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The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it:

Meditations on the Cross

My Good Friday post from 2017 has several entries about the significance of the Crucifixion, Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for mankind which erased our debt of sin in the New Covenant.

Readings for Good Friday can be found here.

The exegesis for the Gospel reading is here.

The Epistle, the first of two choices from the Book of Hebrews, is as follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 10:16-25

10:16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds,”

10:17 he also adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

10:19 Therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,

10:20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain (that is, through his flesh),

10:21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God,

10:22 let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.

10:23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful.

10:24 And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds,

10:25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

To better understand this passage it is helpful to read my exegesis, thanks to Matthew Henry and John MacArthur, on the Epistle for Monday of Holy Week: Hebrews 9:11-15, in which Christ is represented as the ultimate and true tabernacle, replacing that of the Old Testament and Old Covenant with the New Testament and the New Covenant.

Christ rent the veil of the Holy of Holies, permitting all of us to approach God, which, heretofore, even the high priests could not do for more than a second once a year.

The author of Hebrews cites Jeremiah 31 in today’s reading:

31 “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.
32 It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
    though I was a husband to[d] them,[e]
declares the Lord.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel
    after that time,” declares the Lord.
“I will put my law in their minds
    and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the Lord.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

The audience for the Book of Hebrews were Jews who had become Christians and Jews who were intellectually interested by Jesus. The first group was prone to giving up the faith — apostasy — because Christianity is such a departure from Mosaic law and Jewish tradition. The second were to be encouraged to become Christians.

Hebrews is an apologetic for Christianity for the Jewish mindset. However, I gained a much deeper understanding of the faith by reading and writing about it for my Forbidden Bible Verses series. The first entry for Hebrews 10 is below:

Hebrews 10:1-3 – Christ’s blood sacrifice one and sufficient, Jesus, God, sin, forgiveness

The author cites Jeremiah 33 in verse 26, in which God says that He will make a New Covenant with His people, putting His laws into their hearts and writing them on their minds.

This was a stumbling block for the Jews of Hebrews, so the author reminds them that the New Covenant was always part of God’s plan.

John MacArthur says:

the sacrifice of Christ is effective because it fulfills the promised new covenant. God said, “I’m going to bring a new covenant.” And when Jesus died, He sealed the new covenant. Remember, the covenants in the Old Testament were always sealed in blood, weren’t they? Jesus died and sealed the new covenant

And Jeremiah 31 is a prophecy of the new covenant, you see, and it says to the Jew, “God always intended a new covenant, so what are you so uptight about? Because it’s arrived. What are you accusing us of heresy for? What are you accusing of some new revelation for? This is the same thing Jeremiah told you was coming. Read your own testament.”

God told Jeremiah (Jeremiah 31:34) that He would no longer remember His people’s sins and lawless deeds (verse 17).

Matthew Henry says that this:

will alone show the riches of divine grace, and the sufficiency of Christ’s satisfaction, that it needs not be repeated …

The author of Hebrews explains that, as these sins are and will be forgiven, no further offering for sin needs to be made (verse 18).

MacArthur elaborates on this verse and the dilemma of these Jews on hearing it:

… Jeremiah said it would happen, but Jeremiah didn’t say it on his own. He was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now, do you see what the writer is doing to these Jewish readers? He’s putting them on the horns of an unbelievable dilemma. He’s saying this – he’s placing these readers in a position where they will accept their beloved prophet Jeremiah, and they will accept what the Holy Spirit said through him, and if they do that, they’ll have to accept Christ and the new covenant. If they reject Christ and the new covenant, they also reject Jeremiah and the Holy Spirit.

Now, that’s a tough spot to be in because they loved Jeremiah and they believed in the Holy Spirit. And what He’s saying to them is, “You don’t need the old because the new is come, and God even promised that it would come.”

In verse 18, he wraps it up. What a terrific statement. “Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” It’s done. It’s forgiven. Don’t go back to the temple and make more sacrifices. It’s over. Complete forgiveness. You just need to lean on the one sacrifice of Jesus. You say, “You mean to tell me that I can be saved tonight, without any works, by just leaning on the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ?” That’s exactly what I’m trying to say. Exactly.

