There is a growing body of research on the concept of hope. There is even scientific research suggesting that those who have hope are better off physically, psychologically, and socially. Researchers acknowledge that trauma can have a negative impact upon the capacity for some to experience hope. For instance, a fatal diagnosis from your doctor can deplete every ounce of will power to pursue every other goal in life.
Chan Hellman, a professor at Oklahoma State University, studied the power and science of hope. He says, “Hope is the belief that your future will be better than today and that you have the power to make it so.” Now, other than seeing hope as more than wishful thinking, this definition falls far short of the goal of biblical hope. It offers nothing in regard to our eternal hope. Of course, optimistic people are generally more successful than pessimistic people, but the goal of this passage in Hebrews sets our goals much higher.
The author of Hebrews has been making the case that Jesus is better/greater/superior than everything! If you turn away from him there is nothing better for you to turn to. Yet, due to the fact that at least some of his audience had grown “dull of hearing” (Heb 5:11), he is concerned that they will fall away if they do not repent (Heb 6:4-6). We have spent the last several weeks covering that warning, but we come to a shift in his argument this morning. He follows that stern warning with a lengthy reflection upon true hope.
Pray and Read Hebrews 6:9-20.
Our first vow of membership in the PCA states: Do you acknowledge yourself to be a sinner in the sight of God, justly deserving His displeasure, and without hopesave in His sovereign mercy?
The first step to obtaining the hope of salvation is recognizing that we enter this life without it.
On the other hand,
The infallible assurance of our faith is founded upon the certainty of the promises of our salvation.
Do You Desire the Assurance of Hope? (9-12)
Sure of better things — things that belong to salvation (9). The description of experiences in the previous section are things that may not belong to salvation. They (the author and companions) are confident that this community will produce the fruit of repentance and that the threatened curse would not fall upon them (8). The warning given in the previous section does not negate their charitable esteem for their Christian brothers and sisters. They desire and hope for the best outcome.
The author acknowledges the loving service this community has shown to the saints (10), which is consistent with the fruit expected from the field that has been blessed by God (7). These saints have a reputation of exemplary service toward one another, even in the midst of their own tribulation and persecution. This, in effect, is the recognition that God’s Spirit is at work among them. It is not to suggest that their love and works are perfect, but that they are done in sincerity through Jesus Christ (Heb 13:21).
However, not everyone was united in their service. They desire to see them enjoying the same earnestness and full assurance of hope (11). They want to see this whole community persevere to the end. The author desires that their assurance not waver, but that it be full. He doesn’t merely want them to base their hope on a dream or a wish, but he wants them to have “an infallible assurance of faith” (WCF 18.2).
A renewed interest in spiritual maturity would provide the hope of their perseverance. To the contrary, their sluggishness (same word translated “dull of hearing” in Heb 5:11) is not characteristic of those inheriting the promises of God through faith and patience (12). The antidote to a sluggish faith is one that is full of the assurance of hope.
Which, as long as they are looking to Christ, will be victorious — though oftentimes it will be weakened and assailed through tribulation (WCF 14.3). This encouragement from the author is what all of us need from time to time. It stirs up the grace of God within us and wakes us up from our slumber. It reminds us that we have been adopted into a family with the promises of an incredibly rich inheritance — purchased for us and secured by Christ Jesus!
Opening Pandora’s Box
You’ve probably heard of Pandora’s Box, but do you know the ancient Greek mythology behind it? Hesiod wrote the poem in 700 BC, Pandora had a box that was filled with all kinds of evil and miseries. Zeus ordered Pandora to open the box because Prometheus had stolen fire from heaven. When Pandora’s Box was opened, it released those evils into the world causing human suffering.
Death and sickness are named as falling upon mankind among a host of other unspecified miseries. However, what makes the story so interesting — and applicable to us today — is the fact that Pandora slammed the box closed before the last “evil” was able to escape. That evil was personified by the goddess, Elpis, the Greek word for hope. She remained trapped inside Pandora’s Box.
There are various theories about why hope remained in the box. Some suggest that hope is evil because it keeps people desiring. This is essentially how Nietzsche interprets it. He wrote that the poem shows hope “is in truth the worst of all evils, because it protracts the torment of men.” Hope only prolongs our torture.
Others have suggested that what was trapped was not genuine hope, but a deceptive kind of false expectation. This interpretation implies that men are capable of pursuing truth. But another optimistic interpretation suggests that trapping hope inside the box actually preserved it. This the question: Is Pandora preserving hope for us or withholding hope from us?
Was Hesiod suggesting that hope should be desired or avoided? Regardless of how you answer that question — at a minimum — we can see that hope is an important topic that has an elusive quality.
Clearly, the Bible does not view hope as an evil, but it does emphasize the object of your hope. If your hope is placed in earthly things it will lead to disappointment. However, hope that is founded in the promises of God, will never disappoint.
True Hope Is Modeled in Christian Service
Based upon the three-thousand year old discrepancy regarding hope, the question of this section seems prudent. Do you desire the assurance of hope? Among the community receiving this letter, it would seem that some of them had lost hope — or they are losing hope. And they are showing no real earnestness to gain it back!
Like the writer, my desire is that would not be the case for you! May the Lord grant in each one of us an earnest pursuit of “the full assurance of hope until the end.”
