Sunday Sermon Notes: July 28, 2019

Title: A New Covenant

Text: Hebrews 8

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Hebrews 8:1-2

This section is one that is often a surprise to people not familiar with the relationship between Old and New Testaments.  As we go through this chapter, we will be challenged to see things the way God views them, and to be quite candid, things aren’t always what they at first appear to be.  These first two verses give us a bit of that; notice that there is a difference between the tabernacle that Jesus is serving in as high priest, and the earthly one.  For starters, Jesus isn’t in Jerusalem, nor is He serving in a place made by human hands, but by God Himself. Finally, notice that the tabernacle He is in is “true.” If Jesus is in the true sanctuary, what does that say about the one in the Old Testament?

Fasten your seat belts, we are about to find out!

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law.

Hebrews 8:3-4

The offerings and gifts that the earthly priests sacrificed were prescribed by the same Law that established their office and Jesus, because He is from the tribe of Judah could never have been a priest, and since He is an entirely different kind of priest, He has a different kind of offering. Jesus did not offer sacrifices consisting of animals for atonement to put off the penalty for sins, He offered Himself, and took sin away entirely.

They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

Hebrews 8:5-6

How surprising it would have been for those first recipients of this message to learn that their beloved Temple in their beloved Jerusalem was only a shadow of the real thing.  I am often amazed today when I listen to people discuss the rebuilding of this Temple in the future, as though the Temple were the real thing… but it was never the real thing; it’s but a mere copy or shadow of the reality that is in heaven… and do you know what?  So were the sacrifices, the priests and even the Law itself. Of course, Jesus is superior to the Levites; He is the real thing, while they were shadows of what would come one day.  Of course, Jesus was the superior sacrifice; for His was the one that takes away sin.  Of course, the New Covenant is superior to the Old, for the New Covenant is the real deal and the Old Covenant was but a shadow of the reality that was to come, and it was set to pass away.

None of this should really be a shock to anyone, for the Old Covenant Law was entirely earthly; physical. It never promised to take away our sins, it never promised eternal life.  These things weren’t even ideas that were in play anywhere at that time.  The rules and regulations are but a shadow of the reality of having God’s laws written on our hearts. Most importantly, the Old Covenant and its system of laws and sacrifices and the Temple all speak of Jesus Christ who was to come one day.

And that day came!

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.

Hebrews 8:7-9

Something was wrong with the Old Covenant, the Law of Moses. The prophet Jeremiah foretold of its end, and the author of Hebrews is telling us clearly and unambiguously that the end has come.  I’m always amazed that more of us can’t seem to comprehend this.  So many Christian doctrinal traditions treat the New Covenant as little more than addendum to the Old. Others add elements of the Old into the New almost on a whim; how clear does it need to be?

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

Hebrews 8:10-12

This is the rest of the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34, note that he described features of the New Covenant that were never present in the Old.  Notice also that this entire quotation is cited by our author here in Hebrews as an accomplished fact, and not something still off in the future, as some would claim it to be today.  If you still aren’t convinced, there is one more verse in this chapter:

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 8:13

The Old Covenant is called “obsolete and outdated.” Some might suggest that it will “soon disappear” but it still hasn’t; if you are thinking along these lines, think again.

Within just a few years of the time Hebrews was written, the Romans sacked Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple and scattered the people who were fortunate enough to survive the siege, and the Old Covenant has not been practiced from that day until this. Gone are the sacrifices, the offerings, the priests, the tabernacle, the holy place and all the rest of the system that was completely, totally and utterly replaced by the work of Jesus Christ, our great high priest who reigns even now at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven… and all of that was foretold centuries before by the prophets.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: July 21, 2019

Title: Superior Priest, Superior Sacrifice

Text: Hebrews 7:11-28

If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron?  For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. 

Hebrews 7:11-14

In the last section, we got into the whole Melchizedek issue, and here, the author is applying it to our present situation in Christ.  A careful reading of this text will begin to reveal an amazing aspect of the relationship between the Old and New Covenants, and we quickly discover why the Old Covenant is no more.  To begin, verse 11 brings us a rhetorical question: If perfection could have been attained through the old priesthood, why do we need another?  Simple enough… Let’s understand “perfection” for a minute here, since I think it might refer to something that many might not be thinking about right off.  By “perfection” the author isn’t asking whether or not the Law could make a man perfect through His obedience to it; I’m sure you can recall Paul asking those kinds of questions.  In this case, perfection is linked to the priesthood itself, and the priesthood represents the entire Old Covenant system of atonement for sins.  Since that system cannot take sin away, it cannot bring about perfection. Jesus not only provided for forgiveness of sins, He took them away entirely.

