I was overwhelmed this morning while reviewing one of my favorite passages – Hebrews 6:13-20. Sometimes, not all the time, the Spirit illumines your understanding in a way that stuns you. This morning God used this passage to show me the freedom of his grace. Let me explain what I mean by that – God is not constrained in any way; he is not required to show grace to all; as he told Moses in Exodus 33:19 – “And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”
So God is utterly free from human constraint. No one and nothing forces his hand. Knowing this, we dare not presume upon his mercy or take his grace for granted. But so often we do. Over the years, I have even noticed myself growing dull to songs like, ‘Amazing Grace’! But as I read and prayed through Hebrews 6:13-20, the Spirit revealed to me the overwhelming superabundance of God’s grace to his people. Follow along as I highlight what the Lord showed me.
“For when God made a promise to Abraham….” Stop. Did God have to promise Abraham anything? Absolutely not. Did Abraham ask God to make a promise to him? Again, the answer is no. Go back to Genesis 12 and look. Abram was minding his own business when God reached down and called him to go to a land he didn’t know. There was no initiation on Abram’s part. The freedom of grace.
“…since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, ‘Surely I will bless you and multiply you.'” Stop. God not only makes a promise to Abraham but then swears by himself and says surely I will bless you and multiply you. The God of the universe swears by himself. Just take some time to think about that. He is making a promise to a sinful man, a man who has done nothing to deserve that promise. This is stunning! Every other so called god demanded sacrifice and service. They were capricious and you couldn’t depend on them. But the God of Abraham is altogether different. He initiates a covenant and swears by himself, promising to bring blessing and multiplication! Super-abounding grace.
“And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise. For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.” So here we have the conclusion of this example of Abraham. Abraham is not the point of the passage, but is a key to understanding the gravity and glory of the passage. The author of Hebrews is trying to help his audience understand how Jesus is superior to what they had under the Old Covenant, and to warn them of apostasy. He is using Abraham to make a larger point about the certainty of God’s promises in the midst of their suffering. So this verse is getting us ready to see the dazzling reality of God’s free grace that pours forth from the certainty of his promise. First, he reminds them of the nature of human oaths, how even fickle human beings make vows and oaths in order to confirm their word. But look at what God does in comparison.
“So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath…” Stop right there. There is so much in that one verse that jumps out at me about God’s character and his free grace. First, look at the words, “God desired.” Have you ever wondered what God desires? This passage answers that question, but I have to break it down word by word because each word carries the weight of grace. God longs for something. This is his heart. And what does he long to do? He longs to show something, but he wants to show it a certain way – there are adverbs here! He wants to show it more convincingly, to make it absolutely clear. God longs for his people to have assurance! And God’s people are called heirs, heirs of the promise. Those who have the faith of Abraham are heirs according to Romans 4:13-16 which makes clear that the promise we’re inheriting rests on grace! And what does he want to make absolutely clear to the heirs of Abraham’s gracious promise? He wants to show them the unchangeable character of his purpose. And to prove that to them, and to us, God guarantees it with an oath. Again, does God have to do this?! Absolutely not. But this is his heart, this is his desire for his people, the heirs of Abraham’s promise. He wants them to be sure, he wants them to have rock solid confidence in who he is and what he’s promised. Maybe we could call that take-it-to-the-bank free grace.
Hang on though, because it gets even better. The verse continues – “…so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.” The author of Hebrews continues to encourage his readers, the ones who were being tempted to abandon the faith, to focus on the character of God and this hope they’ve been given. It is impossible for the God who made this oath to lie. Bank on that. Find refuge in that. God wants to encourage them (and us) to hold fast to the hope set before them. What other god, what other religion is like this? In any other system of religion, it is up to us to work and to strive for approval. There is no promise of encouragement, there is no assurance. But our God is utterly unique in his character and his purposes. He is for his people. He desires his people to have this refuge, to have this confidence in who he is and what he’s promised. Undeserved favor indeed.
Then we have this final glorious crescendo of grace: “We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” There may not be a more beautiful image in Scripture than this – our hope as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. If we hadn’t been convinced already of God’s gracious purposes towards his people, he confirms it again with this image. The meaning is profound. Our souls are adrift and wretchedly sinful, separated from God and deserving of condemnation. The inner place, behind the curtain is a reference to the Old Covenant sacrificial system and the Holy of Holies. The Holy of Holies was where God dwelt and where sacrifice for sins was made. The way into this Holy of Holies was limited to one man though, the high priest, and only once a year. But what’s special about our hope now? What’s special is our hope is anchored in the person and work of Jesus Christ who has gone into God’s presence on our behalf as our great high priest and won us access to the Father. It is finished. Our sin is forgiven, there is no more condemnation, we are secure and can come boldly to the throne of grace! (See Hebrews 4:14-16) Jesus Christ is grace personified. We didn’t deserve him or ask for him. We were weak, we were sinners, we were God’s enemies, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:4-5
The beautiful freedom of God’s grace is embodied and demonstrated by our Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t think ‘Amazing Grace’ will be dull the next time I sing it.