August 25, 2016 Chapel Service — Rev. Joel Fick
Posted On September 22, 2016
“The Anchor of Your Soul” — Hebrews 6:9-20
Rev. Joel Fick is pastor of Redemption OPC in Gainesville FL.
We’ll be turning to Hebrews chapter 6 and reading verses 9 through 20 together. This is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. Let’s give it our attention.
“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, as you still do. And we desire each one of you 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. For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. So, when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”
Let’s ask the Lord’s blessing on his Word. Our Lord, we do thank you for your Word that it instructs us in righteousness, that it encourages us, that it comforts us, that it convicts us, but that it also conforms us into the image of Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, we pray that you would use this, your word today, impress it upon our hearts and help us to have eyes to see and ears to hear. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen. You may be seated.
You want to talk about imposter syndrome. Every time I step into the pulpit, I feel imposter syndrome. I feel like I don’t belong among the great company of ministers that God has raised up, but mostly because of the gravity of the task. To open up God’s word and to expound it. Never the less, it is God who calls and it is by grace that we stand, so here I am today with you to expound and exposit God’s Word. It is good to be with you. I am from Gainesville, Florida where the Gators play and rule. I have a wife and four children. We’ve been there for 9 years and we’re very thankful the Lord has brought us to Redemption OPC. One of the things that we did as a family this summer was go to Sweden to visit my sister who lives there. She’s married to a Swede and he’s finishing a Ph.D. in New Testament at Uppsala. And one of my favorite things about this trip to Sweden was that we got to go to the Vasa Museum. The Vasa Museum is one of the top ten museums in the world that they say you should visit if you get the chance. Basically, with the Vasa Museum is– it’s a Museum that is built around a ship. In 1628 while the European continent was in the midst of the 30 Years War, King Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden was looking at this as an occasion to extend his military reach. And so, he has a ship commissioned called the Vasa ship, named after the first King of Sweden. And by this ship, he intended to come down and to impress his military might upon the European continent. In fact, as you look at this ship, the Museum is 7 tiers and you can walk entirely around the ship. The entire front of the ship has all of the Emperors of Rome engraved on it. But in the place at the front, at the bow, where you would expect Julius Caesar, you have the symbol of Sweden. This lion crouching with fangs bared, ready to pounce. King Gustavus was saying that he was going to bring a new Pax Romana to the continent. He was going to come like this lion from the north. What was also impressive about this ship was these massive anchors that surrounded it. What’s not so impressive about this ship is that on its maiden voyage, 1300 meters into the Baltic, it sank. After expending all this energy, money, and wealth into this navel project the ship did not have enough ballast to carry its weight. And instead of letting down its anchors and trying to salvage it, the ship capsized and went straight down. And we have it today only today because it sank and was preserved in the Baltic.
This text before us tells us something about an anchor. There’s one other passage in the New Testament that uses this term for anchor. It’s in Acts chapter 27. In Acts chapter 27, Paul was being taken as a prisoner to Rome and he gets caught in the middle of this storm at sea and the sailors begin to take soundings because they fear they’re going to come upon the rocks. So, at 15, 20 fathoms they’re getting very concerned. And the Bible says that fearing they would run aground on the rocks, they let down four anchors from the sterns and they prayed for day to come. Sometimes life is like that. You can’t do anything about the storm but if you have an anchor you may let it down and if it holds you might wait out the storm. With faith and patience, you just might make it, you might ride it out. And that’s the image we’re to have in our minds as we come to this passage, this beautiful passage where God tells us about the anchor that we have. This hope that enters in behind the veil and into the very presence of God and is anchored there for us.
