A Terrifying Warning to Apostates (Hebrews Sermon 41 of 74)
September 18, 2011 | Andrew Davis
Warnings, Perseverance, Judgment, Hell
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God
1741 in New England, one of the great times in church history, world church history, certainly in American church history, the Great Awakening was spreading like wildfire in many communities in New England and across the colonies, from north to south, from south to north. Many, many people being brought into the kingdom. Up in New England, the church was already ancient at that point, many, many decades. There have been people who had heard the Gospel, who had been infant-baptized, their ancestors were Puritans. They lived a certain kind of life, but now in the second and third generations, and beyond, they had a kind of a light attitude towards the things of God. They really didn't take them very seriously. The time was right for a renewal, a revival, an awakening, and it was spreading like wildfire under the Ministries of men like George Whitfield, Jonathan Edwards, preaching the gospel.
The revival had come with great power to a small community in Connecticut Suffield. Lots and lots of people had turned 95, people had pledged their commitment to Christ, so they had been churched before they knew that they were lost, and that they had turned to Christ through the hearing of the gospel and they had believed. And they were meeting daily for prayer and they were concerned that the Gospel continued to spread throughout Connecticut, and Western Massachusetts, different parts and in neighboring community of Enfield, nothing like that was going on at all.
Revival was just seemingly bypassing that community. And so they sent some missionaries to the neighboring town. Some people to preach the gospel, some people to reach out, and those people were met with basically a yawn; nothing really going on.
July 8th, 1741, the next missionary was Jonathan Edwards. He came and spoke, it was the middle of the week, it was a Wednesday service. And eye witness that was there said that the crowd that gathered was indifferent and close to unruly and rude. These were church people, if you asked them if they were Christians they would have said yes.
Edwards of course, preached the most famous sermon in church history, I think certainly American church history, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." The text he preached from, Deuteronomy 32-35, "It is mine to avenge; I will repay. In due time their foot will slip; their day of disaster is near and their doom rushes upon them." The doctrine from the sermon was there is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of Hell, but the mere pleasure of God and that God is incensed that their sin. So, there you have the sermon text, and the doctrine, but the title comes from the text that we're preaching on today. Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, look at verse 27, it speaks of "a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."
And look at the very end of verse 31. "It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." And if you just put all that together, you end up with this sermon title, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, comes from our text today. Now that sermon is famous or I really should say more infamous. It's in anthologies of literature, which is an odd place for it to end up, but I think it's the providence of God, Amen. So you're reading along, and you're reading all of these works of literature and you come across this oddity from American church history, Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God, but it's usually mocked by those that present it, that teach it in school settings, etcetera.
John Piper thinking about the effects of that sermon and the way it's been treated in subsequent generations, even up to our present time, he asked these questions, and just thinking about it said, "What high school student is ever asked to come to grips with what is really at issue here in this sermon by Edwards? If the Bible is true, and if it says that some day Christ will tread His enemies like a wine press with anger that is fierce and almighty, and if you are a pastor charged with applying biblical truth to your people so that they will flee the wrath to come then what would your language be? What would you say to make these people feel the reality of texts like these? And if you're asked why is it that English Literature teachers and that many pastors who use kind of circumlocutions, and maybe skip the text entirely or just never preach on hell, or judgment, or wrath, why is it that they behave like that and Edwards preach like he did?
So plainly, so clearly, working on language, working on illustrations? Doing whatever he could to stimulate inside people inside their minds, a sense of the gravity of the judgment and wrath of God. Why is that? Piper surmised that if a bright student was there, he would pipe up and answer something like this. It's because he, Edwards, really believed in hell and they don't. And so, in today's text, in Hebrews 10:25-31, we come face-to-face with the wrath of the living God. It is not a popular doctrine, it's not an easy thing to preach on. People frequently come to church looking to be entertained, and in some way, diverted from the general pain and suffering of their lives to feel good for a little while before they go back to the fray. And so they're looking for something light and airy and something entertainment-oriented, and that's what's popular.
: This is not popular. But the question that's in front of us today, is, is it true? Is it true that the living God, the God, that really exists, the God who sits on His throne and who rules the universe has this kind of an active passionate response to human sin? Does he have this kind of wrath?
