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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.

The readings for Monday of Holy Week can be found here.

The exegesis on the Gospel reading is here.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 9:11-15

9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),

9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.

9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,

9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

9:15 For this reason he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, because a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions under the first covenant.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The author of Hebrews explains that Christ is the great High Priest, making the ultimate sacrifice of Himself for our sins.

I wrote about the Book of Hebrews in 2019, which included the first two sets of verses in this chapter:

Hebrews 9:1-5 – the original tabernacle, tent, God, Jesus

The author of Hebrews describes the original tent, or tabernacle, that God instructed Moses to build (Exodus 25). Even then, during the Old Covenant, everything in it pointed to Christ and the eventual New Covenant. The author calls that tabernacle ‘the earthly holy place’, as the true holy place is in heaven, where Jesus reigns as King and Great High Priest.

Hebrews 9:6-10 – rituals of the Jewish priests

The author discusses the rituals of the Jewish priests, which were temporary, albeit divinely ordained, until the Crucifixion, the one and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

The author wants his Jewish audience to grasp that the tabernacle of the Old Testament prefigures Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur explains the significance of the tabernacle in both the Old and the New Covenants:

Now let’s look at it beginning in verse 2. “There was a tabernacle.” Now we’re talking about the old covenant, the ceremonies and rituals of Israel. There was a tabernacle. Now he’s dealing here with the tabernacle rather than the temple, because he wants to pull out the primary things that God placed initially in that tabernacle, and it was the earthiest of the two between the tabernacle and the temple. It was the most transitory and passing thing because of its mobility and the substance of which it was made, so it illustrates his truth. But he starts out by saying there was a tabernacle made. Now that tent is very important, and I dare say we don’t know nearly as much about it as we ought to. Do you know there are only two chapters in the Bible that talk about creation and there are 50 chapters that talk about the tabernacle? That is important. The tabernacle is important and demands attention from us in our study, because the tabernacle is a giant picture of Jesus Christ. It is a gigantic portrait of Christ in every detail. God laid out all the plans, and you look at it and it’s just Christ everywhere you look.

For example, let’s begin. This was a big tent. It was 150 feet long and it was 75 feet wide. And there was only one gate, and it was on the east. And it was 30 feet wide, seven-and-a-half feet high, and many people could go through it. Now that is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who said, “I am the way,” who also said, “I am the door.” To the tabernacle or the place of God there was only one door. How many doors are there to God now? One door, Jesus Christ. So the fact of one door pictures Jesus Christ. Christianity is very exclusive, men only come to God through Jesus Christ.

MacArthur describes the tabernacle in detail so that we understand its parallels with Christ:

Now let’s assume that we started at the east and we were going into the 150-by-75-foot tent. The outside was a curtain that was not covered, and we would move then, and he just doesn’t even get into this but let me fill in. We would move into the courtyard, the outer court of the tabernacle. And we would see some furniture there which he doesn’t mention because of their obvious familiarity with it. But as we walk from the east going in, we would first of all come to the brazen altar.

Now the brazen altar it was just that, it was made of acacia wood. It was seven-and-a-half feet square, so it was a large altar. It stood four-and-a-half feet off the ground. The top was covered by a brass grate, and the coals were underneath the grate and the sacrifice was placed on the grate. On four corners of the alter were the horns of the altar to which the animal was bound when it was being sacrificed. The brazen altar is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, the one who was a sacrifice for sin.

Having moved past that continuing west, we would come to the next piece of furniture that is in the court, and that is the laver, or a wash area. This is made of brass. In it the priest washed their hands and used it also to wash their feet as they went about the bloody services of sacrifice. It again is a picture of Jesus Christ who is the cleanser of his people. And it’s a wonderful picture when you put the two together. Once we have come to the brazen altar and received forgiveness for sins, we are not through. We still need to go to the laver for the daily cleansing that brings about restoration and the pure joy of full fellowship. So both of them picture Jesus. And together they picture the work of Christ on earth, as he provided the forgiveness and the cleansing in the cross.

Then we’re still going west and we come to the tabernacle itself. 45 feet long, 15 feet wide, 15 feet high. The holy place took up two-thirds of it, which meant that the holy of holies was a perfect cube, 15 by 15 by 15, the other 15 by 15 by 30. We would go into the holy place, if we were priests, and in there we would find three pieces of furniture, and here the writer only mentions two. As I say, he’s in a hurry; he doesn’t have time for details, and they know them all as well as the back of their hand anyway. And we would move then into the holy place, and first of all on the left side would appear the golden lampstand. The seven-lit golden lampstand that the pure olive oil that was placed there for the fire. This golden lampstand was beaten out of solid gold. Then we would look to the right and we would see the table of showbread. This was made of acacia wood, again overlaid with gold. It was three feet long, one-and-a-half feet wide and about two-and-a-quarter-feet high off the ground. And on it every Sabbath they laid 12 loaves, one for every tribe in Israel, six in two rows. And at the end of the week the priests ate it, and only the priests were allowed to eat it.

Then continuing to the center, we would see the Altar of Incense. It again was made of acacia wood and it was sheathed in gold. It was one-and-a-half feet square, three feet high. And on this were placed the burning coals from the brazen altar way out in the courtyard where sacrifice was made. Then you say, “Well what are these three things supposed to be all about?” Again, they are pictures of Jesus Christ.

Let me show you what I mean. In the outer courtyard, all the things out there are connected with salvation and the cleansing of sin. Now where did Jesus accomplish salvation and the cleansing of sin? On the earth. And that’s the courtyard, outside God’s presence. The very fact that it was the outer court, accessible to all the people pictures Christ in the world openly manifesting himself before men. But when he goes into the holy place, he is shut off from the men of the world. And so whatever it is that’s going on in the holy place it’ll have to do with that which he does when he gets back to heaven. And what are the three things that Jesus does when he gets back to heaven? Number one, he lights our path. Number two, he feeds us. And number three, he intercedes for us. And so the three pieces of furniture in the holy place are pictures of Jesus Christ. The golden lampstand is Christ, the light of life, not the light of the world. He’s not the light of the world when he’s in there. He said listen to it carefully in the Gospel of John, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” But when he left the world, the world was left in darkness, and he is only for the believer, the light of life. Don’t confuse that. It’s talking about his work in heaven. He is the light of life. He is the light that directs our paths. He is the one who through the Spirit illumines our mind, who understands spiritual truth. He is the one by the indwelling Spirit that guides us through the world of darkness. He is our light.

And then we look to the right and we see the table of showbread and Jesus is our sustenance. He’s the one who feeds us every day, who sustains us, and he sustains us with the Word. In fact, the Word is not only our food, the Word is our light, and the oil is the Spirit of God who lights the Word for us. You might say the light is our food on the other side and the Spirit is our waiter. And then we come to the altar of incense which pictures the sacrificial coals placed there and the incense smoke rising, and this is Jesus interceding for us. The perfect sacrifice became the intercessory. And so all three picture Jesus’ work in heaven for us. But we don’t stop there.

Look at verse 3. We go through a second veil, and we couldn’t do this, could we? Only if we were high priests and only once a year on one day. But in our minds, let’s go. And we go after the second veil into the tabernacle, which is called the holiest of all, the holy of holies. And we get in there and there’s only one piece of furniture, and what was it? It was the Ark of the Covenant, and it contained Aaron’s rod that budded, and it contained manna, and it contained the tables of law. It was simply made of acacia wood. It too was overlaid with gold about 3’9” long, 2’3” wide, and about 2 feet high, just a box. And the lid on top of it was called what? Look at verse. Which had the golden censer, we’ll get to that later, and the Ark of the Covenant overlaid roundabout with gold in which was the golden pot, manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, the tables of the covenant. Verse 5, “And over it the cherubim of glory showing the mercy seat.” On top of this was the mercy seat, as it’s called. And over the mercy seat on two ends were cherubim, that’s angels, whose wings stretched over and almost touched. The mercy seat was made of gold; the angels were solid gold. And it was between the wings of those angels on the mercy seat that God met men.

In Exodus 25:22, God said, “I’ll commune with you from above the mercy seat from between the cherubim.” And if God and man were to have any meeting place, they only met there. But you see isn’t it tragic that under the Old Testament economy there was only one guy who could go in there and he had to hurry in and hurry out, because there wasn’t ever really any access at all. And the people never got any further than the outer court; they never even got into the holy place. But here was the Ark. You say, “What does that represent?” It represents Jesus Christ who is the true mercy seat. When you meet Jesus Christ as Savior, you are ushered into the presence of God.

God no longer communes with men between the wings of the cherubim. He communes with men no longer on the top of a gold mercy seat. He communes with men because they come to him in the name of whom? Jesus Christ. He is the mercy seat. Only on the basis of the blood of a goat would God have fellowship with Israel, and only on the basis of the blood of Christ will God have fellowship with men. Christ is the mercy seat, the meeting place of God and men. So we see the sanctuary. It had divine services, but it was earthly, and it was so temporary and passing and it never provided true access. So the writer speaks of the sanctuary. Let’s look at the services, and this is going to be interesting especially in reference to the Day of Atonement … in Israel’s calendar.

Verse 6, “Now when these things were thus prepared,” – when the furniture was all set up, watch what happened – “the priest went always into the first tabernacle accomplishing the service of God.” The first one was called the Holy Place. They went in there every day; they had to go in every day to trim the oil on the lampstand. They had to go in there every day to put the incense on the altar of incense, and they had to go in every Sabbath day to change the 12 loaves of bread. So they were in and out of there every day. Every day, every day, every day they went into the holy place. This was a never-ceasing work. It’s again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who does not cease lighting, who does not cease feeding, who does not cease interceding on our behalf. It is perpetual. It is continual. It is unceasing. Aren’t you glad you have a Christ like that who never stops his priestly work? Every day, every day, every day going about doing it on our behalf.

But verse 7, “Into the second, or the holy of all, went the high priest alone once every year, and not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the errors of the people.” Now this is interesting, and I want us to take a minute to see this. What happens in Israel historically is important to us, because so much of it pictures Christ. But nothing pictures Christ more than this event. The statement in verse 7 refers to the Day of Atonement, or Yom KippurNow the Day of Atonement is again a perfect picture of Christ. He doesn’t spend any detail on it because they knew it well, but I’m going to take a moment to spend some detail. We know that God had a relationship with Israel, but every time Israel sinned, what happened to the relationship? It was broken. So every day they’d come and they’d make sacrifices and it would be kind of reconnected. But all through the year sins would pile up that you forgot about that you didn’t know you committed; that’s why they’re called errors rather than sins. The things you didn’t know and you forgot about and you didn’t confess and you didn’t make a sacrifice for would pile up. So the Day of Atonement was kind of a catch-all. All of the ones for which you had not made direct sacrifice would be gathered together, and they would all be covered in the sacrifice of the Day of Atonement for the whole nation. So it was a great day of liberty of the conscience. I mean you knew all through the year that you’d be racking up and you know you remembered some of them but you hadn’t remembered all of them, and so you longed for the Day of Atonement when the sacrifice was made and at least for a few minutes you could be free.

Sin severed the relationship. Only forgiveness through sacrifice could put it together, and so there needed to be a catch-all to pick up the things the people had forgotten. And so that was the Day of Atonement. Now let’s look at the ritual. Very early in the morning the priest arose, not from the dead but from the bed. And he cleansed himself by washing; he washed himself thoroughly. Then he put on some robes that were reserved for this day; they’re the robes of glory and beauty, fancy robes. There was the robe of the ephod, and on the robe of the ephod the shoulders were two large onyx stones, and each of those onyx stones had six of the tribes’ names engraved on them. On the tunic, which was on the breastplate, was also 12 precious stones, each one of them having on it engraved one name of a tribe. So he bore, remember we saw this a few weeks ago, the names of Israel on his shoulders and on his heart. And there he is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ who takes us not only on his heart, which means he cares for us, but on his shoulders, which means he’s not only willing, he’s what? He’s able. That’s power; that’s strength.