We can overcome our sluggishness by imitating the faith and patience of the saints who have persevered. While we ought to prioritize the biblical models, as the author will commend in Heb 11, we can also look to those older and wiser and persevering saints in our own midst.
Routine service of the saints is modeled every week as we gather together. Finding saints to imitate is one way to build a present confidence in hope, which will motivate perseverance. Ask the Lord to guide you in that way, even this morning.
› Desiring the right kind of hope is exemplified by Abraham, which leads us to our second question…
Have You Obtained the Assurance of Hope? (13-15)
Here the author provides an example of someone his audience should imitate, namely Abraham. And they would have been eager to receive this encouragement.
God swore by himself in order to provide Abraham with the greatest possible confidence in the covenant promises (13). He promised Abraham blessing and multiplication (14; Gen 22:17). God promised he would make Abraham into a great nation (Gen 12:2), but would he have to wait another twenty-five years before he even received the heir of that promise. Isaac’s arrival was not the fulfillment of that promise — it was just the beginning of his obtaining the promise.
Even then, God tested Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his Son as a burnt offering (Gen 22:2). There was probably no greater example the author could have pointed to than the father of our faith, Abraham. He is a premier model of patient faith.
Abraham obtained the promise after waiting patiently (15). He heard the covenant promise when he was seventy-five years old (Gen 12). He participated in the ceremonial renewal of the covenant promise at some point over the next decade (Gen 15), but he did not see the blessing of Isaac’s arrival until he was one-hundred years old (Gen 22)! He waited twenty-five years to behold the first member of a promised nation!
But, we also know his patience wasn’t perfect. Remember Hagar and Ishmael (Gen 16)? Abraham was eighty-six years old when Ishmael was born to his Egyptian maidservant Hagar. That’s all part of Abraham’s story too.
If Abraham’s hope was placed in his own efforts, he would have never continued on for another fourteen years to see the birth of Isaac. His hope would always disappoint him if he sought to manufacture a solution outside of God’s will.
We should study the biblical models and seek the grace of God to imitate their faith, and to learn from their failures too. Note their weaknesses and dependence upon God for wisdom and guidance. Appreciate God’s sovereign will to utilize the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and the strong (1 Cor 1:27). He places his treasured message in fragile jars of clay in order to emphasize the power is in God and not the vessel of his message (2 Cor 4:7).
Abraham obtained the promise of God through faith. He placed his hope in a future fulfillment that could not be obtained through obedience to the law (Rom 4:13). Why? Because the law only brings wrath — it perfectly points out our transgressions before a holy God (Rom 4:15).
› The point of observing Abraham is to the see the faithfulness of God, which leads to our last question…
Are You Grasping the Assurance of Hope? (16-20)
Oaths are certain confirmation and God guaranteed his promise with an oath to himself (16-17). Oaths are to be made with sober judgment. We only take them when we are participating in something significant. They are used to confirm that a person is testifying to something they know to be true.
Therefore, the nature of God’s promise supports the certainty of its fulfillment. God ordains whatsoever comes to pass. And when he sought to confirm that decree, in his covenant with Abraham — he attached an oath to it. He swore that he would take the curse of covenant breaking upon himself if either party were unfaithful.
This is the picture we find in the covenant ceremony in Genesis 15. God passes through the bloody aisle of animal carcasses in order to suggest that the curse of death would fall upon him if the covenant was broken. But, instead of Abraham taking the same oath, God put Abraham to sleep while he performed the ceremony alone. In other words, no one else can take this oath and no one else will receive this curse. All of it rests upon the faithfulness of God. God would secure his promise based upon “the unchangeable character of his purpose!”
And since, God cannot be unfaithful, this promise was the seal of the gospel. Jesus would receive the curse of our unfaithfulness as he hung upon the cross — and we would receive the blessing of eternal life through faith.
The quality of his promise and oath encourage us to hold fast (18). He closes this section with three images that reflect upon the work of Christ as our Redeemer:
1. Christ Our Refuge (18) When the author refers to “we who have fled for refuge” he’s including all of them, along with himself, in the covenant community. Everyone within the church has fled for refuge from the wrath to come.
2. Christ Our Anchor (19) Our hope is a steadfast anchor of the soul enabling communion with our great high priest. Connecting back to “the full assurance of hope” (11), he illustrates the immoveable quality of the hope they have in Christ. Anchors imply the possibility of storms ahead, but they also provide the stability and safety to endure.
3. Christ Our Forerunner (20) Jesus is the forerunner of our entrance into the holy of holies — and now he serves as our perpetual high priest!
What gives our hope its stability is the person in Whom it is placed. It’s not the firmness of our grip, but the object of our faith, that keeps us secure.
R.C. Sproul: “We are secure, not because we hold tightly to Jesus, but because he holds tightly to us.”
The oath of God was meant to convince the heirs of the covenant — that includes all who become children of Abraham by faith (Gal 3:7). Our assurance is based upon the immutability of God. He does not change, so we know his promises will not fail.
If we have “fled for refuge” in the church we will need encouragement to persevere in hope. And because we have a High Priest who is seated at the right hand of the Father, who is perpetually available for us, we can enter into the holy of holies anywhere and anytime.
The refuge from the storm, the anchor of our soul, and the forerunner of our communion with God is the person of Jesus Christ! We can be sure of better things because we know who holds us fast!