Hear These Words

There are reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior. Faith in Him as the Son of God is never presented in the Bible as being irrational. In fact, the message of the Gospel is that everything about Jesus’ life and ministry was clearly in the hands of God. Anyone who hears the good news of His ministry, death, and resurrection should consider this.

We find God unveiling His plan to save sinners throughout the Bible. And it becomes increasingly evident that His chosen Savior would not go unnoticed. What God has done and is doing to bring fallen human beings into His kingdom is a miraculous work that only our sovereign Creator can orchestrate. This is especially evident when we consider the outcome of Christ’s life.

The very first sermon preached by the apostle Peter — the first sermon of the New Testament church — focused on the fact that God was supernaturally and providentially involved in all that pertained to Christ. He emphasizes the resurrection and ascension of God’s Son as he calls us to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins (2:25-39).

But first, in Acts 2:22-24, the apostle calls the nation of Israel to hear the Gospel and know that Jesus was verified in His ministry by God, delivered up to die by God, and raised from the dead by God. In other words, the call to hear the Gospel is a call to trust the sovereign God.

Hear These Words
Jesus Was Verified (v. 22)
Peter’s sermon was on the Day of Pentecost, which began the Feast of Weeks (Ex. 34:22-23) or Harvest. That means it was 50 days after the Passover when Jesus, the Lamb of God, was sacrificed on the cross. On Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles, and they began to speak in languages unknown to them but understood by the various and respective ethnic groups gathered in Jerusalem for the feast (2:1-12).

The heavenly enabling was the first of the full harvest of spiritual fruit the Holy Spirit produces in the believer (Gal. 5:22-23; Eph. 1:11-14) — the evidence of eternal life. Likewise, those who believed the message Peter preached that day were the first of many from all nations who would enter God’s kingdom by believing the Gospel of Christ. These things fulfilled the symbolism of the offering of first-fruits made during the feast (Lev. 23:20).

With all the Old Testament types and symbols on the mind of those attending the feast, the apostle used the occasion to present the Person and work of Christ as their absolute fulfillment. He reminded them in 2:14-21 of the prophecy of Joel regarding the kingdom of God’s Christ. And he explained the events of Pentecost as a foretaste of what would happen when Christ appeared in all His glory. Now he proclaims “Jesus of Nazareth” as the Christ who had already come as the sacrifice for sin to provide eternal life for those who trust in Him (v. 21).

The nation of Israel and its leaders had rejected their Savior and King altogether (Jn. 1:11). Despite the fact that Jesus was “attested by God…by miracles, wonders, and signs, which God did through Him,” they deemed Him to be nothing more than a mere man. But all the obviously supernatural works done by Jesus were clearly done in the power of the Holy Spirit (healing, raising the dead, casting out demons, exercising authority over nature, etc.). God verified His Son as THE Man (cf. Jn. 19:5; 1 Tim. 2:5) chosen to fulfill the promise of a Savior to redeem a remnant of humanity for His kingdom.

Peter reminds them that these things were done “in your midst, as you yourselves know.” There was no escaping the clear validation of Jesus as the Christ and His message as heavenly. But now He was dead — crucified and put to shame. Yes, God had irrefutably identified Him, but why did He permit Him to die and in such a horrific way?

Jesus Was Delivered (v. 23)
Peter explains that God not only enabled and verified Jesus’ ministry, but He providentially arranged His very necessary death. Jesus, “being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God,” was handed over to those who hated Him so that He might die at precisely the time and place of God’s choosing and in the way He chose.

There was nothing about Jesus circumstances that were a surprise to God, and the Son had submitted Himself to the Father’s will (Jn. 4:34; Phil. 2:5-11; 1 Pet. 2:23). So, when the Jews had “taken [Christ] by lawless hands…crucified, and put [Him] to death,” it was for no other reason than it had been God’s plan all along.

The Jewish rejection of Jesus and their treatment of Him was truly their own — rebellious and wicked. Likewise, our Lord’s brutal execution at the hands of the Romans was ultimately innocent blood on the hands of the Jews who rejected Him (Jn. 19:11). However, God permitted it all and used it to accomplish His purpose. To the smallest detail, Christ’s death fulfilled everything the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had determined in eternity past (cf. Acts 4:27-28; 13:27-29).

