Posts Tagged 'New Covenant'

Covenant Psalms: The Necessity of Obedience

tencommandmentsheart

Our Bible is divided up into two parts, but it wasn’t always like this. The designations “Old” and “New Testaments” are not part of the original texts of the Bible; they were added early in the third century AD when Tertullian referred to “two testaments of the law and the gospel” in his description of the Bible. But what do those appellations actually mean?

The last 27 books of the Bible form what we have come to call the New Testament. There is an interesting verse in an Old Testament book that ties the two Testaments together, and yet also serves to separate them:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (Jeremiah 31:31 NIV)

The fact that this Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament ties the two testaments together, but at the same time we read about a “new covenant” that God will make with His people. The Greek word for “covenant” is diatheke, and is also translated “testament” and “will.” That’s why we also call the New Testament the “New Covenant.”

God made small covenants all the time throughout the history of Israel. But the Israelites understood that they were God’s people because He made a big, binding Covenant with them – the Old Covenant. Christians understand the same thing: we are made God’s people because of the New Covenant God had made with us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ:

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks for it and gave it to them and said, “Each one drink from it, for this is my blood, sealing the new covenant. It is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes.” (Matthew 26:28 TLB)

The blood of Jesus forms the basis of the New Covenant God is making with His people, replacing the Old Covenant. Our “Old Testament” is the history of the people (Israel) of the Old Covenant, and our “New Testament” is the story of the people of the New Covenant (Christians).

Though the Covenants have changed, God hasn’t. That’s why studying the Old Testament is so important. We, as signatories of God’s New Covenant, don’t want to make the same mistakes as those of the Old. We can learn a lot about how to live within the bounds of God’s Covenant by looking at their occasionally good example, but more often than not, their bad example. And we can see how God relates to those who live in obedience to the Covenant, and how He relates to those who do not.

Psalm 81:8 – 16

Psalm 81 is, at its heart, a psalm of adoration. It is also a Covenant Psalm. Verse 3 gives us the purpose for which this psalm was written:

Blow the ram’s horn on the day of the New Moon Feast. Blow it again when the moon is full and the Feast of Booths begins. (Psalm 81:3 NIrV)

So it seems that Psalm 81 was intended to be used during the fall festivals in Israel, including the Feast of Trumpets in connection with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s an anonymous psalm, but because Joseph is mentioned by name in verse 5, there are some scholars who think it was written in the northern kingdom, late in the history of the divided kingdom.

God had been very good to His people down through the years. Verses 5, 6, and 7 give some examples of His goodness. In light of that, God has some simple expectations of the people who signed onto His Covenant:

Don’t have anything to do with the gods of other nations. Don’t bow down and worship strange gods. (Psalm 81:9 NIrV)

That’s idolatry the psalmist was writing about. Israel knew a lot about idolatry. In fact, if the scholars are right, then by the time this psalm was written idolatry had become the norm in Israel and the worship of Yahweh very rare. The Lord claimed the exclusive loyalty of His people. This was the most basic component of the Old Covenant and was the first of the Ten Commandments, Israel’s national constitution and spiritual manifesto.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3 NIV)

The very foundation of God’s Covenant with Israel was that He did a momentous thing for them, and they owed Him for that. Giving Him their loyalty was His expectation. Perhaps that has a tinge of harshness, but that expectation is not given in isolation. There’s this:

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Psalm 81:10b NIrV)

The limitless power of God gives (or should give) His people encouragement to ask for big things (“open your mouth wide”). This isn’t just an Old Covenant idea, by the way. Jesus, who established the New Covenant, made it part of His Covenant, too!

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:14 NIV)

You’d think Israel would hold up their end of the Covenant, but the lure of idolatry was strong and persistent and the worship of idols seemed more appealing to them. You’d think that God’s pleading with His people for their loyalty over the centuries would have been heard, yet He was ignored. This is the gist of the remainder of this covenant psalm. God delivered His people (vs. 10), but they didn’t appreciate it and rebelled (vs. 11). So God abandoned them to their own wills (vs. 12). He yearned for them to return and obey (vs. 13). God was willing to take them back and punish their enemies (vs. 14, 15) and bless them with the finest of food (vs. 16).

