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One of the primary doctrines of the Christian faith is, what is called, "final perseverance." Basically, it says that only those who DIE in the one, true faith will be saved. I meet people who tell me that they used to go to the Lutheran church when they were little, or they used belong to this or that church, or they used to pray a lot and read their bible, but they haven't 'practiced' their religion for a long time. I'm never quite sure if they're asking me to help them to reconnect with the Christian faith, or if they're telling me that they've already had their ticket to heaven punched, and "once punched always punched."
The Scriptures make it very clear that you CAN loose your salvation by falling from faith. One of the saddest verses in the New Testament comes in the 6th chapter of John's gospel, where we read, "many of Jesus' disciples turned back and no longer walked with him." (John 6:66).
At the beginning of His ministry, Jesus warned His followers of the trials and tribulations that they would experience because they follow Him. Jesus cautions them saying, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Mat.10:22). At the end of His ministry, as He prepared His disciples for His departure from them, He warned them that tough times lie ahead saying, "And then many will fall away." "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." (Mat.24:10,13). Whenever you hear Jesus say something at the beginning of His ministry that He then repeats again at the end of His ministry, this is something that we need to be especially alert to.
There is nothing sadder and more heartbreaking than when members of the congregation go astray and end up leaving. No matter how successful or 'happy' our children may be, no parent's joy is complete if the children have left the faith and live apart from the grace of God in Christ.
It's been my observation that very few abandon their faith and trust in God's Word and promise because they've come to an intellectual or ideological impasse and they just can't accept the concept of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone for Christ's sake alone. Only occasionally does someone get mad at God and shake their fist at heaven and turn their back on Christ and His cross.
It's been my observation that many who fall away do so not in rebellion against God or disagreement with the Bible. No, they just drift away as other things besides the life of faith become more important; college, a job, a romance, a hobby, sleep. They hardly even realize that they've abandoned the life of faith.
The Epistle to the Hebrews is a 13-chapter commentary on Christ's words, "But the one who endures to the end will be saved." My challenge to you is to read through the entire epistle in one sitting sometime this week. It'll take no more than 45 minutes of your time. I think you'll find that its one of the most magnificent books in the New Testament. By reading through it from beginning to end, the author's purpose becomes quite clear. Simply put, it is, "remain in the faith!"
Here's just a brief survey of the repeated admonitions to persevere to the end. From the 2nd chapter: "Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, LEST WE DRIFT AWAY FROM IT." (2:1). From the 3rd chapter: "We are his house if indeed we HOLD FAST OUR CONFIDENCE." (3:6). From the 4th chapter: "Since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, LET US HOLD FAST OUR CONFESSION." (4:14). From the 6th chapter: "We desire each one of you to show earnestness to have the FULL ASSURANCE OF HOPE UNTIL THE END." (6:11). "HOLD FAST TO THE HOPE that is set before us." (6:18).
To each admonitions to persevere in the faith, the author adds a powerful, positive reason to do so – the reassurance that Jesus Christ is who He says He is and His Word and promises are true and unfailing and therefore worthy of our unswerving faith and trust to the end.
Last Sunday, we looked closely at the 1st half of the 12th chapter and talked about the purpose of the Lord's discipline. He disciplines us because He loves us, and although it is painful for a time, its purpose is to keep us from getting off track and wandering away.
I'd like to return now to last Sunday's assigned reading and take a close look at the powerful, positive reason the author gives to persevere in the faith in light of the Lord's discipline. Would you please take out your bible and turn to Hebrews 12:18-24. (Page 1008).
The author contrasts two famous mountains to make his point.
"For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. For they could not endure the order that was given, "If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned." Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, "I tremble with fear." But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel."
When God brought His people out of Egypt, He led them to Mt. Sinai where He gave them His law – the 10 Commandments. The author simply recounts what Moses recorded in Exodus and Deuteronomy. It was a terrifying experience. They were told that if anyone touched the mountain by going beyond a certain point they would be killed on the spot. God made His presence known to the people as a 'blazing fire,' 'darkness,' 'gloom' and a 'tempest.' Try to picture it.