Peter wanted everyone to know that Jesus was the Lamb of God who was slain before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). And His death was for everyone whom God had chosen for salvation from the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4). All these events were predetermined with a predetermined result. As Hebrews 4:3 tells us, “the works were finished from the foundation of the world.” 2 Timothy 1:9 says that God has, “…saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ before time began.”

Jesus’ death had to happen in order to fulfill God’s redemptive plan. Although the world perceives His suffering and death as only martyrdom or a sign of weakness and defeat, the reality is that it was the sacrifice for sin required by God. Unless Jesus died as God had foreordained, there would be no salvation for anyone. There would be no hope of heaven whatsoever without His crucifixion at the hands of lawless sinners. Salvation is a sovereign work of God.

So our Lord, in His sinless humanity, accomplished in His death exactly what God intended. He completed the work of redemption by atoning for the sins of His people (Jn. 19:30). The sinless Man became sin for the sinner that they may be become the saints of God (2 Cor. 5:21).

And we can know for certain that His death satisfied God’s anger toward our sins and brings forgiveness and reconciliation because God raised Him from the dead.

Jesus Was Raised (v. 24)
God verified Christ as His Son by His miraculous ministry, and He delivered Him over to death to accomplish redemption. But death could not keep Jesus Christ in the grave. If He were merely a man, then we would expect nothing more from Him in this world after He died. Even if He were a righteous man who went to heaven, death would have destroyed His body. Yet that is not what happened to Jesus.

It is Jesus of Nazareth “whom God raised up” never to die again. God “loosed the pains of death” for His Son. In other words, He abolished or destroyed the birth pains. In what way? The birth pains of death is sin (James 1:14-15), but Jesus Himself lived a sinless life. Therefore, God’s law could not condemn Him personally to death.

However, Jesus tasted death for all the saints (Heb. 2:9) in that He experienced God’s eternal wrath toward sinners on the cross (Matt. 27:46). His physical death was a part of that. But our Lord’s body did not see corruption as the quote from the psalmist says later in verse 27. Jesus was God the Son incarnate, and He was perfectly righteous in His humanity. Although He experienced death as our substitute, sin never had power over Him and neither did any aspect of death (Jn. 10:17-18). If it has no power over Him, then it has no power over believers (Romans 6:5-11; Heb. 2:14-15)!

Jesus’ body remained in the grave only for the time allotted by God to fulfill His purpose (Matt. 16:21; 17:23; 20:19), but His righteous spirit was in heaven during that time (Lk. 23:43; 46). Then, “because it was not possible that he should be held by [death],” God’s Son rose bodily from the grave in resurrection glory. He was seen by the apostles and hundreds of disciples over the course of forty days before He ascended to heaven (1 Cor. 15:3-8). His resurrection validated His righteous life and the sacrifice of His life as acceptable to God.

So God verified His Son’s ministry and message with miracles. He also delivered His Son over to death to accomplish redemption for believers as determined in eternity past. And He raised His Son from the dead to prove that the sacrifice of His sinless life on the cross was accepted, forgiveness provided, and eternal life secured.

These are logical reasons to believe that Jesus Christ is the only Lord and Savior God has given us. Have you heard these words of the Gospel? Have you trusted only in the crucified and resurrected Christ for your salvation and eternal life?

Just before His death, Jesus said to His disciples, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also” (Jn. 14:19).

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.

The Faithful Brethren:
Beware of Unbelief

There is an important question you must ask yourself if you profess to be a Christian: “Do I genuinely trust the Christ of Scripture today?” It is not enough to simply point to a time in the past when you made some declaration of faith. Nor is it sufficient to be associated with the church. There is no assurance of eternal life unless your trust is in Jesus Christ today and every day for the rest of your life.