And not just against any sinners, but against those who had, in some sense, embraced the truth for a while and turned away from it. Is it true? That's what's in front of us, and in this text, we come face-to-face with these questions. The context here of our passage today, Hebrews middle of Chapter 10, we have had nine-and-a-half chapters of doctrine on the superiority of Christ who brings a superior covenant, resulting in a superior life. This is what we are talking about here, how Jesus Christ is superior in every way to all of the Old Testament figures. Superior to the prophets who spoke of old, superior to the angels who mediated the old covenant. Superior to Moses, who was merely a servant in God's house while Jesus is a son over God's house, superior to Levi, superior to Abraham himself, superior in every way.
And his priestly ministry, as we've looked at in detail is a superior ministry. He offers not the blood of bulls and goats in a temporary tent, a tabernacle, set up by human hands, but he offered for all time, once for all time, his own blood offered in the heavenly sanctuary for our final salvation, a superior work. And so these were Jewish people who had made some kind of profession of faith in Christ but under certain temptations and pressures, were being pulled on to turn their backs on Jesus and go back to Old Covenant Judaism, go back even more significantly to a life of sin. Away from their profession of faith in Christ.
And so, in the previous test we had a bunch of encouragements, a statement of what we have in verses 19 up though 24, chapter 10, "Therefore brothers since we have confidence to enter the most holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is His body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God." And how marvelous is that? And so he's presenting the beauty and the attractiveness of the Gospel. But now in this text, he turns, the author does and gives us a serious warning. And so the combination of the enticement of joy and blessing, and happiness in the presence of God, plus the dire warning, concerning those who reject this gospel together as God's persuasion to you.
I. The Terrifying Reality of God’s Wrath
So we're looking at this warning, and the Book of Hebrews is rich with statements of grace, God's lavish grace to sinners is a unifying theme of this book. Way back at Hebrews chapter 1 and verse 3, After Christ had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven. So right from the very beginning of the book of Hebrews, we have mentioned purification for sins. And then at the very end, which we haven't reached yet in Hebrews 13:20, it speaks of the "God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant, brought back from the dead, our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep." And so you have at the very end, the blood of the eternal covenant, and Jesus as our Shepherd, resurrected from the dead. Bookends of grace, of the Gospel of grace. And right in the middle, statements like in Hebrews 9:14, how the blood of Christ cleanses us, cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death so that we may serve the living God.
And the essence of the New Covenant in Hebrews 8:12, "I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more." Friends, this is the gospel that God sent His son. Born of a virgin at the right time and He lived a sinless life, and He died on the cross in our place. Suffered under the wrath of God, and that there is, at the essence of the sacrificial system of what Jesus did, an exchange, a transfer that happens, where our guilt has taken off of us 100% and laid on Jesus, and He suffers under the wrath of God for us in our place. God raised Him up on the third day, showing that that sacrifice was acceptable to Him, and that all we have to do to be justified is belief that gospel.
Simply by faith. We're going to see at the end of this chapter, chapter 10. "My righteous one will live by faith." It's just justification by faith. We are made right with God simply by faith. And so, I plead with you, I don't know all of you, I see some strangers here, I don't know. And even those of you that I know well, I don't know what's going on in your hearts, but I tell you this is the gospel. Don't leave here lost. You are under the sound of the Gospel right now. This and other places like the most powerful places on earth right now. You're hearing the Gospel, this is the gospel that can rescue you from the dominion of darkness and bring you into the kingdom of the beloved Son, trust in Him, believe in Him. And if you're hearing these words and you're just saying, your heart's rejoicing and saying, "That is the Gospel. I've been believing, now for decades," that's fantastic, keep believing that good news and proclaim it to lost people, out there.
So you're hearing me say these words, memorize them and say something like it to a lost co-worker this week. This is the good news, and so what I'm telling you is the Book of Hebrews is just woven through with the Gospel of grace. It's just woven through. But Hebrews also is powerfully clear about the wrath of God against sinners, just as clear. So back at Hebrews 2:3, it says, "How shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation? That's a threat, that's a warning, we will not escape God's wrath if we neglect or ignore such a great salvation. And then in Hebrews 3:11, "So I declared on oath in my anger, 'They shall never enter my rest.'" And there God's wrath and His swearing, His promise, "You will not enter my rest." His rest is heaven. And God swearing in wrath that they will not enter. And then in Hebrews 6, that the dreadful picture of those who had once been enlightened, have tasted the Holy Spirit, have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, who then fell away saying it's impossible to renew them again to repentance and then gives us this analogy of land that drinks in all this rain and all these blessings and all this good stuff and produces nothing but thorns and thistles. "It's worthless," it says. In danger of being cursed, in the end it will be burned. These clear warnings throughout of the wrath of God against those who reject the gospel. But in the entire book there is no clear description of this wrath than in the text we're looking at today.