Verse 12 brings up an interesting point in claiming that if the priesthood is changed, the Law must also be changed.  This is because the Levitical priesthood (Order of Aaron) was created and established by the Law, and a new priesthood can only be established by doing something with the Law first.  In the next verse, the author points out that the new high priest is from the tribe of Judah, and the old priests were from the tribe of Levi. According to the old Law, priests can only come from the tribe of Levi, while kings come from the tribe of Judah. Jesus came from Judah, the tribe of kings, and He was the heir to the throne of David. He is not eligible for priesthood under the Law of Moses… so something must give!

And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life.

Hebrews 7:15-16

Enter Melchizedek; he is a priest, but he is not a Levite, so how can he become a priest?  Think carefully now… a Levite is a priest because of a life force, in their case one of genetics and ancestry, but that life force is temporary, because they will die and need to pass the priestly office on to an heir.  Contrast this with the life force by which Melchizedek is made a priest: Indestructible life.  Which is better?

 For it is declared:

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

Hebrews 7:17-19

Again we have the quote from Psalm 110:4. Melchizedek is priest forever; indestructible life. In addition the old Law was set aside because it was “weak and useless”.  An interesting note here is that the term “set aside” is a legal term.  Even now, when a judge sets something aside, he rules that it is null and void, and has no effect.

When the author says that the “law made nothing perfect” you might well notice that the Law is being spoken of in the past tense because it is entirely over.  Also, notice that “perfect” is being used in a different context than it was several verses back when it was applied only to the priesthood.  Here we are talking about the entire context of the Law, not just atonement.  Not only could the Law not take sin away, it made sin more evident than having no Law at all.  For anyone who cares to notice, the Law makes imperfection obvious, so that we can easily see that Man is quite lost without a direct relationship with God. Melchizedek’s priesthood is a vast improvement over the Law of Moses, for it gives us this direct relationship.

And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
    ‘You are a priest forever.’”

Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

Hebrews 7:20-22

Melchizedek became a high priest, not because he inherited it, but because God directly intervened in the process to appoint him… and He swore an oath that it should be so: Powerful stuff. Because of it Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant, and that pretty much says it all.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.

Hebrews 7:23-28

I think these final verses are pretty obvious and no further words are necessary from me.  We have arrived at the point where the superiority of Jesus as our high priest is obvious to all, and the author is moving on to a discussion of the New Covenant.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: July 14, 2019

When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.

Hebrews 6:13-15

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that our author has moved into a section that reassures us of God’s promises right after the warning contained in the first part of this chapter.  The message is clear: God keep His promises! Since Abraham is the point at which Jewish history was generally thought to have begun, it would only be natural to start with God’s promises to Abraham, which is what the author does.  Notice that he makes the point that God swore an oath in making His promises; a covenant required an oath, and God swore His by Himself, since there is nobody greater than He.  Also notice that the author adds that after Abraham waited patiently, God kept His promises.

People swear by someone greater than themselves, and the oath confirms what is said and puts an end to all argument. Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

Hebrews 6:16-20

In this final verses of chapter six, an amazing transformation begins to take shape, for beginning with God’s promise to Abraham, a promise that Jewish Christians would be very well aware of as a foundational event, our author begins the process of morphing it into a New Covenant reality.  Notice that he wants us to understand that God swore the oath so that there could be no argument about His intentions and purpose in entering covenant. He points out two unchangeable things that form the basis for our own hopes. First, God cannot break His promise, for He is holy and faithful. Second, God cannot break His oath, for He swore it on Himself.  To the ancient Middle Eastern mindset, the significance of the oath would be that if He broke His oath, He shall die, and this applies to all oath swearing at the entry point of all covenants, thus the use of blood sacrifices in oath swearing. There will be more on this point as we continue…

Next, the author applies this principle to our situation in Christ with the words “we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us”. This refers to all of us who have left behind the old ways and taken up the cross of Jesus, and here the point is made that because of the surety of our hope in Jesus Christ, we will be greatly encouraged, both in our times of trial and in all other situations. You see, this is a transition to a larger principle that is only just beginning to take shape in this amazing letter.

