On a foggy morning, July 4, 1952, a 34-year-old woman named Florence Chadwick waded into the Pacific Ocean in an attempt to swim from Catalina Island to the California coast. She had already laid hold of the honor of being the first woman to swim the English Channel in both directions. Now it was her ambition to swim the 21 miles of ocean from the island to the California coastline.
Though millions were watching on television the fog was so think that July morning that Florence Chadwick could barely see the boats that were accompanying her on either side along the way. It was just as well, for repeatedly sharks tried to draw near her lone figure in the water and had to be driven away with rifle shots.
Hour after hour passed by. She continued to swim. In incredible physical condition, fatigue had never been her problem. The dilemma in this particular swim was the bone-chilling cold of the water. More than 15 hours later, numbed with cold, she asked to be taken out. She could go no further. Her mother and her trainer, alongside her in one of the boats, pleaded with her to continue, insisting that land was not far off. But when she looked up out of the water toward the California coast, all she could see was the thick fog.
A few minutes later, 15 hours and 55 minutes since she had begun, she was taken out of the water.
As her body began to thaw, she soon felt the shock of her failure. She had climbed out of the water less than half a mile from her destination.
Later, she was to reflect that she had been defeated not by fatigue or even by the cold. She had been conquered by the fog which had obscured her goal. She said to reporters, “I’m not excusing myself, but if I could have seen the land, I might have made it.”
A fog had blinded the eyes, which in turn had compromised her will to continue.
Athletes from every form of competition tell us exactly the same thing: The key to perseverance is to keep your eyes on the prize. Distraction spells defeat.
At the Olympic games in 1920, Jackson Shultz, known as the “New York Thunderbolt,” lost the goal medal in the men’s 100-yard- dash because he broke the cardinal rule of sprinting. In his very last stride he took his eyes off the tape, turned his head to the right to locate the position of his American teammate Charles Paddock, who in turn thrust his chest into the tape, and beat Jackson Shultz by a millisecond.
The key to successful perseverance in life, as in sports, is to keep your eyes on the prize.
As we come now to this second major section of this letter to the Hebrews, it is the burden of this pastor to say the same thing. You see, a great anxiety was plaguing his heart—an anxiety that plagues the heart of every true pastor. He was fearful that some among these Hebrew Christians had taken their eyes off the prize—off of Jesus Christ—and as a result they were very close to pulling out of the Christian race altogether—just shy of their goal.
To do so, as he wants to make abundantly clear to them, would be eternally disastrous.
Now, we understand that God preserves those who are truly His. Don’t we? The God who calls us keeps us. “No one can snatch them out of His hand” (John 10 reads). Paul tells us in Romans 8 that “Those whom God called, He glorified” (past tense—a done deal). This is one of the most comforting truths in all of the Bible for the true child of God.
While the book of Hebrews doesn’t seek to undercut this doctrine, the writer is inspired by the same Spirit to present the flipside of the coin. More than any other book in all of the Bible, it takes up the issue of our perseverance.
Hebrews makes it clear that perseverance—remaining faithful to Jesus Christ to the very end—is an evidence of authentic Christianity.
Look at verse 6 in chapter 3: “…And we are his house if [notice the conditional “if”] indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.”
And down in verse 14: “For we have come to share in Christ, if [there’s that conditional again] indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.”
So there is a strong emphasis here on our need to “hold fast” and “hold” onto our confidence, to maintain our faith.
Now the writer of Hebrews is not at odds with Paul; He’s not at odds with John—He’s simply establishing the necessary theological balance in this issue. It is theological balance that is very important to every single one of us where this doctrine of eternal security and assurance is concerned.
We affirm that those whom God saves He keeps. But we must not allow this doctrine to become perverted into this kind of thing that says, “Well, I prayed to receive Christ when I was six years old, and I know that I haven’t really lived like a Christian since then…but isn’t it great to know that I’ll be in heaven on that final day?”
There is no assurance in that!
