sermon: Hebrews as a Sermon (Part One)
John W. Ritenbaugh
Given 05-Dec-20; Sermon #1573; 65 minutes
Even as the Book of Hebrews prepared the first century church for impending persecution, so it is equally relevant to today's true church as it faces an ever-more-blatant assault on God's law by more and more segments of the Western society. Ironically, most churches today give the Book of Hebrews short shrift, even though it presents the remedy for precipitously falling membership. This disregard of the Book stems from 1.) its linkage to the Old Testament, 2.) its placement at the end of specific epistles to people or locations, 3.) its lack of a signature, 4.) its level of complexity, especially of its opening, 5.) the mistaken view that its audience is a scattered and inadequately identified people and 6.) the perception that it lacks the characteristics of an epistle. Hebrews has characteristics of a treatise, an epistle and a sermon. The purpose of the epistle is to head off a major calamity caused by Jewish converts, who balked at the notion that Christ serves as High Priest, believing that Jesus was just a man and died as a man. These converts, trained under the auspices of Judaism, were under the mistaken belief that angels were more qualified to serve as High Priests than was Christ. Paul clearly intended the Book of Hebrews, undoubtedly written in the mid-60s AD, only a few years before the destruction of the Temple, to be an exhortation, that is, a sermon, aimed at preparing the members of the first century church and those living in the end-times for looming catastrophe and persecution.
I am giving my SPS right at the very beginning of this so hopefully you can check me out to see whether I stayed on track or not. This sermon touches on two related subjects and they are somewhat both worked together at the same time, and one subject is of greater overall importance than the other. But I believe that both of them can be helpful in clarifying elements important to our understanding of Hebrews.
The first, the one subject, is what I believe about the epistle of Hebrews structure. The second, more importantly, is the epistle's timeliness in helping the members in the first century gear up for the kind of world headed in their direction.
I am giving this sermon on these subjects because I believe that from what I can discern from things written in Hebrews in the first century AD that it may have a helpful bearing on our lives over the next period of years, if the disgusting behavior and attitudes revealed by some Americans during this period of time we have just witnessed leading to the election, continues. In this warlike period, Americans have become enemies of Americans. The Democratic Republican form of government that has guided this nation's government from its beginning was overcome by the carnal spirit within many to a degree not experienced since the Civil War began in 1861.
My thinking at this point is that I do not believe that we will witness a quick and massive change in citizen behavior and I also believe that you believe the same way. But neither do I expect the bottom to drop away from under us. I believe that what we have already witnessed will continue and gradually intensify once again as time moves on. Is there anything that you have observed that will turn this nation's citizens' behavior around? I do not believe that you have.
We have witnessed a continuing degeneration of this nation's overall conduct led by those titled as "leadership" in this nation—from within government, education, media, and yes, religion, but to a somewhat lesser degree. And apparently the bulk of the citizenship follows the conduct of those leading with very little questioning resistance. I believe that the personal conduct issue is solid evidence of the departure of many, many Americans from a flimsy relationship that they had with God, even though it was already shallow at best, even immediately following World War Two and that was 75 years ago. My time on earth goes back before World War Two.
During the run up to the election, I read an article by a religious leader well known in evangelical circles, who stated that he, and he did this proudly, was a one-issue voter. He stated in that article, "Any candidate that supports, by law, murder by abortion isn't going to get my vote and neither will his party," anyone in his party. He said those people are not leaders that I want to follow. Apparently many Americans disagree. Here is just one example.
During the beginning of my "Talking Blood" sermon at the feast, I gave you several examples of how rapidly church attendance in this world's churches has been dropping rather precipitously over the past decade, therefore, also showing its influence regarding personal behavior is also dropping. Now, the pastors interviewed in that article were alarmed. Within the past six months, I read an article on the Internet regarding what motivated women to seek an abortion and then actually followed through to obtain one. What motivated them to actually follow through? Maybe this will surprise you. According to the article, which cited a poll taken of women who had done so, the highest percentage of women went through with the abortion because of the high cost of supporting the child as being too expensive to maintain after birth.
