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Online Text Sermon - Despising our Birthright, Hebrews ch.12 vv.15-17

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleDespising our Birthright
TextHebrews ch.12 vv.15-17
Sermon ID423

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"Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled; Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" (Hebrews 12, 15-17) - especially verse 16.

The Bible is the Word of God. Nobody understands the mind of man as perfectly as God does. Because that is so, the Bible is a perfect Book of instruction. No book that ever was written compares at all with the perfection of the Bible as a means of teaching us.


God, knowing as He does the mind of man, uses various methods of instruction. He varies the way in which He teaches us lessons. Let me tell you what I mean. Sometimes the Bible teaches us lessons by means of proverbs. Proverbs are a pithy, sententious way of teaching any particular point of truth. I give you an example. "Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise" (Proverbs 6, 6). There is God teaching us by means of a proverb. Take another example. Backsliders are referred to like this: "As a dog that returneth to his vomit" (Proverbs 26, 11). That is a proverb: a pig or a sow that's been washed and then wallows in the mire. That is the description of backsliding - comparing it to a dog or a pig. It is very powerful and it is one way in which God teaches us but it is not the only way.


A second form of teaching in the Bible is by exhortation. God comes to us and He pleads with us like this - "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God" (Romans 12, 1). God there is no longer using proverbs - He is using the language of exhortation and entreaty.


God teaches us in other ways still. Sometimes He does so by statements of doctrine. Take this for instance: "God is a Spirit" (John 4, 24). There is a statement of truth. Or this one: "In the beginning was the Word (Jesus Christ), and the Word was with God, and the Word was God" (John 1, 1). That is not proverbial, it is doctrinal.


Sometimes God teaches us by example. That is to say, the Bible not only gives us these proverbs, exhortations and doctrines but sometimes God sees fit to teach us by examples. That is what we have in our text. It is also found in chapter eleven. Chapter eleven of Hebrews is a veritable gallery of heroes and heroines. The whole chapter deals with great men and women of God of old. It sets them forth, not merely to whet our curiosity or to give us encyclopaedic information but in order to teach us things concerning God and godliness. That is what we have again here in this text, as you see at verse 16, "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (text).

Esau! What do we know about Esau? First, he was a twin. His father was Isaac and his mother was Rebecca. Rebecca could not bear children at first but her husband prayed to God to give her the power to bear children. God heard the prayer and she gave birth to twins. The first twin was called Esau and the second one, Jacob. Therefore, the first thing we discover is that they were twins: they had the same father and mother. Yet, the next thing we know about them is that their characters were utterly and totally different - indeed they were opposites, the one from the other. As they grew up, they went their separate ways in a spiritual and in a moral sense. We are told that Esau became a hunter but much more serious than that he became a 'profane' man - that is the word used here. It could be that that is the sense in which the writer uses the term 'fornicator'. That term is sometimes used in the sense of being irreligious.

A profane person is a person who has no place in his life for God. A profane person despises God, despises the Bible, and scorns religion; that's what the meaning of the word 'profane' is. Sometimes we talk about profane speech, that means cursing and swearing and blasphemy, but 'profane' when we use it in a general sense means earthly minded, tied down to material things - having no appreciation of heavenly things. That is the character then of Esau: a profane man, earthbound, earthly minded, sensual, loving the things of the flesh and having no regard for the things of God or of the Spirit, not concerning himself with prayer or with the Word of God, having no appreciation of the religion of his father, mother or grandparents. That is what we mean by 'profane'. He was different from Jacob.

Jacob had his weaknesses as we saw in the reading. There was cunning, craftiness and other things - which are not to be praised - but he became converted later on at Bethel. You know that wonderful place where he lay down to sleep in Genesis chapter twenty-eight when he was travelling on foot away from home to go to Padan-aram in Syria. With a stone for his pillow, he lay down to sleep and had a dream. In that dream, God spoke to him. God visited his soul; he became a new man and when he woke up, he used those wonderful words, "This is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Genesis 28, 17). He became a changed man - religious conversion is what we call it. Esau never had that. To summarise Esau - in this life, he was worldly and after death, he became a lost soul. His history is a tragic one.