And so, as we look at this passage before us, I want to give your three points to simply help you follow along. First, I want to look at God’s promise that he makes. Secondly, I want to look at God’s purpose for this promise. And then finally, we want to consider God’s priest who is our anchor. God’s promise, God’s purpose, and God’s priest. Now before we jump right in here, I need to give you some sense of the context. The pastor of Hebrews is comparing his flock to those of the wilderness generation who lacked faith and therefore did not enter the promised land and did not received the promises. And he contrasts that with Abraham, someone who by faith and patience inherits the promise. He says in verse 11 and 12, “We desire that each one of you have 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.” Then in verse 13, “For” and that connects it. He says, “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” He says, “I want you to be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Let me give you an example: Abraham.” Abraham is a perfect example of someone who by faith and patience obtained the promise. But the promise in this is really the main thing.
The promise is the main thing. God made a promise to Abraham. The author of Hebrews says that, “…since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself.” And he explains what he means that people swear by something greater than themselves, in verse 16, and we know that to be true, don’t we? We swear by something greater than us. For many years in our own justice system you would put your right hand on the Bible, raise your hand, and swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God. And the point was that you were calling God as a witness to your testimony, that you were telling the truth so that if you did not tell the truth God was going to be the one to set it right. But you see his point here is what about God? What about when God makes a promise? Does he call himself as a witness? Who could he call as a witness? Is there anyone greater than God? Is there anyone greater than the one who spoke all things into existence, in whom we live, move, and have our being? The pastor of Hebrews clearly says, “No.” And so, when God swears an oath, having no one greater by whom to swear, he swears by himself. But this is not just a philosophical question for the pastor. The pastor is doing what good pastors do, he’s just exegeting Scripture. This is what the Scripture says that in Genesis 22, “‘By myself I have sworn.’ declares the Lord.” He says this to Abraham, “Because you have done this I will surely bless you and multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and as the sand of the seashores.”
So that is where this promise comes from. It comes from Genesis 22 and God is responding to what Abraham has done, “…because you have done this.”, but what is it that Abraham has done? Of course, Genesis 22 is that dark day where Abraham and his beloved son, Isaac, are ascending Mount Moriah. Abraham has been called by God to go and to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice in a burnt offering to the Lord. Maybe you remember the question his son asked as they’re on the way up? “Father, here’s the wood, here’s the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?” And you remember Abraham’s answer as well? “My son, God himself will provide a lamb for the sacrifice.” The promise that is quoted comes from this passage in Genesis 22, but it doesn’t begin here.
You have to understand that it begins in Genesis chapter 12 and Genesis chapter 15 where God swears to Abraham that he will give him descendants as numerous as the stars of the heavens and as the sand of the seashore. But you see there was a problem wasn’t there? Abraham was old. Abraham had no descendants, but then God miraculously gives him this son and God says to him that it is in this son and only in this son that your descendants that shall be named. This is the son of the promise. And so, you see the problem. Abraham is now climbing up a mountain to kill the one son in whom all of God’s promises rest. In whom all of those promises that his descendants would be like the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore, they rest in this one boy. Is God going to fulfill his word, is he going to keep his promise? Abraham is so persuaded that God will keep his word, that the pastor of Hebrews says that Abraham believed that God was able to raise him from the dead and so he received him back off the altar. Abraham, his faith so firmly rested on the truth and fidelity of God’s word and God’s promise that he believed that even if he put his son to the knife and to the fire, God would raise him from the dead before he would break his promise. That’s the point.
That’s the point, God is going to be faithful and Abraham believes it. And so, you remember God’s gracious provision. God does, in fact, provide a lamb. God provides that lamb caught in the thicket, the angel of the Lord stays his hand and in place of his son the lamb is offered. “‘By myself, I have sworn.’ declares the Lord because you have done this…”, now hear it, “…because you have not withheld your son, your only begotten son. I will surely bless you and multiply you.” Isaac’s deliverance off the altar is God’s oath. When God stays Abraham’s hand, God is committing himself to do everything that is necessary for Isaac’s salvation and Abraham’s salvation and your salvation. And all that is done there at Mount Moriah we recognize, as Christians, is fulfilled in Jesus Christ as God himself does what Abraham does not do. He offers up his only begotten son in order that we might be saved from our sins.