What does this indicate? Well, one thing is that the fear of God is at a low, low ebb in this nation. When push came to shove the child's life meant less than any other single factor to these women seeking an abortion. They were less concerned about committing murder before God than the cost disadvantage of the child. And of course, they were not warned about that reality before the surgery that committing murder was indeed what they were about to do. That is a bad word, murder.
This lack of understanding happens even though many millions of Americans still retain that weak relationship with God by at least attending a service on Sunday, thus, some, to their credit, continue to practice to some degree.
Here is something else that I believe I garnered from the author's preface, or opening chapter to a work on the epistle to the Hebrews. It is that if a poll was taken among a fairly large number of modern members of this nation's churches, it would be found that the least studied New Testament book would be the epistle to the Hebrews. He actually wrote that out because he took a private poll.
This is a book that offers massive help through Jesus Christ, our High Priest, because much material between its covers is about God's mercy, God's faithfulness, and God's forgiveness under the New Covenant. Now, there are a number of biblical researchers who have made informal searches, that is beside this author that I read of, regarding why Hebrews is avoided by the public that still attends services. This is what these researchers generally report in their writings: The most common negative complaint from church members is that the subject material is unfamiliar to them and too difficult, and therefore they have trouble relating to it for a number of reasons. Thus they just pass it by and move on. The result is that the people remain in ignorance of this extraordinary knowledge that is of vital importance to their salvation.
But at least the people have named what seems to be the major problem that holds them back from not studying into it. It is so simple; they cannot relate to it, so they just pass it by. Apparently they do not really try to develop a relationship with it because it truly does require a great deal of time and hard work. That is something that Richard exhorted us about during his last sermon—tearing ourselves away from this world to God's Word is not an easy thing. And I have to admit, Hebrews is not an easy book.
Brethren, Hebrews does have a number of relationship issues with the public, but the highest barrier to holding church members' attendance to it seems to be that the material within the body of Hebrews is very dependent upon its linkage to the Old Testament—which they do not know a great deal about either—for at least the very best grasping of what it is teaching.
Issue number one: (Now, listen carefully.) Hebrews does have a number of relationship issues, but the highest barrier to holding a church member's attention to it seems to be the material within the body of Hebrews is very dependent upon its linkage to the Old Testament for the very best grasping of what it is teaching.
Issue number two: It is placed at the very end of all the epistles of the apostles that are, by contrast, clearly addressed to either a certain person or a clearly defined congregation in a named location in this world, and Hebrews is also placed just before the letters of James, Peter, John, Jude, and the Revelation of Jesus Christ. And brethren, all of those writings are stiff competition for holding one's attention. They are simple, for the most part, by comparison to Hebrews.
Issue number three: the human author did not sign his labor of love for his material, and because people are accustomed to the apparent simplicity and shortness of the other epistles, they are very quickly frustrated with the complexities, and separately, the 13 chapters of Hebrews. That is a long length for a biblical epistle, and it is combined with an intimidating material issue.
Issue number four: Also, it is written to a people who must have been scattered over a very large area of the Middle East. The location of the recipients is of some importance in order to develop a relationship of understanding with what the recipients were going through in their lives when the epistle arrived to help them. They wanted to relate that way. Maybe they are going through something the same as I did.
Issue number five: It does not look like a letter of that period of history and it does not have Paul's typical greetings or endings.
Issue number six: It begins with an opening statement that is renowned, even in the carnal world of literature, for its sheer brilliance at grabbing focused attention to the One who becomes the central figure of the narrative. But people get lost trying to determine what the first chapter terminology means to a relationship that they might have with Him. They are lost right from the beginning.
Issue number seven (and it is almost totally their ministry's fault.): Members have no idea where the lost tribes of Israel have scattered to. Instead, they have become fixed on the concept that the Old Testament is filled with things done away. Our connection to Israel is very helpful to our understanding of the purpose that God is working out. Brethren, we are right in the middle of everything that is going on here at the end times because we are part of Israel and that is who the Bible is aimed at.