God keeps his children, but those who are His children maintain their pedigree—they act like their heavenly Father!
The writer of Hebrews is standing with a bullhorn in his mouth, telling those who are Christians, who are wearied from the race: Keep your eyes on the prize. Keep your eyes on the prize. KEEP YOUR EYES ON THE PRIZE!
Why is he saying this? Because under the incredible pressure of spiritual opposition and the pull of familiar culture, these believers were beginning to turn their heads to the left and to the right.
To the left is the allurement of the Roman pantheon of gods. As far as Rome was concerned, any god or any combination of gods was fine, as long as you refused to confess Jesus as Lord, as long as you didn’t profess allegiance to Him alone.
To the right, an even more enticing allurement, coming at them from family and friends, was “Come back to Moses. Come back to Moses, the embodiment of everything Jewish.”
Taking up with the Roman polytheists was less likely, given their traditional monotheism. They were raised with the shema: “The LORD our Lord is God, the LORD is one.”
On the other hand, to embrace Moses, to return to Judaism, that would instantly alleviate a lot of the present difficulties they were experiencing. Rome would leave them alone and their former friends and family would gladly take them back in again.
We may not be able to appreciate the pressure these people were under, but the temptation for them was enormous.
I suppose it is impossible for us, at this time in history, and most of us Gentiles, to exaggerate the significance of Moses in the minds of 1st century Jews.
He was revered, next to Abraham, as the greatest man in all of history. In fact, most Jews believed Moses to be the greatest man who ever lived.
When you think about it, his life from the very beginning was very miraculously preserved. Plucked from the bulrushes by Pharoah’s daughter, cared for by his own mother. He was given the finest of educations.
Then, as a man, his election as deliverer was sealed when God, the “I AM,” called and ordained him at the burning bush (Exodus 3).
He was called by God to be the deliverer of God’s people, to have a showdown with Pharoah and deliver his people by parting the Reed Sea.
He was a prophet, and the great lawgiver, a kind of Old Testament apostle sent by God with God’s Word on his lips. But unlike any of the other prophets, God spoke to Moses like a friend “face to face.” His face would glow from being in God’s holy presence.
If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD make myself known to him in a vision; I speak with him in a dream. Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD.
He was the conduit for the ten commandments, the Levitical priesthood, the building of the tabernacle. He wrote the first five books of the Bible!
Everything in Jewish religion was neatly summed up as “the law of Moses.”
He not only spoke for God to men, but he spoke for men to God. While Aaron and his family was the official priesthood, Moses was faithful to intercede for the people, gaining God’s forgiveness (Exodus 32), providing what they needed in the desert, and giving them victory over their enemies (Exodus 17).
And beyond all this, God called Moses “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).
Finally, God buried him where no one could find him, because in all probability, given the track record of the people of Israel, they would have worshipped his bones!
It can be summed up under one grand heading: Moses—The Great Apostle and High Priest of the Old Testament. Apostle means “one who is sent,” and Moses certainly was that because he was called by God, appointed by God, and sent by God as his representative both to his people and to the court of Pharaoh.
To all Jews, Moses was simply the greatest. According to one early tradition, Moses was superior to the angels, having higher rank and privilege than the ministering angels.
Imagine growing up in this kind of tradition—this kind of legacy and heritage—all your life hearing about God’s great man…Moses. And by and by, by the grace of God, you’ve been brought out of the shadows and into the substance; you’ve been brought into the reality of the Person to whom Moses always pointed, Jesus Christ.
And for awhile things go kind of smoothly, things are rather neat in your life, but before long, there begins to be a cost to confessing Christ. Opposition intensifies, pressure comes at you from multiple angles. Suddenly this doesn’t seem to be as sweet of a deal. What’s more, whispering in your ears is the call, “Come home. Come back to Moses.”
So because Moses was held in such high esteem, our author knew he needed to show how much better Jesus was than even Moses.
So we read in Hebrews 3:1-6
1 Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, 2 who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God’s house. 3 For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses–as much more glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself. 4 (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God.) 5 Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, 6 but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope.