French novelist Alphonse Karr originally wrote:

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Or as Snake Pliskin and Bon Jovi put it:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Psalm 81 is all about Israel, but it’s message should resonate with the Church, members of the New Covenant. Sadly, many of these verses are a spot-on commentary on the lives of way too many Christians. In spite of all that God has done to save us, we ignore Him. Even though God’s one and only Son gave His very life to save us, we refuse to yield our lives in obedience to Him. We are the ones with the deaf ears, stubborn hearts and selfish ambitions now. Every sin that characterized Israel now characterizes the Church of Christ. Is it any wonder why America is declining so quickly?

So I let them go their own stubborn way. I let them follow their own sinful plans. (Psalm 81:12 NIrV)

What if the state of America is really God’s judgment on the Church and not on the sinners?

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NIV)

Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is another covenant psalm, and it is also the second longest psalm in the psalter, clocking in at an amazing 72 verses! And while it is a long covenant psalm, it can also be called a “historical psalm,” along with psalms 105, 106, 114, and 136. The big theme in Psalm 78 is Israel’s history, with many verses recounting the things God did for His people. Generally speaking, it’s hard to get excited about Psalm 78; it could be considered depressing as you read how poorly the people responded to the all the good things God did for them.

Verses 1 – 8

The first eight verses are filled with history, or “His-story,” because they are a recital of God’s works designed to teach people – young people, especially – the unavoidable truth that disobedience always leads to disaster, on both an individual level and a national level. Both hearing “His-story” and telling it is vital and are things all believers should be doing. Pastor, author, and Puritan John Flavel was absolutely correct when he wrote:

If you neglect to instruct (your children) in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No; if you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear, and lie; if ground be uncultivated, weeks will spring.

The state of our nation testifies to the wisdom of the Bible and, sadly, to the veracity of Flavel’s observation.

Verse 4 is an interesting principle unique to Israel:

We won’t hide them from our children. We will tell them to those who live after us. We will tell them about what the Lord has done that is worthy of praise. We will talk about his power and the wonderful things he has done. (Psalm 78:4 NIrV)

Israel never tried to cover up the failures of their forefathers, unlike other nations did and do. Nations don’t usually write volumes about their military failures, foreign policy screw ups, or ruinous economic policies they enacted. But God, in His Word, never whitewashes any of His people, not even His “heroes.” All the patriarchs and prophets of Israel were full of shortcomings and we know all about them. Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah and other men of renown all did great things for God and His people but God’s Word makes sure to record their failures, too. Why? Because the weaknesses and greatness of even the best of God’s people serve to show everybody’s desperate need for Christ’s atoning death.

A rebellious spirit: Ephraim, verses 9 – 16

Beginning at verse 9, the psalmist singles out a single tribe for special rebuke, Ephraim.

The soldiers of Ephraim were armed with bows. But they ran away on the day of battle. They didn’t keep the covenant God had made with them. They refused to live by his law. (Psalm 78:9, 10 NIrV)

Why would He do that? Was Ephraim worse than all the other tribes? Ephraim became the leading tribe of the northern group of tribes, which would eventually become the Northern Kingdom, which was frequently referred to only as “Ephraim.” The Northern Kingdom existed neck-deep in a state of almost constant apostasy. But their godless attitude really began back in Egypt! That’s a nation starting their downfall early!

He did miracles right in front of our people who lived long ago. At that time they were living in the land of Egypt, in the area of Zoan. (Psalm 78:12 NIrV)

The psalmist’s account of God’s faithful doings is briefly interrupted by yet another account of the people’s unfaithfulness.

But they continued to sin against him. In the desert they refused to obey the Most High God. They were stubborn and put God to the test. They ordered him to give them the food they longed for. (Psalm 78:17, 18 NIrV)

The psalmist does this numerous times throughout this long psalm and points out the two lessons Hebrew children were to learn from their parents: God’s unlimited love and power, and man’s persistent sin. This is also a lesson Christians need to be reminded of. God’s love is unlimited and it is undeserved. We are not loveable people, yet God loves us constantly and fully. Even when we succumb to the temptations to sin, God still loves us. The temptations never stop; they are relentless. The people of Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – couldn’t seem to get the victory over the temptation to worship idols. Maybe you are also struggling with the persistent temptation to sin or worse, some persistent sin your life you just can seem to get a handle on. Verse 22 gives us the reason the people of Israel didn’t stop their sinning and it’s the reason why we Christians won’t stop ours:

That was because they didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in his power to save them. (Psalm 78:22 NIrV)

