The Sure & Steadfast Anchor of Our Soul
11 …we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, 12 so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. 13 For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. 16 For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation. 17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.
Longing for Hope
In our trek through Hebrews, chapters 5-10 explain why Jesus’ priesthood is greater than that of Aaron. He’s greater in that God appointed Jesus after the order of Melchizedek. But we’ve also had to wait for him to explain that further. Instead he exposed sluggishness in the church. God has spoken a word in Jesus. But they’ve become sluggish toward Jesus. They’ve reverted to old ways in Judaism and slowly drifted from Jesus. So he sounds the alarm: if you continue this way, you forfeit your soul.
At the same time, he’s confident of better things. He’s confident they will heed his warning and come out of their sluggishness. That’s part of the reason he circles back to Melchizedek in verse 20. He’s taking them into the maturity God desires under the new covenant. He’s taking them out of their sluggish hearing and into a deeper treasuring of Jesus. Because with Jesus comes an unshakable hope.
People long for an unshakable hope. In his book Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis wrote the following:
Most people, if they had really learned to look into their own hearts, would know that they do want, and want acutely, something that cannot be had in this world. There are all sorts of things that offer to give it to you, but they never quite keep their promise. The longings which arise in us when we first fall in love, or first think of some foreign country, or first take up some subject that excites us, are longings which no marriage, no travel, no learning, can really satisfy…
I think we all know what he means. We long for an unshakable hope, a good that actually fulfills our longings. But we find ourselves repeatedly disappointed. Even the best of things in this world never quite measure up, never quite keep their promise, never quite last very long. By contrast, Hebrews reveals an unshakable hope, a promise-keeping God, a Savior who secures a hope that will not disappoint.
To see this, let’s take four steps. Step one, hope clarified. Many times the word “hope” comes with a degree of uncertainty. People desire a good thing to happen, but they’re not so sure it will. So we say things like, “I hope you sleep well,” or “I hope he makes the field goal,” or “I hope you get that raise after all.” We may even have some grounds for believing the good thing could really happen. But there’s still some lack of certainty. So quite often expressed-hope really reflects a kind of wishful thinking.
That’s not the way Hebrews uses hope—or the whole New Testament for that matter. Christian hope conveys absolute certainty. You get a taste for it in verse 11. He wants them to have “the full assurance of hope.” Meaning, the future good in view is so certain that it produces rock-solid confidence in the present.
Later in 10:23 he says this: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” Why hold fast without wavering? God is faithful. In other words, the objective, proven faithfulness of God produces the inward confidence that he will come through on his promise. There’s no question whether God will follow through. That’s the hope in view.
Also important to clarify: hope in Hebrews is always tied to the end—meaning, the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promises in the new heaven and earth. Notice in verse 11 the “full assurance of hope until the end.” Verse 18 calls it the “hope set before us.” In Hebrews 4 the hope was that of eternal rest. No enemies, creation bountiful, everything rightly ordered, everybody made whole—all in the presence of God. That was the rest in chapter 4. In chapter 11 it’s the better country. In chapter 12 it’s the unshakable kingdom. It’s certain but one that we’re also waiting to experience in full.
And then one more clarifying remark: this hope produces perseverance. It’s hard to run a race when you have no hope of finishing, when you have no hope of reward. It’s hard to get out of bed when you’re hopeless. It’s hard to stay faithful when all seems lost or pointless. But when there’s hope, you persevere. You run harder for the prize.
Many of you will be familiar with the Hoover Dam—enormous concrete dam built in the 1930s. Behind that dam stands the largest reservoir in the US, Lake Mead. It’s an arch-gravity dam. Gravity forces massive amounts of water downward. The dam then channels the water through several hydro-electric generators. Those generators then produce electricity to help power various cities.
When the reservoir is full, the generators run. This passage taps into a massive reservoir of hope for the Christian. It’s a reservoir filled with hope to overflowing. When you draw from the hope found in Jesus, you can’t help but run and work and serve and worship. That’s the goal in verses 13-20. He means to keep us running/persevering by tapping into a massive reservoir of hope found only in Jesus.
You might be wondering, “Okay, how does that actually work? What does that look like?” Great questions. He gives us an example in Abraham. Through Abraham’s life, we see this perseverance-producing hope exemplified.
Notice how verse 12 ends. He states his purpose negatively and then positively. Negatively he says, “so that you may not be sluggish.” Then positively, “[but so that you may become] imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Then enters Abraham in verse 13. Abraham is one of the people you should imitate insofar as he inherited the promises through faith and patience.
