This sermon is offered by the CRCNA as part of our Reading Sermons series.
Scripture: Hebrews 6:17-20
Submitted by Rev. Marvin Van Donselaar
To say that we are living in changing times is to make the understatement of the day. We live today in what is referred to as the information age, brought on by the computer and the internet, and we all know how these innovations have changed our lives. From the way we communicate with each other today, to the way we keep our books, to the way we do business and shop, seemingly everything today is changing – almost every day.
All kinds of information is today at our finger tips; you don’t have to go to the library anymore, in fact, some young people hardly know what that is anymore. You go to the Web. You don’t have to go to the store for lots of things anymore; you shop online. All kinds of forces use these easy means to try to influence us and win us over to their way of thinking and living. In that respect our world is also a very dangerous world today, an uncertain world and a very, very challenging one for parents and for young people alike.
Add to that the breakneck speed at which everything is expected to operate today. Everything has to be done instantly, if not sooner. We are all in a hurry; things have to get done right now. There’s no time to think, no time to meditate, no time to read the Bible. Get with it! We have things to do and places to go and there is no time to waste!
If ever there was a time when we need to heed Paul’s warning not to be “…tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4: 14), it is today. What we all need if we are to withstand the spiritual winds, which are howling about us, is a real sense of stability. We need spiritual mooring. We need something solid and firm to hold on to.
It is that which the writer to the Hebrews is setting forth in our text when he writes of an anchor for the soul. This is the only time in the Bible where the anchor is used as an illustration of what we need in the way of help in life. The anchor, which is here spoken of, is the hope, which we are given in Christ Jesus our Lord.
We want to consider this illustrative picture set forth by the Apostle under the theme:
Hope: The Anchor of The Soul
- How God Created Hope in Abraham
- What The Object of Our Hope Is
- The Anchor Quality of That Hope
The words of our text are found in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Whenever we read from Hebrews we always have to remember that the intent of this Epistle was to win Hebrew people, that is Jews, over to faith in Christ. That’s why Hebrews has so many references and ties to the Old Testament and why so many quotations from the Old Testament are found in this Epistle. The recipients of these words knew the Old Testament and they needed to be won over to the New Testament.
So, in order to draw his readers to the hope which he wants to create in them in Christ, the Apostle first sets forth the background to that hope which goes all the way back to Abraham the father of the faith. Once he has demonstrated how God dealt with father Abraham and gave him hope, then he has a basis on which he can point his readers to their need to hope in Christ and find strength in Him.
Man’s natural tendency is always to question and to doubt. Abraham experienced that too. If we go back to the book of Genesis and read the story of Abraham, then we read there of how God called him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and told him to go to a land that he would show him. Part of God’s promise to Abraham was that he would be given a land of his own and a seed. Said the Lord God to Abraham (who was still Abram at that point in time): “’I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’” (Genesis 12: 2, 3).
Abram believed God and left his homeland and his family and went where God led him. From time to time God repeated his promise to him: “’I will make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted’” (Genesis 13: 16). Or again: “’Look up at the heavens and count the stars – if indeed you can count them….so shall your offspring be’” (Genesis 15: 5).
Years went by. Abram believed, but he also questioned for no child was born to him and Sarai his wife. One day Abram asked God: “’…what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus’” (Genesis 15: 2)?
In time Abram and Sarai came upon a plan to produce a child by way of her maid- servant Hagar. But God said: “’Yes, but your wife Sarai will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendents after him…’” (Genesis 17: 19).
We all know the story. The next year, Sarai bore Abram a son and named him Isaac, meaning laughter. Abram could now laugh with joy at the fulfillment of God’s promise which be had before questioned. That’s why his own name had been changed from Abram to Abraham meaning the father of many. But then one day God tested Abraham. Said He: I want you to take your son, your only son, the son whom you love, Isaac, the son of the promise, and go to the mountain that I will show you and there offer him up as a burnt offering.
Again, we know the story. Abraham got up early the next morning and he took his son, his beloved son, the son of the promise and he would have sacrificed him had not the Angel of the Lord stopped him in the knick of time. At that point we read a wondrous thing in that story: Genesis 22: 15 – “The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time and said, ‘I swear by myself, declares the Lord, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and make your descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore.’”
God whose word is very truth, God who cannot be doubted or questioned, there swore an oath by himself to attest to Abraham the validity of what he had promised. God repeated his promise: your descendents will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. That’s what our text is now talking about when it says: “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” (V. 17).
God was not only creating faith in the father of the faith, you see, but also hope. When he laid his son on that altar and took the knife in hand, he did so in the hope of the resurrection from the dead, as we read in Hebrews 11: 19: “Abraham reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from the dead.”
