Jesus is Greater than our Challenges in life
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Pre-Service Discussion Questions
- Why did you come to this small group today?
- Can you be in the presence of God today? Explain your answer.
- Can someone know Jesus as their savior and consistently live in sin at the same time? Explain your answer.
- Has anyone ever made fun of you because of your faith? How did you respond?
- If you know Jesus as Lord- compare your life today to right after you became a Christian. Is there any difference between the two?
- Pray that we would honor Jesus by the way we live this week.
If you were here last week you heard me talk about how the Gospel has freed us from the guilt that goes along with sin. Next week we will look at one of the most famous chapters in the Bible, Hebrews Chapter 11.
I told you last week that I was going to tell you today about one of the most important mistakes that I’ve ever made in my life. When I first showed up to the Army I wasn’t in that great of physical condition. After the first few weeks in the Army I wasn’t really concerned about my physical condition. I went through basic training and airborne school here at Fort Benning. Then I was assigned to the Ranger Regiment. You need to understand this because this is an important part of the story; the Ranger Regiment has Summary Release Authority. It is one of the only units in the military that for any reason at any time they can look someone in the eyes and say, “You’re holding the unit back. You need to leave.”
During my first year in the Army I was in the Ranger Regiment and my boss came to talk to me. He said, “Jeff, we think you are ready to go to Ranger school. So in a week we are going to send you to the Pre-Ranger Course and then immediately from there to Ranger school.” If you’re not familiar with it, Ranger school is the toughest leadership course, not just in the military but also in the world. I hadn’t been in the Army a year when they told me I was going to attend this course. I was concerned that I didn’t know enough to pass the course. My boss also warned me, “You come back with a Ranger tab on your shoulders or don’t come back to this unit at all.”
At 5:00am the next morning, I started the Pre-Ranger program. The first event on the first day was a physical fitness test. Of all the things that I thought I might struggle with in Ranger school the last thing in the world that I thought would be a problem for me was the PT test. The first event on that test was push-ups. I got to the magic number of push-ups minus one. As hard as I tried I failed the push-ups and failed the course. By noon that day I was back at my unit.
I went back to see my boss and he was not happy. He said, “What on earth happened to you?” Honestly I was thinking I could give some sorry excuse as to why I failed. I could claim that the guy who was grading me was a royal jerk. However, I looked him in the eyes and said, “I failed. It was my fault. I totally accept responsibility and I understand what this means.” He sent me back to my room in the barracks while they decided what they were going to do.
Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever showed up convinced you were going to pass and you failed? In the process you let yourself down and a lot of other people down. The passage that we are going to look at in the Bible tonight is from Hebrews Chapter 10. Many Bible scholars think this chapter contains four of the strongest warnings recorded in the entire Bible. I don’t want you to show up and fail at a test that you thought you were going to ace. So, I want you to give yourself a test and answer these four questions that we are looking at tonight with a letter grade. You give yourself an A or an F on these four questions.
I.Do you consistently live out your faith? V. 19-25
19 And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. 21 And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, 22 let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.
The word consistent here means at all times in all circumstances no matter what. Do you live our your faith in front of others? The writer of the book of Hebrews has this laundry list of what it looks like when you consistently live out your faith. I want you to examine this list when you are giving yourself a letter grade.
You are able to boldly enter the throne of God. Don’t take this for granted! You and I as believers in Jesus Christ have access to God in ways that no other person can because of the barrier of sin that separates sinful people from a holy God for us has been removed because of the blood of Jesus. Now you can boldly go into his presence because you have been sprinkled with Jesus’ blood. The writer of Hebrews asks if you hold on tightly to your faith. Do you continue to encourage, or the word the writer uses is provoke, each other on towards love and good deeds. Then he asks the question, do they continue to meet together. As the society plunges toward evil, that time of meeting together becomes more and more important. We unashamedly teach that we want every single person to get together in small groups and live your life with other believers who can love you and encourage you along the way. I promise you that none of us are strong enough on our own to handle the difficulties of life. We need the Holy Spirit of the living God to help us. We also need other friends and believers who will encourage and support us. You find that in small groups (Sunday School or Community Groups).
We asked Robert Papenfuss to tell you why he comes on Sunday mornings to Sunday School and again on Wednesday nights to Community Groups. Listen to Robert as he explains the difference his small group makes in his life.
What we want for everyone in this room is for you to grow in your faith. I may be the only pastor in this city to say it but you will grow much more in a small group by opening up and asking questions, and sharing life experiences with each other. When you share life on life with each other you grow a lot stronger and closer to each other and Christ. That’s why Hebrews tells us not to forsake spending time together. That’s why we challenge everyone to get together in small groups.