Let’s read it together: “For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.’ And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.” He’s doing two things. On the one hand, he’s pointing out the significance of God swearing by himself—and we’ll discuss that more in a minute. On the other hand, he’s pointing out how Abraham obtained the promise “having patiently waited.”
Now if you go back in your Bibles to Genesis 22, you’ll find the words quoted here: “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.” They come from Genesis 22:17. But super important is the context in which God speaks these words. They come after God tests Abraham’s faith by asking him to sacrifice his son, Isaac.
Anybody reading Genesis would be absolutely shocked that God would ask Abraham to do this. Isaac is the promised son. All the promises to Abraham were to come through Isaac. All the blessings—a great nation, a great name, even the hope of all the families of the earth. We’re not talking here of mere tribal blessings but world-wide blessings that come through a promised son in Abraham’s line. In Galatians 3:8, Paul can even describe them as promises “foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith.”
All these promises bound up with Isaac. More than that, Abraham had to wait twenty-five years for Isaac—and all the while, he’s staring at his own body, which was as good as dead, and considering the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. Twenty-five years—then Isaac finally comes. They enjoy many years. Then God asks Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.
The story twists your stomach into knots. What about the promises?! And yet Abraham demonstrates faith and patience. Two things in Genesis 22 teach us about the kind of faith he had. When they reach Mount Moriah, Abraham tells his young men, “Stay here with the donkey; I and the boy will go over there and worship and we will come again to you.” How can we come again, if he was to sacrifice Isaac? Hebrews 11:19 answers that for us: “[Abraham] considered that God was able even to raise [Isaac] from the dead…” Wow! Another piece to his faith in Genesis 22 was this: Abraham knew “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering.”
Point being, Genesis 22 gives us a clear picture of the faith and patience we ought to have. God’s promises aren’t inherited any other way. They’re not inherited through ease and comfort and a life free of hard obstacles. They’re inherited by those who look the obstacles in the face and then consider the goodness and faithfulness of our God. They consider the hope bound up with God’s faithfulness; and that hope moves them to persevere in obedience. The hope bound up with God’s promise empowered Abraham to obey, to serve, to persevere in the face of great obstacles.
The hope bound up with God’s promises will do the same for you. Even more, we know the promise’s fulfillment. Jesus is the true Son in Abraham’s line who blesses all nations. Abraham may have received the promise provisionally. In Jesus we have the promises made even more sure! How much more ought we to become imitators of those who through faith and patience inherited the promises. We have all the more evidence that God is faithful. More on that in a few minutes.
Let’s now take a second step: hope unchangeable. I mentioned before the significance of God swearing by himself in verse 13. Verses 16-18 now explain why God did that. It’s not like God’s original promise needed anything added to it. God stands behind his own word. He’s not a liar. Nothing can stop him. Why, then, did he take this extra step to swear by himself?
Let’s find out, beginning with verse 16: “For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.” He’s drawing an analogy. People swear by something greater: “I swear to tell nothing but the truth, so help me God”—hand on the Bible; “I swear on the soul of my father, Domingo Montoya, you will reach the top alive.” Right? People do this—it finalizes the deal; it guarantees the word. When it comes to God, however, there’s no one greater.
That’s what verse 13 said. There’s no one more powerful, more knowing, more present, more good. So if God is going to swear at all, he must do it by his self. But why? Why do it at all when you’re God already? Verse 17, “So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise…” That’s you. If you belong to Jesus, that’s you. He now shifts away from Abraham to the children of Abraham. And he doesn’t mean children by birth but children by faith in Christ—a faith that flees to Jesus for refuge in verse 18. God desired to show you something more convincingly.
What did he desire to show you? Verse 17, “the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” How about that?!
Why did God who already made a promise also add to it an oath? He did it to serve you, beloved. He did it to solidify your confidence in him. He had you in mind when he did it. He wanted to display for you the unchangeable character of his purpose. He is as committed to his purpose for you in grace as he is to his own being—not because you’re so great but because that’s how much he wants you to enjoy his greatness. That’s how much he wants you to have strong encouragement to hold fast.
This is why the historic creeds and confessions affirm that God is immutable, unchangeable. He stakes his own covenant faithfulness to you upon his unchangeable being. To ever say there can be change in God’s being or character is to immediately compromise assurance in his promises to you. Sound doctrine is crucial for perseverance. The true God is the unchangeable God. When this God makes a promise and then swears by his own self, we have all the more assurance that what he promises will happen. We have a hope unchangeable. Why? God is unchangeable.
