46. What a Testimony!

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  46.  What a Testimony!

Heb 10:32   Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.

The writer to the Hebrews has warned and cajoled his readers again and again. They are clearly living in perilous times when the pressures upon them all had been great. For those of us living in the West, where for the most of the time life is comfortable as a Christian, it is difficult for us to comprehend the strength of the pressure upon the early believers in that first century after Christ.

The Great Contest: The writer now refers to life in that period as “a great contest”. There were many others competing for the truth and some of them – the authorities with the power – used persecution to try to hold down the Faith. Yet, he says, they had ‘stood their ground’ and held on to their beliefs and (mostly) their lives.  The apostle Paul in his famous spiritual warfare passage in Eph 6 said, “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes, “ (Eph 6:11) and later added, “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then.” (Eph 6:13,14)  These Jewish Christians had done just that:  “Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering.” (v.32)

The Opposition they overcame: He then reminds them of the level of opposition that had overcome: “Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.33,34)  Note the four things they had done as they had stood against early opposition.

  1. Publicly Opposed: “publicly exposed to insult and persecution – there was nothing hidden about the opposition they received, it was outright and obvious. They were derided and physically opposed as well.
  1. Empathized with others Opposed: “at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated.” But it wasn’t just them. The Gentile believers obviously went through the same thing and these Jewish Christians had stood alongside them, encouraging them.
  1. Stood alongside those imprisoned: “You sympathized with those in prison.” Their hearts were with their brothers and sisters who the authorities threw into prison for their faith. The apostle Paul had been doing this in the early days (see Acts 8:3) and Herod had also done it (see Acts 12:1) but it had already happened from the earliest days of the new Church (see Acts 5:18, 16:23,)
  1. Lost Properties: “joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property.” Obviously part of that persecution they endured meant having their property confiscated, and this they had coped with as part of all that was happening to them, but not just coped, they had known the joy of the Lord as they suffered.

The Big Picture:  How had they coped? It was “because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions.” (v.34b) There are early echoes here of what will come up again in the hall of faith in Heb 11. They had stood knowing the reality of their inheritance, knowing that what they had in Christ was better than any earthly fame, wealth or possessions.  This was another of those times when seeing the bigger picture helped them cope with the specific difficulties at the moment.  Later on in chapter 12 he will give another: “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross.” (Heb 12:2) Jesus had seen the big picture and looked beyond the Cross to what would follow it and that helped him cope with the whole awful experience of the Cross.

The Exhortation: Remember, this is all part of his encouragements-warnings-challenges that keep coming to these people  So here it comes again: “So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised.” (v.35,36) See yet again, an exhortation followed by a reason. The exhortation is “do not throw away your confidence”.  i.e. don’t let go of the truths you have learned in which you now stand secure. Hold on to them. And why?  What reason does he put forward as yet another encouragement to them to stand?  You “will be richly rewarded…. You will receive what he has promised.” Both on this world and in the life after death there is much more to come. Much more of our inheritance to receive but it can only be received by those who will persevere and hold on to the will of God.

He then gives a final encouragement: “For in just a very little while, “He who is coming will come and will not delay. But my righteous one (or the righteous) will live by faith. And if he shrinks back, I will not be pleased with him.” (v.37,38 quoting from Hab 2:3,4) Again it is a reminder of God’s expectations of His people. Then he finishes the chapter with a faith declaration: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved.” (v.39)

In these verses we have seen a remarkable testimony of these early Jewish Christian believers who had stood in the face of persecution. Indeed their testimony was one of the means of encouraging them to stand firm and press on. It is good again and again to remind ourselves what God has done for us. Reminding ourselves of our testimony is a good way of stirring faith in us for today. Again and again this writer has sought to do that for these believers.

He is now going to do it by expanding this last thought to consider the testimonies of many of the saints in the Old Testament period who stood by faith. Now we have covered chapter 11 in a 49 part series called ‘Focusing Faith’, the first 37 parts of which  take us through chapter 11. Out next study will, therefore, pick up on in Chapter 12.

45. Devastating Warning No.3

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  45.  Devastating Warning No.3

Heb 10:26,17   If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.