Look at verse 27, it speaks of "a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." In verses 28 and 29 it says, "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished," et cetera? And then at the end, for we know Him who said, "'It is mine, to avenge I will repay.' And again 'the Lord will judge His people.' It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
And so we have clear descriptions in the text we're looking at today, of the wrath of God against sinners. We have a legal description in verse 27. It speaks of the judgment of God, fearful expectation of judgement, and so it's based on truth, it's based on God the judge. It's based on that heavenly court scene in which the court is seated and the books are open, and the whole human race is assembled and God judges by right judgment, and there's no deceiving the judge. The judgment of God, clearly depicted here, leading to wrath. There's also an emotional description of all this, it speaks of a fury of fire, a fury of fire is one of the translations here. Which results in terror, and terror is an emotion, it's an emotion here.
And so we have God's emotions, and then a corresponding human emotion that comes from it. So God has a zeal, there's a fire here, a passion. And God's zeal is for the glory of His own Son. You remember how it said in Hebrews 1:13, "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a foot stool for our feet." God zealous for that. He burns with a passion that His son be glorified. And so there was a zeal, a raging fire of God's zeal, and I think we could extend it also to the fact that these folks are insulting the spirit of grace. And so, He is zealous also for the honor of the Holy Spirit. And so there is a sense of God's zeal for the glory of His own person. And that zeal is like a fire, a raging fire. And it results in a human emotion, an expectation of judgment. Expectation, what does that mean? I would contend that this is the dead opposite, the exact opposite of biblical hope.
Biblical hope is. I'm looking ahead to the future, and it's bright and glorious. It's going to be wonderful. I can't wait for it to come. Oh how beautiful it's going to be in the new Heaven, the new earth and I'm going to be there and I'm excited about that. And I'm happy about it, it brings me joy. That's hope, that's biblical hope.
Examples of the Fear of Judgement Fires
This is the exact opposite, a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire, it's exactly the opposite. And so these folks when they think about the future, their heart starts to well up with terror. They think about the judgment of God. Now, sometimes there are testimonies about how sometimes this will happen even on people's death beds. Reading about the death of Joseph Stalin, for example, his daughter Svetlana testified what it was like to watch him die. She said, "the death agony was terrible, God grants an easy death only to the just. He literally choked to death as we watched. At what seemed like the very last moment he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over everyone in the room. It was a terrible glance, insane, or perhaps angry and full of fear of death, then something incomprehensible and terrible happened that to this day I can't forget. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something up above and bring down a curse on us all, the gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace. The next moment after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh." and he was dead. Foretaste perhaps.
Thomas Paine who wrote, the terrible book, "Age of reason," an atheistic book in which he openly stated that the New Testament accounts of Jesus's birth, life, resurrection are clearly frauds. It's what he wrote in age of reason. But at the end of his life, this is what he said, "I would give worlds, if I had them, that the Age of Reason had never been published. Oh Lord, help me, Christ help me." And he cries out to people standing around, "No, don't leave me, stay with me, send even a child to stay with me, for I'm on the edge of hell here alone. If ever the devil had an agent, I have been that one."
So Thomas Scott said this: "Until this moment, I thought that there was neither God nor hell, now I know and feel that there are both, and I'm doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty."
So, Francis Newport who was the head of an English atheist club. On his death bed said this, "You need not tell me there is no God, for I know that there is one, and I am in His presence. You need not tell me that there is no hell. I feel myself already slipping, wrenches cease your idle talk about there being any hope for me. I know I am lost forever. Oh that fire the insufferable pangs of Hell." That's how he died.
"Fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." That's what the text is talking about.
Voltaire that great mocker, French enlightenment philosopher. The end of his life said this, "I am abandoned by God and man." And he said to his doctor, Dr. Fu-shin who was ministering to him, he said, "I would give you half of what I'm told I'm worth, if you would just extend my life by six months." The doctor told him it was impossible. He said, "Then I shall die and go to hell." And his nurse, who was caring for him after he died said this, "For all the money in Europe I wouldn't want to see another unbeliever, die all night long he cried out for forgiveness."