Now, here is the summary. Overall, the epistle does not have the clear definition that they expect. But there are even a number of scholars who cannot bring themselves to believe that the epistle to the Hebrews is, in reality, neither merely a letter such as the apostles sent out to the congregational circuit that they frequently traveled to, nor does it seem to fit their technical concepts of formal compositions, such as the treatise, prepared for expounding in classroom-type study sessions and expounded before other ministry and students. Nor does it seem to conform to their concepts of what an outline of a sermon may have been arranged like in the apostles' time of delivering them.
One reason that there are such differences of opinion is because the epistle to the Hebrews has elements of each category within its design. Therefore, let us not overlook that God is the real Author of this epistle, and that is the way He designed those subjects within the epistle to be arranged and taught. It was not Paul. He was involved. It was not any of the other apostles, they were not involved. God inspired it to be somewhat confusing!
Now I believe that most teachers of Scripture are like me. They are really not concerned much regarding its form because they believe that God gave it to us purposely, revealing elements of all three forms so that it purposefully instructs as God intended regardless of community and time elements, circumstances, when it is studied into. Let us not forget—God is the Author who made it that way. It is a magnificent teaching vehicle covering especially the priestly area of Jesus' history and ministry, and is vital to our understanding of a large portion of our Savior's importance to our ongoing spiritual well being within His family, that is, God's Family, the church, and thus our salvation.
In a major sense, the epistle to the Hebrews came into existence in order to help head off a major calamity that was building for the newly-founded church. This was because the Jews being called into the church following the resurrection were balking strongly against Jesus' appointment to the office of High Priest because they rightly believed angels are indeed well spoken of in the Old Testament. And added to that, they are falsely believing that angels were better suited for that office because Jesus had been only a man. In addition to that, He died just as men do. Angels at least did not die.
Brethren, they thought that way because they had little or no instruction regarding Christ's real and true identity as God incarnate. Yes, He was born from a woman's body, Mary, wife of Joseph of Bethlehem, Judea, but she was only purposely used of God in order that the Savior could be a man, a human being. However, Jesus was indeed worshipped as God shortly after His birth, while still a babe in arms, by several people and He never ever relinquished that office. He was always God as well as being man. Those major differences in their understanding from what the apostles and those others already converted believed was disturbing the peace and therefore the harmony within the group.
This is the very simple reason why there must be counseling before baptism. Now the apostles may have counseled those people, but they probably never thought that that was going to be something that they were going to have to go over with them—that Jesus really was God!—and of course it did get straightened out, but they apparently did not counsel them about that. Our counseling of people is to head off a potential calamity for the convert.
My earlier sermons regarding the writing of Hebrews followed the timeline that the book of Acts draws this epistle. That account is not difficult to follow because the ending chapter of the gospel of Luke picks up the story flow immediately following the resurrection, and then Acts 1 picks up the story flow immediately following Luke's final words. The physician Luke wrote both books, so he just continued Acts from where he left off in the book of Luke.
Acts then adds Peter's sermon on Pentecost Day. It also adds the early persecutions the apostles came under as they were getting organized. It moves on to the calling and the conversion of Paul and then Peter is being sent to Cornelius' home for that Gentile family's conversion and baptism.
Now the major subject of this sermon will begin at this point.
The apostles were indeed preaching the gospel in the areas around Jerusalem and the church was growing, according to the book of Acts, by numbers in the thousands. But let us step back in time early in Jesus' ministry and then follow the course of the activity the church was involved in. Turn with me to Matthew the 10th chapter and verses 5 and 6. I just want to touch on this because of the commands that Jesus gave to the apostles at that time, that is, when Matthew 10 occurred.
Matthew 10:5-6 These twelve Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying, "Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" [which they did].
Here is further instruction for the apostles.
Matthew 10:16-26 "Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. But beware of men, for they will deliver you up two councils and scourge you in their synagogues. You will be brought before governors and kings for My name's sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you. Now brother will deliver up brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise up against the parents and cause them to be put to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But he who endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in this city, flee to another. For assuredly, I say to you, you will not have gone through the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes. A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for a disciple that he be like his teacher, and a servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more will they call those of his household! Therefore do not fear them. For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be made known."
