Hebrews 11:20-39

(James 2:14-26; Matthew 5:17-20, Romans 9)

Our nation is in distress. When I began praying over the text for the sermon this week, I was too. I have been pulled over by police five times in my life. Only one of those times was I certain I was doing something seriously wrong. It was only that time that I was truly fearful. I won’t go into detail, but 19-year-old males often drive and act foolishly . Hopefully, they live to tell about it.

When I see a uniformed police officer in a public place or a patrol car on the highway, I feel immediately more secure. I have almost no cultural frame of reference for people who feel afraid or threatened by police presence, but I recognize that people aren’t lying when they say they worry about being unjustly targeted because of their ethnicity or appearance. We can debate on the reasons for this sense of injustice, but we should not dismiss the voices of those who speak from another cultural perspective. This isn’t some notion of privilege, intersectionality, or Marxist critical race theory. This is just listening to people made in the image of God.

I don’t think politics should be the main goal of any prayer or sermon in a church, but sometimes it is unavoidable. This is one of those times. This scripture in Hebrews and our present context makes it necessary. 

I don’t think politics should be the main goal of any prayer or sermon in a church, but sometimes it is unavoidable. This is one of those times.

photo credit: BoldGrid Commons

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”  -Matthew 5:20

“So also, faith, by itself, if it does not have works, is dead… For as the body apart from the Spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”                               -James 3:17, 26

The writer of Hebrews makes clear in chapter 11 that it takes more than courage to meet unrighteousness with righteousness. It takes faith. It takes a strength of resolve that goes above mere human ability. Humanity saw that with Dr. King, the freedom riders, and other leaders of the American civil rights movement. Humanity saw that with William Wilberforce, John Newton, and Fredrick Douglass with the work to abolish slavery. It will take faith to overcome the national sins of “These Yet to be United States.” 

We are not made righteous by our actions. That is half the message of Hebrews 11. Even people who think they are acting for justice can act very unjustly. Even the actions that may work for goodness in the world do no profit the unbeliever who is ultimately condemned for rejecting the Son of God. It is faith alone in Christ’s atoning life, death, and resurrection that makes us righteous before God because he is righteous as God.

But the second half of the message of Hebrews chapter 11 is that we are not made righteous apart from our actions also being made righteous. Christ does not save us to let us remain in sin or ignore the problems of unrighteousness in our world. That includes, first, doing less unrighteousness personally, and then working to make righteousness the law and practice of our communities. In a democratic society, we have the privilege and responsibility to call for laws that promote righteousness and oppose unrighteousness.

We see that in the story of Moses and the Exodus, there was the enslavement and oppression of people based on race and the selective killing of infants in the name of population control. If we cannot draw a straight line from there to our present context, then we are blind or blindfolded. Right now the two greatest sins in our nation are racism (racial or ethnic prejudice or hostility) and abortion (ending the life of a human being before birth). No one really disputes that these two things happen, but we do seem divided as a nation on whether they are problems that need to be solved by laws. Some dispute whether either or both of them are problems at all. Thankfully, not too many people are still openly championing racism, but too many deny that there remains a systemic problem of racial prejudice. 

Both sins deny the fundamental truth that all humans, regardless of sex, age, and level of independence are equally created in the image of God and have should therefore have equal dignity and protection. We see the sins of infanticide and racial prejudice as evils to be judged as such in the history of Moses and the Exodus. We see the judgment of God against such unrighteousness will be severe and wide-reaching. He doesn’t just judge leaders of nations, but he will judge entire nations for the evil of denying the dignity of his image-bearers. He places foolish, prideful, corrupt, and wicked leaders over nations as a judgment against them. Our churches cannot be silent on these issues, because as God’s people here in this nation, we suffer or succeed along with our neighbors. If we do not have faithful works that testify to the righteousness of Christ, then we probably don’t have saving faith that he really is God the Son. It will take a mighty faith and people of faith to stand against the evils that plague our nation. If we leave it to unbelievers alone to speak for the changes that need to happen, then we sentence our nation and ourselves to judgement.

Pray for our nation and our leaders. Pray for our churches in our nation. Pray for people to repent and believe the gospel. Pray for peace and justice. Pray for righteousness that comes only by faith in Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible , whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning , the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. ( Colossians 1:15-20 ESV)

And You Were Dead

The opening phrase for chapter 2 of Ephesians frames Paul’s theology for justification by grace alone through faith alone. That phrase describes something that should be impossible and remains impossible apart from a supernatural intervention. It holds in itself a contradiction of the natural order of creation we can observe. Sane people don’t normally write letters to people who “were” dead.

But that is exactly the state in which we are when the Holy Spirit comes to us. Paul leaves no room for doubt when he describes the work of salvation in verse 8-10. It is no work of our own goodness or will that makes us suitable for salvation. Only the gracious act of God can reveal to us the reality of who Jesus is by the work of the Holy Spirit.

This helps us to understand faith as a word and as and idea. James helps us to understand how real faith is evidenced by works, but it is not produced by works. The writer of Hebrews makes it clear that righteousness comes only by faith, and it is always God who is the primary actor in giving faith and making righteous.

Scripture Readings

Ephesians 2:1-10 James 2:14-26 Hebrews 11:1-19 Colossians 1:15-20


Ask God to work to open the eyes of the lost people to faith in Christ and that he would open our mouths to tell them of his goodness and how they can be saved. They are dead. And we were dead. Only Jesus can make us alive together in him.