But on the other hand there is the atheist Thomas Edison whose final words were, "It's very beautiful over there." Truly God is a God who hides Himself, it's not always the same. But the text does say, it seems in some cases that people have a fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. And there's a physical description of it here, it's consistent. So consistent biblical expression; fire. It's always fire, it's always fire. The lake of fire. Beware of people who tell you? It's just a metaphor, I don't know what that means, a metaphor of what. Something lighter something easier, something better? No, it's better to be burned with physical fire than to go to hell. It's better. So it's a metaphor expression or an analogy of something worse than the thing you think of when you think of that word.
A Punishment Worse Than Death
But it's not annihilation either, you're not consumed in that sense. I don't believe in that doctrine. The worm does not die. There is a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, and so in some mysterious way the physical body is sustained and supported throughout all eternity. It's a terrifying thing. The text in effect calls it a punishment worse than death. And the author uses a, how much more argument. Look at verses 28 and 29, "Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses." How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished, who has trampled the Son of God under foot…?"
So he's using a "How much more" argument, comparing two things and say that this is true. And how much more would that be true? Now, throughout the book of Hebrews, we have been celebrating the superiority of the New Covenant to the old, it's greater, it's better, it's a clearer revelation of the glory of God. The new covenant, the gospel of Jesus Christ is a clearer, brighter, better revelation of God than the Old Covenant was. It's better in every way. And the biblical mentality in judgment is the more you know the more you're accountable for, you see, that's how it works, the more you know, the more you're accountable for. And so I do not believe in equality of punishment in the end. Someone who's never heard of the Gospel is in a different place than someone who has heard for years and rejected, and just in different place. And so the argument here is, now that we have received the new covenant instruction, it is a much worse thing to turn away from the New Covenant than it ever was to turn away from the old covenant. How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punish? There's a sense of justice here. And the punishment in the Old Covenant's right in the text was death, right? Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy.
And so therefore, this has got to be worse, and it is. Jesus said, "Do not fear those who kill the body and after that they can do nothing more to you, but I tell you the one to fear, fear the one who after the death of body has the power to destroy both soul and body in hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." Those are Jesus's own words. So there's a punishment worse than death. Now the roots of God's wrath in the text, God's holy character and His sovereign position, His holy character comes from the statement, "For we know Him who said..." What do we know about him? He's a God who does not speak in idle word you see. He doesn't speak an idle word, he doesn't give an idle promise and not, neither does He give an idle threat or warning. What God has said he will do. And so, we know Him, who said this, We know his character, he is the God who upholds His word.
And it also says He is living. Look at Verse 31, "It's a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." It's a common title in the Old Testament to call God the living God. The reason is there He was being compared to the false gods of the nations, they weren't alive, they didn't exist. Like Baal on Mount Carmel, "Oh Baal hear us." Well, he couldn't hear because he doesn't exist. But Yahweh, now he's the living God, he actually is alive, He is real whether you believe in him or not, he is the living God. And so therefore, these are not idle warnings, these are not idle threats. He is alive, He rules, He reigns. There will be a judgment day.
Vengeance Belongs to the Lord
He is truthful, and He is alive, that's His character. What of his position? Well, the text says, "Vengeance is mine, says the Lord, I will repay." "Vengeance is mine." In other words, it is right for me to take revenge on my enemies. It is just for me because that is my position, I am the judge of all the earth, it is right for me to do this. Vengeance belongs to me. Now, this is quoted in Romans 12, but it's much more of a human horizontal aspect. That we will not repay our enemies with unkindness, we will be, we'll pray for them, we'll deal well with them, we will not take revenge, because it's not our place. Vengeance belongs to God, it's not our place to take revenge.
Well, that's the human aspect. Here in Hebrews 10, it's really totally about God and saying, this is God's position, it's right, it's his office and he will execute it, He will take vengeance. And the sense of vengeance is, you know, when you think of vengeance, somebody wants to take revenge, some grievous affront or assault has been done by person B on person A, and person A wants to take revenge for that. It's because something serious has happened. Taking revenge. Something serious here has happened. The Son of God has been trampled under foot, you see. The spirit of grace has been insulted? This is not a minor thing, the gospel has been rejected. And so that's the root of God's wrath.
II. When Does God Display This Wrath?
Now, when does God display this wrath? Well, the root cause of course is sin. Look at verse 26, "If we deliberately keep on sinning…" Of course, the wrath of God is produced by sin, it is sin that brings on this wrath. But Christ's sacrifice is sufficient for any sin. We've learned that.
