There is a theme running through the book of Hebrews—the theme of God finishing His work. The Greek word teleos in various forms appears 21 times in Hebrews. In the English of the King James Version we have it as, full age, perfect, perfection, end, finisher.
We also find over and over again the words faith, and patience, and endurance.
We read of confidence and hope; we are urged to “hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end” (Heb. 3:6). Hope, then, is a confident companion always rejoicing, whom Faith and Patience and Endurance are to hold fast to them all along the way.
The Greek word translated rejoicing here is found 11 times in the New Testament. Five times it’s translated rejoicing in the King James Version and six times boasting or glorying. The thought seems to be that the hope is so sure that one may rejoice in having the hope as one would boast in having finally received it.
The writer likens himself and his readers to competitors in a race—it’s no hundred-yard dash, it’s a marathon—and he exhorts, “let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith [lit. the faith] who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Here again is that companionship of joy and endurance.
Personally I have always felt I lack this joy to a great extent in my own walk… at least when I compare myself with others. I wish I could be more ebullient the way some people are. Joy just bubbles out of them. But then I will get reading some passage of Scripture, or hear a certain Word in my heart, and… oh, the joy that wells up in me from some hidden spring within! So I must be careful to guard against comparing myself with others.
Another thing I must guard against is introspection, and looking on the dark side of things—looking ahead with foreboding instead of with hope. The book of Hebrews helps me here, too. The word promise appears in Hebrews 18 times (as a noun or verb), more than in any other book of the Bible. So I need to be more disciplined in this area, and do some spiritual gardening. I must not water the plantings of darkness; in fact if any have taken root I must root them out. I must seek to cultivate and water only the plantings of the Lord, the hope of the promise that is assured us. I must “hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.”
The implication is that in our journey through the wilderness of life it can be lost. But it need not be lost—although to maintain it will require diligence. God has provision for us to rejoice in hope every step of our Christian walk as we bear His end in mind. This does not mean we are never burdened with sorrows. But even in sorrow there is always that certain joy in us that no man or circumstance can take from us. We may be sorrowful, but are always rejoicing (2 Cor. 6:10). Rejoicing in hope! (Rom. 12:12).
Jesus was faithful… as Moses was faithful
Moses was faithful to fulfill the old covenant and to build the tabernacle. He reared up the tabernacle and set all things in order, and anointed the tabernacle and everything in it. “So Moses finished the work” (Ex. 40:34). The writer of Hebrews assures us that Jesus also was faithful to Him that appointed Him.
Wherefore holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus,
Who was faithful to Him that appointed Him, as also Moses was faithful in all His house. (Heb. 3:1,2)
Note the past tense in that passage—it’s that certain. Christ Jesus was faithful to complete the work God gave Him to do. And so the writer continues:
And Moses verily was faithful in all His House as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after; but Christ as a Son over His own House, whose House are we, if we hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. (Heb. 3:5,6)
In His high priestly prayer our Lord Jesus said, “I have glorified Thee on the earth, I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do” (Jn. 17:4). He confirmed this at the Cross, proclaiming, “It is finished.” Why then does the writer of Hebrews confirm that Christ was faithful, and yet speak of a work still in progress, and an end yet to come? But it’s the end of the Gospel he has in mind, the work that Christ is involved in now at the right hand of God, as He works to fulfill in us what He finished, what He accomplished, at the Cross. Yes, it’s true—the work God gave Him to do while on earth He finished faithfully. But now at the right hand of the Father He has a heavenly work that is not yet finished—which is to bring the new covenant people fully into the work He completed on Calvary’s cross. Thus this exhortation in Hebrews—that we are to hold fast the confidence and rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end. Or as he says later in the epistle, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Heb. 10:23 NKJV). If we do this, we have the assurance that our Lord Jesus Christ will be faithful to fulfill the new covenant in us, as Moses was faithful to fulfill the old.
This then is our question: how do we do this? How do we discover God’s provision so that we may hold the same joy we started out with all the way through our Christian journey?
First let’s note what happened to our fathers in the wilderness under Moses—and I’m thinking of that great intercessory prayer of Moses when he sees them one by one perishing in the wilderness. They had started out rejoicing. But didn’t finish that way. At least, most of them didn’t finish that way. They died in the wilderness never seeing the promised land. This was the sentence God had passed on the faithless generation who refused to enter His rest. They would wander forty years in the wilderness till they all had died. Moses sees it happening before his eyes:
For we are consumed by Thine anger, and by Thy wrath are we troubled.