How else can you explain why God’s people rebelled? In response to all God did for them, they rebelled continually. From God’s perspective the reason was obvious: they were not overwhelmed by His ability to deliver and to provide for them. In fact, Israel was completely unconcerned with God and His wonders. With the passing of each generation, their society became more and more secular and its basic orientation was not spiritual but fleshly. Verses 61 – 64 describe what happened to their society as a result of God’s letting them go:

He allowed the ark to be captured. Into the hands of his enemies he sent the ark where his glory rested. He let his people be killed with swords. He was very angry with them. Fire destroyed their young men. Their young women had no one to get married to. Their priests were killed with swords. Their widows weren’t able to cry. (Psalm 78:61 – 64 NIrV)

Very bad things happen when God lets His people pursue the life the want instead of the life He wants for them. The lessons of Psalm 78 are simple and are as old as man. It is sin that separates us from God. God is merciful but He is also just. We deserve stern punishment, but receive grace instead. Given what God has done for us and what He promises to do for us, we Christians should stop acting like spoiled children, like the Israelites as they wandered in the desert or like arrogant ingrates like Ephraim.

A TALE OF TWO COVENANTS

Hebrews 8:7—9:15

It’s interesting how both Dispensationalists and Reformers see so many covenants between God and His people in Scripture, yet the New Testament sees only two: one before Christ and one after Christ. We see the first covenant throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament teaches us about a new one.

At the outset, it must be understood that both the Old and New Covenants were between God and His people and were initiated, not by man, but by God. Man’s only responsibility in these Covenants was to ratify them. Both of these Covenants established a very unique relationship between God and His people, setting the Covenant people apart from all other people on the Earth. Thanks to these God-initiated covenants, God was able to say:

I will be their God, and they will be my people. (Hebrews 8:10)

As far as God’s people are concerned, both Covenants gave them certain privileges and responsibilities which they were to assume. God promises distinct and wonderful blessings, but only if the people abide by the terms of the Covenants. In this sense, both the Old and the New Covenants resemble a contract between two parties, one divine, one human.

1. Why there had to be a new Covenant, Hebrews 8:7—9

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them,” declares the Lord.

Recall that one the purposes of this letter to the Hebrews was to demonstrate how superior Jesus Christ is to angels and Moses, and how superior His priesthood is to that of Aaron and Melchizedek. With that in mind, it makes perfect sense to inform the Hebrew readers of this letter that God Himself had promised a new and superior Covenant through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:31—34). The exact same logic that applied to Jesus and the priesthood now is applied to the Covenant. If the first Covenant had been faultless, then there would have been no need for a new one.

God, through Jeremiah, told a generation about to go into captivity that there would be New Covenant some day. Even though that generation and all the generations that had preceded them had been faithless, breaking the Old Covenant since the days of the rebellion at Kadesh Barnea (which was the beginning of the end of the Old Covenant), and even though the upcoming Babylonian Captivity was punishment for their faithlessness, God wanted to give His people hope. In spite of their sin and rebellion, they were still HIS PEOPLE and He wanted to have a relationship with them. Some day, God was going to make that happen with a brand new Covenant. This New Covenant, though, would be slightly different than the first one. The first Covenant failed, not because it was flawed, but because of the failings of the people. Therefore, God would write a New Covenant, not on stone tablets, but on the hearts of the people. In effect, man’s motivation would changed because man himself would be changed. He would literally become a “new creation,” a new species of being that longs to live for God.

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!All this is from God,who reconciled us to himself through Christ… (2 Corinthians 5:17, 18a)

So this New Covenant, then, is superior to the Old one because instead of depending on man’s inner desire to fulfill its terms, God takes the initiative to remake the man so that that man now wants to fulfill the terms of the “contract.”

This New Covenant made the Old Covenant obsolete. Does that mean Christians can now disregard the Old Covenant and consider it utterly useless? Absolutely not! The Old Covenant came from the heart and mind of God, therefore it deserves to be studied by believers. In fact, the Law served two very distinct purposes. First, the Law was regulatory because it regulated every single aspect of Jewish life, right down to the tiniest detail. This purpose of the Law has been completely wiped out by Christ’s superiority. The second purpose of the Law was revelatory: it provided revelations of God’s nature and character, man’s nature and character and the relationship between the two. This purpose of the Law continues to this day, which is evident since the author of this letter uses the Law to teach truths about Jesus Christ and the New life. So, all of God’s Word, even His Old Covenant, has something to teach modern believers about their relationship with God.