The God who had given Abraham his promise confirmed that promise by giving him back his son. Now, this promise can be fulfilled. Your son lives, his descendants can be as numerous as the stars of the heaven and the sand of the sea. And thus, Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. He not only had God’s word, he had Isaac raised off the altar of sacrifice as confirmation that the promise would come to pass. One author puts it this way, “Abraham received Isaac into his arms, but his faith received Christ.” But we need to go on, we need to press beyond God’s promise and consider what is God’s purpose in this passage.
There’s all of this talk of making promises and swearing oaths but maybe you notice that there is this underlying assumption here about the necessity of swearing oaths in the first place. Think about it for a moment. Why is it that people swear an oath? Why is it that such a thing as an oath even exists? And why do people feel the need to swear by something greater than themselves? The answer is really simple. Are you ready for it? Because people lie. That’s the reason. Because people do not always tell the truth, because their word in-and-of-itself is not always good, and so there is a need to swear an oath. The author of Hebrews is going to go on a say, “That’s why in every dispute an oath is final for confirmation.” An oath confirms, it validates the truth of the statement. And the fact of the matter is that we know ourselves well enough, we know your hearts, we know the deception that exists within us as fallen sons of Adam. We know the way we can bend the truth to serve our own purposes. We know the way in which we can leave things out and not tell the full truth. We know the way in which we can just substitute a straight up fabrication. People lie. That’s why an oath is necessary. But again, what about God?
God says in Numbers chapter 23, “I’m not a man that I should lie. Neither the son of man that I should repent. Hath he said and shall he not do it? Hath he spoken and shall he not make it good?” God tells us that he is not like sinful men in this regard. His word is always reliable. And it’s not just that God doesn’t lie, it’s that God cannot lie. That’s why before I read the Word and said, “This is inspired, inerrant…”, I stressed, “…and infallible Word of God.” It cannot fail because of who God is in and of himself as the God of truth. Okay, so that should raise a question in your mind. Then why does God swear to the oath? If oaths are confirming truthfulness why does God bother to swear an oath? He doesn’t need to prove anything about who he is. The Bible makes it clear why. Look at verses 17 and 18, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things,”, that is the promise on the one hand, “in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” God adds to his promise an oath so that by these two unchangeable things, you might have a strong encouragement. God doesn’t do this for himself, he does this for the heirs of the promise.
He does this for Abraham and for Isaac and for you and for me. Because he wants to convince all the more of the infallible character of his promise, the unchangeable character of his promise. His promise to save and to deliver from sin, to bless and to multiply you. A promise that won’t fail. And he’s down this by two unchangeable things so that we who have fled to refuge in Jesus Christ might have strong encouragement to hold fast this hope. So that when the storms of life do in fact blow, and when the breakers of temptation, and the waves of trial and tribulation, of sickness and sorrow, of doubt and depression, and disillusionment; when these toss your soul about, your hope may patiently wait out the storm in Christ. Because it is not just Isaac, the son of Abraham, that you have but it is Jesus the son of God, the son of Abraham that you have. You have Jesus’ death for you as a substitute. Like that ram that was offered in exchange for Isaac, so Jesus is offered up in our place. Like that offering on Mount Moriah was to be a burnt offering, a sin offering, Jesus is offered up on the cross to bear the curse and penalty for sin. We have Jesus’ death for our sins, but we don’t stop there.
We also have Jesus’ resurrection, we have his life for our justification. Paul says he was delivered up for our sins, he was raised for our justification and we have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. Now, listen to it, it’s a hope that does what? It enters in the inner place behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf having become a High Priest after the order of Melchizedek. We’ve spoken of God’s promise, we’ve spoken of his purpose, we must also say something about this Priest who is our anchor.
