A sermon delivered by Howard Batson, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Tx., on October 9, 2011.
Sex, power, money, and suffering. Tomorrow’s newspaper will be full of these titillating topics. It’s what sells. It’s what some people think makes the world go round.
Well, I found these topics – not in a grocery store tabloid – but here in Hebrews 13, as the author is closing out his “to do” list for the church. Here in one of the great documents of early Christianity, we find the same topics that we find in the tabloids. And yet, what our author has to say is completely different than the words of the worldly writers.
As he addresses these ethical topics, there is one central sentence that he wants his readers to hear. Look at verse 8. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yes and forever.” That’s what he’s been writing about – how God had led the people of the old covenant, the patriarchs and matriarchs of the faith, in the early days. He’s led them all the way to the person of Jesus and to the new days – the new age, the new covenant – in which the readers were living. What he is saying is that yesterday, in the period of the old covenant, in the day of Moses, Jesus was the same. He’s the eternal One who became human, the One through whom the worlds were made (1:2-3; 1:10-12). Don’t think when Jesus appeared it was a different God. He’s the same. It’s wasn’t a different revelation. God still speaks. Jesus was a fresh revelation of the same God.
And Jesus is the same today. How many times has He told us that He is seated at the right hand of the father, interceding on our behalf. He’s our anchor of hope to the Holy of Holies, to the presence of God.
And this Jesus is the same forever.
Jesus is one with the God of the old covenant, the co-creator of the world. He is also the sacrificial lamb, who can accomplish in His death what the blood of sacrificial animals could never accomplish. He is the one seated at the right hand of God forever, interceding for His people.
When we understand the constancy of Jesus – the same yesterday, today, and forever – then the other ethical decisions that we make – the decisions about how we should live – become easier to make. Keep your eyes on Jesus. He has just told us that in chapter 12 – to run the race of faith with our eyes focused on the Christ (12:2).
To help his readers, the author of Hebrews addresses some specific ethical issues.
I. Love the brothers – and even strangers (v.2).
The New Testament abounds with the commandment to love the brothers (Matthew 23:39; John 13:34; Romans 13:8; 1 Corinthians 13; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 2:10). The word for loving your brothers, philadelphia, is a common New Testament word (Romans 12:10; 1 Thessalonians 4:9; 1 Peter 1:22; 2 Peter 1:7).
Part of this command is to show hospitality. In antiquity, it was very expensive to stay overnight in an inn, and usually such establishments had poor reputations. So instead of checking into the Best Western, you had to find the best host who would entertain you for the evening. This often occurred with traveling teachers, business persons, refugees from persecution. In fact, he makes a strange comment – strange to our ears – that in exercising hospitality to strangers, some people have entertained angels without even knowing it. This is an allusion to Genesis 18:2ff.
In Genesis 18, Abraham, in the heat of the day, was sitting at the door of the tent. He looks up, and there are three men standing there. He runs out to meet them. He bows to the earth, and he asks them, “If I have found favor in your eyes, my lord, then please don’t pass us by. Let me bring you some water. Let me wash your feet. Rest here under the tree. Let me get you some bread.” And they said, “Okay, do as you said.” And Abraham starts shouting to Sarah, “Sarah, Sarah, quick. Cook, cook. We’ve got some guests.” You know – those commanding words every wife wants to hear. Unexpected guests for dinner. They actually killed a calf, made the flour, and fed their unexpected guests. That’s when they got the promise from the mysterious visitors that this time next year, Sarah, in her old age, will be a mother.
Clearly in the story, the visitors represent the Lord. In fact, when they speak it is said, “The Lord said….”
So, unaware, folks like Abraham and Sarah have entertained angels when they were hospitable. The implication is clear that when you are kind to the least of these, you are being kind to the Divine.
II. Remember the prisoners (v. 3).
Now, I could preach concerning those in prison. But I’ve got a much more qualified spokesman for this command. Tom Foran, one of our ministers on staff here, fulfills this command every single week. He remembers the prisoners. Tom, come and share.
Hebrews Chapter 13, Verse 3:
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them.”
That is not a suggestion or a recommendation. It is a command to those who follow Christ.
Some say the writer of Hebrews is referring to those imprisoned because of their faith, but there is relevant application in the current wider work of prison ministry.
Currently, six of us enter the two prison units here in Amarillo each week and those six are joined by five others who provide prayer support for our efforts.
Church family, I do not speak today as one who seeks a widespread release of the incarcerated in Texas prisons. There are very evil men and women in those prisons and I am grateful that our state’s criminal justice system has the means to protect its citizens from further harm carried out by those individuals.
But, church family, I must tell you that there are some very good individuals in Texas prisons who made very serious mistakes. On their behalf, those good individuals, my question to you this morning is, “Would you want to be remembered forever for your worst moment?”
Early on in this ministry God revealed to me very clearly that many of the men are here because they had no experience with a positive male role model in their lives. I now use as an ice breaker with any new group of men the question, “Was your dad what you thought a real man was?” Allow me to share one man’s answer.
Ray Smith’s dad came home in the evening with his women and ordered his mom to fix dinner for all of them. When she refused, Ray’s dad beat her before leaving with his women. Then his mom beat Ray because he reminded her so much of his dad. Ray asked me, “That’s pretty common, isn’t it?”
This was my starting point with Ray and it was God’s fresh starting point with him, also. Ray completed all of the courses we offered at that time, receiving the much-prized certificate and a new Bible. Since then, Ray and I have exchanged letters on a regular basis. Let me read from one of his letters written to me eighteen months after completing the coursework. (Regarding correspondence with his family) “I have learned to forgive (his family) and even to really love. I wish them the best. Thank you for the letter and card, and mostly for thinking of me. You and the others will forever be in my heart and always in my prayers.” (Yes, he’s out there praying for me.) He closed with, “Thank you for helping me see life through new eyes.”
