“God still hasn’t shown himself.” I heard a comedian say this last weekend, that God has “apparently” been here the whole time but he hasn’t shown himself. This is a silly statement, because Christianity teaches that not only has God shown himself, but he has shown himself very specifically in the person and work of Jesus Christ. He has revealed himself in many different ways as well, but he has most certainly shown himself. Conclusively and decisively. Even the Jews who had Jesus killed knew who he was. “13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Let us kill him, so that the inheritance may be ours’” (Luke 20:13-14). Jesus told this parable because he knew, the Jews challenging him, knew who he was for certain. This is why the act was so brazen and judged so strictly. The Roman governor Pilate, who green lit his execution, even knew he was executing an innocent man who was different, “17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” (Matt. 27:17-19). The Roman centurion overlooking Jesus’ death knew who he was, “39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”. (Mark 15:39). God has certainly revealed himself over and over again. There can be no doubt of this. This comedian shows not that he is wise but that he is ignorant, because the evidence that God has shown himself is phenomenal, and I am going to prove this to you this morning.
As Paul said, if Christ did not rise from the dead then we may as well eat and drink and be merry for tomorrow we die. But if we can prove the Scriptures which testify to this are inherently reliable, from those very scriptures themselves, then our faith is infinitely multiplied. That is what I want to do today. It only makes sense to trust in the death and resurrection of Christ if it truly happened, and the scriptures are so evidently supernatural in origin that we would be foolish to not believe in them as true.
But even though we know it to be true, we can still struggle with the reality of our faith. We cannot just reach out and touch God. And much of what we expect is still wrapped up in promises that have not yet been fulfilled. So this is what we are going to talk about this morning: how to build your hope on the promises of God and we will do this by establishing the Bible proves itself to be true. This sermon is going to take a lot of ground work, so we will build slowly but surely to our conclusive proof. By showing that God doesn’t leave himself without testimony.
1. Context – Again we need to remind ourselves of the context of Hebrews. This is a powerful little book that was written with a very clear and open purpose: encouraging Christian Jews, or Gentile converts to Judaism who had converted to Christianity, not to be tempted to turn their backs on Jesus and go back to the Old Covenant or back to the Rabbinical Judaism which dominated Israel in this day.
1.1 We have seen over and over again how the writer of Hebrews shows the New Covenant is better than the Old, that Jesus is a better law giver than Moses, a better priest than Aaron, a better mediator than the blood of bulls and goats, and the only one who can wash their consciences clean.
1.1.1 Hebrews’ argument is very simple: Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, no one can come to father except through him, so why would you look anywhere else? This is a message of exclusivity and supremacy. Christianity is the exclusive and supreme religion, offering salvation to all who trust in Jesus, only the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf can save.
1.2 But even though this was all true, these Christians were struggling with temptation to go back to the Old Covenant, because it had a tangible temple and priesthood, that people could see and touch with their own eyes and hands. It is in this context, that we read Hebrews 9:15 - “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant…”
1.2.1 Our Hebrews writer is reminding these doubting Jewish Christians that they have received the promises: “Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance…”
1.2.2 When God said to Abraham, Genesis 17:7 – “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.” This was talking about Jesus: Galatians 3:16 - “Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.” And therefore all that were in Jesus.
1.3 God promised an inheritance to Abraham and his offspring, and this promise is absolutely fulfilled in Jesus. Now we say this, but how can we be certain of this? Have you ever found yourself doubting this, or at least doubting that you can be sure about this? If you have, you are not the only one who has had to wrestle with taking God’s word on faith. Abraham had to do the same.
2. God Gave Abraham Signposts – I want us to answer today: how can we be certain we are trusting in the right God, the right promises? This is what the Hebrews were wrestling with. Think about this: the ancients in Abraham’s era had to take a lot on faith. They did not have the Bible, they did not have physical temples for God, they did not have a distinct class of people, called God’s people. But they did have some things. We think of Abraham as the man of faith, and he was. But God also gave him sign posts, that his faith was not misplaced.
2.1 The ancients in Abraham’s era had a good understanding of there being a creator God who opposed chaos, they knew there had been a paradise and a fall, and they all knew about the flood. Remember in Abraham’s day Shem is still alive somewhere. They didn’t have nothing to go on. But without the written record we have, it would have been harder to know for sure what to believe.
2.1.1 What they had was significant though. Their holding onto their identity and memory, even if only partially, provided Moses with the sources to write the first few books of the Bible.
