The Unchanging Nature Of God’s Purpose
Key Verse 6:19-201
“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.”
The apostle was harsh with these Christians when he rebuked them to grow up and mature in the faith and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. He was harsh with them because if they do not mature, they were in danger of not bearing the fruits of salvation which God requires of every born again Christian. Worse than that, they were also in danger of losing the little faith they had and even looking back at the world they once had given up for Christ and his kingdom. After rebuking them for remaining infants in the faith and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, however, he encouraged them. He told them he’s convinced of better things for them than all the warnings he had given them, things that accompany salvation. In other words he commended them for already bearing the fruits of salvation, especially the love they had shown the Lord and each other. He assured them that God is just, and that he never forgets their labor of love. But he also urged them not become lazy in their Christian life and faith as well as their Christian labor of love, but to persevere in it. And he had a good reason to advise them like this. “So that what you hope for maybe fully realized”. (11) And that’s the theme is his next words to them, hope! We can’t, we shouldn’t ever lose what we hope for as Christians. We must maintain our Christian hope to the very end!
Look at verse 12. And he urged them to imitate those who through their faith and patience in what they hoped for received what was promised them. And the one whom the apostle called them to imitate is none other than farther Abraham. Hope! Hope to receive what is promised us, is what keeps us Christians diligent in all that God calls us to do in this life, be it to love, or any kind of service or even the good the Lord would have us do towards each other and others, regardless of our situation or circumstances. It’s hope! Nothing else but our hope to receive what the Lord has promised us that keeps us on the course our Lord set before us, and the mission he has entrusted to fulfill. Hope and the assurance of hope, gives us all the incentive we need to go on. If hope is lost or diminished or damaged or set aside, we cannot lift a finger. Why do some Christians start out well in all they do and then fizzle out? Because they lost sight of the hope they have in the Lord. They’ve taken their eyes off of it! We must often check ourselves and our hearts to see about our hopes. Where is our hope! Is my hope to be recognized or appreciated in what I do for the Lord and for others, or is my hope in the Lord and his promises! Because if I even slightly hope to be recognized or rewarded by others here on earth, I’m in a dangerous place. These hopes can easily be dashed and as a result I might even lose my desire to serve the Lord. It happens. Many have abandoned the Lord’s work because they weren’t recognized or appreciated for what they do. But if my hope doesn’t rest on such things, but penetrates the heavens, then I am in a safe place— unless I lose sight of that hope, unless I no longer see it with the eyes of faith.
In verse 12, the apostle wants us to imitate the faith and patience of those who through faith have received what was promised them by God. And in verse 13, he gives us one of the greatest examples in the Bible— our forefather Abraham. This man’s story of hope in God’s promises is amazing. He started out without hope at all. Then God gave him a promise through which he began to hope for a son. But finally he ended up hoping in the Messianic promise, that is, resurrection, eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven itself. That’s why the man lived to become a hero of faith and a champion of patience and a beacon of hope. So the apostle uses his life story as an example. And when we think about Abraham’s life story, it begins with a promise God made to him, in which he spent a lifetime nurturing and perfecting its hope.
Read verses 13-14. “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, ‘I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.’” Let me summarize Abraham’s story. God promised to give him a son. And after making his promises to Abraham, Abraham waited a very long time to receive the promised son God had promised to him. But after his son grew up, God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son as sign of his love for the Lord and his faith in him. When Abraham obeyed God, and was about to sacrifice his son, God told him to stop and provided instead a lamb to sacrifice instead of his son Isaac. It was at this point that made the oath he swore to Abraham in verse 14. (Genesis 22:15-17) Then look at verse 15. “And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” These words refer not only to the promise of a Son which Abraham patiently waited to receive from the Lord, but also to what Abraham received as a result of his life long patient waiting on the Lord. They refer to the higher and better things that accompany salvation; (9) that is, to all things which have been promised to those whose hope rests on the Lord Jesus. In other words, Abraham’s patient waiting on the Lord rested on his hopes in God’s promise, and his hope didn’t disappoint him. The Messiah came from his descendants to save all who belong to the Lord, and to fulfill for them every word promised by God, namely eternal life and the kingdom of heaven.
“And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.” (15) It is not an easy thing to wait on the Lord. Yet Abraham waited patiently for 25 years until a son was given him. Then he waited patiently for the promise of descendants through whom the whole world would be blessed. The prophet Micah said: “But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.” (Micah 7:7) The Psalmist says: “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I put my hope.” (Psalms 130:5) All those who know the Lord, also know that they can wait on the Lord with hope until he fulfills his promises. Abraham set the example of those who patiently wait on the Lord and who hope in what he has promised. Through his patient waiting, Abraham matured in the faith, and in God’s grace and in the knowledge of the Lord. It was this patient waiting, with faith and hope that shaped Abraham’s life and made it a model of faith for the generations to imitate. What can we say except that we ourselves ought to learn the value of patient waiting on the Lord. Though it is most difficult to wait on the Lord, it is the best school for faith and hope to be nurtured and to mature into something useful to the Lord. We who live in this “instant” generation are the hardest to learn the value of patient waiting on the Lord. Our hopes are immature and for the most part inane, needing spiritual discipline and refinement. Ask the Lord therefore, to give you opportunities to be disciplined in patient waiting.
