There are some words in the letter to the Hebrews about which I feel
led to speak to you this morning. They are in chapter 3 and verses 1
"Wherefore, holy brethren, companions of a heavenly calling... we
are become companions of Christ if we hold fast the beginning of our
confidence firm unto the end."
We have been seeing that this wonderful letter embodies the
transition from the old Israel of the earth to the new Israel of
heaven. This morning we are going to concentrate upon one aspect of
this, it is the superiority of the heavenly Israel to the earthly.
The writer of this letter, whoever he was, was giving himself
wholly to the immense superiority of what had come in with
this dispensation. It was as though he said to himself, "The
time has come for someone to let these people know how
superior is that which has come in with this dispensation.
This final movement of God in the history of this world is
greater than anything before". And that is what he set himself
to show to the people of his day, but God meant it for more
than that: God meant it for His people for all time.
Who wrote this letter, no one knows. Many names have been
mentioned. Some have been very certain about it and
then someone else has come along and upset that certainty.
Some have been very sure that Paul wrote this, others have very
nearly proved that Paul did not write it. Some have thought that
wrote it, others have said it was Barnabas; Apollos, because he
was a man "mighty in the Scriptures" (so it was said of
him) and it certainly did require a man mighty in the Scriptures
to write this book! Barnabas, well Barnabas was a Levite, he knew
all about the
Levitical system of the Old Testament, so he would be a good
one to write the book. As for Paul, well, of course, he was
the perfect master both of Judaism and of Christianity, and it
needed such a man to write this book. If Stephen had not
been martyred, I would have chosen him, because I think in
his last great discourse you have all the substance of the letter
to the Hebrews.
Well, we cannot say.
Do you wonder why I take time to talk like this? And I have a
reason, because this letter is something that really only the Holy
Spirit could write. The Holy Spirit required all that knowledge of
the old dispensation and of the nature of the new to set down what
is in this book. The fact is that it needed someone who knew all
about Israel and all about Christ to write this book just
for this very reason: that the message of this book is the wonderful
superiority of Christ to all that had been before.
I am touching on very old and well-worn ground when I remind
you of the place that the word "better" has in this letter. That
occurs more often in this letter than in all the rest of the New
Testament put together. And here is a study for the beginners in
Bible study. Get out
your box of coloured pencils, choose a good colour that you think
is suitable to "better", and underline that word through this
letter. You will find that you have it occurring thirteen times, and
always in a
very instructive connection. I'm just going to run through them:
Chapter 1 verse 4 - "Better than the angels". (Well that's
a high place
to begin at!)
Chapter 6 verse 9 - "We are persuaded better things of
Chapter 7 verse 19 - "A better hope"; verse 22 - "A better
Chapter 8 verse 6 - again "A better covenant" and "better
Chapter 9 verse 23 - "Better sacrifices".
Chapter 10 verse 34 - "A better possession".
Chapter 11, 16 and 35 - "A better country" and "A better
Chapter 11 verse 40 - "Some better thing".
Then, alongside of that, you can put chapter 12 verse 24 - "The
blood of Jesus speaketh better
things than that of Abel". And then in chapter 1 verse 4 and chapter 8 verse 6 you have the
words "more excellent",
and again in chapter 1 verse 4, chapter 3 verse 3, and chapter 10
verse 25 the
phrase "by so much more".
Well, that word itself is a key to the Letter. Everything
better than it has ever been before and we can come back with
that to our own key words: "Holy brethren, companions of a
- called to something so much better than has ever been in
history of this world.
Now, just again, let us remind ourselves of why this letter was
In the first place, it was written to save these Christians
from spiritual declension or spiritual arrest. For various
reasons they were being tempted to draw back. You will
remember that those words occur in a warning: "If any man
draw back..." the Lord says, "My soul shall have no
pleasure in him". It is a terrible thing to get into a place
where the Lord hasn't any pleasure in you, to lose the pleasure of
the Lord. And to prevent these Christians from getting
into such a position, this letter was written.
Some were inclined to just stand still
and not go on any further, so that their spiritual life would
be arrested and that they would no longer go on and grow. They
would become just "stand-still" Christians - "As it was, so it is
now" - nothing of the future life governing them. So, to save them
from going back and from standing still, this letter was
But we have already pointed out that there was another
reason: it was written to carry these Christians through a time of
great trouble which was coming. It was evidently written very
shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem.