The blood of Christ is infinitely adequate and sufficient for any sin. This seems to be in some way and unpardonable sin, how can it be that Christ's blood is not availed for this situation? Well, the text tells us, in effect, God pours out his wrath when there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Well, that's what the text tells us, it's when there's no longer any sacrifice for sin. Well, when is that, when is it that there's no longer any sacrifice for sin? We knew that the blood of animals, the blood of bulls and goats never took away sin, never. It was never effective for that. And besides which it is now obsolete, so it can't refer to that. Well, I think the text tells us what we're talking about. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses, you see, died without mercy.
So these are people who in some way, reject the new covenant the way that these folks rejected the Old Covenant. Now, there were lots of death penalties set up in the Old Testament in the old covenant under the Law of Moses. You died, you could die for adultery, you could die for murder, etcetera, but there was a special phraseology for people who ran after other gods and incite others to do it. And so, in Deuteronomy 13 it says, "If you're very own brother or your son, or daughter, or the wife you love or your closest friend, secretly entices you saying, 'let us go and worship other gods,' gods that neither you nor your fathers have known gods of the people around you, whether near or far from one end of the land to the other, do not yield to him or listen to him, show him no pity, do not spare him or shield him." And so it says, and in our text anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without pity, without mercy.
I think that's what it's talking about here. It's somebody that turns their backs on God and runs after another religion basically another god, they die without mercy. And even the husband or the wife or the brother of the friend must be the first to act in putting them to death. That's how serious this was.
III. For What People Is there No Longer a Sacrifice?
Okay, well for what people then, is there no longer a sacrifice? What does it say about them? Well, who are they now? Well, they go on willfully sinning. Again in verse 26, "If we deliberately keep on sinning, after we've received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sin is left." This is a habitual commitment to sin. This is a determined commitment to sin, this is not an accidental commitment, this is not something that happens. Like the Puritans called it surprisal. You know what I'm talking about, where you going along and then suddenly a temptation hits you and down you go. That's called a surprisal. We're not... This text isn't referring to that.
And I don't think it's referring to that struggle with the flesh, that all of us has again and again, although more on that later, I'll talk about that more later. If I can just say pause, anything that gives you confidence in indulging the sins of the flesh, is the enemy of your soul, and I think a journey to apostasy. We'll get back to that later. I'm not giving you permission to sin and indulge the flesh because this text isn't talking about that. End of warning.
But this text is talking about the deliberate commitment in a certain direction in a certain way. That's what it's talking about here. Matthew Henry said this, "This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious, that is genuinely converted souls. They have been ready to conclude that every willful sin after conversion and against the knowledge of the gospel is this unpardonable sin." You can't live your Christian life that way friends. We all stumble in many ways. And if you're going as soon as you stumble, you run to this text and you cry out against your soul, saying, "I am lost and I can never be redeemed. That's not the way to fight the battle, you already told in Hebrews 4, go to the throne of grace, receive mercy and grace to cleanse you, cleanse your guilty conscience, that's what sanctification is all about sanctification, not for perfect people, it for sinners. Matthew Henry says, "This has been their infirmity and error." That's not what this text is talking about. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despised and reject Christ himself.
That's not the way I sin and it's not the way you sin, right? I sin, and grieve Christ and it grieves me very quickly, you see. I want Jesus to love my life, I want Him to be pleased with me and when I know I've sinned against Him, it immediately grieve me and I want to run back to him.
Deliberate Rejection of Christ
This is talking about something else. It is a deliberate commitment, a long-standing pattern of sin a rejection of Christ and of everything he stands for. The text also calls them enemies, they are enemies. Look at verse 27, "A fearful expectation of judgement and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God." Oh, what a dreadful thing this must be to have Almighty God as your enemy. I can't even ponder what that must be like, to have His omnipotence directed toward the destruction of your soul for all eternity. Like some kind of focus laser beam heating you up forever and ever. It's a terrifying thing to have omnipotence and omnipresence and omniscience directed against you, because you are the enemy of God.
And thirdly, it says of them, that they trample the Son of God under foot. This is a total despising of Christ. How much more severely, verse 29, do you think a man deserves to be punished, who has trampled the Son of God under foot? There's a movie about Mozart called Amadeus, I watched a number of years ago, and in the movie the enemy of Mozart is this Italian composer named Salieri, and he admires Mozart's compositions, but hates his moral character, and feels himself morally superior to Mozart but clearly musically inferior, and it makes him angry at God. And his feelings of jealousy just keep driving him further and further, but he keeps them hidden because they're shameful, I think. And so no one knows about it, but he is deeply jealous of Mozart.
