“The Christmas Cure, part 1”                                      December 2, 2012

Hebrews 1:1-3

 

We’re taking a break from Romans 12 for Advent.

For these next four Sundays, we are going to be looking at a portion of the book

   of Hebrews, specifically at chapters 1 and 2.  Chapter 2 ends with one of the great

   incarnation statements in the New Testament.  It’s perfect for Christmas.

So let’s jump right in.   

 


 

INTRO:  One of the deadliest mountains in the United States in terms of the actual

   number of people killed climbing it is Mt. Washington in New Hampshire.

Mt. Washington is not anywhere near the highest peak in America,

   it’s not even the highest peak east of the Mississippi. 

You don’t need technical skills to climb it. 

   On a nice day you can hike up in tennis shoes. 

The danger is in the dramatic and violent weather changes.

   The mountain is uniquely situated near several jet streams. 

You could start out in shorts and t-shirt, in bright sunshine without a cloud in the

   sky, and in one hour be drenched in rain that turns into a howling snow storm. 

The thing that has killed the most people on Mt. Washington is hypothermia.

 

You know what hypothermia is—it’s the steady decline of your core temperature

   to the point where it begins to tumble and your body cannot recover. 

Experienced hikers call the warning signs of hypothermia the “umbles.”

   You start to mumble—because it harder and harder to think.

   You start to fumble—your fingers don’t work, can’t zip up your jacket.

   You start to stumble—large muscles are being starved of oxygen.

And you get to a point where you don’t even feel the cold, you become irrational,

   sometimes even taking off your clothes, next is unconsciousness and then death.

The only sure way it can be arrested and reversed is with an external heat source.

 

The letter to the Hebrews was sent to a group of Jewish Christians who were in

   danger of spiritual hypothermia.  They were in a condition of steady spiritual

   decline.  You might say that the core temperature of their souls was dropping.

They weren’t unconscious yet, but they were getting there. 

   Some were in danger of falling away from the faith completely. 

We don’t know who wrote Hebrews, there are several theories.

   But whoever it was, he clearly saw the warning signs.

   He was gravely concerned for them.  Over and over he brings this up.

 

Listen to the way he describes their spiritual condition.  10:32 

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. 

   (Notice that he talks in the past tense.  Indicating that they once stood,

   but they aren’t standing now.)

Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.  You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.  So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.  You need to persevere . . .

They had gone from joyfully accepting persecution to this—

   close to throwing away confidence in Christ. 

This isn’t the only place.  He says it several times and in several ways.

2:1  We must pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not

   drift away. 

3:7  So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

3:15  As has just been said: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.”

5:11  About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of

   hearing.

 

What was wrong with them?  Their devotion had become cold.

   Their repentance was frozen.  Their faith was shutting down.

It’s alarming to think that this could happen to believers

It’s alarming to think that you could go from facing all sorts of problems in life with

   stability and joy and a good testimony, and then you could throw it all away.

This is the greatest danger Christians face—a decline of your faith.

   Freezing up spiritually.  What’s the only cure? 

 

An external heat source. 

   You can search this letter from front to back and you will never find the author

   telling you that the cure is to buck up, to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

Instead he says over and over that you must be exposed to the heat and warmth of

   Jesus Christ.  You must bask in the sunshine of who Jesus is and all he has done.

 

That’s why I’m calling this series of sermons on Hebrews “The Christmas Cure.”

   We’ve got this wonderful month of Advent that comes around every year.

   The world doesn’t get it.  For the world, the holidays are all about materialism.  But we do get it.  We know it’s about Jesus.  And we also know that our hearts

   naturally tend toward coldness.  So let’s make the most of this season.

Let’s come to Christmas Day and to the new year gazing on Jesus—

   stable and joyful no matter what life throws at us. 

 

We’ll look at this passage under two points—and these are really the theme

   of all of Hebrews, so we’ll be coming back to them over and over.

1.  Your Greatest Danger

2.  Your Only Salvation


 

MP#1  Your Greatest Danger

What is the Christian’s greatest danger?  I’ve already identified it.

   I called it spiritual hypothermia as a way of illustration.

But the writer of Hebrews calls it drifting, dulling, and hardening.