If you were on the spot then what would you feel like after you heard what He said? "Oh boy, what did we get ourselves into here?" That might go through peoples' minds. On the one hand, it was very encouraging because God is going to speak through you. But on the other hand, you are going to be persecuted and they are going to deliver you up to the council's for My name's sake.
Comparing these verses with Acts, we can determine that now that we are into the book of Acts, the gloves are off, as the saying goes, because Christ has determined a stage has been reached. Remember, He said in verses 5 and 6, "do not go into the way of the Gentiles." Well, by the time we get to Pentecost and begin reading through the book of Acts, we can see that the gloves are off because Christ has determined a stage has been reached for those chosen, taught, and organized by Him to carry out the church's responsibilities.
Now, that specific Pentecost began the time to go to the other nations. Here is something that I found just in preparing this sermon. It is interesting that you will find that unless God is actually calling a person as He was with Cornelius and his family, in an overall sense, the Gentiles react to the saving message the same as the Jews. What did the run of the mill Jew do? He persecuted! We are going to see the Gentiles did the same thing.
Time-wise in my sermon, we are only at the timeline the action in Acts 12-14 took place. But a fairly active persecution against the apostles had already taken place in Gentile areas, just like it did in the Jews' areas, and more serious trouble was building on the horizon, but largely yet out of the sight of most around the immediate Jerusalem area. That is what this second part of my message today is about, what was building on the horizon as they went into the Gentile areas. Go with me to Acts the 13th chapter. I want to show you that the Gentiles reacted basically the same way that the Jews did.
Acts 13:1-5 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, "Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away. So being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John [that is John Mark] as their assistant.
Let us drop down to verse 13. They are preaching the gospel there in a Gentile city.
Acts 13:13-17 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on." Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, "Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it."
I am just reading these verses because I want to see that they are going full force, as it were, into Gentile areas. Now, drop down verse 42, same chapter, and we will see how things were going.
Acts 13:42-50 So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have sent you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread throughout all the region. But the Jews stirred up the devout and prominent women and the chief men of the city, and raised up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from the region.
I just read all of that because I want you to see that persecution follows the preaching of the true gospel in a public way. It always stirs up persecution. Now we are going to go into chapter 14 and we are going to go through here and pick up the story.
Acts 14:1-7 Now it happened in Iconium that they went together to the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude of both Jews and of the Greeks believed. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. Therefore they stayed there a long time, speaking boldly in the Lord, who was bearing witness to the word of His grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the multitude of the city was divided: part sided with the Jews, and part with the apostles. And when a violent attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with the rulers, to abuse and stone them, they became aware of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of the Lycaonia, and to the surrounding region. And they were preaching the gospel there.
Drop down to verse 19. Now you can see the Gentile resistance is rising.
Acts 14:19-28 Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came there; and having persuaded the multitudes, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. However, when the disciples gathered around him, he rose up and went into the city. And the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe. And when they had preached the gospel to that city and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, "We must through many tribulations enter the Kingdom of God." So when they had pointed elders [boy, they did that fast] in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. And after they passed through Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia. Now when they preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. From there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had completed. Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that they had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. So they stayed there a long time with the disciples.
I would have to say that my opinion of what we have seen there was that the results were mixed. The Gentiles could be persuaded to persecute, or if God was calling them indeed, they could be called and they would accept the Word of God as they did. Now we are going to continue on into Acts 15. I want you to see something that we did not emphasize at all when we went through this before. There is a little bit more here than meets the eye.
Acts 15:1-10 And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them [These were people who wanted to become part of the church.], they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through Phoenicia and Samaria, describing the conversion of the Gentiles; and they caused great joy to all the brethren. And when they had come to Jerusalem, they were received by the church and the apostles and elders; and they reported all things that God had done with them. But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." [Now you can see that this council that they held there in Acts 15 included more than just what we said initially. It included the desire to win them back to the religion of the Jews.] Now the apostles and the elders came together to consider this matter. And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: "Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago, God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us, and made no distinction between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor they were able to bear?"
What we see here is the big controversy was over Jesus being appointed High Priest. But there was more to their complaints than meets the eye until you read them. Thus the meeting of these two dividing groups was held in Acts 15 and apparently a great deal of arguing went on while it was being decided, and that meeting decided the direction that the church was going to take on the underlying issues.