At one point, Mozart's wife comes and brings a bunch of Mozart's compositions which are originals, have never been published or even played yet. He was just working on them, his music. Brought them to Salieri for him to use, Salieri to uses his influence to get a position, a paying position for her husband Mozart at the court. And so she shows him the music and he looks at it and he's being friendly to her, and all that, and he said, "Just leave it with me." And he says... She says, "I can't leave it, these are originals and he'll miss them, he'll want them back, you have to look at them right now." He said, "Now these are original, there's no other copies?" That's it. So he opens up and he starts looking. There's not a single mark or blemish on the page, everything like taking dictation from heaven. And the music was unbelievably beautiful. He could hear it in his mind, he is a composer himself, and he could just hear piece after piece after piece how beautiful it was, until finally, he's just overcome with both the ecstasy of the music and the rage toward God for giving this gift to such an immoral person, that he just is blimp, and he drops the music all over the floor, and Mozart's wife is stunned, and says, "Is it not any good?" And he looks at her and says, "Madam, it's miraculous." "Oh, then you'll help us?" And he just glares at her with a cold, icy glare and walks on the music, and walks out.
Now, what is the significance of stepping on the music? He was really stepping on Mozart himself, right on his neck, you see. Right on his neck, stepping right on his face, it's total rejection. And that's what's going on in this text here, stepping on Jesus, trampling Jesus underfoot.
Do you see what we're talking about here? That's not what happens when a Christian indulges the sin of the flesh, this is somebody who now hates Jesus. When we were missionaries in Japan, we visited a site of some martyrs, Christian martyrs under the Shogunate, these Japanese Christians were forced to step on a picture of Jesus and anyone who would step on the picture of Jesus, they reason wasn't a Christian. And so that in that way were test... They were tested. These were Catholic... Christians who had been led to the Catholic faith through Jesuit missionaries. And it really was a fork in the road to trample on this picture meant you're not a Christian, you could save your life. But if they refused to do it, they would be slowly burned to death.
Now, that's an extreme example obviously, but these people are in some metaphorical way trampling on Jesus, they are trampling the Son of God under foot. It says also that they treat as a common thing, the blood of Jesus. Now, what do we mean by that? The NIV gives us treating as an unholy thing, but I don't think that's a good translation. It just means common. Jesus's blood is common, it's just like yours and mine. He was crucified with two other men. There's no difference between the blood of Jesus and that of the two thieves that were killed with him that day. This is the way an atheist will reason, Jesus was a good moral man, his blood was shed, he was a victim of political crime, and then He died a bloody death, and there's nothing special about the blood of Jesus at all.
But we have found out that the blood of Jesus is the most precious substance there has ever been on earth by the blood of Jesus, my sins are forgiven, the wrath of God averted. But this individual doesn't think so anymore. It may they relate also to the Lord's Supper, how we sit down and we eat the bread, and we drink the cup, and it's symbolic of the blood of the New Covenant. This is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. But these folks have drunk of that. They've partaken in the Christian life in the church life, but now they're trampling it under foot and they're treating it as though it were a common thing, it's nothing.
And then finally it says, "They have insulted the spirit of grace." The Holy Spirit is entrusted with the glorious task of taking the finished work of Jesus Christ and applying it to people all over the world. And so He moves out, and by the Spirit, He moves in missionaries and evangelists. And at that time, it says in Hebrews 2:4, "God testified to it by signs, and wonders, and various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will." And so this is the lavish display of the Spirit of God and these folks have insulted the spirit of grace. They've insulted it, and I find it fascinating.
John Owen brought this idea to my mind and he said, "Talk about Ananias and Sapphira? You remember what happened to them, how they sold a piece of property and then they lied about it and they were struck dead?" And it says, Peter said, "You have not lied... You have lied to the Holy Spirit." He specifically says you lied to the spirit. John Owen said this, "If lying to the Holy Spirit is so great a sin, then what is it to make the Holy Spirit a liar?" Greater, friends, greater sin. That the Spirit, as He has testified to Jesus Christ, is a liar. Jesus is not the only way. Well, that's what they are now. That's what these people are now.
What Were They Then?
