You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Forbidden Bible verses’ tag.

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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 12:12-17

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

———————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed the previous set of verses, difficult to digest in some ways, about discipline from God. I suggested that we liken God to a divine coach, strengthening us through our trials the way an athletics coach would build up his charges’ strength through rigorous exercise.

The author of Hebrews is encouraging the new converts from Judaism to be strong and persevere with the faith, no matter what trials befall them. They lost their families and friends because of their Christian faith. Not surprisingly, they were faltering.

There were also Hebrews who were attending Christian worship services but had not fully committed themselves as followers of Christ. The author of Hebrews wanted them to make that commitment.

John MacArthur explains that the author’s intent was to save both groups from apostasy (emphases mine):

Sprinkled among these believing Jews were some who hadn’t even yet been saved. And they had identified superficially as professing Christians with this Jewish community of believers, and they were there in name only, not in truth. And they were in danger of turning around and going back to apostate, to be apostates, to apostatize if you want the verb. They were in danger of saying, “Oh, this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough of this; I’m going back to Judaism.” And had they done that, they would have been locked in unbelief forever because they would have rejected against full information. And that’s what apostasy is.

These verses are addressed to faltering believers. Therefore, the author exhorts them to get themselves in position for the endurance that faith demands (verse 12), an analogy used elsewhere in the Bible, including the Old Testament:

What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.

These converts, like any other Christian throughout history, needed to be stronger spiritually. Poor spiritual positioning could cause them to become spiritually lame, when they should be healed (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the running analogy based on his own personal experience at school. The upper case ‘He’ below refers to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the author of Hebrews along with every other author of the Bible:

You know, if you’re an athlete, and you’re going to train for a track meet, you’re going to discipline yourself or you’re not going to be any good in the track meet. Can you imagine a guy coming out to run a mile who’s never worked out? You see, the discipline isn’t meant to slow him down; the discipline is meant to speed him up. It’s meant to make him faster in the race. And God brings things into our lives in order that He might speed us, not slow us down.

You know, in any kind of a race, you can always tell when a guy gets tired. I ran enough track to know this. And you can always tell two things automatically happen. I know this from my – I’m telling you, personal experience; this has happened to me many, many times. The first thing that happens to a good runner, when he gets tired, is his arms drop. One of the first things you learn in running is the motion of your arms is very important and very strategic to the movement of your body. And the rhythm is all – all needs to be in congruity. It has to be going together. And you can always tell when a guy gets tired, because his arms start dropping, and that breaks his rhythm. You see, your arms are powerful enough to pull you into your stride. And any good runner works very diligently on the motion of his arms. And as he gets tired, his arms begin to drop, and then he begins to lose the drive.

The second thing that always happens to a runner, when he gets tired, is his knees begin to wobble. Now any of you guys that have run track, you know this; you know what it’s like to say, “Go, leg, go,” and it doesn’t. Right? And your knees are just going like this. Well, I can – I can remember so many times running a 440 and coming around to the 380 mark, with 60 yards to go, and saying, “Go, knees, go,” and they just – you just have to go – “Mmm” – like this, and just put one out in front of the other, almost forcing each leg individually.

And so, this is a very graphic illustration that He has here. The arms begin to droop, the rhythm is lost, and pretty soon he’s fighting against the growing numbness in his legs. And you know what happens then? If he begins to concentrate on the numbness in his legs, he’s finished. There’s only one thing that a runner can do at that point, and that is to look at the goal line. To look at that goal line and tell himself, “I am going to make that goal.” It’s the only thing he can do.

So, it is with a Christian. There may come times in the Christian life when your arms begin to droop, and your knees begin to wobble, and you don’t know if you can get one in front of the other one again, where you don’t look at your wobbly knees, and you don’t start looking at your drooping arms, and you just look at that finish line. And better than any guy who ever ran a race, you have the about guaranteed condition that you’re going to be the victor. And with that in the back of your mind, you fire on.

The author says that the converts must not only strive to make peace with everyone but also be holy, because without holiness, none of us will ever see God in the life to come (verse 14). Both of those are very difficult to do, especially when we spend so much time in the world of work and leisure outside the home. Temptations are everywhere.

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.

This is why God gives us trials and tribulations, so that we endure them and come out as stronger Christians.

The author continues, exhorting the converts to make sure that everyone can obtain God’s grace. He also tells them not become bitter people, because bitterness takes root all too easily (verse 15). This verse concerns our personal behaviour and the example we must set as Christians.

MacArthur says that everyone who encounters us is affected in some way by the example we set. MacArthur tells us:

Christians, so often this is true – isn’t it? – when you say, “When I sin, it’s only my business.” No, it’s not. When you fall, somebody’s watching.

And our example to others will give either a good or a bad impression to them of Christianity.

MacArthur relates a true story about a father who was fond of strong drink and his young son:

I always think of the story my dad used to tell about the father who went out to get drunk again, and he was walking through the snow to the bar. And he hadn’t gone very far from his house, and he thought something was following him. And he turned around, and here was his little boy, six years old, stretching as far as he could to make sure he put his feet in his dad’s footsteps in the snow. And his dad said, “Where are you going?”

He says, “I’m just following your footsteps, Dad.” And as the story goes, his dad went home and broke down and cried, and some – through some other instrumentation, God sent somebody, and that man became saved and later told that story.

Therefore:

Well, you know, somebody’s walking along, just putting their feet right in the spot you’ve made. And if you’re wobbling around, knocking into everybody’s lane you’re going to mess up a lot of Christians. Make our paths straight, stay in your own lane. Run a smooth, clear, straight path. The Greek word here is a smooth, straight path. Now there’s a – this again is an Old Testament concept. I’m thinking it’s Proverbs 4 – I might be wrong – 25, yes, “Let thine eyes look right on” – that’s good; you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you? – “Let thing eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look” – straight ahead – “straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Make a straight path and go. Don’t wander from side to side, looking over the edge, seeing what the world’s doing. You’re going to mess up some other Christians.

Now, I like the term that is used here for paths, trochias in the Greek, and it means the track left by wheels. You know, the cart would go down in a straight line; it would leave tracks. And the point is that you’re not only running, you’re leaving a track. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? You’re leaving a pattern for somebody to follow. And there’s – somewhere back there are Christians who are either going like this after your life or like this. See? Knowing over other Christians while they follow you.

And so, continuance, beloved, isn’t just for your sake; it’s for whoever’s looking at you. It’s so that you can provoke each other to love and good works that you’re to run a straight path. It affects other people.

The author tells his audience not to engage in sexual immorality or to be unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (verses 16, 17). Esau could find no peace after that.

Henry explains the seriousness of Esau’s sin. God passed judgement on him and gave him no inner peace for his foolishness. Henry also picks up on this as a way for the author of Hebrews to warn about apostasy:

The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau’s sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau’s punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, &c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience; he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.

The Jewish converts were in danger of throwing away the birthright they had been given when they became Christians. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to spit in the face of that birthright, denying Jesus Christ and God the Father only to embrace the world and sin.

Henry explains:

We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father’s blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle’s arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness’ sake; and the reasoning is very strong.

This is the second half of Hebrews 12, designed to put a holy fear into the converts. This passage is in the Lectionary and read on one of the Sundays in the season after Pentecost:

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

People don’t believe that. It’s an analogy, they say. Or they say that it was true at the time it was written, but no longer.

No. If Scripture says that God is a consuming fire — and similar phrasing occurs throughout the Bible — then, we should take it on board as truth.

In closing, returning to verse 15, we need to watch out for others, too, lest they stumble. MacArthur explains the Holy Spirit’s intention in that verse:

Here’s a guy who comes to the church, sees Christianity, sticks around, sticks around sticks around — falls away into apostasy. Hebrews chapter 6, classic definition. Now He says, “Hey, people, take the oversight; don’t let that happen. Don’t let that guy go.”

You say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I-I-”

That’s the stupidest remark you could ever make. Ridiculous you don’t want to say anything.

“Don’t want to offend.”

Offend! Offend! Go offend! Wow, the cross itself is an offense, and let’s do a little offending. I mean if a guy’s going to go to hell just because we’re afraid to offend him, that’s the worst offense imaginable. And these people – you know, grace is available. He says, “They’re going to – grace is available, but they’re going to fall back from grace.” He says, “You take the oversight, and you watch and don’t let it happen to them.”

There is much to consider in these six verses. We have great responsibilities as Christians. This is why God is continuously training us to be better, holier people. He wants us to persevere in patience, with our eyes on the reward to come in Heaven.

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

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 11:23-28

23 By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict. 24 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, 25 choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. 26 He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 27 By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible. 28 By faith he kept the Passover and sprinkled the blood, so that the Destroyer of the firstborn might not touch them.

—————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s reading discussed the faith of more of the earliest men in the Old Testament: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph. The reading prior to that discussed the first heroes of faith in Genesis: Abel, Enoch and Noah.

John MacArthur emphasises the choices that each man made. They chose to follow God, difficult and lonely though it was (emphases mine below):

All men make a choice. All Christians live in the process of making choices. Abel chose God’s way, a more excellent sacrifice. His brother didn’t; his brother was cursed. Abel was blessed.

Enoch chose God’s way, to walk with God. The rest of the world didn’t. Noah chose God’s way, to obey God and do what God said. The rest of the world didn’t; they drowned. Abraham chose God’s way, to live a life of faith. The people in whose land he dwelt didn’t, and they were destroyed. Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph chose God’s way, to believe God for what they couldn’t see, and in it they conquered death. The heathen refused to believe God, and death conquered them.

MacArthur says that the decisions we make determine not only our temporal life but also our eternal one:

Now, Christian maturity, people – and here’s one angle on a definition of it – Christian maturity is making right decisions. That’s what it is. You can always tell a mature Christian by the decisions that he makes. And you can always tell an immature Christian by the decision that he makes. He makes wrong ones.

I’ll put it another way. Holiness is making right decisions. Carnality is making wrong ones. All of life is decisions, and all of the Christian life is decisions. And really, your Christian life rises or falls in terms of maturity and holiness on the basis of the decisions that you make.