One more thing remains that is pertinent to this passage. Look at verse 16. “Men swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument.” The apostle now turns out attention to the oath which God made to confirm his promise to Abraham. Usually men make a promise and then swear by someone greater than them that they would keep it. But when God made an promise to Abraham and his faithful descendants, there was no one greater than God to take an oath in, so God swore by himself. This is not a small issue, but rather very serious and worthy to consider. So the apostle explains now the reason why God, who doesn’t really need to swear any oaths at all since God himself is truth and everything he says is truthful, why he did go ahead and swear an oath to Abraham. Read verses 17-18. “Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged.” Apparently, God wanted to show us what kind of purpose he had when making promises to us. In other words, when God makes a promise— in this case to Abraham, and through Abraham to us as well— what exactly is his purpose or what exactly was on his mind? Simply speaking, God’s purpose in making a promise to us is to keep it. His purpose is unchangeable— it doesn’t change no matter what. That’s why he confirmed it with an oath. It was for Abraham’s sake, and for our sake, that we may know for certain that God keeps his promises absolutely. Now someone might say, that’s unnecessary, or even absurd that God would promise something and then swear to keep it, as if he were untrustworthy, as if he were human!
But that’s not so absurd! Even though we know that God is trustworthy and keeps his word, we often have a terrible habit of doubting him and his word. How often have you doubted your salvation! How often have you doubted God’s forgiveness! How often have you doubted God’s promise to fulfill his great purpose in your life, to sanctify you in spite of your sins, to fill you with his Spirit and to use you in his salvation work! We doubt because some of us are in the habit of measuring God’s actions by our own, or relating them to the way we are and the way we ourselves do things. Often we are changeable, often unforgiving, often vindictive even towards those we love, often make promises we end up not keeping. But not God! His word is absolute. His promises are concrete. But because of our own sin sickness and failures, God graciously confirms his promises to us with an oath. He does so that our faith may not waver. He does so that we might be secure in the surety of his word and the hope we have that he would fulfill it. Later the apostle also tells us, so that we might have an anchor for our soul, so that we may never take our eyes off of hope! (19)
God’s purpose in giving the promise, backed up with an oath was to reveal that it was unchanging, that in fact God keeps his word absolutely. But God also has another purpose as well. And we can see that purpose if we take a closer look at how God dealt with Abraham in regards to the promise he gave him. God’s purpose was to reveal to Abraham that the promise isn’t only for this life and world but for the next life and for the kingdom. In other words God wanted to show Abraham and us in turn that his purpose in giving the promise and the oath is far greater than just fulfilling a promise here and now, but that his purpose is great; that it’s heavenly and glorious beyond our grasp and imagination. Let me explain.
God promised Abraham to give him a son and through him descendants. Abraham lived in that hope for more than 20 years before God fulfilled his promise and gave him a son Isaac. Even though God’s purpose in giving Isaac was to confirm that all nations would be blessed through him [a Messianic promise], Abraham focused his hope on Isaac alone. He was an elderly man glad that he finally had a son in his old age to call his own. So Abraham was content and may have lost his sight of the eternal hope God had in giving him a son Isaac. Then one day God asked him to sacrifice him, only to give him back to Abraham again when Abraham was about obey God. Why did God do that? It was to test him in many ways. But mostly it was to reveal to Abraham and to all of us that Isaac wasn’t all that God wanted to give Abraham and us. He wanted to give us something eternal— everlasting life and resurrection faith— salvation from this world and hope of the heavenly kingdom. That’s also the unchanging character of his purpose. It’s unchanging and it’s eternal and wonderful and glorious and heavenly. God’s unchanging purpose for us is that we become heaven bound— that we have the hope of heaven riveted on our hearts.
Usually God’s promise in our lives is also much more than Isaac. It’s to fulfill his world salvation in and through us and for us. It’s much bigger than Isaac and certainly much bigger than us. So God wants us to believe in his promise and set our hopes on it, not only in the Isaac he gives (whoever or whatever Isaac may be in our lives) but in what’s beyond Isaac even to eternal life and the kingdom. That’s the nature of God’s promise. It is certain. It is unchangeable. It is glorious, far greater than we can imagine. When our hopes are grounded and unmoved in his promise, then we can say we’re mature enough not to settle for small hopes that are not worthy of our status as his children and faithful servants. What a mundane hope it is to serve the Lord for a recognition or an appreciation or even for a reward of gratitude here on earth! Our hopes must be higher than that, greater, unshakable, focused on something larger than anything we hope for here and now, which gives temporary satisfaction but which is so easily crushed.