The writer here, inspired by God as he is, puts forth this man Esau as a warning to us. Some people in the Bible are given as warnings. Do you remember the case that Jesus uses when He says, "Remember Lot's wife" (Luke 17, 32). In the book of Genesis, Lot's wife was running away from Sodom and Gomorrah when the fire was falling and yet she disobeyed the command of God. She turned back and became a pillar of salt as the Word of God tells us (Genesis 19, 26). Jesus alludes to that - He says, remember this woman - Lot's wife. That is a warning and the Bible uses warnings to tell us how not to live. Here in this text is just another of these warnings. "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, like Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (text). Then he lost his blessing.

Suffice to say, Esau lost two extremely precious things through his own fault. The first one was his birthright. The birthright meant that he would have the privileges of being the head of his family: privileges, which in Abraham's family were associated with grace, heaven at last and glory. The birthright entailed spiritual privileges and wonderful gifts of God for this life and the life to come. Esau, however, was hungry having been hunting all day. He was a hunting, fishing kind of man. That was all he thought about. There is no harm, of course, in hunting and fishing but that was all he thought about. He had nothing else in his mind but that. There is no harm in hunting and fishing but to spend all your time on the things of this world, as he did, is a sin. He was coming home tired, hungry and prepared to sell his birthright for a plate of soup. That is what is meant by being a 'profane' man. To sell your inheritance of heaven for a plate of soup was extreme profaneness. Esau was guilty of that.

Later on, as we saw in the second reading, when his old father, who was now blind, was going to give him the blessing, which was a similar kind of thing - a spiritual privilege to confirm grace and glory and heaven upon the oldest son whom he somewhat preferred evidently - by a strange providence, the younger son, putting on the skins behind his neck and on the back of his hands, came into the old man's presence and he anticipated the blessing and stole it away from his brother. In God's providence, that is what happened. No doubt this was a judgement of God upon the older brother for his refusal to appreciate his birthright. It doesn't excuse Jacob. Jacob was to blame for trickery but in God's inscrutably wise ways, even this trick was part of the divine purpose and Esau lost not only his birthright but also his blessing.


What then is there here for you and me? My dear friends let us recognise and appreciate that God has given us all a precious birthright in this life. You ask what I mean. The birthright that God has given to most, if not all of us here today, is to be born and bred into a family where the things of God are respected. That is a tremendous privilege, especially in this country today. It is always a privilege if we have a Christian father or mother, or still if both our parents are true, converted, godly, Christian people. I say, that is a tremendous privilege. If we have a father or mother who goes to church, reads the Bible and respects the things of God - that is our birthright and it is no mean blessing from God.

There is also a birthright in being brought up where there is love in the home. Many children don't see love in the home any more. They don't see love between father and mother. They don't see respect between parents. They don't see decent living - still less do they see God-fearing living. They don't see grace said before meal times. They never see a father or mother open the Bible or talk about Jesus Christ, except perhaps in a disparaging way. They don't hear prayers offered for them, for their lives or their souls. Nobody teaches them the Word of God. My friends, if you have had those things in your background then this is a God-given birthright. It is a wonderful thing. Not one person in a thousand in this world is born to these spiritual things.

If you have a father, mother or grandparents who, let us say, have brought you up well and have corrected you and rebuked you when you went wrong - and, of course, we have all gone wrong - if we have parents who loved us enough to chasten us and smack us to correct us, to say "You will not do this" and "You will not do that" and "You will not go there" and "You will not make a friend of that child"; if we have parents who love us enough to guide us about the keeping of the Sabbath Day, coming to the house of God, respecting the Lord's people and the things of God, then I say we have a tremendous birthright because not one person in a thousand has these things.