The substance of this New Covenant is outlined in verses 10—12:

This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.  For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

The beauty of this New Covenant is that man’s obedience is made possible because God would put His Spirit within him.

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. (Ezekiel 36:25—27)

The terms of this marvelous New Covenant include four main points:

  • Sanctification, verse 10. Under the Old Covenant, God promised to bless the people if they obeyed His laws. They naturally promised to do just that, and even though they were sincere they didn’t take into account their inner sinful nature. The Laws of the Old Covenant were merely external. Without the support of the heart, no law, not God’s and not man’s, can be successfully enforced. With the new birth comes a new heart; a sanctified heart.
  • Adoption, verse 10. Under the Old Covenant, this was the ideal, but under the New Covenant it is a reality! What a privilege it is to be able to say to God, “We are your people” and “My God.” This is a personal relationship, one between God and the individual.
  • Regeneration, verse 11. Although this promise is made to national Israel (remember, it comes from Jeremiah to Jews), when this promise is fulfilled, the fulfillment will actually constitute a new race of people. Only those who personally know the Lord will be part of this new race. In other words, being part of the new race of God’s people isn’t a birthright; it depends on the new birth.
  • Justification, verse12. What a relief! Knowing that under the terms of the New Covenant our sins are forgiven and forgotten! We stand before God “just as though we never sinned.”

And so, as verse 13 states succinctly, with the arrival of this new and better Covenant, the older one has become worn out.

By calling this covenantnew,” he has made the first one obsolete;and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

2. Why the new Covenant is so superior, 9:11—28

As we noted, God’s people failed the Old Covenant; they were incapable of maintaining their “part of the deal.” God, still wanting to have a people to call His own, made a New Covenant that His people could enter into fully because in addition to the New Covenant, God would re-make the person, enabling him to live up to the terms of “new deal.” But beyond that, the superiority of New Covenant has more to do with the blood of Jesus than anything else.

His superior work, verses 11, 12

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption.

The meaning of verse 11 is watered down by the NIV’s use of the phrase “the good things that are already here.” If we look at the alternate, probably more accurate translation, the meaning becomes powerful:

For now Christ has come among us, the High Priest of the good things which were to come, and has passed through a greater and more perfect tent which no human hand has made (for it was no part of this world of ours). It was not with goats’ or calves’ blood but with his own blood that he entered once and for all into the holy of holies, having won for us men eternal reconciliation with God. (J.B. Phillips translation)

It’s made clear that Christ is not the High Priest of the Old Covenant, but rather of the New, “which is or was to come.” Christ has nothing to do with the Old Covenant. This paragraph explains that unlike the earthly high priest who worked in and around the Temple in Jerusalem, Jesus does His work in a supernatural, Heavenly tabernacle (or tent). Not only that, the earthly high priest had to rely on the shed blood of countless animals to secure the forgiveness of his people’s sins. This he had to do every year, year after year. So how effective could his work have been if he had to keep doing it over and over again? But along comes Jesus, the ultimate High Priest, who bypassed the blood of animals, using instead His own blood, to provide forgiveness. His work was so perfect, so powerful, that it only had to be done once!

Implied in these two verses is how serious God takes sin. It takes the blood of His Son to save us from God’s inevitable response to sin, namely His wrath. Some people think the “wrath of God” is just an Old Testament thing, but in fact God’s wrath was always, always is, and will always be His holy response to sin. The blood of animals temporarily stayed that wrath. The blood of Jesus permanently stopped God from responding in wrath to our sin.

Superior benefit, verses 13, 14

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

These two verses make some interesting contrasts between the blood of animals and the blood of Christ. It would be tempting to say that all that animal blood was actually worthless, but that’s not accurate. In reality, it did sanctify the people, at least on the outside. It’s a minor benefit when compared to what Christ’s shed blood does: it sanctifies believers on the inside.

Superior scope, verse 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.

A powerful verse that says three important things. First, Christ is the mediator this New Covenant. The New Covenant is His. Second, this verse concerns the readers of this letter. The Jews reading this letter were the ones promised an eternal inheritance, going all the way back to God’s promises to Abraham. Lastly, and most significantly, Jesus’ death was for the sins committed under the Old Covenant. This shows us the value of the animal sacrifices: they pointed to a fulfillment in the future.

