Impossible for God to Lie

Sermon preached on Hebrews 6:13-20 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 7/15/2018 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Hebrews 6:13-20

“Impossible for God to Lie”

Our beloved former pastor here, Pastor Miller, liked to talk about having a “biblical” hope. If you said something about hope, he might ask you if you were talking about a biblical hope or not. The idea is that the kind of hope that is a biblical hope is a certain and sure hope. You can truly hope on that hope because it will prove trustworthy. A biblical hope is one you can believe in, you can trust in, and one you can and should base your life upon. We are reminded of that truth today, and this passage helps us to see why we can be so sure of our hope and what that means for our life here and now.

So then, we begin by considering Abraham’s patient endurance as seen in verses 13-15. Or to put it in other terms, we can see how Abraham had a sure hope as well. Verse 13 describes a promise that God made to Abraham and how he strengthened that promise with an oath, swearing by himself. The oath is quoted in verse 14, “Surely, blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply you.” That’s quoting Genesis 22:17. However, that was not the first time God gave that promise to Abraham. It came in an initial form in Genesis 12, that God would make Abraham the father of a great nation. Then, in Genesis 15 when Abraham still didn’t have a child, God reiterated the promise in details such as that his descendants would be like the stars of the heavens. Yet, neither of those two initial promises record God swearing by his own name. It’s then in Genesis 22, that God finally reaffirms this promise and it specifically records that God swore by Himself. Interestingly, that was the chapter after Isaac was already born to Abraham, and God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham was willing to obey God, and when he showed that, God stopped him from sacrificing Isaac and gave him this divine oath.

In speaking of Abraham’s patient endurance, verse 15 says that Abraham obtained the promise. It’s hard to be certain what it has in mind when it says that he obtained the promise. Of course, we know in the grand scheme of things, Jesus spoke of how Abraham got to see the day of Christ, and rejoiced, 1 John 8:56. Ultimately, Abraham, died and went to be with the Lord and was able to receive God’s promises more fully. Yet, it’s hard to imagine from context that this is what Hebrews has in mind here. Interestingly, later in chapter 11, it says that Abraham was one of many Old Testament saints that had faith and hope in God’s promises even though they themselves in their lifetime didn’t receive what was promised. The point in Hebrews 11 is that the promise wouldn’t be received until Christ came. Yet, it’s also in Hebrews 11 where it does comment further on this history with Abraham sacrificing Isaac. It says in 11:19 that it was like Abraham received Isaac back from the dead when he didn’t have to sacrifice him. It is also clear in Hebrews 11 there that Isaac was the initial installment of the promise given to Abraham. So, I believe that’s what this has in mind here in chapter 6, verse 15. After all his patient endurance, even being willing to sacrifice Isaac, God established and confirmed Isaac as the child of promise, and that with a divine oath. With the divine oath in the very name of God, God ratified the earlier promises and affirmed that they would come to pass through Isaac. In that sense, Abraham can be said to have obtained that promise.

So then, the most immediate point with Abraham here is that he had to patiently endure in faith and hope before he received this initial installment of the promise. For so many years, Sarah and he had no child. God had them wait until Sarah was so many years passed being able to bear children before he gave them a son. Even then, God had this further test of patience and faith for Abraham when he was told to sacrifice Isaac. But Abraham believed God, and for good reason. It’s what is said in verse 18. It is impossible for God to lie. God is true and trustworthy and so Abraham rightly hoped in the promises of God. This then is the application from last time’s passage, when verse 12 exhorted them and us to imitate the faith and patience of such saints who have gone before us.

Hebrews then draws us to see another application. Abraham’s circumstances are not only an example of patience in our hope and faith. These circumstances also show us how God wanted us to have “strong consolation” in terms of our hope. That’s then our second point to consider today, as we look at verses 16-18. I want us to think about this strong consolation, as we see specifically mentioned in verse 18. Hebrews sees this as God’s purpose behind the swearing of an oath to Abraham in his own name. Notice then what leads up to this reference to strong consolation. Look at verse 17. It says that God was determined to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel; that’s why he swore the oath. Then in the new verse he uses the word “we” as those who benefit from this. In other words, God didn’t just swear to give Abraham strong consolation, but also for Abraham’s offspring. For all those who would come after Abraham, who were fellow heirs of God’s promise with Abraham, God swore this promise with an oath. I remind you that this includes all Christians today, whether they be Jew or Gentile: as it says in Galatians 3:7 and in Romans chapters 4 and 9, that what makes someone truly Abraham’s offspring is if you share in faith of Abraham. My point is that when this passage says God’s purpose in swearing the oath in his own name was to encourage and comfort the children of promise, that includes us today who trust in Jesus. I think that is a wonderful point to see here. God’s swearing by his own name was meant to comfort not only Abraham, but all God’s people since then! Praise the Lord!