And so the high priest then carried the people to God on his heart and on his shoulders, and I’m sure that he wished he could give them access to the holy place. And I’m sure his heart ached to give them access to God. I’m sure he ached to have it himself. He had it on his heart, but he didn’t really have the strength in his shoulders. That was a picture of Jesus who would come and be willing and also be able. And so the high priest got himself all cleaned up and put on his robes. Then he began to do his daily sacrifices. He had to go through the whole routine of all the sacrifice. One writer says, “Very likely he would’ve already slaughtered 22 different animals by the time he reached the event known as Atonement.” Very busy and a very bloody thing that he did every day.

And so he went all through the sacrifices, and when he was done, he finished all of that. He removed his gorgeous robes. He took of the robes of glory and beauty, went and bathed himself again from top to bottom so that he was completely clean, and then he put on – now mark this one, this is interesting. He then put on pure white linen with no decoration at all, and it was a symbol of holiness and it was a symbol of purity. And it is a perfect symbol of Jesus Christ who in the work of atonement stripped of all of his glory and all of his beauty and became the humblest of humble, dressed in the simplest, if you will say so, linen of human flesh. But notice it’s still white. In all of his humility, he never lost his, what? His holiness.

And so when Jesus came to do the work of sacrifice to make the atonement for sin, he took of the glory but he never took off the purity and he never took off the holiness. And so again a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, and it’s interesting to note also that when the high priest was done with the sacrifice of atonement, he put right back on the robes of glory and beauty. Remember Jesus after he’d come to the cross and he was preparing for the cross and his prayer in John 17 he said, “Father, I finished the work you gave me to do, now glorify me with the glory that I had before the world began. Father, give me back my robes. I’ve done the job of atonement.” That’s exactly what the priest pictured, perfect picture.

And so the priest then put on the robes of linen, simple robes. The procedures then were as follows. In the robe of white linen, or the garments of white linen, the priest took coals off the altar. That’s the brazen altar where sacrifice is going to be made. He put them then in a censer with incense, and he carried it clear into the holy of holies. Now you’ll notice that tells that in verse 4, “Which had the golden censer.” That was not a piece of furniture in there, but the high priest on the day of atonement filled it with coals off the altar of sacrifice and took it and put it in the holy of holies, and it’s a beautiful picture of Christ again. He realizes that it is only because of Jesus Christ that he can even enter into there. So before he does any sacrifice at all, he takes that which represents Christ and puts it in there in the presence of God, for no man can come into the presence of God except Christ make the way. And so the picture of incense is always the picture of prayer and intercession. So he makes sure that the picture of Christ interceding before God opens the way for him to come in.

So he puts the censer in there and smoke fills the place from the censer. No man can approach God except Christ be there first

Then there were the sacrifices of two goats. One was the scapegoat, probably carried off into the wild but left alive. The other goat was sacrificed in death, as God required a blood sacrifice:

The first goat satisfies God. The second goat satisfies us. The two are not two offerings but one. Listen to Leviticus 16:5, “And he shall take two kids of a goat for a sin offering.” They’re just two parts of the same thing. So in that offering there was satisfaction to God. There was satisfaction for men. Propitiation, if you will, and pardon. In both cases, it was substitution. Now those are perfect copies of Jesus, aren’t they? Jesus who was the substitution, propitiation, he died on the altar and shed his blood. Jesus who bore away our sins.

The point of the first ten verses of Hebrews 9 is to show that the Old Covenant was temporary because of its limitations. Christ made the New Covenant perfect.

MacArthur says:

Could people get into the holy place? No. Could they get into the holy of holies? Absolutely not. The whole thing was meant to prove that without a redeemer, without a Messiah, without a Savior there’s no access to God, see? The Holy Spirit was saying that. He was teaching through the old system its very limitations.

Therefore, the author of Hebrews says that Christ came as a high priest of things that have come — or, as some translations say, ‘to come’ — through a greater and perfect tent, not of any existing creation, i.e. man’s labour, things of nature (verse 11).

He entered into the holy place, not with the blood of ritual sacrifice, but His own blood, thereby obtaining redemption for mankind and ending the sacrificial system (verse 12).

Matthew Henry points out that Christ’s sacrifice was perfect, unlike that of the Old Testament Jews who had to conduct the Day of Atonement ceremonies every year:

3. Christ, our high priest, has entered into heaven, not as their high priest entered into the holiest, with the blood of bulls and of goats, but by his own blood, typified by theirs, and infinitely more precious. And this,

4. Not for one year only, which showed the imperfection of that priesthood, that it did but typically obtain a year’s reprieve or pardon. But our high priest entered into heaven once for all, and has obtained not a yearly respite, but eternal redemption, and so needs not to make an annual entrance. In each of the types there was something that showed it was a type, and resembled the antitype, and something that showed it was but a type, and fell short of the antitype, and therefore ought by no means to be set up in competition with the antitype.

If the blood of the animal sacrifices purified, if only temporarily, those who had been defiled (verse 14), how much greater then is the sacrifice of our unblemished Christ on our behalf, which cleanses our conscience and draws us to worship the living God (verse 15).

MacArthur says that Christ, through His sacrifice on the Cross, makes us new creatures on the inside, something a priest from the Old Testament could never do:

… it says, “Because he did this, he will purge your conscience.” That means clean it out and free it from guilt, total forgiveness in Jesus Christ. And it says in 10:22, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.” Boy, what a blessed thing. No longer bugged by our guilt, but free. And it says this, “Purge your conscience from dead works.” That’s inward defilement. He cleans the inside. You see the old priest could cover up on the outside; Jesus cleans the inside. The old system could cleanse externally; the new one can change a man’s nature. It removes inward defilement. What it does is change his nature. The old one covered up, the outside, this one changes the man on the inside. “If any man because in Christ Jesus,” what? Not just cleaned up old creature but what? New creature. In the old economy, it would’ve have to been this: If any man does the sacrifice, he’s a cleaned-up old creature. In Christ, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature. Removes inward defilement.

For that reason, Christ is the mediator of the New Covenant; those who are called may receive that promised inheritance for eternity, because His death redeems them from the transgressions of the Old Covenant (verse 15).

Henry offers this analysis:

Here observe, [1.] What it was that gave such efficacy to the blood of Christ. First, It was his offering himself to God, the human nature upon the altar of his divine nature, he being priest, altar, and sacrifice, his divine nature serving for the two former, and his human nature for the last now such a priest, altar, and sacrifice, could not but be propitiatory. Secondly, It was Christ’s offering up himself to God through the eternal Spirit, not only as the divine nature supported the human, but the Holy Ghost, which he had without measure, helping him in all, and in this great act of obedience offering himself. Thirdly, It was Christ’s offering himself to God without spot, without any sinful stain either in his nature or life; this was conformable to the law of sacrifices, which required them to be without blemish. Now further observe, [2.] What the efficacy of Christ’s blood is; it is very great. For, First, It is sufficient to purge the conscience from dead works, it reaches to the very soul and conscience, the defiled soul, defiled with sin, which is a dead work, proceeds from spiritual death, and tends to death eternal. As the touching of a dead body gave a legal uncleanness, so meddling with sin gives a moral and real defilement, fixes it in the very soul; but the blood of Christ has efficacy to purge it out. Secondly, It is sufficient to enable us to serve the living God, not only by purging away that guilt which separates between God and sinners, but by sanctifying and renewing the soul through the gracious influences of the Holy Spirit, purchased by Christ for this purpose, that we might be enabled to serve the living God in a lively manner.

Henry explains the use of ‘testament’ and ‘covenant’:

The gospel is here considered as a testament, the new and last will and testament of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. It is observable that the solemn transactions that pass between God and man are sometimes called a covenant, here a testament. A covenant is an agreement between two or more parties about things that are in their own power, or may be so, and this either with or without a mediator; this agreement takes effect at such time and in such manner as therein declared. A testament is a voluntary act and deed of a single person, duly executed and witnessed, bestowing legacies on such legatees as are described and characterized by the testator, and which can only take effect upon his death. Now observe, Christ is the Mediator of a New Testament (Hebrews 9:15; Hebrews 9:15); and he is so for several ends and purposes here mentioned. 1. To redeem persons from their transgressions committed against the law or first testament, which makes every transgression a forfeiture of liberty, and makes men debtors, and slaves or prisoners, who need to be redeemed. 2. To qualify all those that are effectually called to receive the promise of an eternal inheritance. These are the great legacies that Christ by his last will and testament has bequeathed to the truly characterized legatees.

I hope that helps to clarify the importance of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins, which does not seem to be covered adequately in many of our churches today, even on Good Friday.

Moving on to Tuesday of Holy Week, below are links to the readings as well as to explorations of the Epistle, the Gospel and the withered fig tree:

Readings for Tuesday of Holy Week

Contemplating the withered fig tree (2017)

More to follow in the days ahead.

Happy Christmas to my readers!

Readings for Proper III at Christmas can be found here.

The Epistle for Proper III follows (emphases mine):

Hebrews 1:1-4, (5-12)

1:1 Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets,

1:2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds.

1:3 He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,

1:4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?

1:6 And again, when he brings the firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”

1:7 Of the angels he says, “He makes his angels winds, and his servants flames of fire.”

1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of your kingdom.

1:9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.”

1:10 And, “In the beginning, Lord, you founded the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands;

1:11 they will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like clothing;

1:12 like a cloak you will roll them up, and like clothing they will be changed. But you are the same, and your years will never end.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John MacArthur summarises the purpose of the Book of Hebrews, written for a Jewish audience of converts and those not yet converted. These Jews lived in the Diaspora, therefore, not in or near Jerusalem:

In the book of Hebrews, there is confidence and assurance to the Christian. In the book of Hebrews, there is warning to the intellectually convinced that he must receive Christ or his knowledge will damn him. And finally there is a convincing presentation to the unbelieving Jew who is not intellectually convinced that he indeed should be and should believe in Jesus Christ.

And thus, to do this, was Hebrews written. It is simply, then – mark it – a presentation of Christ, the Messiah, the author of a new covenant, greater than the old one that God had made in the Old Testament. Not that the old one was wrong, it was only incomplete.

Now, the theme of the book, then, is the superiority or the preeminence of Christ. That He is better than anything they’ve got. That He is better than anything that is. He’s better than the Old Testament persons. He’s better than the Old Testament institutions. He’s better than the Old Testament rituals. He’s better than the Old Testament sacrifices. He’s better than everything.

The author of Hebrews — undetermined — says that God spoke to the Jewish ancestors in many and various ways through the prophets (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

The order in which God spoke to men in those times that went before the gospel, those past times: he spoke to his ancient people at sundry times and in divers manners. (1.) At sundry times, or by several parts, as the word signifies, which may refer either to the several ages of the Old-Testament dispensation–the patriarchal, the Mosaic, and the prophetic; or to the several gradual openings of his mind concerning the Redeemer: to Adam, that the Messiah should come of the seed of the woman,–to Abraham, that he should spring from his loins,–to Jacob, that he should be of the tribe of Judah,–to David, that he should be of his house,–to Micah, that he should be born at Bethlehem,–to Isaiah, that he should be born of a virgin. (2.) In divers manners, according to the different ways in which God though fit to communicate his mind to his prophets; sometimes by the illapses of his Spirit, sometimes by dreams, sometimes by visions, sometimes by an audible voice, sometimes by legible characters under his own hand, as when he wrote the ten commandments on tables of stone.

However, in the last days, He spoke to us through His Son, His appointed heir of all things, through whom He also created the worlds (verse 2).

