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Sunday, July 29, 2018

Hebrews, Day 29: Hebrews 9:6-14 - How Can We Have a Clean Conscience?

How Can We Have a Clean Conscience? 
Hebrews 9:6-14
Hebrews, Day 29

Audio Version






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). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 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. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. - Hebrews 9:6-14, ESV

Several years ago, we had a cat. Unfortunately, our cat suddenly began spraying (urinating) in the house, mostly as a protest of the existence of our second son and our need to give him the attention the cat used to receive. Cat urine has a distinct and powerful odor and a penetrating and persevering presence. Surface cleaning of cat urine is ineffective, as is deeper cleaning without the right chemicals to neutralize the pungent odor. The cleaning must penetrate deeply and the solvent must be capable of breaking down the urine. Otherwise, the whole cleaning process is a waste of time.

Cleaning cat urine is not fun, but it's simple compared to trying to truly cleanse a conscience. When we are guilty, our consciences become defiled. Over time, they can also become seared and callous. What do we do with a defiled, seared conscience?  Can you order special chemicals online to neutralize the disastrous effects of sin on our consciences? No. Of course not.

Many people engage in religious ritualism or diligent do-goodism to try to cleanse their corrupt consciences. The Old Testament had complex and detailed ceremonies for cleansing everything, and most involved the shedding and sprinkling of blood. Altars, the mercy seat, priests and worshipers were all sprinkled with shed blood in order to cleanse them of defilement. Yet such animal bloodshed "cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper." 

Why not? Because they're not strong enough and they don't penetrate deeply enough. Animal blood cannot atone for human sin. Bulls and goats can't substitute for a person, and sprinkling someone's body does nothing to touch their soul.

What can cleanse us? Only the blood of Christ! The animals' blood had a limited effect for a temporary and superficial cleansing, but it pointed to our deeper need. We do need to be sprinkled with shed blood, the shed blood of the Lamb of God, the Son of God, Jesus Christ. And so we're given the good news, the life-changing, conscience-cleansing good news of Hebrews 9:14: "how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God." 

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Hebrews, Day 28: Hebrews 9:1-5 - What Did the Tabernacle Furnishings Mean?

What Did the Tabernacle Furnishings Mean?
Hebrews, Day 28

Audio Version




Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section 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 9:1-5, ESV 

Good teachers have clear purpose behind every aspect of their lessons. If the Tabernacle worship never cleansed anyone of sin and was never intended to be the way of salvation, then what was the point? God gave Moses detailed instructions, so what was this lesson meant to teach God's people?

The main point of the object lesson of Tabernacle worship was to drive home to God's people the reality of His awesome holiness and their desperate need for forgiveness. Every day, with sacrifice after sacrifice, the people were reminded of their sin before a holy God. The regulations for worship were designed to teach God's people that they must approach Him in a very specific way. A holy God must be approached on His terms, not ours.

Inside the Holy Place of worship, God had His people build a lampstand, to be reminded that He is the Light, and they need His light for their lives and worship. Light is a powerful symbol for God's wisdom, holiness, truth and goodness, and the light of the lampstand, symbolizing God's light, filled the tabernacle.

The table of the bread of the Presence reminded God's people that He was their only sustenance. It had 12 loaves, one for each of the tribes of Israel. All of God's people are kept alive by God and by God alone. When Jesus said, "I am the Bread of Life," He had the bread of the Presence partially in view. When Jesus fed 5,000 people, the disciples picked up 12 baskets of leftover pieces, just like the 12 loaves of bread. Jesus is the satisfying sustenance of all of God's people.

The altar of incense represented the prayers of God's people, continually ascending to God, their aroma mixed with the smoke of the offerings. The formula for the incense was given by God and had to be followed exactly, a lesson Aaron's sons Nadab and Abihu learned the hard way. This shows us that our prayers need to be shaped by God's will, not ours.

The Ark of the Covenant was the centerpiece of Tabernacle worship. It represented the very presence of God and was kept in the inner chamber of the Tabernacle, in the Most Holy Place. It was covered by a mercy seat and contained the Law of God, written on tablets of stone. God's Law and God's presence in the midst of God's people had to be covered in mercy for God's people to be safe. The mercy seat had to be sprinkled with atoning blood, which we'll explore later in Hebrews.

