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September 29, 2015

Strong Meat

Hebrews 5:6-14.

Hebrews 5:11 Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12* For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13* For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14* But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 5:6 “As he saith also in another place, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
Psalms 110:4 “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”

In Psalms 110, God declares to His messiah: “For Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchisidec.” The author’s use of v. 4 would have caught the Hebrews, or Jews, by surprise, for they saw Abraham as their mediator with God:

Charles Hodge on Romans 2:24ff.:

It is obvious that the Jews regarded circumcision as in some way securing their salvation. That they did so regard it, may be proved not only from such passages of the New Testament where the sentiment is implied, but also by the direct assertion of their own writers. Such assertions have been gathered in abundance from their works by Eisenmenger, Schoettgen, and others. For example, the Rabbi Menachem, in his Commentary on the Books of Moses, Fol. 43, col. 3, says, "Our Rabbins have said, that no circumcised man will see hell." In the Jalkut Rubeni, num, 1. it is taught, "Circumcision saves from hell." In the Medrasch Tillim, fol. 7, col 2, it is said, "God swore to Abraham, that no one who was circumcised should be sent to hell." In the book Akedath Jizehak, fol. 54, col. 2, it is taught that "Abraham sits before the gate of hell, and does not allow that any circumcised Israelite should enter there." The apostle considers circumcision under two different aspects. First, as a rite supposed to possess some inherent virtue or merit of its own; and secondly, as a sign and seal of God’s covenant. (A Commentary on Romans, p 63. 1853. 1973 reprint by Banner of Truth Trust, PO Box 652, Carlisle, Pennsylvania. This writer has dealt thoroughly with circumcision in his book, "Padobaptism and the Word of God.")

The Hebrews believed that Abraham was made a priest by God. They believed that Abraham’s stored up works were of such great merit, that they could save his descendant to the
end of time. (Abraham was a Hebrew, NOT a “Jew”, Gen 14:13)

The Hebrews believed that Abraham was their great High Priest, leaving no need for another to come. And here the author is applying this verse to Jesus Christ. Normally a high priest’s efficacy ended with death, but the Hebrews believed that Abraham’s work was sufficient to atone for the Jews to the end of time, (The Jews of Christ’s day were very vocal about their relationship to Abraham.)

But Hebrews tells the Jewish followers that Jesus Christ who is the true High Priest and the only mediator between God and man. He is a living High Priest in heaven.

Vv. 7 & 8, God the Son was equipped for his high priestly calling by his agonized prayers and sufferings as our sin bearer. Although He was the son of God, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. He was not spared any human grief a human might experience, but was required to experience them all. He had to learn obedience through suffering. He was very God of very God, but he had to be very man of very man in order to experience to the uttermost every kind of grief we experience. (4:15)

He had to experience even the horror and terror of death, or He would not have been like us, nor would He have been properly equipped to be our High Priest with a full understanding of what we go through. Christ’s life on earth was preparation for His eternal priesthood. This is why when we pray through Him as our advocate, for we know that even our greatest griefs or our greatest heartaches are only a shadow of what He experienced.

Isaiah 53:3“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

His was despised, rejected and acquainted with grief in his preparation for the cross, and for His preparation for His present place as our mediator. He knows our frailty and our needs, and perfectly identifies with the reality of our sufferings.

V. 9, “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;”

Christ is the author of eternal salvation unto all them who obey him. Hebrews has a continuous and strong emphasis upon obedience. If the Captain of our salvation had to learn obedience through suffering, then we His followers also must learn obedience–obedience to the Lord, and obedience to all God given authorities over us–through suffering, but nothing like He suffered.

2 Thessalonians 1:5 “Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: 6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; 7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, 8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: 9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; 10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”

Faith does not replace obedience, but rather requires obedience. In fact, James is very clear that without the works of faith, there is no saving faith. There is no virtue in disobedience.

It was God the Father who called Jesus Christ to be the High Priest according to the order of Melchisedec. There are many more things to be said about “the order of Melchisedec”, but the readers are told it is hard to do seeing that ye are dull of hearing.

Vv. 11-14 are a sharp rebuke to all who are addressed by this letter. They saw themselves as wise and mature believers, unlike the Gentile congregations; their pride had made them dull witted. In their human, natural wisdom, their minds were made up, so they would not hear the truth involved in the Mediation work of Jesus Christ.

“ Dull of hearing” was an insulting statement to the Hebrews, or Jews. Their moral and religious superiority over the general population made them less willing to learn. Their superior attitude made this highly intelligent people dull witted.

V. 12, the Hebrews are told: “You should be teachers of others, but instead you need to be taught again the first principles of Gods word.”

Those who believed that Abraham was the great high priest after the order of Melchisedec were unable to see the meaning and application of Psalm 110. On the other hand, Gentiles with no preconceived ideas about the Psalm could be taught its application to Christ. Their preconceptions of the Hebrew believers made them unfit for strong meat. Like babies, they are only capable of milk, “the first principles of God’s word.”

