrews is pulling a family identity motivation on you right now. He's saying, “I want you to pause, Christian, and realize who you are.” Now if you’re a Christian here today you may be saying to me, “But Ligon, I don't feel very holy and I surely don't feel like a brother of Jesus. In fact, I don't feel sometimes like a distant relative! And I don't feel like I have a vocation of a heavenly calling.” And I want to say to you I understand that. I feel like that too sometimes. And so when the author of Hebrews says this to us, one thing that he's telling us is that the Christian life must be lived by faith. You must live by faith. Sometimes you do not feel like any of those three things are true about you but if you are a believer, if you are trusting in Christ, all three of those things are true of you and even when you don't feel it, you must walk by faith. The Christian life begins by faith and it continues by faith. And the author of Hebrews is asking you, by faith, to believe those things.
Now if you’re not a believer here this morning, let me just say that you cannot live the Christian life unless you’re a Christian. You can't live the Christian life by faith unless you've come to faith in Christ. You must trust in Christ in order to live the Christian life. One of the problems that attends people that come to church but who are not trusting in Jesus Christ is that they try to live the Christian life without ever having trusted in Christ in the first place. But you can't live the Christian life that way because the whole of the Christian life not only begins but continues and is brought to an ultimate conclusion by faith. It's the only way you can live. And the Bible asks you to believe things that sometimes you just don't feel. And the author of Hebrews begins saying to us today, “If you want to live the Christian life you need to realize who you are, who God has made you in Jesus Christ.”
FOCUS ON JESUS CHRIST
But then immediately he turns our attention to Jesus. Even after saying encouraging things to us about ourselves, he says, “I not only want you to realize and remember something about who you are, I want you especially to recognize and focus on Jesus Christ. I want you to consider and focus on Jesus.” Look at what he says in verse 1. “Consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession.” The author of Hebrews is telling you, “Fix your thoughts on Jesus. Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Consider Him. Dwell on Him. Meditate on Him. Reflect on Him. Focus on Him. Ponder your Mediator.” And notice he brings two things particularly to your attention. He says the Jesus, who is the object of your faith – because Christians don't just believe in believing, we've not taking a leap of faith, our faith is in a person and in God's promises — and so he says, “Here's the object of your faith , Jesus, now consider Him. He is an apostle and high priest of your confession.”
Now what does that mean? An apostle is someone who is sent from someone to someone else in order to be the representative of that person to someone else. And in John 17, Jesus says, “God has sent Jesus to us.” He is God's apostle to us. He is God's representative to us. And a high priest represents, by God's appointment, his people to Him. And the author of Hebrews says Jesus is both the apostle sent from God to you and He is your representative from you to me. In other words, He is the Mediator that you need. He is the go-between that you need in order to have communion with God. He is the one who represents God to you and you to God. And how does Jesus do that? He does that not by sending a video to us from heaven. He doesn't text us from the halls of glory. You know, “Seven Tips on How to Live Life.” What He does, as we saw last week, is He gets in our skin, He takes on our flesh, our human nature, our life, and He lives among us, fully human, fully divine to be sure, but fully human. And as our apostle and mediator and high priest, Jesus, in our flesh and blood, is the object of our faith.
Now what does that mean? It means that the Savior that we trust in is the Savior who was humbled in our flesh. Charles Simeon, a century ago, said this, “It is by the knowledge of Christ as humbled that we attain salvation.” At First Presbyterian Church, I have no doubt that the members of this congregation are completely and fully committed to and believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. And that's good because the Bible teaches it and Jesus Himself teaches it. But that fully divine Jesus Christ was fully human, and not only fully human, but humiliated on our behalf. And it is the fully divine Jesus, who was fully human and humiliated, who is the object of our faith and the hope of our salvation.
