39. The New Order

Meditations in Hebrews 8:    39.  The New Order

Heb 9:15   For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance–now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

The Link: Ah, we have another of those link phrases, “For this reason.” Verse 13 had spoken of the blood shed under the old covenant and verse 14 had brought us through to the parallel work of Christ whose blood was shed on the Cross at Calvary so that our consciences could be freed from guilt-laden striving to appease God by self-centred works of religion, and freed to be able to relate to and serve God without fear and trepidation.

The Cross Opens the Door to our Inheritance: So, because Christ has done this on the Cross he can now be, “the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.” (v.15a) i.e. he can now mediate or administer this new covenant so that we who God calls (and we respond to Him) may be able to receive an inheritance that has been promised by God from long ago, an inheritance that has an eternal dimension to it.

Just in case we hadn’t followed the link between what Christ has done on the Cross and what he now does helping us enter into our inheritance, he backs up the reason with, “now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (v.15b)  He can now work on getting us to receive our inheritance because his death has meant that we have been freed from both the guilt of our sins and the sinful habits that produce the individual sins, which were still products of that old covenant.

Jesus, the Ransom:  Before we pass on, note the word, ‘ransom’. Jesus taught, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mk 10:45)  A ransom is a price paid to set a prisoner free. We were prisoners to guilt and to Sin and so, by giving his life to take the sentence of death that justice demands for lives of sin, that life dealt with all the problems of justice and so acted as a ransom that released us prisoners from our constant sense of guilt and our ongoing sinning.

The Working of a Will: Now, having spoken about our inheritance, he piles on the teaching by talking about wills: “In the case of a will,  it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (v.16,17) Interestingly the Greek word for ‘will’ is the same word as ‘covenant’, but we use ‘will’ here because we are familiar with the procedure that follows a death and the will being administered. The will of a person only becomes operative once the person dies. A death has to be involved. “This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood.” (v.18) This is his rabbinic teaching kicking in again. To receive the inheritance of freedom from condemnation under the old covenant, a sacrifice had to be offered, a life given, a death involved.

Blood & Covenant: He explains how Moses, after having proclaimed all the laws of the Sinai covenant, ratified the covenant with the blood of calves (v.19) and then declared, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” (v.20) Of course there is a similarity here to Jesus’ words at the Last Supper: “This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Mt 26:28) If Moses had known what was coming, he might have inserted the word ‘first’ in front of the word ‘covenant’. He emphasises the role of blood in the establishing of a covenant: “In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (v.21,22) Although we normally see this as applying to the Levitical Law, it is interesting to note that when God and Abram entered into a covenant, animal death and shedding of blood was involved – see Gen 15:8-19. To create a sense of solemnity, the creatures were cut in two and two lines made between which the participants to the covenant walked – walking between death to acknowledge a new life agreement.

Blood = Life: Perhaps we should emphasise this matter of ‘the blood’. I believe talk about ‘the blood’ when sharing with non-Christians is highly inappropriate, but it is the language of the Old Testament that is used symbolically to refer to ‘life’; when the blood was shed, the life was given. Ultimately the message of the Bible is that a life of sin deserves to be forfeited and, as we are ALL sinners, all of our lives deserve to be forfeited.

Lives of Sin: I deliberately refer to a ‘life of sin’ because before we came to Christ that was the sort of life we lived, one that is characterized by self-centred godlessness; we elevated ‘self’ to the level of deity and took God’s place as the arbiter of right and wrong and we determined the sort of life we considered acceptable. Because it was ours, we made excuses, but nevertheless it was a life that was self-centred and godless, and a life where, if you watched it second by second throughout however many years it lived, you would see example after example of thoughts, words and deeds that were not only self-centred and godless but they also harmed other people and the world, and of course they rejected God. The ways we do these things are innumerable and the impact we have on people and sometimes the  world itself, is immeasurable.

