HEBREWS: SHADOWS AND REALITY

HEBREWS CHAPTER 10

As we begin Hebrews chapter 10, we are beginning the climax of the letter. So far, we have learned a number of things courtesy of the unknown author of this letter to the Hebrews, and we can sum up what we have learned like this: Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is superior to the prophets, the priests, and even the angels; the priesthood of Melchizedek was superior to that of Aaron; and we are about to learn that the entire ceremonial law of the Old Testament was really only a “shadow” of something else to come through the work of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 9 sets up chapter 10, which continues some significant lines of thoughts. First, Christians must never lose sight of the goal: free access into the Holiest of Holies: The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. (Hebrews 9:8)

Second, we need to understand and appreciate that it is only the blood of Jesus that qualifies us by simply purging our consciences from dead acts:

How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:14)

Lastly, we must always remember the absolute finality of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice:

But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. (Hebrews 9:26b)

These are the important pivot points of chapter 9 which the Hebrew Christians of the New Testament era needed to grasp. As wonderful and as marvelous and as worthy as the Law of Moses was, and in some senses still is, as powerful as the Old Testament sacrificial system was, the coming of Jesus changed everything. The Old Covenant had literally been overtaken by the New Covenant. Christ’s priestly ministry is so superior to the ministry of any earthly priest as to render their work obsolete. The Jewish Christians to whom this letter was written needed to be encouraged to stick with the real thing, Jesus, for to leave Him and return to Judaism would be tantamount to giving back a Christmas gift but keeping the wrapping paper! What a ridiculous thing todo!

Apparently this was a real problem which the teacher deals with in chapter 10 in a very dogmatic way.

1. The Law goes nowhere, 10:1—4

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming— not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

The Law of the Old Covenant had very impressive ceremonies, supported by centuries of tradition, preserving the awareness of God’s holiness while revealing man’s greater need for atonement. Yet in spite of the greatness of the Old Covenant, it could never bring the worshiper into a permanent relationship with God because all those animal sacrifices could do was to remind him of his sin, not remove that sin.

This is why the Law is called a “shadow of the good things,” and not a good thing in and of itself. A shadow can never reveal something, it can only give a rough outline of its reality. When the reality comes, thes hadow is irrelevant. The Law, then, was only an outline of the wonder of the Gospel message; it was, in fact, merely a temporary part of God’s plan.

The very fact that sacrifices had to be repeated over and over and over showed the inadequacy of it all. If a sinner could be made perfect by simply obeying the points of the Old Covenant, then they wouldn’t have needed to keep coming back year after year to have their sins atoned for. No, the fact is, the sin offering could not fix the sinner. The blood of animals slain had no redemptive power. The enormity of sin precludes any natural kind of atonement. The blood of animals couldn’t remove the sin from the sinner any more than “being a good person” today removes sin from the sinner. The sin problem is so big, there is nothing you or any human being can do to alleviate it. The absolute height of human folly is to think you can pin your hope of salvation on your good behavior or your allegiance to some set of man-made rules. Those things,like animal blood, are worthless.

This was something the psalmist grasped long before Hebrews was written:

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. (Psalm 51:17)

2.The Law replaced,10:5—18

The writer to the Hebrews was blunt in his explanation of why the sacrifices of the Law had to be repeated ad nausea:

…it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (verse4)

Those things served a purely temporary function and they pointed to a permanent sacrifice: Jesus Christ came as the Lamb of God to take away the sins of the world. The Son of God was to be given the Name Jesus because He was destined to take upon Himself the sin of His people. That mission, in fact, was given back in Psalm 40:7—9, which is quoted in Hebrews 10:5—7. The emphasis on this quotation is the obedience of the Son of God; He would always do the will of His Father.

While all those Old Covenant sacrifices were ordained by God, we are told something startling in verse 8:

Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made).”

God is never pleased with anything where faith is not involved. All these sacrifices were designed by God to point the people to the need for a better offering. That was the missing element in Judaism. For centuries sacrifices were made and people followed the letter of the Law but they had no faith.

In contrast to the lack of faith in the people and the ineffectiveness of the sacrifices, we have the words of Christ:

Here I am, I have come to do your will.” (verse9)

Nothing the priests did and nothing the people did could deal with sin, but Jesus came to do the will of the Father, which was to end the sin problem once and for all!

The wonder of the Word of God is that while these words were written to some ancient Hebrew Christians, their application to the modern Christian is just as powerful now as it was back then. There is nothing you can do apart from Jesus Christ to win God’s favor. It is futile trying to please God on your own; it can’t be done. The Law of Moses could not relieve a guilty conscience; it could not make a sinner right with God on its own. And neither can any other belief system based on the ideas of man, whether it’s dressed up in Christian garb, self-improvement philosophy, or paganism.

The power of verse 14 is breathtaking in its implications:

…by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The will of God is implemented through the work of His obedient Son, our great High Priest, and part of God’s will is for His people to be made holy. The priests of the Old Covenant couldn’t do this; they couldn’t even do anything to help a guilty conscience!But the Son of God not only takes away the guilt and shame of sin, but He makes us holy. This is a deep, broad redemption, accomplished on the Cross, a result of His obedience. The tenses in this verse should be noted. The sense of verse 14 is this: “We have been sanctified and we still are.” What does this mean to the believer today?Simply put, our complete and definite sanctification is God’s will and it is our experience. What this does not mean is that we no longer need to grow or that we are sinless. To be “made perfect forever” means that God has made us His holy people, but that day by day we are being brought into that spiritual reality experientially through the continued work of Christ in us by the Person of the Holy Spirit.

So, then, we as Christians must surely be the most blessed people on the face of the earth because of this. Not only is our sanctification the will of God, not only is its perfection in us a work of Christ, but its accomplishment is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit:

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” (verses 15—18)

What is the Holy Spirit testifying about? He is reminding us of Jeremiah’s inspired prophecy, outlining the New Covenant. The significant point of Jeremiah’s prophecy, the thing that the writer wants his readers to see is verse 17:

Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

God’s forgiveness of our sins is final and complete. What God is saying literally is: “I will be reminded no more.” Modern Christians take this for granted, but to first century believers this truth must have been seismic. In the Old Covenant, God was reminded of His people’s sins every year! But this is not the case under the New Covenant. God does not want to be reminded of His people’s sins because they have been completely eliminated by His Son’s perfect atonement.

3. Our response

We can hardly read this section of Hebrews without seeing the incredible depth of our atonement. By ONE sacrifice, our sins have forever been forgiven; our salvation secured; and our sanctification completed.

If verse 17 is a theological punchline, then verse 16 must be the set up. Whose sins have been forgiven and forgotten? ONLY those who have had God’s laws planted in their hearts and written on their minds. In other words, no provision is made for those who merely profess to Christians but remain double-minded in all they do; no provision is made for those who claim to love Christ but stubbornly persist in their sin. God’s unlimited forgiveness is completely dependent our experiential reality of God’s spiritual work done in us. We have been made holy forever! Now, let’s live like God’s holy people.

(c)  2011 WitzEnd
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