   He uses some other words to describe it, but let’s think about these.

   As we do, I think you will understand the condition he is describing.

The first thing that strikes you is that these are not active sins, they are passive.

   They are not things that you do wrong, but things you don’t do at all.

 

Drifting.  What do you have to do for a boat to drift?  Nothing.

   Don’t drop an anchor.  Don’t put a paddle in the water.  Don’t lift a sail.

I remember a story from the Gulf Coast many years ago, maybe you do to.

   A teenage girl was sunbathing on an inflatable raft.  She dozed and woke up

   miles off shore before being rescued.  It took no effort on her part.

   The current just carried her imperceptibly until she was in a very dangerous place.

 

There are currents in the world around us, the values and thinking of the world.

   You don’t have to actively seek to adopt those values, it just happens.

And all of us have currents below the surface of our lives that cause us to drift—

   and those currents are our besetting sins.

 

There are lots of examples in the Bible.

Peter’s undercurrent was fear.  Remember twice his fear carried him along.

   Once on the night Jesus was betrayed when he denied the Lord,

   and then years later when he should have known better, afraid of Judaizers.

David’s was a weakness for women.  Moses’ was anger. 

   And there were times when they drifted with those currents.

 

I once heard a pastor tell the story of a young man who grew up in his church.

   He went through communicants class, met with the elders, made profession,

   and he was a teenager and young man who seemed to be serious about faith.

But then after college he started to make a lot of money and he just drifted away.

   The love of money, it’s an undercurrent in many lives.

What’s your undercurrent?  What’s your undertow? 

   If spiritually speaking you are doing nothing, you won’t stay where you are.

   You will drift with the world and with your besetting sins. 

 

The writer of Hebrews also describes this condition as dulling or slowing. 

   It’s a word that refers to lethargy of the body, even a coma.

What does it take for your body to become dull and sluggish? 

   What do you have to do?  Nothing.  Never exercise.  Don’t eat well.  Don’t move.

Have you seen all the studies coming out that say sitting at a desk all day is more

   dangerous to your health than smoking cigarettes?  Just sit.

 

This dullness is specifically connected to a growing inability to hear the truth.

   You become slow or dull of hearing.

You know the truth, you recognize it—but it doesn’t convict you.

   It doesn’t move you to repentance and to worship and to gratitude.

   It doesn’t move you to make changes in your life.

 

Let me ask you a question?  How are looking at this moment? 

   How are you hearing this sermon?  Is it just me talking? 

   Are the things I’m saying mildly interesting but not convicting?

Is the Bible just a book to you? 

   Of course you know the correct theological statement—inspired Word of God.

   But is that really how you listen to it preached?  God speaking to you.

Or are you dull?  Have you grown numb?

 

Hardening.  The reference here is to clay or plaster. 

   What do you have to do for clay to harden?  Nothing.  Just leave it alone. 

I was once doing a tiling project and left some mortar in a bucket.

   Forgot about it, forgot to wash it, did nothing to it.

   The next day it was as hard as a rock and the trowel was stuck in it and ruined.

A Christian never says:  I’m going to harden my heart toward God.

   I’m going to quit being sensitive to sin and obedience.

   It’s never like that.  It happens gradually.

A gradual lack of interest.  Just doing nothing. 

   You don’t stay where you are, you change for the worse.

 

When you hear the names Sodom and Gomorrah, what do you think of?

   You immediately think of some very specific, heinous sins.

   But where did those come from?  What was their genesis?

There’s a sobering comment by the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 16.  

   He was preaching to the Hebrews from Jerusalem who were in exile in Babylon. 

Rebuking them for this very thing, for their spiritual drifting and dullness.

   “Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom . . .”

   That must have gotten their attention.  Calls Sodom the sister city of Jerusalem.

   What’s the sister city of Cullman?  Some town in Germany?

“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom . . .”

You expect him to say—sexual perversion—but instead he says:

   “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned . . .”

They didn’t care.  All of the indulgence of Sodom, all the debauchery,

   was a symptom of deeper spiritual coldness.

When a person has everything he needs for his bodily comforts, (that’s us).

   And when he is proud and doesn’t really care about God and spiritual things—

   then he will do just about anything to other people.

