Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Fair Warning

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31, ESV)

Doesn’t everyone sin deliberately?  I don’t steal something from a neighbor and later say, “Oops, I didn’t mean to steal that.”  But that is not what our author means in this passage.  He has already talked about how sacrifice was for “unintentional” sin (Hebrews 9:7).  This is contrasted with “high-handed” sins in the Old Testament for which there is no sacrifice provided.  The sense is sins that are committed with a deliberate defiance of God and His laws.  This depicts a hardened heart like our author describes in chapter 6.

Chapter 6 shows the person who tastes of the heavenly gift, shares in the Holy Spirit’s affect upon the congregation, sees the miracles of the age to come and defiantly declares that Jesus is not the Savior, that his sacrifice did not avail for us, and in this particular case for this congregation, that Jesus is not sufficient reason to keep to Christianity.  It is impossible, our author says, to renew such a person to repentance.  This is the unpardonable sin Jesus talked about with the Pharisees, where they saw his miracles and could not deny them but attributed them to Satan.

If the author’s readers are going to reject Jesus’ better way into the heavenly tabernacle as a better priest of a better covenant, they are defiantly rejecting God’s new covenant and there is no sacrifice for defiant sin.  If there is no sacrifice, there is only fiery judgment for trampling underfoot the Son of God and treating his sacrifice as unholy.  God will not spare that person.  The true believer will never go here.

You and I sin, and we should not, and we know we should not and that it is a way of dishonoring God.  But that is not “deliberate” or “high-handed” sinning, the kind that says I will not have God or anyone telling me what to do.  The high-handed sinner raises his fist to God and refuses to acknowledge God’s sovereignty over him.  If you, like possibly some of the Hebrews, are willing to say that Jesus’ sacrifice means nothing and that your old way of life was perfectly fine, you are in danger of falling into God’s hands for payment.  Not good!  This passage stands as your warning from God.

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Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Access

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:19-25, ESV)

What would it be like to be told by the most powerful person in the world that you would always be welcome at his or her office, never have to make an appointment, and always listened to with utmost attention?  That is akin to what the author of Hebrews is describing as the believer’s privilege.

This privilege was made possible by Jesus entering the heavenly holy place to offer his own blood as a permanent sacrifice and taking over the role as high priest forever in God’s tabernacle.  As a result of that he encourages the Hebrews and us to do three things:

  1. Draw near to God.  And don’t do it tentatively but with full assurance that you are cleansed and in full fellowship with the God who made and redeemed you.  You can enter the King’s court whenever you desire and He longs to meet with you.  He has always said, “I will be your God, you will be My people, and I will dwell with you.”
  2. Don’t waver in your faith.  God not only made this way for you and me but He made a promise that He will always keep that this access is ours because of what Jesus did.  Wavering is tantamount to calling Him a liar.
  3. Meet together for encouragement.  You can’t maintain your faith on your own.  The fellowship of believers you meet with will be doing what it is called to do when it encourages you to love each other and do good works that reflect His coming kingdom.

God designed church to be the place where our most important identity formation occurs, among other people. We become more like Christ as we participate in the life of the church and form relationships there. But too often we think we must have our spiritual house in order before we can fully participate. Or, by contrast, we see the church as a place of performance, instead of a place where we are developed into more fully authentic—that is, more Christlike—humans.

Further, our Christian subculture is marked by church hopping. We stay put as long as it suits us, until we are offended or decide we’re not being “fed.” So, wanting to quietly validate our own identities, we tend to silo ourselves into churches where everyone looks like us, talks like us, likes the same movies, and won’t embarrass us in public. But what if we took a cue from popular culture’s push for diversity and realized that surrounding ourselves with our duplicates only makes us more self-centered?