Of note, though, is the word “sins.” The writer used the most powerful word possible, parabasis, for “deliberately breaking a law.” This word always suggests full guilt and liability to penalty. This is important because it shows the scope of Christ’s work. Under the Old Covenant, only sins of ignorance of were taken care of. In other words, the Jewish sacrificial system worked, more or less, for the morally upright Jew, striving to live right. Yet even for him there was alienation from God because everybody, no matter how morally upright they may be, will deliberately sin every now and again. But under the New Covenant, all sins are taken care of; ignorant ones and deliberate ones. The New Covenant takes care of deliberate sins of rebellion, ie., the sins (or the kind of sins) committed under the first covenant.

We learn a lot about God’s nature and character and man’s nature and character from studying this part of Hebrews. Particularly noteworthy is that God’s cure for man’s sin problem has always been the placating of His holy wrath and the forgiveness of the sinner. The New Covenant addresses both parties. God’s wrath is satisfied and man’s sins are forgiven. How sad it is that the Church of Jesus Christ today seems to have forgotten that the root of all of man’s problems is not poor potty training or an absent father figure. The root of every single problem in man’s life is sin, and the only way to set man right is to deal with sin and the guilt of that sin.

HEBREWS: SHADOWS AND REALITY

HEBREWS CHAPTER 10

As we begin Hebrews chapter 10, we are beginning the climax of the letter. So far, we have learned a number of things courtesy of the unknown author of this letter to the Hebrews, and we can sum up what we have learned like this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is superior to the prophets, the priests, and even the angels; the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to that of Aaron; and we are about to learn that the entire ceremonial law of the Old Testament was really only a “shadow” of something else to come through the work of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 9 sets up chapter 10, which continues some significant lines of thoughts. First, Christians must never lose sight of the goal: free access into the Holiest of Holies: The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. (Hebrews 9:8)

Second, we need to understand and appreciate that it is only the blood of Jesus that qualifies us by simply purging our consciences from dead acts:

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

Lastly, we must always remember the absolute finality of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice:

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26b)

These are the important pivot points of chapter 9 which the Hebrew Christians of the New Testament era needed to grasp. As wonderful and as marvelous and as worthy as the Law of Moses was, and in some senses still is, as powerful as the Old Testament sacrificial system was, the coming of Jesus changed everything. The Old Covenant had literally been overtaken by the New Covenant. Christ’s priestly ministry is so superior to the ministry of any earthly priest as to render their work obsolete. The Jewish Christians to whom this letter was written needed to be encouraged to stick with the real thing, Jesus, for to leave Him and return to Judaism would be tantamount to giving back a Christmas gift but keeping the wrapping paper! What a ridiculous thing todo!

Apparently this was a real problem which the teacher deals with in chapter 10 in a very dogmatic way.

1. The Law goes nowhere, 10:1—4

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. 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. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The Law of the Old Covenant had very impressive ceremonies, supported by centuries of tradition, preserving the awareness of God’s holiness while revealing man’s greater need for atonement. Yet in spite of the greatness of the Old Covenant, it could never bring the worshiper into a permanent relationship with God because all those animal sacrifices could do was to remind him of his sin, not remove that sin.

This is why the Law is called a “shadow of the good things,” and not a good thing in and of itself. A shadow can never reveal something, it can only give a rough outline of its reality. When the reality comes, thes hadow is irrelevant. The Law, then, was only an outline of the wonder of the Gospel message; it was, in fact, merely a temporary part of God’s plan.

The very fact that sacrifices had to be repeated over and over and over showed the inadequacy of it all. If a sinner could be made perfect by simply obeying the points of the Old Covenant, then they wouldn’t have needed to keep coming back year after year to have their sins atoned for. No, the fact is, the sin offering could not fix the sinner. The blood of animals slain had no redemptive power. The enormity of sin precludes any natural kind of atonement. The blood of animals couldn’t remove the sin from the sinner any more than “being a good person” today removes sin from the sinner. The sin problem is so big, there is nothing you or any human being can do to alleviate it. The absolute height of human folly is to think you can pin your hope of salvation on your good behavior or your allegiance to some set of man-made rules. Those things,like animal blood, are worthless.