When Satan tempts, you either decide to say no or yes. When opportunity calls, and you have a time when you can communicate some – to somebody the truth of Jesus Christ, you either take it or you don’t. Everything is decision. The time comes for you, and you have a few spare moments you might spend reading the Bible, you make a decision. You either read the Bible or you don’t. You get up on Sunday morning, you have an opportunity to come to a seminar class, study the Bible, you make a decision. Either you get up or you don’t.

And invariably, sooner or later, it’s going to touch your whole Christian life the decisions that you make. In business you have a decision. You have an opportunity to make a lot of money or to do what’s right. And sometimes you have those kind of decisions, believe me; we all do. Even in the ministry we do – not usually related to making a lot of money, but situations that could be beneficial to us, or we do what’s right. And we either grab that opportunity for the glory of God, or we lose it.

The author of Hebrews is impressing upon his audience the faith of these men who never saw the fulfilment of God’s plan in Jesus Christ. Yet, they believed that God had a greater promise — the Messiah — for mankind, even if they were centuries away from it. Yet, they believed God was their Father and they were determined to believe that obeying Him was the right and wise thing to do. They believed that God would take care of them.

The Hebrews, on the other hand, were living in the years after Christ’s ascension, His return to Heaven. Some had converted to Christianity and experienced all manner of hardship because of it. They wanted to return to the comfort of Judaism for a quiet life. Other Hebrews knew the story of the Good News but were reluctant to commit themselves to Christ.

The author is telling them how blessed they are to have lived in the era after Christ fulfilled the law through His death and resurrection. He is trying to encourage them to gratefully accept — and believe — that Jesus’s time on Earth was the ultimate fulfilment of God’s plan for mankind.

The author of Hebrews moves on to the life of Moses, the iconic figure for the Hebrews. He begins by saying that Moses’s parents were not afraid of Pharaoh’s edict to kill every first born of the Israelites (verse 23), which was a form of genocide.

Matthew Henry points out that they, too, had faith in God:

They were not afraid of the king’s commandment, Exodus 1:22. That was a wicked and a cruel edict, that all the males of the Israelites should be destroyed in their infancy, and so the name of Israel must be destroyed out of the earth. But they did not so fear as presently to give up their child; they considered that, if none of the males were preserved, there would be an end and utter ruin of the church of God and the true religion, and that though in their present state of servitude and oppression one would praise the dead rather than the living, yet they believed that God would preserve his people, and that the time was coming when it would be worth while for an Israelite to live. Some must hazard their own lives to preserve their children, and they were resolved to do it; they knew the king’s commandment was evil in itself, contrary to the laws of God and nature, and therefore of no authority nor obligation. Faith is a great preservative against the sinful slavish fear of men, as it sets God before the soul, and shows the vanity of the creature and its subordination to the will and power of God.

Moses’s mother, as we all know, hid him for three months until she put him in a little rounded boat made of bulrushes — papyrus reeds — and sent him down the river (Exodus 2:2-3).

Pharoah’s daughter was barren, as Henry tells us. She was his only child. Moses, whom she adopted, was her only child:

Pharaoh’s daughter is said to have been his only child, and was herself childless; and having found Moses, and saved him as she did, she resolved to take him and bring him up as her son; and so he stood fair to be in time king of Egypt, and he might thereby have been serviceable to Israel. He owed his life to this princess

MacArthur describes Moses’s early life:

And so, Moses had grown up in the society of Egypt, the wealthiest, most advanced civilization in that part of the world. And to be the son of Pharaoh’s daughter meant technically that you were the prince, and in a technical sense had the right some day to even rule in the land. Boy, you didn’t get any higher. The greatest ruler in the world was the pharaoh. And Moses was in line.

Yet, in his adulthood, Moses refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter and preferred to endure the sufferings of his fellow Israelites (verse 24).

This was because Moses’s mother, Jochebed, was her son’s wetnurse and was able to raise him as her own son. Therefore, he learned about God and His love of Israel which included His promise of a Messiah for them:

Now, go to Exodus chapter 2, and let’s look at the story and just pick up a few points of interest. Exodus chapter 2 verse 5, “Now the daughter of Pharaoh came down to wash herself at the river; and her maidens walked along by the river’s side; and when she saw the ark among the flags” – reeds – “She sent her maid to fetch it.

“When she had opened it, she saw the child, and behold, the babe wept.” Par for the course. “And she had compassion on him and said, ‘This is one of the Hebrews’ children.’” Here she discovers little Moses.

Verse 7, “Then said his sister to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and’” – isn’t it interesting that the little baby’s sister has run along the river to make sure that little Moses was going to be okay? Miriam. So, when she – verse 7, “Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, ‘Shall I go and call to thee a nurse of the Hebrew women, that she may nurse the child for thee?’” She knew just the one.

“And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, ‘Go.’ And the maid went and called the child’s mother.” Jochebed. “And Pharaoh’s daughter said unto her, ‘Take this child away and nurse it for me, and I will give thee thy wages.’ And the woman took the child and nursed him.” That’s quite a recovery process that God brought about, wasn’t it? Just fantastic.

Now, it says there – and this is the point that I want to pull out of here – “‘Take this child away and nurse it for me.’” Jochebed took the child and weaned the child. There’s a possibility that this was a three-year period, according to some. Some scholars feel that it was as many as 12 years that she kept Moses in her own home. And during that time, he would receive the full training of the Jewish home. He would be instilled and engrained with the Messianic hope. I kind of lean toward more than three years. Somewhere maybe between 3 and 12, long enough so that they could have taught him Messianic truth. Long enough so that he would have the great promise of Abraham that had been reiterated to Isaac, Jacob and Joseph reiterated to him so that he knew what God had planned for His people, because it’s apparent later on that he did know it. So, however long he stayed, however many years Jochebed was able to raise her own son, it was long enough to instill him with the great truths that were Israel’s promises from God that they not only would leave Egypt, but that God had promised them a great deliverer some day, and that he knew well the great Abrahamic covenant of a great nation, a great seed, and through them the world would be blessed, and the land would belong to them. And all of this undoubtedly was drilled into little Moses.

But after the training period was over, he rejoined the royal court. And when he rejoined the royal court, he was in the position as the prince of Egypt. He was in the position to receive everything that Egypt had to offer. You couldn’t get any higher than that unless you were the Pharaoh himself. The name given to him was Moshe. It means “because I drew him out of water.”

Moses had everything at his disposal, including an excellent education as well as rubbing shoulders with the great and the good.

MacArthur says that Moses’s education fit into God’s plan:

The formal education of Egypt, which included the reading and the writing of hieroglyphic and hieratic scripts, the copying of texts, the language of Canaan – undoubtedly he learned several languages. All of this was refining his God-given ability to be a leader and to write the Pentateuch, which he wrote the first five books of the Bible. All of this education went together to make him God’s man. Forty years in Egypt, God trained him and made him something. Then 40 years in the desert, He broke him back to nothing. Then for 40 years He used him.

Moses chose to be part of the persecution of the Israelites, rather than the easy life of ‘sin’ (verse 25).

MacArthur elaborates:

Now our text here tells us, in Hebrews 11, what he did with the honor of the palace. And in simple words, he chucked the whole thing. I love it. What it says is this, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years” – what’s the next word? – “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.” Moses did not seek the world’s prestige. He sought that which was the will of God. He knew God had a better kingdom. He knew God had a better reward. Prestige and honor and fame is a powerful thing. Most people live all their lives dreaming about attaining it. You know that? Sure we do. We put ourselves in the position of famous people. Most people live trying to get up higher on the social ladder. Moses gave it all up.

That happened when Moses turned 40. The author of Hebrews said that Moses looked towards his eternal reward, not an earthly one (verse 26).

Henry analyses what ‘the reproach of Christ’ in that verse means:

See how Moses weighed matters: in one scale he put the worst of religion–the reproaches of Christ, in the other scale the best of the world–the treasures of Egypt; and in his judgment, directed by faith, the worst of religion weighed down the best of the world. The reproaches of the church of God are the reproaches of Christ, who is, and has ever been, the head of the church. Now here Moses conquered the riches of the world, as before he had conquered its honours and pleasures. God’s people are, and always have been, a reproached people. Christ accounts himself reproached in their reproaches; and, while he thus interests himself in their reproaches, they become riches, and greater riches than the treasures of the richest empire in the world; for Christ will reward them with a crown of glory that fades not away. Faith discerns this, and determines and acts accordingly.

Therefore, he left Egypt, unafraid of Pharaoh because faith in the unseen — God — drove that decision (verse 27).

MacArthur explains:

All through those 40 years, he’d never wavered, apparently, in his faith in God. For 40 years he had enjoyed the privileges, the prestige, the status, the honors of a prince in Egypt with all the royal rigmarole that went with it. But the time came to face the biggest decision of his life. And it’s very apparent that God came to him, and God spoke to him somehow. God indicated to him that he wanted him to go back to his people Israel and lead them out to the Promised Land. He had to make a choice whether to throw aside everything that he had in the palace and go live with slaves, or to forget the call of God and grab what he had.

In Acts chapter 7, again going back to Stephen’s sermon which deals so interestingly with the character of Moses, just pulling out a couple of things, it says in verse 23 of Acts 7, “And when he was full 40 years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren the children of Israel. And seeing one of them suffer wrong, he defended him, and avenged him that was oppressed, and smote the Egyptian” – he killed him – “for he supposed his brethren would have understood” – watch – “how that God, by his hand would deliver them. But they understood not.”

You see, he knew that God had already called him to be the deliverer. And he thought, “If I go in there and show that to them, and I’ll smite this Egyptian, I’ll kill him, that’ll prove to them whose side I’m on. They’ll know that I’m to be their deliverer,” but they didn’t buy it. They didn’t buy it, but he knew what God wanted out of him.