Perhaps the writer saw the signs of that coming, whether
he saw those signs or not, the Holy Spirit saw what was coming. He
that a time of great testing was coming to these Christians,
when all that they had trusted in on this earth was
going to be shaken, so the Holy Spirit, who knew all about that,
led this writer to write this letter. It was intended, therefore,
to be a strength to them and salvation
in a time of trouble. And the method of so ministering help to
them was to show again the greatness of the Lord Jesus,
greatness of the heavenly calling, and how great a
thing it is
to be companions of Christ and of the heavenly calling. And so the
writer sets out to bring the Lord Jesus into view in His
superiority to all who had gone before. But in doing so, he
does another thing, and this is a very interesting thing that is
in this letter. He
says: "Down through the past ages there have been men who have
had great difficulties, men who had many discouragements and
he speaks about Abraham.
Now, Abraham indeed had a difficult life. There was the
difficulty of the postponed promise - God's promises did not
seem to be in the way of fulfilment. God was taking such a long
time to fulfill His word. We all know something about that
difficulty! We are in a hurry and God is not - He seems to
have all time to play with, our trouble is: "Oh, if only
the Lord would hurry up!" and I suppose our prayers are so
often marked by one word: "Lord, hasten it!"
Now, if any man knew about having to be patient, it was Abraham!
There was then the difficulty of unfulfilled promises, God taking
so much time. Some times Abraham just broke down under that. On
one occasion he left the land of promise and went to Egypt -
and found himself in still greater trouble and had to
tell a lie to get out of it.
It was a very real testing, this matter was to Abraham. I think
are signs that Abraham's wife was not always in sympathy with him.
When they were both old and the Lord said that they should have
a son, it says that Sarah, in her tent, laughed. And the Lord was
angry, and Abraham had to rebuke her.
Well, we must have full sympathy with Sarah, she was being
hard put to it by the way in which the Lord was taking her husband
she was not always able to see as her husband saw, and to feel
just as he felt.
Perhaps, for that reason, Abraham had a certain measure of
spiritual loneliness in his life.
Then what about that young man Lot? He was just a lot of
trouble! He certainly did not share Abraham's vision! His
vision was all on this earth, his ambitions were all for the
present, and you know well the story of Lot and what a thorn he
in the side of Abraham.
Well, I suppose I could add other things to the painful story.
not an easy life, but, do you know, the New Testament says
that Abraham rejoiced? Abraham rejoiced! And why
did he rejoice? Why did he rejoice in tribulation? Jesus Himself
us why: "Your
father Abraham saw My day and rejoiced". In some way Abraham had
seen the Lord Jesus, had seen
the day of the Lord Jesus, and that got him through all
He rejoiced because he saw the Lord Jesus and the day of Christ.
You know, there's more in this letter to the Hebrews about
what Abraham saw. He had seen a heavenly
country, and was looking for it. He had seen "a city
which hath foundations, whose builder and maker was God". Abraham
had seen the day of Jesus Christ. You
remember this writer of the letter to the Hebrews says: "We are
come to the heavenly Jerusalem". Abraham had seen that, and seeing
Jesus, he was able to go on; he rejoiced in a long life of
What about Moses? Did Moses have any trouble? Well, we could make
a long story about the troubles of Moses! He had to carry a
very heavy burden, and there was a time when Moses nearly lost
his heart. He said to the Lord: "Oh these people... they are too
much for me, they are too great a burden. I cannot carry them".
Very often Moses had to go back to the Lord like that and say to the Lord:
asked me to do something that is more than I can do." Through
forty long, weary years, Moses had
very many trials, but we have
this word here: "He endured, as seeing Him who is
invisible". Who was the
"him" that he was seeing? Notice what this letter to the
Hebrews says. When Moses was in Pharaoh's palace and saw his
own Hebrew brethren being persecuted, he decided that he was going
take sides with them, and you know what he did. And then this
letter to the Hebrews tells us something: he chose to suffer
affliction with the people of God -
and here's a wonderful thing - "he counted the reproach
of Christ greater than the riches of Egypt". The
did Moses know about Christ? Somehow he had seen Christ and he saw
that these Hebrew people were called in relation to Christ, and
endured, as seeing Him who is invisible".
This is a point at which our minds have got to get adjusted.