This major portion of Hebrews begins here and goes through chapter 10, verse 18. Having concluded that Jesus is superior to the mediators of the Mosaic law (i.e., angels, 2:2), the author now establishes the superiority of Jesus to Moses himself (3:1–6), of Jesus to the Aaronic high priesthood (4:14–7:28), of the new covenant in Jesus’ blood to the former covenant (8:1–13), and of Jesus’ death to the Mosaic sacrifices (9:1–10:18). This exposition also leads to three prolonged exhortations to Christian perseverance (3:7–4:13; 5:11–6:12; 10:19–39).
So in vv. 1-6 our author points out that Jesus is greater than Moses, wanting to persuade his readers to maintain their confidence in Jesus Christ. While it might seem anticlimactic to go from angels to Moses, this was not the case. To the Jew it would have been impossible to conceive that anyone ever stood closer to God than Moses did, and yet that is precisely what the writer of the Hebrews sets out to prove.
While Moses was one of God’s most faithful servants (vv. 2, 5), Jesus is the faithful high priest and Son of God. Thus Jesus is worthy of more glory (vv. 1–2, 6). This leads to exhortations and warnings (3:6–4:13).
The first thing our author does is to remind them who they are. The twofold description of the readers makes it clear that they are converted people. But they needed to remember this. They are, like all believers, “holy brothers.”
We’ve already seen, in chapter 2, how Christ is “not ashamed” to call us brothers (Hebrews 2:11). Through faith we have been born into AND adopted into the family of God—with God as our Father and Christ as our brother. We are a part of God’s family. We belong to Him; His precious possession.
The designation “holy” doesn’t mean sinlessly perfect or eminently pious. Rather it means that we are specially set apart to God. It has a moral application as well, meaning that we are positionally holy, having been united to Christ and credited with His holiness, and we are progressively becoming more and more holy as we are filled with the Spirit and walk in the light.
So we are first being encouraged to remember who we are. Being a Jew has its privileges, but none better than being a brother to Christ and being made more like Him in holiness.
Then he says, “holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling…” He is telling them that he fears they have forgotten why they were made “holy brothers.”
No unconverted Jew or Gentile could lay claim to the heavenly calling. To be sure, there was a point in time when you turned from your sins in repentance and embraced Jesus Christ through faith in His finished work on the cross.
But why did you turn from your sin and trust Christ?
It was because you were made the partaker of an irresistible, magnificent call that came from heaven itself.
Throughout this book, the heavenly is contrasted to the earthly as something that is more substantial, more desirable, more valuable.
This is not merely the “call” of the preacher that fell upon your ears when the gospel was preached to you, but the calling of the Holy Spirit himself, the effective calling, the calling that saves, that awakening of your heart so that you willingly, joyfully, and repentantly believe in Jesus Christ.
While the gospel call is extended indiscriminately to every sinner, the effectual calling of the Holy Spirit actually achieves what it calls—it enables the sinner to hear the gospel and believe. Like the words of Jesus to Lazarus, “Lazarus, come out,” those words don’t just offer new life, but create that life within so that a response is possible.
Timothy George describes this calling as God being “able to accomplish what he has determined to do in the salvation of lost men and women” (Amazing Grace: God’s Initiative—Our Response, p. 74).
It is the call that originates in heaven and works to bring you there. It is a heavenly calling because it comes from heaven—from God. And it is a heavenly calling because it invites us and leads us to heaven—to God. It is “the upward call” (Phil 3:14) summoning the Christian to a heavenly homeland (Heb 11:16) and to the heavenly Jerusalem (Heb 12:22).
So you can’t turn back. You are not what you once were. You have been changed into something more wonderful and called to something more glorious. There is too much at stake, too much to lose. You have a heavenly destiny.
How in the world can you take your eye off the prize??
But far more important than how we view ourselves is how we view Jesus Christ, and that is what we will get to next week.