Variety of Warnings: We have noted in this book previously, two major warnings. The first in 2:1-3 was a warning not to ignore the wonderful salvation that is presented to us. The second in 3:7-12 was to not let a sinful unbelieving heart develop so you fall away. There were also a number of secondary or implied warnings that we noted as we went along, e.g. “since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.” (4:1) In chapter 6 we encountered a chiding of those who couldn’t take in more mature teaching and that came with a not-so-subtle warning that it was impossible to bring back to repentance someone who has tasted all the goodness of God but then fallen away (6:4-8)

What we are now confronted, what in chapter 10 is an extension of that last warning and it comes over even more strongly. In what follows, that we will see in the next study, is that it is clear that the church in the middle of that first century had been going through harsh and difficult times and that maybe the reason why so many times in this book the writer brings these warning to hold on to the faith and not fall away. So let’s consider the detail of what he now says.

The warning: 1. Purposeful intent:  “If we deliberately keep on sinning.” (v.26a) Note the word ‘deliberately’. This isn’t spoken to someone who accidentally, stumbles or falls to a temptation but it is someone who purposefully decides they are going to turn away from God. Now note that the writer doesn’t go into particular reasons why someone might do this. Jesus’ parable of the Sower shows different sorts of ground, and the second ground showed people who fall away when trouble or persecution comes,  and the third ground speaks of the person where the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth  stop faith growing. In the light of the advent of the writing of the crusading atheists of the early part of the 21st century, I would also suggest that the faith of some people was too shallow and so shallow opposition from these writers has indeed uprooted some.

The warning: 2. Knowing the truth:  “after we have received the knowledge of the truth” (v.26b)  This is the second element of this warning and it counters the argument that some put forward that, “Well, these backsliders probably weren’t real Christians to start with.”  Well, yes they were. The had received the knowledge of the truth. They knew what it was but they decided (for whatever reason) to reject it. If you have never realised the fickleness of the human heart, don’t be surprised by this. We CAN fully know the truth about God but still turn away. It happens!

The warning: 3. No sacrifice left:  “no sacrifice for sins is left.” If you reject God’s salvation then obviously there is nothing left for you to rely on when it comes to the matter of facing the guilt of your sins. There is NO other means of salvation; reject this one and you reject any possibility of being saved.

The warning: 4. Only judgment left:  “but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” (v.27) Look, part of the gospel is that there is something to be saved from – judgment on sins. The whole of the Bible points to the truth that God holds people accountable for their lives and if they refuse the goodness that He offers through the salvation that comes through Christ, then they are left, standing naked before the God who sees all and holds us accountable.

Moses example:  He reminds these Jewish Christians what the Law stated, that for certain sins the penalty on the unrepentant was death: “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” (v.28) So he parallels this with this modern apostate: “How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

Three elements of apostasy: Note those things:  First, “who has trampled the Son of God under foot.”  What a horrible way of describing their rejection of Christ’s work on the Cross, but it is true. It’s like they just walk over the truth counting it for nothing. So, second, “who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him.” i.e. they have said there is no value in the work on the Cross, it is meaningless,  Then, third, “who has insulted the Spirit of grace.” The Holy Spirit had worked to draw them into the kingdom of God and had then taught them, but ultimately they turned their back on him and rejected all He said and had done.

Additional Warnings: And then, as if to drum this home he reminds them of the God with whom they have to deal, citing various references from the Old Testament: “For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” (v.30a citing Deut. 32:35) and “again, “The Lord will judge his people.” (v.30b citing Deut. 32:36; Psalm 135:14) and concludes, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (v.31)  What is he saying?  God holds sinners accountable for their sins. He has provided a means of salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ, but if you reject that salvation you are still accountable and there is only one option left for you.

If we think these warnings are unduly harsh, it means a) we have failed to see the seriousness of sin and b) we have failed to observe the alternative that God constantly holds out to sinners and c) we forget that these warning of the unpleasant consequences come to people who deliberately choose that path. The fault is entirely theirs. The optional paths are made very clear in Scripture. The wonder of the path of salvation is made ultra clear, but then so is the awfulness of eternal judgment. Be clear about both.