When it came time for the great Exodus from Egypt, Moses and the faithful Israelites followed the command to daub their front doors with lamb’s blood so that their first-born children would be saved (verse 28). That was the first Passover. Henry reminds us that while the first-born among the Israelites were saved, their Egyptian counterparts were not:

The passover was one of the most solemn institutions of the Old Testament, and a very significant type of Christ. The occasion of its first observance was extraordinary: it was in the same night that God slew the first-born of the Egyptians; but, though the Israelites lived among them, the destroying angel passed over their houses, and spared them and theirs. Now, to entitle them to this distinguishing favour, and to mark them out for it, a lamb must be slain; the blood of it must be sprinkled with a bunch of hyssop upon the lintel of the door, and on the two side-posts; the flesh of the lamb must be roasted with fire; and it must be all of it eaten that very night with bitter herbs, in a travelling posture, their loins girt, their shoes on their feet, and their staff in their hand. This was accordingly done, and the destroying angel passed over them, and slew the first-born of the Egyptians. This opened a way for the return of Abraham’s posterity into the land of promise.

Also note the significance of the sacrificial lamb and Christ. Henry’s analysis makes this lesson come alive for us:

The accommodation of this type is not difficult. (1.) Christ is that Lamb, he is our Passover, he was sacrificed for us. (2.) His blood must be sprinkled; it must be applied to those who have the saving benefit of it. (3.) It is applied effectually only to the Israelites, the chosen people of God. (4.) It is not owing to our inherent righteousness or best performances that we are saved from the wrath of God, but to the blood of Christ and his imputed righteousness. If any of the families of Israel had neglected the sprinkling of this blood upon their doors, though they should have spent all the night in prayer, the destroying angel would have broken in upon them, and slain their first-born. (5.) Wherever this blood is applied, the soul receives a whole Christ by faith, and lives upon him. (6.) This true faith makes sin bitter to the soul, even while it receives the pardon and atonement. (7.) All our spiritual privileges on earth should quicken us to set out early, and get forward, in our way to heaven. (8.) Those who have been marked out must ever remember and acknowledge free and distinguishing grace.

The author of Hebrews, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wanted his audience to understand those same points through faith.

The penultimate set of verses in Hebrews 11 concerns the miracles but also the persecution that God’s people of the Old Testament endured.

The chapter ends with a final message on faith:

39 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, 40 since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Those heroes — and heroines — of faith did not see the Messiah, yet they fervently believed that God, in His enduring love, would send Him to us, which He did at the appointed time, according to His plan.

Next time — Hebrews 12:4-7

Bible openThe 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 (as cited below).

Hebrews 11:4-7

By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God. And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. By faith Noah, being warned by God concerning events as yet unseen, in reverent fear constructed an ark for the saving of his household. By this he condemned the world and became an heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.

—————————————————————————————-

In last week’s passage, the author of Hebrews encouraged his audience to rediscover the joyful confidence they initially had as converts. That was a positive warning against apostasy.

Hebrews 11 is all about faith, illustrated with the deeds of famous persons of the Old Testament.

The first few verses are in the three-year Lectionary, but it is important to read them to appreciate the rest of the chapter (emphases mine below):

11 Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.

John MacArthur explains why a discourse with scriptural illustrations on faith was necessary for the Hebrews. MacArthur refers to the Holy Spirit below, hence the ‘He’ in the second paragraph:

Their whole concept of religion was founded upon a works system or a merit system. They had the idea, wrongly so – they had perverted their own testament, but they had the idea that God kept score. And if you had more brownie points than negative points, you got in. And if you were sort of good, then that was all God expected – if you followed the prescribed ritual.

And so, when He’s talking to them about faith, it’s really a commodity they don’t quite understand. They don’t quite see – watch this – the absolute independence of faith from works as a way to God. You see? They may have understood a mixture of faith in works, but that’s abominable to God. They had to understand the absolute isolation of faith, apart from works, as a way to God.

Now, faith, having been pure, will produce works. But faith mixed with works as a way to God is invalid. And so, they needed to understand very clearly the absolute character of faith; that it had nothing to do with works in any way, shape, or form; that none of their ritual and none of their ceremony and none of their prescribed feasts or festivals had anything to do with satisfying God. Only by believing in Jesus Christ could that satisfaction come and therefore could they participate in the new covenant.

Pure faith produces good works on its own. One feels inclined to act out of genuine love for another — and for God.

Matthew Henry has a long analysis of Hebrews 11:1-3, however, this is his key takeaway:

Faith is not a force upon the understanding, but a friend and a help to it.

His commentary encourages us to read the Bible often to understand how God works in the world and has done since the dawn of time.

Moving on to Abel, who suffered death at the hands of his elder brother Cain, there is much to be said. Genesis 4 has the story. Cain brought a ‘fruit of the ground’ and Abel brought the firstborn of his flock, including the fat portions (verses 3 and 4).

Henry points out that their parents, Adam and Eve, have no feast day in the Christian calendar:

It is observable that the Spirit of God has not thought fit to say any thing here of the faith of our first parents; and yet the church of God has generally, by a pious charity, taken it for granted that God gave them repentance and faith in the promised seed, that he instructed them in the mystery of sacrificing, that they instructed their children in it, and that they found mercy with God, after they had ruined themselves and all their posterity. But God has left the matter still under some doubt, as a warning to all who have great talents given to them, and a great trust reposed in them, that they do not prove unfaithful, since God would not enroll our first parents among the number of believers in this blessed calendar.

He introduces Abel as follows:

Abel, one of the first saints, and the first martyr for religion, of all the sons of Adam, one who lived by faith, and died for it, and therefore a fit pattern for the Hebrews to imitate.

MacArthur says this of Abel:

Abel’s faith led him to do three things. Number one, to offer a more excellent sacrifice. Number two, to obtain righteous[ness]. Number three, to openly speak though dead. Because he believed God, he did those three things, and they’re progressive. Because he believed, he offered a better sacrifice. Because he offered a better sacrifice, he obtained righteousness. Because he obtained righteousness, he is for all the ages a living voice saying righteousness is by faith. You see? So, it’s progressive.

Verse four tells us those things, saying that God approved of his sacrifice. Abel followed God’s commands on sacrifice to the letter. Cain, on the other hand, did it his way, which led to a jealous murder.

MacArthur has a lengthy discourse of not only Adam and Eve but also their sons, excerpted below:

Now, it says that Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain was a tiller of the ground. One was a shepherd, the other was a farmer. Both were sinners. Both were conceived after the fall. Both were born outside of Eden, so they were born in sin …

Now, the central theme of Hebrews 11:4 is faith, and that’s the whole key to the chapter. And that’s what we want to find out here. Now, we read here that they both brought a sacrifice. Now, this tells us several things, and I want you to get this; this is interesting. Number one, it tells me that there was a place where God was to be worshipped. They had to bring that sacrifice to somewhere. Right? In verse 3, “Cain brought,” in verse 4, “he brought.” And it says, at the end of verse 3, “unto the Lord,” indicating that the Lord was somewhere where you could bring something. There had to be somewhere, someplace where they brought. I think that it’s very possible that the place was at the east of Eden, and perhaps there was an altar there. Verse 4 says that Abel brought an already slain animal, and the Lord had respect unto Abel and his offering. And so, there’s at least a good indication that there was already a place to make an offering, or an altar was already in that place. And it’s very likely that at the place where they had – where God had placed that angel – you remember at the east of the garden, with the flaming sword, to keep them from coming back in? – that that was the established point of contact with God …

Second thing I noticed, there was a time for worship

Thirdly, I think there was a way to worship. Not only a place and a time, but a way. God could be approached – now mark this – God could be approached only by sacrifice. The children of Adam and Eve had been definitely instructed that there was a place, that there was a time. And I believe that presupposes that they had also been instructed that there was a way to sacrifice. Now, Cain and Abel wouldn’t have known anything at all about doing this if God hadn’t told them. Right? Because the concept of sacrifice appears here for the very first time. And so, they must have had some information from God about time, place, and how to. It’s presupposed by the very nature of the situation. They came to a place ready to make a sacrifice. There must have been something there for which they could – which they could use to do it. They came together, at the same time, to the same place. And they came with differing offerings, but God only accepted one of them, which indicates God had already established a pattern for them.

In 11:4 of Hebrews, as we read earlier, we learned that it was by faith that Abel offered sacrifice. Now, where does faith come from? Well, Romans 10 – 10:17 says, “Faith comes by” – what’s the next word? – “hearing.” You cannot put your faith in what you do not know. Therefore, to assume that Abel offered a sacrifice by faith is also to assume that he heard from God what God wanted, and he believed God and obeyed God. You see? If faith then comes by hearing, Abel’s faith must have come by information from God. Therefore, he must have known the set pattern that God designed. He had heard that God required a sacrifice. He believed, and he evidenced his face by doing what God said to do.

Therefore, even then, with that first sacrifice, blood was required. God hates sin, and the only way it could be expiated was through blood. Thankfully, our Lord Jesus Christ accomplished that once and for all on the Cross. May we be ever grateful.

Returning to Genesis 4, a blood sacrifice started with Abel, through an instruction by God presumably, and Cain’s offering from the ground did not meet His requirement.

Henry adds that Cain’s offering was more of thanks than of atonement. God expected atonement, which Abel acknowledged. Henry posits that perhaps Cain did not know what God wanted:

Abel brought a sacrifice of atonement, brought of the firstlings of the flock, acknowledging himself to be a sinner who deserved to die, and only hoping for mercy through the great sacrifice; Cain brought only a sacrifice of acknowledgment, a mere thank-offering, the fruit of the ground, which might, and perhaps must, have been offered in innocency; here was no confession of sin, no regard to the ransom; this was an essential defect in Cain’s offering.

MacArthur disagrees with the premise that Cain did not know what was expected in a sacrifice:

Cain had the same information, brought what he wanted to anyway. He did his own thing in the great tradition of his mother. Did his own thing. And his father, for that matter. Cain didn’t believe God, thought he could approach God in his own works, thought he’d gather up the goodies that he’d collected and show God how wonderful they were, how he had tilled the soil and grown all this, and he said, “Here it is God, isn’t it terrific?” And you know what? Cain stands as all time “father” of false religion. You know what false religion is? Coming to God by another way than that which God has prescribed. Right? That’s all false religion is.

God cursed Cain by depriving him of further fruits of the ground at that place. Cain left His presence and settled in the land of Nod — ‘wandering’ — in the East of Eden (Genesis 4:16). His wife gave birth to the first Enoch, which is not the one discussed here, then built a city by that name.