By two unchangeable things was Abraham was given hope: by the word of God’s promise and by the oath, which attested to it. So, as we read in Galatians 3: 6, Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.
II. How That Hope Carries Over to Us
To help bring us to the connection between all of this and ourselves, this is what we read in Galatians 3: 29: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” That’s how it is that we read here in our text: “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 offer to us may be greatly encouraged” (V. 18)
What God did for Abraham to confirm to him his promise to him carries over to us today who put our hope in Christ. Abraham was led to believe and to accept a promise and in that to have hope. You and I are also called to believe and accept promises – many of them – and in them is our hope, what is here referred to as “the hope that is offered to us.” What is this hope, which is offered to us? It is the hope, which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The Bible often speaks about hope, you know, Christian hope. Christian hope is different, altogether different, from non-Christian hope. Non-Christian hope is fearful of uncertainty. Non-Christian hope is nothing more than a gamble of sorts. I sure hope I never have to go though what they went through. I sure hope I never have a heart attack. I sure hope I don’t get cancer. I really hope I win the lottery one of these days. That kind of hope is nothing more than a wish, a gamble, an unfounded desire – hopey hope.
Christian hope is what the Scriptures speak of. Paul writes in Romans 8: 23 ff.: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” Again: Romans 5: 1, 2: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”
Our hope is based, you see, on certainty, like Abraham’s, not on uncertainty, like the worlds. Our hope is grounded in our acceptance of God’s Word that Jesus is God’s son sent into the world to save us from our sins. Our hope is based on the promise that all who believe on him will be saved through him. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whosoever believes on him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3: 16). Again: “…if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10: 9).
Our hope is based upon the truth of what Scripture says about Christ’s vicarious suffering and death and his resurrection on the third day in our place. Our hope is based on the promise that all who believe on him will themselves one day be raised from the dead. Jesus said: “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life” (John 5: 24). Our hope is based upon the promise that one day he is going to come again and we will enjoy heaven with him and a glory such as no eye has seen and no ear heard and no mind has conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him.
Those are the promises we are recipients of. That is the hope offered to us. Abraham was told he would have a seed and a land. We are promised a Savior and “an inheritance that can never perish, spoil, or fade – kept in heaven for you” (I Peter 1: 4). That is the hope offered to us in which we may now be greatly encouraged.
- The Anchor Quality of That Hope
We read in the text that this hope of ours is an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. An anchor belongs to a ship or a boat. It’s a heavy, heavy chunk of iron, often in the shape of a double hook, which is let down to the bottom of the sea to hook into whatever it can down there to give stability to the ship. In rough and stormy weather a ship is at the mercy of the wind and the sea, and it blows all over the place. That’s a very dangerous position to be in because it can be blown onto the rocks or into the shore or the sandbar or anywhere else. So the anchor is lowered to latch the ship to the bottom of the sea, to something solid, to give it stability.
Says our text: Our hope is an anchor for our soul, firm and secure. Our anchor reaches not to the bottom of the sea but into the sanctuary, behind the curtain. That’s the curtain which God tore in two when Christ cried out on the cross, “It is finished!” That sanctuary is heaven itself where Christ has gone and where he is seated at the right hand of God. He is there as the one who has gone on ahead of us. He is the first fruits of the resurrection, to use Paul’s figure of speech. He who was dead but who now lives forever has gone before us to prepare places for us. He is our forerunner. And our anchor is attached to him. His having gone before assures us that we will follow. He is the first fruits and we will be a part of the harvest to come. Our hope is anchored, hooked into, the one who has gone ahead on our behalf.
In a world of all kinds of change and uncertainty and fear and breakneck speed, He is the anchor of our soul. In the face of all the questions, which are asked from a number of different perspectives – For example: How long will the good times continue? What if global warming produces all of the dire things some predict? Is there going to be widespread drought and starvation? Or, from a much more personal point of view: What are we going to do when our health fails, or if we meet with a catastrophic accident? What will happen when we, or a loved one, dies? Or from yet another perspective: What is the future of the Church? Will it continue to deteriorate and apostatize, as it seems to be doing in many places today? I say, in the face of all of those questions and many, many more which all of us face in everyday life, we have an anchor, firm and secure.
We have to face all of those questions and possibilities in the light of the personal question posed by the words of the beautiful, old hymn: “Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift, or firm remain?”
By the Grace of God, the answer of the child of God comes: “ We have an anchor that keeps the soul, steadfast and sure while the billows roll, fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”
We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure, says the Scripture. Let the winds blow. Let the waves surge. Let the questions fly. Let the threats come. Let the world speed on. We have an anchor! We have a hope! We have stability here and now and eternity guaranteed in Christ Jesus our Lord. We are grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.