Henry tells us what this means:

II. God’s method of communicating his mind and will under the New-Testament dispensation, these last days as they are called, that is, either towards the end of the world, or the end of the Jewish state. The times of the gospel are the last times, the gospel revelation is the last we are to expect from God. There was first the natural revelation; then the patriarchal, by dreams, visions, and voices; then the Mosaic, in the law given forth and written down; then the prophetic, in explaining the law, and giving clearer discoveries of Christ: but now we must expect no new revelation, but only more of the Spirit of Christ to help us better to understand what is already revealed. Now the excellency of the gospel revelation above the former consists in two things:–

1. It is the final, the finishing revelation, given forth in the last days of divine revelation, to which nothing is to be added, but the canon of scripture is to be settled and sealed: so that now the minds of men are no longer kept in suspense by the expectation of new discoveries, but they rejoice in a complete revelation of the will of God, both preceptive and providential, so far as is necessary for them to know in order to their direction and comfort. For the gospel includes a discovery of the great events that shall befal the church of God to the end of the world.

2. It is a revelation which God has made by his Son, the most excellent messenger that was ever sent into the world, far superior to all the ancient patriarchs and prophets, by whom God communicated his will to his people in former times. And here we have an excellent account of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1.) The glory of his office, and that in three respects:– [1.] God hath appointed him to be heir of all things. As God, he was equal to the Father; but, as God-man and Mediator, he was appointed by the Father to be the heir of all things, the sovereign Lord of all, the absolute disposer, director, and governor of all persons and of all things, Psalms 2:6; Psalms 2:7. All power in heaven and earth is given to him; all judgment is committed to him,Matthew 28:18; John 5:22. [2.] By him God made the worlds, both visible and invisible, the heavens and the earth; not as an instrumental cause, but as his essential word and wisdom. By him he made the old creation, by him he makes the new creature, and by him he rules and governs both. [3.] He upholds all things by the word of his power: he keeps the world from dissolving. By him all things consist. The weight of the whole creation is laid upon Christ: he supports the whole and all the parts. When, upon the apostasy, the world was breaking to pieces under the wrath and curse of God, the Son of God, undertaking the work of redemption, bound it up again, and established it by his almighty power and goodness. None of the ancient prophets sustained such an office as this, none was sufficient for it.

MacArthur explains the Greek in the original manuscript:

“By whom also He made the worlds.” That is, Christ is the agent through which God created the world; bydia  – means through. The agency through which God created is Christ. John 1:3 says, “All things were made by Him; without Him was not anything made that was made.” Jesus Christ is the agent of creation. Now, my friends, I’ve said this many times, and to me, it’s a great single proof of who Jesus was. Jesus had the ability to create, and that set Him apart from man …

That establishes His absolute superiority over everything. He created everything material. He created everything spiritual. And man has stained His creation with sin, but Christ made it good originally, and even the creation, according to Romans 8, groans to be restored to what it knew in the beginning. Now, I want you to catch a little thought here, that’s kind of hidden if you don’t understand the Greek. At the end of verse 2, it says, “By whom also He made the worlds.” The common Greek word for world is kosmos, but that is not the word that is here. The word that is here is aiōnas.

It does not mean the material world, it means the ages; it means the ages. And he is not saying that Jesus Christ is only responsible for the physical earth. He is saying that Christ is responsible for creating the very concepts of time, space, force, action, and matter. Christ is responsible for creating the whole universe of time and space; that’s what he’s saying. He does not use the word kosmos, restricting it to this earth, but He makes Christ the creator of the universe, of the ages, of all concepts, and bounds of existence. Christ made it all, every bit of it, without effort.

Christ is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, sustaining everything by His powerful word; when He reconciled us to the Father at the Crucifixion, He sat — and continues to sit — at His right hand (verse 3).

Henry tells us:

He that hath known the Son hath known the Father, John 14:7-43.14.9. For the Son is in the Father, and the Father in the Son; the personal distinction is no other than will consist with essential union. This is the glory of the person of Christ; the fulness of the Godhead dwells, not typically, but really, in him …

From the glory of his sufferings we are at length led to consider the glory of his exaltation: When by himself he had purged away our sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, at his Father’s right hand. As Mediator and Redeemer, he is invested with the highest honour, authority, and activity, for the good of his people; the Father now does all things by him, and receives all the services of his people from him. Having assumed our nature, and suffered in it on earth, he has taken it up with him to heaven, and there it has the high honour to be next to God, and this was the reward of his humiliation.

The author of Hebrews then discusses Christ’s superiority to the angels, which held a very high place in the Jewish mind of the day.

The author says that Christ is superior to the angels and the name He inherited is far superior to theirs (verse 4).

MacArthur explains why the author wrote that verse and the following three:

their views had begun to wander from the basic Old Testament context, because of all the Talmudic writings and the rabbinical feelings and ideas, they began to wander off the main biblical points of angels. And they came up with some interesting views of angels, so that when the writer of Hebrews is writing, He is writing not only with a true backdrop of a biblical view of angels, but he’s writing against a backdrop of the Jewish common concept of angels.

The author asks to which angels did God ever say “You are my Son; today I have begotten you”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son” (verse 5), which is pointing to the pre-eminence of Christ.

Henry looks at the language used in the ancient manuscript:

When it is said that Christ was made so much better than the angels, we are not to imagine that he was a mere creature, as the angels are; the word genomenos, when joined with an adjective, is nowhere to be rendered created, and here may very well be read, being more excellent, as the Syriac version hath it. We read ginesthe ho Theos aletheslet God be true, not made so, but acknowledged to be so

1. It was said of Christ, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee (Psalms 2:7), which may refer to his eternal generation, or to his resurrection, or to his solemn inauguration into his glorious kingdom at his ascension and session at the right hand of the Father. Now this was never said concerning the angels, and therefore by inheritance he has a more excellent nature and name than they.

2. It was said concerning Christ, but never concerning the angels, I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son; taken from Hebrews 2:7. Not only, “I am his Father, and he is my Son, by nature and eternal promanation;” but, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my Son, by wonderful conception, and this his son-ship shall be the fountain and foundation of every gracious relation between me and fallen man.”

The author points out that when Christ came to earth, God said that the angels should worship him (verse 6), thereby making Him superior to them.

Henry says:

God will not suffer an angel to continue in heaven who will not be in subjection to Christ, and pay adoration to him; and he will at last make the fallen angels and wicked men to confess his divine power and authority and to fall before him. Those who would not have him to reign must then be brought forth and slain before him. The proof of this is taken out of Psalms 97:7, Worship him, all you gods, that is, “All you that are superior to men, own yourselves to be inferior to Christ in nature and power.”

The author says that God makes His angels winds and, as His servants, flames of fire (verse 7).

Henry explains:

What does God say here of the angels? He maketh his angels spirits, and his ministers a flame of fire. This we have in Psalms 104:4, where it seems to be more immediately spoken of the winds and lightning, but is here applied to the angels, whose agency the divine Providences makes use of in the winds, and in thunder and lightnings. Observe, [1.] The office of the angels: they are God’s ministers, or servants, to do his pleasure. It is the glory of God that he has such servants; it is yet more so that he does not need them. [2.] How the angels are qualified for this service; he makes them spirits and a flame of fire, that is, he endows them with light and zeal, with activity and ability, readiness and resolution to do his pleasure: they are no more than what God has made them to be, and they are servants to the Son as well as to the Father.

In the remaining verses, the author indicates the power and superiority of Christ over all creation.

His throne endures forever, the scepter of God’s kingdom (verse 8).

Henry says the verse comes from Psalm 45:

Psalms 45:6; Psalms 45:7, where God declares of Christ, First, His true and real divinity, and that with much pleasure and affection, not grudging him that glory: Thy throne, O God. Here one person calls another person God, O God. And, if God the Father declares him to be so, he must be really and truly so; for God calls persons and things as they areSecondly, God declares his dignity and dominion, as having a throne, a kingdom, and a sceptre of that kingdom. He has all right, rule, authority, and power, both as the God of nature, grace, and glory, and as Mediator; and so he is fully adequate to all the intents and purposes of his mediatorial kingdom. Thirdly, God declares the eternal duration of the dominion and dignity of Christ, founded upon the divinity of his person: Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever, from everlasting to everlasting, through all the ages of time, maugre all the attempts of earth and hell to undermine and overthrow it, and through all the endless ages of eternity, when time shall be no more. This distinguishes Christ’s throne from all earthly thrones, which are tottering, and will at length tumble down; but the throne of Christ shall be as the days of heaven. Fourthly, God declares of Christ the perfect equity of his administration, and of the execution of his power, through all the parts of his government: A sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom,Hebrews 1:8; Hebrews 1:8

As Christ has always hated wickedness and loved righteousness, God anointed Him with the oil of gladness beyond that of His companions (verse 9).

Henry explains:

2. This anointing of Christ was with the oil of gladness, which signifies both the gladness and cheerfulness with which Christ undertook and went through the office of Mediator (finding himself so absolutely sufficient for it), and also that joy which was set before him as the reward of his service and sufferings, that crown of glory and gladness which he should wear for ever after the suffering of death. 3. This anointing of Christ was above the anointing of his fellows: God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. Who are Christ’s fellows? Has he any equals? Not as God, except the Father and Spirit, but these are not here meant. As man, however, he has his fellows, and as an anointed person; but his unction is beyond all theirs.

The author goes on to discuss Christ’s eternal power.

In the beginning, He founded the earth and the heavens — the universe — are the work of His hands (verse 10).

Henry tells us:

He was not only above all things in condition, but before all things in existence; and therefore must be God, and self-existent. He laid the foundations of the earth, did not only introduce new forms into pre-existent matter, but made out of nothing the foundations of the earth, the primordia rerum–the first principles of things; he not only founded the earth, but the heavens too are the work of his hands, both the habitation and the inhabitants, the hosts of heaven, the angels themselves; and therefore he must needs be infinitely superior to them.

Earthly creation will perish like clothing, but Christ will remain (verse 11).

Like clothing, earthly creation can be rolled up and changed, but Christ will remain as He is, His years never ending (verse 12).

Henry elaborates:

This our visible world (both the earth and visible heavens) is growing old. Not only men and beasts and trees grow old, but this world itself grows old, and is hastening to its dissolution; it changes like a garment, has lost much of its beauty and strength; it grew old betimes on the first apostasy, and it has been waxing older and growing weaker ever since; it bears the symptoms of a dying world. But then its dissolution will not be its utter destruction, but its change. Christ will fold up this world as a garment not to be abused any longer, not to be any longer so used as it has been. Let us not then set our hearts upon that which is not what we take it to be, and will not be what it now is. Sin has made a great change in the world for the worse, and Christ will make a great change in it for the betterChrist is immutable. Thus the Father testifies of him, Thou remainest, thy years shall not fail. Christ is the same in himself, the same yesterday, and to-day, and for ever, and the same to his people in all the changes of time. This may well support all who have an interest in Christ under all the changes they meet with in the world, and under all they feel in themselves. Christ is immutable and immortal: his years shall not fail. This may comfort us under all decays of nature that we may observe in ourselves or in our friends, though our flesh and heart fail and our days are hastening to an end. Christ lives to take care of us while we live, and of ours when we are gone, and this should quicken us all to make our interest in him clear and sure, that our spiritual and eternal life may be hid with Christ in God.

MacArthur concludes with this prayer and a hope for unbelievers:

Let’s pray. Father, we thank You for Jesus Christ, the superiorities that we’ve learned about tonight. Thank you that we’re not worshipping a religious leader who was human. We’re not worshipping some ethical teacher. We’re worshipping Christ, Who is God the creator. And to think that He lives within us, and the person of the Spirit empowers us and loves us with a personal love, cares about us, sends His angels to minister to us, and Father, these things overwhelm us.