Still more, if we ourselves have been taken to the house of God and encouraged to sit and listen to the teaching of the Bible and to sing God's praises - Psalms inspired by God - to hear public prayer for the blessing of the Holy Spirit to come upon us and to join with the people of God and to hear their spiritual conversation and to listen to their confession of a personal knowledge of God; if we have some or all of these things, then my friends, I have to say to you, we have a tremendous birthright. Just as Esau had a birthright in his day so everyone who has the things that I have spoken about, greater or lesser in degree and measure, has a birthright: something he ought to recognise for what it is. It would be nothing less than a tragedy for a person not to realise that these things are from God. These are favours the like of which nobody else could give you but only God.

It is of God if you have a godly father or mother. It is of God if you have seen prayer offered in your own home or your parents on their knees pleading for your blessing. If they have spoken to you about your need of conversion; if they have explained to you the stories of the Bible and given you Catechisms and shown you the importance of the Sabbath and warned you about sinning against God and the judgement that will come; if they have encouraged you to do what is right and discouraged you from doing what is wrong; if they have pointed you continually to your need of God in your life - then, I say, there you have a birthright and something you should recognise as being more precious than gold. Better such a birthright than to be born in kings' palaces, literally. Better such a birthright than to belong to all these multi-national companies where the directors seem to have millions and billions of pounds coming into their back accounts. Better the spiritual birthright. That is the first thing and if you have some or all of what I have said then dear friends, prize it, value it, thank God in your hearts right now that you have these things. Multitudes live and die and have none of them, absolutely none.


The second thing is this: it is possible for people who have a birthright to despise it. You will see this in verse sixteen - "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright" (text). He sold it and later lost the blessing and was rejected. In other words, putting it in simple modern English, what we can say is this: Esau had all these privileges of which I have said something a moment ago, but he despised them. They were nothing to Esau. What was in his mind? Hunting, gaming, shooting and these things, which are all very well in their place, but they are not the most essential, profoundly valuable aspects of life. If he had been shooting, hunting, gaming, fishing and seeking God, there would have been nothing but praise for Esau in the Bible. However, he lived purely and simply for this life and for this world. Everything he thought about was on the horizontal plain. He never thought about these vertical glories of heaven above. The Kingdom of God meant nothing to him.

Imagine, my friend, being a son of Isaac and Rebecca - these great and wonderful people of God, these patriarchal heroes and heroines. Imagine being a grandchild of Abraham, which is what he was, and of Sarah in this spiritual line from which the Jews have come - from which our Saviour Himself, Jesus Christ, has come. Esau could have been in that spiritual, royal line from which the Messiah had come if he hadn't sold and despised his privileges. It is quite possible for people to despise their blessings and their birthright and that is what he did. Jacob got it and Esau didn't.


Why is it that people despise their birthright? What are the influences and the factors at work in people's lives that leads them to despise their birthright? The first thing is - the influence of bad friends. How often young people grow up in godly families and have wonderful parents but as they grow up they make friends with those who are utterly careless about the things of God. They can just drift away. They adopt the attitude of their friends. What does the Bible say? Listen to these texts. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15, 33). It means - bad friends destroy good lives. Many millions of people are in hell tonight because they chose bad friends. Our friends will either lift us up or drag us down. Well did the Romans used to say in Latin that 'A friend is a second self'. It means - our friends reflect ourselves. We never make friends really with people who are utterly different from ourselves. We have no affinity with them. Therefore, our friends will either make us or mar us. Many a person has been ruined by his friends.

That is why in the case of children there is a tremendous movement in the western world for Christian education. This is not an advertisement, simply an explanation as to why parents are extremely careful as to where they send their children to school. You can understand it. There is a great concern just now because schools today are anything but anti-rooms for heaven - far from it. They are profane places for the most part, although there are some happy exceptions. This is the problem - friends steal away our hearts. The lesson for you and for me is to watch our friends and in the case of our children, to watch their friends, very carefully.


