Sermon preached on Hebrews 3:1-6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 4/29/2018 in Novato, CA.
“Faithful to Him Who Appointed Him”
Ever since the coming of Christ and the enactment of the new covenant, God’s people have had to learn how to relate this new covenant with the old. This fact hits us very plainly every time we open our Bibles. We have an Old Testament and a New Testament in our Bibles. Different groups down through the centuries have tried to address this in wrong ways. It started as early as the Judaizers during the time when the New Testament was still even being recorded. Then many new Jewish Christians thought that the Gentile followers of Christ needed to start following all the rituals and ceremonies that Moses have given under the old covenant. The church considered that and rejected that; see the church council in Acts 15. Others, went the opposite extreme. For example, less than a century later, someone named Marcion denounced and rejected the Old Testament, saying it was incompatible with faith in Jesus. Yet again, the Church disagreed, and excommunicated Marcion. Then, there was the middle ages, where the Roman Catholic church developed into what it is today. Arguably, the emphasis they place on the externals in their worship style has become influenced partly by the precedence set by the old covenant; yet during the Reformation the reformers argued that was not fitting now under the new covenant. More recently, there has been the rise of dispensationalism which at its core sees two peoples of God, Israel versus the Gentile church, an error which also stems from a challenge in relating the old covenant with the new. These are just a few examples of this challenge that the church has had with relating the old with the new. Yet, the New Testament tells us so much about how to properly understand this relationship. Hebrews especially guides us in this regard. There are similarities and differences between the old and the new. We will need to learn where certain things have found fulfillment in Christ and therefore are no longer to be practiced (like animal sacrifices or kosher food laws). Yet, the old and new covenants are not so fundamentally different that we have no use for such Scripture any more. In fact, we see quite the opposite. Despite the differences, there is much connection and unity we have with those saints under the old covenant. And so, Hebrews gives us this great balanced response: there is both connection and difference with the saints of old under the old covenant. Today’s passage contributes to our understanding on this, as it relates Jesus with Moses, who are the mediators of the two covenants.
So then, let’s begin in our first point by considering Moses, mediator of the old covenant. Verse 1 tells us to “consider” Jesus and then relates him to Moses. So, let’s first “consider” Moses. What do we learn about Moses here? In verse 5, we see that he was a servant; a servant of God. Not only that, but we see that he was a faithful servant. Moses’ faithfulness is asserted in both verses 3 and 5. Here Hebrews surely has in mind the Old Testament passage of Numbers 12:7. There God calls Moses his servant and says of Moses that is “He is faithful in all My house.” Numbers there also says what this passage Hebrews says; it’s God’s house, not Moses’ house. And so, Moses was a servant and he was faithful. He worked for God as God was building his house. And notice that nothing is said here in Hebrews about the failings of Moses. True, we know from Scripture that he sinned in different ways, especially in striking the rock when God told him to speak to the rock. That sin kept Moses from entering the earthly Promised Land. But none of that is mentioned here. This is surely written to people who held Moses in the highest regard and there was no need to point that out. There’s no effort or desire to denigrate Moses here. In fact, this passage says the Scripture glorified Moses, implied in verse 3 and certainly recorded in that Numbers 12:7 statement by God.
As we consider Moses for a moment, I would further remind you that Moses was not just another prophet of the Old Testament. Nor does the Book of Hebrews describe Moses here as just one of many people that are to be contrasted with Jesus. No, Moses stands in the Old Testament in a pivotal role as the one whom God used to establish the covenant that governed most of the Old Testament timeframe. Think of the titles given here of Jesus in verse 1: apostle and high priest. We could certainly use those titles of Moses too, as we think of his work. Moses too was an apostle and high priest and not in some common way but in a grand and exalted way.
Think of Moses as a high priest. The Bible doesn’t explicitly call him a high priest anywhere, though he is referred to as a priest in Psalm 99:6 alongside his brother Aaron. Actually, it is Aaron whom was given that title, High Priest. Aaron and his descendants were given the role to serve as high priests in the old covenant. Yet, clearly, when needed, Moses was a priest for the high priest. Moses was a priest but not of the Aaronic order. Rather, the Aaronic order came to Moses as their priest. For example, in Exodus 32, when Aaron the high priest sinned with the people in making a golden calf, Moses had to intercede on their behalf to God to save them. Or in Numbers 12, when Aaron and their sister Miriam contended with Moses, Moses again had to intercede for them before God when God punishes them by striking Miriam with leprosy. Aaron pleads to Moses who then pleads to God that Miriam would be healed of her leprosy. So, though Aaron under the old covenant was the high priest, Moses stood as a priest even above Aaron the high priest. He was the high priest of the Aaronic high priest.