Now there’s some debate as to what these “two unchangeable things” are in verse 18. Some will say he’s moving now to Psalm 110. The two unchangeable things relate to Christ’s priesthood: it’s both forever and it’s after the order of Melchizedek. I’m more inclined to stick closer to verses 13 and 14. The two unchangeable things would then be the promise itself and the oath on top of it.
Get this, though. To take that view doesn’t exclude the discussion about Psalm 110. It actually serves it. Because in Psalm 110 we get another oath he swears about Jesus’ priesthood; and Jesus’ priesthood is bound up with how God chooses to fulfill his promise to Abraham. Jesus’ priesthood answers how all nations would be blessed.
Which leads us now to step four: hope secured. Verses 19-20 further describe the hope mentioned at the end of verse 18. He describes it in three ways. He calls the hope “an anchor of the soul.” Growing up in Corpus Christi, we’d sometimes watch these giant ships enter the channel. I’ll never forget the size of the anchors. The anchors alone just dwarfed us. When we think of an anchor it signifies great stability. You stay put in a storm. The wind and waves won’t take you off course. The anchor leaves you unmoved.
He also says our hope is “sure and steadfast.” 2:2 used the same words to describe how God’s message through the angels proved reliable. The evidence to back it up was that God punished every transgression. So also here our hope is reliable. It’s not going to become less certain tomorrow. It’s unshifting in certainty. And the evidence to back it up is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus.
So he goes on to say, thirdly—it’s a hope “that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf.” Under the old covenant, the inner place behind the curtain was the Most Holy place in the tabernacle and then later in the temple. It signified the very presence of God, where he sat enthroned in glory. Only once a year could the high priest enter the Most Holy place. He represented the people before God; and he did so to atone for the people’s sins.
The point of all this was to tell a true story. God is holy. Because God is holy, he can’t overlook sin. Sin deserves judgment. Sin keeps us separated from God. People can’t enter God’s presence as long as they have their sin problem. At the same time, God chooses to love sinners and bring them into his presence. But the only way they can enter his presence is by the death of another in their place. Hence the high priest would offer the blood of bulls and goats.
Those were but copies of the greater things to come. The blood of bulls and goats never really took away sins. But they pointed to a better sacrifice. The sacrifice Jesus brings—he offers himself and his blood removes sins once and for all. More than that, Jesus opens the way to God. Through his sacrifice, we too have access.
Notice: it’s not simply that Jesus enters God’s presence like the other high priests did and that’s the end of that—he’s the only one who will ever enjoy the Lord’s presence. Rather, he brings us with him. Everybody belonging to Jesus gets to come before God’s presence too. That’s how extensive his cross is!
That’s how wonderful his resurrection life is. He’s a risen high priest who enters God’s presence as our “forerunner.” To be our forerunner doesn’t mean he just finished the race first, that he was the fastest. It means other runners will follow in the wake of his victory. That’s you and me. He’s bringing us with him.
In some sense we get to enter God’s presence already. We have confident access to him in prayer. Ephesians 2 says we’re already seated with Christ in the heavenly places. When we die, even then we will know the presence of the Lord immediately. But even beyond that: there’s coming a day when we will enjoy the very presence of God in a new creation and with new and glorified bodies—and all because of the work of Jesus. That is our hope. And that hope is secure because Jesus is already enjoying it himself as our forerunner.
Flee to Jesus for refuge and find true hope.
So what does this mean? How should such a passage impact us? Perhaps you’re listening to this and you’ve been searching for hope. You look around and see the pain and the injustice. You see the sickness and the disease spreading. You give yourself wholeheartedly to your job and then learn the company is downsizing and in short order you won’t have a job anymore. You fell in love and then had your dreams dashed. Your 401K just tanked with the rest of the stock market. “Why bother getting out of bed anymore? Is there any hope?” you may wonder.
This word from the Lord says there is hope in Jesus Christ. You can keep searching the world over for hope, but all you’ll find are things that can’t keep their promises, people that don’t come through, philosophies that are empty. What you need is a hope that lasts, that can’t be shaken, that doesn’t fluctuate with the ups and downs but is already secured; and that hope comes alone in Jesus Christ. Flee to him for refuge, for safety, for security, for comfort, for eternal life and you will know this hope.
Without him, your life will continue in hopeless despair and in the end you will perish away from the presence of the Lord. Your sin will keep you away from God’s presence; and to be away from God’s presence is to have no real hope. But God gives us a real hope by addressing our deepest need—we need to be reconciled to him. To trust in Jesus unites you to a true hope in the very presence of God. All these longings you want fulfilled but don’t find fulfilled by the world—they can only be satisfied truly and lastingly in the presence of God. That is the Christian’s hope: the presence of God and the fullness of his glory; and Jesus alone brings us into it.