The sacrifice of Christ is effective, then, forever because it fulfills God’s will. It replaces the old system. It sanctifies the believer. It removes sin. It destroys the enemy. It has eternal security built into it. And, lastly, it fulfills the promise for a new covenant. It’s so perfect, you can’t add anything to it. All you need to do is believe. You say, “Does God want me to do that?” Yes, He does.

John Donne preached much the same in his sermon ‘Christ’s Legacy’ based on John 14:20, about which I wrote earlier this week. The Holy Spirit will equip us for what we need to do in matters of faith. We need not know how the holy mysteries work, just that they are worthy of our belief. Christ is in us and we are in Him.

Returning to Hebrews and this promise of the New Covenant, this means, therefore, that we can enter the sanctuary with confidence (verse 19) because the blood of Jesus opened a new and living way for us to go beyond the veil of the Holy of Holies (verse 20).

MacArthur indicates the importance of the word ‘therefore’ in that verse:

… you’ll notice that 19 begins, “Having therefore,” and the therefores are always there for a good reason. They always point backwards. “On the basis of what I’ve said for 10 chapters and 18 verses, you must respond.” If you know the gospel of Jesus Christ, you either then take a positive response and boldly, verse 19, “enter into the holiest,” or you take a negative response, verse 26, you sin willfully after you knew the truth, and you fall away, and judgment comes about. Only two responses.

After the Crucifixion, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the temple was rent in two.

Henry describes this historic and theological event for us:

The veil in the tabernacle and temple signified the body of Christ; when he died, the veil of the temple was rent in sunder, and this was at the time of the evening sacrifice, and gave the people a surprising view into the holy of holies, which they never had before. Our way to heaven is by a crucified Saviour; his death is to us the way of life. To those who believe this he will be precious.

The rest of the verses in this reading give us a practical application of what we are to do in our Christian journey.

Henry says the following about the change in tone. He, like many others of his era, believed that Paul wrote Hebrews, although subsequent scholars do not:

And now we have gone through the doctrinal part of the epistle, in which we have met with many things dark and difficult to be understood, which we must impute to the weakness and dulness of our own minds. The apostle now proceeds to apply this great doctrine, so as to influence their affections, and direct their practice, setting before them the dignities and duties of the gospel state.

MacArthur says of this transition and the preceding verses:

it’s an appeal for men to come to Christ is what it is, on the basis of doctrine. You see, no biblical appeal is ever really made apart from a solid foundation in doctrine. That’s true all the way through Scripture. All solid appeals are based on doctrine. And so ten chapters of basic doctrine about the identity of Christ and finally he says, “Now here’s the opportunity for you to respond.” And the first, then, is a positive response, and would to God that this would be the response that all men would have, that you tonight who don’t know Christ would have even tonight.

The positive response is salvation. Now, salvation is made up of three features, and these are common in our understanding throughout the Scripture: faith, hope, and what’s the third? Love. Faith, hope, love. Now, if you’ll notice the text, first of all is faith. “Let us draw near,” verse [22]Verse 23, “Let us hold fast.” And then there’s love, verse 24, “Let us consider one another.”

Three statements beginning with “Let us,” one having to do with faith, one having to do with hope and one having to do with love. And they really kind of separate into three features the experience of salvation. Salvation is drawing near, holding fast and loving each other. That’s the fullness of salvation. Somebody who draws near and falls away, that’s not salvation. Somebody who draws near, sticks around a while but doesn’t love his brother falls under the qualifications of 1 John, in which it says, “If any man say he love God and love not his brother” – he’s what? – “he’s a liar.”

And so salvation could be kind of dissected into faith, hope, and love. Faith in God, holding fast to our hope, and loving each other, that indicates a true believer. And so he’s talking about a real response. “Come on,” he says, “draw near, hold fast and love each other.” And what he’s really saying, pushed into one statement, is: “Take a positive response to the gospel.”

MacArthur describes the Holy of Holies and the significance it has even today for orthodox Jews:

You remember that in the Old Testament, as we’ve been studying, there was a tabernacle or a temple, and inside of the totality of this outer courtyard there was what was called the holy places, the holy place, and inside, separated by a veil, was the Holy of Holies. And in the Holy of Holies, God dwelt. And no man could enter into that place except the high priest once a year to offer atonement for the sins of the nation Israel. But now he is saying, “You all can enter into God’s presence. The veil has been torn down, and you can all enter in, and you can enter in boldly.”

