I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’d re-read the David and Bathsheba narrative in 2 Samuel 11-12, and what struck me most upon this latest viewing of that story is the grace of God. David had committed adultery and had a man killed. For either of those crimes the penalty was death. But when David is confronted by Nathan and called out for his sin that he had successfully hidden to that point, he owns his sin without any qualifications, saying, “I have sinned against the LORD.” And Nathan graciously responds, “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” But it’s not simply that note of the grace of God that struck me. It’s what happened after that.
Nathan shows David that even though he’s forgiven of his sins and the Lord has removed the penalty of death for him, his sins do have consequences. And one of those consequences is that the child that had been conceived with Bathsheba was going to die.
The next thing we read is that the child becomes sick, and David begins to fast, and weep, and pray all day and all night. In fact, he was so driven to fast and weep and pray for his son that when his servants got news that the child had died, they were afraid to tell David, thinking he may even do himself harm. But instead, at the news of the child’s death, David gets up, washes himself, changes clothes, and begins to eat. Obviously the men around him don’t understand, so they ask him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while he was alive; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” And here’s his response. He says, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept, for I said, ‘Who knows whether the LORD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’” (2 Samuel 12:21-23).
That’s the note that struck me. David had committed two sins that each were worthy of the death sentence, and he had been forgiven of both and had not died. But he was told that as a consequence for his sin, his child would die. And the next thing we know he’s thinking, “Maybe the Lord will even show me more grace and remove that consequence of my sin.”
Who has the audacity to approach the Lord thinking, “Maybe he’ll be gracious to me,” after he’s already forgiven you and lifted the legal penalty for your sin? I’ll tell you who, a man after God’s own heart. That is, David knew the Lord’s heart. He knew his love and grace. Now, yes, he knew God’s uncompromising holiness. He’d witnessed Uzzah die on the spot when he reached up and touched the ark. David rightly feared God. He knew God’s holiness and fierce judgment. But he knew God’s gracious, loving, and compassionate heart toward his people well. And this should not surprise us since compassion is the emotion we most see attributed to Jesus in his earthly life.1 David knew God. He knew God’s heart, and he knew that he was “a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and guilt” (Exod 34:6-7). That’s why he had the audacity to think, “I know God has shown me overwhelming grace, but it’s not unreasonable to think he might want to show me even more.” David knew God’s heart, and he shows it right after a word of discipline from God, maybe at a point where you wouldn’t expect to see it.
Interestingly, we find the same kind of thing in this letter to the Hebrews that we’ve been studying. After one of the strongest words of warnings in the Bible about the seriousness of sin and its consequences in 5:11-6:12, we come this morning to one of the most revealing texts about the gracious and loving and compassionate heart of God toward his people in 6:13-20. My prayer this week has been that we would find ourselves overwhelmed at how gracious, and loving, and compassionate the Lord is toward us, and that it would move us to treasure him more.
The text naturally flows out of the last two verses we saw at the end of our text last week. In 6:11-12, the author of Hebrews had just expressed his desire for the hearers of this letter to keep pressing on in earnest obedience to Christ, and, as they do, they will walk in full assurance of hope until they die or Jesus returns. But as he speaks of that hope that we look forward to, he reminds them to imitate individuals who lived this live with faith and patience because they didn’t see the hope manifested in this life.
In other words, he’s told them to live this life with faith in Jesus, holding to him, obeying him, confessing him as your Lord, and to do this (no matter what it costs), knowing that the hope that you’re looking for that makes all of this worth it will not be seen in this life. That’s what he’s saying isn’t it? And it’s what we say all time as believers. Timothy O’Day spent most every day for three years working at a table that was contained within my office so that I grew to love and treasure this brother deeply and grew to see his devotion to Jesus clearly. And in the end, I encouraged him, in accord with his own desire, to pick up and move his family to an area where he didn’t know anyone, to endeavor in a quest of planting a church that would be hard and not leave him wealthy, and to run hard toward a life that would likely leave him discouraged on occasion. And I love this brother. But the reason we agreed that it was worth it is because of the hope that is laid up for us that we’ll never see fully in this life. And that’s the very thing the author of Hebrews said to us in 6:11-12. Imitate people who through faith and patience endure in obedience to Jesus in this life, knowing that God’s unseen, coming promises are sure.
So what he does in 6:13-20 then makes perfect logical sense in light of how we are called to live as believers. And the reason it makes sense is because one’s natural response to hearing the kind of thing I just described with Timothy O’Day is to say, “Well, I sure hope he’s right then about what he believes. I sure hope this future hope he’s looking to is sure is certain.” And our text today is written to say, “Oh, you better believe it is sure and certain.”
Today’s text has two points that I want to make. The first is that God wants us to feel encouraged as we hold fast to our hope in Christ. And the second is that because this is true, we can persevere in faith and patient obedience to Christ. So let’s start with the first: God wants us to feel encouraged as we hold fast to our hope in Christ.