Preach to yourself the hope secured for you in Jesus.
Most of you listening know Jesus already. You’ve fled to him for refuge. Yet still, you’ve lost sight of the hope secured for you. Or maybe the hope seems fuzzy right now because of the craziness of life and the panic over coronavirus. Or maybe the cloud of grief has so overwhelmed you that you find it hard to feel hope.
The saints of old can identify with you. In particular, I’m thinking of the person in Psalm 42. His soul thirsts for God. He says, “My tears have been my food day and night…” He says, “My soul is cast down within me…” At one point he even says, “God, why have you forgotten me?”
But in these moments how does he respond? He doesn’t pretend the pain isn’t there. He doesn’t ignore the suffering and hardships. Rather, he brings them to the Lord and then he preaches the true hope to himself. Twice he says this in the psalm: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation.”
Where does he find hope in the distress? He finds it in God. God is his salvation. And more than ever we can see that salvation revealed in the person and work of Jesus. More than ever we can hope in God because Jesus has entered God’s presence on our behalf. He is our forerunner and he has bound himself to you, such that no matter what you’re facing, no matter what waves of life are crashing against you and trying to knock you off course, his anchor will hold you fast. God wants you to be encouraged by that. He swore with an oath to give you strong encouragement in that.
Some of you may be quite fearful about coronavirus. But listen to what Tom Schreiner wrote yesterday in response:
We are not promised that we will survive the coronavirus, but we are promised that we will survive something far worse, the curse that falls on those who don’t know God. We pray for God to be merciful in our distress. We weep with those who weep. We suffer with those who are suffering. We use wisdom and take necessary precautions. But we also lift up our heads in confidence. We have a hope that neither death nor life, nor viruses, nor sagging economies can touch.
Our hope is secure, brothers and sisters. Nothing can take it away. Preach this to yourself every day. Make it your meditation. Again, not to deny reality. That’s not what the Christian faith does. Abraham considered the deadness of Sarah’s womb—that’s specific, that’s real. Yet he grew in faith, Romans says. He meditated on the God who is faithful to keep his promises. We have a sure and steadfast hope in Christ. Make that hope your meditation too in the days ahead.
Imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
Then, as you tap into this massive reservoir of hope, imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. This letter is written to Christians who are wavering in their commitment to Jesus. Part of that is due to persecution. The other part is due to their own passivity. But he doesn’t simply tell them to imitate the faithful. He doesn’t simply say, “Get with it!” He first sets before them the hope secured by Jesus.
Why? Because when you see the glory of the hope, when you have assurance that God will come through on his word, when you see how God already came through on his word in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and how that means all the other promises will soon come to pass—you want to run. You want to persevere. You want to be faithful. It’s all going to happen! It all means something!
So also with us. We have seen the hope set before us. We have seen how unshakable our hope really is—grounded in God’s unchangeable character, secured by Jesus’ forever-priesthood. Now we must let that hope move us to action. Let us become imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
I remember going to a conference. It was during a season when I was really wrestling with whether to keep pastoring, whether that was the right role I was called to in the church. My doubts mainly arose from seeing little results after laboring and laboring and laboring. Part of my discouragement was the result of my own sin. My lack of thanksgiving prevented me from seeing all the good things the Lord was already doing. But the other part of my discouragement was the result of really not seeing the word bear fruit in some of the relationships I was invested in.
But I was at this conference and speaker was talking about the consistent pattern in Scripture of saints waiting patiently for God’s promises to transpire. That was helpful. I felt like I could really identify. But then he said this, “The seed [meaning the gospel seed] may lie beneath the clods until you do, and then spring to life.” And then he asked, “Brother, are you okay with that?” Everything in me at the time wanted to scream, “No! I’m not okay with that! I want to see results now!”
That was a revealing moment for me. What it revealed was that my heart was set more on enjoying results than it was on enjoying God. It exposed that I would be faithful just so long as I got what I wanted, when I wanted it. Sure, seeing immediate results is an immense blessing. But that’s not ultimately why we serve the Lord. We serve him and remain faithful to him simply because he is worthy. No matter what we might see in this life, he is worthy of everything we have. Inheriting the promises comes by faith and patience, beloved. Let’s imitate those who’ve gone before us in faithful gospel ministry. A glorious inheritance awaits us. The Lord will come through on his promise. He’s unchangeable. More than that, he secured our hope with the gift of his Son. Jesus will be our help until we inherit the promises with him.
other sermons in this series