So we have this new entrance, you see, into the holiest by the blood of Jesus. And, of course, this is a fantastic statement to a Jew because to a Jew, entering into the holiest is absolutely forbidden. And if a Jew ever tried to do that under the old economy, he would’ve been instantly consumed in the flames of the fire of almighty wrath. And no Jew would ever conceive of going into the Holy of Holies.

In fact, it’s interesting. If you go to Jerusalem, you’ll find out that there’s a certain area of the temple ground where it is forbidden to Jews to ever walk there because it may be the area where the Holy of Holies once stood, and no Jew would ever put his foot on the Holy of Holies. Therefore, there are big signs outside the gates of the temple that say Orthodox Jews have been forbidden by the rabbi to enter into this place lest they step on the Holy of Holies.

They have a fear, still today, the Orthodox Jews, of ever going into the presence of God. But because of the new covenant, he says we can have boldness. We don’t even go in sheepishly, saying, “God, I’m coming, don’t step on me,” see. We can enter in boldly. It’s a fantastic concept for the Jewish mind to understand. Now, when he uses the term “brethren,” just a point of information, when he uses the term “brethren” here as on other occasions in the book of Hebrews and also in the book of Romans, he’s talking to Jewish brethren, not Christians.

“Having, therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus,” I think, has primary reference to the Jews, to the brotherhood of Jews as it is so used elsewhere in Hebrews and, as I said, in Romans. On the basis of all that you’ve learned, therefore, on the basis of everything I’ve said in chapter 7, 8, 9, and 10 about the openness, about the fact that Jesus made the perfect sacrifice, that Jesus provided access, that Jesus provided entrance, on the fact of all of that, you have boldness to go on in and meet God person-to-person. The blood of Jesus has opened the way.

You see, in the Old Testament there was a lot of blood being shed, but none of it ever opened up the veil, did it? All of the blood of all of the animals never did it. It couldn’t open the way. It couldn’t do it.

MacArthur says that the Parable of the Prodigal Son has to do with God’s forgiveness and treating us as if we were made new again, just as the prodigal’s father treated him:

… the prodigal who went away came to himself, realizing he’s having – he’d spent all of his means, and he wound up in a pigpen, slopping pigs. “And he said to himself, ‘I will arise and go to my father.’” You say, “Well, that’s real good. Who wouldn’t in your situation?” But that isn’t how God sees it. God takes a man when he comes, whatever his reason.

“And he arose and he went.” And you find him – when he gets back, and you find him in his father’s house. You don’t find him outside the door. You don’t find him peeking through the portholes or the windows or whatever. He’s in the house. Sovereign grace has given him boldness to enter the house. Why not? He confessed his sin. He received the kiss of reconciliation. The father put on him the best robe, gave him a ring for his finger. He was fitted to enter the father’s house, and that’s where you find him, not outside looking in. Boldness.

And so in the passage of the prodigal, we are told the prodigal had been, in a sense, perfected. He had been made fit to enter the father’s house. And so it is in the experience of one who comes to God. Jesus Christ puts the right robe on, the right ring on his finger, and gives him the right things so that he may enter the Father’s house and not be in the wrong place. He can go in boldly. And, of course, those in Judaism were afraid. This whole concept was so revolutionary to them. There was no way they were going to understand it in the first – the first time it was indicated. That’s why it’s been repeated so many times in the book of Hebrews.

Therefore, the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross is the new way (verse 20) of coming to the Lord God.

MacArthur explains the word ‘new’ in the original Greek manuscript:

The word “new” is a very rare word in the New Testament. It is not the typical word for “new,” neos, kainos, none of those words. It is this word: prospheton. You know what it means? Freshly slaughtered. That’s the literal meaning. What it says is we have boldness to enter into the holiness by the blood of Jesus by a freshly slaughtered and living way. How vivid. How vivid. Who was it that was freshly slaughtered that opened the way? Jesus Christ, a freshly slain road to God. All the old sacrifices didn’t make it.

The old road was a dead road. It wasn’t a new and living way. It was an old, dead one. There wasn’t any life there. The old way was only an index finger pointing to the new road – in Christ. And I love the fact that it’s been at least 30 years since Jesus died when this was written, but it’s still fresh. It’s still a freshly slaughtered way. Isn’t that terrific? You know, under the old economy, you had to sacrifice an animal all the time, every day, every day, every day, every day, and every year through the Yom Kippur ceremony, all the time, over and over and over and over. Jesus Christ was slain once, and His slaying is fresh, and still just as fresh today, 2,000 years later, as it was the day it happened.