44, Exhortations (Continued)

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  44.  Exhortations (Continued)

Heb 10:19,22   Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….. let us …..

The Way Opened: So, there we are, he says, we now have a confidence to be able to get in close to God where He dwells and we have this way in because Jesus, when he died on the Cross, earned this way in for us. God’s ‘Presence’ had been hidden away behind a massively thick curtain in the Temple, inaccessible to all except the high priest who was allowed in there once a year to present a sacrifice for all the people, but beyond that God was inaccessible. But now, now the curtain has been torn in two and a way in made by the Son of God himself, and he still acts like a priest for us, saying, “Come in, let me introduce you to my Father.” That was what we saw in verses 19 and 20 of chapter 10.

Five “Let us” exhortations:   But then we saw that in the verses that follow there are five exhortations, each one beginning with, “Let us….” The first one we saw, was “Let us draw near to God.” If the way has been made open to allow us in to the innermost sanctuary where God dwells, we would be foolish not to make the most of that opportunity. As long as we have a whole-hearted faith, we’re in!  But there are four more.

  1. Hold to your hope: “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess.” (v.23a) Not only do we have an opportunity, we have a life outlook that constantly looks forward; it’s called hope. It’s not only about what happens after I die, but it’s all about tomorrow. Tomorrow Jesus will be exactly the same as he was yesterday or today or two thousand years ago.(Heb 13:8) I can trust him. He will still be there working to draw me ever closer to the Father, to be ever more like himself, with a power that will be everlasting. That is the hope we’ve been told about and of which we now profess, and it is another of those means that enable us to stand strong in our faith.

Why? But then there is a rider to this exhortation. Why can we hold to it, how will it work out for us? The answer is simple: “for he who promised is faithful.” (v.23b) The Father is faithful to His promises and will not change His mind and suddenly withdraw His offer of ongoing life salvation. Moreover Jesus is faithful and will not suddenly change his mind and stop speaking up on our behalf. Oh no, we can hold on to this hope because the Ones on whom it is based are unchanging.

  1. Encourage more love, more goodness: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (v.24) This life of faith is not to be about just hanging on, it is about developing it in both me and in you. Why am I writing these studies? Partly to build and bless me, but I’ve found I have a watching audience and so I want to bless and encourage you as well, and this is one of the best ways to do that.  This Christian life isn’t just about sitting around waiting until we get called to heaven. I am sure many of us think we are just sitting in a heavenly waiting room, waiting to get called. No, it’s about receiving and taking hold of that inheritance we read about earlier, and that involves me being changed and me being involved in bringing change to others and to the world about me. More love, more goodness, let’s change and let’s change the world with it! Even as we age, may we become more Christ-like and by the time comes when we are called home to heaven, may there be signs all around us of a world that has been changed by our presence, our activities, a world with more love, more goodness!
  1. Get with others: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.” (v.25a) What an apt word today, for those who know these things say that all around us are people who have become disenchanted by church and who have stopped going. Now I actually believe the ‘disenchanted movement’ (it is not something recognized as a movement) is actually a work of God as He stirs many to face the reality of church life that so often just seems to be full of ritual. Turning up at church and church meetings to work to a program and go through a series of things that tend to be the same week by week, is not what church is all about. But this isn’t the place to suggest what church should be, as much as I would like to, it’s the place to challenge the ‘disenchanted stay away’ group and say, life flows through people, Holy Spirit life flows between Christians and if we are to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we can only do that when we are together with other Christians. There appears to be a completely unstructured and informal movement, in the UK at least, of Christians meeting together in new groups (while still going to church many of them) to fellowship, worship and minister together. And how would I summarise what I see they are doing? See the last of these five exhortations:
  1. Encourage each other: “but let us encourage one another.” (v.25b) How simple. That is what we all need. How does it happen? We meet together, share together, eat together, fellowship together, get to know one another like we’ve never known before, pray for one another, and perhaps worship together as we allow the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead. The result? A bunch of encouraged stronger believers who realise afresh the wonder of what it means to be the body of Christ. And just in case all that doesn’t do it for you, he gives one last prod: “and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (v.25c) i.e. remember that as every day passes it draws us nearer to the time when Christ will return. I always bear in mind Jesus’ words, “when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Lk 18:8) I don’t know about you but even if Jesus came with a gentle smile on his face, I don’t want him to be able to say, “what haven’t you been doing that my Spirit put on your heart but your faith failed to rise to?” How can I avoid that? By meeting with other Spirit-empowered believers who can challenge me, stir me up and keep me going forward.

