Meditations in Hebrews 13: 74. The Doctrinal Launch Pads (3)
Heb 13:22 Brothers, I urge you to bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written you only a short letter.
Platforms of belief: So we continue with these launch pads of belief from which the many exhortations in this book flow. We have got to the beginning of chapter 8 so far. We have recently seen how Jesus is superior to the Old Testament Levitical Priesthood by the fact that he is eternal and has his ministry by the promise of God and now exercises it at his Father’s right hand in heaven.
Introducing the New Covenant: I concluded the last study by calling what follows a ‘world-shattering’ change. Let’s see why. In chapter 7 the writer introduced a word he has not used previously: “Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (7:22). It is the word ‘covenant’ and he will use it a further eighteen times in the following chapters. From verse 6 of chapter 8 he now introduces this idea that the Old Covenant – the Sinai Covenant based upon the Law – has been superseded by a NEW covenant, which was first referred to by the prophet Jeremiah (see 8:8-12) Be quite clear, “he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (8:13) [It disappeared with the destruction of the Temple in AD70]
The Effect of Christ’s Sacrifice: This is a turning point in history, when Jesus went to the Cross and died for us, for he was doing what all the sacrifices of the old period could not do – take the punishment for our sins, once and for all. Guilt, shame, isolation, failure, all dealt with! The writer reiterates this in 9:1-15, reminding us what happened in the Old Testament times and then explaining how it looked forward to what Christ would do. He goes on to use the example of a will which is in existence but not fully operative until after the death. He explains how Moses spelled it out (v.16-22) but the reality of the will only came through Christ’s death.
The Inadequacy of the Old: In chapter 10 he explains how the Law was only a shadow of what was to come and was inadequate to cleanse our consciences (v.1-4) but Christ came to do God’s will and offer his body once and for all (v.5-10). He continues to explain that again and again, that the old Levitical priest offered sacrifices that couldn’t ‘take away’ their sins (v.11) but when Christ brought in this new covenant, as Jeremiah said, it would involve God’s law coming into our hearts and we be changed from the inside (v.15-18) so there is no longer any need for continual offering of sacrifices.
The Reality of the New: It is because we now have access directly to God in heaven by what Jesus did on the Cross (v.19) and that by his work he has given us this access (v.20), and because Jesus IS this eternal high priest speaking for us (v.21) that we come to a whole salvo of exhortations; “let us draw near to God…. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess….And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together…. let us encourage one another.” (v.22-25) We do all these things BECAUSE of the assurances we have of this new covenant, where Jesus has done it all so that all we have to do is believe it and receive it.
An Awful Alternative: The alternative is then painted – our refusing to do these things and in fact continuing to sin – and this comes with a warning that all of what we have considered as the goodness of the new covenant would then not apply to us (v.26-31). He reminds them of how they had previously stood in the face of persecution so they should continue doing that (v.32-39).
The Gallery of Faith: The next big platform from which to launch these exhortations is the whole of chapter 11, the wonderful ‘gallery of faith’ as it is sometimes called. Their testimonies are there to encourage us. That launched a further salvo: let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus… Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart,” (12;1-3) and then a little later, “Endure hardship as discipline,” (v.7) which is shown to be launched off the teaching about discipline (v.5-11) and which in turn acts as a platform from which to fire a further large salvo of exhortations (v.12-17)
Unshakable Heavenly Jerusalem: The final substantial platform of belief, or of doctrine, is about the unshakability of the heavenly Jerusalem, compared with the shaking that had occurred at Mount Sinai (v.18-27), which launches the final double salvo of being thankful and worshipping (v.28). As we commented previously chapter 13 is more a series of instructions as to how to live out the Christian life, rather than a series of encouragements, yet even within that is a mini-section of doctrine (13:9-14) that identifies us with the rejected Jesus and so because of that we should keep offering praise (v.15)
And so we come to the end of these three studies where we have sought to accentuate the platforms or sections of belief or doctrine that form the backbone of this letter and from which all the many exhortations follow. The point needs to be emphasised again and again: we do what we do because of what we believe, and we believe what we believe because it has been conveyed to us by the writers of the New Testament. Ultimately, perhaps, we might suggest that all the exhortations might be summed up as “Hang on in there in the face of opposition or difficulties, and keep going all out to do the will of God as He reveals it to you.” And the reason? Because of the sheer wonder of who Christ is and what he has done for us in leaving heaven, coming here, revealing the Father and dying for our sins. Hallelujah! Go for it!