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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Text:Hebrews 10:32-39 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Running the race

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah

Now Israel May Say 

Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken  

O Jesus, I have Promised 

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Hebrews 10:32-39
Perhaps you have heard about the Christians in Russia many years ago. The persecution of believers was widespread. Christians would gather together for worship behind locked doors. On one dark night when a group of believers was worshiping together, the locked door was broken down, and there stood two agents of the KGB, the dreaded Russian police who carried out the persecutions.
They were armed with rifles as well as their revolvers. They ordered the Christians to stand against the wall with their hands up. The worshipers expected that their lives here on earth would end that very evening, but the KGB gave them a chance to leave the building. They said, “Anyone who is willing to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ can leave now and your life will be spared.” One by one a few of the professing Christians left the building, ashamed and yet overcome by fear.
The KGB gave one last opportunity for people to leave. A few more left, but the rest remained with their hands up against the wall expecting at any moment to be shot to death. But after a few moments of silence, which seemed like an eternity, the soldiers closed and locked the door. They said, “Keep your hands up in praise to God! We too are Christians and we have learned not to trust anyone who is not willing to die for their faith.”
It may be hard for us to imagine that type of persecution, but it was certainly not hard for the Hebrews to whom this letter was written to understand the severity of persecution. The Roman government persecuted Christians severely at many different times, including the expulsion of the Jews in the year 49 under Emperor Claudius, and the well-known burning of Rome in the year 64 which led to severe persecutions of Christians by Nero.
And, as Jewish converts to the Christian faith, the Hebrews were also persecuted by their own people. Just as Muslims who convert to Christianity face death, so too, there were serious and at times deadly repercussions for the Jewish Christians, both from their Roman antagonists and the Jews who were furious with them for converting to Christianity.
Because of that, as this chapter closes, the author of Hebrews gives his readers great incentives to persevere amid all the suffering and persecution that they faced. He realized, undoubtedly, that true saving faith is best seen in the fire of persecution.
The way that a professing Christian reacts to persecution – whether they stand their ground or turn and run – reveals their true spiritual condition. Persecution reveals whether someone trusts in Christ alone in life and in death, or whether in the context of suffering they shrink away. In that way, persecution purifiers the visible church. Those just going through the motions of Christianity quit, while true believers persevere.
True saving faith will always persevere to the end. Even though there may be lapses – as there was with Peter – the true Christian will seek repentance for desertion and persevere even in the face of future persecution, even when the KGB is there with loaded rifles.
That was certainly the case with Peter. Although he deserted the Lord and denied being one of his disciples, he was convicted by the Holy Spirit, restored, and according to historians, followed his Savior in death by crucifixion – though he was crucified upside down as he said he was not worthy to be crucified as Jesus was. Both of his New Testament letters frequently acknowledge the reality of suffering for one’s faith and the need to persevere in that faith.
Because perseverance is a key indicator of the reality of our faith, the Bible stresses our need to persevere repeatedly. Jesus taught, “The one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22; 24:13). In writing to the seven churches, in the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of our risen Lord, over and over, “To him who overcomes…” “to him who overcomes…” It is to those who overcome – who persevere – to whom God promises great blessings. And the author of Hebrews has stressed the need to persevere in several passages, including Hebrews 3:14, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.”
Perseverance, by its very definition, implies that there are hardships and trials to overcome. You don't persevere through things you enjoy; you persevere through hardship. The specific hardships spoken of here include, in verse 32, how the Hebrew Christians “(stood) their ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.
Verse 33 speaks of being “publicly exposed to insult and persecution.” It also describes being identified with those who are being persecuted. It says: “At other times you stood side-by-side with those who were so treated.” Verse 34 adds that these believers “sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property.”
Here in the United States we see an ever greater exposure to insult and persecution. Social media has opened the door for people to be blunt about their hatred of Christ and those who follow the Lord Jesus Christ and belong to him. The venom and the hatred for Christianity are eye openers; they reveal that there is indeed “writing on the wall” concerning wide spread persecution coming to believers in Christ. What we witness is the truth of God’s Word, where Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. …If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” (John 15:18-20) 