Prophet Ezekiel preaches this to fellow Jews.  To the people of God.

 

One preacher put it this way.

It’s more lethal to say “Nah” to God than to say, “No!” 

It’s more dangerous to say to God, “I don’t care” or “Whatever” than to say,

   “I will not obey you in this!” 

His point is not that saying no to God or shaking your fist at him is not serious.

   But his point is that when you grow apathetic toward the things of God,

   you are setting yourself up for moral and spiritual disaster. 

 

What’s the only way you can be delivered from this condition?

Is the answer to try harder?  To be more active? 

   To really buckle down and do religious things, keep the law?

   Try to generate heat within yourself?

That’s what the body does in the early stages of hypothermia—you shiver.

   Body’s attempt to generate heat.  But if conditions don’t change, no good.

   Will continue to get colder.

 

There have been many times over the years when people have come to me

   and said—I’m going to change.  I’ve got to get serious about God.

   We’re going to get back in church.  Get family back in church.

   Usually motivated by some guilt related to children.

They think it’s important to tell a pastor that they are going to make this change

   because somehow that makes it official. 

Like telling trainer—turning over new leaf—see you at the gym Monday morning.

 

Happened to me just a few months ago. 

Cullman Couple had both grown up in the faith, but drifted away. 

   Started when they both got in work force.  Had kids, years went by. 

   Felt guilty because child expressed an interest in spiritual things.

Stung them a bit.  Had a slim connection to our church.  We’re making a change.

I told them that was great.  Encouraged them.  Prayed for them.

   But it brought about no change.  It was just a shivering mechanism.

   It was just their internal effort to generate spiritual change.

Can’t save self from freezing, you must be exposed to an external source of heat.

You know already where I’m going with this.  Jesus Christ must shine on you.

   You have to bask in the sunshine of his glory.


 

MP#2  Your Only Salvation

Brings to second point.  Your only Salvation.

The writer of Hebrew says over and over. 

   Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.  It’s all about Jesus.  Look at him.

He’s the eternal Son of God, creator and sustainer, better than angels,

   better than Moses, he’s the Author of Salvation, Eternal High Priest.

 

These opening three verses that we’ve read are magnificent. 

   They are so great, say such high and wonderful things about the Lord

   that someone has called them “nosebleed Christology.” 

   We’re up in the nosebleed section in these verses.

 

Think about that for a minute.  We usually want things down to earth and practical.

   That’s a comment often made about sermons.

   Don’t give me high theology and hard teaching—give me something practical.

True enough.  But did you know that Hebrews is actually a sermon.

   It’s not a letter.  It’s was written down and sent.  Sermon transcript.

It’s the only full-length sermon in the New Testament

   And it doesn’t start out with a clever story to get your attention—

   instead, right away it soars up into the presence of Jesus Christ.

 

No way can even begin to cover everything said about Jesus in these first 3 verses.

   Let’s just take a sip of a few things. 

Tell us that Christ has been appointed heir of all things.  He has an inheritance.

   For Hebrew believers, saturated in the Old Testament Scriptures,

   they thought immediately of Psalm 2.  In fact, quoted many times in Hebrews.

In that Psalm, God says that he has given his Son the nations as his inheritance.

 

Do you ever ponder the greatness of that? 

Are you a news and politics junky, always watching Fox or listening to talk radio?

   Oh, the turmoil of the nations.  The great forces at war with liberty and freedom.

   Islamism in the Middle East, Africa, and even Europe.

   Communism in Asia.  Statism in America. 

Jesus Christ is the heir of all things.  The nations are his inheritance.

 

When we studied that book A Praying Life in Covenant Groups last year,

   a chapter said Christians ought to pray for big things, for nations. 

   Get so tied up praying for the immediate concerns.  Illnesses, etc.

So I took that to heart and I’ve been praying for North Korea. 

Whenever I run across anything about North Korea, I read it so motivated to pray.

   It’s the most repressive, evil government in the world.

   I wonder why the Lord has allowed this for over 60 years.

The level of persecution of Christians is unlike anything in the world.

   They are imprisoned generationally.

 

Read an interview with a North Korean who escaped a camp. 

   Expressed his amazement at the Christians.  Call them heaven people.

