It has rightly been said that the very first question that the Spirit of God raises with a soul is ‘Heaven or hell?’, and then, when that question has been settled once and for all to the divine satisfaction, the Spirit of God raises a second question: ‘Heaven or earth?’. That question lies at the heart of what I want to get across to the reader, namely, the believer’s confession.
Now it is the calling that determines the confession. The response to the call is in faith, and what I believe, I confess. We read in Heb. 3: 1: “Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of [the] heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession” (my emphasis). The confession takes character from the calling. If the calling were earthly, the confession would be earthly, but as the calling is heavenly (that is, calling us to heaven), so the confession is likewise heavenly. Israel had an earthly calling—their hopes were for this earth. The epistle to the Hebrews is addressed to those of the nation who had accepted the apostles’ testimony to a Christ who had been rejected on earth but glorified in heaven. However, under pressure, they were now in danger of going back to what was still identified with the earthly calling. Hence in the verse quoted, Paul reminds them they were now partakers of a heavenly calling.
Now it might be wondered why God has seen fit to include the book of Hebrews in the canon of Scripture, as the present testimony is overwhelmingly to the Gentile. However, God knew the end of the present dispensation from the beginning. He knew that there would be a return to Judaism from Christianity, a going back from heaven to earth. It is invariably true that unbelief always looks back to a previous day while faith looks on to the future. The Jews in the Lord’s day were always referring to Moses and Abraham, while the latter had this testimony from the Lord Himself that he “exulted in that he should see my day, and he saw and rejoiced” (John 8: 56). Unbelief looks back, and, unless corrected, will eventually go back. I trust we can all say with the apostle that “we are not drawers back to perdition, but of faith to saving [the] soul” (Heb. 10: 39).
Now while the calling is heavenly, and the confession resulting from it is characterised by it, confession takes place here and now on earth. Earth is the sphere of confession, not heaven. I will not need to confess in heaven as there will be none of the adverse conditions there which confession always assumes (in a similar manner, fellowship assumes all are not of the same persuasion and applies to earth not heaven, to now not then). Confession is what I admit to under pressure. There will be no pressure in heaven, but there is now. In Rom. 10: 10 we read that “with [the] heart is believed to righteousness” but “with [the] mouth confession” is “made to salvation”. Confession is thus one of salvation’s prerequisites (salvation being here used in its broadest sense, signifying not only deliverance from the wrath of God and perdition, but the saving and preserving power evident in a life which acknowledges Christ as Lord). Now in Mark 16: 16 we read “He that believes and is baptised shall be saved, and he that disbelieves shall be condemned”. So baptism is another requisite of salvation. And baptism like confession is for earth. A man going immediately to heaven doesn’t need to get baptised. This brings me to that Scripture in Matthew where confession and baptism coalesce and come together in one: “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the country round the Jordan, and were baptised by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins” (Matt. 3: 5, 6). Now it does not say ‘were baptised and confessed their sins’ but “were baptised … confessing their sins”. The confession here was not in what they said, but in what they did. They admitted their sins by being baptised. John’s baptism was “[the] baptism of repentance for remission of sins” (Mark 1: 4) and baptism has exactly the same result now. After his conversion, Paul was told to “arise and get baptised, and have thy sins washed away, calling on his name” (Acts 22: 16). Before the eye of God those sins had already gone but until he was baptised unto the name of the Lord Jesus he was still identified with all that pertained to his previous history here. Baptism has to do with my external position, not my internal state. In baptism I publically dissociate myself from my previous course and associate myself with a rejected Christ. I do it openly, not only before men, but also angels because they are part of the administration of this present world (see, for example, 1 Cor. 4: 9: “for we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and men”).
Baptism is thus at the commencement of our confession. Our course as a believer here rightly begins with the ordinance. The Lord Himself began his public pathway here by being baptised. Not that He had any sins to confess but He was baptised in order “to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3: 15). The point of the Lord’s baptism was His manifestation as Messiah to Israel. It says in John 1: 31 “and I knew him not; but that he might be manifested to Israel, therefore have I come baptising with water” (my emphasis). Everyone who came to John’s baptism had sins to confess, and they confessed them by being baptised. The Lord Jesus of course had no sins to confess, but His going that way provided a unique opportunity for the Father to open the heavens to Him and declare “This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight” (Matt. 3: 17). He was thus manifested to the nation.