So then, we see why this should comfort us. Verse 18 mentions two immutable things that God gave here. Likely he has in mind first the promise and then the oath. Both of these are undergirded by the fact that not only does God not lie, it is impossible for him to do so. That means we can completely trust the promise and we can completely trust the oath. God’s character is the foundation for all this. Yet, God didn’t just give the promise, he also gave the oath. I appreciate all the legalese that comes across when you read this in the Greek, and even to some degree in the English translation, because it strengthens the point. The significance of him not only promising but swearing is mentioned in verse 15. He compares there how humans typically swear with how God swore by his own name. Normally, a human would swear by some high power. The idea in taking such an oath is you are calling on that higher power to hold you accountable if you are lying. When done from a religious standpoint, you are calling for God to judge you if you are lying or if you don’t keep your oath. We see something similar sometimes in the civil realm too. For example, someone might make a sworn statement “under penalty of perjury”. When you do that in the U.S., you are offering for the government to strongly punish you if you are lying. So then, the point here is that if God is going to call for someone to hold him accountable, he has no one greater to appeal to. So, he appeals to himself. He swears by his own great and glorious name. And again, because God himself does not and cannot lie, that is an oath that is certainly and surely guaranteed. There is no higher guarantee that can be made.

What an amazing thing that God would do this. Just stop for a moment and remember that God is under no inherenet obligation, after mankind’s fall into sin, to save anyone. Frankly, even before the fall, God was under no obligation to give us any special status or provision. Frankly, God could have been just like that Deist watchmaker idea, to have set the world into motion, and let things happen as they happen. Or, he could have just not created us at all. Yet, God did create us, and care for us. And it’s been revealed that he chose to set apart certain people for salvation, and blessing, and relationship with Him. God particularly revealed this to Abraham and his spiritual descendants. Even then, God could have just made the promise; surely God’s “yes” would be “yes” and his “no” would be “no”. Yet, in merciful condescension he not only spoke this promise, but he swore by oath. Recognize the covenantal concept here. Meredith Kline spoke of God’s covenants with man as being an “oath-bound divinely sanctioned commitment”. For God to swear like this is more than just him promising it. He takes an oath and binds himself to perform what has been promised. This is like what the Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes in its chapter on covenant. WCF 7.1 says:

The distance between God and the creature is so great, that although reasonable creatures do owe obedience unto him as their Creator, yet they could never have any fruition of him as their blessedness and reward, but by some voluntary condescension on God’s part, which he hath been pleased to express by way of covenant.

We see some of that voluntary condescension in this passage and we see him doing it in a covenantal way; he takes an oath by his own name, nature, and glory, to bind himself to save a people unto himself. At that point, God becomes obligated to keep his oath to save those of the faith of Abraham. And God swore like this, not only so we could be saved by faith, but that we would have a strong faith. He wants our hope and faith to grow in its strength and certitude. He wants you to be fully confident in these saving promises, and so he swore by his own name! Praise God!

This leads us then to our third point to consider what it says here about our hope being the anchor for our souls; this is verses 19-20. What is your anchor in life? What keeps you rooted and founded? When troubles come, and they will come, what keeps you from being tossed off course or into the rocks or just plain capsized? The imagery here is combined with fleeing for refuge in verse 18. We, Christians, are those who have fled for refuge. We can think of various things in this sin cursed world to flee from, the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh. It says we find refuge when we lay hold of this hope. When we have this hope in Jesus Christ and the gospel as the anchor for our life, we are finding refuge from the troubles and evils of this world. And Hebrews says this hope is sure and steadfast. We should immediately remember all what we’ve talked about today. This hope which has been doubly affirmed by the God who cannot lie. It is sure and steadfast. That is the hope which must be the one ultimate anchor in life.

By comparison, we can think of many other competing anchors that people try to use to steady and safeguard their life. Some rely on money, some on their reputation, or maybe their family name, some on their good looks, others on their personal ingenuity and ability to succeed. Some might put much confidence in their health, thinking themselves invincible. Yet, we all should know that any one of these things could be lost in a moment. If you have a single anchor, if that one cord breaks, you are in trouble. On the other hand, if you try to have many anchors, you really aren’t rooted in anything at all. During the Novato Fourth of July parade, I remember seeing one military motorcycle with the slogan, “We are ready.” I remembered thinking how if you put that idea into the political realm you realize there would be different views on if that was actually true; some would say our military is overfunded and plenty prepared, others that it is underfunded and thus underprepared. Yet, in the dangers that exist today with nuclear bombs, cyber-war, and so much more, there is no degree of either patriotism or military spending that can absolutely guarantee our national safety. We can have a relative readiness as a country for whatever troubles come, but no one can absolutely guarantee it. Patriotism can be good, but it too shouldn’t be the ultimate anchor for your soul. As it says in Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the LORD our God.”

Only this hope in Christ that is described herein is an adequate anchor. Because no matter what troubles come, nothing can blow you away from our destination of heaven, if you are anchored in the hope of Christ. As Paul says in Romans 8:38, nothing, not even death nor demonic powers, can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That is the only sure anchor in this life, and it rooted in the fact that we want something that will safeguard us beyond this life.