Acts 15:14-18 "Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: 'After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord who does all of these things.' Known to God from eternity are all His works."
Who is speaking here? In verse 13 it names the speaker as James, and James is giving this fairly long answer in verse 18, "Known to God from eternity are all His works." James is making the judgment here among the men that
Acts 15:19-21 "Therefore I judge we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath."
I will tell you what I take from what it says up to this verse in this chapter. And that is this: The meeting of these two dividing groups was held in Acts 15, that decided the direction the church was going to take on the underlying issues. I perceive that the real underlying issue that was resolved was both contending parties' acceptance of Jesus' decision, given by Jesus from heaven and by faith spoken through James, Jesus' half brother, as being valid.
Now we will not go into it but both parties left that meeting apparently satisfied. And the only reason I can see that they would be satisfied is Jesus communicated that from heaven to James who repeated Jesus' decision. Both sides were satisfied a correct decision was reached. Jesus has clearly worked through both parties involved and this resolved the issues at that time, but there was still no epistle to the Hebrews as yet. And my emphasis is on at that time when Acts 15 took place. The apostles and other elders handled the correct teaching of the issues raised in the conference locally, wherever a congregation existed, by means of sermons and Bible studies so the church could settle into a much more internally peaceful routine. Remember, I just got done saying there was no epistle to the Hebrews yet at this time, but the church settled down and therefore the ones that settled things down were the pastors of the local congregations and the elders in that congregation by holding church services and Bible studies that explained Jesus' reality.
Now understand this reality. Despite the fact that the Acts 15 conference turned out to be a success, neither time nor the church's operations stood still and neither did what was going on in the world. Time does not stop because the church exists. Look at where we are right now. The church still exists and America is going through a form of internal turmoil until this eventually gets settled to some degree. The same was true back in the days that the Acts 15 conference took place. The church was in some sort of turmoil because of the persecutions of the Jews and the persecutions that were coming from people who wanted to become part of it, but disagreed with it doctrinally.
On the outside of the church, the Romans continued to be oppressive throughout its empire as invaders always tend to be. Now, one can understand why they would be oppressive to the Christians, why they could be argued into fighting the Christians too. It was because the Christians were a very small group. They had no army, no national land to defend, nor did they actually choose to fight back. When one perceives the violent objections even fellow Jews had towards this new religion founded by Jesus and the apostles, one can understand that the Romans would think the Christians were easy pickings. As we go on, we are going to see more and more persecution coming from the Gentiles.
My guess is, and that is all it is, this Acts 15 conference took place sometime around AD 35 to AD 45. You will see why I picked those dates. They are not given in the Bible in any way that I am aware of. Jesus was crucified in AD 31. Now to give a little time for the church to get going, people become part of it, persecution to be stirred up, I personally believe that it was sometime around 35-45 AD. That gives me ten years during which that Acts 15 conference could be held. I am building towards something here giving you these dates. Remember these are just guesses of mine because no date is given between Jesus' crucifixion and the church growing and a few years for Jews to begin to want to be part of it, and yet they had some gripes.
According to most researchers, the epistle to the Hebrews was written about the mid-60s, AD 65 roughly. They almost all say that (I will not say every one of them do), but if that is true that would be 30 years after the fact of somewhere close to the Acts 15 conference. And there is still no epistle to the Hebrews during that time. But the apostles handled it in the local congregations.
Now, internal evidence within the Hebrews epistle reveals that the Temple in Jerusalem was still in operation when Hebrews was written. It makes a notation of that. The sacrificing was still going on. The Temple was not yet destroyed by the Roman armies and the Temple operations did not end until AD 70. They ended when the Romans invaded the city, and they sacked and burned the Temple in 70 AD and it was not usable after that for the Jews' religion. So that is why most of the researchers feel that the book of Hebrews was written somewhere close to 65 AD.
There are also quite a number of researchers that believe that the apostle Paul is actually the author, even though his name is not on it. Also I gave you an article that I think shows very well that he was the author of the book of Hebrews. But he was assassinated around 67 or 68 AD so he could have written it if it was written before that period of time. So, we do have at least a pretty fair dating. It is probably reliable that somewhere around 65 AD for the actual appearance of the epistle of Hebrews. Thus the Hebrews epistle was written before the Temple was destroyed.