But God, having presented all these truths of Jesus Christ, our hearts shudder and shake to know that there will be some people who would turn away, and walk about of this place tonight neglecting the salvation that they’ve heard. Who would fail to take earnest heed to that which they have heard. Who would turn their back on Jesus Christ, and walk out into a night of sin. God, it’s almost beyond belief. Lord, if Jesus Christ is God, as the Bible says, then He has a claim to lay on our lives. We’re to receive Him, to believe in him as Lord and Savior.

And we pray to that end, Father, tonight, that there may be no one in this place who would leave not having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Some have come doubting, some have come questioning, some have come wondering whether it’s all so. Father, may they be willing to put Jesus to the test, that He said, “If you really desire to know My will, you will know the truth.” So, Father, we pray that the honest, seeking heart will be found by You, and open to receive Christ tonight.

May those of us as Christians see Him all the more beautiful, because we’ve seen what the writer has taught us in this marvelous chapter. May we be better equipped to witness for Christ, with more power and boldness, because we know the facts. Bless us as we close, we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

May everyone reading this have a most blessed and joyful day.

The readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — traditionally known as Spy Wednesday — can be found here.

The following posts might also be of interest:

Gospel reading for Wednesday of Holy Week — John 13:21-32 (2016)

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

More on Spy Wednesday

More on Judas

Today’s post looks at the Epistle — Hebrews 12:1-3 (emphases mine below):

Hebrews 12:1-3

12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,

12:2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God.

12:3 Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The author of Hebrews was writing for a predominantly Jewish audience: mostly converts to Christianity along with some who had not yet come to believe in Christ as Saviour.

Most of these people were still clinging to Mosaic law. They found it difficult to accept that the New Covenant had abolished it. They were looking for something more: their old legalism.

Therefore, the author asks them, with such a great cloud of witnesses from the Old Testament, to lay aside ‘every weight and the sin that clings so closely’ in order to ‘run with perseverance the race’ set before them (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains, drawing on his own experience of having been on his school’s track team during his youth:

Well, here they were, trying to run this race of faith with weights of legalism hanging all over them: Still being attached to the temple, still being hung up on – on the ritual of the ceremonialism of Judaism, still being attached to the priesthood and all this kind of stuff. They were trying to run a race of faith, dragging weights, like a guy trying to run down the track with a ball and chain on both feet. Dead works is dead weight, folks. And they were trying to run with dead works. Legalism.

Now, our Lord calls them to a life of faith. And all they are is a whole lot of great big, fat blobs with super sweat suits on and weights all over their feet, trying to run a race. And He says, “Get rid of all that legalism. Strip down.” And it’s amazing what had happened to them. They were so big and blobby, with so much bulk and so much weight, that they ran a step and collapsed in a pile of legalistic sweat. Panting to death, hanging on to Judaism, wouldn’t let go. You can’t run the race of faith weighted down by self-righteousness. Did you know that? You can’t run the race of faith weighted down and bogged down by your own works, trying to please God and earn His favor. That’s just like dead weight. The race is run, beloved, by faith plus nothing, just believing God, and He’ll produce the fruits of that faith within you.

“Works is a way to please God.” Don’t speed you up; they slow you down. “Well, I’m going to do some works for God, and work for God, and that’ll please Him, and that’ll please Him,” and that’ll just drag you down. Unload Judaism. Drop all of the old covenant stuff and go.

MacArthur thinks that the sin the author of Hebrews is talking about is mostly one of unbelief, although all sin would apply in general:

“The sin that doth so easily beset us.” The word “beset” is interesting. It’s very graphic. I’m not going to tell you the word, because it’s kind of a complicated word; it doesn’t really matter anyway, but it comes from a verb that means to surround periistēmi. It means to surround or stand around. And this is – this is the picture of a guy running through race in a Harris Tweed overcoat. See? Just some huge, big thing, and he’s flopping along in it. Something that just surrounds him. And it is the sin which doth so easily surround us and encumber us.

Now, that’s not too – perhaps it’s a general thought. Perhaps He’s talking about any sin. And sin is certainly a hindrance, but I think He’s talking about something specific. He says here, “The sin which doth so easily beset us.” Now, if you’re trying to run – watch this – a race of faith, what would be the biggest hindrance? Unbelief. I think that’s obviously implied right there. The thing that they were running into was doubting God. Do you see? Doubting God, combine that thing, get the fat man running in his sweat suit, and then put an overcoat on him, and you’ve got the picture of them trying to run the race, and they’re just sitting there, big blobs in the middle of the track.

And you know there’s a lot of Christians like that today. As I say, you know, the people who are moving have got to also be hurdlers, because they’ve got to keep jumping over all of the – all of the piles of people who are sitting in the track. Believe me, that’s true, friends. I mean in the body of Christ, if the body doesn’t function, we got to jump over the non-functioning members. And they’re often in the way, believe me.

A lot of us, myself included, think that being a Christian is a time to relax. Christ’s blood redeemed us. His resurrection opened the gates of eternal life to us. Yet, it is actually a struggle against temptation. Most of us would also like more faith. Therefore, we need to be spiritually fit so that we are ready for the endurance of the race.

MacArthur says of the intention of the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Let us run with patience the race” – and the word “patience,” hupomonē is endurance. Some Christians are in the race, but they’re not running the race. So, I think we can safely say that the term “let us,” used in the primary sense that it’s used in the book of Hebrews is used for the intellectually convinced, but it also has direct implication to the believer in at least one other passage, and very likely we would say it does here as well.

So, what He’s saying then is two things – all that to say this: if you’re not a Christian, get in the race because there’s only one way to live and that’s by faith; and if you are a Christian, and you’re in the race, run the race with endurance. So, really, the statement is general.

Now, it’s sad to say that most Christians aren’t running. A for example are jogging, we’ll admit that. Some are trotting. A lot of them are walking. Most of them are crawling or sitting, going nowhere; and some of them are going backwards. But the Christian life is not a trot; the Christian life is not your morning constitutional. The Christian life is not a loaf; the Christian life is a race. There it is; look at it. Let us run with patience the race. The Greek word for race agōn from which we get agony. This is a race where you’ve got to put out a little bit. It’s not even a sprint, either; it’s not a dash; it’s a marathon kind of race. It is to be run with endurance. And like any good runner must train and follow rigid kind of standards if he’s going to effectively run, so must the Christian. To effectively run, there must be self-denial, discipline, tremendous exertion. The Christian life is not a thing of passive luxury.

In this race, we are to look up to Jesus at all times — ‘the pioneer and perfecter of our faith’ — who suffered so much for our sakes and endured the shame of the Cross only to reap the ‘joy’ of taking His seat at the right hand of God the Father (verse 2).

Matthew Henry explains:

2.) What trials Christ met with in his race and course. [1.] He endured the contradiction of sinners against himself (Hebrews 12:3) he bore the opposition that they made to him, both in their words and behaviour. They were continually contradicting him, and crossing in upon his great designs and though he could easily have both confuted and confounded them, and sometimes gave them a specimen of his power, yet he endured their evil manners with great patience. Their contradictions were levelled against Christ himself, against his person as God-man, against his authority, against his preaching, and yet he endured all. [2.] He endured the cross–all those sufferings that he met with in the world for he took up his cross betimes, and was at length nailed to it, and endured a painful, ignominious, and accursed death, in which he was numbered with the transgressors, the vilest malefactors yet all this he endured with invincible patience and resolution. [3.] He despised the shame. All the reproaches that were cast upon him, both in his life and at his death, he despised he was infinitely above them he knew his own innocency and excellency, and despised the ignorance and malice of his despisers.

(3.) What it was that supported the human soul of Christ under these unparalleled sufferings and that was the joy that was set before him. He had something in view under all his sufferings, which was pleasant to him he rejoiced to see that by his sufferings he should make satisfaction to the injured justice of God and give security to his honour and government, that he should make peace between God and man, that he should seal the covenant of grace and be the Mediator of it, that he should open a way of salvation to the chief of sinners, and that he should effectually save all those whom the Father had given him, and himself be the first-born among many brethren. This was the joy that was set before him.

(4.) The reward of his suffering: he has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Christ, as Mediator, is exalted to a station of the highest honour, of the greatest power and influence he is at the right hand of the Father. Nothing passes between heaven and earth but by him he does all that is done he ever lives to make intercession for his people.

Therefore, we must look upon Him as our only Mediator and Advocate:

We must, [1.] Look unto him that is, we must set him continually before us as our example, and our great encouragement we must look to him for direction, for assistance, and for acceptance, in all our sufferings. [2.] We must consider him, meditate much upon him, and reason with ourselves from his case to our own. We must analogize, as the word is compare Christ’s sufferings and ours and we shall find that as his sufferings far exceeded ours, in the nature and measure of them, so his patience far excels ours, and is a perfect pattern for us to imitate.

Christ, the Son of God, suffered more at the hands of angry and twisted sinners than we ever will, so we must continually keep His example in mind as we endure our race in this world (verse 3):

Observe, [1.] There is a proneness in the best to grow weary and to faint under their trials and afflictions, especially when they prove heavy and of long continuance: this proceeds from the imperfections of grace and the remains of corruption. [2.] The best way to prevent this is to look unto Jesus, and to consider him. Faith and meditation will fetch in fresh supplies of strength, comfort, and courage for he has assured them, if they suffer with him, they shall also reign with him: and this hope will be their helmet.

MacArthur advises us:

I really believe we need to live by faith. And that’s the only way to take a spiritual diet and get off your sweat suit is start believing God. As soon as you start living by faith, you just start shedding the spiritual pounds. You strip down; you’re ready for action; you unload your overcoat, your sweat suit, and you’re ready to go. And it all happens by faith. Don’t be that kind of overweight, bulky thing in the middle of the track. GO on a spiritual diet and trim down. And a spiritual diet is simply understanding to live by faith. Eliminate all unbelief and self-righteousness, and then you’re stripped down, ready to run.

May we keep our eye on the prize of eternal life by focusing on Christ Jesus alone.

It is Good Friday 2020 and, incredibly, the doors to most of our churches around the world are locked.

The same holds true for other houses of worship.

It happened easily and quickly.

All it took was a pandemic, media panic and speedy draconian emergency legislation.

—————————————

Now on to Good Friday.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

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 below:

Meditations on the Cross

Here are my past posts, which might be helpful in understanding the Crucifixion:

Readings for Good Friday

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Good Friday: the horror of the Crucifixion (John MacArthur)

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Biblically focussed clergy, such as John MacArthur, often tell us how much God hates sin.

Yet, most of us, myself included, struggle to understand how much God hates sin.

One thing I learned from writing about the Book of Hebrews was that God hates sin so much that, from the beginning, He commanded that blood sacrifices be made for it. Under the Old Covenant, God’s chosen people had to sacrifice animals time and time again. Yet, all of those were insufficient.

Then God sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth for the one, holy and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future. The Crucifixion brought about the New Covenant, a ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

In Hebrews 9:16-23, the book’s anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the sacrifices under the Old Covenant were but ‘copies’ of ‘the heavenly’ sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross (emphases mine):

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hebrews 10 explains the sufficiency of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us, citing Jeremiah 31:33-34:

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

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

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

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

Therefore, we should be grateful for Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us, which reconciled us with God once and for all.

We can have assurance in our Christian faith, the promise of which is eternal life:

19 Therefore, brothers,[c] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near 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. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 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 drawing near.

You can read more about Hebrews 10 in my post from 2016:

Epistle for Good Friday Year C — Hebrews 10:16-25

May we remember that our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us is the reason that we profess the Christian faith.

He then rose from the dead to bring us to eternal life. We look forward to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, even though we will be at home alone, instead of with our friends at church.