(I have found it much easier to deal with those who have not really heard the true gospel than with those who have heard a corrupted gospel. See my booklet, “The Other Jesus”.)

The New Testament was not written in a vacuum, as we are inclined to understand it today. Rather, it was written in the context of the strong Hebrew, Jewish influence of the day, and the authours spoke very plainly to the issues at hand. The vast majority of the New Israel of God, the Gospel Church was made up of converted Jews, and remained so until well after the destruction of the Jewish religion in 70AD. Thus, the call to the Jews, and Gentiles, for teachable humility is common throughout the New Testament, e.g.:

James 1:21 “Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls.”
1 Peter 2:1 “Wherefore laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, 2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:”
Acts 17:11 “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.”
Philippians 3:15 “Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

Observe: One must have humility; that is, a willingness or “readiness of mind” to be taught, and the willingness to “search the scriptures”, if he will grown in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Peter 3:18 “But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and for ever. Amen.”

Growth depends on being able to depart from the unscriptural teachings of the “fathers”, which the Hebrews were being urged to do. The unscriptural teachings of the Hebrew or Jewish fathers was a problem that hindered these Hebrews from maturing past the milk stage in their knowledge of Christ:

1 Peter 1:18 “Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers;”

“...The life of a Christian is a growth; he is at first born of God, and is a little child; becomes a young man, and a father in Christ. Every father was once an infant; and had he not grown, he would have never been a man. Those who content themselves with the grace they received when converted to God, are, at best, in a continual state of infancy: but we find, in the order of nature, that the infant that does not grow, and grow daily, too, is sickly and soon dies; so, in the order of grace, those who do not grow up into Jesus Christ are sickly, and will soon die, die to all sense and influence of heavenly things.

There are many who boast of the grace of their conversion; persons who were never more than babes, and have long since lost even that grace, because they did not grow in it. Let him that readeth understand.” (Adam Clarke)

V. 13, “For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.”

Those who do not go past the beginning “principles of the doctrine of Christ” and remain a theological baby will be unskilled at interpreting God’s word:

First, they are easy pray to false doctrine. (Eph 4:14)

Second, they will follow their human reasoning ability rather than the Word of God. (Jn 7:24)

V. 13 was a very sharp rebuke to those who saw themselves as obviously superior to the Gentile believers. The Gentile believers may have been deficient in many ways; however, the New Testament complements the Gentile believers over the Hebrew believers because of their humility and willingness to examine Scripture and for their desire to learn.

Note that we are seeing Biblical Christianity moving from the West (Europeans and Americans), to “Third World” countries. Though the West has an advanced knowledge of God, it does not have an advanced understanding of what Christianity means. The West hears the law-word of God, but refuses to apply it to life, and do its requirements.

No doubt, the “Third World” peoples have a strange, and maybe even a bazar understanding of Christianity, but they have a simple trust in what they do know about the faith. Theirs is a living and uncomplicated faith in God and his word, a faith for which they are willingly, even gladly dying.

Such faith is now almost unknown in the West. However, those who see and understand the times assure us that “dying for the faith” is coming to the West, and, without God’s intervention, will be experienced by our children and grandchildren within 50 years.

V. 13, Christian maturity is a result of the willingness to grow and to learn.

Over they years, it has been discouraging to meet so many people, even religious leaders, who are convinced they have arrived. They know about faith in Christ as their saviour, but are closed to any further knowledge of the law-word of God, particularly from the Old Testament. They feel that because they have been a “Christian” for many years, they are mature, and at times even more mature than their teachers. They are quite content thinking they are mature, yet they are baby Christians, insisting on milk as they resist any strong meat of God’s Word.

Those people want their teachers to continually emphasize the basic doctrines of faith and repentance; they do not want law and applications that require personal growth; that is, sanctification in “all things.”

We have sat in more than a few services where it was evident that either the preacher was unacustomed to "strong meat", or he was afraid to give it to his people.

The “Western Church” is overrun with self-satisfied people who believe they know enough about God, the Bible and Jesus Christ to get them into heaven, and therefore they do not need to know more?let the children learn, let the Third World natives learn, and they may even finance that learning. But they are confident that they are okay, so they do not need more than their basic knowledge of salvation.

Maturity is not measured in the amount of time one has been a believer. Rather, maturity comes with a humble willingness to grow and to learn. So the author tells the Hebrew believers that they must cultivate maturity.

Bettie has a “green thumb”, and can make about anything grow. But she succeeds in her efforts by carefully cultivating the plants in her charge. She had many plants, roses included, that she had babied for several years, and she prepared them to move with us. But the truck was full, and our PU is in the shop, so there was just no room. It was with great sadness she had to leave them behind.

We had closed in our back porch in WV, and she had it overflowing with plants, which all had to be left behind. When we would be away for any length of time, she arranged for someone to care for the plants, and they prospered. Folks say they cannot get anything to grow when the problem might actually be that they do not have the motive to carefully cultivate the plants so they will continue to mature.