God wants us to feel encouraged as we hold fast to our hope in Christ
The author makes this point by first walking through the historical reality of when God made a promise to Abraham. He writes, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise” (vv. 13-15).
This episode that he’s referring to is from Genesis 22. In that chapter, after Abraham had waited years to have his promised son, Isaac, God commanded him to go and offer Isaac as a sacrifice. That is to say, God was telling Abraham to go kill his son. And Abraham went to do it. But, as you may remember, God stopped him before he went through with the act, and Abraham and Isaac instead offered a ram as a sacrifice unto God that day.
And it was then, right after God stopped Abraham from killing Isaac and directed him to the ram that God said to him (as recorded in Genesis 22:16-17), “By myself I have sworn, declares the LORD, because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you, and I will surely multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore.” Now, he went on to promise more, but those are the components of the text that are quoted in our text this morning.
And, as the author of Hebrews notes, Abraham obtained the promise. Now, of course, not entirely, but he began to see it fulfilled. He had been given Isaac, and Isaac would live and so the promise was being fulfilled. After many years, Abraham was seeing the promise accomplished by God.
But in referencing this text, the author of Hebrews latches on to the first part of the promise God made Abraham when God said, “By myself I have sworn.” And, being a really good, careful reader of the OT Scriptures, he begins to examine this idea of God swearing by himself. First, he notes the way swearing an oath works. He writes in verse 16, “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.”
We know this to be true, don’t we? When someone says, “Look, I swear on the life of my mother that this is true,” what they’re saying is that if this isn’t true, then my mom should die. And the reason you swear on the life of your mother, for example, instead of an earthworm is because an earthworm isn’t valuable. In one sense, who cares if an earthworm dies? But the death of your mom would be a big deal. That’s what the author of Hebrews is saying; when you swear you swear by someone greater or more valuable than yourself. But what is God going to choose as more valuable than him? There’s nothing more valuable than him. Therefore, God swore by himself.
Moreover, the reason people swear or make oaths in the first place is to give certain confirmation that you’re telling the truth. This is the reason we swear people in as they bear witness in a trial, for example. But this raises a question, doesn’t it? Why is God swearing in the first place? Why is he making an oath at all? He can’t defy his perfectly righteous character and lie. Everything he says he’ll do, he’ll do. So, why say something and then take the extra step of confirming it with an oath, swearing by himself?
We see the answer in verses 17-18. The author writes, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.”
Now, let’s take this a bit at a time to make sure we see and feel the weight of this. First, the reason God is promising and confirming his promise with an oath is because he desires to show some people something convincingly. That is, he wants some people to be absolutely certain that what he’s promised is sure. But who? Well, the text tells us that he wanted to show this to “the heirs of the promise.” Who are those people? Those people are everyone who share in the faith of Abraham, that is, believers.
Paul makes this clear, for example, in Galatians 3:29, reminding us that if we have believed in Christ, then we are Christ’s, and “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” You and I are heirs of God’s promise of salvation. And even earlier in this letter, the author of Hebrews had referred to believers as “those who are to inherit salvation” (1:14).
Now, let’s put this together. God desired to show us—you and me—in an absolutely convincing way that the promise of salvation that goes all the way back to God’s promise to bless and multiply Abraham’s descendants (which we are), he not only said he would do it (that would have been enough) but also made an oath, swearing by himself. And the reason he did it is because he wanted those who have run to him for refuge—those who have trusted in Christ for salvation—to know that the hope we have in Christ and are looking forward to at his return is absolutely certain. We can know it’s true, sure, and certain. God bent over backwards, if you will, to make sure we know it’s certain. He did it with two things: 1) simply saying it (for it’s impossible for God to lie, and 2) confirming it by swearing an oath. He wants us to know our hope is sure.
This became tangible to me in an event in my life the other day. On Tuesday afternoon I got a call from a guy who lived in the neighborhood I used to live in, asking me if I would weed eat his yard. And honestly, I didn’t want to for a number of reasons. I could go into all of the difficulties of weed eating this guy’s yard, but I’ll spare you. And also, I’ve really been battling allergies. But I knew he needed it, didn’t own a weed eater, and isn’t financially well off, so I decided to go do it.
And after I’d been weed eating around some stumps in his front yard and progressed to the side of the house, his son ran out to get me. I had no idea why, but when I followed him around to the front of the house he pointed me to his mom, standing in the middle of the glass storm door, where the glass had been shattered. Apparently in the midst of weed eating, I’d flung something up that hit the glass door in just the right place, and the whole thing had shattered.
I have said on occasion that when I’m working right, I can rest in God’s sovereignty. In that moment I could’ve thought, “God, it’s your money. I guess you want some glass door repairman to have more of it.” But in that particular moment, I wasn’t really working right. I was annoyed and filling up with self-pity, thinking, “I didn’t want to weed eat in the first place. I was being kind, and now I’ve got to fix this door. Good grief!”