In closing my series on the Book of Hebrews, the first eight verses of Hebrews 13 are in the Lectionary and are read during Year C (2019) during one of the Sundays after Pentecost.

Thank goodness, because the author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, gives us a short précis of how to live the Christian life.

Verses 2 and 8 are two exceptionally beautiful and memorable verses:

Hebrews 13:1-8

Sacrifices Pleasing to God

13 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. 4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

The author exhorts his audience of Christian converts to continue in brotherly love (verse 1). That means obeying the Ten Commandments: loving one’s neighbour as oneself.

We should do no harm to anyone and, beyond that, we should exercise kindness whenever we can, especially to our fellow believers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Christians should always love and live as brethren, and the more they grow in devout affection to God their heavenly Father the more they will grow in love to one another for his sake.

To put this verse in context with regard to the Hebrew converts of that era, Henry reminds us that conflict brewed, with the potential of driving the converts apart. Their family and friends also persecuted them, so it was not easy. Furthermore, those who know this book understand that many were having second thoughts about having converted to Christianity.

Henry elaborates (emphases mine):

It is here supposed that the Hebrews had this love one for another. Though, at this time, that nation was miserably divided and distracted among themselves, both about matters of religion and the civil state, yet there was true brotherly love left among those of them who believed on Christ; and this appeared in a very eminent manner presently after the shedding forth of the Holy Ghost, when they had all things common, and sold their possessions to make a general fund of subsistence to their brethren … This brotherly love was in danger of being lost, and that in a time of persecution, when it would be most necessary; it was in danger of being lost by those disputes that were among them concerning the respect they ought still to have to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. Disputes about religion too often produce a decay of Christian affection; but this must be guarded against, and all proper means used to preserve brotherly love.

John MacArthur explains why the author of Hebrews made the exhortation to love so simple:

… the law says, ‘Don’t commit adultery, don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t bear false witness,’ – that means to lie – ‘don’t covet.’ And if there be any other commandment, he could put them all together in one saying: ‘Thou shalt’ – what? – ‘love thy neighbor as thyself. For love works no ill to its neighbor, therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

That’s why, you see, in Hebrews 13 it doesn’t need to list a whole lot of things. All it needs to say is just love, and that’ll take care of the law; that’s right. If a man loves, he won’t kill; for lover never seeks to destroy. And listen to this: love can’t hate. Love will seek to destroy an enemy by making him a friend.

If a man loves, he’ll never steal; for love doesn’t take, what does it do? It gives. And if a man loves, he will never covet; for covetousness – epithumia, which means the uncontrolled, inordinate desire for self-satisfaction. If a man loves, he’ll never covet, because love is not self-centered, it’s selfless, you see.

So love is really all he needs. In fact, Paul says, “Love is the bond of perfection, it ties everything together.” So love is the basic ethic toward others.

It is also worth saying that the love spoken of here is agape — platonic — not an emotional or sexual love, which some churchgoing advocates of polyamory (yes, they exist) insist upon:

you can reduce Christian conduct down to a simple, common denominator. There it is: love people. And before you say, “Well, I just can’t get it worked out,” let me remind you that love is not an emotion, it’s a principle. Don’t ever forget it.

I don’t get emotional about certain people. I don’t say, “Oh, there’s Mr. So-and-So. Oh, love, love,” you know. No, no. Love in the Bible is not necessarily emotional at all, it is a principle; and if you want to know what kind of a principle it is, read 1 Corinthians 13. It’s a principle of self-sacrifice.

It doesn’t matter what kind of a Mr. So-and-So, Mr. So-and-So is; you need to condescend to help him, to meet his need, to care for him, to bear his burdens, to pray for him. Those are principles that have handles on them. Those are not ethereal, foggy, pie in the sky, lovey-dovey kind of squashy emotions. Listen, we’re not talking about something that’s just kind of syrupy. Love is a basic principle, and it’s the principle of self-sacrifice based on humility, isn’t it

Verse 2 is not only beautiful, but it also has a biblical basis in fact with regard to ‘entertained angels unawares’, as Henry outlines:

Thereby some have entertained angels unawares; so Abraham did (Genesis 18:1-32), and Lot (Genesis 19:1-38), and one of those that Abraham entertained was the Son of God; and, though we cannot suppose this will ever be our case, yet what we do to strangers, in obedience to him, he will reckon and reward as done to himself. Matthew 25:35, I was a stranger, and you took me in. God has often bestowed honours and favours upon his hospitable servants, beyond all their thoughts, unawares.

Does that mean being a doormat? No, it does not.

MacArthur explains it as follows:

Back in Genesis 18 Abraham put out a nice spread for three visitors, and found out one of them was God and two of them were angels. Now that isn’t to say get ready because angels are coming to your house; not at all. But that does mean that God sometimes will bring people into your path that you need to be very careful to show love to, because you just don’t know who you have on your hands. And it’s not just for your benefit either; maybe they have a tremendous need, and a word of love from you can turn a life around. You know that? How many times have people said to me, “John, my life was such and such and such, and I met so-and-so, and in just a moment of time my life was changed.”

Verse 3 discusses those ‘in prison’ — ‘in bonds’ in some translations. That might be an actual prison — and we know that from the earliest days of Christianity, people such as Peter and Paul were in chains for preaching the Good News. That has not stopped. There are Christians today who are suffering in prison, sometimes tortured, for their beliefs.

There are also innocent people in prison. There are also criminals who are not only in prison but also have psychological obstacles that act like a prison which caused them to be incarcerated in the first place.

There are other people, walking in perfect freedom, who also live in a psychological prison: addiction, for example.

For all of them, we must be empathetic and at least pray for them.

Note that the author of Hebrews says ‘since you are also in the body’ — the body of humanity or the body of believers.

MacArthur examines the times when Peter and Paul were in prison:

… Verse 3: “Remember them that are in bonds, as bound with them.” Do you know really what sympathy is? To suffer with, literally; empathy to get inside and feel what somebody feels. You have to be a selfless person to do that. If people are in prison, do you feel that, those who suffer adversity as being yourselves also in the flesh? In your own body, do you know what people go through when they go through pain?

Remember this morning, when we studied about the church that prayed for three days, day and night for Peter? They felt what he felt, didn’t they? They were hurting because he was hurting. That’s sympathy.

And, you know, sympathy can be shown in three ways at least, many ways. But here’s three interesting ones in the New Testament: 2 Timothy 1:16, “The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he often refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain. But when he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me. The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy in the Lord in that day: and in many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well.” You know one way to be sympathetic? By your personal presence with somebody in need. That’s sympathy, just being there where they are.

Here’s another way: Not only just in your presence, but in certain deeds that you might do. Philippians chapter 4, Paul needed some sympathy, he was in jail. Philippians 4:14, “Notwithstanding you have well done that you did share with my affliction. Now you Philippians know that in the beginning of the gospel when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me as concerning giving and receiving, but you only.” In other words, nobody gave me any money to carry on my ministry. ”For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity. Not because I desire a gift; but I desire fruit that may abound to your account. I’m glad you’re giving, not because I get the money, but because when you give, you get blessed.”

Verse 18: “But I have all, and abound; I’m full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odor of sweet smell, sacrifice acceptable, well-pleasing to God.” Another way to show sympathy is by deeds of love. Not only your personal presence, but by doing deeds of love.

There’s a third way to show sympathy to somebody and that’s by prayer, praying for them, Colossians 4:18. Paul closes Colossians with these words: “Remember my bonds.” Hey, he says, “Don’t forget I’m in jail; pray for me.” Now this is our basic obligation to other people: to love them with full care and sympathy.

The author of Hebrews moves on from the general to the particular, beginning with a verse warning against sexual immorality and encouraging marital purity (verse 4). He says that God will judge those who have defiled the marital state through adultery or fornication.

God devised marriage as an earthly means of intimate companionship between two people who want to spend the rest of their lives together. This is why traditional Christians hold this institution so closely to their hearts. This is also why it is so important to marry the right person.

Henry says:

It is honourable, for God instituted it for man in paradise, knowing it was not good for him to be alone. He married and blessed the first couple, the first parents of mankind, to direct all to look unto God in that great concern, and to marry in the Lord. Christ honoured marriage with his presence and first miracle. It is honourable as a means to prevent impurity and a defiled bed. It is honourable and happy, when persons come together pure and chaste, and preserve the marriage bed undefiled, not only from unlawful but inordinate affections.

Although MacArthur preached the sermon cited here nearly 40 years ago, the problems with sexual purity were already widespread because of the ‘sexual revolution’ of the late 1960s:

Now the word “sex” has become – you know, there were taboos in the past and, you know, sex was a word that was a taboo many years ago. You just didn’t say that word; it was a terrible word. And now sex is everywhere.

Even if mankind thinks it is fine to engage in all manner of sexual impurity, God does not. Students of the Bible know there are many passages condemning it:

“Let the bed be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” Sexual purity. And we live in a world that’s going crazy over sex. It’s not that people’s desires are any different, it’s just that if society will let them do more things, they’ll do it. And Romans chapter 1 says they get real clever and they invent new things.

People in our society have gone crazy in the area of sexual fulfillment. When two people allow their passions to run away with each other, when two people allow themselves to get caught in a compromising situation sexually, let me tell you something, friends, it is not that they love each other too much, it is that they don’t love each other enough. It is that they love each other too little to respect each other’s purity before God.

And I say to you, if a guy comes to you, girls, and says, “I love you so much; give me what I want,” he doesn’t love you very much at all, believe me. His love hasn’t developed where the most important thing in his life is your beauty and purity and holiness. When he sees you like that, then he really loves you.

Now you say, “And why is this a sin against ourselves?” Well, that’s what Paul said, you see, in 1 Corinthians 6:18. He said, “Flee fornication. For every sin that a man does is outside the body; but he that commiteth fornication” – porneia, sex sin“sins against his own body.” You see, you have to live with this in your own flesh. This is a sin against your own body. The purity of your own body has been defiled. And so God says, “I desire sexual purity.”

The next personal message the author of Hebrews has for his audience is to avoid loving money (verse 5). Money in and of itself is fine, but when we lust after it, it becomes sinful.

MacArthur mentions an interesting observation from Charles Spurgeon on covetousness:

Spurgeon said one time, he said, “In all my life” – he said – “I’ve been in a lot of testimony meetings, and I’ve heard a lot of people share how they have sinned.” And he said, “I’ve had people come to me and make confession of sin. In my life” – he said – “I never had one person confess the sin of covetousness to me.” And I’ve only been around a few years, and I’ve never had anyone confess it to me either.

Wow. That means we’re probably all guilty of covetousness, without even realising it.

MacArthur says:

Be honest: the bigger thing, the better thing, more money, promotion, bigger house, bigger car – this is a temptation for all of us – nicer clothes, all of these things. And it’s a very serious thing. God says, “I want you to be, in a word, satisfied.” Godliness with contentment is really being rich, isn’t it.

Yet, interestingly, as I write this, government restrictions on coronavirus are driving economies around the world into meltdown: ‘Shares may go down, as well as up’.

Both our commentators encourage us to be happy with what we have at the time. I know that is difficult to swallow right now. People are currently losing their jobs: hospitality workers, certain retail workers, self-employed shopkeepers as well as some artisans and tradesmen. The list goes on. They have rent or mortgages to pay and families to support. Life is going to get very difficult for them. Let’s remember to patronise their businesses, have a friendly chat with them and, at home, pray for them.

We are all going to feel the pain in one way or another, just wait. This will not get better for the foreseeable future.

This isn’t a matter of not having enough loo roll or bags of pasta, this is going to be a disaster. That’s not even mentioning civil liberties. But, I digress.

Therefore, we need to commit the end of verse 5 …

for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

… and verse 6 to our hearts and minds:

So we can confidently say,

“The Lord is my helper;
    I will not fear;
what can man do to me?”

