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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 St Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany.

The Web Gallery of Art explains:

The crucified Christ is in the centre of the panel. His figure is repeated on the left side conquering an evil demon and death. In the background, a scene of the Expulsion from Eden reminds viewers of the presence of sin and the subsequent need for salvation. Immediately on the right of Christ, St John the Baptist points one of his fingers at the central figure and the index finger from his other hand to the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God. Next to the Baptist stands Lucas Cranach the Elder. A stream of blood from Christ’s side flows directly upon his forehead, implying that no priest or saint is needed for intercession. On the far right, Luther points to a passage from his German translation of the Bible concerning Christ’s redemptive blood, which frees all believers from sin. In the background, the Old Testament tale of Moses and the Brazen Serpent and the New Testament story of the Annunciation to the Shepherds are depicted as examples of God’s grace.

Below is a back catalogue of posts I wrote about Good Friday, which readers might find useful:

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Meditations on the Cross

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

Holy Week and Easter — the two-part story

We are in Year C of the three-year Lectionary. One of the epistle choices for Good Friday 2016 is 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.

The Book of Hebrews is thought to have been written for Hellenistic (Greek) Jews, not those living in Palestine. Its authorship has been debated throughout Christian history. It was probably written after St Paul’s death in 65 AD but before the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The Hebrew audience for these letters were converts to the Church. They had also been persecuted and the book contains a number of encouraging messages for them to focus on Christ and the life to come.

It’s a beautiful book, explaining why Mosaic Law and Jewish customs are no longer required as Jesus Christ, through His death on the cross, was the ultimate, perfect, sufficient sacrifice for sin.

Hebrews is also a good book to use with atheists who continue to stubbornly insist that Christians follow Mosaic Law. It describes how the New Covenant replaces the Old Covenant.

Hebrews 10 begins with an explanation of Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient, thereby ending the old requirement for ritual sacrifice (verses 12-14):

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.

The theme for our Good Friday reading is the full assurance of faith.

Verses 16 and 17 cite Jeremiah 31:33-34, which prophesy the New Covenant, the forgiveness of sin and the Church (emphases mine):

33 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Therefore, as Christ gave Himself as the sacrifice for our sins, there is no longer any need for continuing animal sacrifices (verse 18).

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

… there shall be no more remembrance of sin against true believers, either to shame them now or to condemn them hereafter. This was much more than the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices could effect.

The author of Hebrews then discusses the temple and Jesus’s crucifixion (verses 19, 20). Through his sacrifice, He has opened the once forbidden Holy of Holies. As we know, after Jesus died, the curtain hiding the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem from the faithful was rent afterward. The author draws the comparison of Jesus’s pierced flesh to the torn temple curtain.

John MacArthur explains the staggering significance of this for a Jew — and those in Jerusalem at the time of the Crucifixion:

… 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 in 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.

The ‘great priest’ in verse 20 refers to Christ Jesus. Therefore, the Hebrew audience may approach the tabernacle with true hearts as well as the full assurance and knowledge that their sins are forgiven (verse 21). Their sins have been forgiven and they should consider themselves washed clean (verse 22). Water refers to Baptism as well as their former ritual cleansing, still a part of Jewish life today. However, Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross has abolished the need for it. Instead, His blood was (figuratively) sprinkled on their hearts, making them clean.

Henry takes this a step further:

Our bodies washed with pure water, that is, with the water of baptism (by which we are recorded among the disciples of Christ, members of his mystical body), or with the sanctifying virtue of the Holy Spirit, reforming and regulating our outward conversation as well as our inward frame, cleansing from the filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. The priests under the law were to wash, before they went into the presence of the Lord to offer before him. There must be a due preparation for making our approaches to God.

Therefore, the author says, the Hebrews should remain hopeful and not waver, because our Lord is faithful (verse 23). The author did not want to see his people go back to the Jewish faith, which is the reason for the next two verses (24, 25). The people were to meet together regularly so that no one fell away and returned to his original beliefs.

Henry goes on to apply this in another sense. God’s constant faithfulness is infinitely greater than ours, therefore, we owe Him our full devotion:

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.

The rest of Hebrews 10 explains the divine judgement and eternal condemnation — ‘a fury of fire’ (verse 27) — that would result from going back to Jewish belief. However, it ends on a hopeful note, with a reminder of how they bore their persecution and imprisonment because they were contemplating Christ.

We, too, should share that same confidence and assurance in and through the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Good Friday is a time of sorrowful contemplation but also one for prayers of thanksgiving for our Lord Jesus Christ.

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