Abel, according to the author of Hebrews, ‘still speaks’. Henry explains why:

He had the honour to leave behind him an instructive speaking case; and what does it speak to us? What should we learn from it? [1.] That fallen man has leave to go in to worship God, with hope of acceptance. [2.] That, if our persons and offerings be accepted, it must be through faith in the Messiah. [3.] That acceptance with God is a peculiar and distinguishing favour. [4.] That those who obtain this favour from God must expect the envy and malice of the world. [5.] That God will not suffer the injuries done to his people to remain unpunished, nor their sufferings unrewarded. These are very good and useful instructions, and yet the blood of sprinkling speaketh better things than that of Abel. [6.] That God would not suffer Abel’s faith to die with him, but would raise up others, who should obtain like precious faith; and so he did in a little time …

The next Old Testament person the author of Hebrews mentions is Enoch. His story is in Genesis 5:21-24:

21 When Enoch had lived 65 years, he fathered Methuselah. 22 Enoch walked with God[b] after he fathered Methuselah 300 years and had other sons and daughters. 23 Thus all the days of Enoch were 365 years. 24 Enoch walked with God, and he was not,[c] for God took him.

Verse 5 of Hebrews 11 says that Enoch never experienced death. This was because he pleased God exceedingly as he lived so profoundly in faith (verse 6).

MacArthur explains:

Notice verse 5 of Hebrews, and let’s just read these two verses. “By faith Enoch was translated that he shouldn’t see death.” In Genesis, it says, “He was not, for God took him.” Here it says, “He was translated that he should not see death; and was not found” – I mean there weren’t any remains; he just took off – “because God had translated him: for before his translation he had this testimony, that he pleased God. But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.”

Now, Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived by faith. And that’s the equivalent. In the Hebrew it says, “He walked with God.” In the Septuagint it says, “He pleased God.” They’re used interchangeably because what pleases God is when you walk by faith. Coming to God by faith and walking with God in faith pleases God. Enoch pleased God. Enoch lived in faith, believing God.

Now, there are five features, I think, that pleased God, and they’re in these two verses. First of all – the first of the five, Enoch was believing that God is. Notice verse 6, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that cometh to God must believe that He is.” The first feature that pleased God was he was believing God is. Secondly, he was seeking God’s reward. He must believe not only that He is, but that He’s a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. Thirdly, he was walking with God. Fourthly, he was preaching for GodFifthly, he was – and this is the result of it – entering God’s presence.

Then we come to Noah (verse 7). Noah did not know what exactly would happen regarding the flood, but he heeded God’s warning and built the famous ark, all according to God’s specifications, including the humans and animals on it. God saved Noah, his family and his fauna. Everyone and everything else was destroyed. Through his obedience to the letter, Noah obtained God’s righteousness.

MacArthur explains that it took several decades for Noah to finish the ark. Noah lived far away from any coastline:

Now, it may have appeared on the surface to be somewhat foolhardy, and we all can imagine what went on with his neighbors, and the laughing and all of that that was going on as he was out here building that thing. But God said to Noah, “Noah, judgment is coming. I am going to destroy the world by water. You better build a boat.” And do you know what Noah did? He dropped everything and spent over a hundred years building a boat. Somewhere in Mesopotamia, between the Tigris and the Euphrates River, miles and miles from any ocean. I don’t know about you, but after 70 or 80 years, I’d begin to wonder. It would get a little old working on the same boat. But that’s faith. Faith responds to God’s word

Now, Noah was a man like we are. He had a lot of things to do to occupy his time. And for him to give up his great gap of life and just spend his time building a boat took some kind of commitment. And it’s very likely that he never even understood much about boats, because he didn’t live in an area where there were ships that went in the sea. But he listened to God, and he spent his life obeying what God said. Isn’t it amazing? It would have been one thing for him to run out and order the lumber, but it was something else to see him, a hundred years later, still putting the pitch on.

I mean I think some of us believe God, and we run out, and we start, and then that’s it. It never gets much past that. Noah did it, and he continued.

Now, you’ll notice it says, “By faith Noah, being warned” – and the terms “of God” do not appear in some of the best manuscripts, but certainly should be included, if not in the manuscript, in italics, because obviously it was God that spoke. He was warned of God of things not yet seen. That’s the test of faith. What does verse 1 say faith is? “The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things” – what? – “not seen.” He didn’t see any water. The Lord didn’t rain on him a little bit for an afternoon so he’d get the feeling. He had no idea what was going on. But it says, “He was moved with fear.”

You say, “Aha, that’s why he did it. God held a big stick over him and said, ‘You better do this or I’ll let you have it.’”

Not that. The word “fear” may give you an erroneous impression that Noah acted under the influence of fright. But the Greek word means to reverence. He did it because he reverenced God’s word, and God told him to do it.

You know what the Bible says? “God commands all men everywhere to” – do what? – “repent.” Some people believe that, and they repent. Some people don’t believe it. Noah believed God’s word.

Faith can accomplish amazing things. These stories give us much upon which to reflect.

Next time — Hebrews 11:17-22

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 10:32-39

32 But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 34 For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. 35 Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. 37 For,

“Yet a little while,
    and the coming one will come and will not delay;
38 but my righteous one shall live by faith,
    and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”

39 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

——————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s verses warned of the severe price the faltering Hebrews could pay for apostasy. The converts, who had been rejected and persecuted, were beginning to question their Christianity.

The author had put a question to them. If God could strike dead those who did not follow Mosaic law, then how much stronger will His judgement be if people reject Jesus Christ?

28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace?

And:

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

John MacArthur says that those who hear of Jesus and reject Him will be judged more severely today than in the past, because Christianity is so universal (emphases mine):

God judged them very severely, but not nearly as severely as He judges the man today who comes to a full knowledge of Jesus Christ mentally and never makes a real decision to commit his life to Jesus Christ. That man will find himself in the Judas portion of hell, the severest punishment God has ever reserved. If I have been favored with the knowledge of the gospel, if I have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit, if I have professed to be a Christian and then despised His Lordship, denied His authority, broken His commandments, walked with His enemies and I’ve done it all willfully, what is that but another Judas kiss with which I have polluted the face of Jesus Christ and thus deserve to be with Judas in his place?

It’s a privilege for you to be here tonight and to hear the truth of Jesus Christ, it’s been a privilege every time you heard it, but don’t ever mistake privilege for security. Privilege can give you the severest kind of damnation if you don’t receive the privilege that God has granted. The tragedy of Judas is what he might have been, and that’s the tragedy of every man who comes to a full knowledge of the truth, turns around, and walks away. God is not more tolerant of sin today; He’s less tolerant. Because men have no excuse today.

In Acts 17:30, I read you this: “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked.” You know, in the Old Testament, God overlooked a lot of things because they didn’t have the indwelling Spirit and they didn’t have a full revelation, but listen here. “And the times of this ignorance God overlooked” – hear this – “but now commandeth all men everywhere” – what? – “to repent.” God’s not overlooking sin anymore. “Because He hath appointed a day in which He will judge the world.” Judgment.

In today’s reading, we see that the author of Hebrews changes tack, reminding the Jewish converts of their initial joy and confidence in Christ. He wants them to recapture that.

In their early days as converts they did not mind the hardships, even when those were public and even if they were held guilty by association with one another (verses 32, 33). They knew that those were but temporal hardships. They had their eye on the prize of eternal life.

Older translations for these verses have the term ‘gazing-stock’, or spectacle, for the converts. The author reminds them that they did not care then about being a public spectacle and calls upon them to recapture that initial confidence. MacArthur rewords it for us:

And so the writer says remember. Remember those fresh days, those exciting days when it all began? The first time you ever heard it? Remember. Verse 33, he says, hey, you guys were in the affliction “partly, while you were made a gazingstock.” Interesting – from the Greek word theatrizō from which we get theater. You were out on stage. You were a spectacle, just with the rest – you weren’t ashamed then. What’s going on? You weren’t ashamed. You used to stand with us. I know the persecutors have gotten to you, but remember what it was when you first began, how fresh and how wonderful and you weren’t afraid.

You had such a good start. Don’t fall now. You were made a gazingstock, both by reproaches and afflictions and partly while ye become companions of them that were so used. I mean just hanging around with us got you in some trouble.

In older translations, the beginning of verse 34 refers to the author’s former imprisonment and the kindness he received from the converts who visited him:

34 For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.

He reminds them that they did not care when their property was plundered, because they placed little value in worldly goods. Their possessions — spiritual ones — lay heavenward.

The author implores them to rediscover that inward confidence they had in the early days of hearing the Gospel, because the reward is great (verse 35).

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, [1.] The happiness of the saints in heaven is substance, something of real weight and worth. All things here are but shadows. [2.] It is a better substance than any thing they can have or lose here. [3.] It is an enduring substance, it will out-live time and run parallel with eternity; they can never spend it; their enemies can never take it from them, as they did their earthly goods. [4.] This will make a rich amends for all they can lose and suffer here. In heaven they shall have a better life, a better estate, better liberty, better society, better hearts, better work, every thing better. [5.] Christians should know this in themselves, they should get the assurance of it in themselves (the Spirit of God witnessing with their spirits), for the assured knowledge of this will help them to endure any fight of afflictions they may be encountered with in this world.

The author encourages them towards ‘endurance’ (verse 36), a word that St Paul often used in his ministry and one that applies to all Christians even today. Being a Christian is not easy. We read countless news items about followers of Christ being persecuted. In some countries, they are killed. In others, such as Western nations, they suffer ridicule or ostracisation. Their faith can also put their careers in peril.

They need endurance, or patience, so that they may receive their heavenly reward, to which nothing on earth can compare.

Verse 37, according to the concordance, is a combination of verses from Isaiah, Haggai and Habakkuk:

20 Come, my people, enter your chambers,
    and shut your doors behind you;
hide yourselves for a little while
    until the fury has passed by.  (Isaiah 26:20)

For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. (Haggai 2:6)

3 For still the vision awaits its appointed time;
    it hastens to the end—it will not lie.
If it seems slow, wait for it;
    it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him,
    but the righteous shall live by his faith.[a  (Habakkuk 2:3-4)

In verse 38, the author of Hebrews tells the converts that God takes no pleasure in apostates and will reject them. The rejection will be eternal and severe — more than we can imagine. Hebrews 10:31 says:

31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

The author ends with words encouragement: we’re not the kind to reject what we know; we soldier on in faith and hope (verse 39).