Even though a lot of us will be unable to attend church for the next few weeks, because of coronavirus, we can spend that time reading the Bible and reflecting on our faith in prayer.

Let us also remember our clergy in our prayers, particularly during this time. They, too, have taken difficult decisions in closing churches.

We can reflect on the good example they have shown us and imitate it as best we can (verse 7). That might include praying more, leading a deeper spiritual life, exercising more kindness and patience towards others.

Finally, we come to my favourite verse in the Bible (verse 8):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Jesus had unlimited, boundless love during his earthly ministry, and He shows that same love for us not only today but for eternity. What He considered good in the Gospel stories, He still considers good. What Jesus considered evil during his earthly ministry, He still considers evil. He died for our sins and, sitting at the right hand side of the Father, His redemption continues to hold good, today and forever.

Jesus is our ultimate role model, therefore, let us be Christlike, as MacArthur explains:

Your first group of examples? Men. The supreme example, who? Jesus Christ, who never varies, who never changes. And you notice it uses His earthly name, Jesus. Uses His earthly title, Messiah, Christ. Why? Because it’s presenting an earthly pattern. He says to them – watch – “Follow the men who were your leaders,” but – oh, if you really want to pattern your life, pattern it after the human Jesus.

Let me ask you something. You want to see sustained love? The first ethic we talked about. You want to see sustained love? Who are you going to see it in better than anybody else? John 13, “Jesus having loved them” – loved them what? – “unto the end.” Sustained love. You want to see sympathy? Who you going to see it in? Who you going to see sympathy in? You hear it in John. He goes to the grave of Lazarus, and He begins to do what? To weep. You want to see sexual purity? You’ll see it in Jesus like you’ll never see it anywhere else. As He denounces the vile sin of sexual immorality in John 8 and then cleanses the immoral woman.

You want to see satisfaction? Contentment? You’ll hear it when Jesus says, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me.” You’ll hear it when He says, “The foxes have holes, birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.” That’s satisfaction. You want to hear steadfastness? Listen to Him in Matthew 4, as Satan confronts Him three times, and three times He says no. “I’ll trust God’s Word, I reject yours.” Steadfast. You want to see separation from the world? Listen to His prayer in John 17:16, He said, “Father, they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.”

You want to see sacrifice? Listen to the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 5:2 when he says, “And walk in love as Christ also loved us” – listen – “and hath given Himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God as a sweet-smelling savor.” Never a greater sacrifice than His. You want to see submission? Listen to Jesus in the garden as He prays, “Not my will” – what? – “Thine be done.” You want to see supplication? Watch Him in the garden as He prays for Himself, for His disciples, and for all the Christians who would ever be born in the world.

My friends, the perfect example, the unchanging-yesterday-today-and-forever example is Jesus Christ. The ethics, great. The example, look at Jesus and mimic Him. And you also will find Him reproduced in the lives of men after whom you can pattern your lives.

I hope that this will give us spiritual encouragement and sustainment now and in future.

I also hope this apologetic explains the tenets of the Christian life we are called to live.

Bible readingThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 13:20-25

Benediction

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us[a] that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Final Greetings

22 I appeal to you, brothers,[b] bear with my word of exhortation, for I have written to you briefly. 23 You should know that our brother Timothy has been released, with whom I shall see you if he comes soon. 24 Greet all your leaders and all the saints. Those who come from Italy send you greetings. 25 Grace be with all of you.

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Last week’s post discussed the author’s exhortation to respect those in ministry and his prayer request for himself and Timothy.

These are the final verses of Hebrews. I will be writing separately about the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, as they provide an invaluable guide to the Christian life.

A benediction is a blessing. The author of Hebrews gives a particularly splendid one, mentioning ‘the God of Peace’, the Resurrection, Jesus as the ‘great shepherd’ and ‘the blood of the eternal covenant’ (verse 20).

Matthew Henry has a superb analysis of this verse, which is especially important as we are drawing near to Good Friday and Easter (emphases mine):

He offers up his prayers to God for them, being willing to do for them as he desired they should do for him: Now the God of peace, &c., Hebrews 13:20. In this excellent prayer observe, 1. The title given to God–the God of peace, who was found out a way for peace and reconciliation between himself and sinners, and who loves peace on earth and especially in his churches. 2. The great work ascribed to him: He hath brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, &c. Jesus raised himself by his own power; and yet the Father was concerned in it, attesting thereby that justice was satisfied and the law fulfilled. He rose again for our justification; and that divine power by which he was raised is able to do every thing for us that we stand in need of. 3. The titles given to Christ–our Lord Jesus, our sovereign, our Saviour, and the great shepherd of the sheep, promised in Isaiah 40:11, declared by himself to be so, John 10:14,15. Ministers are under-shepherds, Christ is the great shepherd. This denotes his interest in his people. They are the flock of his pasture, and his care and concern are for them. He feeds them, and leads them, and watches over them. 4. The way and method in which God is reconciled, and Christ raised from the dead: Through the blood of the everlasting covenant. The blood of Christ satisfied divine justice, and so procured Christ’s release from the prison of the grace, as having paid our debt, according to an eternal covenant or agreement between the Father and the Son; and this blood is the sanction and seal of an everlasting covenant between God and his people.

The author prays that, God, author of all these great blessings, equips the Hebrews through Jesus Christ to thereby accomplish His will in everything they do, recognising Christ’s inestimable glory (verse 21). Note that the author says that whatever good they — and we — do comes from God and His Son working through them and us.

Henry continues his analysis:

5. The mercy prayed for: Make you perfect in every good work, &c., Hebrews 13:21. Observe, (1.) The perfection of the saints in every good work is the great thing desired by them and for them, that they may here have a perfection of integrity, a clear mind, a clean heart, lively affections, regular and resolved wills, and suitable strength for every good work to which they are called now, and at length a perfection of degrees to fit them for the employment and felicity of heaven. (2.) The way in which God makes his people perfect; it is by working in them always what is pleasing in his sight, and that through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever. Observe, [1.] There is no good thing wrought in us but it is the work of God; he works in us, before we are fit for any good work. [2.] No good thing is wrought in us by God, but through Jesus Christ, for his sake and by his Spirit. And therefore, [3.] Eternal glory is due to him, who is the cause of all the good principles wrought in us and all the good works done by us. To this every one should say, Amen.

John MacArthur is equally impressed with the benediction, inspired by the Holy Spirit:

“Now the God of peace.” I love that title, don’t you? “The God of peace that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant” – now watch – “make you perfect in every good work to do His will, working in you that which is well-pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. So let it be.”

You want to hear something exciting? He gives you the ethics, He gives you the example, and then He gives you the energy. You say, “What’s the energy?” It’s the power of God. Look what it says, “Now the God of peace” – now jump to verse 21 – “make you perfect, working in you, that which is well pleasing in His sight.” You want to know something? Your Christian growth has nothing to do with your own power, it’s God working in you, right? Boy, what an exciting thing

So he’s simply saying the powerful God, He’s the one who can make you perfect. You can’t function on your own energy. You can’t just whip out your flesh and decide that you’re going to be spiritual. Doesn’t work like that.

Therefore, we must give Jesus and God the Father all thanks for all good things He has wrought through us:

When He does it, who gets the glory? Jesus Christ. And that’s the way it ought to be. He deserves it, doesn’t He? You remember this verse? I’m sure you do. “For it is God who works in you, both to will and to do” – of what? – “His good pleasure.” It’s God. There’s your energy, beloved.

The new covenant’s a wonderful thing, isn’t it? But it’s not just free grace and do what you want, there’s some ethics. Beyond the ethics, there’s a living, vital example. Beyond the example, there’s energy, and it’s the power of God in your life.

Now we come to the farewell — ‘Final Greetings’ — in which the author of Hebrews encourages (exhorts) his audience to heed what he has written to them (verse 22).

John MacArthur surmises that the Hebrews would reread the letter. Indeed, new revelations pop out every time I have read it (six times now):

Then he closes with personal notes. “I beseech you, brethren, bear with the word of exhortation” – he says I know it’s been hard and heavy, but hang in there – “for I have written a letter unto you in few words.” You say, “Few words? Does he know how long we’ve been in this?” You want to hear something startling? You can read the whole book in less than an hour. It’s been brief, powerful, heavy. He says bear with it. He figures they’re going to read it again.

The author explains more about Timothy, referred to obliquely in verse 18 (last week):

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things.

Timothy has just been released from prison and the author hopes that the two of them can visit the Hebrews soon (verse 23).

Matthew Henry explains the joy everyone must have felt:

He gives the Hebrews an account of Timothy’s liberty and his hopes of seeing them with him in a little time, Hebrews 13:23. It seems, Timothy had been a prisoner, doubtless for the gospel, but now he was set at liberty. The imprisonment of faithful ministers is an honour to them, and their enlargement is matter of joy to the people. He was pleased with the hopes of not only seeing Timothy, but seeing the Hebrews with him.

The author closes by requesting the Hebrews greet their leaders and their fellow congregants — ‘saints’. He tells them that the Italians also send greetings (verse 24). He ends by praying that God’s grace be upon all of the Hebrews (verse 25).

MacArthur says of the author and the Italians:

He must have been hanging around a group of Italian Christians from Rome at this time.

That is serendipitous, because I will begin writing about Paul’s letters to the Romans next weekend.

Hebrews is a superb book of the Bible, because it answers so many questions about Christianity all in one place, proceeding from the Old Testament to the New Covenant we have in Christ.

This and my prior posts on Hebrews are available on my Essential Bible Verses page, located just above James 1:1-16.

Next time — Romans 1:8-15

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 13:17-19

17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

18 Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. 19 I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner.

———————————————————————————————

The verses in last week’s post were a final warning against falling into apostasy by following teaching that goes against Scripture and the Good News.

The first verse in today’s selection is a rather substantial one relating to the clergy or, as they were called at the time, overseers (verse 17).

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, counsels his Jewish converts to obey their overseers and submit to them spiritually, because being an overseer is all-consuming work as, at the end of it, he has to give an account to the Lord. Therefore, we should respect their position, the onerous responsibility of that position and allow them to get on with their work without putting obstacles in their way. If a good clergyman leaves as a result of petty obstacles, ultimately, the congregation loses.

Matthew Henry explains the issue impartially — and well (emphases mine):

It is not an implicit obedience, or absolute submission, that is here required, but only so far as is agreeable to the mind and will of God revealed in his word; and yet it is truly obedience and submission, and that not only to God, but to the authority of the ministerial office, which is of God as certainly, in all things belonging to that office, as the authority of parents or of civil magistrates in the things within their sphere. Christians must submit to be instructed by their ministers, and not think themselves too wise, too good, or too great, to learn from them; and, when they find that ministerial instructions are agreeable to the written word, they must obey them.

It is sometimes difficult in our era to submit, especially to clergy who are quasi-agnostics (I have known a few). To them, I have kept my distance beyond civil pleasantries of a greeting and a kind word on Sundays.

As far as clergy are concerned, Henry — who was an Anglican clergyman himself — says that they are not to lord their position over the congregation:

They have the rule over the people; their office, though not magisterial, yet is truly authoritative. They have no authority to lord it over the people, but to lead them in the ways of God, by informing and instructing them, explaining the word of God to them, and applying it to their several cases.

Henry explains the heavy responsibility of a clergyman:

They watch for the souls of the people, not to ensnare them, but to save them; to gain them, not to themselves, but to Christ; to build them up in knowledge, faith, and holiness. They are to watch against every thing that may be hurtful to the souls of men, and to give them warning of dangerous errors, of the devices of Satan, of approaching judgments; they are to watch for all opportunities of helping the souls of men forward in the way to heaven.