2.2 God also appeared to Abraham. We read in Genesis 12:1-3 – “12 Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’”
2.2.1 We know this is a theologically significant encounter as this is the beginning of God’s plan to create a people for himself. But look at this from a human, family perspective. Here is this guy being asked to move to a far away land, leave everything he knows behind, and all at the drop of a hat.
22.214.171.124 I don’t even like staying at someone else’s house for a night. Whenever I am staying somewhere else, I am like: can’t wait to be home. Yet Abraham will never see his home again.
2.3 Abraham took a big step of faith here. But just the fact that God revealed himself to him is evidence there is good reason for him to trust in God. This is just one example of one of the many times God revealed himself in this world. God also didn’t leave Abraham without extra signposts along the way:
2.3.1 In the second part of Genesis 12, God delivers Abraham and Sarah from Pharaoh of Egypt, in a miraculous way.
2.3.2 In Genesis 14 God gives Abraham the victory over superior forces and the high priest of God, Melchizedek, blesses him, showing God is with him.
2.3.3 In Genesis 15 God gives Abraham the promise of a huge number of offspring and promise that his descendants will inherit the land. Then after that we see several threats to this promise. First from an illegitimate child in Genesis 16, and then later again he saves Abraham and Sarah from another king, who had taken Sarah as his own.
126.96.36.199 In the meantime, God involves Abraham in his plans for destroying Sodom and Gomorrah and for rescuing Lot.
2.3.4 God promises Abraham a lot and asks him to take it on faith, but he doesn’t leave Abraham without testimony that he can fulfil his promises. God is not like that. He doesn’t expect us to act on blind faith. Faith in God is completely rational and verifiable.
2.4 So, we can see how trusting in the promises of God was wise for Abraham. He did step out in faith, he did take risks based on that faith, and God vindicated his faith again and again. God told him he would make his name great, and God did. God told him he would have many offspring and he did. God told him he would be the father of many nations. And he is. He is at least the father of Israel and the Arab nations, and maybe more as well.
2.4.1 But we can see that God gave him little signposts along the way, showing that he was going to fulfil his grand promises.
2.5 Now many people think: wow how cool would it have been to live in Abraham’s day? I mean look at all the cool things that God did in and through him. But remember Abraham lived for 175 years, and these few occasions God appeared to him were spread out over all that time. Indeed, he and Sarah were so concerned about the impossibility of the promise that Sarah gave her young slave girl to Abraham to have a child to try and self-fulfil the promise, Genesis 16:2 – “2 And Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the Lord has prevented me from bearing children. Go in to my servant; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram listened to the voice of Sarai.”
2.5.1 This event shows us that Abraham and Sarah struggled with the same doubts of faith that we do today. In fact, they both laughed later on when told that Sarah was about to conceive. Showing that they too found it hard to believe that a supernatural God works in this world.
2.6 Abraham’s account shows us that God gives his promises, but he doesn’t want you to just believe on blind faith. He has revealed himself in this world. He has shown himself, and he gives sign-posts of his work. Therefore you can trust him.
2.7 But someone may be listening to this and thinking: are you serious Matt, are you really going to stand there and say to us that we should trust the promises of God, because the Bible says we should trust the promises of God, and the Bible confirms itself? Are you really saying that?
2.7.1 Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Straight up and boldly. The Bible vindicates itself, and it is the best defender of itself. As Charles Spurgeon once said when asked about defending the bible: “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.”[i]
2.7.2 This is what we are going to prove today, but we need to do more ground work.
3. God Gave The Hebrews Signposts – Just as God gave signposts to Abraham in his day, so had he lain signposts for the Hebrews Christians in their day. Remember in the context of our letter the temple is recognized as still standing. It is about to be destroyed in their day, but it hadn’t happened yet. If our assumption that Hebrews was written before AD 70 is correct, and it very likely is (our argument doesn't depend on this), then these Jewish Christians have standing before them still a physical sign of the greatness of God’s blessing on the ancient Jewish people, the temple. Even the disciples were impressed by it: “5 And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, 6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:5-6).
3.1 The glory of this temple was a strong and visible temptation to go back to an obsolete covenant. But the Hebrews writer is warning them: judgement will come upon those who reject Jesus, Hebrews 2:2-4 - “2 Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. 2 For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, 3 how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, 4 while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.”
3.1.1 Now, if Hebrews was written before the destruction of the temple. Our Jewish Christians still have all of the Biblical testimony, evidenced by historical fulfilment, of God fulfilling his promises of judgement through his prophets. These were recorded in the Bible’s history and in the history of other nations in this era.