Perhaps we have got the idea that when Jesus came into this world,
that was the beginning of Him, but the Word of God makes it
perfectly clear that Jesus Christ was present in the days of
Abraham and Moses. Indeed, the Word says that He was present
in the creation of the world: "By Him were all things created"
says the Scriptures. He was there all the time! He was the One who
was appearing again and again and they did not recognise Him. He
appeared to Abraham, He appeared to Moses, He appeared to Joshua,
He appeared to Gideon... yes,
this same Christ was there, active all the time. He did not
just begin when He was born in Bethlehem, He only came then into
this world in human form.
Do you think that's exaggerating? Well, let's come to our letter
to the Hebrews, chapter 13, verse 8: "Jesus Christ... the same
yesterday, and today, and forever". I have left
out one little word "Jesus Christ IS the same...": He IS
yesterday, He IS today and He IS tomorrow. There
yesterday, today and tomorrow with Jesus. "Yesterday" was the day
of the old dispensation when this writer wrote this letter,
"today" was the day in which he lived, it was the new dispensation
just begun. "Today" is the period between Christ going back to
heaven and His coming again, that's today. We have seen already
phrase is quoted three times in this letter, it is brought
over from yesterday to today: "Today if you will hear His
voice, harden not your hearts". That is a
message for this dispensation. Yesterday, and today, and
tomorrow... "tomorrow" is forever, and it's going to be the same
So the writer of this letter is saying: "Jesus Christ was
back there in yesterday. He was in the past dispensation, the same
Jesus Christ as we know today. And He will be the
same Jesus Christ forever".
Now, if you turn again to the beginning of this letter to the
Hebrews, do you notice how many quotations from the Old Testament
are in this chapter? We cannot stay,
I think, to look at them, but the Old Testament is here used
great deal, and the quotations are things concerning Christ, so
in the first place, it's quite clear that He was in the Old
Testament. He was being spoken about then, He was present in
the minds of the writers of the Old Testament. There are
David; Jesus Christ was very much in the mind of David. The
words "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee" David
first wrote that and there
is much more like it.
The quotations from the Old Testament are very many at the
beginning of this letter, which simply shows that Jesus Christ
was present then, present in the thoughts of those writers, and
that Jesus Christ is brought over from
yesterday to today. And this writer is simply saying: "That Jesus
Christ of the prophets and the men of old is this One today of
I am writing". This first chapter of the letter just
takes up all that about Christ and brings it over here into the
present - it's the same Jesus Christ.
But now we haven't begun to see the superiority of this "today"
over "yesterday". We have only sought to do one thing, and that
is the thing that this writer set out to do: to show that to get
trouble and testing you need to have a large conception of the
Lord Jesus. If we are going to get through to the end in victory,
it will depend
upon what kind of a Christ our Christ is to us.
The writer realised that these Christians were finding the way
rather long and difficult, and the most testing thing in spiritual
life was their need; and that is patience. "You have need
of patience... that after you have
will of God..." and so at the end of the letter he says: "Let
us run with patience
that is set before
us". And what is the real strength of patience? Oh, it's so
easy to say to people: "Now, be patient. Don't be in a hurry.
Things will turn out all right..." and I'm afraid when people talk
to me like that, I never feel so bad. But this writer did not just
say to these Christians: "Now be patient!" He did say: "Let us
run with patience the race..." it will test our patience, it
calls for a lot of patience, but the thing that will keep your
patience strong is this - "Looking off unto Jesus". If we
look at ourselves, we'll give up the
race. If we look at other people... there are
a lot of people who will make us give up the race. If we look
around us on the world we shall lose patience... and so I like
the true translation, some versions just say "Looking
unto Jesus". Well, that's all right, but the real
version is: "Looking off unto Jesus". You
must take your eyes off of yourself. You must positively refuse
to look at yourself. You must train yourself in the habit
refusing not to look at yourself. Every time you are tempted to
look at yourself, you'll have to say: "No! No, I shut my eyes to
that." You must not
have your eyes on those Christians who are disappointing
must remember that the very best Christians are only human,
after all. It is a very dangerous thing to think of any man or
woman as being infallible.