This was something the psalmist grasped long before Hebrews was written:

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

2.The Law replaced,10:5—18

The writer to the Hebrews was blunt in his explanation of why the sacrifices of the Law had to be repeated ad nausea:

…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (verse4)

Those things served a purely temporary function and they pointed to a permanent sacrifice: Jesus Christ came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. The Son of God was to be given the Name Jesus because He was destined to take upon Himself the sin of His people. That mission, in fact, was given back in Psalm 40:7—9, which is quoted in Hebrews 10:5—7. The emphasis on this quotation is the obedience of the Son of God; He would always do the will of His Father.

While all those Old Covenant sacrifices were ordained by God, we are told something startling in verse 8:

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).”

God is never pleased with anything where faith is not involved. All these sacrifices were designed by God to point the people to the need for a better offering. That was the missing element in Judaism. For centuries sacrifices were made and people followed the letter of the Law but they had no faith.

In contrast to the lack of faith in the people and the ineffectiveness of the sacrifices, we have the words of Christ:

Here I am, I have come to do your will.” (verse9)

Nothing the priests did and nothing the people did could deal with sin, but Jesus came to do the will of the Father, which was to end the sin problem once and for all!

The wonder of the Word of God is that while these words were written to some ancient Hebrew Christians, their application to the modern Christian is just as powerful now as it was back then. There is nothing you can do apart from Jesus Christ to win God’s favor. It is futile trying to please God on your own; it can’t be done. The Law of Moses could not relieve a guilty conscience; it could not make a sinner right with God on its own. And neither can any other belief system based on the ideas of man, whether it’s dressed up in Christian garb, self-improvement philosophy, or paganism.

The power of verse 14 is breathtaking in its implications:

…by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The will of God is implemented through the work of His obedient Son, our great High Priest, and part of God’s will is for His people to be made holy. The priests of the Old Covenant couldn’t do this; they couldn’t even do anything to help a guilty conscience!But the Son of God not only takes away the guilt and shame of sin, but He makes us holy. This is a deep, broad redemption, accomplished on the Cross, a result of His obedience. The tenses in this verse should be noted. The sense of verse 14 is this: “We have been sanctified and we still are.” What does this mean to the believer today?Simply put, our complete and definite sanctification is God’s will and it is our experience. What this does not mean is that we no longer need to grow or that we are sinless. To be “made perfect forever” means that God has made us His holy people, but that day by day we are being brought into that spiritual reality experientially through the continued work of Christ in us by the Person of the Holy Spirit.

So, then, we as Christians must surely be the most blessed people on the face of the earth because of this. Not only is our sanctification the will of God, not only is its perfection in us a work of Christ, but its accomplishment is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “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.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (verses 15—18)

What is the Holy Spirit testifying about? He is reminding us of Jeremiah’s inspired prophecy, outlining the New Covenant. The significant point of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the thing that the writer wants his readers to see is verse 17:

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

God’s forgiveness of our sins is final and complete. What God is saying literally is: “I will be reminded no more.” Modern Christians take this for granted, but to first century believers this truth must have been seismic. In the Old Covenant, God was reminded of His people’s sins every year! But this is not the case under the New Covenant. God does not want to be reminded of His people’s sins because they have been completely eliminated by His Son’s perfect atonement.

3. Our response

We can hardly read this section of Hebrews without seeing the incredible depth of our atonement. By ONE sacrifice, our sins have forever been forgiven; our salvation secured; and our sanctification completed.

If verse 17 is a theological punchline, then verse 16 must be the set up. Whose sins have been forgiven and forgotten? ONLY those who have had God’s laws planted in their hearts and written on their minds. In other words, no provision is made for those who merely profess to Christians but remain double-minded in all they do; no provision is made for those who claim to love Christ but stubbornly persist in their sin. God’s unlimited forgiveness is completely dependent our experiential reality of God’s spiritual work done in us. We have been made holy forever! Now, let’s live like God’s holy people.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

HEBREWS, PART 12

Easy-Bake Faith or the Real Thing?

Hebrews chapter 9 reminds some people of one of the most famous Christmas presents ever, the Easy-Bake Oven. Generations of little girls have wanted an Easy-Bake Oven so they could bake things just like their mothers. In our politically correct society, we could say little boys wanted one too, but that would probably by lying.

Those Easy-Bake Overs were amazing things. Tiny miniatures of real ovens, except all the cooking was done by a light bulb. It’s incredible that a bulb could actually bake a muffin! The weird thing about that Easy-Bake muffin was that while it looked like the real thing—like the kind of muffin mom would make—and while it was certainly warm, it tasted awful. Bland and kind of gooey, the Easy-Bake muffin was an unsatisfying imitation of the genuine article. The real muffin came from mom’s kitchen, not from a child’s toy.