The Penalty = Forfeiture of Life: Oh, someone cries, but do any of these things, even all together warrant, as you put it, someone’s life being forfeit? You miss the point in the big picture and we saw this at the very beginning of this book, that ‘life’ comes from God. He alone is the source of life and without His word and His power and His presence, ‘life’ as we know it ceases.  Now my definition of Sin has been self-centred godlessness and both parts speak to rejecting the presence of God, rejecting the provider of life. So imagine the picture of the dock in a courtroom that we have used before. The charge is that you have rejected THE Life-giver and therefore you should be allowed to follow that through and take the effects of that – and die. That is the sole case that justice presents. You chose that, so live with it – and die! You rejected the Life-giver so trying living without Him in eternity – you won’t.

The New Possibility: But, says God, the Son has already died for you, believe that and I will channel you into a new existence where all your self-centred and godless choices are transferred to my Son’s account and your account is cleared of any such folly. There is no reason why you should not live in harmony with me and receive my ‘life’ and experience eternity – and thus we receive His Holy Spirit and ‘live’ and keep on living in what is called ‘eternal life’. That, I believe, is how it really works.

12. Blood of Christ

Meditations in 1 Peter : 12 :  The Blood of Christ

1 Pet  1:18,19   For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

These verses are packed full of truths but some of the language is not that used in modern common usage. Moreover it covers a subject that receives the scorn and ire of modern atheists. We need to examine it carefully, therefore.

First it is all about redemption or about redeeming things. This is the language of the pawnbroker which only a small percentage of the population tends to know about. When you pawn something you give it to the pawnbroker for safe keeping who in return loans you money. When you pay back the money plus interest he gives you your article back and you are said to have redeemed it. Thus it is paying to get back something. In the Old Testament it was also used to refer to something being paid instead of another penalty. Coming out of Egypt Israel were told, Redeem every firstborn among your sons.” (Ex 13:13) i.e. give a lamb to act as a sign of their lives having being spared in the Passover. Within the Law we find in respect of a careless owner of a bull known to be dangerous that has killed someone, “the owner also must be put to death. However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded.” (Ex 21:29,30) i.e. the family of the person killed may spare the bull owner’s life by taking money instead from him.

The picture that Peter paints for us is of them having been redeemed or purchased from “the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.” i.e. they were slaves to the Law and to the traditions of their forefathers which did little to help them and had not resulted in a good relationship with God. No, this isn’t the traditional picture of redeeming something using silver or gold or money. No, this is something very different, because we are talking about our lives being redeemed from Sin, from Satan and from hell. We deserved to be left to our own devices in our sin, a prey to Satan and bound for hell, but God didn’t leave us in that state.

No this redemption, even if we don’t really understand our own sin and our own need to be saved, stands out as something completely different and its very difference should speak to us about our need. Peter speaks about “the precious blood of Christ” and it is this sort of language that raises the ire of the atheist who sees it as bloodthirsty and primitive! Well, Paul did say that, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing.” (1 Cor 1:18) and that this was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.” (1 Cor 1:23). Of course it seems foolish to the natural mind yet, as a pastor, I have found nothing else that actually satisfies the person who is racked by their own guilt. Psychologists and therapists seem helpless but when they are told that Christ died for their sins, that and that alone brings gratefulness and peace!

References to Christ’s ‘blood’ come again and again in the New Testament: “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk 22:20) and “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) and “God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.” (Rom 3:25) and “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!” (Rom 5:9) and “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins.” (Eph 1:7) and “now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:13) and “For God was pleased to…reconcile to himself all things…, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” (Col 1:19,20)

If that language is too familiar to you, substitute the word ‘life’ or ‘life poured out’ for blood in each of those verses so we have, “This cup is the new covenant in my life and so on. It is all about Christ giving his life for ours. Think on it, wonder about it and give thanks for that wonder that God’s love should be shown to us in such a manner.

33. Who Speaks

Meditations in Job : 33.  Who speaks for God

Job 13:7 Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him?

What is remarkable when we start thinking about the things we find in this book, is the shear variety of topics that arise. This book is uniquely made up of the words of a variety of people – and of God. It is all about words, all about discussion and debate. It is all about opinion, viewpoints and beliefs. Yet isn’t this exactly what life is so made of, the interaction between human beings. However, when it comes to Christians, we find a unique characteristic arising – a willingness, if not responsibility to speak on God’s behalf. What a responsibility we find ourselves with, therefore, as we speak into the world as His representatives. Let’s see how this arises here.