I think Paul got very near to doing that once. You know, Paul
owed a very great deal to Barnabas. It was Barnabas who went
off to find Paul, it was Barnabas who brought him back. And when
the apostles saw Saul of Tarsus come in the
door, I think some of them had other things to do, "Excuse me, but
I must go and do something..." they drew back. They were all
suspicious of this man and
they drew back, and Barnabas took him by the hand and
brought him in, and said: "Don't be afraid, brothers. He has met
our Lord Jesus. He is now a companion of Jesus Christ. He is
one with us." And they received him.
It was Barnabas who brought Paul to Antioch, Antioch was in great
need at that time. They needed a very strong
minister, and off Barnabas goes and says: "I know the man!" And he
brings Saul to Antioch and so introduced him to his life
Paul owed a lot to Barnabas. It says of Barnabas, "He was a
good man, and full of the Holy Spirit". I think
Paul put Barnabas on a high pedestal. And then that day, that
terrible day, came when Barnabas fell off of his pedestal. You
the division between the Jewish and the Gentile Christians and
that the new order of Christ demanded that they should be all
one, that they should eat together and drink together. Peter had
lesson over the house of Cornelius, but then that day came when
this whole question of eating and drinking
arose; Jews and Gentiles meeting at the same table. It was a very
strong dispute; it was a
very critical day. And then it says "They sent down certain from
Jerusalem..." James came down and some others with them - and
Peter withdrew from the table. He was afraid
of James, he was afraid of those others from Jerusalem! He said:
"I mustn't let these senior brothers see me eating with
Gentiles..." and so he withdrew.
And Paul says, "And so strong was the contention that even
Barnabas was caught in their dissimulation! Just think of it
I never believed that Barnabas would do a thing like that!
I thought Barnabas was
far above anything like that." I am sure it was a very
great blow to Paul's confidence in men, and if he had
continued to keep his eyes on Barnabas, no one knows what would
have happened. He had to look off from Barnabas to Jesus.
Paul was always having to do that. In many ways and
situations he had to just take his eyes off and look unto Jesus. I
think there's a very real touch of Paul in this letter -
"Looking off unto Jesus". My own opinion is that whoever wrote
this letter, Paul had a good hand in it. His influence is
everywhere in this letter.
And certainly he was called upon to look off unto Jesus.
Now that is a very vital lesson for us to learn. Again and
again we have to
do that in our Christian life. If we get our
eyes upon anything but the Lord Jesus, we may just go to pieces.
Have all respect for God's saints, I'm not saying that you
have got to eye every servant of God with suspicion and be all the
time saying: "Well, of course, he is not perfect, you know..." no,
give honour to whom honour is due, but never build your faith
upon any man, however good he may be.
And as for ourselves... I think perhaps we are more often
tempted to look at ourselves than at anything else! And this is
of our real Christian exercises. We have continually to remove
our eyes from ourselves and everything to do with ourselves.
There is nothing more discouraging than this self of ours, there
nothing more misleading than ourselves. Our own judgments are all
wrong, our own ideas are all wrong, our thoughts are not God's
We must take our eyes off ourselves, but not look out into
space, not to be vacant, but "Look off
unto Jesus", and you know how that sentence is finished
- "Jesus, the author and the
finisher of our faith". Did
you start this thing? Are you a Christian because you
to be a Christian? Well, the Lord help you if that is so! No,
He started this thing. Are you not glad that you can say:
was the Lord who found me! It was the Lord who put His hand on
me"? It is very true what He said: "You did not
choose Me, but I chose you!" He was the Author of our faith, and
it says He is
the Finisher - He will finish it.
I have so often said that when we get to heaven we will be full of
wonder that we ever
did get there! Well, in our experiences in this life we sometimes
feel like that. When we arrived in Aeschi last week, I said to my
wife, "Well, we're here! We're here." And when I said that, that
meant a lot! If you knew all the history of the past year, you'd
say, "That's wonderful!" but that's a very small thing. When we
all get to the glory, we'll just look at one another and say:
"Well, we are here! It's a wonderful story; how we got here I
don't know. A thousand times I thought I'd never get there and had
given up all hope - but we're here because Jesus is the finisher".
dear friends! In the day of your despair, in the day of your
off unto Jesus. He has said: "Where I am, there
shall My servant be also". And if it takes a thousand
miracles, He will
work them to get us there. Do believe it! Take hold of it with
both hands and trust Him to see you right through to the glory,
for that is one of the great things in this letter:
sons to glory". That means you, and that means me.
I haven't said anything about the superiority! We can leave that
for the present....