His sacrifice is effectual for all of time and thus it is spoken of as fresh. It’s ever fresh because He’s really the Lamb slain from before the foundations of the world. His sacrifice is always fresh. And for the man who comes to Jesus Christ tonight, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is fresh. Because the Bible says through the Apostle Paul that the moment you’re saved, you die with Christ. “You are crucified with Christ, nevertheless you live.” And so in a very real sense, Christ’s crucifixion is just as fresh as the moment that you experience Him. It’s a fresh way. Not only that, it’s a living way.

Oh, that’s exciting. And that talks about resurrection. How can you have a slain and a living sacrifice? It never worked in the Old Testament. You had a dead one, and that was it. None of those animals bounced back to come alive again. None of those pieces joined back together. But here, it’s a living way. Jesus isn’t even a dead sacrifice. He’s alive. He’s risen. And he’s seated at the right hand of the Father, making intercession for us. And so it’s a living way because the sacrifice is alive.

The author of Hebrews says that, in Christ, we have a great high priest presiding over the house of God, the Church (verse 21).

MacArthur explains the significance of our great high priest, who could do what the priests of the Old Covenant could never accomplish:

… when the high priest in Israel went into the Holy of Holies on that one day, he just brushed the veil aside and went in. When Christ died, He didn’t brush the veil aside. He split it from top to bottom, and left it wide open

The term “high priest” here is really translated “great priest.” And it is used, perhaps, in ancient Hebrew to speak of the high priest but it is accurately the great priest. And He, the great priest, is there in God’s presence mediating for us. You see? And the term “the house of God” has to do with all believers. All believers. Peter uses it thusly in 1 Peter 4:17 and Paul in Ephesians 2:21 and 22. All believers are seen, then, in a sense, as the house of God, the habitation of God. And so Jesus Christ opened the way, a new and living way, but He didn’t only open it, He took us in there with Him

Jesus Christ not only pointed out the access to God, but He took me by the arm and ushered me into His presence, and He sits there with me. In Revelation chapter 3, it says that I sit on the throne with Jesus, who sits on the Father’s throne. It’s a beautiful thought. And so He’s the great priest in the presence of God, living to intercede for me. His life is there, and He is there. And Romans 5:10 says if His death could do so much to save me, oh, what His life must be doing in the presence of God to keep me, as He’s there, securing my place in the presence of God.

I’m anchored there by His presence, because I’m inseparably and eternally connected to Him. Do you see? He that is joined to the Lord is what? One spirit. And the Lord is in there, in the throne of God, seated at the right hand of God, in His presence. And if He’s there, I’m there with Him, because we’re one.

The author of Hebrews then goes into what we must do to remain believers.

We must approach our Lord with a true heart, a full assurance of faith, our hearts cleansed — as if by the sacrificial cleansing room of the tabernacle — sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water (verse 23).

MacArthur elaborates on the meaning of this verse:

… “Let us draw near honestly” – now watch this – “in full assurance of” – what? – “faith.” In full assurance of faith. He must come to God in faith. Not works, not self-righteousness. Faith. And not doubting, but believing God. “He that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that” – what? – “diligently seek Him.” You must believe to come to God, and that’s really all God asks, is that you believe. Believing is so important …

“Come with full assurance of faith, having our hearts” – and here’s what happens when we come – “our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” When you come to God through Jesus Christ, something begins to happen.

Now, you remember that this is, of course, a picture of the Old Testament ritual. The priest would wash himself. The holy things were cleansed. And everything was sprinkled with the blood of the sacrifice. And all through all of this sprinkling of blood and everything, the priest was constantly bathing and cleansing himself in the laver, which was the basin of clear water. But it was all external, you see. You see, it was the body and everything else sprinkled. And it was the body washed with water. It never got inside. Only Jesus can really cleanse a man’s heart. His is no external purification, but by His Spirit He cleanses the inmost thoughts and desires of a man.

Now, notice the statement “having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” This is a beautiful picture of deliverance. The same kind of deliverance in chapter 9, verse 14, where it says, “He purges our conscience.” Conscience condemns. Conscience brings guilt. And the guilt can never be removed until the sin is removed. And when Jesus died, His blood removed our sins, and thus our conscience becomes free from guilt.