On a personal note, I am not enamoured by ritualistic, unreal Christianity, but I am really blessed when I can join with brothers and sisters who want Jesus to be Lord and want to give his Holy Spirit free reign, and fellowship, feed, worship, pray and minister together. When that happens I go away blessed and stronger. That is what our writer to the Hebrews wants for his readers I believe. Let’s not disappoint him!

43. Confidence and Exhortations

(We pick up again the remaining Hebrews studies)

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  43.  Confidence and Exhortations

Heb 10:19,22   Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….. let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith

Our writer has just shown how Jesus died once and for all so that we could enter a new covenant whereby God’s Holy Spirit would indwell us and transform us from inside-out. These verses are very logical (which is why I have referred to his writing as an ongoing argument – not the hostile sort, but the sort that seeks to convey a point of view with logical outcomes).  So it comes as no surprise that we come to another link word, “Therefore” or, if you like, “As a consequence therefore” which says, “Because it is clear that God has done everything He could through the Cross of Christ, to put us right with Himself, AND because we have confidence to come into God’s presence because of what Jesus has done for us, THEREFORE  the logical outworking of all this is that we can ‘draw near to God with the assurance that faith brings.’

This Confidence: But he has two things to say about this confidence which is referred to in verse 21: Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus….” It is a confidence to enter what had been a shut-away place of God’s presence that only the high priest had been able to enter and that only once a year.

But then, the first of the two things he has to say about it, he says HOW this is possible: “by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,” (v.20) There had been a massively thick and high curtain that divided off the innermost place where God was said to reside but Christ had earned a way through that curtain and it was, of course, by offering his own body as a sacrifice. (Note: some commentators link ‘curtain’ and ‘body’ and say when the curtain was torn open (Mk 15:38) that was symbolic of Jesus body being ‘torn open’ on the Cross. I do not like that interpretation because no where else is his time on the Cross described in such a way and it is more logical to speak of his work on the Cross earning a way into God’s presence, which is what this section is all about.)

But then he says a second thing about WHY we have this confidence to come into God’s presence: “and since we have a great priest over the house of God,” (v.21) We can come to God confidently not because of a method but because of a person. This has all been achieved by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, who has done it all for us in his love for us, and he’s the one, sitting at his Father’s right hand who can speak up for us as we have seen previously.

Now make sure you are absolutely clear about this because many Christians live a life of uncertainty. We have confidence to come to God as His children, NOT because of anything we have done or not done, but first because the penalty had been paid or the sentence carried out in respect of the guilt we carried because of our sins and, second, because it is the very Son of God who does this for us. He is FOR us!

Five “Let us” exhortations:   Now, as a consequence or outworking of these things that establish our salvation and enable us to come into God’s presence, the writer, still with his ‘pastoral’ hat on, exhorts us to do five things, each one starting with ‘Let us’ as he seeks to stir up our faith and our Christian lives:

  1. Draw near to God: “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (v.22a) We have ‘sincere hearts’, open, honest, truthful hearts, hearts all out for God, ever since we surrendered our lives to God when we first came to Him, and as we now live by faith that faith assures us, we can do this!

Two riders: But there are two riders that go with this ‘Let us’: i) “having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience” i.e. we’ve been washed by his blood, to use Old Testament Levitical language, and made clean in His sight so we can have a clear conscience and ii) “having our bodies washed with pure water.”  Water washing was another process of the Tabernacle worship.