II.Do you consider returning to sin? V. 26-31
26 Dear friends, if we deliberately continue sinning after we have received knowledge of the truth, there is no longer any sacrifice that will cover these sins. 27 There is only the terrible expectation of God’s judgment and the raging fire that will consume his enemies. 28 For anyone who refused to obey the law of Moses was put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 Just think how much worse the punishment will be for those who have trampled on the Son of God, and have treated the blood of the covenant, which made us holy, as if it were common and unholy, and have insulted and disdained the Holy Spirit who brings God’s mercy to us. 30 For we know the one who said, “I will take revenge. I will pay them back.” He also said, “The Lord will judge his own people.” 31 It is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
For weeks now we’ve been hearing the same thing over and over from the book of Hebrews. If you’re not careful from this point on it will sound repetitious and it won’t sink in anymore and you’ll just hear blah, blah, blah. If you know Jesus Christ personally, he has changed you and your lifestyle should demonstrate that change. If there is no change in your lifestyle after coming to faith in Jesus then there is something seriously wrong. The person that Hebrews is describing here is someone who deliberately keeps on sinning. They walk an aisle and pray a prayer but there is no difference whatsoever in their life. Hebrews says if that is you there is no sacrifice or hope. Basically what he is referring to is a believer who has done the church thing but never really experienced a changed life by Jesus.
The writer says that when the Holy Spirit of the living God has worked inside of you there should be a change. Then he gives them this illustration that they would have seen with their own eyes or remembered. If you were a Jew and you blasphemed God and committed some sin that said God was not real in Israel and two witnesses could collaborate that sin the Jews were required by the law of Moses to take you outside the camp and to kill you for it. Most often it was done by stoning in a public place so that the nation could see the sin.
Then the writer of Hebrews says imagine what it will be like at the judgment day for the people who turn their back on God and Jesus is standing there. Jesus will say, “I don’t know that guy. He claims to know me but I don’t know him. I don’t know that lady. She claims to be a follower of mine but I don’t know her.” On the other side of the judgment seat of God is the Holy Spirit who says, “There’s no fruit in her life that shows she’s really a believer.” Imagine the two witnesses that are standing against you at the judgment seat of God. Imagine the judgment that will happen to the person who can turn their back on God and deliberately keep on sinning after they’ve heard the Gospel. The idea here is that there is no hope for that person because they have demonstrated that the Gospel of Jesus Christ has made no difference in their life. My soul weighs heavy on the person who claims faith in Jesus but doesn’t live like it.
III.Do you continue in the midst of persecution? V. 32-34
32 Think back on those early days when you first learned about Christ. Remember how you remained faithful even though it meant terrible suffering. 33 Sometimes you were exposed to public ridicule and were beaten, and sometimes you helped others who were suffering the same things. 34 You suffered along with those who were thrown into jail, and when all you owned was taken from you, you accepted it with joy. You knew there were better things waiting for you that will last forever.
Two thousand years ago when this book was written, if you were a Jew and confessed faith in Jesus you publicly suffered. It probably cost you your finances and family. It could also cost you your life. If you were a Roman citizen 2000 years ago you were expected to declare that Caesar was god. You would probably be asked at some point in your life take some incense and put it on the altar and make a public declaration that Caesar was lord. If you were a Christian and said you couldn’t declare Caesar as lord because Jesus is your Lord then the Roman government had the authority to take everything you and your family owns and kick you out on the street. They could also kill you for it.
The people who were reading this letter were experiencing this first hand. The writer of Hebrews was saying that just because it gets hard and you are suffering don’t give up. Most of us in this room have no concept what he was talking about 2000 years ago. The majority of believers around the world know that if they give their life to Jesus and make it public it could cost them everything. If you are a believer in many parts of Asia it could cost you your life. In many countries around the world if you say Jesus is your Lord it cost your family, your finances or even your life.
The writer of Hebrews says that if you suffer do it with joy knowing that what you have on Earth is temporary and the real eternity is waiting for you in heaven. Your real home is in heaven. So, don’t get upset when you lose everything here on Earth for Jesus’ sake.
There is a story about a guy named Phocas who was a Christian who lived outside of Sinope, Turkey in the 4th century A.D. This was at the height of the Roman Empire when Diocletian was the Emperor. Diocletian passed a law to persecute Christians. Phocas was a very famous Christian because he lived at the crossroads that led into the city. Since his property was the first prominent piece of property, when travelers got thirsty or tired they would stop there. He had hundreds of guests that would stop. He cultivated this beautiful courtyard on his property and he would invite any stranger on the road to come in and spend the afternoon. He would feed them and allow them to rest in his courtyard for the sole purpose of talking to them about Jesus. Many, many people confessed faith because of Phocas. His reputation grew around the Roman Empire. The Emperor dispatched soldiers to go to Sinope to find Phocas and kill him.
The soldiers headed to Sinope when they came across Phocas’ property and stopped to rest. Phocas fed them and allowed them to rest there. He started a conversation that he hoped would lead to the Gospel and asked, “Why are you here?” They replied that they had been sent by the Roman Emperor to find a man by the name of Phocas and to execute him. They asked Phocas if he knew where they could find him. Phocas told them if they came back to his property tomorrow he would lead them to him.