Matthew Henry puts it this way:

Those who have been kept faithful in great trials for the time past have reason to hope that the same grace will be sufficient to help them still to live by faith, till they receive the end of their faith and patience, even the salvation of their souls. If we live by faith, and die in faith, our souls will be safe for ever.

The theme of faith continues in Hebrews 11 as seen through the men of the Old Testament.

Next time — Hebrews 11:4-7

Bible read me 2The 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 (here and here).

Hebrews 10:26-31

26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

——————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the contrast the author of Hebrews made between the sacrifices of the Old Testament and Christ’s living sacrifice on the Cross.

It is important to remember that after Jesus died on the Cross, the veil covering the Holy of Holies in the temple of Jerusalem was rent in two. We do not think too much about that. Yet, we should. As regular readers of my columns on Hebrews know, that rending of the veil meant that there was no longer any barrier to God. Jesus’s blood sacrifice at the Crucifixion removed that barrier permanently. We now go to the Father through Him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has an especially interesting detail about the veil. It is well worth remembering (emphases mine below):

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.

On to today’s reading, which carries a stark warning about the Christian life. If we know the truth of Christ, yet do not turn away from serious sin, Christ’s blood sacrifice becomes null and void for us (verse 26). If that happens, we can expect fearsome judgement upon ourselves (verse 27).

Matthew Henry says that these verses refer to apostasy, not minor sins:

From the description he gives of the sin of apostasy. It is sinning wilfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, sinning wilfully against that truth of which we have had convincing evidence. This text has been the occasion of great distress to some gracious souls; they have been ready to conclude that every wilful sin, after conviction and against knowledge, is the unpardonable sin: but this has been their infirmity and error. The sin here mentioned is a total and final apostasy, when men with a full and fixed will and resolution despise and reject Christ, the only Saviour,–despise and resist the Spirit, the only sanctifier,–and despise and renounce the gospel, the only way of salvation, and the words of eternal life; and all this after they have known, owned, and professed, the Christian religion, and continue to do so obstinately and maliciously. This is the great transgression: the apostle seems to refer to the law concerning presumptuous sinners, Numbers 15:30,31. They were to be cut off.

The anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, appealed to his Jewish audience — some of whom were recent converts, others resistant — by mentioning the law of Moses, the terms of which they all understood. If those under the Old Covenant disobeyed those laws and had two or three witnesses to corroborate such sin, they died ‘without mercy’ (verse 28). That was a temporal death by stoning.

The source text for that judgement, which concerns idolatry, is Deuteronomy 17:2-6:

2 “If there is found among you, within any of your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, a man or woman who does what is evil in the sight of the Lord your God, in transgressing his covenant, and has gone and served other gods and worshiped them, or the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I have forbidden, and it is told you and you hear of it, then you shall inquire diligently, and if it is true and certain that such an abomination has been done in Israel, then you shall bring out to your gates that man or woman who has done this evil thing, and you shall stone that man or woman to death with stones. 6 On the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses the one who is to die shall be put to death; a person shall not be put to death on the evidence of one witness.

The author then asked his audience about the severity of punishment under the New Covenant (verse 29): would it not be far greater for denying Christ via apostasy?

Henry describes apostasy and the unimaginable punishment for it in the next life as follows:

(1.) They have trodden under foot the Son of God. To trample upon an ordinary person shows intolerable insolence; to treat a person of honour in that vile manner is insufferable; but to deal thus with the Son of God, who himself is God, must be the highest provocation–to trample upon his person, denying him to be the Messiah–to trample upon his authority, and undermine his kingdom–to trample upon his members as the offscouring of all things, and not fit to live in the world; what punishment can be too great for such men? (2.) They have counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing; that is, the blood of Christ, with which the covenant was purchased and sealed, and wherewith Christ himself was consecrated, or wherewith the apostate was sanctified, that is, baptized, visibly initiated into the new covenant by baptism, and admitted to the Lord’s supper. Observe, There is a kind of sanctification which persons may partake of and yet fall away: they may be distinguished by common gifts and graces, by an outward profession, by a form of godliness, a course of duties, and a set of privileges, and yet fall away finally. Men who have seemed before to have the blood of Christ in high esteem may come to account it an unholy thing, no better than the blood of a malefactor, though it was the world’s ransom, and every drop of it of infinite value.

The author of Hebrews reminds his audience that vengeance belongs to God, that God will judge and repay (verse 30). If we reject His Son and His Son’s ultimate sacrifice for us, then we can expect everlasting damnation and an unimaginably painful eternity.

As the author says (verse 20):

It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Henry expands on that point:

From the description we have in the scripture of the nature of God’s vindictive justice, Hebrews 10:30. We know that he has said, Vengeance is mine. This is taken out of Psalms 94:1, Vengeance belongs unto me. The terrors of the Lord are known both by revelation and reason. Vindictive justice is a glorious, though terrible attribute of God; it belongs to him, and he will use and execute it upon the heads of such sinners as despise his grace; he will avenge himself, and his Son, and Spirit, and covenant, upon apostates. And how dreadful then will their case be! The other quotation is from Deuteronomy 32:36, The Lord will judge his people; he will search and try his visible church, and will discover and detect those who say they are Jews, and are not, but are of the synagogue of Satan; and he will separate the precious from the vile, and will punish the sinners in Zion with the greatest severity. Now those who know him who hath said, Vengeance belongeth to me, I will recompense, must needs conclude, as the apostle does (Hebrews 10:31): It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Those who know the joy that results from the favour of God can thereby judge of the power and dread of his vindictive wrath. Observe here, What will be the eternal misery of impenitent sinners and apostates: they shall fall into the hands of the living God; their punishment shall come from God’s own hand. He takes them into the hand of his justice; he will deal with them himself; their greatest misery will be the immediate impressions of divine wrath on the soul. When he punishes them by creatures, the instrument abates something of the force of the blow; but, when he does it by his own hand, it is infinite misery. This they shall have at God’s hand, they shall lie down in sorrow; their destruction shall come from his glorious powerful presence; when they make their woeful bed in hell, they will find that God is there, and his presence will be their greatest terror and torment. And he is a living God; he lives for ever, and will punish for ever.

The author leaves that message with his audience. Next week’s post will explore the joy and confidence one can have in Christ through obedience in love.

Next time — Hebrews 10:32-39

Bible openThe 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 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

——————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin in God’s covenants, the ultimate and all-sufficient one being the Crucifixion.

The Old Covenant was ‘but a shadow of the good things to come’ with Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which brought with it the forgiveness of sins (verse 1). The Old Covenant could never bring redemption, as animal sacrifices had to be offered annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

It was only, in effect, a man saying, “Okay, God, I believe you. Okay, God, I want to worship you, so I’ll obey you and I’ll offer a sacrifice.” And God was saying, “On the basis of your works, in response to your faith, I accept that.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that if animal sacrifices could have taken away a sense of guilt — ‘consciousness of sins’ — then they would have stopped being offered (verse 2).

Yet, he says, that was not the case, because sacrifices had to take place every year on that day (verse 3).

MacArthur says that guilt became a permanent mainstay of the Old Covenant, and, rightly so, for that time. He also thinks that ‘conscience of sin’ is a better phrasing than ‘consciousness of sin’ (emphases mine):

Instead of being able to look at the sacrifice and say, “Wow, I’m forgiven,” they kept looking at the sacrifice and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m not. I’m just as sick as I’ve always been. And I’ve got to go down there again with another lamb. And I’m not getting any better.”

And so, you see, rather than the old covenant removing sin, it just stood as a constant reminder that sin was not removed. The sacrifice of animals is powerless to remove sin. To purify a man, to free a man from the conscience of guilt that binds his mind, they cannot do it. All they can do is go on reminding a man that he is uncured and that he’s a sinner at the mercy of God, and he’s not free to enter into God’s presence at all because he’s not holy. So far from erasing sin, they only underlined it.

Now, the conscience of sin, let me just say a word about this. The conscience of sin has to do with guilt. There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with sin. It’s just a system built into you, just like pain is built into you. Where pain reacts to bodily injury, guilt reacts to the injury of your soul by disobedience to God, and it’s a warning system. And they never, in the Old Testament, ever were relieved from the tension of guilt.

Although Jewish people today talk with satisfaction about their guilt for that reason, so do Catholics. Guilt is a badge of honour for both groups.

I remember growing up as a Catholic and being told that after receiving Communion we were in a state of grace — until our next sin. Well, one could sin before one got in one’s car to return home from church, meaning that one’s state of grace had vanished in a trice and could not be restored until one received Communion again.

MacArthur even mentions that in his sermon in a brief comment on Mass:

Now, that, to me, is nothing more than a constant reminder that they’re not forgiven. That’s a throwback to the old economy. We only need Jesus Christ to be crucified once. We don’t have to re-crucify Him all the time because then we’re doing exactly what the Old Testament said … “You can only be forgiven a week at a time,” and that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

Having spent half my life now as a Protestant, I could not agree more.

MacArthur says:

“My little children, your sins are forgiven forever for His name’s sake.” That’s in the new covenant. The Son of God paid the debt in full. He removed sin and He removed judgment and with it, He removed the fear of judgment. I don’t live in mortal fear of seeing God, I live in great anticipation because my sins are covered.

The next part of Hebrews 10 — from verses 4 to 25, all in the Lectionary — explains that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaced the old system and inaugurated the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. There is no longer any need to pursue the old rituals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated; and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon.

That sentence is a good lead-in to next weekend’s post.

In closing, guilt accomplishes nothing for the Christian unless it brings about repentance — turning away from sin. Repentance is a life-long process, but as long as one is trying, praying for the grace to do so and gradually doing away with sin, then it’s all to the good. We will all die as sinners, but as long as we die in faith with less sin on our souls, we will have fought the good fight.

