My wife bought a Pin the Tail on the Lion game from DollarTree — for a dollar. It’s a Daniel in the lion’s den kind of thing. Another dollar bought a box of sidewalk chalk.
I taped the lion poster to the garage wall and used the chalk to draw a large circle — 10′ diameter or so — with an X in the middle. The circle extends to the wall where the lion poster is.
“Kids, we’re going to play Pin the Tail on the Lion. Do you want to play the preschool version or the advanced version?” [Unanimous insistence on the advanced version]
I draw a 6″ circle where the lion’s tail should go and pull $10 out of my pocket. “Whoever gets closest to the right spot wins $10. But the winner has to be inside the circle. If no one’s in the circle, no one wins. There’s only one winner. … Oh, and you can ‘help’ your friends all you want.
“If you step out of the circle, you lose. Once you touch the wall, that’s where the tail goes. You can’t feel your way along the wall! That would be too easy.”
Kids line up, have a wool sash tied around their face, with the cheapo “Daniel” mask over the sash. I put them on the X, spin them around several times, and challenge them to pin the tail.
The first kid begins, and the other kids (and their parents) give misleading “help.” Pretty soon the kids learn to tune out their friends and let themselves be guided by the feel of the sun and wind and the direction of the voices (the kids didn’t think to move before shouting to the player).
The first kid misses by 10 feet. The next kid steps out the circle. The third miraculously puts a tail in the circle. Everyone else misses. I’m out $12.
I know that supper is after the lesson, so I’ll try to keep this short. I’m going to cover the entire book of Hebrews. No, really, we’re going to cover the book — but it won’t take long.
Let’s read some verses.
(Heb 3:14) We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.
How confident of your salvation were you when you were baptized? [very, absolutely]
The writer urges us to remain just that confident in our salvation until the end — until we die or Jesus returns. Certainly, that must be something we can actually do.
(Heb 4:16) Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
Notice that we are promised mercy and grace “in our time of need.” When is our time of need?
[Some discussion, concluding that it means when we are weak and sin]
(Heb 10:19-22) Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
Does anyone remember what the “Most Holy Place” was in the Law of Moses? It’s also called the Holy of Holies. [the place where God’s special dwelling, his glory, showed that God lives among his people. The place where sins were forgiven on the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur.]
There was a large curtain that hid the Most Holy Place from the people. Only the High Priest could go in there, and only on the Day of Atonement. Otherwise, the penalty was death. Do you remember what happened to that curtain when Jesus died? [It was torn]
Ray Vander Laan makes the point that the tearing of the curtain means two things. First, it means that we can go into the presence of God ourselves. We don’t need a priest or a temple to approach God for forgiveness.
Second, it means that God’s special presence left the temple and went out among his people. How did that happen?
[By the giving of the Spirit to God’s people, so that each of us and each church is a temple of the Holy Spirit]
(Heb 10:35) So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.
Anyone pick up a recurring theme from Hebrews?
The writer says we can be confident and assured — and this should be the normal condition and should last all the way to the end. It’s not just for super-Christians. We can and should all have this confidence.
But … we can “throw away” that confidence. It’s up to us. Do we keep our confidence to the end? Or do we throw it away? Let’s read some more verses.
(Heb 3:12-13) See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.
Sin is deceitful. How does sin deceive us?
[Makes us think something will make us happy when it will destroy us. Makes us take pleasure in the unhappiness of others.]
You know, at dinner last night I was discussing this lesson with one of my older sons, and he pointed out that they’ve done research on this. Imagine that you’ve gotten with a group of friends who live contrary to God’s will. Now suppose you try to straighten up and live right. How will your friends react?
[They’ll try to keep you from changing. (Girls are particularly adamant.)]
[They feel guilty. They don’t want to change. They don’t want to lose a friend.]
When we were pinning the tail on the lion, how much help did your friends give you.
[None — they tried to make me lose.]
For $10 you each sold your friends down the river! Now, I was hoping no one would win, so I could make this point: the game was very hard, but there is one sure-fire strategy. All you have to do is cooperate, encourage each other, and at least one will win. And if you agree to split the money, everybody wins something. If you compete, if you try to tear each other down, everyone loses.
My son says that the studies agree with you. Friends who are used to doing bad things together will do incredibly mean things to keep someone for leaving the group. Friends are one way that Satan tries to keep you from being who you should be.
Why does he say sin “hardens” our hearts? How does that happen?
[The first few times you do it, you feel guilty. After a while, the guilt goes away.]
How does he say we should avoid this?
[By encouraging one another daily.]
Think about this. He’s saying that sin is so deceving and hardening that we need help every day to stay away — help from each other. You see, the great danger he’s warning us against is being apart from our Christian friends. We need fellow Christians to hold us to account, to tell us when we’re messing up.
(Heb 6:4-6) It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, 5 who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, 6 if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.
This is a tough passage. He says we can become so hardened that it becomes impossible to repent. Impossible.
Now, never forget this: God will always take you back. This is not about any limits on God’s willingness to forgive. It’s about the difficulty we have in coming back. He says that we can become so hardened by sin, so deceived, that we’ll never even want to come back.
You all are juniors and seniors. College isn’t far away. And lots of good, Christian kids leave the church in college. And of those who do, many come back later. But many don’t. Maybe half never come back.
A lot of churches have what they call a “Lost Sheep Ministry,” where they try to get adults who’ve left the church to come back. I’m not talking about people who’ve transferred to a different church, just those who left the church altogether. Do you know what percentage of those people get brought back by these ministries?
Think about it. Once you leave, you can come back, but the odds aren’t good. The odds of leaving never to return are between 50% and 90% — depending on how old you are when you leave and some other things. That’s a really bad bet, don’t you think? More than 50% odds of hell?
(Heb 6:11-12) We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. 12 We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.
Interesting verse. He says in v 11 that we can make our hope sure. Our hope is only sure if we show “dilgence” to the end and don’t become “lazy.” He’s not saying that we earn eternity by hard work. He’s saying that if we’ll get busy in God’s Kingdom and support each other, we can all make it — and we can be confident of the outcome. Confidence is promised, if we’ll just stick with it.
(Heb 10:26-27) If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
And here’s the final warning. It’s the scariest passage in the Bible. Earlier in chapter 10 he assured us that Jesus’ sacrifice is enough to save us “once for all” and to make us “perfect forever.” It’s a passage of incredible comfort and assurance. But here he says that if “we deliberately keep on sinning,” we throw it away. God wants to save us, but we won’t let him. We aren’t even trying.
The warning is a serious one. If we get lazy, if we decide that because God’s grace covers sin it must be okay to sin, well, we’ll be separated from God and never even want to come back. We won’t repent, and so we won’t be forgiven.
This is the danger of sin. It deceives us and hardens us. It tells us that today’s pleasure will be joy forever. It’s a lie. The way to be assured of our salvation is to stay in the community of believers, where we can encourage each other and be encouraged.
Here’s the way to keep confident to the end —
(Heb 10:23-25) 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.
The way we hold on to our hope is to push each other to love and good deeds. It’s more about doing the right things rather than running from the wrong things. If we fill our lives with the right things, there won’t be room for the wrong things.
And we have to encourage each other — because it’s too hard to be Christian all alone. We need friends who will pick us up when we fall down, not friends who want to drag us down with them.
And we need to be active in the church — not because it’s one more in a long list of commands, but because that’s how we can be with our Christian friends, because we need the encouragement — and they need ours.