Again, take Israel themselves. They began with baptism: “all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and all were baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor. 10: 1, 2). What did it mean to be baptised unto Moses? It meant that they submitted to his authority. Similarly, baptism now is “to the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 8: 16; 19: 5)—we confess His name, and submit to Him as Lord. Now the crossing of the Red Sea put Israel in the wilderness—it did not get them into the land—and if we maintain the teaching of our baptism this world will be a wilderness to us too. But is it? Sadly, while Israel started well, “yet God was not pleased with the most of them, for they were strewed in the desert” (v5).
One more Scripture on baptism: “for ye, as many as have been baptised unto Christ, have put on Christ” (Gal. 3: 27). I do not put on Christ by faith exactly, but in baptism. When I joined the armed forces, I took an oath of allegiance to the Monarch. The moment I took that oath I was in the armed forces and came under military authority. But I was still in civilian clothes and hence outwardly I was still a civilian. It was only later when we put on our uniforms that everyone then knew what I now was. Hence it is by baptism I confess and put on Christ.
Now, beloved friends, the good confession that begins with baptism has to be maintained—and that is where the difficulty lies. It is one thing to put on a uniform, it is quite another to continually honour all that the uniform represents. It was so with Israel. They began well. Moses was the apostle and he did not fail them. Aaron was the priest, but he let the people down. The purpose of the priest was to maintain all that the apostle set up. Moses was a greater man than Aaron. The failure came in with Aaron not Moses. But in Christianity the apostle and High Priest come together in one Person and there is perfection, On His side, there is no possibility of failure: “wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of [the] heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Jesus, who is faithful to him that has constituted him, as Moses also in all his house” (Heb. 3: 1, 2).
In Heb.11: 13 we read of saints who had a heavenly calling long before Israel became a nation and it is said of them “all these died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them from afar off and embraced [them], and confessed that they were strangers and sojourners on the earth”. These OT men and women (and both are detailed in the chapter) had, like us, a heavenly calling and confessed it, and they made a public stand on the basis of what they believed. The verse tells you what they confessed: that they were strangers and sojourners. Nor is such language confined to OT saints, for Peter exhorts the saints of this dispensation “as strangers and sojourners” (1 Pet. 2: 11). So what do these terms mean? A stranger is a person who doesn’t belong here; a sojourner is a person who is not staying here. As a stranger I am not at home; as a pilgrim or sojourner I’m going home. So where do these terms apply? Heaven? There will be no strangers or sojourners there! No, this is earth. Confession is for earth not heaven, for now, not then: “strangers and sojourners on the earth”, (my emphasis). A saint now is on earth, but he doesn’t belong here, he’s only sojourning—he’s not going to stay. He is on his way home. Where’s that? Where his Saviour is. His place determines my place. Where is He? In heaven. Then that’s where I belong. But He is not only absent here, He’s rejected here! Hence, I can have no place here either. He was put to shame here, He’s been glorified there and so heaven is my home.
So is my confession real? Do I really appear here as a stranger and sojourner? Is it crystal clear or is it uncertain and cloudy? When a Frenchman is in England he is a stranger here—he doesn’t belong here. His life is in France. He speaks a different language and even if he speaks English his accent will usually betray him. Again, suppose he speaks no English and while I speak hardly any French I recognise the language and I know he comes from France. The Frenchman’s language identifies where he comes from. Thus with a foreigner his accent betrays him and his language identifies him. Now, brethren, does the language of our confession clearly demonstrate that, on the one hand, we do not belong here and, on the other hand, that our home is in heaven? You remember Peter. John got him into circumstances for which he was not able. He was warming himself in the company of those who were against the Lord Jesus. It says in Matt. 26: 71, 72: “and when he had gone out into the entrance, another [maid] saw him, and says to those there, This [man] also was with Jesus the Nazaraean. And again he denied with an oath: I do not know the man. And after a little, those who stood [there], coming to [him], said to Peter, Truly thou too art of them, for also thy speech makes thee manifest” (my emphasis). It was obvious to his accusers that Peter was a Galilaean. So does our speech tell men where we belong and that we have been with the Lord?
