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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.

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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.

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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

Circumcision of Christ stained glassJanuary 1 was traditionally a Holy Day of Obligation in the Church, whereby Christians were expected to attend Mass.

Until the 20th century, this day was known ecclesiastically as the Feast of the Circumcision. These days, it is known as the Feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. Jewish boys are named on the day of their circumcision, which follows eight days after their births. Mary and Joseph observed Jewish law, and, so, Jesus, too, was circumcised and named at the appropriate time.

The stained glass window at the left is probably the only depiction of our Lord’s circumcision. It dates from 15th century Germany and now hangs in The Cloisters, a famous art museum in Manhattan.

This ceremony marked the first time Jesus shed His blood, foretelling the Crucifixion.

You can read more about this feast day and the window in my posts below:

January 1 – Feast of the Circumcision of Christ (2010)

New Year’s Day: the Circumcision — and Naming — of Christ Jesus

New Year’s greetings — and the Feast of the Circumcision (2017, details on circumcision stained glass window)

In the Catholic Church, this feast day has been renamed as the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God. The Holy Day of Obligation status may be waived locally.

What follows are the readings for the feast day of the Holy Name of Jesus, which are the same for all three years in the Lectionary used in public worship.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

The Lord instructed Moses on how Aaron and his descendants — the priests — were to bless the people. The verses below will look very familiar, as clergy continue to use this formula today. Matthew Henry’s commentary is worthwhile reading. He says that the name Jehovah (‘Lord’) was pronounced three different ways, which scholars believe meant a signification of the Holy Trinity. Henry explains that the blessings meant a) protection by the Lord, b) pardon of sin and c) peace with Him and the world.

Numbers 6:22-27

6:22 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying:

6:23 Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the Israelites: You shall say to them,

6:24 The LORD bless you and keep you;

6:25 the LORD make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;

6:26 the LORD lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.

6:27 So they shall put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.

Psalm

David’s Psalm proclaims the excellence and majesty of God’s name over all others.

Psalm 8

8:1 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

8:2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

8:3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established;

8:4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

8:5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

8:6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet,

8:7 all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

8:8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

8:9 O LORD, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Epistle

There are two choices for the Epistle.

Option one

Paul wrote this letter to convince the Galatians that they should stop following the Judaizers. The New Covenant replaces the Old.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Option two

Paul describes the way to imitate Christ: humility, service and obedience.

Philippians 2:5-11

2:5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

2:6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,

2:7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form,

2:8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

2:9 Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name,

2:10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,

2:11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Gospel

This is largely the same reading from Christmas Day, apart from the addition of verse 21.

Luke 2:15-21

2:15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.”

2:16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.

2:17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;

2:18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.

2:19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.

2:20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

2:21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Many of us are back at work and Christmas seems but a happy memory. I hope these readings go some way to rekindle the great joy we felt a week ago when celebrating our Lord’s earthly birth with family and friends.

There is also another set of readings for New Year’s Day which will follow tomorrow.

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.

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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

The Queen’s Chrismas Day message to the nation was as thought-provoking as ever:

The Express has a transcript. Note that the Queen says that 2020 is the start of a new decade — not 2021, as pedants say (emphases mine):

as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.

The new decade, beginning in a few days’ time, is further confirmed on Twitter:

Contrary to what the media has reported this month, she kept family issues out of the speech.

On Christmas Eve, the Mail‘s Richard Kay wrote:

After so many broadcasts the Queen, of course, is comfortably familiar in front of the camera, but even so this year she will quite possibly deliver her most difficult, her most painful and perhaps, from the monarchy’s point of view, her most crucial Christmas message ever.

Sure.

In reality, the Queen focussed on the notable anniversaries in 2019:

As a child, I never imagined that one day a man would walk on the moon. Yet this year we marked the 50th anniversary of the famous Apollo 11 mission.

As those historic pictures were beamed back to Earth, millions of us sat transfixed to our television screens, as we watched Neil Armstrong taking a small step for man and a giant leap for mankind – and, indeed, for womankind. It’s a reminder for us all that giant leaps often start with small steps.

This year we marked another important anniversary: D-Day. On 6th June 1944, some 156,000 British, Canadian and American forces landed in northern France. It was the largest ever seaborne invasion and was delayed due to bad weather …

Since the end of the Second World War, many charities, groups and organisations have worked to promote peace and unity around the world, bringing together those who have been on opposing sides.

On that subject, The Express reported her words and what lay behind them:

“It was the largest ever seabourne invasion and was delayed due to bad weather.

“I well remember the look of concern on my father’s face.

“He knew the secret D-Day plans but could of course share that burden with no one.”

This subtle nod to her father also seems to reflect on the burden of loneliness which wearing the crown can entail at times.

Mentions of family were happy ones:

Two hundred years on from the birth of my great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria, Prince Philip and I have been delighted to welcome our eighth great-grandchild into our family.

The broadcast included a clip of Prince George stirring up Christmas pudding:

As Defender of the Faith in the United Kingdom, the Queen always mentions the Reason for the Season, dispensing pragmatic wisdom when speaking of our Lord:

Of course, at the heart of the Christmas story lies the birth of a child: a seemingly small and insignificant step overlooked by many in Bethlehem.

