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May 25 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

May 24, 2020


Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits. Hebrews 6:1-3

Intro: We left off last week with the writer complaining (or scolding)

He had much more to say about Jesus in his role of a priest,
– but it would be too difficult to explain it all to them
• they had become lazy listeners
◦ as a result, they were not ready to go further or deeper
• but the truth is, the writer must have believed they were ready,
◦ because after this chapter he continues with his previous subject
◦ the one that he said would be “hard to explain”
– experienced public speakers can see what the writer is doing
• he wants to make sure he has their attention
◦ so he shocks them
◦ and he does this with what William Barclay described as
“one of the most terrible passages in scripture.”
• it is certainly one of the scariest passages in Hebrews
(two other equally scary passages in chapters 10 and 12)
◦ but these same chapters contain some of loveliest statements in the Book of Hebrews

We could cover this section in a couple of weeks, taking it in two or three bites,
– but that would leave us with too much tension in between each talk
• after reading to verse 8, we need to hear the next four verses
– the writer has three things he wants to say
First, preschool is over, it’s time to move on
Second, if they give up on Jesus, there’s no “Plan B”
Third, he reassures them, they haven’t gone over the edge

Preschool is over

“Therefore let us . . .” the writer has shifted from you (5:11-12) to us
– he is with them and will join them in this journey
• he refers to the doctrine (or teaching) about Christ as elementary
◦ the Greek word he uses is arche: the first or the beginning
• what do we learn in elementary school?
◦ the basics: the alphabet, addition and subtraction, grammar
◦ a foundation is laid so further education can be built upon it
(same in athletics – you practice the basics until they are automatic)
– a biblical theme is the call to move on with God
– Abraham, of course (Gen. 12:1), but later, the whole nation of Israel
The LORD our God said to us . . .“You have stayed long enough at this mountain. Turn and take your journey . . .” (De. 1:6-7)
• God did not liberate Israel so they could take up permanent residence at Mount Sinai
◦ for the writer, being stuck in one place is not an option
◦ progress is an essential and inherent characteristic of faith
• it possible these Christians did not know anything beyond the basics
◦ you cannot get anywhere if every day you have to start again at the same place

This was the curse placed on the Greek mythical character, Sisyphus. Two times he escaped death by tricking the gods. Therefore his punishment was that he would have to perform the same task every day forever. From morning to night, Sisyphus would roll a huge boulder up a mountain, but just as he neared the top, the boulder would roll all the way back down to the bottom. This curse is like the “vanity” (emptiness, futility) that the Teacher of Ecclesiastes witnessed regarding a life that is lived strictly under the sun. Like the wind, it swirls around and around without getting anywhere (Ecc. 1:4-8).

But look at what the writer is telling them to leave!
– his list is remarkable, in that it’s the bedrock of our Christian roots
repentance from dead works
faith toward God
instructions about baptisms
the laying on of hands
the resurrection of the dead
eternal judgment
• what he calls “elementary” are stock-in-trade of many preachers
◦ like those whose every message is on “justification by faith”
◦ or evangelists who never fail to mention eternal judgment
– there are four things we need to understand about this list:
1. the writer is not telling them to walk away from basics
◦ these are foundational, but you only need one foundation
◦ the purpose of a foundation is so something can be build on it
(he’s certainly not telling them to leave faith toward God behind!
He still has much to say about faith in this letter/sermon)
2. the most likely reasons for getting stuck here:
◦ being short-sighted regarding the goal
(Some believers have been taught that “getting saved” is God’s goal for their lives; that is, having your sins forgiven and your ticket to heaven. In those churches, believers are generally called to repentance every week. Also, they need to hear same message repeated every Sunday, because this theme gets worn out and loses its motivational force to keep them going.)
◦ or spending a lifetime dissecting, examining, analyzing the basics
◦ or especially arguing and debating with other Christians over the basics (Paul’s advice was to avoid such arguments)
3. there is more to the scripture than words on a page
◦ many Christians quote verses without knowing what they mean
◦ there’s a depth to the Scriptures that we reach through maturity and that takes us into maturity–and there is also a depth to mature faith
4. And this we will do if God permits
◦ that is, we can only move on if God sees that we’re ready for it
◦ then he will lead us on by his Spirit

If they give up on Jesus, there’s no Plan B
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned Hebrews 6:4-8