Now, remember, the purpose of an anchor is to hold fast to that ocean floor. It’s to stabilize the ship in the midst of the tumult of the sea. But you know that your hope is only as good as your anchor is. Your faith is only as strong as what your faith is resting in. We say it all the time that we’re saved by faith alone, right? But it’s faith in Jesus Christ. It’s not faith abstracted from the person and work of Jesus, it’s Jesus that saves and it is our faith in him. We must be clear about that because if your anchor is anything else, you’ll be lost. Your anchor cannot be simply a feeling in your heart. It cannot be some existential experience that you’ve had. It cannot be any wealth that you have, any degree, or pedigree, it cannot be your family, your spouse, your girlfriend, your boyfriend, your children, your parents, your school, your studies. Your faith is only as good as your anchor and if you are trusting in anything else, you’ll be lost at sea. But at the same time, if you are trusting in Jesus Christ alone then you may be assured that your anchor will hold.
Look again at verse 19 and just visualize this picture with me, “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters in the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” The anchor has done something, Jesus has done something, right? He has gone in through the veil, that veil which is a reference to the veil of the temple which separated an unholy people from a holy God. It goes through that veil into heaven itself and is anchored there. As long as that veil stood intact, it said you may not draw near, but when Christ died that veil was torn in two from top to bottom. And when Christ was raised from the dead, he himself, entered into heaven and was taken behind that curtain so that we might draw near. This is one of the major points of the book of Hebrews. But here’s the thing, in the Old Testament, every single Priest, every High Priest who went in behind that veil once a year came back out and was thankful to come out alive. The author of Hebrews tells us that when Jesus went behind that veil, instead of just offering a sacrifice before God it says, “After making purification for sins he sat down at the right hand of God.” Where every other Priest in history went in and walked out, Jesus goes in and he sits down on the very throne of God himself. Jesus anchors himself to the throne of grace. That throne of grace that we come to in prayer, this is it. This is where we come and find grace for help in time of need. It is to the place where Jesus sits anchored. Anchored to the throne which is called throughout the Old Testament, “The throne of truth”, and “faithfulness”, and “righteousness”, “A throne that cannot fail”.
One more thing about this anchor. The author of Hebrews loves to mix metaphors, and this is a mixed metaphor. The anchor goes as what? As a forerunner on your behalf. It goes as a forerunner. So, if you’re thinking of an image of an anchor, right, that goes down to the bottom of the sea and when the storm is done you pull up the anchor. This image is the exact reverse. This anchor goes up into heaven and when the sea is over it pulls you up. God himself has brought his son into his presence as a forerunner on your behalf so that you might be with him. So that you, as you by faith and patience ride out this storm, have the promise of life in the presence of God. And God himself wants to convince you of this so much so that he is willing to add his oath to his promise.
I just want to encourage you today, students and those others who are here, life is hard. We follow a pattern of sufferings to glory. Peter says, “Don’t be surprised by the fiery trails that come to test you as though something strange were happening to you.” A lot of you are young, you haven’t faced the kinds of things that you will. I hope that you can hold this image in your minds of this anchor so that when these trials come, when these storms beset you, when you’re beaten down even at the end of this semester when everything is piling up, you can hold to that anchor. I just want to close by reading to you the two lines of the hymn that we sang because I also want you to appreciate this wonderful hymn. “When darkness veils his lovely face, I rest on his unchanging grace. In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil. His oath, his covenant, his blood support me in the whelming flood. When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay.” Amen. Let’s pray.
Our Triune God, how thankful we are that you have not left us alone in this world. That you did not abandon us to this estate of sin and misery, but you even enacted a rescue plan, a plan of salvation. You even gave your own Son in the fullness of time. And so, Lord, I pray that we might heed this Word that you might press it upon our hearts. Oh, Holy Spirit, that you might cast your light in it upon our Savior and that in seeing him we might see our anchor for what it truly is. And that we might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. That we might be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. Lord, we thank you for this assurance. Press it upon us we ask, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Transcripts are lightly edited.