“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.”

Psalm 51:7-8 (ESV)

Hebrews 10:26-39 (Psalm 51)

Of Bleach and Broken Bones

The smell of bleach tells you something has been recently cleansed. You and I might wrinkle our nose at the smell, but we know what it means. If you had never smelled bleach, then you would have no idea that it is used to cleanse things. I am not familiar with hyssop, but I imagine the smell of it had a similar association for David when he was writing Psalm 51.

If you have never broken a bone, then you don’t know the deep throbbing ache that just doesn’t stop. It gets worse whenever you try to use the bone that is broken or whenever someone or something presses upon it. You can tell that something isn’t right, even if outward appearances don’t show you what is wrong. I think David must have known about broken bones. As a warrior and a king, I doubt he was a stranger to that type of injury.

 I think this is evidenced by the fact that he used broken bones to illustrate the sense of divine judgment the believer experiences when in rebellion against God. I have broken bones at least three times and perhaps a fourth. I have known the acute sense of being in rebellion toward God far too many times to count.

It is important to remember that David wrote this as someone who believed in God, was called by God, anointed by the prophet of God, kept by the promises of God, and still he committed grievous sins against God. As I began preparing for a sermon on the second section of Hebrews chapter 10, this Psalm came to my mind. It was a sermon from this Psalm that God used to call me back from a long period of rebellion. It remains one of my favorite chapters of Scripture.

  • Hebrews 10:26-31 serves as a dire warning, specifically to believers, against continuing in willful or deliberate sin against God’s clear commandments.
  • Hebrews 10:32-39 reveals to us the strategy for escaping such temptation is to remember what God has already done in delivering us. He must be the source of our confidence to continue in love and obedience.
  • Psalm 51 and the life of David show us a picture of how God does not excuse the sin of his people. He is faithful to keep us in accordance to his promises, but real faith means we respond to his discipline by learning obedience from it and teaching others to do likewise.


“Am I Not Free?”

Scriptures for this Week’s Sermon:

1 Corinthians 8:8-13

1 Corinthians 9:1a, 19-23

1 Corinthians 10:23-24

Christian Liberty, Conscience, and the Coronavirus

If you had asked be three months ago what issues would be a possible source of division in worshiping together as a church, I would not have thought to list wearing masks in public.

I am thankful that the church that we read about in the New Testament was not free from cultural division and controversy.

As we come back together in worship, we need to be encouraged and strengthened for good works. That is one of the reasons we come together (Hebrews 10:23-25). Let us pray that we will use these instructions to the church on how to navigate present issues of conscience and be built up together.


Matthew 6:5-15

… “Pray then like this:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. (Let) your kingdom come, (let) your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptations, but deliver us from evil.

Revitalizing our Prayer Time

Teach us to pray…

We have recently begun live-streaming our worship services. This technology makes our prayer time together much more accessible but also more public. We want our prayers for the needs of people we care about to be specific, but we also want to honor the confidentiality of medical diagnoses and treatments and be otherwise sensitive to the concerns of family members.

Instead of the detailed requests being announced within the congregation, we want to encourage those conversations to be held first in smaller groups and then given in advance of the worship service unless they are personal and immediate. We have a digital prayer request form and prayer cards will be available in the worship service. We have a private prayer group on Facebook and we have weekly church prayer meetings with video conferencing available.

Our leaders will work to make sure that the person or family in need can be contacted before we share it from the pulpit. But we are still going to pray for every request as a church that we can bring to our minds during worship. The plan for how to do that is already given to us by Jesus. This is also how we can make sure that our prayers are focused mainly on God and our need for him during our worship. We can use the model of prayer given to us by Jesus to guide our prayer time in our worship service. Our prayers together can and should be interactive as we try to lead and bear one another’s burdens. We want you to have a chance to participate and write out or plan in advance how you will pray. 

  • Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be your name. As a congregation, we want to recall just how holy God’s name is. We want to use scripture to shape how we honor his name, even as we are praying.
  • Let your kingdom come, let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. We want to think of how God is using our church to make the gospel of the kingdom known in our community and to all the earth. This includes praying for our lost friends, families and neighbors by name. Pray for disciples to be made here and in all nations. Be specific as to name and need as we pray together for lost people and unreached and under reached groups of people.
  • Give us this day our daily bread… This is where we need to mention the specific needs within our congregation. If we know of urgent needs in our larger community, pray for them now within the gathering. Pray out loud, pray quietly, or silently as the Holy Spirit leads each of us. 
  • …and forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. Now is when we examine ourselves. We have sins that we bring into worship unintentionally, and we may be harboring unforgiveness toward other people. This is where we repent publicly and safely. Let the Holy Spirit lead you in repentance. 
  • And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. Even here in worship and praying in groups together, we are not exempt from temptation and we should remind ourselves and each other of the real dangers in temptations. We need to be able to recognize temptation as spiritual warfare. We don’t need to see other people as our enemy in prayer, we can all be deceived by the enemy of our souls. Remind each other out loud as the Spirit leads of the possible temptation we might face here and in the week ahead.
  • For yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever, AMEN. Return to meditations from scripture on God’s holiness, his authority, his sovereignty and his goodness in giving us what we need. 


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