The larger principle is that Jesus, who is superior to the angels, and superior to Moses, our superior high priest, has brought a superior sacrifice to establish a superior covenant with superior promises.  This great hope is not only encouraging, but it is the very anchor of our souls, because It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek. 

When the reference is made to the “inner sanctuary, behind the curtain” the author is actually referring to the Holy of holies in the Temple, where nobody can go.  Once a year, the High Priest could enter there, but only if he followed the prescribed procedure. Any other time, any other person would be immediately struck dead.  The reason for this is that the Holy of holies was considered to be the dwelling place of God on the earth, and since God is holy and righteous, and no man is holy or righteous, no man could enter His presence.  Then the author makes an amazing claim: Jesus has entered that space.  No matter how carefully you read the four Gospels, you will not find this event; when did Jesus enter the Holy of holies? To understand fully this statement, we must go back to the cross. Remember that at the moment Jesus died, there was an earthquake, and the veil (curtain) in the Temple was torn in two?  This veil (curtain) was what separated the Holy of holies from everything else, it was the thing that kept man from coming into the presence of Holy God, and when Jesus’ work was done, it was ripped apart, because Jesus had made it possible for us to enter God’s very presence. No, Jesus did not enter that exact geographical location in body, but He entered it in a vastly more significant way, for He did in Spirit and in Truth; the Old Covenant was over forever.

Actually, as we will soon see, the Temple itself was only a picture of the reality to come, for Jesus entered God’s actual presence when He returned to the throne in heaven where He sits at God’s right hand to this day…

In doing so, He became our high priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. Yes, there he is again!  Chapter seven is all about Melchizedek and Jesus.

This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace.” Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.

Hebrews 7:1-3

The story of Melchizedek and Abraham is found in Genesis 14:17-20, and he isn’t mentioned again, except for an obscure reference in Psalm 110 that is only understood when it is quoted here in Hebrews 7.  He came suddenly out of nowhere, and was gone just as quickly, and many scholars believe that Melchizedek is a pre-incarnation appearance of Christ (called a Christiophony).  Clearly there are similarities between the two, but without more evidence, I’ll only say that he was a “type” of Christ.

Don’t go too fast in this passage; you don’t often come across a guy who is both king and priest, in fact that is not the Jewish model at all; only Jesus Himself comes to mind quickly for these two offices.  Note also the similarity of names. Melchizedek is called “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” while Jesus is called “Righteous King” and “Prince of Peace.”   He has no genealogy, no beginning of days or end of life… Very interesting. Here is a comparison chart for Melchizedek and Jesus:

Melchizedek Jesus
A King A King
A High Priest A High Priest
No beginning of days and without genealogy No beginning of days and without genealogy (on his Father’s side)
Ministered bread and wine Ministered bread and wine
Non Levite Non Levite
King of Salem (King of Peace) Prince of Peace (Is 9:6)
King of Righteousness Righteous King (Is 9:7)
Greater than Abraham Greater than Abraham

Isn’t it interesting also that the author says that Melchizedek resembles the Son of God.  I’m having a hard time thinking of another text that makes this kind of statement…

Just think how great he was: Even the patriarch Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder! Now the law requires the descendants of Levi who become priests to collect a tenth from the people—that is, from their fellow Israelites—even though they also are descended from Abraham. This man, however, did not trace his descent from Levi, yet he collected a tenth from Abraham and blessed him who had the promises. And without doubt the lesser is blessed by the greater. In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. One might even say that Levi, who collects the tenth, paid the tenth through Abraham, because when Melchizedek met Abraham, Levi was still in the body of his ancestor.

Hebrews 7:4-10

Up to this point in Hebrews, we have seen that Jesus is superior to the angels, and we have seen that Jesus is superior to Moses, but now we see that Melchizedek is superior to Abraham; in Jewish tradition, nobody is superior to Abraham! Yet when you consider the author’s evidence, it would seem that he has a valid point. Abraham paid a tithe to Melchizedek, this can also be rendered “tribute” which is always paid by the lesser to the greater.  Under the Law, a tithe is paid to the Levites, the priests, and yet the father of all the Israelites paid a tithe to this Melchizedek centuries before the Law, and in a sense, Levi himself was involved in the payment, since his ancestor paid it.