So think then of Moses as an apostle. The word “apostle” technically means “sent”, referring to an authorized messenger sent by someone with a message. Used with regard to God, we think of an apostle as someone who is sent with a message, with a revelation, from God. Prophet and apostle are very similar, in this regard. This same Greek root word for apostle gets used in the LXX translation of Exodus 3:10, describing how God sent Moses to Pharaoh. More so, we think of how God made Moses his emissary to his people, to establish them in that old covenant made at Sinai. Thinking about Moses being this apostle, this bringer of revelation to the people, we again remember Numbers 12. When Aaron and Miriam were jealous of Moses’ role in bringing God’s revelation, God told them that Moses was no ordinary prophet. Moses received revelation in a far grander, far clearer way than any other prophet. This makes the point we are saying; that Moses was not just another figure in the Old Testament. He is the prophet of prophets in the Old Testament. Under the Old Testament, there was no other prophet like him.
So then, that makes Moses prophecy in Deuteronomy 18:15 all the more significant. That’s when Moses says God would one day raise up another prophet like him. In other words, not just another prophet, but another superior prophet like Moses. That’s where we see Moses again being an apostle. If we think of how the New Testament describes the apostles, we think of how they bring testimony about Jesus. When Moses prophesied of another coming prophet like him, he testified of Jesus. In various ways, Moses testified of Jesus to come. Jesus said the same thing in John 5:46, that Moses wrote of himself. Verse 5 in our passage for today describes this; that Moses gave testimony of this future revelation which would come to pass in Jesus Christ.
This brings us then to our second point, to fulfill what verse 1 commands us to do. Let us now consider Christ, this apostle and high priest. Amazingly, Jesus came as the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy, that another prophet like him would come. Yet, with Jesus’ arrival, we see that he fulfilled it in a grander way. Jesus came like Moses, but better than Moses!
I love the picture that comes when we consider Jesus to be both an apostle and a high priest. As an apostle, he is God’s representative to man. He brings God’s Word to us, as has been so emphasized already in Hebrews. God has now in these last days spoken to us through his Son; again God’s representative to man. Yet, as a high priest, Jesus is also man’s representative to God. He offered to God on our behalf the sacrifice to save us from our sins. Having been raised from the dead, he now ever lives to intercede before God for us. It’s a wonderful thing to think of this dual role of Jesus, representing both God and man. As a pastor, it’s also wonderful yet humbling imagery of how I get to serve in the worship service each week as a minister of Christ. In parts of the service, I am representing God to his people, like when I read the Word and preach. Likewise, in other parts of the service, I get to represent the people, like when I lead in prayer on behalf of the congregation. This humble ministry of pastors as undershepherds of Christ is rooted in the fact that Jesus is the ultimate apostle and high priest that represents both God and man.
Look at what else we see about Jesus in this passage. In comparison to Moses, he too is called faithful. At first in verse 3 this faithfulness is put on par with Moses; they were both faithful. Again, we could point out how Jesus’ faithfulness was more faithful since he, unlike Moses, never sinned. But the text doesn’t see the need to point that out here. As for Jesus’ faithfulness, I think of Jesus’ prayer in John 17:4. There, Jesus tells the Father, “I have finished the work which You have given Me to do.” Here, we get another snapshot of what is referred to as the covenant of redemption; that God the Son from eternity has covenanted with the Father to redeem a people. We see in verse 2 the reference to Jesus being faithful to the one who appointed him, with the implication that Moses also was appointed by the same God. Yet, with Moses, his appointment was at the burning bush. Whereas, in John 17 we see that Jesus’ appointment happened before Jesus was even incarnated into human flesh. But I digress. The point that Jesus’ faithfulness is better than that of Moses comes in verse 6. It’s based on the identify of Jesus versus Moses. Yes, Moses was faithful, but as a servant. Jesus was faithful, but as a Son. This is explained with the imagery of a house. God is building a house which is describing how he is making a saved people that is his holy possession. Moses serves God in that building project, but Moses himself is ultimately just a part of that house. Jesus, on the other hand, stands above that. As God’s Son, God’s house is his house. Imagine the imagery of the historical pedagogue in ancient Greece. That was a faithful servant in a family who was entrusted with overseeing the children, who brought them to school and generally was in charge of them. While the children were young, the pedagogue was in charge. But ultimately, the kids would grow up and be in charge of the pedagogue. Why? Because the pedagogue was always just a servant. The children were the heirs. The servant never owned anything; but the children effectively always owned everything. Whatever was the parents, was essentially theirs. Hopefully that’s helpful imagery in thinking of Jesus as a Son versus Moses a servant in God’s house. Whatever is God the Father’s, is also God the Son’s. It all belongs to Jesus as the heir of all things.