A friend of mine was recently reflecting on the fact that so many of the psalms are interrogative. “Why God? What God? How God?” From the midst of our troubles we cry out, “God, what are You doing?” We ask Him questions; they’re interrogative. And when we pray to God, the one who is at the right hand of God knows and understands those questions from the inside because He cried them out Himself. In the Garden of Gethsemane He prayed, “If possible, could You take this away from Me?” On the cross He prays, “My God, My God! Why are You forsaking Me?” All those interrogatives you cry out He doesn't just understand because He knew that you did them once, He's cried them out too. And that embodied, that fully human, that humiliated Savior is the Savior by which you attain salvation. And so the author of Hebrews not only wants you to reflect on what God has made you, who you are, he wants you to reflect on who Jesus is.
REFLECT ON WHAT JESUS HAS DONE
And third, he wants you to reflect on what Jesus has done. Look at verses 2 to 6. The especial thing that Jesus has done here, of course, you’ll see in verse 3. He is the builder of the house. He is the builder of the house. Jesus is the builder of the household of God. And don't just think of the structure; think of the people. This is telling us that Jesus is the builder of the family of God. Moses was faithful to minister in the household of God, Moses was faithful to minister to the family of God, but Jesus created the family of God! Jesus built the household of God. In His life and death and resurrection, He created a people for Himself. Do you remember what He said to the disciples on the night that He was betrayed in the Upper Room? “I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, you may be also.” He's speaking of building the household of God, building a people for God, building the family of God. Jesus did that, and the author of Hebrews wants us to reckon with that.
Do you realize what Jesus is doing? He's making you to be part of the family of God forever. You can see some beautiful homes in our area and inside those homes, beautiful houses, are broken families. You can put a beautiful façade on a building and it can house something that's not a home, but Jesus is building a home. That's what He's doing. And the author of Hebrews just holds that up before your eyes and says, “I want you to think about that. You’re living the Christian life and it looks hard. I want you to think about what Jesus is doing.”
DON’T GIVE UP YOUR CONFIDENCE
DON’T GIVE UP YOUR HOPE
Fourth and finally, notice what he says in verse 6. Again, whose house we are, “if we hold fast our confidence and boast of our hope firm to the end.” Here's one of those conditional passages. We are His house if we do this and you may be that person who feels like, “Oh no, maybe I haven't done that!” and it discourages you. But you understand, these words are here for an encouragement not a discouragement. These words are designed to motivate you not de-motivate you. These words are designed to encourage you not discourage you. The author of Hebrews is saying, “Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't stop. Keep on going in the Christian life.” He's urging you to pursue perseverance to the very end because he's so realistic about the Christian life. He's not Pollyannaish. He's not like Scarlett O’Hara thinking about tomorrow. He's not encouraging you to put all the hard things out of your mind, but he is saying this. “Don't give up. Don't quit. Don't stop. As hard as it is, as hard as it seems, set your eyes on” — what? “Your confidence and your hope.”
Do you do that often? In the midst of troubles that overwhelm you, do you deliberately set your eyes on your confidence and your hope? C.S. Lewis once said, “Reality, looked at long enough, is unbearable.” Reality, looked at long enough, is unbearable. You stare at the way things are for long enough and it will depress the most sanguine of us. The most cheerful and buoyant of us will be depressed if we look at the way things are long enough. Well I don't deny that the Lord's mercy and grace have followed me all the days of my life and yet I don't want to live forever. There are troubles here that could break the heart of the strongest person, and if you look at those things long enough you’ll give up. The author of Hebrews says, “Look at where your confidence is; look at where your hope is.” He's asking you in the midst of those troubles to lift your eyes up and look at the hope that is set before you.
You know, Jonathan Edwards made it a habit of meditating on heaven twenty minutes every morning. Why? So that he could check out from reality? No, so that he could face reality remembering where his hope was. Maybe some of you need to do that today; you need to be reminded of your hope so that you have energy to persevere because there are sometimes where you can't find the strength to pick up one foot and put it down again. The author of Hebrews is saying, “Do you want to live the Christian life? Realize who you are, focus on Jesus, recognize what He's done and what He's doing — He's building you a home, and then don't forget your hope.” And he's so encouraging and so practical. May God grant that we would heed his words to us today. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for Jesus and for the hope that He gives us and we pray that You would, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, work that hope in us, in Jesus' name, amen.
Now let's sing of the love of Jesus for us in number 708, “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go.”
Receive God's blessing. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.