The really amazing statement that the author makes in this section is this: In the one case, the tenth is collected by people who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living. (7:8) I don’t mean to be overly simplistic, but you just don’t come across writing like this very often; who is this guy?  It’s becoming easier to understand why many scholars have concluded that he must be Jesus pre-incarnation. Of course, the point was also made in verse 7 that the lesser is blessed by the greater.  Clearly, Melchizedek is superior to Abraham, as mind-boggling as that must have been to a Jewish audience.

Before I wrap this up, I think we need to recognize here and now that this section is entirely intentional in the letter, for our author is building up to a massively important crescendo.  As we continue, we will see that not only was Melchizedek greater than Abraham, but the Jesus is like Melchizedek, and as a result, He is also a high priest superior to the Levites, administering a covenant superior to the Law of Moses, and theologically speaking, that’s the ball game.

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Sunday Sermon notes: June 30, 2019

 

Title: A New Way

Text: Hebrews 4:14-6:3

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

It is altogether fitting that the text shifts from warning against falling away, to the piercing power of the Word of God, to our Great High Priest Jesus, for our author has been warning and encouraging his readers to hang on to their faith through a time of great trial lest they should perish. Think about it: They were being told to endure a really horrible time in history, Christians were being burned alive for fun and amusement, and the author is telling the people to endure that rather than turn their backs on God: Yikes!

There is a huge difference between unbelief, turning our backs on God and making an error or committing a sin.  The error part, the sin part is not a problem, for we have a great High Priest.  Since Jesus, our “big brother” has ascended into heaven where He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with God, we must, and we can hold onto our faith.  Jesus, who makes intercession for us with God, has endured every temptation; He knows what it’s like to be a weak human, so He will understand and intercede for us.

Do you see how encouraging this must have been for those brothers and sisters who first heard it?  Isn’t it pretty encouraging for us now?  Do I hear an “Amen”?

With this in mind, the next step is to approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Why? Because we know who our High Priest is, there is nothing to fear… We can remain in our faith and seek forgiveness when we fall short; there is no need to give up and turn our backs on God, thinking that our case is hopeless, for Jesus is in our corner.

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Hebrews 5:11-14

Well now, isn’t this an interesting thing to say?  Let’s bear in mind that our author has been talking about Jesus as our great high priest, according to the order of Melchizedek, but he hasn’t discussed Melchizedek yet, he’s only made a reference to him. He has teased us with a contrast between the Old and New Covenant priesthood, and by extension the very nature of the two covenants, and then he diverts his discussion here and gets into the issue of maturity. I really hope that we can avoid the temptation to think that his readers must be very much the immature ones; that we are somehow in a better position spiritually than they were.  If the truth were really to be told, we are not much different today; in fact we might just be worse off than they were.

I hope, dear reader that anyone who has the courage to keep reading, will take this as an opportunity for some serious reflection and self-examination, as I am doing as I write this; it is a serious matter.

The author is speaking about the process of spiritual maturity as a life-long journey, a journey of growth and attainment of maturity.  Think of it this way, how long have we gone on with the attitude that when we reach out to those people who are living without a relationship with Christ, and when they agree to receive His grace and become a “new” Christian, our job is done? The reality of the situation is that our job has only just begun!  How many of us have been Christians for a lifetime, but are still “infants” spiritually… yet think we are mature because we can recite scripture and answer trivia questions? How many of us are still growing in our relationships with Christ, versus thinking we need not grow further? Consider our text: “by this time you ought to be teachers” but “you need someone to teach you…” I can attest to the fact, that this is a typical condition in the church today. Notice that there is linkage between “elementary truths of God’s word” and a baby’s milk.  Here the author is using infancy and adulthood as a metaphor for spiritual growth, particularly in relation to the respective diets of the two; “milk” as opposed to “solid food.”