One of Abraham’s greatest moments of faith and patience, an incident that began to shape his hope and transform it from something small to something big and glorious had to do with his nephew Lot. God had promised Abraham to make him a nation, but since Abraham was childless at the time and had no idea about God’s literal promise of an heir from his own body, Abraham valued his nephew Lot and put his hope in him, thinking that God intended Lot to be that promised heir, though Lot was far from that. However one time when lot and his family were taken captive by raiders, Abraham was ready to sacrifice his whole tribe and family to rescue lot. And when Abraham had risked his everything to rescue him, lot didn’t seem too eager to return to the life of faith and holy mission with Abraham. Rather lot was eager to settle down in the sinful city of Sodom. At this point one can imagine that Abraham was devastated and he sat in the dust deeply discouraged at his shattered hopes for lot and for himself. It was at this time that the Lord visited him and said to him. “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward.” (Genesis 15:1)
“I am your shield, your very great reward” really spoke to Abraham’s heart and changed the nature of his hopes. Abraham may have expected Lot to reform his ways, to reconsider his way of life, to take hold of the opportunity God gave him to return to the life of faith and mission; and Abraham expected Lot to recognize his love and to appreciate his sacrifices on his behalf. At the least Abraham expected God to work in Lots heart and make him see the light. But Lot was a great disappointment to Abraham, as many people are, easily forgetting the grace of God and the grace of others in their lives, and easily turning away from the discipline of a Christian life to follow their own whims and sinful nature. Our expectations cannot; should not be the focus of hope. Yet God showed Abraham a glorious truth that day. “I am your shield, you very great reward”. God showed him that in everything Abraham does for the Lord or for others in the name of the Lord, there should be no expectation— there should be no hidden motive— but that the only hope should be in the Lord and in his reward. Clearer still, God himself is our hope, our reward, our very great reward. “Apart from you Lord, any hope, any reward is trivial, meaningless and below our station as God’s children and servants.”
“I am your shield, your very great reward”, also deeply speaks to our hearts about God’s ultimate promise for us, that he himself is our greatest hope and reward. To Abraham who had faith in the living God, that day was a day where his hopes began to shift from something earthly to something heavenly. When I know deep in my soul that God and no other is my reward, my very great reward, that’s the time when I no longer desire any earthly reward, not even recognition, not even appreciation, nor anyone’s gratitude because all that I do for the Lord in my life I do for the Lord who alone can satisfy my deepest longing for recognition, appreciation and reward. And it is him alone that I want, and no other. We can begin to understand Paul whose greatest desire after a long life of service to the Lord was not to make a name for himself, nor to be recognized and respected by other believers, nor for greatness or leadership or to leave behind a spiritual legacy or anything else, but who said plainly: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
Look at verse 18. The apostle is still talking about Abraham and the heirs of the promise. Who are they? They are everyone whose faith rests in Christ Jesus our Lord and who walk in the footsteps of Abraham and his faith. (Galatians 3:7) Verse 18b also describes these people. Who are they? They are “We who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us”. Notice the author’s words “We who have fled”. They are very meaningful. This world is not a place for us to be and to live in. It is a world of sin, marked by sin, and ruled by the ruler of the kingdom of the air, Satan, who leads all men astray from God and takes them captive to do his will. (Ephesians 2:2; Revelation 12:9; 2 Timothy 2:26) And all those who live and die in this world are doomed to suffer God’s judgment and his wrath. That was our situation until Christ came and showed us the way out. He gave us the hope of eternal life and of the heavenly kingdom. And when we saw the way out through faith in him, we fled this world and have crossed over from death to life (John 5:24). It’s a foolish thing to remain anchored in this world and in its dying hopes, its filth and its tragic destiny. But for those who see the way out, flee to take hold of what God has promised us, the hope he gave us in Christ.
Look at how the apostle describes the hope Christians have. Read verses 19-20. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” These are great words to heed and to cherish. The hope we have is the anchor to our soul. What’s an anchor? It’s what the ship uses to remain immovably anchored in the waters, and not tossed about by every wave that his it. Likewise our hope is in Christ and in all his promises to us. And our hope is the anchor that keeps our soul moored immovably in him, not tossed about by every wave of doubt or fear or emotion or reasoning that beats up against it. Hope is our anchor, otherwise our life ship and soul is constantly shaken, and we are in danger of capsizing.
Yet look at the surety of this hope! The apostle says it enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain. And where’s that? It’s where our forerunner Jesus has entered on our behalf. It’s where no human could ever enter because behind the heavenly curtain is where the holy God resides and where no one but the Son of God has been able to enter. Jesus suffered and died on our behalf to provide cleansing and forgiveness of sins for those whose faith is in him. He then rose from the dead and ascended to heaven to stand as our high priest and defender. And forever he is our high priest who intercedes for us before the holy God. He alone keeps our hopes alive. He alone shelters our hopes in his hand so that nothing will ever take them away. And Jesus did even more. He allowed us access into the most holy place into the very presence of God where we come to receive grace and mercy; and where we can bask and rejoice in the hope we have to be like him and to inherit with him all things in heaven and on earth. And that’s where our hope is, where our soul is anchored and moored, forever unshakable and secure in the arms of the loving Savior. We should not lose sight of the hope we have. That way, we can continue doing the work he called us to do, and bearing the fruit of salvation which God has prepared in advance for us to do and to bear. God bless you to anchor in the hope we have kept safe for us in the heavens with the Lord Jesus. Amen.