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

Bible oldThe 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 9:16-23

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.

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the rituals of the Levite priests, which God had ordained, as well as a passage from Hebrews 9 that appears in the Lectionary, ending with this verse (emphases mine below):

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

One can only receive an inheritance if there is a will (testament), the person promising said inheritance dies (verse 17) and the death is established (verse 16).

John MacArthur elaborates further on the use of the word ‘testament’, which appears in older translations:

Now, the word “testament” here is … diathēkē. The common Greek word for a covenant was sunthēkē, which means an agreement between equals. Diathēkē means somebody makes the rules up here and you either take it or leave it. And that’s the word that’s always used with God’s covenants because He always calls all the shots and men either take it or leave it. You don’t bargain with God and say, “If you’ll adjust your covenant a little bit your way, I’ll adjust a little my way.” God’s truth is absolute.

And the best way to illustrate the use of the word diathēkē is the fact that it’s used to speak of a will. A will is not a bargain between two people; a will is something made out by one person, and the other person either takes it or leaves it. And so he is saying here, God has promised an inheritance and that inheritance depends upon the death of the one who made it in order for it to be received. That’s a simple truth. And that’s really all he’s saying. A will cannot operate until the one who made it dies; therefore, Jesus had to die. He had to die to release the legacy of God to men.

The kingdom of heaven is bequeathed to all believers. Such is God’s will and testament. And Jesus’ death released it to our possession. And some of it is ours now, and it will be ours in its fullness when we go to be with Him.

The author goes on to describe the blood used in the sacrifices under the law of the Old Covenant. Even before there was a tabernacle, God commanded Moses to sprinkle blood on the people as a temporary purification (verses 19, 20). He also sprinkled blood on the tent as well as on the vessels used for worship (verse 21).

MacArthur traces the use of blood in God’s covenants from the beginning, with Abraham:

You’ll remember that in Genesis, that’s what happened. When God gave Abraham the covenant, God knocked him out with a divine anesthetic after he had slaughtered those animals, cut them in half, and laid the bloody pieces on two sides, and taken a turtledove and killed it on one side and another – I think it was a pigeon, and put it on the other side, and then God passed between the bloody pieces. In other words, even the Abrahamic covenant was sealed by blood. So this is what happened in the Mosaic case, and that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying

Now, you see, here, the whole thing is ratified by blood. That was God’s standard. This is what He required. Now go back to Hebrews 9, and you understand what it means in verse 19. “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, water, scarlet wool, hyssop, and sprinkled the book, and all the people.” This was Moses’ act of ratifying the covenant.

Ultimately, every sacrifice required blood, because without it there was no forgiveness of sins under either the Old or the New Covenant (verse 22).

MacArthur says that we must not get upset or sentimental about the blood shed, particularly by our Lord on the Cross, because it is the death — especially His death — that matters:

this was God, by sign and symbol, always showing the wages of sin is what? Death. Constantly. And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself.

We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His bloodshed was an act of death. And so we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere, it is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

And so always, in the ratification of a covenant, blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation. Right? Sin. And that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. So when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about. This ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant, which had to be ratified by blood.

Therefore, the sacrifices under Mosaic law were but copies of the heavenly sacrifice to come through Christ Jesus (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Jesus is superior to any goat, bull, ram, or sheep, infinitely. If it was necessary that the copy had to have sacrifices, how much more necessary that the reality had to have a sacrifice? Not only just a sacrifice, but better sacrifice. All the blood of the old covenant was nothing but a picture of the shed blood of Jesus. And the death of Jesus Christ is that which satisfies God.

God was so satisfied with what Jesus did that He highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in the earth and under the earth. God exalted Him and lifted Him up to the highest place He could lift Him to, His own right hand, because of what He had done, He was so satisfied. God is satisfied with Jesus.

MacArthur explains, citing a verse from Matthew that appears in consecration prayers in Communion services in older denominations:

… do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He, at the table with the disciples that last night before His death, picked up the cup and said, “This is my blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there, He was just doing a takeoff on Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant.

This next point is so important. It’s about why Jesus had to die, which puzzled me for years, especially as a child, so, please, if you have young ones, do remember this answer. Every child wants to know why Jesus had to die on the Cross. Couldn’t God have let Him live forever and ever among us? No, He could not:

And so the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one, He had a will to give and He had to die to free His will. Number two, always, always, always, forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood. And Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness; therefore, He had to die

You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious m[otion]s. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross in your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access.

God set the rules. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And then God, in grace, moved right back in and provided a death substitute. Jesus’ death is the only thing that satisfies God, you see. Because He requires death. And all over the Old Testament, He splattered blood in order that they might be constantly made aware of the fact that bloodshed was the only expiation for sin. Forgiveness is a costly, costly thing.

This next point is also important to remember. We sometimes take Jesus’s death and God’s forgiveness for granted:

I often think to myself how lightly I take the forgiveness of God. Come to the end of a day and I stick my head on my pillow and I say, “God, I did this today.” And I usually try to recite the things I did that I know He knows about, and I’m sure He knows about all of them, so I don’t try to hide them anymore. And I recite the things I did that I didn’t think were pleasing to Him, and I say, “Thanks for forgiving me,” and I’m asleep in a couple of minutes. And then, you know, I begin to think sometimes as I study the Word of God, you know, for the cost that it took to purchase my forgiveness, how glibly and how cheaply do I consider it. The infinite cost that God went to to forgive my sins. And I’m so ready to sin, in the back of my mind, knowing that it’s forgiven. What sick abuse that is of the sweet grace of a loving God.

That’s why Paul, in Romans chapter 6, faces the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” And he throws his hands up in the air and says, “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Would we stomp all over God’s grace? Consider the cost of your forgiveness, dear one. God is such a bound God, bound to His own character, He cannot break the moral laws of His nature. He cannot violate the moral laws of His universe, and He built into His universe the fact that sin demands death and finally, He’s the one that had to pay the price. And He paid it.

Forgiveness isn’t just God looking down and saying, “Oh, it’s all right. I like you a lot, and I’ll just let it go.” It’s the costliest thing in the universe. Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sins. If you are forgiven, it is because somebody died.

I know that this is not the cheeriest subject matter just after Christmas, however, perhaps this point from MacArthur will help:

the death of Jesus Christ purchased forgiveness. He recognized that God was the one that had to be satisfied, and He offered His blood, and thus revealed God’s love and mercy and forgiveness for all who believe.

The final verses of Hebrews 9 are read on one of the Sundays after Pentecost in Year B. The last verse is particularly beautiful:

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

On that day, we will know the joy that the saints from the Old Testament experienced. Their entry to heaven from Hades (Sheol) was made possible only by Jesus’s death on the Cross, as MacArthur explains:

We believe that Jesus, when He died, went down into Sheol, gathered the Old Testament saints, their spirits, and ushered them into the presence of God, so that they had to be waiting until perfect sacrifice was made on the one final day of atonement and then were ushered into the presence of God. The Old Testament saints, then, who were called, could not inherit their promises until sins were done away. That’s what it says at the end of verse 15. They were under the first testament, but it was only by His death that they were able to inherit their promises. The first covenant couldn’t bring them to God’s presence.

Now … it says at the end of verse 15, “the eternal inheritance.” What is that? Well, it certainly has to be salvation. It has to be all that salvation is, and it came to them in the fullest sense, total access to God. Perfection, in the sense it’s used in Hebrews, came when Jesus died.

they could not have full access until that final sacrifice was made, which truly satisfied God. In the past, God overlooked sin until Jesus could bear it away.

The author continues to discuss sacrifices, the imperfect and the perfect, in Hebrews 10.

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 9:6-10

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age).[a] According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

——————————————————————————————————————————-

Last week’s post discussed the first five verses of Hebrews 9, involving the structure of the original tabernacle, on which the later temples were modelled.

The anonymous author of Hebrews concludes his summary of the priestly system of sacrifice under the Old Covenant. The second half of the chapter discusses the New Covenant, Christ’s sacrifice having done away with the old system forever.

Understandably, the Jewish converts to Christianity in his audience were still having some difficulty understanding that. Other Jews, who had heard about Christ and were completely resistant to the New Covenant, needed even more convincing.

John MacArthur sums up the Old Covenant and the author’s insisting on following the New Covenant as follows (emphases mine):

In its day, it was the best thing going, but it’s a new day. And you realize of course don’t you that in our sharing Christ with Jews, with those of the Hebrew faith, those of Israel, as in the day of Peter and as in the day of Paul and all of the New Testament men, the chief obstacle, now mark it, the chief obstacle from a technical standpoint in the way of the Hebrew’s faith is their failure to see that everything in the ceremonial law was only a ritual. It was only a type. It was only a symbol. It was only a picture, temporary and transient, and it needs to be done away when the reality comes, you see. That’s the stumbling block, because they cannot see that it was only a picture, not a reality.

In discussing the old priestly duties, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the priests made their preparations according to the law, as God ordained, and entered the first section of the tabernacle, where only they were allowed: the Holy Place (verse 6).

The Holy Place was where the lampstand (menorah) and the 12 loaves of showbread were, one for each tribe of Israel. The priests had to change the showbread once a week. They alone were allowed to eat the old loaves before replacing them with fresh ones.

Only the high priest was allowed into the Holy of Holies: only on the Day of Atonement and only for a few seconds. On the Day of Atonement, the high priest offered a sacrifice for all the unintentional sins — also called ‘errors’ in this context — of the previous year. He offered a blood sacrifice for his errors and then the errors of the people.

MacArthur explains:

Now 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.

However, as good as this system was at the time, Christ’s death on the Cross abolished it. Recall that the veil before the entrance to the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem was rent immediately afterwards. Christ had offered the ultimate, one, sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the whole world — past, present and future. People — Jew and Gentile — were now free to approach God through Him. He is the way we get to know God (John 14:6):

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

Therefore, until Christ accomplished His sacrifice for us, the old system, as the Holy Spirit confirms, had to stay in place, with the holy places of the tabernacle forbidden to those who were not priests or high priests (verse 8). Furthermore, it was a symbol of what was to come with Jesus (verse 9). ‘The present age’ means ‘at that time’, not at the time the author of Hebrews wrote his letter.