We do not yet have prison sentences for Christians, our property is not yet being confiscated, but we do see increasing opposition to any view that is Christian. That is true not just for individual Christians, but it is a dangerous reality for Christian businesses. Small businesses, bakers, florists and others who offer public services, have been sued because of their faith in Christ which does not allow them to bend to the view of our culture, especially in regard to homosexual marriage. And on a larger scale, Christian companies such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-a have faced legal battles, and in the case of Chick-fil-a, denial to establish new restaurants in some cities.
Unless there is a great spiritual turnaround in our nation, we can only expect that persecution will get stronger against believers here in our own land. The KGB illustration, which seemed so far removed from us when it was first reported in the 1960’s and 70’s, could become a commonplace experience down the road in our own land.
But regardless of the amount of persecution, or the type of persecution, whether it remains just ridicule and insult or goes to a higher level – regardless, we are to stand our ground, in the words of verse 32. Standing their ground is what those believers did in Russia when they kept their hands in the air rather than turning to leave the building. Standing your ground means keeping your convictions even though people at work or school or in your neighborhood ridicule you. Standing your ground means that you stay true to the Lord and the teaching of his Word, despite what others may say about you.
Yet, unfortunately, in the recent history of the visible church in the United States we see that instead of standing our ground we have often given up ground. In 1962 when prayer was prohibited in public schools, Christians were mostly silent, including most pastors. In 1973, when abortion was legalized, the same was true. Today, as more and more anti-Christian legislation is passed, we are called to stand our ground and to speak up against those who oppose our Lord and the teaching of his Word.
Later this summer we hope to look at the short book of Jude which is packed with so much practical application, including the example of Enoch. We often think of Enoch as just walking along with the Lord without any conflict, without any trouble. We may envision him as being on a rosy path with a gentle incline upward into the glory of heaven, and we all say, “What a great way to go!”
But Jude writes about Enoch and what he said about the false prophets of his day, and how he stood his ground and spoke up against the corruption of his culture. Jude writes how Enoch said, “See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”
Enoch did not have a gentle easy path into glory. He also faced persecution and ridicule from an ungodly culture. But he persevered, just as the Hebrews of the first century persevered, and as you and I must persevere today.
For you young people, perseverance may involve facing pressure from your peers to conform to the world as you seek to live as a Christian. For those who are middle-aged there may be the many pressures of a busy life that keep us from persevering in our faith as we ought. In the older years there is a temptation to just wait for the Lord to call us home and not actively persevere in our study of his Word, in prayer, and in the encouragement of the younger generations who face increasing hostility in our land.
Incentives to Persevere
Because perseverance is crucial to our eternal well-being, we are given many incentives to persevere throughout the Bible. Here in Hebrews 10, we are given three specific incentives to persevere.
First, as believers in Jesus we have lasting possessions. Nothing in this life lasts. Jesus taught that is so very clearly. He said, “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Jesus also asked this searching question, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mark 8:36)
And here in these verses we also see that on this earth we don't have lasting possessions. But we do in the life to come! In verse 34 we read that the Hebrews “joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property.” That statement in itself is remarkable. We know that in many parts of the world Christians have had their property confiscated. In Muslim lands Christians have to pay a heavy special tax because they are not Muslim, and even then, their property is often confiscated.
In that event God gives the grace to accept that situation joyfully, as verse 34 tells us these Hebrew Christians did. But I have to admit that I cannot picture myself being joyful if my property was confiscated and taken from me. Yet should that happen, God would give the grace to be joyful in that circumstance, as well as every other – as Paul told the Philippians – being content whether living in plenty or in want. Martin Luther also addressed that in his classic hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God when he wrote:
Let goods and kindred go
This mortal life also
The body they may kill
God's truth abideth still
His kingdom is forever!
And the reason why God's people can accept confiscation of their property, and all sorts of other mistreatment, even martyrdom, is because we have better and lasting possessions in God’s eternal kingdom. Verse 34: “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.”
Verse 35 tells us not to throw away our confidence and the reason given is that our confidence – that is, our faith and hope in Christ – will be richly rewarded. Verse 36 drives that point home as it says, “You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.”