As God’s Son, Jesus has been faithful over the Father’s household in everything He was sent from heaven to do (3:1-6). As our Great High Priest, He has provided mercy for the believer’s sins by His atoning death on the cross, and He has also been faithful to God by living a righteous life (2:17-18). A true Christian is a part of God’s family because they confess Christ as God’s faithful Son — the patriarch of the redeemed humanity. His brethren are those marked by their continued trust in Him.

Unbelief is never a possibility for those who are genuinely children of God. They have faith in Christ because they are born of God’s Spirit and have received a new nature which desires righteousness. And like that nature, the faith it produces never fails. While it may be weak, bold, or anywhere in between, it is a faith that endures and bears fruit (Jn. 15:1-11). In fact, it is God Himself who is at work in His children appealing to that desire and enabling them fulfill it (Phil. 2:12-13).

The writer to the Hebrews addresses the true faith of God’s children, and he warns all who claim to be Christians that a profession of faith is not the same as the possession of faith.

Hebrews 3:7-4:13 is the writer’s exposition of Psalm 95:7-11, which is quoted here in 3:7-11. The natural outline of that broader passage urges all who profess Christ to beware of unbelief (3:7-19), fear falling short of salvation (4:1-10), and diligently seek that salvation by heeding God’s Word (4:11-13). The focus of this study is the remainder of chapter three.

The Faithful Brethren – Part I
Beware of Unbelief (3:7-19)
As 4:7 indicates, Psalm 95 was likely written by David, but the writer first acknowledges its divine authorship. It is “the Holy Spirit” who inspired David to record God’s words of exhortation to the nation of Israel. The Hebrews are called to worship their Maker and obey His word. The psalm was probably written for the Feast of Tabernacles as the people lived in booths for a time to commemorate God’s provision during the wilderness wanderings (cf. Ps. 81).

The LORD reminds the Hebrews who were under David’s leadership that their forefathers (led by Moses) had paid a terrible price for unbelief and disobedience. God had not changed and neither had His requirement of faith and obedience. Likewise, the depravity and deceitfulness of the fallen human heart remained the same. Therefore, as David appeals to his people to make certain they sincerely trust in God, he writes, “Today, if you will hear His voice…”

Israel is warned in a direct quote from the Holy Spirit: “Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” and “the day of trial in the wilderness.” This refers to a waterless place in Kadesh where the people complained against God because they had nothing to drink. It was called Meribah (meaning “rebellion”) and Massah (meaning “testing”). Although Israel lacked faith, God was nonetheless faithful and provided water from the rock. This happened both at the beginning and end of Israel’s wanderings (Ex. 17:1-7; Num. 20:1-13). 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 explains it was the pre-incarnate Christ who protected Israel and provided for them in the wilderness.

Despite God’s obvious presence and care for the people (“My works”) during “forty years” in the wilderness, that generation went “astray in their hearts” and failed to know God’s “ways” (v. 10). The LORD subsequently “swore in [His] wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest” (v. 11). Their unbelief kept them from life in the promised land, but it also kept them from eternal life.

The “rest” of which God spoke was deliverance from wandering in both a physical and spiritual sense. He promised Abraham many descendants, a land in which they would dwell, and to be the avenue of heavenly blessing for all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3, 7; 15:18-19). However, all of this was to further His redemptive agenda in Christ. Rest in Canaan ultimately symbolized the spiritual rest of eternal life in Christ through whom the saints will inherit the creation in this age and the next (2:5-9). For all who, like Abraham, believe God’s promises in Christ (2:16; Gal. 3:16), there is true rest from sin and a place in His kingdom to glorify Him now and forever.

God is the same today as He was in the time of Moses, David, the writer of this letter, or any other generation. So the call to trust and obey our Creator and Redeemer continues until the consummation of His kingdom. It is not only to the Jews but to those of every nation who will believe in Christ for eternal life (Rom. 1:16).

That is the exhortation in verses 12-14. Everyone who confesses Christ needs to make certain their faith is truly in Him as God’s faithful Son. Like the ancient Hebrews and those to whom this letter is addressed, faith means more than just a physical association with what God is doing. It is a steadfast trust in the Christ through whom God is accomplishing His redemptive plan.