Matthew Henry has this to say:

I. … It is the honour of Christ and the gospel, and the happiness of those who live under it, that now life and immortality are brought to light. There was not that free access to God then that there is now; God has now opened a wider door; and there is room for more, yea, even for as many as are truly willing to return unto him by Christ.

II. That the first tabernacle was only a figure for the time then present, Hebrews 9:9. It was a dark dispensation, and but of short continuance, only designed for awhile to typify the great things of Christ and the gospel, that were in due time to shine forth in their own brightness, and thereby cause all the shadows to flee away and disappear, as the stars before the rising sun.

Under the Old Covenant, the worshipper’s conscience could never be completely clear (verse 9), as the laws of the Old Testament were but rituals until Christ accomplished His sacrifice (verse 10).

‘Reformation’ in that verse refers to Christ’s holy and humbling work for us, not the Reformation of the Church.

MacArthur offers this analysis:

The Holy Spirit was teaching the impossibility of access to God without a perfect priest and a perfect sacrifice and a perfect covenant. And by allowing the people to go no further than the outer court and allowing the priest to go no further than the holy place, the Holy Spirit signified the old system was limited. No access to God through Judaism; there isn’t any, there isn’t any. Look at it in verse 8, “The way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.” What’s the holiest of all there? It’s heaven. It’s heaven. You couldn’t get to heaven just through that; there had to be something else. You’re saying, “Are you saying that no Jew in the Old Testament ever went to heaven?” No, they did, but they didn’t go to heaven because of the Judaistic system; they went to heaven because Jesus died. And if you’ll remember carefully, you’ll find out that when Old Testament saints died who were believing saints, they went to a place called Sheol. And it wasn’t until Jesus died that he went into Sheol and gathered them up and took them to heaven. You see they could not enter into the holiest of all, into the presence of God, until Jesus had perfected the sacrifice that opened the veil. That’s why the Bible says they remained in that place called Paradise, Sheol, or Hades. When Jesus died, he descended and he led captivity captive and brought them into God’s presence. That’s the first time they could have full access to God, and it was provided because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Perfect priesthood, perfect covenant.

So Jesus alone can take us to God’s presence in heaven. The way into the holiest of all was not manifest while the first tabernacle was standing. And the Spirit by that very thing teaches its impossibilities. The second thing is taught in verse 9. And here he gives us a clear indication that there was an imperfect cleansing. It says, “Which was a figure for the time then present in which were offered gifts and sacrifices that could not make him that did the service perfect as pertaining to the conscience.” It was a lot of things going on but they couldn’t perfect. They couldn’t bring perfect cleansing. Now the word figure is parabole from which we get the word parable. The whole thing was only a parable; it was only an object less to explain the reality. So the Spirit meant to teach by that very thing itself that it had limits because it couldn’t bring access and it couldn’t bring perfect cleansing.

Thirdly, the Spirit taught that the whole thing was temporary. Verse 10, “Which stood only in,” – notice all these things are temporary things. Foods, that’s temporary. Drinks, temporary. Various washings, temporary. Carnal ordinances, or fleshly ones, temporary. “Imposed upon them until the time of reformation.” The whole thing was only a temporary thing until the time of reformation. Remember the whole system was never intended to be forever; it was never intended to be permanent. It had built-in lessons about its own impermanence. Why? ‘Cause all it dealt with impermanent things like food and drink and washing yourself and all of these fleshly things they were only signs, until the time of reformation. What’s reformation? Well the word means this, now watch this. The word reformation means to set things right. Let me give you a translation that I think is best: To bring things to a satisfactory state. You see the first covenant was not satisfactory; it couldn’t set things right. The new one can. You see it was only fleshly until the time of that which brought things to a satisfactory state. That’s Jesus. He did all the old one couldn’t do. So the first covenant wasn’t satisfactory; it couldn’t set things straight. Oh, its sanctuary was meaningful. Its services were meaningful. But their significance was a picture of Christ and a lesson in itself of inadequacy. And if you don’t have Jesus Christ, all you have is an inadequate system into which the Spirit of God has built the inadequacy so that you can see it right there.

And so the old. Sure, divine services. A divinely-ordained sanctuary, but earthly, passing, temporary.

The following verses — Hebrews 9:11-15 — are in the Lectionary, read on the Monday of Holy Week and, in Year B, one one of the Sundays after Pentecost:

Redemption Through the Blood of Christ

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come,[e] then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify[f] for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our[g] conscience from dead works to serve the living God.

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

That is something to consider as we joyfully remember the day Jesus came into the world, humbling Himself to be among us and living in equally humbling circumstances.

As we look upon the babe in the manger in a few days’ time, may we remember that He came to sacrifice Himself for us, to bring us to life eternal and to be our only Mediator and Advocate with the Father.

Next time — Hebrews 9:16-23

Bible read me 2The 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 9:1-5

The Earthly Holy Place

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent[a] was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence.[b] It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section[c] called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Hebrews 8 ends with verses from Jeremiah 31, wherein the prophet foretold a new covenant that God would make with His people.

John MacArthur explains the structure of the Book of Hebrews thus far (emphases mine):

Now the Old Testament worship was based on … three things: The priesthood, the sacrifices, and the covenant. Jesus says, “I bring a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, a better covenant.” Now that only comes from chapter 7 on. The first six chapters are to show you that he is a better mediator to begin with. So the first six chapters deal with the preeminence of his person, then the preeminence of his priesthood, then the preeminence of his sacrifice, then the preeminence of his covenant.

In the early chapters of Hebrews, the unknown author discussed the great people of the Old Testament and said that Jesus is better than each of them. However, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was careful to exalt each of them, because their work was to prepare the Jews for the Messiah, Jesus Christ:

He compared Israel’s prophets to Christ, angels to Christ, Moses to Christ, Joshua to Christ, Aaron to Christ, and so forth and so on. But you have never once heard him deprecate any of those others by comparison. He never says, “Oh that crumb Moses compared to Jesus. That’s terrible. Moses was the greatest.” He never says, “Oh, those lowly worthless angels compared to Christ.” He never does that. He exalts the prophets. He exalts the angels. He exalts Moses. He exalts Joshua. He exalts Aaron. He exalts the old covenant as far as it can be exalted. He never deprecates it, and that’s a wise thing. The more they are legitimately magnified, the more Jesus is magnified when he is proven to be superior, you see. And so his words are always gracious. There’s no sense in running that down; that was divine. His words are gracious.

Today’s verses begins a brief dissertation on the holy place of the Jews, which God instituted (Exodus 25). Note that the author calls this ‘the earthly holy place’ and ‘earthly place of holiness’ (verse 1), because the true holy place is in heaven.

Our two commentators, John MacArthur and Matthew Henry, both say that everything in the original tabernacle pointed to Christ.

I must admit, it took me some time to grasp that, even though I already understood how traditional church structures borrow heavily from the structure of the original tabernacle.

Although Matthew Henry goes into it in detail, he begins with this summary:

This tabernacle (of which we have the model, Exodus 25:1-27:21) was a moving temple, shadowing forth the unsettled state of the church militant, and the human nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, in whom the fullness of the Godhead dwelt bodily. Now of this tabernacle it is said that it was divided into two parts, called a first and a second tabernacle, an inner and an outer part, representing the two states of the church militant and triumphant, and the two natures of Christ, human and divine.

The original tabernacle was a huge tent (verse 2). MacArthur describes it fully:

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. 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.

MacArthur goes on to describe the initial parts of the tabernacle. The first part was the acacia altar for the animal sacrifices. It was seven and a half feet square and raised four and a half feet off the ground. Even this suggests Jesus:

The brazen altar is a perfect picture of Jesus Christ, the one who was a sacrifice for sin.

Past that was what was called the laver, the washing area. MacArthur explains what God had in mind for the future:

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.

In summary:

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.

Going further in, where only the priest was allowed, the first part of the sanctuary, the Holy Place, had a candlestick (lampstand) — menorah — as well as an altar on which was placed what was called showbread: the bread of Presence, one loaf for each of the twelve tribes of Israel (verse 2).

These were God’s instructions (in part) for the lampstand, the menorah (Exodus 25:32,37):

32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it;

37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it.

Traditional churches today — Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran — have a permanently lit sanctuary lamp which fulfils the same purpose. It represents the light of Christ.

In the time of Moses, the Holy Place had no windows, therefore, light was necessary. With Christ, the light takes on a different meaning. Henry explains:

Their light was only candle-light, in comparison of the fullness of light which Christ, the Sun of righteousness, would bring along with him, and communicate to his people; for all our light is derived from him the fountain of light.

Henry describes the table and the showbread, comparing and contrasting it with the Christian sanctuary, where the consecrated bread is stored:

This table was set directly opposite to the candlestick, which shows that by light from Christ we must have communion with him and with one another. We must not come in the dark to his table, but by light from Christ must discern the Lord’s body. On this table were placed twelve loaves for the twelve tribes of Israel, a loaf for a tribe, which stood from sabbath to sabbath, and on that day were renewed. This show-bread may be considered either as the provision of the palace (though the King of Israel needed it not, yet, in resemblance of the palaces of earthly kings, there must be this provision laid in weekly), or the provision made in Christ for the souls of his people, suitable to the wants and to the relief of their souls. He is the bread of life; in our Father’s house there is bread enough and to spare; we may have fresh supplies from Christ, especially every Lord’s day. This outer part is called the sanctuary or holy, because erected to the worship of a holy God, to represent a holy Jesus, and to entertain a holy people, for their further improvement in holiness.

MacArthur has a similar analysis:

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.

Verse 3 describes the Most Holy Place, hidden by a veil. This part, the Holy of Holies, was where the priest visited only on the Day of Atonement and spent but a moment there because he himself was not even worthy of staying longer in God’s presence:

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.

The Holy of Holies (verse 4) had the Ark of the Covenant, which was covered in gold. In it was an urn holding manna, which God preserved for this purpose, Aaron’s staff that had budded and the tablets with the Ten Commandments.