When a fruit tree, or grape vine, grows to maturity, it starts producing a small amount of fruit. However, the tree, or vine, does not stop growing at that point. As it matures, it produces more fruit. If a person thinks they are mature and do not need to grow any more, they are immature.

The key point of Hebrews is made many times over: You must grow. You must continue to learn. Maturity cannot mean an end to growing. It means the ability to learn and to continue to discern more and more. It means an increasing ability to grasp implications and meanings of God’s word, and acting on them. (He 5:14)

“ Where have all the adults gone? Where are they? We are surrounded by a world of children. They cannot wait to play, and they turn their life and “retire” into playtime. They do not want maturity. Our culture is anti-maturity. Where have all the adults gone?” (“The difference between a man and a boy is the price of their toy” I, and other pastors I know, cannot understand other pastors who count the days until they can retire.)

When I first got into the ministry in 1970, I remember college students who even mocked those teachers who tried to lead them past the basic Christian doctrines, and into the “deeper” things of God’s word.

There was also an older student who had been in college several years. He refused to graduate. He was afraid to face the challenges of being an adult. He was rightly known as a “professional student”.

We have a relative who remained a student as long as possible, letting his wife work his way through many degrees, including Phds. His life proved that his “ministry” (pastor) was simply an occupation, and totally apart from any Godly calling; retirement age meant “playtime.”

Without mature people, the West is dead. There is no place in the world for perpetual babies.

The anti-maturity attitude has overwhelmed the church, and has made it absolutely powerless in the modern world. The attitude is that conversion completes sanctification, and conversion makes one perfect in Christ. So there is no need to increase in the knowledge of Him as revealed in the total of the Word of God. The attitude seems to be: “Why study the law and its applications? We are now sanctified and perfect in Christ. He freed us from the law, so we will not be brought back under the commandments again.” (That law from which He freed the elect was the mediation ordinances given by Moses, for he nailed them to his cross. Col 2:14.)

Of course, that attitude is practicing Antinomian, Aremenianism.

Such beliefs, and there are many varieties to them, tell us why the churches have become useless in our modern world. Even churches which do not follow strict Armenian professionalism, have no growth, or maturity attitude. They are converted, they attend morning and evening service and maybe a mid-week service, and they give. “Well, what more do you want of us?” And they resist challenging preaching past the basic doctrine of salvation.

Many of us know from experience that many church believe that “growth” means growth in numbers, so they do everything possible to grow in numbers. That increase makes them feel they have accomplished a great deal for the Lord. However, the Lord is not in the “numbers” game. He defines Christian growth as increase in the faith and knowledge of Jesus Christ and His law-word, and increased ability to understand and do its implications and applications.

Most of the churches I have visited have one message: faith and repentance as though the congregation is made up of unsaved people. Certainly, that is a good and needed message, but that message is primairly “preached to the choir”. The public assembly is to gather to hear the law-word of God expounded and applied to daily responsibility and activity. The public assembly is to be a training ground for the army of God, equipping the saints to wage war against the very gates of hell. It is teaching all things as commanded by our Risen King. As those things are applied, His kingdom is advanced.

The Hebrew believers were ready to return to the temple. They were ready to trust Jesus as the Messiah, but as the High Priest? Knowing that they needed a High Priest, they were ready to return to Judaism, and continue with the temple sacrifices, and depend on the merit of Abraham.

They were ready to separate themselves from the rest of the church and go into churches that said: “We are Christian, but we are still tied to the priesthood as practiced in the temple.” Some groups did return to the temple, so there were two sects of such Jewish believers. The temple sect died out in time, particularly after 70 AD. At the end of the first century, the overwhelming majority of Christians were Jews. For centuries afterwards and well into the medieval era, many Christian leaders were from Jewish families. (RJR)

Hebrews’ declared purpose was to deal with the new Hebrew Christians’ desire to return to and retain the old priesthood. The letter accomplished its purpose and much more.

Hebrews is still needed today for the same purpose; that is, recalling the believers in the “West” to the maturity needed to fulfill their task of dominion and victory. Even among the most stringent Bible Believing individuals and churches, there is little evidence of a calling to triumph in Christ. Accordingly, the maturity of the Hebrew believers then and the evangelicals now was a self-defined one, not a legitimate one. Hebrews tells us that they were not mature men, but babies. And as the prophet Isaiah tells us, “Where immature men, children and babes in men’s bodies, rule, disaster follows.”

Isaiah 3:4 “And I will give children to be their princes, and babes shall rule over them. 5 And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable. V. 12 As for my people, children are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, they which lead thee cause thee to err, and destroy the way of thy paths.”

The fulfillment of Isaiah is quite evident in our day. Todays young “man” is undependable. Women rule in the churches, and dominate the work place. Look at WalMart. Where are the mature, responsible men who will exercise demotion over their spirit, over their families and over every area that God places under their authority? Who will lead the church on to the victory that is promised through the mediation work of Christ?