I love how this passage explains that further. Why can this hope as an anchor safeguard us not just for this life but into the next? Because that hope has already entered heaven; that’s what the end of verse 19 says. I don’t think this is a reference to Jesus, though it’s closely related and he himself is mentioned in the new verse. In other words, verse 19 isn’t talking about Jesus entering heaven, but our hope entering heaven. Let’s look at the details. In verse 19, in talking about the heavenly throne room where God is, it describes it in terms of the Old Testament Holy of Holies. In the Old Testament temple, there was the inner-most room called the Holy of Holies. That was where the special Presence of God dwelt in the temple. Ordinarily, no one was able to enter into the Holy of Holies because it was such a holy spot. There was a curtain or veil protecting the entrance into that special holy place. The only human who could enter it was the high priest, and only once of year on the annual Day of Atonement ordinance. Even then, he had to give a bunch of sacrifices first for himself, before going into the Holy of Holies to make atonement for God’s people. But what we learn later in Hebrews is that this Holy of Holies was only an earthly representation of a greater reality in heaven. In heaven, there is a Holy of Holies veiled for only those able to enter into the Presence of the Almighty God. Verse 19 amazingly says that is the place our hope enters into. When we believe and trust in Jesus, our hope is entering into the glorious Presence of God in the heavenly Holy of Holies.

So, when we say our hope is a heavenly hope, that is a literal statement! Our hope is lodged in heaven. Our hope is anchored in heaven. That’s the imagery here, hope as an anchor of the soul. Imagine your hope as a metal anchor tied on a chain to your soul, and you have cast it upward into heaven, through that veil, and it has fallen down at the throne of God Almighty! That’s our moorings! You know there is an interesting Jewish legend that provides an interesting contrast here. We don’t know if the legend is based in historical fact or not. But the legend is that when the Jewish high priests would go into the Holy of Holies they would tie a rope onto them so that if they died when they were inside, they could be pulled back into this world, and presumably buried. The idea being that the Holy of Holies was a dangerous place; if you weren’t properly consecrated, you could be struck dead by God for entering into his Holiness like this. So, the legend says they tied this rope around the ankle, so they could pull him out if needed. Again, this is just a legend, we don’t have any real reason to say it is true. But think of the contrasting imagery here, as it helps us appreciate our reality. Under the legend, it kind of sounds like as the high priest went into the Presence of God, he himself was anchored outside of that Presence, in this sin-cursed world. But that’s the opposite direction for us as now as Christians. We are anchored there with God in the heavenly places while we are going around in this world. Think about the colorful imagery. Should we die in this world, we can be pulled back into the Holy of Holies where we will be with God forever! Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord! And so, when we say our hope is not in this world or for this life, we are being literal according this passage. Our hope is in heaven; in the presence of God.

As we think of our hope entering into the Presence of God, we should remember how Hebrews back in chapter 4:16 says we can now have confidence to draw near to God! In other words, not only does our hope enter into this Most Holy Place, but so do we through our prayers and worship of God. We now spiritually come before God in his holiness in this way. Of course, Hebrews 4 said why this is possible for us, and we are told again here in verse 20. Because Jesus Christ, our forerunner has himself already entered this Holy of Holies. Jesus himself already entered first as our Great High Priest. Jesus went into the Presence of God and made atonement for all our sins. In dealing with our sin, he made us holy; he made us qualified to now come in his name into this Most Holy Place. That’s why we can draw near in confidence, and not shaking with fear wondering if we’ll survive. We come not needing to be tethered to this world, but have placed our anchor there with him, that we’d be tethered to God and Christ from now on. That will keep us safe and secure. Jesus has us. Jesus has us on ballet.

And so, the fact that Christ went before us into the Presence of God is why we can now enter ourselves, and why we can put our hope there. We’ve been talking today how God swore by his own name to Abraham of God’s saving promises to him and to us. Well, amazingly, we find God again swearing an oath in Psalm 110:4 about the Messiah being a priest in the order of Melchizedek. That’s where this passage brings us to, and what Hebrews will develop next. The surety of the sworn oath to Abraham is intentionally contrasted now with this even greater oath that God had made to make the Christ a Melchizedekian priest. We see here how foundational all this is for our hope. And we see how everything pertaining to our salvation has been guaranteed by sworn oath by God himself. Praise the Lord!

In conclusion, I bring you one last time to verse 19. It speaks of this great hope that Christians have. My question then, is this your hope? If it is, be greatly encouraged today with the strong consolation, the strong comfort and encouragement God desires for you to have. That is why he affirmed all that he has by divine oath. It’s why we solemnly reaffirm that to you each time we gather for worship, in things like the benedictions, the assurance of God’s pardon, the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, and of course in the preached Word. God wants you to be encouraged and comforted that your hope is sure and steadfast, completely reliable in whatever troubles this life brings. Is this then your hope? If so, be greatly encouraged. But if it is not, I urge you to make it your hope now. Pull up the anchor of your soul in whatever unworthy place you’ve had. Put it today in God, through Jesus Christ. Call out to him that you are a sinner needing his grace. Put your hope and trust in him, and you too will have this sure and steadfast anchor for your soul. God guarantees it! Amen.

Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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