What has God promised? He has promised the forgiveness of our sins and everlasting life in an eternal home in heaven not built with human hands. He has promised us an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade away; He has promised us all the glory of the city foursquare. He has promised that in the coming ages we will discover the incomparable riches of his grace given to us in Christ Jesus. If we really thought on these things more often, how much more would we stand our ground, endure persecution, and persevere joyfully?
A second incentive is in verse 37, “For in just a little while, ‘He who is coming will come and will not delay.’” The quote is from Habakkuk 2:3 and it is used to assure us that Jesus is returning soon. If anyone knew what it was like to live in a corrupt and hostile culture, it was Habakkuk. He lived in the nation of Judah at a time when God brought judgment upon her for her sinful ways. The Lord described to Habakkuk how the Babylonians would come and take him and the people Judah into captivity, but that the righteous would yet live by faith.
Initially, Habakkuk had some complaints. He had more than a few concerns, but they melted into full submission as he recognized the sovereign hand of his faithful and Almighty God. He wrote:
Though the fig tree does not bud
    and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
    and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
    and no cattle in the stalls,
 yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
    I will be joyful in God my Savior.
        The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
          he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
          he enables me to go on the heights.  
(Habakkuk 3:17-19)
None of us want to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good. But neither do we want to be so earthly minded that we neglect the clear teaching of Scripture. The Bible repeatedly tells us to look to the second coming of Christ, and to rejoice in the blessings that will accompany him when he ushers in the eternal kingdom in all its glory. By looking forward to the second coming we are given encouragement to persevere, no matter what comes our way. And by looking forward to the second coming we purify ourselves. 1 John 3:3, “And everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself as he is pure.”
A third incentive to persevere is in the form of a commandment – a commandment that we live by faith and not shrink back. Verses 37 to 39 contain another quote from Habakkuk which gives this command:
“He who is coming will come and will
        not delay.
       But my righteous one will live by
       And if he shrinks back,
           I will not be pleased with him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. (Heb 10:37b-39)
The word translated “to shrink back” is also used to describe the setting down of a sail. When the strong winds were ready to gust over the sea and the ship would be whipped by those winds, they would set down the sail, they would turn back to shore and give up on their voyage.
And when crossing a large lake, like the Sea of Galilee or some other body of water, it makes a lot of sense at times to set down the sail, to wait for calmer waters and better weather for the journey.
But in our pilgrimage through life as Christians we cannot let down the sail. We cannot simply wait for better times to come along, hoping that even if we don't speak out or stand up for our Christian faith that somehow better times will come where we have more opportunity.
Instead of setting down the sail and shrinking back we who believe must live by faith, as Habakkuk did. In the analogy of the Russian Christians facing the KGB, we must give up our lives before we would renounce our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
None of us can persevere in our own strength. When we rely on our strength we follow in the footsteps of Peter and deny our Lord instead of standing up for him. But God strengthens his people with his Holy Spirit through the promises of his Word so that we can persevere, resting on his promises.
Take to heart and memorize passages such as Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”  Persevere with the assurance of Jesus that “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” And persevere with the promise of 1 Corinthians 1:8, 9: “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”
It is God who preserves and perseveres his people. But in doing so he also uses means to an end. May you and I persevere by remembering that our lasting possessions – the ones that really count – are in heaven. May we persevere by focusing on the certainty of the return of Jesus Christ and the glory that he will usher in for all who have believed on him.
May we rejoice in the promise of Colossians 3:4, “When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.” And may we persevere by committing ourselves, by God's enabling power, not to shrink back, but to boldly, wholeheartedly, persevere through saving faith in Christ alone! Amen.
sermon outline:
Do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. - Hebrews 10:35-36
Hebrews 10:32-39
I.  Perseverance shows the reality of true saving faith and includes standing our ground against all forms of persecution
II. Incentives to persevere:
     1) As believers in Jesus we have lasting possessions (34-36)
     2) Jesus is returning soon (37)
     3) We are commanded to live by faith and not to shrink back (38-39)



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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