188.8.131.52 Like Abraham, they could look at the all of the sign posts God had presented through history, to see that these prophecies were true and real and fulfilled. God had promised if his people rebelled against him, they would serve other lands, they would lose their sovereignty, and all of this had happened.
3.2 But because the temple was still standing they may have seen its glory, like the disciples did, and be swayed to see it’s existence as a rebuke of early Christianity: they may have seen it as proof God was still fully behind the sacrificial system and the Jewish people.
3.2.1 But we know, the temple was destroyed, with an exclamation mark. This was one of the biggest events in the history of the ancient world. And it was predicted by Jesus, and, everyone in this era saw it as the fulfilment of God’s judgement, even the Jewish people themselves (read Philip Schaff The History Of The Christian Church pp. 397-399, or click and read The Destruction of the City and the Temple).
3.3 This means, these Hebrew Christians had all of the signposts of God’s judgement in history, and then in their day, either after Hebrews was written, or just before, Jesus’ words were fulfilled in a way no one could deny was a work of God. Over a million people perished in the Wars of the Jews and the temple was utterly annihilated.
3.3.1 This was seen by many as one of the strongest bits of evidence proving Christianity was the true interpretation of the Old Covenant promises, just as our Hebrews’ writer is arguing.
3.3.2 Imagine how powerful a fulfilment this was to these Hebrew Christians, whether this happened before or after Hebrews was written, it was prophesied by Jesus long before the Hebrews had believed. They now had 100% iron clad, undoubtable proof, that God fulfils his promises, in this case of the promise of judgement.
3.3.3 It is no surprise that Christianity flourished after the destruction of the temple, in fact it accelerated in growth. People could see the evidence of the promises of God, right before their eyes. The Jewish people captured in this war were sold as slaves all over the empire, even being employed to build the Colosseum.
3.3.4 This is why Jesus cried when he considered what was going to happen to his holy city: Luke 13:34-35 – “34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! 35 Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
3.4 So, we see that just as God gave signposts to Abraham, he also gave signposts to these Hebrew Christians. Again and again God had fulfilled his promise to judge his people if they rejected him, and this clearly proved to them that God was sovereignly guiding history.
3.5 But you are still waiting for that iron clad proof. I told you, we have to do a lot of groundwork. The destruction of the temple was a clear signpost in the time of the Hebrews letter, but God has not left us without signposts either, that he fulfils his promises.
4. The Jewish People Prove The Bible Is 100% Supernatural – You have probably heard this point made before, but in a different way to which I am going to make it. Often people have said that the very existence of the Jewish people, still today, as a distinct people, is proof of the existence of God, and his ability to preserve his people. I am not going to make that point. I think that point has an element of truth in it, but it’s not completely correct. The Jewish people are not proof that God preserves his people, the Church is proof of that. God has grown and blessed his church, Jew and Gentile, for 2000 years in the face of all kinds of threats. The Jewish people, however, are proof that God keeps his promises, which include promises of blessings for the faithful and curses for the disobedient.
4.1 The Experience of The Jewish People – We have looked at a lot of scriptural evidence that God fulfils his promises, fulfilments also recorded in history. You might not find the ones I have given so far iron clad, because they all happened in the time of the scriptures, and you may think it is possible they have been written after the fact. We who believe the Bible know this isn’t the case, but this doesn’t help the skeptic. But what if the Bible was able to predict the entire experience of the Jewish people for the last 2500 years? Look at this: Deuteronomy 28:36-44 – “36 The Lord will bring you and your king whom you set over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers have known. And there you shall serve other gods of wood and stone. 37 And you shall become a horror, a proverb, and a byword among all the peoples where the Lord will lead you away. 38 You shall carry much seed into the field and shall gather in little, for the locust shall consume it. 39 You shall plant vineyards and dress them, but you shall neither drink of the wine nor gather the grapes, for the worm shall eat them. 40 You shall have olive trees throughout all your territory, but you shall not anoint yourself with the oil, for your olives shall drop off. 41 You shall father sons and daughters, but they shall not be yours, for they shall go into captivity. 42 The cricket shall possess all your trees and the fruit of your ground. 43 The sojourner who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. 44 He shall lend to you, and you shall not lend to him. He shall be the head, and you shall be the tail.”
4.1.1 If you study the history of the last 2500 years of Jewish history, you will see that this prophecy has been fulfilled. The Jewish people have experienced all sorts of pressure, degradation, being ruled by foreigners again and again, exclusion, expulsion from dozens of countries, like Spain in 1492, England in 1290, Moscow in 1891, and many other examples.
4.1.2 Yes at times some of them get rich, but the history of the Jewish people appears to be a cycle of gaining much and then losing it, just like this passage says will happen. It is a perpetual living reminder that God is real, and he fulfils his promises.