Absolutely horrible and dehumanizing prison camps, where they are the lowest.

   Have not become animals.  But live and die with dignity and kindness. 

He said that when prisoners publically executed, it’s done in a way to terrorize

   the other prisoners.  Slaughtered so that blood flung on those ordered to watch.

The heaven people deliberately stand in front of crowd so that they are splattered

   and shield other prisoners from that horror.

 

As I said, I don’t understand why the Lord has allowed this for 60 years. 

   In early 1900s, Pyonyang was called the Jerusalem of Asia?

   More churches there than any other city.  What is the Lord doing?

And yet, he’s the heir of all things.  The nations are his inheritance.

   He already has his heaven people in North Korea.

He’s saved people out of that nation and they will stand before him on the great day

   when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our God and his Christ.

   When you think those great thoughts, it warms you.

 

Also says that through the Son, God made the universe.

   How often do you really ponder that?  Bask in it.

   That Jesus Christ is the creator.

Commentators point out that this is an unusual word for universe.

   Usually, Greek writers would use the word cosmos.  Created, material world. 

   But the word “aionas.”  We get the word eon—age.

The idea is that he is not just the creator of the material world, stuff we see.

   But he’s also the creator of time—every moment, every hour, every age

   are fully his.  He made it all and is bringing it to fruition.

I told you that this is nosebleed stuff.  The Son of God, creator of eons. 

 

But as you ponder that, the wonderful thought comes to you that this means

   Jesus Christ is the arranger of your destiny.  He’s the arranger of your moments.

   He’s the composer of your life from beginning to end, your very place in history. 

Means that as you live your life before him, you are carrying out his composition.

Joe Novenson is the pastor of Lookout Mountain Presbyterian Church in Tennessee.

   That’s the church Adrienne attends while she’s away at college.

He told a story in one of his sermons about a friend of his who was a choir director.

   He took a choir from his church on a choir tour in England.

They had a concert the very day they arrived.  All tired from the trip and jetlag.

   They were in a small Anglican church with an even smaller audience.

   Not the best setting or atmosphere for their concert.

They were singing an arrangement by the Englishman John Rutter. 

   In the world of sacred choral music, John Rutter is one of the greats.

 

Just before they sang, the Rector of this little Anglican church said—

   We’re so honored to have you here all the way from America.

And we’re also honored to have a special guest this evening—

   the composer John Rutter. 

Joe Novenson’s friend said that when he stood up to direct the choir,

   they were wide-eyed.  Holy-moly.  The composer is in the house.

   Sang their hearts out, and when finished, John Rutter stood and applauded.

Jesus Christ is the composer and arranger of your life—

   he’s sitting on the front row. 

And he applauds as you live out your moments and days before him.

   Think about that and it will warm your soul. 

   Bring up short when wasting days and hours with sin.

 

We don’t have time to ponder all these other things said about Jesus—

   that he is the radiance of God’s glory, the exact representation of his being.

   That he is the sustainer of all things. 

   That he is the source of purification for sins.

   That he is seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

 

But let me leave you with this. 

The writer of Hebrews says that in the past, God spoke through the prophets

   and in different ways, dreams, visions.

But in these last days, he has spoken to us through his Son, through Jesus.

 

The Bible divides history this way—there were the former days, the past—

   that was the time before Jesus was born, before Christmas.

And then there are the last days—that is this age in which we live.

   This time between his first and second comings. 

   We’ve seen Christ.  He’s been revealed to us.  He’s spoken to us.

And the next great thing on the calendar is his coming in his glory and kingdom.

Abraham longed to be living when you are living now.

   Moses and Isaiah and all the prophets would have given anything to know

   all that you know about Jesus Christ, and to bask in the glory of his life and word.

What a great privilege, to be living in this time.

 

And what a great privilege to be alive for another Christmas—another Advent.

   To sing the great songs and carols.  Celebrate the traditions.

   To hear the Christmas story read again—the greatest story ever told.

Don’t let your ears grow dull to it this year. 

   Don’t be hardened by the materialism and hoopla.

   Don’t let this Christmas drift by so that you come to the new year exhausted.

Determine to look full at Jesus this Christmas—

   and to bask in and soak up the heat of his greatness and glory.