You should notice that there's no Jesus in this picture. No 'good shepherd.' No 'gentle savior.' This is what being in the presence of God without Jesus is like. Terrifying.
In addition to terrifying sights there were terrifying sounds; an ear-piercing trumpet and the thundering voice of God. Everyone pleaded that 'no further messages be spoken to them.' The congregation elected Moses to be their mediator with God. 'You go up there and speak to God for us." And even Moses, the man of God confessed, "I tremble with fear."
The covenant that God made with His people from Mt. Sinai was a covenant based on His law – the 10 Commandments. And the covenant was this: "Keep my law and you will live. Break my law and you shall surely die." It's a terrible covenant that should strike fear in the heart of everyone who tries lives by it. If you want God to judge you by His Law, He will. But you won't survive it. No one is saved by the Law. By the Law, all are guilty and condemned to die according to the justice of God.
But this is not where you are headed. This is not where the Word and promise of God is leading you. It would be perfectly understandable if you dropped out of the life of faith if you believed that you were headed to Mt. Sinai and the judgment of God according to how you have kept His Law.
"But you have come to Mt. Zion." In stark contrast to Mt. Sinai, the author rattles off a description of Mt. Zion that should make every heart pound, not with fear, but with excitement and anticipation.
He calls it, "the city of the living God." Moses was the only one permitted to come to Mt. Sinai. But Zion is a CITY. Cities are where lots of people live. On Sinai, God threatened the people with death if they came too close. But on Zion, He is the "living God," or "the God who gives life" to all who draw near to Him. From the 10th chapter, "let us DRAW NEAR with a true heart in full assurance of faith." (Hebrews 10:22)
He calls it, "the heavenly Jerusalem." The earthly Jerusalem was where the Temple was located and the temple was where God was located. He was hidden behind the veil and the offerings were far from perfect and had to be repeated over and over again. But the heavenly Jerusalem is where God is present and His people see Him face to face and no more offerings are made, because the one, perfect offering has already been made. From the 9th chapter, "Jesus entered ONCE FOR ALL into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (Hebrews 9:12)
On Mt. Zion, you will not be welcomed with blazing fire and darkness and gloom and tempest and screaming trumpets but with "innumerable angels in festal gathering." So many angels you can't count them, all celebrating the great festivals of the Church year – Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, all rolled up together in one big, never ending, 'feast of victory for our God.'
Along with the 'angels, archangels' there's also 'all the company of heaven,' which he calls, "the assembly of the 1st born." The 'first born' hold a special place in the bible. They're the ones who receive the Father's inheritance. On Mt. Zion, everyone is a 1st born son or daughter. From the 9th chapter, "Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive THE PROMISED ETERNAL INHERITANCE. (Hebrews 9:15)
On Mt. Zion, you come to the "spirits of the righteous made perfect." While they lived in this world, they were far from perfect. They were sinners who lived by faith in the promise of the forgiveness of their sins because of the blood of Christ shed for them. Then, "God, the judge of all," declared them to be righteous for Christ's sake. But on Mt. Zion, they are no longer simultaneously saint and sinner. Now they are "made perfect." They sin no more.
"And on Mt. Zion, you come "to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." A new covenant based not on your keeping of God's Law, but on Jesus blood shed for the sins of the world. Abel's blood cried out from the ground for vengeance and retribution. But the blood of Jesus cries out to God, the judge of all, for atonement and complete forgiveness.
Mt. Zion is where you are headed. Mt. Zion is your destiny. Jesus Christ has leveled Mt. Sinai by keeping the old covenant of the Law for us. He has raised up a new mountain, Mt. Zion, and this is where God is leading you.
From the 10th chapter: "Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful." "Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:23, 35,36,39)
From the 12th chapter: "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12:1-3)