Christianity Today article by Alissa Wilkinson, chief film critic for CT and assistant professor of English and Humanities at The King’s College, and author of the book How to Survive the Apocalypse. (Jan/Feb 2016, vol. 60, No. 1, page 48, “The Year We Searched for Ourselves”)

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: The Sitting Priest

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:  I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,”

then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:11-18, ESV)

Psalm 110 promised that the priest after the order of Melchizedek would sit down at the right hand of God.  And Jeremiah prophesied in the new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff) that God would put his laws in our hearts and remember our sins no more.  But in the old system of the law the priest stood daily and offered the same animal sacrifices that cannot take away sin.  No sitting and no lasting forgiveness.

Jesus, on the other hand, is the sitting priest, the one whose sacrifice of himself has forever satisfied the just demands of God who made him a priest forever.  He has perfected for all time those who are being made holy.  We are both totally forgiven and thus holy before God and being made holy.  We have a standing of completion or perfection with God and we have a process of being sanctified.  It is the once-for-all sacrifice of the Son that has made this possible.

You and I should trust God when He says we are forgiven by Jesus’ single offering.  Why would you not, unless you still feel, arrogantly, that you must do something to contribute to your redemption.  I’m sorry, sir, I’m sorry, ma’am, but you have nothing to offer to God that could in any way contribute to your redemption.  If you don’t accept that you’ll never be redeemed.

Yes, we know that there is still work to be done in us.  We are being sanctified.  But that process springs forth from the hand of the one who perfected us for all time.  Don’t confuse the two.  Yes, be sensitive to sin in your life.  But don’t think that beating yourself up or doubling down on your efforts to improve is what is needed to perfect yourself.  The sitting priest Jesus has done all that heavy lifting.

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Living in the Shadows

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:1-10, ESV)

If you were king David and you had come near to being extinguished in war only to find the God you trusted and worshiped bring you an astonishing victory, it would have been most appropriate for you to bring a sacrifice, a freewill offering, to Yahweh and invite others to a banquet to give testimony to God’s deliverance.  David did this often.

But in Psalm 40, which our author quotes here, David does something different.  Not that he won’t bring a sacrifice, but he teaches something most important, that God’s greatest desire is doing His will.  If I bring a sacrifice but don’t have a heart of worship God will not be pleased.  David has come to do God’s will as it is written in the law.

The author of Hebrews quotes this passage because he has already deduced from the annual ceremony of the Day of Atonement and the use of animals as sacrifices that this is not God’s permanent means of providing cleansing from a consciousness of sins.  Otherwise they would not have to be offered over and over.  And it should be self-evident that animals cannot be adequate substitutes for humans.

Jesus as Messiah is the fulfillment of David’s kingship.  He is the ultimate “David” who has come to do God’s will.  His body is that ultimate sacrifice that God desires.  This congregation that is considering leaving Christ is leaving the fulfillment, the true reality, for its shadow.  They’re going back to what has been done away with and leaving the good things the law anticipated.

What about you?  Have you experienced just how good and real life in Jesus Christ is?  Or are you still living in the shadows?

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Not a Second Time

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:23-28, ESV)

Once again we are reminded that the earthly sanctuary, the Tabernacle and by extension, the Temple, was a copy of the heavenly holy places.  Consequently, a better offering, better blood, than that of animals, must be offered in this heavenly sanctuary.  And that is what Christ offered, his own blood.

But he only had to do this once, unlike the high priest of Israel who had to make this offering every year.  Were he merely a sinless human he might could have made this atonement by offering himself over and over again forever, but as the Son of God, very God himself, his death, his offering of himself through the eternal Spirit (9:14), made his one offering acceptable forever for any and all who need redemption.

His coming for this signals the end of the ages.  The present evil age is now withering and dying and the age to come is coming.  And just as one’s death is followed by judgment (there are no second chances after death), so Christ’s death signifies that judgment is coming as well.  His next coming will not be to “bear the sins of many” again but to bring his kingdom to earth and save us from the judgment that comes with that and from a world has been at war with him far too long.  I’m eagerly waiting!