When Jesus’ blood is shed and we believe, our sins are forgiven. And when the burden of a guilt-ridden conscience is removed, we’ve been cleansed from an evil conscience. The precious blood of Jesus Christ removes the evil conscience, that condemning, guilty feeling, and we don’t condemn ourselves anymore.

Now, that has to do with God’s side. You see, when you’re saved, sin is forgiven. Sin is forgiven. You’re sprinkled, as it were. Like on the Passover, the blood was sprinkled and the angel of death passed by. You’re sprinkled and cleaned. That’s satisfaction toward God, or expiation, if you want a theological word. It’s the cleansing that applies toward God. In other words, sin is removed.

But, secondly, there is something that has to do with you. Our bodies are washed with pure water. And here we have simply the idea that there is a cleansing that goes on within us by the Spirit of God. First of all, blood is sprinkled to satisfy God. Then you and I are cleansed on the inside by water.

Now, some people say that’s baptism, but it can’t be baptism. That’s not the point there. In John chapter 3, verse 5, it talks about being washed by the water and the Spirit, or being born again by the water and the Spirit, and the water there is really the water of the Word that cleanses us.

In Titus chapter 3, verse 5, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us by the washing of regeneration.” And there you have a spiritual metaphor, the washing of regeneration. In Ephesians chapter 5, you have a similar statement in verse 26, or at least one that can apply, “that He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the Word.” You see, this is talking about a spiritual cleansing. So you have two things when you’re saved. Number one, God is satisfied, and two, you’re changed. You see?

We must hold fast to the hope we confessed without wavering (verse 23). That means refusing apostasy.

Henry explains:

Here observe, (1.) The duty itself–to hold fast the profession of our faith, to embrace all the truths and ways of the gospel, to get fast hold of them, and to keep that hold against all temptation and opposition. Our spiritual enemies will do what they can to wrest our faith, and hope, and holiness, and comfort, out of our hands, but we must hold fast our religion as our best treasure. (2.) The manner in which we must do this–without wavering, without doubting, without disputing, without dallying with temptation to apostasy. Having once settled these great things between God and our souls, we must be stedfast and immovable. Those who begin to waver in matters of Christian faith and practice are in danger of falling away. (3.) The motive or reason enforcing this duty: He is faithful that hath promised. God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word; there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace sufficient.

We are asked to provoke each other to love and good deeds (verse 24), i.e. the fruits of faith.

MacArthur explains the word ‘provoke’ in Greek:

You need each other. You need to love each other. You need to kind of irritate” – the word “provoke” literally is “irritate,” it’s a negative word. “Irritate each other into good works.” Paroxusmos. Stimulate good works and stimulate love. These are the things that go together in the Christian experience, love and good works.

We can compare that to the grit that irritates an oyster into producing a magnificent pearl. Out of something irritating comes a thing of true beauty.

Finally, we are to continue in fellowship, not only occasionally, as some do, but encouraging each other to come together in worship, all the more as the Day approaches (verse 25).

For those Jews, it was the coming of the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. This passage was written in AD 62. The temple was destroyed eight years later.

For us, this means the day we die as well as the Day of Judgement, whenever it comes. We must be prepared at all times, and worship helps us to do that.

Henry says:

There was a day approaching, a terrible day to the Jewish nation, when their city should be destroyed, and the body of the people rejected of God for rejecting Christ. This would be a day of dispersion and temptation to the chosen remnant. Now the apostle puts them upon observing what signs there were of the approach of such a terrible day, and upon being the more constant in meeting together and exhorting one another, that they might be the better prepared for such a day. There is a trying day coming on us all, the day of our death, and we should observe all the signs of its approaching, and improve them to greater watchfulness and diligence in duty.

The ensuing verses have to do with apostasy but end on an encouraging note of faith, endurance and compassion:

Hebrews 10:26-31 – God, Jesus, apostasy the worst sin, eternal judgement

Hebrews 10:32-39 – faith, endurance, compassion

I hope that this exposition helps give deeper meaning to our Lord’s deep and humiliating sacrifice on Good Friday, sufficient for the sins of the whole world, past and present.

Only through it could we be reconciled to God.

May we be forever grateful.

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