The writer says, “Beware, brethren.” He is speaking to everyone who professes to follow Christ — everyone who claims to be a part of God’s family. And he makes perfectly clear that some who claim faith may not actually have faith at all. Like the faithless Hebrews in Moses’ day (who physically were Abraham’s descendants but did not share his faith; cf. Rom. 9:6, 7), there can be hidden “an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God” (v. 12). This speaks of the unregenerate, rebellious, deceptive heart of mankind’s fallen nature. It is the heart of those who may seem outwardly religious but who are inwardly unrepentant and unbelieving.

Sin is deceitful (Rom. 7:11; 2 Thess. 2:10). As the LORD says in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” We can easily fool ourselves with religious language and activity and all the while have an unbelieving heart. We can rely on a version of Christ that is palatable to our sinful desires and think we are saved, while ignoring the biblical Son of God (Heb. 1:1-2).

That was the danger for the Jews to whom this letter was written. The pressures of persecution were tempting some to compromise and blend Christ with a form of Judaism; some were evidently thinking of returning to Judaism altogether. So, “lest any…be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin,” says the writer, Christians must hold one another accountable to a true confession of the Lord Jesus Christ (3:1-2, 6).

This must be done daily with a sense of urgency while there is still time to repent and embrace the Lord. We must “exhort one another daily, while it is called “Today.” David called his people to beware of unbelief, and Christians must do the same today. We must recognize that, as long as we have breath, the Gospel has the power to save those who are blinded by their sins (2 Cor. 4:1-6). But insincere faith is not faith at all. Religious hypocrisy is especially blinding, and the Lord wants His church to be a place where that darkness is dispelled with the light of the clear Gospel.

Paul pled with the Corinthians to make certain they had not receive the grace of God in vain. He says in 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” While God has permitted human history to unfold for the purpose of redemption, He will not tolerate sin forever (2 Pet. 3:8-13). It is dangerous to linger in unbelief, since the Day of the Lord is at hand!

How can we know if our faith in Christ is genuine? Verse 14 echoes verse six when it says that all who have indeed “become partakers of Christ” are those who “hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” This is the perseverance of genuine faith. If we have truly trusted the Christ of Scripture, then we will always trust Him. A true Christian will never fall away from the faith (Lk. 8:11-15; cf. Heb. 6:4-6).

Verse 15 repeats the first verses quoted from the psalm. While the writer has been emphasizing the urgency of making sure we trust Christ today, he now stresses that the “rebellion” of unbelief (“harden your hearts”) will only and always keep us from trusting Him and being saved (cf. v. 12).

The final four verses make this case in a series of questions recalling what happened to the unbelieving generation of Hebrews “who came out of Egypt led by Moses.” They “heard” the word of God and the call to trust and obey Him, but they “rebelled” (v. 16), “sinned” (v. 17), and “did not obey” (v. 18). Therefore, they incurred God’s wrath and rejection, and their “corpses fell in the wilderness.”

The conclusion (“so we see”) of verse 19 is “that they could not enter in [to God’s rest; v. 18] because of unbelief.” It was not simply because they rebelled, sinned and disobeyed. Rather, they did those things because they did not trust God and believe His promises. In other words, God rejected them because they rejected Him first in their hearts. It did not matter that they were descendants of Abraham, were led by Moses out of Egypt, and benefitted from God’s gracious care. Those things were incidental to the salvation God provides in Christ (Rom. 9:4-5), but it is faith and faith alone which allows us to enter into the salvation rest He provides. And the faith that saves is a faith that perseveres.

Do you genuinely trust in God’s Son, Jesus Christ? Are you among His faithful brethren? Beware of unbelief! Professing faith in Him does not necessarily mean that you possesses it. You cannot rely on your association with the Church or anything religious. Examine yourself with the Scripture today, tomorrow and every day and make certain there is not an evil heart of unbelief in you. If your heart is hardened toward God, then you will find rebellion, sin, and disobedience. But if you are a true child of God, then your faith in His faithful Son will stand the test of time.

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© Copyright 1997-2017 Richard E. Clayton, Jr. All rights reserved.