By extension, that means that whatever service Moses rendered to God, he also rendered to Jesus. Moses must submit to Jesus, especially how now in the fullness of times, Jesus has been exalted in the resurrection and ascension in the way that he has. For we also see here in Hebrews that reference to glory. Jesus has more glory than Moses, verse 3. Think of how Moses and Elijah even appeared before the glorious transfigured Jesus in Matthew 17. I love the implication here of verse 3 in terms of glory. The point is basically that Moses is just part of the building, but Jesus is the builder. This is true because he is the Son of God, and in verse 4, God is called the builder.
Well, it should be clear by now that Jesus and the new covenant stand above in majesty and priority to Moses and the old covenant. But I want us to continue to think through the ramifications of this as we turn now to consider ourselves in light of all this. We’ve seen what this passage says about Moses and especially Jesus. But Christians are addressed here too, in some wonderful ways. By way of application, let’s see what it says of us.
First, notice that we are called holy brethren in verse 1. This reminds us of last chapter where there was the big point that Jesus calls us brethren. Think about that in light of this passage. The Son calls the servants brothers! What a way our savior lifts us up! Thus, it’s no surprise that we are not only called brethren here, but holy brethren. We are part of the holy family of God!
Second, we are addressed in verse 1 as those who partake of a heavenly calling. I mentioned recently that Hebrews sees a close connection between heaven and the world to come. This is seen here too. After speaking so much in the previous passages about our hope of the world to come, here it speaks of us being called to heaven. As we’ll continue to see, these are not in conflict. Our heavenly calling is also our hope of the world to come.
Third, verse 1 says we are confessors. We confess Christ and the Christian faith. God has revealed himself through prophets, apostles, and especially in his Son. We confess and hold this revelation as truth. We anchor our faith and hope in it. It is our confession. This is why doctrine is so important. Christians are identified as those who confess a certain truth, a certain doctrine. We especially confess that we are sinners who need to be saved from our sins lest we end up in hell for eternity. But we confess and believe that those who put their faith in Jesus and his atoning death on the cross are forgiven and have the sure hope of everlasting life in the glorious paradise to come.
Fourth, and this is my favorite in this passage: we are God’s house. That’s verse 6. Realize why this is so important when we go back to our initial question for today. We started by trying to relate the old covenant to the new covenant. This passage is very clear that there is one house. One house that God is building, not two houses; not two separate peoples Israel versus the church. Moses was a servant in the very same house that we are a part of. Jesus’ house that he is building is the one Moses was serving in back during the Old Testament times. So, yes, there are differences between us and the old covenant. But we are connected with them. There has always just been one house and one people of God. Both old and new covenants were part of how God was building the one house. Both Jesus and Moses were involved in building the same house. Likewise, today, if you are a true believer in Christ and part of his church, then you are part of this house. In contrast, if you are an unbelieving Jew today who hasn’t come to Christ, then you aren’t a part of this house, this house that both Moses and Jesus have been faithful to build.
And that becomes then our closing exhortation. It’s the implication of verse 6. It’s the exhortation that was at the start of chapter 2 as well. Verse 6 says that we are only part of Jesus’ house if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm to the end. In other words, we are only really saved if we persevere in faith. If we initially claim to confess Christ, but ultimately turn away from that faith, then we are like the seeds Jesus described in the parable of the sower that fell upon the stony or thorny soils. Rather, Jesus calls us to stand fast and firm in our faith and trust in him. We have received a heavenly calling; let us keep hoping in heaven. May we press on amidst life’s troubles here and now as we keep looking forward to that world to come. Again, today’s passage calls us to persevere. Yes, perseverance is a grace that God gives; but it is also at the same time a command that he gives. Persevere in faith by the grace of God. Foster that perseverance by making use of what he gives to help build his church. He has given Moses. He has given Jesus. He has given the holy apostles and prophets, with their words recorded in the Bible. He has given his church with pastors and elders to see to our spiritual nourishment. He has given each Christian in his church with his Spirit to help us grow. If we are to heed this call to persevere by grace, may we see that his grace is all around us! Let us not neglect such graces but take advantage of them, to God’s glory and for our salvation.
By implication, if this passage calls us to hold fast to our confession in Christ, it means there is no going back to the old covenant. Yes, we can learn from Moses and the old covenant. But that covenant has been replaced with a new, better one. As we keep going through Hebrews, we’ll keep learning more about our connections with the saints of old, but also our differences. For now, let us keep holding fast to Christ as we rejoice that we along with the saints of old are God’s house. Let us pray even now that God will continue to build that house until it is finished on that glorious day of Christ’s return. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.