Ezekiel speaks of washing: Now Ezekiel, in the Exile context spoke a prophetic word that went much further than the Exile: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezek 36:24-27) What an amazing passage with its seven (perfect number or number of completion) “I will’s”, the third of which was to wash and cleanse them. The apostle Paul wrote, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” (Eph 5:25,26) The inference there is that God’s word cleanses but I would suggest that this refers to the truth of the work on the Cross. The ‘hearts sprinkled’ and ‘bodies washed’ refer to the work of the Cross to cleanse the believer internally and to also bring about a cleansing externally, a transformed life.

And so: So this is the first of the five exhortations and it is very simple – as one of God’s children, take time out to sit quietly and draw near to Him in prayer (because that is where almost certainly it will happen) or maybe worship, and know Him. You CAN do this because of what Christ has done on the Cross for you and because he is working today for you. By his work on the Cross he has cleansed you internally so that your outer life will be transformed and cleansed as well. You ARE God’s child and you ARE precious to Him, so put life aside for a while and draw near to Him.  We will consider the remaining four in the next study.

42. The Waiting Priest-King

Meditations in Hebrews 10:     42.  The Waiting Priest-King

Heb 10:12,13   But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool,

The weakness of the Law again: We have already noted how this writer has been bringing argument after argument to pull down the edifice which is reliance upon the Law, and as a good teacher he repeats again and again the things he says, slightly varying them to enlarge the argument. So, yet again, he shows the futility of the old order: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.” (v.11) The best you could say was that they were being obedient, it was a sign of their desire to follow God, but on the other side these offerings were mere animals and as such they did nothing to satisfy justice and they did nothing to appease the sense of guilt that the giver had.

Jesus, the contrast:  And then comes the contrast with Jesus: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (v.12-14) Now there is quite a lot there, so we should take it piece by piece.

Analysis: “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins” – ‘this priest’ refers to Jesus. He, by contrast with the Levitical priests, just offered one sacrifice, his own body but that one offering operated for all time,  i.e. as long as there is time-space history Jesus work on the Cross will be there for any person to draw on; there is no second method or alternative to come. That was it. Sufficient.

 “he sat down at the right hand of God” – he swaps role from priest to king.

“Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.”  Since that moment he reigns over the last days – the period from his ascension to his coming again – and works through his Church to set prisoners free, overcome the works of Satan, destroy the power of sin, and remove the fear of death. His ‘enemies’ are anything and anyone who opposes love and goodness and righteousness, and victory means those three things overcoming the works of evil. What has not submitted by the time of his second coming, will then fall before his power (see Rev 19 on). Until that time comes, he waits at his Father’s side, “ruling in the midst of his enemies” (Psa 110).

“because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” – this is amazing! Do you realise that in God’s sight you have been made perfect? When God looks at those who have come to Christ, He sees first and foremost Jesus dying on the Cross for their sins. As He looks past that He sees those sins have been removed from you and put on Christ.

The Change: Remember my definition of Sin – self-centred godlessness. When you came to Christ you ceased to be self-centred to be God-centred and instead of being godless you are now godly as, with the indwelling Holy Spirit, your life is now focused on Him – to please Him, enjoy Him, respond to Him, be led by Him, blessed by Him.

Completed: Yes, you may on occasion stumble and still think, say or do something wrong, but that is an exception to the rule, for the rule is that indwelt by the Holy Spirit the power of Sin is broken and you do not HAVE to follow a pattern of sin any longer. Another word for ‘perfect’ is ‘complete’. You are complete in the sense that all of the work of Christ on the Cross as far as your salvation has been completed and you have everything you need to be His child, walking out His life on this earth.

A holy people: But did you notice the last words of that verse? “who are being made holy”. In one sense, Scripture tells us, you have been made holy, you are holy because the HOLY Spirit indwells you, but holiness is an attribute that is unique to God and when we speak of a thing, place or person as being holy, we are simply referring to God’s presence that is there. So we have been made holy and are being made holy. How can it be past and present? The apostle Paul said we “are being transformed into his likeness,” (2 Cor 3:18) and this is the work of the Spirit. So, as your life grows spiritually you will become more and more like Him. It is a gradual process; it started when you came to Christ and were ‘born again’ and were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and it will continue until you see him face to face in eternity.

