February 11, 2018
Okay, so it has been a while since we dug into the book of Hebrews, so as we start back into it, let me remind you as to why this book is so important…
You see, more so than any other book in the New Testament, Hebrews teaches us how to read our Old Testaments in the light of Christ. Creation, Moses, the Priesthood, the Tabernacle, even the mysterious figure of Melchizedek is meant to point us to Christ.
Now, you might think, great, got it, move on, but it is important to understand that our Jewish friends and neighbors — coworkers, along with our Muslim ones, are using the same Old Testament that we are, but they are blind to Christ. But it is not just those who are of other religious traditions, but even the same thing is true of many professing Christians who again look at the Bible as a compilation of unrelated stories and teachings.
It is my belief that when you see the unity of the scriptures unfolded, from beginning to end, and how all of these people and institutions are providentially set forth by God to point to his Son, Jesus, that gives us a degree of confidence in the reliability of the Bible. With that in mind, recognize that our kids at school, when we watch movies or other form of entertainment, or just in the broader society, we are bombarded with a teaching that the Bible is just an ancient book of good advice, but that it is little different than any other such book from ancient times.
Yet, the Q’ran of Islam, the Bagavad Gita of Hinduism, or the Five Classics of Confucianism all contain problems, inconsistencies, and disunity. Something that is not found in the Bible if you know how to read it with Christ at the center. And we need that confidence if we are going to defend from the attacks our society brings.
Think about it this way, have you ever been bamboozled? You know, had the wool pulled over your eyes, sold a bill of goods, conned into buying something worthless that you regretted afterwards? I have. And, my guess is that all of us have…but you live and learn, right?
And that is my point. Usually it is not the professional that gets bamboozled, but the enthusiastic amateur that is the prey of the snake-oil salesman. The more you know, the less likely you will be fooled.
I have known a great many Christians who say, “you know, as long as I believe in Jesus, all that doctrine stuff isn’t important.” But let me ask, what do you mean by believing in Jesus? If you mean simply that you believe he existed and that he died and rose again and that those things are a historical fact, then what distinguishes your view from that of the demons?
But if you are going to say that Christ died as a substitute for you personally to satisfy the righteous demands of the Law — a debt you owe — and that every day of your life you struggle to put sin to death and to live in a way that honors Jesus and to that end you are committed to the Word of God and its application to everything you do in life, then that is a different conversation altogether…but that’s doctrine.
One of the pastors under whom I grew up used to say that he expected to be surprised when he got to heaven…not just by those he didn’t expect to see, but who by the grace of God were there, but also by those he expected to see but who were not present.
Don’t let yourself be bamboozled. There are a lot of false teachers out there and a lot of confused teachings. Study your doctrine and show yourself to be a capable workman in the Word of Truth.
And, to that end, Hebrews stands as a pillar in the New Testament to guide us.
Now, in this section, we are dealing a good bit with the idea of covenant. Every interaction between God and man is done in the context of a covenant…which means it is important to not only understand what a covenant is, but also why it is important to understand the nature of the covenant of God. Without that knowledge, how will we know whether we are in it or not? How will we know God’s expectations of us? What are the rewards for obedience and the punishments for disobedience?
When you go to work for a company or an organization, you are typically given a job description…mine, for example, is part of our church’s constitution…
The difference, though, between a contract like that and a covenant is a matter of permanence.
Your job description at work applies typically until one of two things happens…you are terminated or you are promoted to a new role. But a covenant binds you until the day you die (hence the language of “till death do we part” found in wedding ceremonies).
So, in verse 15, the author is describing the nature of Jesus’ covenant and he writes:
“And because of this (the this meaning the sacrifice of Christ on the cross) he is the mediator of a new covenant (new, not in the sense of being totally new unlike anything before it, but new to distinguish it from the previous administration of the covenant) just as death has come to bring redemption from the transgressions under the first covenant (Jesus’ death to pay the penalty for sin, for we are all born into the Covenant of Works with a failed covenant head over us…namely Adam. Thus we need redemption) “so just as death has come to redeem those transgressions under the first covenant, so that those called “not all mankind, but just those that God has called from the foundation of the earth) should receive the promise of an eternal inheritance.
Okay, there is a lot packed into one verse. Let me summarize Paul’s premise this way: Adam disobeyed God and thus under Adam’s covenant administration we are all consigned to eternal Judgement in Hell. Jesus, though, obeyed the Law where Adam failed and thus all those under Jesus’ new covenant are given the reward of Christ. It is a vicarious atonement that Jesus has worked — thus we stand before God not in the filthy rags of our works, but clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Let me apply this to you. There are times when it feels as if your world is falling apart, as if everything is turned upside down and is against you. But, if you are a Christian, there is one who will never be against you, and that is God, but it may not be for the reasons you think. It is not because you are special inside nor is it because God loves you so much. No, it is because God loves Christ and if you are in Christ then you share that love that God pours out on his Son. Nothing can change God’s stance toward you because nothing can change God’s stance toward his Son…and that reality ought to give you courage to live boldly for God’s glory and not for your own…to live faith loudly, as the one author from the 80’s put it…to turn your speakers to 11.