Thou hast set our iniquities before Thee, our secret sins in the light of Thy countenance.
For all our days are spent in Thy wrath; we spend our years as a tale that is told…
Who knoweth the power of Thine anger? Even according to Thy fear, so is Thy wrath. (Ps. 90:7-11)
It seems he is saying that the measure of God’s wrath upon His disobedient and unbelieving people was in proportion to the fear, the reverence, they had withheld from Him when they refused to believe Him and go into the land He had called them to enter. Yet Moses is interceding. How he loved the people.
Return, O LORD, how long? And let it repent Thee concerning Thy servants.
O satisfy us early with Thy mercy…
Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants, and Thy glory unto their children.
And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us…”
“Let Thy work appear unto Thy servants…” Moses is burdened to see God finish what He started—that beautiful work of God that His hand alone can create, and in which His people had rejoiced that wonderful day when He brought them through the Red Sea on dry land. How they rejoiced and danced that day. And Moses sang and danced with them.
I will sing unto the LORD, for He hath triumphed gloriously: the horse and his rider hath He thrown into the sea. (Ex. 15:1)
What tremendous hope surged in their hearts that day! The days of bondage in the iron furnace were over! Wonderful things were before them! Their God had brought them out of Egyptian bondage, and He was bringing them into their own inheritance. He would deal with the enemies in front of them as He had done to those behind them, who were sunk in the waters of the Red Sea never to be seen again.
“The people shall hear, and be afraid; sorrow shall take hold of the inhabitants of Palestina” (Ex. 15:14). The word is stronger in the Hebrew. Sorrow would seize the inhabitants of Canaan like a woman in travail. They would quake with fear at their pending doom.
Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold of them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away.
Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of Thy power they shall be as still as a stone, till Thy people pass over, O LORD, till Thy people pass over, which Thou hast purchased.
Thou shalt bring them in and plant them in the Mountain of Thine inheritance, in the place O LORD, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, in the Sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established.
The LORD shall reign for ever and ever. (Ex. 15:15-18)
It’s a tremendous prophecy, and they all rejoiced that day at the victory that was behind them and the glory that was before them. But it was not long before their rejoicing disappeared in the desert sand. The word of promise had not disappeared; it was their faith that had failed. This is how they lost their joy. The wilderness walk had discouraged them, as did the report their spies brought back after seeing the giants in the land before them. The prospect of giant enemies before them robbed them of their faith. They refused to go forward. They turned back in their hearts to Egypt. And lost their joy.
Paul tells us these things are written for our instruction. We too look back over our shoulder and remember the wonderful day when we first rejoiced in our salvation, and God began to unfold before our eyes what He had in mind to do. There was great joy in receiving the word. But now? These difficult times. This desolate wilderness. The word of promise seems to have fallen on hard times. And what’s ahead, though we cannot see, we guess and fear.
The rejoicing of the hope
That kind of thinking is so demeaning to us, and to our God. He wants us to find His provision—and that provision is there for us—to continue rejoicing, regardless what circumstances we are now in. He want us to “hold the beginning of our confidence… and the rejoicing of the hope firm (or, steadfast) unto the end” (Heb. 3.6,14). I am sure the writer of Hebrews has in mind here the crossing of the Red Sea I just referred to:
There did we rejoice in Him. (Ps. 66:6).
There…? What about here? What about now? God has provision for us to continue rejoicing every step of the way. Where are we to find His provision? Israel of old didn’t find it. In that waste and howling wilderness their rejoicing ceased. Their confidence withered. Instead of overcoming in the wilderness, they were overthrown in the wilderness.
I appreciate the Book of Hebrews very much. Sometimes I’m intrigued as to who might have written it; they’re forever debating this. Does it matter? I marvel at the perception and insight the writer had by the Holy Spirit, and I am content to leave it at that. Hebrews is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit—the Holy Spirit, whose one great commission is to lead us into all the truth. And because that is so, He is ready to provision and equip us to apprehend the full intent of God without giving up anywhere along the way—as that early generation of Hebrews did in the days of Moses—and as the Jews who had newly turned to Christ were tempted to do. It was these (in about 65 AD or thereabouts) that the writer of Hebrews was addressing. And so he exhorts them—and the words fall on our ears now—to fear falling short of the promise as those in the wilderness fell short.
Let us therefore fear, lest a promise being left us of entering into His rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Heb. 4:1).
Over and over again we are warned that this is the temptation—falling short. Yet how many times over the centuries has this happened? The problem is never the obstacle itself. The problem is never the trial itself. God is always greater than them all, is He not? Where is the real problem, then?
Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God. (Heb 3:12).
…If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him. (Heb. 10:38)
…Looking diligently, lest any man fail of the grace of God. (Heb 12:15).
Those are the warnings. But with the warnings, God shows us the way to apprehend His provision so that we receive the full reward. He has a great and rich store of provision that will enable us to rejoice to the end. And where do we find this provision?
The throne of grace
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:16)
If we are to be sure that we—together with our brother, our sister—don’t fail the grace of God and arrive with exceeding joy at His end, we must persist in coming unto the throne of grace—yes, especially when that’s the hardest thing to do—in time of need. In the time of sore trial, in the time of desperate need, that’s precisely when we need to come to the throne of grace. And are invited to do so. We are exhorted to come boldly to the throne of grace. Let nothing hinder us. I know by experience there are times when it seems very difficult, nigh unto impossible, to “get through” to the throne of grace. But we are exhorted to persist in this. The throne of grace is the blood-sprinkled mercy seat of God, the place of the Atonement. On the basis of the Atonement we are assured of access to God, and thus of His provision—the grace that will enable us to overcome every trial, every enemy… every step of the way. Like the old song, “He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater…” If the needs grow greater, if the trials and the enemies grow greater, we discover at the throne of grace the greater grace we need to continue rejoicing “unto the end.”
As we read the passage carefully we discover that the provision for this rejoicing is found in obedience. The writer says, “…Whose house are we if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” But then he says, “Wherefore (as the Holy Ghost saith) Today if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts…” Notice the word wherefore. In other words, if instead of hardening our hearts we are responsive to His Voice, we will discover His provision for our trial, and will be able to rejoice in every step He calls us to take.
God never calls us to take a single step forward that is anything other than obedience to His will. He doesn’t set new territory before us and tell us to propel ourselves forward by our own ingenuity and resources and strength. He makes His will known to us that we may please Him by walking in it (Col. 1:9,10). Going forward then is a matter of obedience to His will, which is always accompanied by His enabling grace. And so as we follow through on His leading we know the true joy of the Lord—He Himself being with us—even in the midst of very difficult and even impossible things.
Finishing the course with joy
Hebrews is about God fulfilling His great eternal purposes. So He sets them before us so we don’t lose sight of them. Bringing many sons unto Glory. The eternal inheritance. The Rest of God. The Heavenly calling of the royal priesthood. A City which hath foundations. Mount Zion. The new covenant… Tremendous truths are laid out before our eyes. The best of all—the mediator of the new, the better covenant, Jesus Himself!
And, as we said at the outset, He speaks of a race that is set before us. We are in a race, and we must continue to look steadfastly to the finish line. “…Looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher (teleoten) of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the Cross…” (Heb. 12:2). He had joy even in the Cross, our Lord Jesus did, because of the hope that was set before Him.
Paul too had the same hope of finishing his course with joy.
…But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy… (Acts 20:24)
And he did just that.
We too can finish our course with joy.
Let us run with patience the race that is set before us… (Heb. 12:1)
That is our Lord’s provision for us to finish the race with joy: His patience, His endurance… His confidence.
Cast not away therefore your confidence, which hath great recompense of reward.
For ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise.
For yet a little while, and He that shall come will come, and will not tarry.
Now the just shall live by faith… (Heb. 10:35-38).
God is saying, for My part, I am going to finish what I started. I give you My Word, My promise. And I give you My oath. I will be faithful. I will do what I have said. For your part, trust Me, believe Me.
Do we believe Him? That’s our part. For our part, for us to finish the race with joy, this is going to require patience, and endurance, and obedience. And faith.
Israel of old fell short of their inheritance. They did not finish the race because they didn’t believe in their God. Seriously? They didn’t believe in God? That’s what Scripture discloses, regardless of what they said with their mouths. “They believed not in God…” (Ps. 78:22). The writer of Hebrews says the same thing. “So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief” (Heb. 3.19). It was not because the wilderness trials or their enemies were too much for them. It was because of their own hardness of heart. They did not believe in their God, who had all the provision necessary to enable them to triumph in all things, and continue rejoicing… every step of the journey, regardless of the increasing magnitude of their trials in the wilderness or the size of their enemies before them.
And so He says to us, to you and to me:
TODAY, if ye will hear His Voice, harden not your hearts…
If for our part we will continue to believe Him, and obey His Voice in every step of obedience He bids us take, we can trustingly leave the rest up to Him. In every step of obedience a step at a time we will discover the well of joy springing up again right there in our wilderness.