If we summarize the first long sentence here, what it tells us is,
– if believers fall away from God, it’s impossible to restore them to repentance
• this is why Barclay referred to this passage as “terrible”
• some Bible teachers argue that such people were never really Christians
◦ let’s consider that idea – these hypothetical deserters:
1. were enlightened – their minds had been opened to the truth of God
2. had tasted the heavenly gift – taste: to have a real experience of something
◦ according to the writer’s world view, reality was two-fold
◦ there was what F. Schaeffer called an “upper story” and a “lower story”
◦ these people have had an upper story experience
3. had shared in the Holy Spirit
◦ they were in partnership with the Spirit
◦ and through the Spirit, partnership with the Christian community
4. had tasted the goodness of the word of God
◦ for the writer, Christian faith is lived-experience
◦ they had taken David’s challenge
Oh taste and see that the LORD is good! (Ps. 34:8)
◦ God had spoken a personal word to him through scripture
5. had tasted the powers of the age to come
◦ the New Testament reminds us that in Christ we experience something of the future joys of heaven now
– it is difficult for me to imagine how a person could enjoy all this,
• and then turn away from God
• this is something that gets to me every time I read the following
And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart had turned away from the LORD, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice [!] and had commanded him concerning this thing, that he should not go after other gods (1 Ki. 11:9-10)

“Fallen away” can be misleading – this desertion is not accidental
– as if tripping over a rock or taking a wrong turn
• in rejecting Jesus, they are crucifying the Son of God
◦ and exposing him to open shame
◦ the shame of the cross, which he despised (Heb. 12:2)
impossible to restore them again to repentance
• if people turn from Jesus, he has nothing more for them
◦ they can’t start over, as if for first time, with something else

In his teaching, Jesus presented people with two destinies
– the analogies of wise and foolish builders, and sheep and goats
• here the writer presents the analogy of the soil in two fields
◦ the overgrowth of thorns and thistles appears in the Old Testament
◦ they symbolize a curse, from Genesis 3 and through the prophets
• with this the writer ends his argument with a grim conclusion

Now you see why we can’t stop here
Though we speak in this way, yet in your case, beloved, we feel sure of better things—things that belong to salvation. For God is not unjust so as to overlook your work and the love that you have shown for his name in serving the saints, and you still do. And we desire each on of your to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises Hebrews 9-12

The writer admits his words have been severe, Though we speak in this way
– this relieves the tension that’s been building up in the passage
• “beloved” – how he feels about them (Greek: agapetos)
◦ he has written to them as a true friend
Faithful are the wounds of a friend;
profuse are the kisses of an enemy
(Pr. 27:6)
we feel sure of better things–in other words, “You’re in!”
– the reason for this assurance is because, God is not unjust
• he does not overlook the fact that this field has produced useful crop
your work and the love (agape) you have shown for his name
◦ their love for God was revealed in their service to others
– his concern for them, is that they persevere in this journey
• what he hopes to see in them:
the same earnestness – eagerness, enthusiasm, diligence
the full assurance of hope – we’ll see more hope later in this chapter
◦ they will not be sluggish – lazy, lethargic, apathetic
they will be imitators of those . . . who inherit the promises
(in chapter 11 we’ll find an extensive list of such people)
• they would need not only faith,
◦ but patience – endurance; a major theme in the Book of Hebrews

Conclusion: There is a really important lesson here

Not only the obvious lesson about growing toward maturity
– but one that’s just important
• it has to do with how the Bible gets inside us
• if you find passage disturbs you, it’s because it was meant to do that
◦ that is so much more than information entering our brains,
◦ it is truth entering our viscera–our hearts and lungs and bones

Too many people today are giving Christianity a bad name
It is easy to discover what they are against–
they are more than happy to scream it into your face
It is much more difficult to see
that they are for Jesus;
for his compassionate concern for others,
for his patience, mercy and forgiveness,
for his gentle touch of healing

God wants children
through whom he can love the world
So he sends Jesus to us,
to win us over by his love,
to walk with us through everything
Then Jesus sends us
to carry on his work

Let’s grow up, for heaven’s sake!
Haven’t we been Christians long enough
to swim in the deep end of God’s pool?


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  1. Ed Northen / May 28 2020

    Chuck, thank you for your mature and thoughtful words on this passage of scripture. These verses have always been thought provoking for me which begs the question, why leave these and move on? Since these are, as you stated, the bedrock foundation of our faith. As you so rightly pointed out, with these issues firmly established, we now move forward on our journey with and in God. I think remaining in this place of basics is a comfortable way to stay safe. It limits the true Work God wants to do in and through us ,not only for our sake but for the sake of the world. It is a safe place, a place of rules and boundaries, where everything is black and white. Where mercy and compassion are not required because we have justice of the law. But Jesus is a revolutionary, he upsets our paradigms, overthrows established norms and calls us to a much larger kingdom view. This is uncomfortable, unsettling and challenges us to trust God for the Journey he desires us to travel on with Him. Yet if we have the courage to trust God, He will take us on a journey which is exciting, formative and full of mystery. We will begin to experience the immeasurable richness of a life truly lived in oneness with God, as He intends.

  2. Chuck Smith, Jr. / May 31 2020

    Ed, I could not have said it better myself. I appreciate the freshness of your perspective and thoughts.

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