Job has just been speaking about the sovereignty of God. He knows that all that is happening is of God; it is no accident. So he continues, My eyes have seen all this, my ears have heard and understood it.” (13:1). It’s all right, he seems to be saying, I understand what is going on, and then he adds what he said at the beginning of chapter 12, “What you know, I also know; I am not inferior to you.” (v.2). In other words, you’re not the only ones who know these things. I am aware of God’s greatness and how He moves (implied by previous verses). But he has a desire: “But I desire to speak to the Almighty and to argue my case with God.” (v.3), i.e. but I want to talk to God about all this, I want to chew over all that is going on. That’s where he has got to and we’ll see in the next study, the confidence he has in God to be able to want to do this.

But then he turns on them, the three friends. He expected something better from them. He is disappointed by their responses to him: “You, however, smear me with lies; you are worthless physicians, all of you!” (v.4). It’s like he says, “Sorry guys, but you haven’t been speaking the truth about me. You’ve been making me out to be a big sinner – and I’m not! I needed help and comfort and all you did is judge and blame me. What a bunch of awful soul doctors you are!” Now that’s pretty challenging. I wonder if people think that of us. Do people in ‘pain’ feel anguish and look for comfort but just find judgmental words?  Do they feel put down, demeaned and inferior?  Jesus is a staggeringly good example of someone who got alongside people who needed God’s love and help, and didn’t judge them. That’s why the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ came to him. If he had been a judgmental Pharisee they wouldn’t have gone near him. Do people know us as judgmental or loving, caring and accepting? Do people go away from us feeling loved and blessed, or bruised and beaten?

What does this leave Job feeling about what has happened so far? “If only you would be altogether silent! For you, that would be wisdom.” (v.5). He’s saying that because what they said had been wrong and had put him down and left him feeling even more miserable, they would have been better off remaining silent. Yet, he still wants them to understand, he still wants to try to contribute something worthwhile to this fiasco: “Hear now my argument; listen to the plea of my lips.” (v.6) I want to have a say in all this, he says, I want to add some more into what I’ve already said, and when I think about how you’ve spoken I don’t think I could do any worse (implied by what follows). “Will you speak wickedly on God’s behalf? Will you speak deceitfully for him? Will you show him partiality?  Will you argue the case for God?” (v.7,8). Look, he is saying, you have put yourselves forward as those who speak for God but what you have said has not been right. The Message version puts it well here: “are you going to keep on lying ‘to do God a service’? to make up stories ‘to get him off the hook’?” Look, he implies, I know I haven’t done wrong but you are saying God is punishing me and you also say God only punishes people who do wrong. You are not representing Him well!

Then he has another thought and wonders how they would feel if they came under God’s spotlight: “Would it turn out well if he examined you? Could you deceive him as you might deceive men?” (v.9). How well would you do if He questioned you? Would you try to deceive Him and make out that you were trying to speak on His behalf? I think you would be in trouble: “He would surely rebuke you if you secretly showed partiality.” (v.10). If you let your bias against me show, I think you’d find He wouldn’t keep quiet about that! I think you’d be in trouble in His incredible presence: “Would not his splendor terrify you? Would not the dread of him fall on you?” (v.11). I think, he goes on, in God’s presence all your words would be seen to leave nothing but dust at the end of them and all your strong words would appear as weak as clay: “Your maxims are proverbs of ashes; your defenses are defenses of clay.” (v.12)

As we’ve said, this is a serious challenge to think about the quality of what we say as God’s representatives, and the way we say things. A good prophet in the new covenant knows that even words of correction come with a gentleness that looks to bring change through grace. None of us is on such strong ground that we can blast others with their failures. The new covenant is all about love and restoration, not condemnation. Check it out. How do people feel about how you ‘handle’ them?  Do they get drawn to God’s love? Do they feel blessed? Are your words, words of graciousness? Let’s seek to be Jesus to them in this way.