That brings us to Hebrews 9. The sacrifices and offerings of the Tabernacle and the Temple were like the Easy-Bake muffin; pale imitations of the real thing. Incapable of doing anything substantive for sinful man, the best they could do was point to the need of a perfect, effectual sacrifice, which Christ would offer one day.

1. The Earthly Sanctuary, 9:1—5

The writer to the Hebrews had just spent a chapter discussing the present-day ministry of Jesus Christ as our great High Priest. Now he will move on to show the superiority of New Covenant over the Old.

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. (vs. 1)

The adjective “first” is all by itself in the Greek. The NIV has inserted the word “covenant” to make the sentence readable, and given the context, this could be what the writer was intending to say. There is a thought, though, that since our writer goes all the way back to the Tabernacle (Moses’ day), completely bypassing the great Temple (Solomon’s day), a better word might be “tent” instead of “covenant.” In other words, he is about talk about the first “tent” of God, contrasting it with the new Sanctuary in Heaven.

This first “tent,” the original Tabernacle in the wilderness, was earthly in the sense that it was built using material on earth. So the old covenant, or the old way, had its rules and regulations, and the old sanctuary is described as “earthly,” and temporary. The old tent did, in the course of time, vanish, to be replaced by a succession of Temples.

A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. (vs. 2)

From verses 2 to 7, the writer describes the furniture of the Tabernacle. Modern readers find this section, perhaps, uninteresting. But it was important for our writer to discus such things because he will eventually give us his interpretation of the meaning of the Tabernacle’s layout.

Using your mind’s eye, see the Tabernacle and the Sanctuary spread out in an east to west orientation. The Sanctuary was located in the “Court of Priests,” and was divided into two smaller rooms, separated by a heavy curtain or veil.

The Outer Sanctuary contained certain articles: the lampstand, the table, and the bread. The bread was actually 12 small loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. These were kept on the table all the time as a perpetual memorial and reminder of God’s covenant with His people. They are also believed to be a type of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, to be eaten by the priests, themselves representing all believers. On the opposite side of the room was the lampstand, the only source of light in the Outer Sanctuary. Here is a picture of the justified heart; the inner light, fed by the oil of the Holy Spirit, and the daily Bread of Christ.

The Inner Sanctuary was known as the Holy of Holies or the Holiest of All. Moving behind the veil, the teacher mentions two articles of furniture found here. The first, the golden altar of incense, which represented the congregation’s worship and prayers. This particular altar was cared for by the priests daily; morning and evening they places special incense upon the altar that was kept burning day and night in the presence of God.

The second piece of furniture was the Ark of the Covenant. This was the repository of the golden pot that contained manna, which was to serve as a perpetual reminder of God’s faithfulness. It also contained Aaron’s rod, another reminder that God had specifically chosen Aaron from the tribe of Levi to occupy the priestly office. And the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets, upon which were written the Ten Commandments, a reminder that God was judging His people by His Law, holding them responsible for its observance.

Above the Ark was the Mercy Seat, overshadowed by the cherubim, representations of the highest rank of angelic beings, illustrating that even angels recognize the grace and mercy of God. The Mercy Seat was the place where a propitiatory sacrifice was placed before God as a covering for the sins of Israel. Only when this happened could God continue to dwell among His people.

2. The temporary nature of the earthly sanctuary, 9:6—10

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (vs. 9)

The immediate goal of the writer to the Hebrews was to show that the ministry of the earthly priests did not meet the needs of the people, even though they may have carried out their duties exactly as God had instructed them. Everything these holy men did was external and formal, not at all intimate. And they had to practice their various ministrations day in, day out; year after year. Some of their work had to be done daily, some weekly, but the point is that the work had to be done again and again. Clearly, all that was carried on in the Tabernacle had only temporary value; it accomplished nothing of enduring value.

Having said that, we should understand that these priests took their duties seriously and carried them out to the letter of God’s instructions. They had such an awesome respect for the holiness of God, they dared not stray from His Word. We wonder if the modern Church of Jesus Christ has the same perspective on God’s holiness. Do we, as individuals or as congregations, stand in complete awe of God’s perfection? Do we see the horrible nature of our imperfection and impurity before Him? Many church historians have noted that over the centuries, the Church in general has never risen above its basic, collective concept of God. Perhaps, if we had a proper concept of God’s holiness, our culture would look drastically different.