New Covenant changes: The writer supports all this, as he has done again and again, with references to Old Testament scriptures: “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says…” (v.15) he starts setting up two citations. First, “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” (v.16 citing Jer 31:33) He has used the Jeremiah quote before as he shows that the new covenant involves a new inner change to us.

But, “Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (v.17 citing Jer 31:34) Because they are new people and have been changed internally so they are no longer self-centred and godless, God has also said that, because of Christ’s work on the Cross (we might imply), He no longer sees their past sinful acts. As he said previously, in God’s sight we are perfect.

No need for the old sacrifices: To round it off, he adds a further little logical conclusion: “And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (v.18)  i.e. if Christ has dealt with our sin you no longer have to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice.

Life & Culture change for the Jews: I know we have said it before but it bears repeating and emphasizing, but this teaching was literally life-changing and culturally devastating for the Jews. It set them free from a world of ‘having to do’, a world where they could never be absolutely sure that they had God’s approval and so had to keep on and on with the Temple service.

Now Jesus has come and the teaching is that all of those things have been swept away by Christ’s one-off death as an eternal sacrifice for sins. There is now no need to make offerings to cover guilt. IF the Jews as a whole had received Christ as their Messiah-Saviour then temple worship would have stopped making sacrifices and simply become opportunities for praise and worship – which is what the Christian church ‘service’ is all about; it is NOT about getting God’s approval; He has given it to all who come to Him through Christ. Hallelujah!

41. The Inadequate Law

Meditations in Hebrews 10:  41.  The Inadequate Law

Heb 10:1   The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

A Repetitive Argument: The writer to the Hebrews comes like a demolition ball used by a demolition contractor, crashing against the wall again and again until eventually the old building falls down in a pile of rubble.  He started back in chapter 7: “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.” (7:18,19) The law was “weak and useless” and “made nothing perfect” and hence God introduced a “better hope”.   Then in chapter 8, speaking about the Jeremiah prophecy he declared, “By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.” (8:13) The old covenant, laid out in the Law of Moses, was obsolete and aging and about to disappear.  Then in chapter 9 he said, “the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings–external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (9:9,10) The reason he had previously said the Law was “weak and useless” was that it was not able “to clear the conscience of the worshipper” and they were mere external regulations.

The Argument Repeated: So here he now comes again: “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming–not the realities themselves.” (v.1a) The Law simply gave an impression of what was to come. The worship regulations pointed towards what Christ would do on the Cross. The rules for society pointed towards the society that would be Holy Spirit indwelt and motivated by love for God and Jesus.  Thus, he concludes, “For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.” (v.1b)

The Failure of the Old: That is the sad truth – and God knew that – that people would sin, offer a sacrifice, and then sin again and so have to offer another sacrifice and so on. It was there to highlight the problem of Sin that we have and keep on having.  So, he adds, “If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.” (v.2) If keeping the sacrificial regulations cleansed once for all and removed any and all guilty feelings, then they would have stopped making offerings (because they no longer needed to) but they didn’t. He adds, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (v.3,4) The Day of Atonement rolled round year by year and every time the High Priest went in and offered sacrifices for his own sin and the sin of the people. They knew they were not perfect.

And then Christ came: Having got to that point, he turns back to Christ by quoting from and applying Psa 40:6-8 to Christ. It is worth reading the whole of that part of that psalm: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but my ears you have pierced; burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come– it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.”  Now instead of the reference to be a slave to God – having a pierced ear – the Septuagint (that Greek version we referred to earlier in the book) has “but a body you have prepared for me,” which he quotes from. Similarly there is an alternative possibility to “it is written about me in the scroll,” as “with the scroll written for me,”  which would be the scroll of God’s will or instructions written for him.

Closer Scrutiny: Let’s take the quote our writer uses and consider it bit by bit, first verses 5-7:

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire” – as he’ll say in a moment the Law required them but God was looking for heart changes not mere religious ritual.

“but a body you prepared for me” – Christ’s human body to be used as a sacrifice was the only one that could satisfy justice.

“with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased” – the repetitive Hebrew style reiterating that ritual cannot replace reality.

