Daily Thoughts from Numbers: Devoted

And the LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, saying, “List the sons of Levi, by fathers’ houses and by clans; every male from a month old and upward you shall list.” So Moses listed them according to the word of the LORD, as he was commanded. And these were the sons of Levi by their names: Gershon and Kohath and Merari….

And the guard duty of the sons of Gershon in the tent of meeting involved the tabernacle, the tent with its covering, the screen for the entrance of the tent of meeting, the hangings of the court, the screen for the door of the court that is around the tabernacle and the altar, and its cords; all the service connected with these…

The clans of the sons of Kohath were to camp on the south side of the tabernacle…And their guard duty involved the ark, the table, the lampstand, the altars, the vessels of the sanctuary with which the priests minister, and the screen; all the service connected with these.

And the appointed guard duty of the sons of Merari involved the frames of the tabernacle, the bars, the pillars, the bases, and all their accessories; all the service connected with these….

Those who were to camp before the tabernacle on the east, before the tent of meeting toward the sunrise, were Moses and Aaron and his sons, guarding the sanctuary itself, to protect the people of Israel.  And any outsider who came near was to be put to death.  All those listed among the Levites, who Moses and Aaron listed at the commandment of the Lord, by clans, all the males from a month old and upward, were 22,000.

And the Lord said to Moses, “List all the firstborn males of the people of Israel, from a month old and upward, taking the number of their names.  And you shall take the Levites for me – I am the Lord – instead of all the firstborn among the people of Israel, and the cattle of the Levites instead of all the firstborn among the cattle of the people of Israel.”

And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “I am the Lord.  And as the redemption price for the 273 of the firstborn of the people of Israel, over and above the number of the male Levites, you shall take five shekels per head; and give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemption price for those who are over.”  So Moses took the redemption money from those we were over and above those redeemed by the Levites.  (Numbers 3:14-51, ESV)

Yahweh breaks down the responsibilities for care of the tabernacle between the three clans of Levi, each one taking a portion of the tent that they were responsible for setting up, taking down and transporting when God said it was time to move.  Aaron and his sons guarded the entrance.

Then God has Moses number all the Levites and their cattle so they can substitute for all the firstborn sons of Israel and the firstborn of their cattle.  But there are not enough Levites in all to cover the number of all the Israelite firstborns from the other tribes.  So the difference is paid to Aaron with the redemption price for the 273 extra firstborns in Israel.

As Israel’s firstborn belong specially to Yahweh, devoted to His service, so Jesus, the ultimate “Firstborn” is devoted to the Father’s service.  His service is to pay the redemption price for all of God’s people.  The overage has been covered.  What we could not cover to redeem ourselves He has covered with his eternal and inestimable sacrifice.

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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.

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: 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

Daily Thoughts from Hebrews: Real Salvation

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:1-10, ESV)

Our author is showing still the superiority of Jesus and his priesthood with the covenant it represents to the old covenant with Moses.  This covenant had regulations for worship and a place that God’s presence made holy.  The Tabernacle was a tent with two compartments, the holy place with the lampstand and table of bread, and really, also, the altar of incense standing before the veil that separated the holy place from the most holy place.  The most holy place “had” the altar of incense in that this altar “protected” the most holy place as did the veil or curtain.

Priests went regularly, daily, into the holy place to make sure the lampstand stayed lit and the bread of the presence was replaced with fresh bread and the altar of incense was kept burning.  But only the high priest could go into the most holy place and that once a year on the day of atonement to offer the blood of sacrifice for unintentional sins.  These were the sins that people genuinely wanted forgiveness for, not hardened rebellion against God’s law that had disregard for forgiveness, indeed scoffed at it.  Our author is preparing his readers to think about whether they will repudiate the cross of Christ and following him, a very high-handed or intentional and hardened sin.

God was teaching the people by His Spirit in this Tabernacle arrangement with its sacrifices and cordoned off most holy place that these sacrifices weren’t the ultimate sacrifice in the heavenly Tabernacle.  The people’s consciences witnessed to this as they realized time and again through the years that they needed yet another day of atonement to cover their sin.  They didn’t experience perfected consciences, consciences that were free of condemnation, fully acquitted of all sin.  And their regulations focused their attention on a lot of externals rather than what was going on inside them.  A time of reformation was needed and the readers should have recognized that this took place with Jesus’ coming.

Are you relying on rituals to rescue you?  You’ve been baptized, perhaps, and take the Lord’s supper.  But without a conscience that acquits you of sin you are not realizing a real entrance into heaven’s holy place.  If this is the religion you feel ready to abandon, please do.  This is not genuine Christianity.  Christianity is about the New Covenant blessings of a changed heart and total forgiveness.  Real salvation awaits you.