After they have exercised their solemn duties on Earth, they will have to give an account to the Lord:

[3.] They must give an account how they have discharged their duty, and what has become of the souls committed to their trust, whether any have been lost through their neglect, and whether any of them have been brought in and built up under their ministry. [4.] They would be glad to give a good account of themselves and their hearers. If they can then give in an account of their own fidelity and success, it will be a joyful day to them; those souls that have been converted and confirmed under their ministry will be their joy, and their crown, in the day of the Lord Jesus.

Therefore, we should think of our clergy as we would a shepherd busy with his flock or, as John MacArthur says, a triage nurse:

I’ll tell you something, that’s a joy. The sweetest joy that comes into the life of a pastor who’s committed to the things of God is when he sees somebody walking in truth and bearing fruit. Believe me, that’s sweet. And the tragedy of all tragedies in the life of the man of God is when he sees those in whom he invests his life who do not bear fruit, who do not walk in the truth, who stray away. That grieves – worse than anything else. We’re like nurses, you know, with critical care patients. We care for your souls …

It’s a serious thing to be a critical care nurse in the church. It’s a serious thing to be a wakeful shepherd of a flock that has sheep that are forever going astray. And we have to labor as those – and I say this even with a sense of reluctance in my own heart to – to even admit that this is true, that I must give an account to God for the way that I minister to the care of the souls that He entrusts to me. And as I’ve said before, that’s why I’m not real anxious to have more people. I’m not too sure I’m doing the right job with the ones I’ve got.

What humility. He preached this in 1973, and, since then, his team’s ministry has gone international. That said, I bet he still has the same concerns — and rightly so.

MacArthur points out that St Paul had his share of faithful and rebellious congregations. The faithful ones made him joyful and the rebellious ones grieved him:

I think sometimes the saddest group of people, the most grieved group of men, are very often ministers, pastors. And I think sometimes the reason is because of the fact that they are dealing with a stubborn and rebellious people who, because they will not submit, rob them of the joy of their ministry.

The idea of the word “grief” here is groaning, over a thankless task, and there are many men whose ministry is a very thankless thing. And he says you ought to submit, just for the joy of the one who labors with you. You know, the Apostle Paul knew about that joy, apparently especially the Philippians were a submissive bunch. He didn’t express a whole lot of joy over the Corinthians. In fact, they were a pain in the neck as well as the heart. But in Philippians 1:4, he says, “Always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” He said to the Philippians, “You make me happy.” And the reason was because they were submissive.

The author of Hebrews then issued a personal message, requesting the converts’ prayers for him and Timothy (verse 18). (I’ll have more on Timothy next week.) The author is sure both have clear consciences as they attempt to act honourably in all their undertakings.

Henry says this request came because the Jews hated Paul, wrongly so, but the author and Timothy were taking great pains to not offend anyone unnecessarily:

Many of the Jews had a bad opinion of Paul, because he, being a Hebrew of the Hebrews, had cast off the Levitical law and preached up Christ: now he here modestly asserts his own integrity: We trust we have a good conscience, in all things willing to live honestly. We trust! he might have said, We know; but he chose to speak in a humble style, to teach us all not to be too confident of ourselves, but to maintain a godly jealousy over our own hearts.

The author asked for their prayers so that he might be with them again that much sooner (verse 19). MacArthur explains:

And so he says, pray for me, I deserve it. Secondly he says, pray for me, I need it. I need it. Verse 19, “I beseech you the rather to do this, that I may be restored to you the sooner.” I want to get there. You say that guy actually believed that prayer works? Does he believe that if he was going 30 miles an hour and they started praying, he’d go 90 miles an hour to get there? He believed that. Doesn’t sound too much like fatalism to me. Not at all. He knew God heard and answered prayer. There’s no blind fatalism.

Sadly, next week’s verses conclude the Book of Hebrews. However, I will follow up with posts on the first eight verses of Hebrews 13, which explain how to live the Christian life. Fortunately, those verses are in the Lectionary.

Next time — Hebrews 13:20-25

Bible kevinroosecomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 13:9-14

Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tent[a] have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. 12 So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. 13 Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. 14 For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.

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Sadly, Hebrews 13 is the last chapter in one of the best books of the Bible.

I hope to discuss the first eight verses of this magnificent chapter in separate posts. Those are read in Year C on one of the Sundays in the Pentecost season. They describe exactly how to live as a Christian.

As today’s post begins with verse 9, here is verse 8 — one of my favourites (emphases mine below):

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Therefore, we are not to be led away by false teachings, those that contradict the Gospel story, because Christ fulfilled the law, thereby making food restriction and other rituals obsolete, which were of no salvific benefit to those who observed them. With Christ, we have divine grace for our spiritual strength (verse 9).

That should mean something to us as Christians, to be explained below.

With regard to Jewish audience whom the author of Hebrews addressed, it was a warning against falling back into legalism, which would lead to apostasy.

John MacArthur explains the Jewish legalism of that era, which went far beyond what God commanded in the Old Testament through Mosaic law:

laws to Israel were very, very important and their conduct was based on these principles and was for the purpose of drawing men’s attention ultimately to God.

Now, it’s interesting, too, that they became so absorbed in legalism that they went way, way further than God ever intended. God gave them enough laws to maintain things and they just got real law-happy and went bananas, to put it in the vernacular, and just started inventing laws hand over fist. And they came up with a whole series of laws than they passed on orally. In other words, they would just speak them from generation to generation, and this series of oral laws was known as the Mishnah. And you’re perhaps familiar with that if you know anything about Jewish history.

The word shānāh means to teach or to repeat orally. So, this was orally transmitted, called the Mishnah. Finally, they felt they ought to write it all down and they wrote it all down and they called it the Talmud. And the Jewish Talmud is the codification of all the Jewish laws added to Scripture. And I mean it is massive. It is a monstrous thing. The word Talmud simply means teaching.

There are six parts to the Jewish Talmud, some of you may have seen one. But there are six parts to it. There is a section on agriculture, all the laws regarding what you can do and what you can’t do in agriculture. There is a section on feasts. There is a section on women. There’s a section on civil and ceremonial law, legal matters. There’s a section on sacrifices, a section on unclean things and their purification. Now, all of those sections are loaded with law after law after law for the conduct of the Jew.

During the time of Jesus Christ, if you study the New Testament, you find that the Jews were meticulously concerned with obeying laws, weren’t they? That they got literally in knots when they saw Jesus’ disciples not doing the things that were prescribed by the law. Or when Jesus did something that was not allowed in the law, they had a terrible time handling that issue. Jesus said, “Your only problem is you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.” What He meant was you’re all worried about the minutiae of the law and you’re blasting to pieces all of the principles that God really wanted to communicate through the law. You’ve kept the letter of the law and lost the message of it.

But nevertheless, by the time you come to the group of Jews that’s being written to in the book of Hebrews, they are legalists, believe me. They are legalists in the sense that no other nation in the history of the world has been legalists. They live by the law, they function by the law, they know nothing about liberty, only about being attached to a system. They were not free spirits. They were not do-your-own-thingers. They were not libertines. They were staunch, absolute legalists – the only life they knew.

The Jews who had converted to Christianity suffered at the hands of their Jewish families and friends. Some were disowned. Some had been shunned. The joyful confidence they had when they converted had disappeared. They were wondering if they should return to Judaism for a quiet life.

The whole book of Hebrews is about getting them back on track to the supreme sacrifice of Christ, which was all-sufficient for the forgiveness of their sins and truly promised eternal life.

There was also a group of Jews who had been listening to the Good News regularly but had not converted. Parts of the Book of Hebrews are addressed to them. The author wanted everyone to understand — in ways that made sense to a Jew — that Jesus Christ lives and reigns forever more. Only He offers the better — the New — Covenant.

That was the Jewish perspective of the day.

Now let’s turn to what verse 9 is saying to Christians. I firmly believe that if every Christian studied Hebrews, s/he would be lifted up and revitalised in the profession of faith.

The reason why is that so many of us are babes — little children — in the faith, regardless of how long we have been attending church. For the past 50 years or so, very little doctrine has been taught from the pulpit on Sundays or even in classes for First Communion (Catholic) or Confirmation (Protestants). Parents also do rather little, generally speaking. How much Christian doctrine do we actually know? It has been woefully watered down through the decades.

MacArthur explains the danger of the lack of doctrine:

Satan operates in the area of religion. He is an angel of light. He masks himself in religion. He is a false prophet. And so, you see, it is not until you grow up in the Word to the stature of a young man that you literally overcome him.

You know who’s vulnerable to false doctrine? Babes, right? He says, “Young men, the Word abides in you, and you overcome him.” In other words, if I have grown to the level of a young man spiritually, false doctrine is not my problem. The Bible says that when you’re saved, you overcome the world. When you get to be a young man, you overcome the devil. There’s one thing you never overcome, what’s left? The flesh. We wait for the glorification of our bodies to overcome the flesh. But when you go to a certain point in your maturing in the Word of God, false doctrine is no longer a problem. But as long as you’re a baby, it is.

Now, with that in mind, reading again from our passage in Hebrews, let’s see what he is saying, “Be not carried away” – or about – “with various and strange doctrines for it is a good thing that the heart be established with grace, not with foods, which have not profited them that have been occupied with them.” What’s he been saying? Don’t be babies. Don’t get dragged off into false doctrine. Now, if you’re going to avoid that, what do you have to do? Be nourished up in what? Sound doctrine. And again you come back to the same principle that we have repeated so many times, that the Word of God is the key.

With regard to food, MacArthur rightly says:

Now, you’ll notice that he says here, you know, the Christian life doesn’t revolve around ceremonial law, not meats or foods, and the Jews were so used to food laws and food rituals that it was a tough thing for them to make that kind of a break. There’s an interesting verse, it’s 1 Corinthians 8:8, this is what it says: “But food will not commend us to God.” Pretty simple. God doesn’t care what you eat. Food will not commend us to God. “We are neither the worse if we do not eat nor the better if we do eat.” In other words, God does not care about your religious diet. That’s exactly what he says in verse 9. Let your heart be established with grace, not with ceremony.

The ever-growing trend towards vegetarianism, even partially, and veganism will not bring us favour with God, even notionally for Planet Earth’s sake. This is becoming somewhat of a religion of its own, yet, who among us can out-guess God as to the bounty, not only of food but also natural resources, that He has given us? No one can rightly presume we are in peril, yet, many Christians — including clergy — believe we are in mortal danger of the Earth coming to an end through man’s hands.

We should be far more worried about the state of our souls, but that has long disappeared from our discourse.

Matthew Henry discusses the meaning of verse 9. This can be applied to every present day teaching that diverges from the Bible:

a. They were divers and various (Hebrews 13:9), different from what they had received from their former faithful teachers, and inconsistent with themselves.

b. They were strange doctrines: such as the gospel church was unacquainted with foreign to the gospel.

c. They were of an unsettling, distracting nature, like the wind by which the ship is tossed, and in danger of being driven from its anchor, carried away, and split upon the rocks. They were quite contrary to that grace of God which fixes and establishes the heart, which is an excellent thing. These strange doctrines keep the heart always fluctuating and unsettled.

d. They were mean and low as to their subject. They were about external, little, perishing things, such as meats and drinks, &c.

e. They were unprofitable. Those who were most taken with them, and employed about them, got no real good by them to their own souls. They did not make them more holy, nor more humble, nor more thankful, nor more heavenly.

Verse 10 pertains to the exclusive right that Christians have towards receiving the body and blood of Christ in Holy Communion. In other words, those who do not believe in Christ should not be partaking of it. Henry puts this verse in context by explaining that, in the early days, Christians did not have altars as the Jews did in the temple. The Jews criticised them for it:

f. They would exclude those who embraced them from the privileges of the Christian altar (Hebrews 13:10): We have an altar. This is an argument of the great weight, and therefore the apostle insists the longer upon it. Observe,

(a.) The Christian church has its altar. It was objected against the primitive Christians that their assemblies were destitute of an altar; but this was not true. We have an altar, not a material altar, but a personal one, and that is Christ; he is both our altar, and our sacrifice; he sanctifies the gift. The altars under the law were types of Christ; the brazen altar of the sacrifice, the golden altar of his intercession.