The details of the priestly functions came from the very heart and mind of God, but God left out a very important detail:

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (vs. 8)

Again, we see the utter temporary nature of the Tabernacle, which itself means “tent,” a temporary place to live. It wasn’t until Jesus came that the whole truth of the Holy of Holies was made known. The whole Levitical system was to prefigure the better system found in Jesus. Interestingly, the old system, though limited in what it could do, wasn’t really a failure at all; it did exactly what God intended for it to do.

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

The eye is quicker than the ear. God knew this, and that’s why He used the language of symbols to teach His people deep spiritual truths they couldn’t have grasped otherwise.

3. Why Christ is better, 9:11—14

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. (vs. 11)

The NIV has translated verse 11 in a way slightly differently that older versions of Scripture, and it more accurately reflects what the writer has in mind to teach his readers.

While it is undeniably true that believers have so much to look forward to, even now—TODAY—we are children of God and we should rejoice in all that we are in Christ. Jesus Christ is ministering as our great High Priest TODAY, in a sanctuary located in Heaven.

The Levitical priest entered an earthly Tabernacle; Jesus a heavenly one. They offered the blood of animals; Jesus His own blood. They entered many times, He once. They could offer no permanent cure for man’s spiritual problems; He obtained eternal redemption.

The blood of animals offered under the Old Covenant cleansed one outwardly, but the blood of Christ has infinitely greater power than that. Jesus Christ willingly submitted to the death of the cross; He was both the High Priest and the offering. Because He Himself was sinless, Jesus had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. He death made atonement for His people.  His blood cleanses us inwardly.

so that we may serve the living God! (vs. 14)

All that Christ did for us had a distinct purpose! We are made clean in Him so that we may serve God. Here is a magnificent, practical reality of our salvation and Christ’s work. In our own strength, we could no more serve God than we could save ourselves! Before Christ, all our work merely led to death. Thanks to the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we may now serve God.

4. Mediator of a New Covenant, 9:15—28

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. (vs. 15)

Jesus Christ secured eternal forgiveness of sin. He became the mediator of a new covenant on the basis of giving His life as a ransom to set captive free from their sin. Christ’s death was the price paid to liberate prisoners of the spirit. The old covenant had no such provision; it did not remove offences against God in reality. Real cleansing from the guilt of sin could not be accomplished by the shed blood of animals, only by blood of Jesus.

The purpose of this new covenant is exciting for those under it: it provides an eternal inheritance. Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ, sin can no longer keep God’s blessings from His people.

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. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. (vs. 16—18)

The writer continues his line of reasoning: Where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be verified. A will take effect only at the death of the one who made it. The old covenant was not ratified except by the life blood that signified a life had been given.

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 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. (vs. 19—22)

It may not seem like it at first reading, but these verses are the very heart of the Gospel! “Blood” is referred to 12 times in this chapter alone—more than in any other entire book of the New Testament, equalled only by the entire book of Revelation. This emphasis on blood shows how much God thought of His people: they were worth the sacrifice of His only Son!

The “blood of Christ” refers not only to the literal blood Jesus shed on the Cross, it designates the atoning death of Christ. “Atonement” is a marvelous word that refers to the basis and process by which people once separated from God are now one with God! At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the New Covenant:

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

Jesus Christ, the sinless, perfect Son of God died as a “sin-bearer” so that we might live live as righteous children of God and become healed.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

There is an important word in this ninth chapter of Hebrews. It occurs 5 times, and it echoes down through the corridor of time for all to hear:

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. (verses 26—28)

The word is ONCE. Christ’s work is a completed work. Unlike the earthly high priests who had a lifetime of work ahead of him, Jesus did His work one time, for all people. He didn’t have suffer more than once. He didn’t have to die more than one time. Christ’s work did not need to be repeated. It is final because it is perfect. It’s perfection is obvious because it has never been repeated. ONCE.

Jesus Christ appeared ONCE in the flesh. The Incarnation was the embodiment in visible form of the One who has lived from all eternity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to Earth to do a series of very simple, yet profound things:

  • He put away sin. He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed Someone to wash away my sins… Jesus was that Someone!

  • He sacrificed Himself. He accomplished the forgiveness of sin not by His teaching, not by His miracles, but by His death.

ONE sacrifice, ONE purpose, by ONE Son of God for ALL people.


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