The second influence is that it is possible for children and young people growing up in Christian homes to develop a spirit of rebellion - rebelling against everything their parents have taught them. That is, of course, because the heart of man is wicked. The heart of man, says the Bible, is depraved: it always wants to go down. By nature, we all hate God. By nature, we don't want anything to do with God. The reason for that is that He is holy and we are unclean. We, by nature, have no affinity with God, no fellowship with God. We shrink away from Him and we think evil thoughts of God, by nature. If our hearts are not changed, if we are not converted and brought to faith, if we don't come to God and ask for forgiveness, we shall never have this sense of fellowship with God. What happens very often is that a spirit of rebellion rises up in young hearts and they don't want to know what their parents believe. They want to break loose and cut away from it. They want to sheer away.

There is no more terrible passage in the Bible itself perhaps, in this regard, than the case of Eli who was the high priest in the days when Samuel was young (1 Samuel 1, 2, 3). Eli was a good, great and holy man but we are told about his sons - Hophni and Phinehas - that they were lewd and godless men. The high priest's sons were vile men. I wont even mention the things they did - we are told about it in the Bible. Let us draw a veil over it - it is too terrible to mention in public - but so terrible that people hated to come to church, as we would say. They hated to come to the tabernacle or the temple because the behaviour of these men was atrocious. They rebelled against everything their father had taught them - the sons of Eli. That is not a unique case, it can and does happen.

Oh, my friends, how much we need to plead with God that we, our children and our children's children will not develop this spirit of rebellion. How we need to watch everything they read, everything they see, their friends as I mentioned before and what they read about and hear about in school and everywhere else. We need to watch them and watch ourselves because rebellion springs up like thistles and nettles so quickly in the heart of a sinner and in the heart of one who is without grace.


A third reason why it is that people like Esau despise their birthright is secret sin. You would say, "But how on earth could Esau be so stupid? How could he be so profane? His father was a shining saint of God and his mother a wonderful woman of God." I mentioned the grandfather, Abraham, whose very name is synonymous with faith and the friendship of God. How ever could Esau become so wicked? This explanation is reason for others also, not only Esau; it is when people allow secret sin in their lives, which he evidently did. We won't go into the details but this word 'fornicator' means he was no good man. He didn't stop secret things in his life. It is terrible how secret vices can spring up in people's lives - secret love of wickedness. They don't choke it; they don't strangle their secret lusts. John Owen would say to us - "If you don't kill sin, sin will kill you." It is a fight unto the death. Either we will master sin by the grace of God, or sin will master us. Esau didn't master his sin - he became harder, more profane, more secular minded, more a child of this world and more Pagan as he grew older. You might almost say he was a 'baptised Pagan', if I can use a figure of speech. That can happen!

We must watch our thoughts and our dreams. When you are lying in bed at night watch the things you are thinking about. When they become improper hit them on the head; don't allow these unseemly thoughts in your life. Watch what you read and especially watch what you see. Secret drinking, secret lusting, secret desire for forbidden fruit - we have all been tempted. Every one of us knows the meaning of these things. Your very soul, your very eternal destiny is bound up with what you do in connection with these challenging subjects of which I speak. This is how Esau became a profane person. This is how he lost his soul. That is why he is in hell today, poor man.


Let me give you another final reason before I move on. Listening to a false Gospel and to bad preachers is a very common way whereby people become profane.

I'll never forget, years ago, a person whom we knew came under what we thought was a conviction of sin. The person concerned seemed to be very promising. There was real hope that she was seeking Christ. Then who came along but one of these terrible cults that doesn't really teach the Christian faith at all but pretends to do so. These people would knock on the doors - two women together with a little child. They wormed their way into the affections of this person and stole away her heart with false religion. She became as hard as the nether millstone towards the Gospel - scoffing at the Lord's true people and fanatical in her attachment to this cult. She is the same to this day.

If we depart from sound doctrine, our hearts will become profane.