4.2 Indeed, this is the very proof the New Testament itself gives of the veracity of the gospel, and tells us to look at this evidence: Romans 11:11-12 – “11 So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather, through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous. 12 Now if their trespass means riches for the world, and if their failure means riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” In fact the whole point of Romans 9-11 is that God’s promises are still secure, because the fact that the Jewish people are facing such hardship and unbelief is not a failure of his promises but a fulfilment.
4.2.1 This is a signpost we can see before us, everyday of our lives. All we need to do is read Deuteronomy 28, and see what it says, and compare it to the people who rejected their God and see if it is true and fulfilled. And we see that it is. God’s faithfulness in fulfilling his word is clear before our eyes, he does not leave us without testimony, he leaves us with great testimony: “25 As indeed he says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’” 26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’ there they will be called ‘sons of the living God.’” Has this happened? Yes. Is it happening today? Yes. When was it prophesied? Over 2700 years ago. Yet we see the fulfilment before our eyes. God would bless the Church and the Jewish people would become a remnant: “27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: “Though the number of the sons of Israel be as the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved, 28 for the Lord will carry out his sentence upon the earth fully and without delay” (Romans 9:27-29). The clear reality of these verses being fulfilled, was what convinced so many people, both Jews and Gentiles, to believe Paul’s message.
4.3 That something written by Moses, about 3500 years ago, and something these prophets said 2700 years ago, could so accurately come to fruition, and be witnessed still today in our time, is proof beyond any doubt of the supernatural origin of these prophecies, the supernatural origin of the scriptures which contain them, and that the supernatural God of the Church exists. It is undeniable. There is no other possible explanation for the ability of these passages to describe the experience of the Jewish people and Church today.
4.4 A historian was asked once: what is the best proof of Christianity, he said, “The Jewish people.” He was right, and God still desires for their salvation, as did Paul, “10 Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:1-2). But salvation can only come through Jesus.
5. We see this in our own lives too – You can see these signposts in our lives too and in the lives of nations. When you apply the principles of God’s word to your life: righteous living, desiring a quiet life, avoiding addiction, avoiding debt as much as possible, etc, etc, you see that God’s ways are truly the best ways.
5.1 You will still face opposition and persecution. But people and nations that focus on strong families, with husbands and wives as the nucleus of society, just as they are the nucleus of the church in Colossians, Ephesians, and Timothy, flourish, beyond and above people and nations that live in abject rejection of God.
5.2 How many times has the gospel forged a great nation? How many times has the gospel being rejected led to that nation declining? The promises of God in scripture and their fulfilment are signposts to us, just as they were to the Hebrews Christians and to Abraham.
5.3 But to prove this is the work of the God of the scriptures, and not just general principles of karma, God chose a distinct people living in this world, that everyone can observe, that everyone can study their history if they wish, to illustrate: if you ignore God’s promises you will face curses. The plight of the Jewish people proves these are not general principles of karma, but the direct work of the Lord Jesus Christ in this world.
5.4 This is proof that only the Christian God can be the true God, because the punishments are specific to his will and promises and this is evident. God has revealed himself so thoroughly, only a hardhearted fool would reject him.
6. Conclusion: But Be Humble and Believe - This teaching should not make us gentile Christians proud, or arrogant, “19 Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” 20 That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. 21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. 22 Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (Romans 11:19-22).
6.1 “Note then the kindness and severity of God…” Why is Paul saying this? He is saying, note the judgement that came upon the people who rejected him, so that you can avoid that happening to you as well. Exactly what the writer of Hebrews was warning.
6.2 This is such a powerful signpost, because it is observed both in scripture and in real life, and we can still observe it today. God has most assuredly revealed himself, and he continually does. You just need to know where to look, and his word helps us with that.
6.3 But as you can also see, it thoroughly vindicates itself, and needs nothing else to prove it true. You just have to read it, look up and observe, and read it again, and you can see it is truer than any other book in history. Hence listen to what Hebrews 9 says, “15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant…27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
6.4 There is still more promises to be fulfilled, and no promise more important than God’s threat to judge the wicked and promise to save those who believe in Jesus. All the signposts are there, we can know the Bible is supernatural, thoroughly true and provably so. So, I ask you this personal question: are you prepared to ignore the clear signposts of God’s judgement? Are you prepared to take that risk? This is not a 50-50 wager. The clear signs of his judgement are evident throughout history to this very day. This is a guaranteed certainty: trust in Jesus or face judgement. Let’s pray.