(b.) This altar furnishes out a feast for true believers, a feast upon the sacrifice, a feast of fat things, spiritual strength and growth, and holy delight and pleasure. The Lord’s table is not our altar, but it is furnished with provision from the altar. Christ our passover is sacrificed for us (1 Corinthians 5:7), and it follows, therefore let us keep the feast. The Lord’s supper is the feast of the gospel passover.

(c.) Those who adhere to the tabernacle or the Levitical dispensation, or return to it again, exclude themselves from the privileges of this altar, from the benefits purchased by Christ. If they serve the tabernacle, they are resolved to subject themselves to antiquated rites and ceremonies, to renounce their right to the Christian altar; and this part of the argument he first proves and then improves.

The reason a professing Jew cannot — and would not — take Communion is that no part of the Jewish sacrifice was to be consumed and the bodies of the animals were taken outside the camp to be burnt (verses 10, 11):

[a.] He proves that this servile adherence to the Jewish state is a bar to the privileges of the gospel altar; and he argues thus:–Under the Jewish law, no part of the sin-offering was to be eaten, but all must be burnt without the camp while they dwelt in tabernacles, and without the gates when they dwelt in cities: now, if they will still be subject to that law, they cannot eat at the gospel-altar; for that which is eaten there is furnished from Christ, who is the great sin-offering. Not that it is the very sin-offering itself, as the papists affirm; for then it was not to be eaten, but burnt; but the gospel feast is the fruit and procurement of the sacrifice, which those have no right to who do not acknowledge the sacrifice itself.

That would have been an important message to the Hebrews who had converted. The author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is saying in so many words: ‘Okay, then, if you wish to revert to the teachings of Mosaic law and sacrifices, then you can no longer receive the body and blood of Christ, because you no longer believe in His supreme sacrifice. Give up the spiritual nourishment and grace that partaking of the fruits of His sacrifice brings.’

However — and interestingly, because I had not considered this before — the author of Hebrews says that just as sacrificial animals were burnt outside the camp or the city gates, so, too, did Jesus die on the Cross outside the gates of Jerusalem in order to sanctify us through His blood (verse 12).

Henry says:

… it might appear that Christ was really the antitype of the sin-offering, and, as such, might sanctify or cleanse his people with his own blood, he conformed himself to the type, in suffering without the gate. This was a striking specimen of his humiliation, as if he had not been fit either for sacred or civil society! And this shows how sin, which was the meritorious cause of the sufferings of Christ, is a forfeiture of all sacred and civil rights, and the sinner a common plague and nuisance to all society, if God should be strict to mark iniquity. Having thus shown that adherence to the Levitical law would, even according to its own rules, debar men from the Christian altar, he proceeds …

This should amply demonstrate how much God hates sin. John MacArthur makes much of this in his various sermons, but, unless we are directed to the Bible — and the Book of Hebrews has the best passages on it — we do not understand the necessity of God’s mandating a blood sacrifice for sin.

Jesus made the one, sufficient oblation for our sins through His most precious blood.

Anyone who does not believe that, as the author of Hebrews says, does not deserve to partake of the grace-filled fruits of His sacrifice in Holy Communion.

The author goes on to say that, just as Jesus went outside the gate of the city to die, we must also exit the gate of the world and follow Him (verse 13). We must turn our love away from what those of the world hold on to and follow the path to eternal life.

That means rejecting sin, carnal comforts and materialism, which will put us out of the perimeters of the camp and the boundaries of the city.

Henry explains that, because we no longer belong to the camp or the city, the world will hate us for it:

First, Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp; go forth from the ceremonial law, from sin, from the world, from ourselves, our very bodies, when he calls us. Secondly, Let us be willing to bear his reproach, be willing to be accounted the offscouring of all things, not worthy to live, not worthy to die a common death.

However, we do not care, because, this world is only a temporary place for us as believers, as ‘we seek the city that is to come’ (verse 14): the heavenly realm.

Henry says of verse 14:

This was his reproach, and we must submit to it; and we have the more reason because, whether we go forth from this world to Christ or no, we must necessarily go forth in a little time by death; for here we have no continuing city. Sin, sinners, death, will not suffer us to continue long here; and therefore we should go forth now by faith, and seek in Christ the rest and settlement which this world cannot afford us, Hebrews 13:14.

In conclusion, we will all depart this mortal coil, so we would do well, right now, to follow Christ.

The author then tells us what our sacrifices are to be as Christians. Those of us who went to Catholic school remember the nuns discussing ‘making sacrifices’, especially during Lent and Advent. They were not wrong. The following verses from Hebrews 13 are included in the readings for a Sunday in the season of Pentecost in Year C:

15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

So, we have a mandate as Christians to offer sacrifices of love: to God and to those around us.

Jesus answered the Pharisee as to which was the greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40):

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Fortunately, the Anglican Book of Common Prayer includes those verses at the beginning of the service of Holy Communion. Regular attendance puts them in the memory bank to be remembered the rest of the week.

Next time — Hebrews 13:17-19

Bible treehuggercomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Hebrews 12:8-11

If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11 For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

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It occurred to me early last week that I had forgotten to write up these additional verses about discipline from God.

These follow my post on Hebrews 12:4-7.

I realise these verses are hard for some of us to handle. Some reading them will have come from abusive homes. They have my deep empathy and commiserations.

However, while nations are legislating against corporal punishment in the home to prevent abuse, for centuries — in fact, until just recently — it was a mainstay of family and educational life. Many years ago, I read a book about English social history which said that, until the late Middle Ages, students at Oxford and Cambridge were routinely beaten for what we would consider minor infractions. At the time, both were seminaries, so all the students were young men. It is said that St Augustine used to flog his students, also. They, too, were young men, not little boys.

One thing that is becoming clear in 21st century society is that there are so many unhappy young people in this world. Their parents have never been kinder to them physically, yet, they are so miserable and depressed. Are we to draw the conclusion that some sort of punishment would have, paradoxically, made them less depressed? I do not know, but the ones we see in the media at demonstrations and violent protests are shouty navel-gazers of the first water, as if no one ever had ever taken the time to control their childhood impulses.

That said, the subject of corporal punishment aside, the main point of the author of Hebrews discourse is to point out that God corrects our ways through privation to save us from sin — and eternal death.

The author begins by saying that if we do not experience discipline in our lives, that means our fathers never loved us; we might as well have been illegitimate children (verse 8).

Matthew Henry makes the following salient points about earthly fathers and our heavenly Father (emphases mine):

Observe, (1.) The best of God’s children need chastisement. They have their faults and follies, which need to be corrected. (2.) Though God may let others alone in their sins, he will correct sin in his own children; they are of his family, and shall not escape his rebukes when they want them. (3.) In this he acts as becomes a father, and treats them like children; no wise and good father will wink at faults in his own children as he would in others; his relation and his affections oblige him to take more notice of the faults of his own children than those of others. (4.) To be suffered to go on in sin without a rebuke is a sad sign of alienation from God; such are bastards, not sons. They may call him Father, because born in the pale of the church; but they are the spurious offspring of another father, not of God, Hebrews 12:7,8.

The author goes on to say that we respected our fathers who chastised us, therefore, we should be that much more reverential to God who wants us to be with Him forever (verses 9, 10).

Many of us resented correction when we received it, but we grew to be grateful for it as we matured.

Henry explains:

[3.] The fathers of our flesh corrected us for a few days, in our state of childhood, when minors; and, though we were in that weak and peevish state, we owed them reverence, and when we came to maturity we loved and honoured them the more for it. Our whole life here is a state of childhood, minority, and imperfection, and therefore we must submit to the discipline of such a state; when we come to a state of perfection we shall be fully reconciled to all the measures of God’s discipline over us now. [4.] God’s correction is no condemnation. His children may at first fear lest affliction should come upon that dreadful errand, and we cry, Do not condemn me, but show me wherefore thou contendest with me, Job 10:2. But this is so far from being the design of God to his own people that he therefore chastens them now that they may not be condemned with the world, 1 Corinthians 11:32. He does it to prevent the death and destruction of their souls, that they may live to God, and be like God, and for ever with him.

At the time we are receiving correction, it is unpleasant and humiliating. Yet, looking back on it, it taught us the difference between right and wrong and to choose the correct path of behaviour — ‘the peaceful fruit of righteousness’ (verse 11) — that benefits us, our family and others with whom we come in contact. Most of all, through righteousness, we find favour with God.

John MacArthur discusses the joys one receives after privation of certain things has ended — a seeming paradox, to be sure, but one we know well:

I think implied in there is the fullness of life. Really live. You don’t know what living’s all about until you’ve been through some things. You don’t know what victory is until you’ve fought a battle. You don’t know what deliverance has been – is until you’ve been in prison. You don’t know what healing is till you’ve been sick. You don’t know what riches are until you’ve been poor. Right?

Life only is life when you’ve been wretched and miserable.

Second thing, second product is holiness, verse 10, “For they verily, for a few days, chastened us after their own pleasure; but He for our profit, that we might be partakers of His holiness.”

God wants us to conform to His image. Never feel envious of people who get away with everything bad in life and seem to have it all. They will get their reckoning in the end from the Almighty:

You know, there’s only one kind of holiness – what kind? – His holiness. That’s the only kind. And He wants us to partake of His holiness. That’s just absolutely a fantastic thought, to partake of His holiness.

Ephesians 3:19, “To be filled with all the fulness of God.” What a thought. And the only way that I can ever partake of His holiness and be righteous before Him in a practical sense is when I conform to His image. And to conform to His image, I must take His discipline. You see? Because I’m unruly, and I have sin in me, and I must respond to His discipline.

I want to be a partaker of His holiness. And it’ll only happen as I am disciplined. How are you going to take discipline? You’re going look at it, first of all, and watch those two perils. Don’t treat it lightly, despising it and not seeing the full end of what it is. Look over the wall, over the dark cloud. And you’re not going to faint, get despondent, despairing.

The second thing is you’re going to recognize what it proves. It proves, first of all, His love, and secondly what? Our sonship. And instead of doubting that He’s near, you’re going to thank Him for being near and being a loving Father and teaching what He’s teaching you.

Thirdly, you’re going to recognize the product that He’s trying to get at. Number one, life lived, and lived to its fullest. Number two, He wants you to conform to His holiness practically. Positionally you’re holy; practically, He wants you to be what you are in position …

Welcome, sweet discipline. Discipline designed for my joy. Discipline designed to make me what God wants me to be.

Again, as I’ve written and as MacArthur has said, it’s a good idea to regard this as God’s training us for endurance on our Christian journey. He is our divine spiritual coach.

The trials He brings us toughen us up spiritually to resist temptation and sin:

it’s just like spiritual weightlifting. Consider – watch this – consider your troubles not a burden but a weight. And every trouble that comes is spiritual exercise. And when you get exercised by it, you’re building spiritual muscles. The stronger you are, the more you’re going to appreciate what God is doing.

Be glad and be thankful for God’s spiritual discipline. Without it, we could not run the race towards eternal life.

In closing, we suffer nothing compared to what God’s only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, suffered on the Cross for us. God sent Jesus to die for our sins. Jesus knew it would be the most horrifying torture and death ever. Yet, He obeyed His father in all things.

When we get despondent and navel gaze, let us remember Christ’s example: pray and obey the Father.

I will post again on Hebrews tomorrow — Hebrews 13:9-14 — as stated last week.

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