I went into the Neal Unit on Thursday to meet with Ray, to tell him of this opportunity given to me this morning, and to ask for his permission to use his story. Ray doesn’t just shake my hand. He tries to fuse the bones in it together, and now he has added a bear hug that my ribs can hardly tolerate. I let Ray read this text, then he turned to me and said, “You honor me,” shaking his head that I would even consider him in this regard. I asked him if I could use his name or would he prefer that I make anonymous references to “a man in the Neal Unit.” He straightened up nice and tall in his chair, and said, “No, you use my name.”
Church family, why do I and a few others from this church go into the prisons?
Because Ray Smith and many others just like him woke up in there this morning. Yes, this work has eternal consequences, but it requires hearts, hands, and feet on the ground, now.
Author Jenna Lucado wrote, “It is time to stop reading the Bible as a noun and, instead, start reading the Bible as a verb.”
“Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them.”
III. Understand the meaning of marriage (v. 4).
“Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.”
She’s 34 years old. She’s been married eight years. It’s a true story. Really, it’s the story of many women. Hers is simply prototypical. She writes, and I quote:
I feel very ignored and restless in our relationship. I don’t think my husband is aware of these feelings because I try to hide them, but they are in my heart. He buys me beautiful gifts and tries to give me his love and support. He has always been a very kind man, but he would rather watch TV and talk to our dog than talk with me. That’s just the way he is.
Recently a man has come into my life who has rekindled feelings in me that have been dormant for a long time. I find myself thinking about him often and wish I could be with him. I feel so guilty and ashamed of these feelings, but, nevertheless, they are there. I try not to think about him, but I do. I don’t know if he feels the same way about me, but sometimes he looks at me in a way that gives me a signal that he might. Nothing has been said or done between us. I don’t want to tell my husband about this because this man is my husband’s friend. There are things I can do to get closer to the “other man” if I will allow it to happen, but I’m afraid of the consequences. I feel I’m at a crossroads. (Willard F. Harley, Jr., “Coping With Infidelity: How Do Affairs Begin?”, www.parenthoodweb.com)
In fantasy, adultery is glorified, risky, creating a pumping of hot blood through our heart. It’s an idealized framework. It promises the excitement of love once again. The idea promises to make us feel suddenly reborn, with a new power to reinvent everyday life. Surprise, risk, gratification – all of these are part of the lure of the adulterer or the adulteress.
In the pagan world of the first century, we find a culture as sexually promiscuous as Western culture today. Christians are called today, as they were in the first century, to stand out, to be counter-cultural at our point of human sexuality.
IV. Be free from the love of money (v. 5)
There is a story about a man who loved gold. Then he inherited a fortune. With joy he redecorated his bedroom. He put gold parchment wallpaper up, hung yellow curtains, had a golden colored rug and a yellow bedspread. He even bought some yellow pajamas. But then he got sick and came down with, of all things, yellow jaundice. His wife called the doctor, who made a house call and went up to that bedroom for an examination. The doctor stayed up there a long while. When he came down, the wife asked, “How is he?” “Don’t know,” said the doctor. “I couldn’t find him.”
Don’t become lost in a world of greed and materialism.
There is a word that, if you ever learn to live by it, will radically change your life. The word is “enough.” “Enough” is a very powerful and liberating word. With it, you become content. It is enough.
Money enslaves people and then laughs at them as it fails to provide the happiness that it so promised. Often in scripture, sins of sexual impurity and covetousness are linked together (1 Corinthians 5:10-11; Ephesians 4:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6). You remember they are the seventh and eighth of the Ten Commandments. So, before you make too much of someone else’s sexual immorality, you’d better examine your own greed. For they are twins. They both pursue a myopic, self-gratification that takes us outside of the bounds of God’s provision.
Ken and Sharon Drury learned a lesson as a young couple when they were hiking the Appalachian Trail with far too much in their backpacks: They were carrying so much “stuff” that they couldn’t enjoy the journey or even see the scenery because they were so bowed down by the weight! When they pared what they carried down to the barest essentials, following the trail was so much easier. Later in life, settled down in a house with children, they realized again that they were carrying an awful lot.
“Then the truth came back to me again. The Lord took me back to my Appalachian Trail experience. He seemed to say, ‘The truth is the same – the greatest joy comes to those who travel light.’ A light went on in my head. I kept falling into the same trap again. I was assuming that all these things would produce a more comfortable trip – yet they were loading me down and draining the joy of traveling through this earth. Even when we had accumulated a houseful of nice things, they didn’t seem to satisfy – we still ‘needed’ more.
“Now the real work began. What were really necessities? What things could we sensibly get rid of? What things were legitimate aids in our ministry to others? How much should we subject our children to? What should we keep until the kids are gone? What do we need to care for my mother-in-law? What is an investment and what is an expense? How far should we go?
“None of these answers come easily. We continue to struggle with most of them, sometimes every day. But it’s the painful struggle that gives me the peace afterward. I know that I’m not being led by hollow, simplistic answers that won’t last. I have a God-given conviction that brings continuing joy. Yet I still struggle with how far to go.” (Keith Drury, Money, Sex and Spiritual Power)
So, at the end of his book, the author talks about sex, power, money, and suffering. Tomorrow morning in the newspaper, and in God’s word today. The author of Hebrews is concluding his letter and wants to make sure that the Hebrews do not make bad choices about these important topics. How you handle each one of these things will greatly determine who you are.
Keep your eyes on Jesus, the same yesterday, today, and forever.