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

Hebrews 6:1-3

For me, this little bit of text always brings bit of a shock, for we see that the things we almost always talk about are the “elementary teachings,” the “milk” but not the “solid food” of maturity at all! Let’s take a closer look:

“…not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God…” This is something we need to see in a different way, for it isn’t maturity in Christ. What is this “foundation” for repentance from sins and faith in God? Think…

It is the cross.  All of us take everything back to the cross, and properly so, but we normally do that as if the cross was the end, but it is not the end; the cross is the beginning of the story. Yes, it’s true, as awe-inspiring, wonderful and amazing as it is in its fullness and mercy and love, the cross is the beginning, not the end of maturity.  “Cleansing rites” for us today would be in the same category as rituals, ceremonies, styles of worship and so forth.  These things are elementary, “young” and baby milk things, not the sort of things that the mature in the faith are much concerned with. “Laying on of hands” and other spiritual gifts are wonderful, but elementary.  Resurrection, eternal life, and judgment are at the beginning of the process, wonderful promises, and highly instructive at an early stage of growth, but they are not in and of themselves maturity in Christ. Can you see why I said that these are things we always talk about?  Yet, they are milk, not solid food for adults; God permitting, we will move on from these things.

Before I close out this section, let’s pause and take stock.  Hebrews is written to Jewish Christians in Rome who are being persecuted by the Emperor Nero, one of history’s most notorious criminals.  The author is writing this to encourage them, to instruct them and to hopefully energize them so that they do not give up their faith in the stress of persecution. Doesn’t it seem reasonable to suggest that their “elementary” spiritual development might be the cause of their temptation to drift away? I hope that we too, will reflect on this.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June 22, 2016

Title: Our Great High Priest

Text: Hebrews 4:14-16

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:14-16

It is altogether fitting that the text shifts from warning against falling away, to the piercing power of the Word of God, to our Great High Priest Jesus, for our author has been warning and encouraging his readers to hang on to their faith through a time of great trial lest they should perish. Think about it: They were being told to endure a really horrible time in history, Christians were being burned alive for fun and amusement, and the author is telling the people to endure that rather than turn their backs on God: Yikes!

There is a huge difference between unbelief, turning our backs on God and making an error or committing a sin.  The error part, the sin part is not a problem, for we have a great High Priest.  Since Jesus, our “big brother” has ascended into heaven where He is our high priest who makes intercession for us with God, we must, and we can hold onto our faith.  Jesus, who makes intercession for us with God, has endured every temptation; He knows what it’s like to be a weak human, so He will understand and intercede for us.

Do you see how encouraging this must have been for those brothers and sisters who first heard it?  Isn’t it pretty encouraging for us now?  Do I hear an “Amen”?

With this in mind, the next step is to approach the throne of grace with confidence.  Why? Because we know who our High Priest is, there is nothing to fear… We can remain in our faith and seek forgiveness when we fall short; there is no need to give up and turn our backs on God, thinking that our case is hopeless, for Jesus is in our corner.

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Sunday Sermon Notes: June, 2019

Title: God’s Rest

Text: Hebrews 4:1-13

Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God has said,

“So I declared on oath in my anger,
    ‘They shall never enter my rest.

And yet his works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere he has spoken about the seventh day in these words: “On the seventh day God rested from all his works.” And again in the passage above he says, “They shall never enter my rest.”

Hebrews 4:1-5

The warning continues in this text, but now the warning is building up to something wonderful.  The “promise” of entering His rest still stands. Needless to say, this is sometimes a source of confusion; what exactly is this “rest” that still stands?  In the original Old Testament context, the “rest” was the Promised Land, but it was also the Sabbath.  Now, there seems to be another context taking shape: What’s going on?

Whatever is going on, we still have that hope somehow, and we need to be careful that we don’t fall away from God before we get there. Now our author adds the rest and the Sabbath.  So is the Sabbath as promise?  Some say so, but last time I checked, it wasn’t a promise, it was a Commandment!  In fact, it’s one of the 10 Commandments, but unlike the other 9, Jesus didn’t re-assert this one in the Gospels:  Why? Because it was the sign of the Old Covenant, just as circumcision is the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant; neither are in force now. And yet, there is still a rest for the people of God…?

Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience, God again set a certain day, calling it “Today.” This he did when a long time later he spoke through David, as in the passage already quoted:

“Today, if you hear his voice,
    do not harden your hearts.”

Hebrews 4:6-7

There it is again!  There is still a “rest” that we might enter into, and we need to ensure that our hearts aren’t hardened into disbelief, or we might miss out.  I don’t know about you, but I think this is really cool… and great fun! What could he mean?