What were they before? This is where it gets painful. Well, they received the knowledge of the truth. If we deliberately keep on sending after we have received the knowledge of the truth. Now, what does that mean? They've heard the gospel. They've heard doctrine. They've heard good instruction. They've heard good preaching and teaching. They have not only heard it but in some sense, received it, maybe they once received it with joy, like in the parable of the rocky soil, and all that. They have taken it in, they've run with it for a little while. They've received a knowledge of the truth, they're not ignorant of the Gospel. This text has nothing to do about those who've not heard of Jesus. These people have heard.
And secondly, it says that they are His people, God's people. And says The Lord will judge his people. Why did the author bring that text in? Because it's relevant. These were in some sense, His people. Well, in what sense were they his people? Well, in the same sense, the Jews as a nation in the Old Testament were God's people. They were under the name of Yahweh. They had come out under the miracles and with Moses through the Red Sea. They were Yahweh's people and so therefore, God had married his name to them as a nation, His reputation to them.
Well, whatever you can say about that in the Old Testament and just because you were a Jew, didn't mean you were going to heaven. Lots of those people died under the judgment of God, but they were God's people in a big sense. So we now say about the church. We are Jesus's people in the world. The church is. We meet every Sunday. We come together under the name of Jesus Christ. We hear this gospel. We are God's people in that sense. Publicly, openly, Jesus has united his name to the church in the world. And what else does it say about them? Well, they were sanctified. Now it gets really hard. This is the joy of verse-by-verse exposition. It would be nice to skip the word, but we can't. It says that they treat it as an unholy or a common thing. The blood of the covenant that sanctified him. But what does that mean? How do we understand this word? How do we understand what's happening here?
Well, there are three possible options. Maybe more, but there's at least three. Option number one. It is possible for someone who is genuinely regenerate, justified to lose their salvation and end up in hell. That's how some people argue, and they say this text is plain. A plain example of those who were in that condition, they were justified, and they end up under the wrath of God through their own sins. It's even harder when you look at verse 14, in the same chapter, look at 10:14. It says, "For by a single offering, he has perfected for all time, those who are being sanctified." So these people are perfected. What does it say "for all time?" Well, that doesn't fit. How can you be both "perfected for all time," and then later "under the judgment of God?" That doesn't line up? So what do we do with that? Well, this is what we do with it. We already learned in Hebrews 3:14 that truly justified people show that they're truly justified by running the race to the very end. That's how they show it. And so it says in Hebrews 3:14, "We have come to share in Christ," past tense, "if we hold firmly to the end, the confidence we had at first." In other words, if you run to the finish line, then you are truly justified. I tell you, there is no one who is genuinely justified who will not finish the race. None of them drop out. And so therefore, I reject this first option. I think it overturned so many clear teachings of scripture. You can't be genuinely justified and God later changes his mind and say, "I didn't know this was going to happen."
A second option is, this is merely a hypothetical case. This isn't true of anybody but the author wrote it. Does this sound hypothetical to you as you read it? Does it come across that way? Or do you have a sense that this is actively truly happening with some people? I don't think this is a good answer either.
More likely, I think the word sanctified here in this verse, in verse 29, means something different than it did in verse 14. The author uses the word in a different way. Okay, I think in verse 14, it's talking about an inward work of God's sovereign grace by the Holy Spirit in which He changes you from within, so that His laws are written in your minds and in your heart. It's called the taking out of the heart of stone in the giving of the heart of flesh, and he has perfected you, and then he begins to transform your whole life and you're living a holy life now by the power of the spirit walking in the pattern of God's laws. That's sanctified in verse 14.
In verse 29. I think it has to do with being set apart from the world, as special unto God. And as I already told you, that will happen if you come and hang out with Christians for a while. In some outward ways celebrate the Word of God. Fool a pastor into baptizing you. And then live generally okay for a while until things start to fall apart. You see what I'm saying? And for that while, you were set apart from the world, under the ministrations of the Gospel, under the ministrations of the Lord's supper and the baptism and the preaching of the Word and the spiritual gifts and all that stuff's going on. But now you have turned your back on it. This individual has said no to Jesus, rejecting aggressively. This is apostasy. That's what's going on here as John tells us in 1st John. They went out from us, because they were never really of us. Is it possible to fool a pastor? Oh yeah, yeah. I shudder sometimes to think of the percentage of people I baptized, water baptized, that will not end up in Heaven. It's a terrifying thing, to go to hell. I don't know who they are. I wouldn't have baptized them had I thought they would be like that. You remember that the 11 apostles thought Judas was going out to buy supplies for the feast. They were wrong about Judas. It's easy to fool people.