Confession doesn’t just involve what I sound like it also involves what I look like. That is part of the good confession. Many nations have what is called a national costume and if I were to present to you three women, say a Dutch girl, a Greek girl and a Spanish girl, each dressed in their national costume, you would be able to tell by looking at them which country they came from. Now in Scripture a man is identified by his garments. In 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah was sick and he sent to enquire of a heathen god as to whether he would recover or not. The messengers were intercepted by Elijah who told them the king would die. In verses 7, 8 we read that the king asked the messengers this question: “what manner of man was he that came up to meet you, and told you these words? And they said to him, He was a man in a hairy [garment], and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, It is Elijah the Tishbite”. Elijah’s clothing marked him out for who he was. Now I do not mean to say that Christians should wear distinctive clothing, but there should be something about their deportment that makes them different. Take Israel again. On the Passover night they were about to leave Egypt and among the instructions as to how they were to take the Passover it says “and thus shall ye eat it: your loins shall be girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and ye shall eat it in haste; it is Jehovah’s passover” (Exod. 12: 11). They were suitably attired for a rapid exit. So do I look as if I am ready to go when the Lord comes? For the Christian this does not relate to his physical clothes, but to his whole deportment—his complete bearing.
Again, take John the Baptist. What John wore was in perfect harmony with the setting of his testimony—the wilderness. He came “preaching in the wilderness of Judaea” (Matt. 3: 1) and “had his garment of camel’s hair” (v4)—the beast of the desert. The Lord Jesus Himself says of John “but what went ye out to see? A man clothed in delicate raiment? Behold, those who wear delicate things are in the houses of kings” (Matt. 11: 8). A man in delicate clothes would be quite unsuited to the wilderness. So what do you and I look like? Do we appear to those around as those who have we settled down to a life of comfort? Or is everything about us a clear witness that we regard this scene as a desert and incapable of offering anything to us of eternal value?
So there is what I sound like, what I look like, and, finally, what I act like. Let’s take John the Baptist again. In Matt. 14: 1, 2 we read that “at that time Herod the tetrarch heard of the fame of Jesus, and said to his servants, This is John the Baptist: he is risen from the dead, and because of this these works of power display their force in him”. What caused Herod to make this mistake? Why did he identify the Lord Jesus with John? Would anyone mistake me for Christ? Searching question! When Herod heard of the fame of Jesus and the works of power, his mind was immediately taken to the Baptist. It was what the Lord Jesus did that caused Herod to think it was John. And this is made the more striking because it says in John 10: 41, 42: “and many came to him, and said, John did no sign; but all things which John said of this [man] were true. And many believed on him there” (my emphasis). What a testimony and what a servant! No wonder the Lord himself testified, “Verily I say to you, that there is not arisen among [the] born of women a greater than John the baptist” (Matt. 11: 11).
So our confession involves what we say, what we are, and what we do. It should testify unequivocally that we do not belong here, that we are not staying, that we belong to the place where our Saviour is and that we expect to go there soon.
Finally, I return to that Scripture in Hebrews 3. The writer addresses them as “holy brethren” (v1), for they are separate and they are not engulfed in this world. They are partakers of the heavenly calling and he exhorts them to consider not Moses nor Aaron but “Jesus”, the “Apostle and High Priest of our confession”. That word consider means to thoroughly perceive with the mind, to focus the mind, to concentrate the thoughts on this blessed Person. As the apostle, the Lord Jesus has come out from God to die for you; as the high priest He has gone in to God to live for you. He has secured you by His death; He will keep you by His life. You were “baptised unto His death” (Rom. 6: 3) but it was in order that, “even as Christ has been raised up from among [the] dead by the glory of the Father, so we also should walk in newness of life” (see Rom. 6: 4, my emphasis). Where is that walk? Here on earth making the good confession until He comes. Oh, consider Him! You will find the truth as to His apostleship, as sent of God detailed in John’s Gospel; the truth as to His blessed character as priest in Luke’s Gospel. Be like Simeon and take Christ in your arms, embrace Him in your affections and like Simeon you’ll be ready to go (see Luke 2: 25-32). But if the Lord delays you will also be fully equipped to stay and witness the good confession until He comes! May it be so for each one of us.