Hebrews 3: “Reach Up”

Jeff Garrison 
Beaumont and Mayberry Churches

January 17, 2021
Hebrews 3
c2021

Sermon recorded at Mayberry Church on Friday, January 15, 2021

Introduction at the beginning of Worship

       Today we’re exploring the third chapter of Hebrews. At the beginning of this series, I spoke about how this book draws on Greek rhetorical arguments and Old Testament quotes. Throughout the book, the author flows back and forth from discourse to exhortation. And each section of the book depends on the previous.

Therefore

       Remember that chapters and verses were added to scripture centuries after the text were written. Despite this, almost half of the chapters in Hebrews begin with a “therefore.”[1] Those who added the chapter and verse numbers realized a new thought was coming, so they made a break at this point. However, therefore means that we have to look back to see what the author has said in order to understand how he comes to his conclusions. Out text today, like last week, begins with a “therefore.” 

This means we’re not starting anew but must keep in mind what has already been covered. Last week, we learned of Jesus’ salvation journey, from heaven to being like us, a little lower than the angels. Once he atones for our sins, he’s exalted. While Jesus was human, he lived a perfect life that puts him in more honor than anyone. Today, we’ll see this includes the greats of the Hebrew faith, even Moses.   

After the reading of the Scriptures

We have no written account of what Jesus did between his visit to the temple when he was 12 and the beginning of his ministry. But it’s often assumed Jesus followed in the trade of his father, as a carpenter. Building things, whether houses or furniture, is noble work. Those of us who are not as handy depend on those who are! 

The Nobility of a Construction Worker

The author of Hebrews acknowledges the nobility in building. After all, as Creator, God is the master builder. The author also credits Jesus as the builder of the house, but what does this mean?

House of… 

       Throughout the Old Testament, God’s people were often called “the House of Israel.” House, here, is used in a metaphorical manner. The “house of” was a common way of referring to those under the head of the house, the one in authority. In the Old Testament, we also find reference to the “house of Pharaoh.”[2] Pharaoh was the top dog in Egypt and those in his house were subject to him. We also read about the House of Eli.[3] Eli’s sons, who disappointed the prophet greatly, were subjected to their prophet father. 

But the House of Israel carries extra weight. The term refers to all of God’s people. What the author of Hebrews wants his hearers to understand is that the church is now the household of God. 

As I’ve said over the past two weeks (and I’m sure I’ll say again, many times, before this series is done), the audience of this book appears to be on the verge of leaving behind their faith in Jesus Christ. They’re thinking of returning to their old ways of worship. Perhaps they think they have it all wrong and are no longer in God’s house, but the Preacher of Hebrews assures them they are still within God’s house. 

In addition to referring to Jesus as the builder of this metaphorical house of God, the author compares Jesus to Moses. 

Comparing ourselves to others

I want you to think about this for a second. If we want to look really good, to whom do we compare ourselves. When I was a kid, trying to justify my behavior or my grades to my mom, I never compared myself to Nicky Pipkin. He was the brain in the class. I don’t ever remember him getting in trouble. Instead, I’d say, “I’m not as bad as Billy or Mark, Bobby or Stacy…” And my mother would respond with a sermon about how it’s always easier to find someone worse than you, and how I was still responsible for my behavior. 

The argument that we’re better than someone else has the unfortunate consequence of accelerating the race to the bottom. Don’t ever accept a defense of someone’s behavior who says they’re not to be as bad as so-in-so.

By the way, this argument is used way too often in politics. It drives me nuts. Always be aware when someone tries to look good by tarnishing the looks of others. 

Reach up

We’re to reach up, not down. Let’s compare ourselves with those who cause us to reach higher. If I had strove to be like Nicky, I may never had become as smart as him. After all, he became a heart surgeon. But I would have probably done better in school and gotten in far less trouble. Even if we don’t obtain the status of the other, we’ll certainly improve our status by reaching up.  

The author of Hebrews picks out the stellar example from Israel’s past, Moses, for his comparison with Jesus. His audience would have known about Moses and how God used him to rescue the Hebrew people from slavery. When it comes to the leaders of the past, Moses ranks up at the top. He’s used as a comparison to Jesus, not to denigrate Moses, but to elevate Jesus. 

Yes, Moses was a great servant in God’s house, we’re told. But he’s only that, a servant. He’s like us. His special skill was his faithfulness, not his ability. God provided what he needed to do the task he was assigned. As the Psalmist reminds us, “It’s better to be a doorkeeper in the house of God than live in the tents of the wicked.[4]

Jesus more than a servant

Jesus surpasses all servants. He’s the builder of the house. If we want to compare ourselves to anyone, we need to compare ourselves to Jesus.

A warning against harden hearts

This text continues with an exhortation that we must not harden our hearts. After introducing Moses into the discourse, the preacher recalls the behavior of Moses’ contemporaries. I’m sure you remember the story. Those led out bondage in Egypt, through the parting of the water, were nourished by manna in the desert. But it was never enough. They always complained. They blamed God for a bland diet and for bringing them into the desert to die. They kept forgetting the mercies they enjoyed. Don’t be like that, the Preacher warns. You’ll miss out on God’s rest. 

Encourage one another

Instead, what the Preacher encourages the congregation to do is for each of them to encourage one another not to forget such mercies. For they, as a part of God’s house (God’s family), need to be encouraged and to encourage others. We gotta believe. The text tells us so. Part of the benefit of being in a family is that when we’re down, another can lift us up. That’s what the Preacher is suggesting here. 

First takeaway

Two things you need to take away from this passage today. First of all, if you want to compare yourself to someone else, reach high. Compare yourself to Jesus. Sure, you’ll going to come up short, but that’s okay. You’ll be a lot better off than if you compare yourself to Jessie James or Jack the Ripper. It’s easy to go low, but don’t. Reach up! We follow Jesus.

Second takeaway

Our second takeaway is to remember that our righteousness comes from Jesus Christ, not from our actions and doings. And we need to encourage one another to believe. It’s easy to be discouraged, but a family should promote one another to hold fast to Jesus. Furthermore, we’re to open our hearts to what he’s doing in the world. We’re to trust him as we move into a future that may contain surprises. While our life on earth will be uncertain, we can be certain of God’s rest promised through Jesus Christ. Amen. 


[1] This depends on the translation. In the NRSV, chapters 2, 3, 4, 6 and 12 begin with “therefore.”  Therefore is also used 15 other times within the chapters

[2] See Exodus 8:24, 1 Samuel 2:27. 

[3] I Samuel 3:14. 

[4] Psalm 84:10.

10 thoughts on “Hebrews 3: “Reach Up””

  1. Lots of interesting pieces in this sermon. “Therefore”–maybe like the mathematical “if-then”? “This happens therefore this happens”?
    Thanks for sharing.

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