IV. Clear Warning for Us All
So the real warning here is for us. Test yourselves to see if you really are in the faith. Is it a genuine work of grace that's been done in your life. Are you genuinely resting on the promises of God? That's what this text does to me. I read this warning and I just say, "I've got to take this warning and take it seriously. I need to be terrified of sin. I need to live a life of total dependence on Jesus, away with any independent salvation here." This text makes me run and cling to Jesus more. You see what I'm saying? If you're ever thinking like this. Well, because of this doctrine, I know that I can sin and still be saved from apostasy. Woe to you, if you think like that. I warn you not to think like that, anything that gives you the sense that it's okay to sin is from the devil. It's not okay to sin.
You're not safe in sin. Sin is never safe. And as I've said before, I think every sin, even of the flesh, even those surprises and all of those assaults, they tend toward apostasy. Do you know what I'm saying? That's where they're heading. They would lead you there if they could. And so, what causes you, when you're starting to indulge in sin of the flesh and that you don't really do a thorough work in your heart. And then you do it again, and pretty soon it's a habit and then you're starting to drift. But you are genuinely born again, genuinely justified. What is it that gets you to turn around this text and others? It warns you. Don't go that way. And you know who heeds these texts? The truly regenerate, the elect, they heed them. You know who doesn't? Those that aren't. They just keep on going in the same direction. And so be terrified of sin. Don't be comfortable in it. And I guess what I would say to you, I need to be so careful here, but I have to preach the text as is. I know there are sensitive souls among you. I've talked to some of you who struggle with assurance. You struggle, struggle, struggle, with assurance and for you, you may think this is the last term and I needed to hear today.
Well, know you're here, providence of God. God wanted you hear this sermon. You need to have a healthier assurance. Get your assurance healthy. Justified by faith alone, look to Christ, trust in Him. Spirit works in you, you follow by the ways of the law. When you sin, you come back to the throne of grace and you ask forgiveness. That's the Christian life. I said it on Thursday, Men's Bible study, to have two things side by side, this is health for your soul. Complete total assurance that all of your sins are forgiven through the finished work of Christ on the cross, plus a settled determination to fight sin with every fiber of your being by the power of the Spirit. Those two things together, you're healthy. If you only have one of the two you are decidedly unhealthy. If you only have the determination to fight sin, but not that settled assurance of the finished work of Christ enough for you, you're going to be a legalist. You're going to try to earn your salvation by works of the law. If, on the other hand, all you have is that "once saved, always saved" doctrine, you're not fighting sin, then it's a licensed for you all the time.
Hold them together. And understand and weigh the danger of apostasy. This is a serious thing. Don't take it lightly as though you're reading someone else's mail today. Assume that God brought you here to hear this message and look after your souls. Look after your souls. Meditate on the terrors of hell, the seriousness of what we're talking about. And look back one passage to Hebrews 10:19 through 26, to get some clear applications. Just read through it this afternoon, Hebrews 10 19 and following. Daily esteemed the greatness of Christ provision for you, think about that. Nurture your confidence. Full assurance of faith, be in the word. Feed your soul on the word so that your confidence is strong. Draw near to God in prayer and worship, and in your thought life, your daily life. Draw near to Him. Protect the sincerity of your heart. Don't violate your conscience. Don't willfully sin against your conscience, but when your conscience has been violated, quickly allow the blood of Jesus to cleanse it, and to restore you back in a walk with Jesus. Live a clean lifestyle. Your body washed with pure water. Feed your hope in the future glory. Feed on that. And stay actively involved in a good church.
Don't think, hey, I'm not like the others. I'll be fine going to church, 20% of the time. Warning. Danger. For able-bodied you need to be there. So, stay actively involved in a good church and receive and give encouragement. Encourage and be encouraged. Feed on that and keep focusing on the coming judgment day. And finally, let's together, as primarily entrusted as leaders to the elders to be under-shepherds. But let's look for straying sheep shall we? Look around at your home fellowship. See who's not there. Look around at your Bible for Life class, see who's not there. Look around at Sunday morning worship, see who's not there. Let's go look for those that are wandering and drifting, and struggling. Because it could be that this process is begun. And then through tenderness, warnings, love, promises, bring them back. Close with me in prayer.