Mr. Mark Kagan, speaking at one of the Advent Testimony meetings, said that when on a visit to Palestine he and some other Christians gathered together in an upper room within the city wall of Jerusalem, to remember Christ’s sacrifice and death. After the meeting was over, he and another friend went to the Mount of Olives; and as they passed along they caught up a with a Jewish man who said that he also was going to the Mount of Olives. “We orthodox Jews,” he said, “as we watch the things that are happening in the world, cannot come to any other conclusion than that the Messiah’s coming must be near at hand. On that day His feet will stand on the Mount of Olives, and I am going there every day that I may be ready to give Him a welcome.”

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Love Divine

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. (Hebrews 9:15-22, ESV)

Having shown the insufficiency of the first covenant and its regulations and that Jesus fulfills what they foreshadowed, the author of Hebrews concludes that Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant.  He is the go-between, the one who stands between us and God to arrange this covenant.  It was angels and Moses for the old covenant who acted as mediators, but our author has already shown Jesus’ superiority to them.

The word “covenant” in Greek can also refer to a last testament and will, which is only finally ratified by the death of the testator, the one who drew up the will.  This was not the kind of covenant Yahweh made with Israel, but by way of illustration, what Jesus did satisfies this form of covenant also.  He is the mediator and the testator of this new covenant and his death ratified it.  This is just another example of how almost everything under the old covenant was purified by blood so that our author could well summarize that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.”

For this congregation that is considering whether they should abandon Christianity for their former Judaism, our author is driving home the fact that Jesus in every way demonstrates the superiority of the new covenant he has already instituted by his death.  His mediatorship does not run counter to, but is in complete agreement with, the old covenant processes.  Only, his blood is the blood that brings forgiveness.

Just as Yahweh came looking for Adam and Eve in the garden, came after them when they sinned, instead of rejecting and abandoning them, Jesus’ great love for us moved him to come after us.  He made us the beneficiaries in his last will and testament, bequeathing to us the promised eternal inheritance his sacrifice made possible.

MY LORD, my Love, is crucified: Is crucified for me and you.  To bring us rebels near to God; Believe, believe the record true, Ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood; Pardon for all flows from his side: My Lord, my Love, is crucified.

Charles Wesley, from O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: A Pure Conscience

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. (Hebrews 9:11-14, ESV)

In contrast to the Tabernacle ritual and sacrifice by the high priest of Aaron’s line, Jesus the Messiah, who came as the priest after the order of Melchizedek, provided a sacrifice, his own death, and the blood to sprinkle on not an earthly altar but the heavenly one, the real Holy of Holies or Most Holy Place.  And Jesus did not have to make this offer every year on the day of Atonement but made his offering “once for all” to secure eternal redemption.

Animal sacrifices were prescribed by God for His people as a picture of what was required for forgiveness…death.  The penalty for sin is death and unless you want to pay that penalty personally you need someone to be your substitute.  An animal was not an adequate substitute for a human but that animal, without blemish, pointed to the real substitute that God would provide, the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15) whose heel the serpent would bruise, the servant of Yahweh on whom the iniquity of us all was laid (Isaiah 53), the Messiah.

If you have put your trust in Christ to rescue you your conscience should bear witness that it has been purified from dead works, works or deeds designed to merit God’s forgiveness but which cannot.  Your conscience should witness that in Christ alone you have found eternal forgiveness.  There is no more condemnation because Christ’s sacrifice has forever dealt with your sin issue.  He has paid the penalty you don’t want to pay yourself.  He was sinless but became sin for you (2 Corinthians 5:21).  You were sin-ridden but became sin free through his atoning work on our behalf.

THEY CRUCIFIED HIM with the criminals. Which is more amazing, to find Jesus in such bad company, or to find the criminals in such good company? … Jesus died precisely for these two criminals who were crucified on his right and left and went to their death with him. He did not die for the sake of a good world, he died for the sake of an evil world. – Karl Barth, Deliverance to the Captives

SINCE JESUS had no sin either in his nature or in his conduct, he need never have died either physically or spiritually. … Then why did he do it? What was the rationale of his death? There is only one possible, logical, biblical answer. It is that he died for our sins, not his own. The death he died was our death, the penalty which our sins had richly deserved. – John Stott, Our Guilty Silence