A sure and steadfast anchor for the soul
• Normally, on holdays we stay in the same place, a holiday house we own near Port Macquarie, and just sort of hang out. But a few years ago, went for a car holiday to Tasmania. Now the thing about a car holiday is that you have to drive, often for lots and lots and lots of hours. Sometimes the driving is pleasant – went though Cradle Mountain national park, spectacular wilderness terrain; other times the driving is dull, even hard, through difficult, even oppressive territory – went through Queenscliffe, old mining town, it’s a nuclear wasteland, not a living thing for miles, just red seeping out copper and iron mines. And when you’re driving with a young family and the scene is dull, there is a question that you inevitably face. You will face it quickly and you will face it often; it will be asked as though there were a legal obligation to ask it; it comes to irritate you the same way fingernails down a blackboard do – you know the question: “are we there yet?” The answer is always the same – why would you think we are there, when we are still driving 100km/h? Why would you think we are there when there is no living thing in sight? But still, it comes. But imagine going on a trip and saying, “We’re not there yet. We won’t get there today, and we won’t get there tomorrow. In fact, our whole life is going to be this journey. We are headed for the most sensational destination conceivable, and we have complete assurances about our ultimate arrival – but not yet.”
• sometimes in the Christian life want to stretch your seat belt out, lean forward and ask, even shout, ‘are we there yet?’ And the answer is still always the same. One author described the life of faith as a long obedience in the same direction, and that’s pretty good. At the start, can seem like one big exciting adventure, and like the first hour of a trip, the first portion of the Christian journey can be an exciting blur. For some, that goes on for 40 or 50 or 60 or even 70 years, and then they die, a clear straight line of spiritual satisfaction. But not for most of us. For most of us, what was once simple and easy and enjoyable, becomes laborious and draining. You find yourself not wanting to pray; it is difficult to know the love and purpose of God for you; the Bible feels dull; doubts and confusions seem more common than rock solid faith; temptations that you thought you had overcome begin to look good again. There are ups, moments of triumph in yor life, but there are also downs, and they leave real scars on your soul, suffering you hadn’t anticipated, failures you didn’t expect, relationships that don’t go according to the script. For most of us, the trip that we’re on wanders through some rough terrain.
an elderly couple lies in bed. She is not satisfied with the distance between them. She reminds him, “When we were young, you used to hold my hand in bed.” He hesitates, but in a few moments, a wrinkled hand snakes across the bed and grabs hers. She is not satisfied. “When we were young, you used to cuddle right up next to me.” More serious hesitation now. But eventually, with a few groans, he laboriously turns his body and cradles her as best he can. She is still not satisfied. “When we were young, you used to nibble on my ear.” Loud sigh. He throws back the covers and bolts out of bed. She is somewhat hurt by this. “Where are you going?” “To get my teeth!” It’s one thing to nibble on an ear when you’re young and in love and the nibbling is easy. It’s another thing when the ear doesn’t hear so well and contains a hearing device and you have to go and get your teeth first.
1. The paradox of present and future
deep at the heart of the Christian way is a paradox, a mystery, a combination of two things that in the ordinary course of events don’t belong together, but in the power and grace of God, find their fulfilment in one another. On the one hand of this mystery is the way that the gospel of Christ announces that all is done, as Jesus shouted out from the cross “it is finished”, that God has achieved a great victory in his Son the Lord Jesus Christ and that your role is entirely that of a spectator to this triumph, you don’t contribute to it, you can’t detract from it, you don’t add to it, you don’t confirm it or effect it in any way. It is done, it is in the vault, it’s locked away and safe as houses. This is why Christianity is not really a religion. A religion says ‘do’, do something, make sure you behave well enough or pray enough or do enough good deeds to satisfy God or karma or fate or whatever, a religion hammers you into conformity; but Christianity doesn’t say ‘do’ it says ‘done’, Christ has died for you and been raised from the dead, he has done all that’s needed so that we can be utterly and perfectly and completely right with God. That’s one side of the mystery.
but on the other side of the mystery is the fact that Christianity is completely forward looking, completely future oriented, all about the glory that is to come and which isn’t here yet. You can see why I say this is a paradox, because this is all about how things are not yet done. But it’s crucial to get this part of the paradox. And the reason is that this says in the strongest clearest possible way that the bad stuff that happens in the this world really is bad, that God hates it every bit as much as you do – which of course is a silly thing to say, he hates it infinitely more than you do, he hates the way that war and hatred and bigotry and earthquakes and abuse and lovelessness all scar and ruin and destroy lives, he hates it with a perfect hatred – he hates it and is totally committed to doing something about it, in the future. He is not content, he is not finished his work, and ultimately he will fix up the mess. And this is why, like kids in the back seat, we say or sometimes we groan and other times we even scream out on our journey through life, ‘are we there yet’, precisely because we want things to be very very different.
now, here’s the thing. Both sides of this paradox are vitally important. One without the other is spiritually crushing.