So, I finished up the job and after I got home, this brother for whom I was weed eating texted me, telling me that he knew it was an accident, and he asked me to pray for his family because earlier in the week someone had run into his car, a bit later in the week someone hit his son’s car, then they found out his thyroid medication had stopped working, and then their glass door was shattered, and they were feeling a bit overwhelmed.
And suddenly, I was raised out of my self-pity and felt compassion for my brother. I’d merely broken a door, but he’d been through that. And what hit my heart is that I don’t want the glass door to be added to the weight of these things on his mind, so I texted him and said, “I am going to take care of the door, so don’t worry about it at all. In the midst of everything else going on, any time you’re tempted to get discouraged about the door, just think to yourself, ‘Lee is taking care of this, and I don’t have to worry about it.’” That was Tuesday evening, and on Wednesday morning I texted him again, telling him, “I’m going to take care of this; don’t worry about it for one second.”
Then, I really began to dive into this text, examining what was going on in these verses, and it hit me that the Lord had put on my heart in that moment for my brother something like what he was saying to us in these verses. You see, the Lord knows that he takes us through great difficulties in life, even intense suffering. If the path of the Son involved suffering, why do we think we deserve to avoid it? And in the midst of all that we go through, it’s as if the Father is saying to us in these verses, “There’s one thing I don’t want you to spend one second feeling anxious about or doubting. The hope that you’re looking forward to and trusting in Christ for is certain. I promise you it is. I swear it is. Never for one second do you have to question whether the resurrection, and eternal life, and gloriously dwelling with me for eternity is going to happen. It is. That hope you have is certain. You can bank on it. Now, rest in that, walk by faith, obey, and have patience.”
Do you see and feel the heart of God for us in that? His desire was for us to know our hope is certain. He’s compassionate toward us. He loves us. And he wants us to know that everything we’re banking our lives on is real, and sure, and certain. He wants us to know that if we say to ourselves, “This is hard, but it’s worth it in light of the life to come,” that we’re not banking on some kind of fantasy that isn’t really true.
And now here’s the application: because our hope is certain, we can persevere in faith and patient obedience to Christ.
Because our hope is certain, we can persevere in faith and patient obedience to Christ
In verses 18-20, he unveils the application of this. First, he ended verse 18 by noting that God did this so that we might have strong encouragement to “hold fast to the hope set before us.” That is he wants you to hold fast to your confession of Christ, hold fast to faith in him, hold fast our confidence that what Jesus said is true, and hold fast to obedience to him. That’s the application, but he also implies an application of not being shaken by things that come into our lives.
He writes in verses 19-20, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
When a ship puts down its anchor, it is done so that despite the winds blowing or waves crashing against the ship, that ship will not be moved from where it is settled. The author of Hebrews is saying the same thing. Look, he knows that in calling them to obey Christ and hold fast in faith to him is going to cost them. It’s already cost them, as we will see in chapter 10 that they’ve been publicly afflicted and suffered and even lost their property and possessions for following Jesus. He’s not downplaying the cost of following Christ. But he is saying, “If you will keep staking your life on this hope of salvation that is yours in Christ, I promise you won’t be disappointed. You’ll have no regrets. And the reason is because this hope is sure.” Isn’t this how Paul lives when in the midst of suffering he says that he knows that the suffering of this age isn’t worth comparing to the glory to come? He lives now in light of his certain hope.
And then the author of Hebrews changes the picture. We may be thinking of this hope as an anchor sitting on the bottom of the sea or even buried deep in the earth, but it’s better than that. The anchor that is tied to us has gone into the most holy place behind the curtain of the temple where God’s very presence is, where Jesus allows us to go as our high priest. In other words, if the chain attached to the anchor is wrapped around us, the other end is with God himself. That is, we are here exhorted to hold fast because we are held fast by our God.
So, brothers and sisters, I know what some of you are going through. I don’t know what a number of your are going through. And I feel certain that I don’t know every detail of what any of you are going through. But your heavenly Father does. And he wants you to know that the salvation through Christ that God has promised us is sure. Every promise he’s made to us is certain. You can bank your life on it. And I trust that you have. So, what that means is that during this life, as you’re walking through things that are hard, things that are confusing, things you don’t understand, things that feel like they’re crushing you, you can think of the hope you have in Christ—forgiveness of sins, the resurrection to come, eternal life, and a glory that is so far beyond the sufferings of this age that they can’t really even be reasonably compared—and know that it is certain. One day, when you are with Christ, the loneliness, pain, and hardship you endured for Christ’s sake will appear so worth it that you will say with Paul that it was light, momentary affliction compared with the eternal weight of glory. This is sure. So let us then come and visibly confess that we are holding fast in faith, committed to walk in patient obedience, as we come to the table and remember the one who lived, died, and was raised for us. Amen.
1For a good article on the emotions of Jesus, read “The Emotional Life of Our Lord” by B. B. Warfield. It’s a bit tedious at points but helps expose the humanity of our Lord. It can be found by going to the following link: https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/emotionallife.html.