“Then I said, `Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll– I have come to do your will, O God.’” – Christ’s coming was to do God’s will and achieve what animal sacrifices would not achieve. This was clearly David moving in prophetic mode.

Confirming Explanation: Then he does his own explanation: “First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (v.8-10) So twice more the demolition ball crashes in. Sacrifices and offerings were in the Law but God wanted a corresponding heart response, not merely a religious ritual. Christ came to present his body so that his sacrifice would replace all those previous sacrifices so that, as a result, a new holy people could be formed, a people won by love, a people who respond in love. Love, not religious ritual; that was the big difference between the outworkings of the two covenants.

40. A One-off in Heaven

Meditations in Hebrews 8:  40.  A One-off in Heaven

Heb 9:23,24   It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Another Link: We have yet another link word, four words into verse, ‘then’. i.e. it was necessary because of what we have just been saying for the following to have happened.  The Old Covenant had been about external regulations (v.10) but Christ came to bring a new covenant dealing with realities. He didn’t enter into the old with blood of animals (v.11,12) like that used in the old (v.13) Blood was an important ingredient of old-time serious agreements (v.18-22) but these earthly things are merely copies of the heavenly realities. The earthly things were purified by the sacrifices (shedding of blood) but the heavenly reality knew a better sacrifice, (v.23) Christ himself.

The Heavenly Sanctuary: But, he reiterates, “Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” (v.24)   Heaven was the ‘tabernacle’ reality, the place where God really resided and it was there, having died on our behalf, an eternal sacrifice, to which Christ returned to be able to speak up on our behalf as our high priest.

A One-off Offering: But here is an important point: “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.” (v.25)  In this reality – heaven – Christ did not have to keep on offering himself again and again like the high priest on earth had to do with the blood of animals. Let’s see the big statement all in one go: “Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (v.26-28) Right having seen it all in one go, let’s see it bit by bit.

“Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world.” If Christ had just been a mere human then, if his blood was to be used as a sacrifice, it would need to have happened time after time after time covering every sin since the world began. But he’s not a mere human being, he is the eternal Son of God.

“But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”  But, as the eternal Son, he gave himself and that was a once-and-for-all offering. The end of the ages? The end of the period of the sacrificial system in the environment that was Israel. That period was rapidly coming to an end, as we have mentioned already, when the Temple was destroyed in AD70. Because he is eternal, his death can have an eternal effect.

“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment….” This is the order for mankind. We will all pass through death just once and then face judgment just that once.

“so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people.” This is the parallel emphasis. Christ’s death, as he has already said, was a one-off and the effect was seen in heaven.

“and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” But that is not the end of it, the end of the plan of God. His death was the final act in the play of redemption, but it is not in the overall play of salvation for Christ has yet to return again to wind all things up, which includes taking to be with him those who are still on the earth waiting for him.

Recap the Purpose: Because it is a long-winded argument, we can easily forget the main purpose that the writer has in mind – to encourage his readers and challenge them to hold on to their faith. He has been doing that by:

  • Reminding us that at the heart of Christ’s activity which elevates him above any other being, apart from his heavenly Father, is the matter of Christ giving his life to redeem our lives.
  • His activity had been prefigured by the Levitical priesthood but that was only a shadow or copy of the reality that was Christ’s work culminated in heaven.
  • The earthly copy had involved a man-made tabernacle, human high priests, human regulations and the blood of animals.
  • Their work had to be repeated again and again and failed to completely cleanse the conscience of the sinner.
  • Christ’s activity on the Cross had heavenly impact; it was the work of the eternal Son giving his life to appease justice by, in a very real way, taking the punishment that could be claimed was due to every human sinner and only he could do that because only he was eternal.
  • His activity was thus the reality of the imagery seen in the earthly human rites.
  • In every way, his activity – in heaven – was so, so much superior to the Levitical sacrificial system.
  • His activity resulted in justice being satisfied and human beings being transformed.
  • No one else has ever conceived such a plan, let alone fulfilled it. Hallelujah!
  • No one else is worthy of our worship. Our faith is well founded and is so wonderful that, when we think through these things, they should help make it ever stronger. Amen.