“For where there is a covenant, the death of the covenant maker is a necessary condition to bring it about.”
Depending on which translation you happen to be using, your Bible may read, “for where there is a will…”
The word here — diatheke for my scholars here — can either refer to a “last will and testament” or to a “covenant” in Greek. But, the word from Hebrew that this word translates is always translated as “covenant,” and given that the book is likely written to a group of Jews in Alexandria, “covenant” seems to be the better choice here.
The idea that the author is expressing is simply that to inaugurate a new covenant, the author needs to fulfill the demands of the Old Covenant. In this case, death.
Let me illustrate it this way… Let’s say that there is an area bank and it holds the mortgages of every member of the church. And perhaps, there is a group of men in the church who say to themselves, we could do that, forming a mortgage company of our own and we will start by handling the mortgages of members in the church — they will give them a better rate, no closing costs, etc…
Yet, before they can assume your mortgage, they must first pay off your loan…satisfy the demands of the original mortgage.
To redeem you, Jesus had to pay off your debt and that meant satisfying the demands of the Law — the Covenant of Works — requiring his death before the new one was fully in place. And thus, while we are still under obligation (we pay our check each month still) but the “to whom or what” has changed. Before it was an obligation of death…now, as believers, we have an obligation of gratitude.
Verses 17-21 explain further…
“For a covenant is made sure at the time of death since it is not in force while the covenant-maker is still alive, therefore, not even the first was consecrated without blood. For when all the commandments of the Law were spoken by Moses to all the people, taking the blood of calves and of goats, with water and red wool and hyssop it was sprinkled on the book itself and on all the people, saying ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded of you.’ (sound familiar?) and he also sprinkled the tent and even all the objects of worship with the same blood.”
Get the idea?
Blood is everywhere — this, by the way, is an allusion to God’s command in Exodus 24:6-8.
Sometimes I get asked, why all the bloody descriptions in the Bible? Kind of gross to imagine blood being sprinkled on everything — everywhere…including on the people. The answer is two-fold…to show God’s disgust with our sin and that to remind us that a covenant must be fulfilled by the shedding of the blood of a substitute — animals in the Temple, but ultimately Christ.
“And almost everything is ceremonially cleansed in blood according to the Law, for without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness…”
Sobering language is it not? But, that is the nature of a covenant. It is binding until death and thus blood becomes the symbol of this reality.
Verse 23: Therefore, it was a necessary condition on the one hand the the outlines (blueprints…patterns) of heavenly things are ceremonially cleansed, but the heavenly things themselves need a more prominent sacrifice than these. (to fulfill the eternal covenant one must bring in eternal blood, not that of sheep or goats).”
“For it was not into holy places crafted by hand that Christ entered (he didn’t enter the earthy Holy of Holies, but the heavenly one — this earth is a shadowland…) — copies of true things — but into the heavens themselves, now making visible for us the face of God.”
In the Old Testament, there is a repeated warning that to look on the face of God will bring about your death — God is holy and we are not — but now, Jesus has entered into the holy place with his own blood to make atonement for our sins and that brings with it the right to look on the beauty and the glory of God himself. That is a promise to us as believers. If you are beaten down and discouraged this morning, know that this life is a shadow and it is passing. Beyond is a world of the glory and splendor of God, so be encouraged, these things will pass away along with the sufferings and pains that go with it.
“And it was not in order to offer himself repeatedly, just as the high priest entered into the holy Place every year with the blood that belonged to another (the animal substitute)…were that the case, it would have been necessary for him to suffer repeatedly from the foundation of the world. But now, he has appeared once at the consummation of the ages.”
(We like to think of the 2nd coming as the consummation of the age…but that is not what the author is saying. Remember how the writer began this book in chapter 1, verse 2? “In these last days…” he is saying that the end times — the eschaton — begins with the cross and the resurrection — and thus, the consummation of the ages took place at the cross. Remember, all things — even history itself, is ultimately about Christ and Him crucified.
So, why did Jesus come at the consummation? The end of verse 26…
“for the removal of sin through his sacrifice.”
“And just as it is appointed to me to die once and with that the judgment, in the same way, Christ also is offered up once to deliver many (notice, not all) from sin. He will appear a second time nut not because of sin, but for those who eagerly await him unto salvation.” The penalty has been paid once, the second time he comes is to fully gather his kingdom to himself.
And so, until that day, we work and we wait and the question that I will leave you with this morning is what will you be found doing when he comes? Will you want him finding you doing that? If not, repent.