Here is an interesting case. Professor Eta Linnemann: I have mentioned her a few times but not quite in the way I am going to mention her now. Professor Linnemann is still living. A few years ago in Germany, she was an expert Bultmann scholar. You may say, "What is that?" Well a Bultmann scholar is a New Testament expert who doesn't believe in the miracles. She was an expert and so she used to try to reinterpret the Gospel stories so as to take away everything miraculous. She explained away the feeding of the five thousand. "What happened," she said, "was that a little boy took out his packed lunch and his good example made them all take out their packed lunches. It was no real miracle at all. When Jesus is said to have a virgin birth, you can't really believe that can you. It is just a sort of idea the church invented to justify the glories that they attach to Christ. There was no physical resurrection - that was just a myth that came along later when the church was becoming strong and wanted to promote its own ideas." This kind of debunking of miracles comes from a Bultmann scholar.

She was converted - Professor Linnemann. After her conversion she said to her scholars and students at the university in Germany, "All that I have taught up till now is rubbish. Take my books and burn them. I have already burned mine myself. All I said was false. I said those things because I didn't know the Lord." She had met evangelical Christians and had been converted.

This is the point I am coming to: when she was under the influence of this false idea of Bultmannism, which is simply unbelief, she said she was watching her old life and this is what she discovered. The more deeply she went into this debunking of the Bible, the more she became a slave to television - she became addicted to it and I think she mentioned alcohol too. There is an unwritten law that the more we become attached to error, the more we become a slave to sin. That is what happens to people so that they become like Esau - profane.

My dear, dear friends, has God given you a birthright? Are you despising it and turning your back upon it? Are you walking away from it? You have not the love that your parents had for the truth of God, perhaps. Maybe you said, "One of these days, I'll put matters right." Don't leave it that late. Put it right at once.

Boys and girls, what wonderful parents some of you have. Some of the best parents in the world are sitting here. Some of the loveliest Christians in the world are sitting here - those for whom the every angels praise God for their faith and love of the things of Jesus Christ. I say, don't despise your birthright - those of you who are not yet brought to saving faith in Christ - but seek God that he may give you this desire to be not like Esau but like Jacob who pursued his enquiry after God. He wanted the birthright. He wanted the blessing. Eventually God dealt with him and gave him the dream in which he saw the ladder and was converted. When Jacob died, he said on his deathbed: "Oh Lord, I have waited for Thy salvation." That is where he is today, in heaven shining like the stars above. Make him your ambition.


Before I finish, I have one further thing to say. I have to say it because it is right here in my text. Those who will despise their birthright will sooner or later come to tears and to misery. Look at verse 17. "For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" (text). Esau came to the place of tears before he finished. I'm afraid I have to say that's what everybody will do who despises their birthright, as he did. It is the law written into the Bible. It is the law which God has written into our life that if we despise the birthright we will end our days with tears because the birthright is sacred, it is precious and it is God's gift.

Listen to the way it is put in this very epistle. What words these are. I hope you are listening carefully. "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation?" (Hebrews 2, 3) What a question. Or this one: "It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6, 6). They trample upon His blood and they do despite unto the Holy Spirit of grace. What a Word! Or this one: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Hebrews 3, 12).

My friend, people like Esau have no easy time, especially when they come to their deathbeds. Everybody comes to their deathbed and those who have despised their birthright have the most uncomfortable deathbed of all. Our privileges will eat our flesh like fire if we have despised them. Do I say these things to upset people, no.

In closing let me say I put these things to you, my dearly beloved, because I love you and your souls and I wish you to realise that the time to put it right is now. "Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6, 2). Today God offers His grace. What are you to do if you have despised your birthright up until now? My friends, go home, close the bedroom door, kneel down at your bedside and plead with God to give you mercy and forgiveness. Ask Him to give you a new heart, to give you an eye to see the preciousness of spiritual things so that you will not be like Esau anymore but that you will become like Jacob. Jacob who saw the ladder set between earth and heaven and saw the angels ascending and descending upon it. When his earthly life was finished, he himself went up that golden ladder to glory. The ladder is Christ!

Listen then to these words. "Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, as Esau, who for one morsel of meat sold his birthright. For ye know how that afterward, when he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears" (Hebrews 12, 16-17). Is that a Word for you?

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