Recall that when Jesus died on the Cross, the veil to the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem was rent in two. That meant that the Jews now had direct access to God through Him. They no longer needed a priest to go to the Holy of Holies on their behalf. However, their continuing unbelief in disregarding this caused God to pass judgement through the Romans’ destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

MacArthur describes the Holy of Holies for us:

… 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 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.

The author concludes his description of the original tabernacle by mentioning the mercy seat, which overlaid the Ark of the Covenant (verse 5):

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.

Do those descriptions make our Christian faith more meaningful? I hope so. It thrills me, especially as we are approaching Christmas.

MacArthur also describes the priest’s vestments on the Day of Atonement, which, interestingly, went from being very ornate to a simple white robe, not unlike that which Christ wore.

The priest offered a sacrifice for the unintentional sins of the people over the past year. He began by rising early and cleansing 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.

I encourage everyone to read the rest of MacArthur’s sermon from this point, starting a little more than halfway down the page. It is absolutely fascinating.

Returning to verse 5 from today’s passage, the author of Hebrews stops with the descriptions of the tabernacle because his Jewish audience already knows them well, so there is no need for him to elaborate further.

He continues with a discussion of the sacrifices under the Old Covenant, which is the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Hebrews 9:6-10

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 8:8-13

For he finds fault with them when he says:[a]

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel
    and with the house of Judah,
not like the covenant that I made with their fathers
    on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt.
For they did not continue in my covenant,
    and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord.
10 For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws into their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
11 And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor
    and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the first half of Hebrews 8, wherein its author explained that Jesus Christ is the High Priest of a better covenant with better promises.

Continuing on the theme of the New Covenant, the author cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 (the second half of verse 8 through to verse 12).

John MacArthur gives us a short summary of these verses as follows (emphases mine):

Under the old covenant, God’s laws were upon the lips of the people and written in stone. In the new covenant, they’re in their minds and written in their hearts. What a difference. In the new covenant, worship is in internal, not external. It’s real, not ritual. Israel had memorized God’s Word. Israel had pledged obedience, but they never had the internal power to live up to their pledge. You see? God promised them in Ezekiel chapter 11 that He’d take away a heart of stone, and He’d replace it with a heart of flesh, and He’d put his Spirit within them. And then God reiterated the promise in Ezekiel 36:26 and following. He said, “I’ll take away your stony heart, give you a heart of flesh, and I’ll give you My Spirit.” God said, “I’m going to have to change you on the inside. That was all promises of the new covenant.

In the old covenant, they were told to obey but they didn’t have the power. In the new covenant, we have the power to obey, the Holy Spirit and the new nature. What a wonderful promise.

That is an amazing concept to consider — and to treasure. Does that not make you thrilled to be a Christian?

It thrills me. I had never thought about the New Covenant in that way.

Looking at it in more detail, the first half of verse 8 is confusing. Some manuscripts have it worded differently, which makes more sense:

For finding fault with it he says to them …

In other words, God, speaking through Jeremiah, knew the Old Covenant was not working.

The author of Hebrews is bringing Jeremiah’s prophecy into this to show his Jewish audience that God actively changed the nature of the priesthood with Jesus Christ and that this New Covenant was meant for the Jews.

MacArthur says the author has to bring this prophecy up to counter Jewish objections to or uncertainty about a New Covenant and Christianity:

if I was an unbelieving Jew, I would say, “That’s exactly right. So, why are you giving us all this baloney about a second one? Why are you doing this? Are you saying the first one has got faults and problems? What gives you the right to say that? What gives you the right to tell me that there needs to be another covenant? What gives you the right to say that the first one had a lot of faults, and there’s another one coming along? Who says so?”

And so the writer says, “God, through Jeremiah, your own prophet.” Zap. In verse 8, “For finding fault with them, He saith” – who saith? God saith through Jeremiah – “‘Behold, the days come,’ saith the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant’”

“Oh, is – that’s in Jeremiah?”

That’s not new. Your own Word says to you that the old covenant has problems, and God’s going to have to get another one. And you know there are Jews today who are hanging on tenaciously to the old covenant, and they despise the truth that is preached about the new covenant. They detest that truth, and they’re not willing to acknowledge that it is their own revelation, their own beloved and dear prophet Jeremiah, the weeping prophet who said, “God is going to write a new covenant.” And He did. The first covenant was not faultless; it was weak in the flesh. Right? Galatians 3:21. It was excellent for what it was meant to do, point men to Christ, but it couldn’t bring men to God. It was a sign; it wasn’t the train that got them there.

So, God says through the prophet that the time will come when He establishes a New Covenant with the houses of Israel and Judah (verse 8).

Note that God made the New Covenant with His Chosen, not with the Gentiles, although it is fully open to the Gentiles as the readings for this year’s Second Sunday of Advent make clear.

This bears no resemblance to the Old Covenant that God made with the Israelites whom He delivered from Egypt, because they transgressed it so many times that God either delivered judgement on them as a whole or left the faithless among them to their own condemnation (verse 9).

The New Covenant does away with the old laws and gives the ability for people to know God through His Son Jesus Christ. God’s moral laws are now written in our hearts and minds (verse 10).

Matthew Henry explains:

He once wrote his laws to them, now he will write his laws in them; that is, he will give them understanding to know and to believe his law; he will give them memories to retain them; he will give them hearts to love them and consciences to recognize them; he will give them courage to profess them and power to put them in practice; the whole habit and frame of their souls shall be a table and transcript of the law of God. This is the foundation of the covenant; and, when this is laid, duty will be done wisely, sincerely, readily, easily, resolutely, constantly, and comfortably

This next part of Henry’s explanation is particularly powerful:

… [1.] He will be to them a God; that is, he will be all that to them, and do all that for them, that God can be and do. Nothing more can be said in a thousand volumes than is comprehended in these few words: I will be a God to them. [2.] They shall be to him a people, to love, honour, observe, and obey him in all things; complying with his cautions, conforming to his commands, comporting with his providences, copying out his example, taking complacency in his favour. This those must do and will do who have God for their God; this they are bound to do as their part of the contract; this they shall do, for God will enable them to do it, as an evidence that he is their God and that they are his people; for it is God himself who first founds the relation, and then fills it up with grace suitable and sufficient, and helps them in their measure to fill it up with love and duty; so that God engages both for himself and them.

Under the New Covenant all — men and women, rich and poor — will know God through His Son (verse 11).

Henry’s explanation here is beautiful:

under the new dispensation there shall be such abundance of public qualified preachers of the gospel, and dispensers of ordinances statedly in the solemn assemblies, and so great a flocking to them, as doves to their windows, and such a plentiful effusion of the Spirit of God to make the ministration of the gospel effectual, that there shall be a mighty increase and spreading of Christian knowledge in persons of all sorts, of each sex, and of all ages. O that this promise might be fulfilled in our days, that the hand of God may be with his ministers, that a great number may believe and be turned to the Lord!

Gone are the mysteries that only the Jewish priests, all of whom were descended from Levi, could claim to understand. Henry says:

The old dispensation was shadowy, dark, ritual, and less understood; their priests preached but seldom, and but a few at a time, and the Spirit of God was more sparingly given out.

Not all of those priests were good, either. MacArthur tells us:

You know, in Israel, in those days, it was only the higher ups that knew the Word. It was only the higher ups that had access to the real truths of God. The poor people, the low class, really were victimized; they were not taught faithfully, and they did not know the things that could have changed their lives.

And so, here is simply the promise of the new covenant. Everybody’s going to know this truth. It’s not going to be only for the elite, only for the educated. Every believer is going to have a resident truth teacher who will lead them into all truth and bring all things to their remembrance, even the Holy Spirit.

“And no longer will they have to teach each other and say, ‘Know the Lord,’ for all shall know Me from the least to the greatest.”

What a wonderful thing it is in the new covenant to have that personal knowledge of Jesus Christ who lives within us.

Under the New Covenant, God will show His infinite mercy in forgiving — and forgetting — our sins (verse 12).

The author of Hebrews closes by saying that the New Covenant has made the Old Covenant obsolete (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

What is this saying to us? This is saying that everything in Jesus Christ is real, is divine, is superior to everything else. The age of the law and the priest is over. The age of the Son is here forever. Don’t cling to the old covenant or anything else for that matter. Jesus Christ is the perfect and only High Priest.

Henry explains what a full and enduring promise God has made to us:

Observe, [1.] The freeness of this pardon. It does not result from merit in man, but from mercy in God; he pardons for his own name’s sake. [2.] The fullness of this pardon; it extends to their unrighteousness, sins, and iniquities; to all kinds of sin, to sins highly aggravated. [3.] The fixedness of this pardon. It is so final and so fixed that God will remember their sins no more; he will not recall his pardon; he will not only forgive their sins, but forget them, treat them as if he had forgotten them. This pardoning mercy is connected with all other spiritual mercies. Unpardoned sin prevents mercy, and pulls down judgments; but the pardon of sin prevents judgment, and opens a wide door to all spiritual blessings; it is the effect of that mercy that is from everlasting, and the earnest of that mercy that shall be to everlasting. This is the excellency of the new dispensation, and these are the articles of it; and therefore we have no reason to repine, but great reason to rejoice that the former dispensation is antiquated and has vanished away.

I would encourage all of us to remember this as we go on our Christian journey.

So many of us, myself included, have not thought about Christianity in this way. Yet, we should.

This is one of the reasons we should treasure our faith and encourage others in it.

Think of other faiths where their adherents live in spiritual and, sometimes, physical fear for their transgressions.

Christians have every reason to be ever grateful to God and to His Son Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, those spiritual blessings that Henry mentions go all the way back to Abraham. God is continuing to bless Abraham’s descendants and, we Christians share in that, for Abraham is our father in faith, as is so often mentioned in liturgical prayers.

During this season of Advent, we can reflect with great joy on the covenant we have with God the Father made possible through the one sufficient sacrifice of His Son for our sakes.

May this help make celebrating Christmas a richer experience for all of us.

Next time — Hebrews 9:1-5

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2020. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://churchmousec.wordpress.com/.

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,399 other followers

Archive

Calendar of posts

February 2020
S M T W T F S
« Jan    
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829

http://martinscriblerus.com/

Bloglisting.net - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,567,069 hits