Now I am going to continue on this part but I am going to be clarifying one earlier part of this sermon. At this point in my church life I have determined that I believe that the epistle's structure is dominated by the sermon aspect rather than the other two. I am going to give you my speculations here as to why I believe that. It has the other two parts in it. There are parts of it that are treatise, there are parts that are letters to the church. The reason I feel this way is because of the previous history of the church as it began to grow following Christ's resurrection and received a great deal of attention because of what was being said by its preachers within the gospel. What the preachers were preaching, that is, the apostles, is important.
Here are my points regarding this:
My first speculation is based on the past history of the church's preaching the gospel. It is that the Gentiles, under the skin, are no different than the Israelites. What did they do? They at first kind of accepted it and then when they began to think about things and the Jews stirred them up, they began to persecute. Why? Because Gentiles have the same basic nature and the same basic heart from which sins against God are generated. We are all making the same sins generated from the same heart. And that is historically worldwide. Behavioral patterns tend to repeat themselves.
A second reason is also taken from the church's recent past history. And this is the very rather rapid and sometimes violent persecutions that it attracted must have been stirred within the people at the urging of demons. That is my speculation. Now, why demons? Why would they do this? Because they, not humans, far more thoroughly understood what was being said regarding their, the demons', future. They were going to be replaced! Human beings were going to take the offices within God's Kingdom. They thoroughly understood their end was being spoken of and being made known to weak and subject-to-death humans who would permanently replace them in God's hierarchy of order. The demons do not care whether the person being preached to, urging them to repent, will get the same attitudes to reject the appeals.
A third reason is what the author himself called what he wrote. I want you to get this. I said I felt (this is the way I worded this), that the sermon aspect dominates the epistle. Why do I think that? Here is one big reason. I believe that we should not dismiss what the human author called what he produced with God's inspiration. Do you not think that the human author called it what he believed that he was writing? Turn with me now to the book of Hebrews, chapter 13.
Hebrews 13:20-22 Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. [This is the apostle Paul speaking.] And I appeal to you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation, that I have written to you in a few words.
He called what he wrote a word of exhortation. The Amplified translates this as, "This message of exhortation and admonition and encouragement, for I have written you briefly." This terminology is used only one other time in the New Testament when Paul and Barnabas again were preaching. I am going to take you there to Acts. We actually read this once before but I did not say anything because I was saving it for now.
Acts 13:13-15 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem. But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on."
That man said the same thing that Paul did—any word of exhortation. Now you can maybe do this later on. I want you to notice how everything was put in order during the service that they attended. On the Sabbath day they were visiting within the Gentile city. It was the Sabbath. They attended services in the local synagogue and it was not until after the reading of the law within the service order that the synagogue's leadership asked them whether they had any word of exhortation.
That term appears to be the normal usage that one commonly used for a sermon message, that is in their day, and it had a definite place in the order within the services. It came after first hearing what God had to say directly from His Word and what did Paul and the apostles take opportunity to do? They preached to them the gospel. That is what they did. They preached!
Another supporting reason is the epistle to the Hebrews has a reputation of being the most exhorted book in Scripture. Exhortation is needed when people are already facing a seemingly, or seemingly about to face, a trying circumstance in the not too distant future. And this speculation I believe is a biggie in terms of being a clue. What was Paul preparing them for in the book of Hebrews? He was preparing them for the trouble from the Romans, especially for those in the city of Jerusalem who were going to see their city burned to the ground and the Temple with it. They were going to receive one of the most awful persecutions people have ever gone through. That is why I believe that it is a biggie. It was a sermon directed to those people for what was coming right over the horizon.
Now, let us look at this from our point of view. What is coming in this group of states that have just gone through a very difficult run up to an election and now an even more stressful period after the election? What is it heading toward? I do not know. I told you at the beginning, I do not believe the bottom is going to drop out, but I do believe that what we are living in right now is going to continue on and it will never, ever let up and gradually it will intensify.