Greeting: Be faithful to the point of death and you will receive the crown of life.
Text: 23) Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. 24) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25) Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Introduction: Long years ago, in the days of Isaiah, the prophet, God told the people of
God’s Word: “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” At that time God announced to us: “You are children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have been clothed with Christ.” By means of the Holy Spirit working through the Gospel in Baptism, you and I became God’s daughters and sons. He is our God and Savior. We are His children and disciples.
It is a wonderful relationship. Although we were born in sin, our sins have been forgiven. Although we were naturally hostile to God, God is no longer our Enemy. He is now our great Friend. Although we were born detached from God, He is no Stranger to be feared. He is our loving Father. Although we entered the world under the curse of condemnation, God is not our sentencing Judge. He is our pardoning Savior. Each day we live before God cleansed of our sins, confident of His favor, and committed to serve and honor Him. God is ours. We are His. We all want it to stay that way – always.
The writer of Hebrews was speaking to people like us- people who know God by faith in Jesus Christ; people who love God for His undeserved favor; people who belong to God because of His saving grace; people who are traveling through life as God’s people, but who still have a way to go on their journey. He wrote some hopeful words for us to hear. He spoke encouraging words for us to follow. Let’s listen carefully as He urges us who are God’s people to continue to be His people forever.
1. Holding Firmly To Our Faith
By His grace, we are God’s people. Let us be His forever. Let’s be His by holding firmly to our faith. In verse 23 the writer of Hebrews instructs us: 23) Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful. People with hearts cleansed by Jesus Christ also have mouths that delight to confess Him. We confess Jesus and the hope He gives us not only in worship (as we do right now), but also in the world wherever we are. We do it when we confess our faith in the words of the Creed at a church service. We also do it when we explain to a friend how Jesus makes us certain of eternal life as we eat in a cafeteria.
Because God has given us a firm assurance of salvation, we need to express it. Because so many do not know the true way of salvation, the people around us need to hear it. They need to hear the message of Christ and the Bible shared lovingly and faithfully so God might also make them His people. One of the challenges for us to profess our faith is that sometimes our confession of Jesus brings us bruises from others instead of praises. In the stubbornness and blindness of unbelief, some will oppose our profession of the faith and try to discourage us from sharing our hope of heaven in Christ. But the people around us need this message. So we shouldn’t give up.
In October of 2009, I met a 15 year old young man at a Bible school in Xining in western China. He lives in a mountain village in the heart of Buddhist territory. He is one of only seven Christians in an area where everyone else is under the influence of Buddhism and its hopeless message of trying to escape a life of suffering without Jesus Christ.
This young man had been beaten up by Buddhists. He literally had been bruised for confessing His faith. Yet, he was not going to give up his faith or his open confession of it. At the age of 15, just a year or two older than our confirmands, he was at a Bible school, preparing to learn more about Christianity so that we could be the spiritual leader of this small group of believers in his village and an evangelist to the Buddhists in his area. He wants to do what the writer of Hebrews urges us all to do – hold unswervingly to the hope we profess. He wants to announce the true way of salvation in Christ without failing.
By God’s grace, he will do it. And in our own situations, you and I will do it also. Why can we say that? Because of what the writer of Hebrews assures us. He says: “He who promised is faithful.” The God who made us His own cleansed and confident children doesn’t fail us. He renews our faith and strengthens us so that we will be His forever – holding firmly to our faith.
2. Encouraging Each Other In The Church
The writer of Hebrews has another point of stimulating instruction for us so that we seek to be God’s forever. He urges us to encourage each other in the church. In verses 24-25, he says: 24) And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25) Let us not give up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching. In these words, our God reminds us that the people who are His also have a deep, active concern for the other people who belong to God, for their fellow Christians.
On a day like today, when we observe confirmation and first communion for our youth confirmands, we are reminded that God not only puts us in a relationship with Him. He also puts us in a relationship with each other. He puts us in the Church. He makes us members of His spiritual family. We have brothers and sisters in Christ to care for us and to care about. We are not to live solo lives in isolation from each other. We are to live shared lives in community with each other. We are to gather together and interact closely with each other to help each other. In one of the earliest Christian writings after the Bible, the Didache, Christians were encouraged: “Be frequently gathered together to seek the things that are profitable for your souls.” Yes, that’s what we are to do.
It’s quite different from what some choose to do. Some, sad to say, do give up meeting together and don’t gather regularly with fellow believers for worship, Bible study or encouragement. Instead of seeing Christ and His Word as the great treasure and source of blessing for their lives, they become lazy or fall under the influence of working too hard or having too much fun in other aspects of life and selfishly staying away from church. Some fall victim to the false belief: “A believer does not need the church. A person can be a Christian without being involved in the church.”
God did not design our lives to run that way. He knows that our problem is that we sinfully ruin our relationships with our God. We cut ourselves off from His Word. We spoil our connections with each other. The last thing we can afford to do is give up meeting with fellow believers around His Word and Sacraments. It is there we will find the Gospel of Christ to fuel our faith and increase of love for God and others. It is there we will have the fellowship to receive encouraging strength from others and to give it in return. It is in the fellowship of the faith-filled that we will find caring people to stand beside us in time of need – to help us be strong when we are tempted, to urge us on when we are wavering, to comfort us when we are sorrowing. The Last Day is quickly approaching. Now is not the time to slack off in our concern for each other. Now is the time to encourage each other more and more. Now is the time to appreciate and enjoy our fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now is the time to use our opportunities for mutual encouragement. Now is the time to put our minds to work to find ways to help each other express our faith and love in meaningful actions. God wants us to be His forever. We want to be His forever. We want each other to be His forever. Moved by His mercy, we will continue to be God’s forever together as we encourage each other in the church.
Close: Our prayer is that everyone here today will continue on the blessed path God placed us on years before. At our Baptism, we became God’s people. At our Confirmation, we affirm our faith as God’s people. Until the Last Day and our Savior’s return, may God keep us as His people so that we will be His blessed and glorified believers forever. Amen.