Hebrews: Where the Rain Falls

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For the past several weeks we’ve looked deeply at what many scholars consider some of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible: Hebrews 6:4-6. But the author of Hebrews is not letting go of the theme yet, and so, neither will we. In 6:7-8 he makes what is the crucial point to understanding what he has laid out. “Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God.  But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed.  In the end, it will be burned.”

Again, this passage should be laid beside Jesus’ parable of the sower and the seeds. Just as the sower tosses the seeds out to let them fall where they may, the rain falls over the whole field and all the land soaks it up – good, productive soil and poor, rocky, thorny soil. All receive the rain – that is the gospel of Christ and the grace and mercy of God – but the fruit – bountiful crops or thorns and thistles – is the evidence of the condition of the soil.   Jesus said, “By their fruit, you will recognize them. Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt 7:16, 17-18). People who do not produce good fruit despite receiving God’s blessings demonstrate the poor condition of their hearts. Those who do produce good fruit give clear evidence that they are receiving God’s blessings with a good and sincere heart.

Those who persevere with Christ to the end prove two things: their hearts are good and the Lord is faithful to keep His own (John 10:28-29). Those who abandon Christ also prove two things: their hearts were always wicked and Jesus has no place for them (Matt 25:12). And I remind you that the Lord also said that both would sit together in the same pews until the end when the angels will sort them all out (Matt 13:24-30). While Jesus told us never to judge the condition of another person’s heart, He did strongly advise us to become fruit inspectors.

I suspect the writer of Hebrews included this information so that the true believers would not become discouraged by the falling away of the false believers. He also wanted them to know that he had seen good fruit in them – fruit that would endure and would be productive for the kingdom. “Even though we speak like this, dear friend, we are confident of better things in your case—things that accompany salvation” (v.9).

I’ll leave you with one simple question Beloved: What does the fruit of your life say about the condition of your heart?

Hebrews: Sowing Seeds

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away . . .” (Hebrews 6: 4-6a).

This is one of the hardest passages I’ve ever studied. Once saved, always saved? Or can a person lose their salvation? The word terminologies we looked at in our last devotional could support either perspective. But I will defer my answer to the original author of the entire Bible.

Jesus told a parable of a man sowing seeds, some of which fell on hard ground, “and the birds of the air ate it up. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, sprang up but “withered because they had no moisture.” Still more seed fell in the thorny grass, and the thorns “choked the plants.” Finally, some of the seed fell on good soil and produced a bountiful crop.  The Lord explained that the seed is the gospel that is sown in men’s hearts. The seeds on the path “are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts so that they may not believe and be saved.” The seed sown among the rocky ground are “the ones who receive the word with Joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing, they fall away.” The seed that falls among the thorns are those who hear “but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches, and pleasures, and they do not mature.” The seed that falls in the good soil are “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.”  (Luke 8:1-15)

Laying this parable beside the Hebrews passage (let Scripture interpret Scripture) we understand that the one who falls away never took root and grew to maturity. They are the rocky hearts in which the gospel doesn’t take a firm hold. And they are the hearts that are distracted by “life’s worries, riches, and pleasures.” Which soil did Jesus call good? The one that “by persevering produce a crop.” And perseverance isn’t gritting your teeth and hanging on for dear life. It is trusting in the promises and the Promise Keeper. Perseverance isn’t something you do to keep your salvation. It is the evidence of your salvation. Simply put, if you are not saved, you will not persevere.

Can you lose your salvation? You cannot lose what you never had.  But be assured, if you are in Jesus’ hands you will not fall away. “The one who calls you is faithful and He will [keep your whole spirit, soul, and body blameless]” (1 Thess. 5:24, 23).

Lessons from the Farmer

“Ground that drinks the rain which often falls on it and brings forth vegetation useful to those for whose sake it is also tilled, receives a blessing from God.”  Hebrews 6:7

Today begins a new year, shining and full of promise and hope.  Like a blank page, this year has endless possibilities for us – new stories to write, new songs to pen, new images to draw.  Like a kid on the first day of a new school year, I love fresh and new beginnings.

I always look for a Scripture on New Year’s Day that is hopeful and ripe with expectation, so when the Lord brought our key passage to my attention, I wondered what He was saying to me. It seemed an odd verse to start the new year – but as I studied the words and prayed, I began to see that this is indeed a word of hope and promise.

For some of us, this New Year’s Day signals a grateful end to the old year – a year marked with struggle, disappointment, pain, sorrow, hardship – I’m sure you could add to the list from your own experiences in the past year or beyond.   Like many others, I have been through a long season of storms and turmoil – and I am ready for it all to end.  That is where this verse speaks to me and two words stand out – “rain” and “tilled.”

Do you feel as though you have been standing out in the rain-wet and miserable?  Do you feel as if life has “plowed” you over?  Please hear these words from God – the rain and the tilling are meant to make your life and mine fruitful – “to bring forth vegetation.”

God means for us to drink in the rain that falls on us, just as Jesus declared “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37).  Jesus offers us Living Water for our thirsty souls, and He has said those who receive it will be conduits of this life-giving water – “streams of living water will flow from within him” (v. 38).

If you know anything about farming, you know that the farmer plows the field to prepare the soil for planting; sharp blades and tines dig deep into the fallow ground.  This is what I wrote in my prayer journal this morning: “Lord, I feel like I have been through a long tilling season – and sharp instruments have cut through my life.  But I think you have been plowing to sever the roots of plants that are not fruitful and break up clods that make it difficult to sow seeds in my heart.”  Take comfort in knowing that the plowing doesn’t go on and on. The land is tilled only to prepare for planting.  Hear the words of Isaiah 28:24-25 – “When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil? When he has levered the surface does he not sow caraway and scatter cumin? Does he not plant wheat in its place, barley in its plot, and spelt in its field?”  Plowing and tilling doesn’t go on forever; eventually the seed is sown for a fruitful harvest. Fruit that will bless others as well as bless you and me.  Its God’s own promise, there in our key verse: The fruitful ground “receives a blessing from God.”

My friend, if you have endured difficulties in the past year, take heart – God has prepared you that He might bless you and bless others through you.  Nothing He does or allows is ever without purpose, even the hard things. Especially the hard things.

Holy Father, I look ahead into this new year with hope in my heart, taking Paul’s words as my own: “one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14a).  Amen.