All of this detail is significant - every small aspect of it. It teaches us so much about God and about us, and it all points us to the One whose coming made the Tabernacle obsolete: Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled every aspect of the Tabernacle in His holiness, His mercy, His atonement, His satisfaction of all of God's people, and in His perfect reconciling work. Whatever else we may see in a study of the Tabernacle, we must see Him in it all, or we've missed the whole point! 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Hebrews, Day 27: Hebrews 8:7-13 - So, Do We Not Need Teachers Anymore?

So, Do We Not Need Teachers Anymore?
Hebrews 8:7-13
Hebrews, Day 26

Audio Version




For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“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.
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.
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.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

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.
- Hebrews 8:7-13, ESV

My wife and I were engaged for almost 27 months, from March of 1996 until June of 1998, when we were finally married. I don't recommend such a long engagement period for everyone, but we were in a rare situation: We were committed to each other and knew our relationship was heading toward marriage, but we could not get married until after she had graduated from college. So, a long engagement seemed to make sense.

Being engaged is being in a period of committed waiting, an already-but-not-yet state. Beth and I were committed to each other. I had given her a ring as a sign of my commitment, and she wore it as a sign of hers. But we were not yet married, and so our relationship was committed but not yet consummated. So it is with the church and believers living in the present age of the new covenant.

The old covenant, called "that first covenant" here in Hebrews 8, was a period of preparation, of anticipation. It was a period of promises and shadows. Compared to "that first covenant," the new covenant age is now one of reality and of fulfillment. The redemption promised by the old covenant was accomplished by Christ in His inauguration of the new covenant, as He said, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood." (see Luke 22:20 & 1 Cor. 11:25

So, if we're living in the new covenant age, and the old Mosaic covenant has grown obsolete, as Hebrews 8 makes clear - "he makes the first one obsolete" - do we really see the full realization of the promises of Jeremiah 31 quoted here in Hebrews 8? 

We have received the full forgiveness of sins. Because Jesus died for our sins, God the Father will remember them no more. God has given us new hearts and has written His moral law, the law of love, on our hearts. Each believer may have personal knowledge of God through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So far, so good, right? But then we hit a big question: Does this mean we don't need teachers anymore?

Should I resign as a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America, because we no longer need teachers in the new covenant age? Is that what verse 11 says? Obviously, it can't mean that. Why not? Because other books of the New Testament establish clearly the offices and guidelines of teachers in the church. Scripture must interpret Scripture, and the office of elder as outlined in Timothy and Titus carries the qualification that a man must be "apt to teach" to hold this office. Likewise, James warns that not many should be quick to be teachers, implying that teachers are still needed in the church.

So, why do we need teachers if we're in the new covenant age? This question has two good answers:

1. Teachers in the new covenant age do not have the same function as under the old covenant. In the new covenant age, every believer is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and has personal knowledge of God internally, which was not the case under the old covenant. Thus, the function of a teacher is to help shape the experiential knowledge of believers to be doctrinally correct and Scriptural. 

2. While we are in the new covenant age, the church's wedding to Christ has not yet been consummated. We are still awaiting the great wedding day, the Day of the Lord. Thus, we remain in a waiting period, where we know in part and do not yet know fully, even as we are fully known. Thus, we need teachers to help us understand the Scriptures. 

Teachers in the new covenant age unfold the Scriptures to help God's people understand who they are and what God has done, is doing, and will do for them. They are not a replacement for first-hand knowledge of God, which is given by the indwelling Spirit through the Word.

So, we rejoice that we live in the new covenant age, but we wait for the final consummation of the age to come! And while we wait, the church still needs her faithful teachers. 

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Hebrews, Day 26: Hebrews 8:6-13 - What Made the Old Covenant Obsolete?

What Made the Old Covenant Obsolete?
Hebrews 8:6-13
Hebrews, Day 26

Audio Version




But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says:

“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.
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.
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.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

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.
- Hebrews 8:6-13, ESV

I was driving down the road in my 1999 Chrysler LHS when the right outer tie rod end failed and came apart. It was a catastrophic failure. I could no longer steer my right front wheel. When I had my car towed to the repair shop, they told me the front drive train assembly would require around $2,000 in repairs. That was the end of my car. It was now obsolete and was towed away to the junk yard. 