But in time, through his teaching and by his example, Jesus Christ would show the world how small steps taken in faith and in hope can overcome long-held differences and deep-seated divisions to bring harmony and understanding.

Many of us already try to follow in his footsteps. The path, of course, is not always smooth, and may at times this year have felt quite bumpy, but small steps can make a world of difference.

As Christmas dawned, church congregations around the world joined in singing It Came Upon The Midnight Clear. Like many timeless carols, it speaks not just of the coming of Jesus Christ into a divided world, many years ago, but also of the relevance, even today, of the angel’s message of peace and goodwill.

It’s a timely reminder of what positive things can be achieved when people set aside past differences and come together in the spirit of friendship and reconciliation. And, as we all look forward to the start of a new decade, it’s worth remembering that it is often the small steps, not the giant leaps, that bring about the most lasting change.

And so, I wish you all a very happy Christmas.

The broadcast, which airs at 3 p.m. GMT every year, closed with the choir at Windsor Castle singing the famous carol, accompanied by a military band.

I wonder if outgoing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn saw the speech, which he said was broadcast in the morning:

On Christmas Day at Sandringham in Norfolk, the Royal Family look forward to a church service and family lunch.

Normally, the Royal children do not attend the service. However, Princess Charlotte and Prince George made their first appearance this year (top photo on the left in the second tweet):

I hope that the Queen’s cousin, Princess Alexandra, had a very happy birthday:

This year’s Christmas speech by the Queen proved the media wrong once again. Why do we lean on their every word?

Instead, let us heed her words about small steps being significant in creating great transformation.

Last Christmas, our vicar gave an excellent sermon on the Nativity story, looking at the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John.

John 1:14, which you can read more about here, was the Gospel reading. John’s theme of light — Light — pervades his entire Gospel from the initial verses:

4 In him was life, and the life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

In terms of our personal Christian testimonies, our vicar wisely pointed out that the amount of light does not matter, because any amount of light shows up in the darkness. That reminded me of this Christmas graphic:

Note the darkness, yet how the light penetrates it.

Also note that Jesus was born at night — in the darkness — rather than during the day.

From Matthew 1:18-25, discussed here, our vicar pointed out how difficult it was socially for Mary to bear this Child, when Joseph was not the father. The verses from Matthew say that Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. Then, an angel of the Lord appeared:

20But as he considered these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet:

23 “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall call his name Immanuel”
(which means, God with us).

How humbling it was for Jesus to descend to Earth, our vicar said, not only to be among sinful mankind but also to be in such humble circumstances, from His birth to His humiliating death — for our sakes. ‘God with us’, indeed.

He also pointed out that Herod was disturbed to hear some months later from the Magi that a King had been born. Our vicar explained that Herod would have expected to hear a royal infant being referred to as a ‘prince’, but never a ‘king’. Naturally, he wanted to see the infant King. Fortunately, his wish was not granted.

Finally, our vicar noted the shepherds, who were watching their flocks, being drawn to the manger. He rightly asked us if we would be that obedient in our Christian witness, to leave what we were doing — no matter how important — to witness for Jesus.

He has a point, one well worth considering, not only today but all year round.

May I wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas! May you have a blessed, peaceful day.

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

advent wreath stjohnscamberwellorgauOn the First Sunday of Advent a fortnight ago, our vicar (Anglican) urged us to use the four Sundays of Advent wisely.

This is the first time I have personally heard a Protestant clergyman exhort his congregation to examine their consciences before Christmas.

The Gospel reading was Matthew 24:36-44, wherein Jesus described His Second Coming (emphases mine):

24:36 “But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24:37 For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:38 For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark,

24:39 and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man.

24:40 Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:41 Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left.

24:42 Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.

24:43 But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.

24:44 Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Our vicar advised us to consider the state of our souls with regard to death. We do not know when we will depart this mortal coil, therefore, we should take every care to make sure we are spiritually prepared.

He said that we put so much time and effort into preparing materially for Christmas — sending cards, wrapping presents and preparing meals — that we forget the deeper meaning of the season.

Just as John the Baptist called upon his followers to repent of their sins in preparation for Christ’s ministry, we, too, would do well to consider if our souls are in an appropriate state.

I wrote about this in 2012: ‘Advent: John the Baptist’s message of Good News — and repentance‘. I cited a sermon from a Reformed clergyman, the Revd Scott E Hoezee, ‘When Advent Doesn’t Feel Like Christmas’ (Reformed Worship, September 1997). In that article, he says of these weeks prior to Christmas:

… if you are to meet and greet this Messiah correctly, you must admit that you need him in the first place. If you don’t, then you’ll have no use for Jesus once he’s born

Only those willing to turn their lives over to God are ready for the Christ. The rest, John says, are fuel for the fire. None of that is very Christmaslike. Or is it?

His sermon cites Luke 3. Last Sunday’s Gospel reading was from Matthew 3, which was a similar account about John the Baptist’s ministry, also mentioning ‘chaff’ and ‘fire’.

By all means, let’s enjoy the festive season within reason, but let us also remember Whose season it is — and why.

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

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