That night Phocas was faced with a choice. He could run away from the suffering and the pain or he could stay where he knew that it would cost him his life. He wrestled all night long with the choice. In the morning he felt compelled that he would not deny his Master and that he would stay there even if it cost him his life so he started to dig his own grave.
In the morning, the soldiers came back and asked him to show them where Phocas was. He told them that he was Phocas. Those men were so caught off by this man and his generosity and graciousness to them yesterday and by his willingness to stand before them that day knowing it would cost him his life. They couldn’t bring themselves to kill him. Phocas reminded them that they had been sent on a mission from the Emperor and if they didn’t carry their mission out it may cost them their lives and possibly their family’s lives. Reluctantly Phocas convinced the guards to kill him. He kneeled over the grave that he had dug and the guards reluctantly beheaded him. Phocas believed he had a better home waiting for him in heaven.
Phocas understood something that most of us should understand but we don’t realize it like the rest of the world does. Christianity comes with a price. That price is everything! Either you willingly lay everything down when you come to the feet of your Master Jesus or you really haven’t surrendered to him. Give yourself a letter grade, A or F. Do you hang in there or do you consider running away in the midst of persecution?
IV. Do you carry on your faith until the final days? V. 35-39
35 So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! 36 Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God’s will. Then you will receive all that he has promised. 37 “For in just a little while, the Coming One will come and not delay. 38 And my righteous ones will live by faith. But I will take no pleasure in anyone who turns away.” 39 But we are not like those who turn away from God to their own destruction. We are the faithful ones, whose souls will be saved.
God’s got a promise, singular, that he is making. He has a great reward that is waiting in heaven. Let me ask you, what does God reward here? Is it your hard work that God rewards? Is it all the good deeds that you’ve done for him? No, the answer is your simple faith and confidence in him. That’s what he rewards. The writer says if you hang in there, if you persevere, if you don’t give up and you carry on your faith God sees it and he will reward it. But, if you turn away you forfeit the reward.
The words “turn away” were a sailing term. I want you to imagine you are on a yacht in the great America’s Cup Yacht Race. You are competing for the most prestigious sailing award in the world. You and your crew are giving it all you’ve got. The words “turn away” mean right when it’s getting hard you drop the sails and you quit. You give up. You throw in the towel. You turn away and drop your sails when the wind starts to blow against you and you quit. Hebrews says that God rewards those people who live by faith and not by their own efforts. They hang in there and carry on never dropping the sail and quitting no matter what the circumstances of life throw at them.
Let me tell you the rest of the story. I sat in my barracks room for the entire afternoon. This was probably one of the longest afternoons of my entire life. Late that afternoon my boss came to my room. He said, “Jeff, we’ve done a lot of talking about this and have decided that we are not going to kick you out of the unit. We sent you too early and you weren’t ready. So, now we are going to make sure you are ready.” Let me tell you what that means. “Make sure you’re ready” means they were going to physically punish me for the next six months so that when I went back I would make it. My boss also said, “I don’t ever want to see you let us down like this again.”
When he walked out the door I felt very small. I made a commitment to myself that day. I decided that I would never again be in a situation where I can let my unit down. I would do not just what was asked of me but much beyond that. So, if I was ever thrown in a situation like that again I would be more than ready. That failure the first year in the Army influenced my entire career in the Army. In fact, it was that failure that led to me being in the physical condition to even attempt the Best Ranger Competition years later. There really weren’t many days that went by in the Army that I didn’t remember that failure and how I felt while waiting for my boss to tell me whether or not I had a job the next morning. I learned my lesson and decided I would not make a mistake like that again.
I hope to this point you’ve considered this test and you’ve given yourself an honest grade. Nobody else in this room can grade you on those questions. Only you know where you stand on all four of these questions. Here’s what I really hope has happened. I hope you’ve started to see that you’re not in the shape spiritually that you thought you were and that you have a lot of work to do. If you walk out of this room at least seeing that then this test was a healthy test. If you walk out of this room oblivious to where you are at spiritually and you end up making a mistake and turn away when it gets hard, or you start to suffer at school, work or home because of your faith then you’ve missed the whole point. The point is not that you can be good enough to ace the test because you can’t. Without the help of the Holy Spirit none of us can score an A. All of us will score F’s on every question. With the help of the Holy Spirit and other brothers and sisters who love Jesus around us we can be an incredible influence in our city for King Jesus.
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Post-Service Discussion Questions
- Why is it important to meet together regularly? (Why do you attend a small group?)
- Has there been a time when you failed at something that you felt sure you would pass? What did you do as a result of that failure?
- How much of your day would you say is spent “in the presence of God”?
- Be honest- have you ever been tempted to walk away from your faith? Explain.
- Pray that we would honor Jesus by the way we live this week.