The author of Hebrews says something really radical in chapter 8. Hebrews was almost certainly written before 70 AD, which means the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing. It was the pride and joy of all Jewish people. The sacrificial system of worship carried out by the Levitical priests in the Temple had been the center of the Jewish people's worship and identity for hundreds of years. The Second Temple, while greatly expanded by King Herod, had been build by Ezra and the Levites after the Babylonian exile over 500 years before. The first Temple had been built by King Solomon over a thousand years prior, and the worship of the Mosaic covenant dated back 1,500 years. 

The author of Hebrews said this worship was obsolete and growing old and ready to vanish away. Think about that. A system of worship given in detail by God Himself and established for 1,500 years was now declared obsolete and was ready to disappear forever. How? Why?

First of all, it's amazing how accurate the Letter to the Hebrews is. The Temple was destroyed, probably less than 10 years after the writing of this letter. Once destroyed, it was never rebuilt. Was it because the Romans destroyed it? Ultimately, no. The Romans were ultimately just the instrument of God's judgment. God judged His people for rejecting their Messiah, but He removed the Temple because it was obsolete. 

What made it obsolete? Was it because it didn't work? No, not really. It never "worked," at least not in the way some people thought it did and should work. The Temple sacrifices never cleansed the people of sin. That will be made even more clear in chapter 10. It's important to know that the Temple did not become obsolete because the sacrifices stopped working. They were never designed to save anyone. They were always designed to point to a deep need and to a redemption beyond themselves.

So, why did the Temple become obsolete? Because what the Temple pictured had become a reality. What the Temple promised had been fulfilled. The greater redemption had been won, and the people of God had been set free from sin and guilt forever by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus' death on the cross made the Temple obsolete, which is why the veil in the Temple was torn in two when Jesus died.

It was not only pointless but disobedient for God's people to hold onto the old forms of worship when they had been fulfilled. Jesus brought full redemption to God's people at the cost of His life. Forgiven and freed, God's people no longer need the shed blood of animals and the regulations that accompanied the old covenant system. That's what made the whole ceremonial law of the Moses obsolete - the full and perfect redemption purchased Jesus. 

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Hebrews, Day 25: Hebrews 8:1-5 - What Was the Purpose of the Tabernacle and Temple?

What Was the Purpose of the Tabernacle and Temple?
Hebrews, Day 25

Audio Version




Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, “See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain.”  - Hebrews 8:1-5, ESV

So, what's the point? Have you ever been watching a TV show or reading a book or listening to something on the radio, and you just thought, "What's the point of this, really?"

I will admit to having this feeling sometimes about the Tournament of Roses parade. The elaborate floats covered in plant material take months to design and build and cost thousands of dollars, for a brief display on television, and then it's all over. But perhaps beauty and artistry need no other reason for existing. I'm sure my wife has sometimes had the same thoughts about the football games that come on after the parade.

For almost 1,500 years, God had His people worship Him in a Tabernacle and then a Temple, which was basically just a permanent-building version of the Tabernacle. Yet we learned in chapter 7 of Hebrews that the Tabernacle/Temple worship and the Levitical priesthood made no one perfect and was not a way of salvation. So, what was the point?

Hebrews 8 begins to tell us the answer, which will continue to be unfolded in chapters 9 and 10: They were "a copy and shadow of the heavenly things." Moses was told by God to make the Tabernacle after the pattern shown him on Mount Sinai. The pattern Moses was shown was a copy, a shadow of the heavenly throne room.

When Jesus accomplished salvation for us, He was exalted to being high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. But where? Not in the Temple in Jerusalem. That was only for Levitical priests. No, Jesus was made priest in the heavenly sanctuary, in the throne room of God, where He sits at God's right hand.

If Jesus was going to come and accomplish salvation and then minister in the heavenly sanctuary, why have a copy? God gave it to show the people the pattern for what Jesus would do. Jesus would offer Himself as a sacrifice for sin, to cleanse His people, and then rise again and ascend into heaven to make intercession for us. This was all patterned in the altar of sacrifices, the bronze sea, the altar of incense, and the Holy of Holies with the ark of the covenant with its mercy seat. It was all given as a pattern to show what we needed and what Jesus would do for us.

God was and is the master teacher, and the Tabernacle pattern of worship was given as an ongoing, generation-after-generation object lesson. In it, God displayed His people's need and promised ultimate provision for that need. But like all copies and shadows, once the reality comes, it is no longer needed, which we'll see more clearly next time.