If you so focus on the fact that God has done everything for us in Jesus, and that there’s nothing left to do, in effect what you’re saying is that the present is about as good as it gets, and you end up making a mockery of God. I read a story the a week or so ago about a 13 year old girl in Somalia who was raped by some government soldiers, and when she told her dad, he reported it to the authorities. For this act of defiance, the girl was arrested, accused of adultery, and sentenced to death. In front of a crowd of 1000 onlookers, she was buried up to her head and then in the name of religious law 50 men stood around her and pelted her with stones until she was dead. When some of the crowd tried to stop the murder, the soldiers opened fire and a young boy was killed. It made me sick to read it, I couldn’t get it out of my head for ages – and you know what, it makes God sick too, utterly sick, he hates the evil of that act and those men, and he will have his justice, we will put all the wrongs of this world to rights. Can you see why the future matters so much? Can you see why for that girl’s father, the future matters so much, for there is no justice available for him in the present.
But the same applies on the other side as well. If we lose our grip on the fact that the great victory is won in Jesus, that his death on the cross and resurrection from the dead really are the triumph of God over evil, then it places an unspeakable burden on us – suddenly it’s up to us to create the future, it’s up to us to bring about justice and right the wrongs, we have a yearning for the journey to be over and to arrive in a good place, but no real confidence or capacity that we will do that.
it is holding the 2 together, the triumph of God in Jesus as a present reality and the glory of righteousness to come, that we can live a life of spiritual health and energy. Let go of either end of that, and your will find yourself spiritually adrift on an ocean either of disinterest or despair. Our pastor knows this well, caring for and writing to this group of Christians who are being hounded and persecuted for their faith. And so he shows them how to hold the present and future together, and he does so by going back to where it all started, to Father Abraham, 6. 13:
2. The example of Abraham
13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise.
the problem with the future is that it is uncertain. It may or may not happen the way you want, and one of the ways that we try to tie down the future is by making promises; in making a promise, you bind the future, you say that all sorts of things may turn out all sorts of ways, but this thing is going to turn out this way, you can rely on that and even take risks based on it. But we all know that this process of promise making can be abused, that people make promises they don’t in fact keep and never intended to, they go back on their word. And so we strengthen promises, by adding to the promise an oath, a grander statement on the authority and power of some greater thing, that if it doesn’t happen the way I have promised, then there will be bad consequences for me – or as the author puts it, v. 16:
16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute.
well, adding an oath to a promise to make the promise utterly sure, and to end all reason for doubt is exactly what God did for Abraham. To this old man, utterly past it, and his old barren wife, totally and utterly past it, God promises the blessing of children and children and more children. And eventually he gets a single, solitary son, Isaac, the promise hanging on by the bearest of threads. And after God tested Abraham by commanding him to sacrifice his son, in other words, to throw it all away, he gives to Abraham a great blessing – his oath, sworn by himself since there is nothing greater by which God can swear by, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.”
and that is all Abraham needs. He has God’s promise and God’s oath, sworn by himself, and so he is able to walk the bridge between the present and the future, what our pastor calls patient endurance. He can handle the pain of the present, the disappointments, the frustrations, the failures of others and his own failures, he can handle them all with a long obedience in the same direction, faithful to the God who is faithful to him, because he has the promise of the future guaranteed in the present, by oath.
3. The presence of the future – hope
and the reason our author tells us about this is because we have exactly the same thing, v. 17:
17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us.
what we who have believed in Jesus have is even more clear, even more obvious than the oath God swore to Abraham, so that we can do exactly the same thing he did, grab hold of the hope that God has given us with both hands, cling onto it for dear life, and never, not under pressure, not under temptation, not under complacency, never let go. It is clear because God has sworn an oath to us as well – and what is the oath? I think you see it in v. 19:
19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
this is the oath that God has sworn, this is the hope that we have, that Jesus,, crucified on that cross, raised with unimaginable power and authority, is now at home, now in glory, he is at the right hand of God, he has entered into the very presence of God, symbolised in the Jerusalem temple by a heavy curtain, Jesus is there, already.
• and there is where the present meets the future, it is rock solid, locked away, guaranteed, but it’s not yet here. But it is certain, our hope that God will put all things to right, that he will fix the mess up, that his kingdom will come, and that his will will be done on earth as it is in heaven is as certain as the resurrection of Jesus. And so we have this sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. So often life batters us about, we flap and flail around in the breeze, not quite sure where togo and what to do. But here is our fixed point, anchored in glory, Jesus. And the promise of God confirmed with an oath is that if you keep holding onto the rope of faith and never let go, you will find your way home.
Conclusion: Living with a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul
Do you see what this enables you to do – to live in hope.
it was this sure and steadfast anchor that led a man by the very old fashioned nae Horatio Spafford to write the hymn that we are about to here. He had sent his wife and children on a ship to England for a holiday after playing his part in the rebuilding of Chicago after the terrible fire of 1871. They never made it, and the ship went down, and Spafford’s 4 daughters were lost. He caught the next ship across to be with his wife, and when he got to place where the ship went down, he penned these words
When peace like a river, attendeth my way;
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.
• listen to a man whose soul knew its sure and steadfast anchor.