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken later about another day. There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:8-11

Again the promise, again the warning- and more clues. Joshua led the people into the Land, Moses had given them the Law, and still centuries later, David spoke of another “rest” and the disobedience of old.  Hebrews has several instances where the Old Testament is said to contain “shadows” that are pictures of the glorious reality to come in Christ, and this is the first one of them, even though the author hasn’t come right out and said so yet.  In this case, both the Land and the Sabbath are mere shadows of a great reality that doesn’t come until Christ.  Everything in the Old Covenant is centered on the physical world. The promises, the curses, the worship, the Temple, the festivals… all are physically oriented, but point to a great reality that was to come; this is called “typology” and these things are called “types.”  Thus, the Land and the Sabbath are “types” of something wonderful that the people of the Old Testament had no real concept of… eternity.  When Jesus began speaking of eternal life, He was speaking of something that the Old Testament made no mention of… at all. All of the promises in the Law were earthly, not one was eternal in scope.  Jews do not die and go to Heaven, they die and live through their children. If you don’t believe me, ask one of your Jewish friends.

Yes, I know that some Christians might want to dispute this, saying that God hasn’t kept the Land promise, and will do so in the millennium. Personally, I think that runs counter to our text right here, but my normal reply is: “Would you rather have a Tel Aviv address for a thousand years, or eternal life with Christ?  Jesus fulfilled the promise of land with something far better than real estate: This is the wonderful part. Yet, another warning, “make every effort” to enter the rest and not to perish because of disobedience.

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13

This is the sternest warning of all in this section, and yet it is wonderful at the same time: The Word of God- powerful, penetrating, alive! We often refer to the Scriptures as the Word of God, and so they are.  Then we go and relegate it to a mere academic discipline full of teachings, rules and promises… even trivia, but the Word of God is never trivial.  The Word of God is powerful, the most powerful force in our universe, for it holds the entire universe together as we saw in chapter 1.  The Word is also a Person.  Go back and read John 1:1-4; 14.  The Word of God is none other than Jesus Christ Himself: The Word of God is Wonderful!

 

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Worry

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

Matthew 6:25-27

Jesus tells us right off that He is giving a summation to this section, by beginning with the word “therefore”. As always, “therefore” is used to indicate that the writer or speaker is drawing a conclusion from what has just been written or spoken; in this case it is the discussion of treasures.

Jesus’ words here are very simple and to the point: worrying is pointless.

“Yes, well that’s all well and good but…”

If you are thinking along those lines, please check the verses once again, and let me know where you found “but” in what Jesus said; I can’t find it.

Jesus continues:

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:28-34

Jesus moves on from food to clothing here, making the same point again: Worrying is pointless. Yet here, He does an interesting thing, He expands the section from the context immediately following His remarks on money into the larger context of 6:1, which you will recall is a Kingdom context, in verse 33, and then restates the point: Don’t worry.

Notice also that in this chapter we began with three illustrations each dealing with spiritual practices (6:2-18), after which Jesus moved into money, possessions and wealth management (6:19-27) and finished on the very practical note of placing our trust in God and putting His Kingdom first. Now comes the hard part: In “real life” what do we actually do?

I can’t answer that question for any of you in particular, but my observation of Christians in general over several decades tells me that what most of us really do is everything Jesus is telling us not to do, especially worrying about things.

We worry about what others think of us, about whether we are the most “righteous” or the most “spiritual”. We worry about money, finances, jobs, paying the bills, retirement, essentials of life… and frills and entertainment; these are even the things we pray about most often, along with health concerns. Yet Jesus is telling the people that in His Kingdom, this is not how His Kingdom people should arrange their priorities.

“But Don, it’s just too hard!”

Please remember that I am also living in this world along with you; I get that this can be difficult, but as is true with most aspects of the Christian life, it is usually not as difficult as we make it, for what it really is, is counter-intuitive more than anything else.

I am a work in progress just like everyone else, and I have a long way to go before I am “just like” Jesus was; a very long way indeed. However, I have discovered that for me at least, a recognition that this is all simply counter-intuitive, rather than overly difficult, simplifies the process quite a bit. The result, at least for me, has been that I have come to see Jesus’ teaching in this area as liberating and empowering, rather than hard and severe, and that most of the cares of this world are a waste of time and energy.

Of course, I might just be crazy…

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