Faith Described and Demonstrated.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. – Hebrews 11:1-3 ESV

What exactly is faith? How do you know when you have it? When do you know that you are living by it? The author of Hebrews, like Paul, spent a great deal of time defending the doctrine of faith. They both believed it was essential to salvation and non-negotiable. The author of Hebrews even goes so far as to say, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV). Both Paul and the author of Hebrews quote from the passage in the book of Habakuk, “but the righteous shall live by his faith”, to support their position on faith. For both men, faith and righteousness were inseparable. You couldn’t have one without the other. To attempt to achieve the kind of righteousness God demands, apart from faith, would be impossible and illogical. He had given the law to the people of Israel to show them the extent of the righteousness He required and the utter futility of trying to live it out on their own. They couldn’t do it. And because God knew they would not be able to keep the law, He provided them with the sacrificial system to atone for the sins they would inevitably commit. And as the author has already revealed, the law and the sacrificial system were “but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities” (Hebrews 10:1a ESV). The people sinned and the offered sacrifices for those sins, year after year. And the author broke the news to his Jewish audience, “it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (Hebrews 10:1b ESV).

The law was intended to reveal God’s righteous standards and expose man’s sin. Paul explained, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are” (Romans 3:20 NLT). The sacrifices demonstrated that God’s wrath against sin was real and required the shedding of blood to atone for those sins. “In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Hebrews 9:22 NLT). But while the blood of bulls and goats could provide temporary atonement for sins, God sent His Son to provide a permanent solution to man’s sin problem and a way to escape the sentence of death hanging over his head. But God’s plan of salvation would require faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

Faith is always forward looking. It is based on the yet unseen and the as yet unfulfilled. Peter gives us a wonderful glimpse of what faith should like for us as believers:

So be truly glad. There is wonderful joy ahead, even though you have to endure many trials for a little while. These trials will show that your faith is genuine. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold—though your faith is far more precious than mere gold. So when your faith remains strong through many trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him now, you trust him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy. The reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls. – 1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT

The author of Hebrews has told us, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water¸” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV). We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). He praised his readers for having “joyfully accepting the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34 ESV). In other words, they were willing to put up with loss in this world because of their confidence in the promise of God that assured them of great gain in the world to come. They were “not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV). Their faith was future-oriented. They believed the promises of God. They had an assurance of things hoped for and a conviction of things not seen.

That is exactly what Paul encouraged the believers in Corinth to keep doing: “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NLT). If we remove the hope of God’s future promises, we will find it hard to endure the present trials of this life. If we live as if this is all there is, then we will grow weary, disappointed and disillusioned with our salvation. But God’s salvation includes our future glorification. There is more to our faith than simply the assurance that we have been saved and our sins are forgiven. We will one day be redeemed and given new bodies. We will be freed once and for all from our battle with indwelling sin. Our faith must always have a future focus. The apostle John, like a loving pastor, reminds us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). That is our hope. That is the basis of our faith. And the author of Hebrews will spend the rest of this chapter demonstrating what this kind of faith looks like in real life, using the Old Testament saints as examples of living, breathing faith lived out in real life.

Advertisements

No Shrinking Back.

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 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? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For, “Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. Hebrews 10:26-39 ESV

Because of all that Jesus has done for us and made available to us, we should have confidence, a secure assurance that we have access into God’s presence because we have been right with God. But we must “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). We have a part to play. Among all the distractions and difficulties of this world we must keep our eyes focused on the hope to come: the return of Christ and our final glorification. As followers of Christ, we will find the going tough at times this side of heaven. Living as a Christian requires faith, because so much of what we have been promised in Christ is yet to be fulfilled. Chapter 11 will give a glimpse of what faith looked like for the Old Testament saints. Each of the ones mentioned is recognized for having had faith – “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV).

This section of chapter 10 is difficult. There are many different interpretations as to what the author is saying and who he is referencing in these verses. There are those who use this passage to prove that Christians can lose their salvation. There are others who say it is referring to Christians who “fall away” from the faith and risk losing their rewards at the judgement seat of Christ. I am not sure either view is correct. The author is writing to a congregation made up primarily of Jews who have heard the good news of Jesus Christ and expressed faith in Him as their Messiah and Savior. Up until this point, the author has been diligently attempting to help his Jewish audience to understand the superior value of Jesus and His sacrifice on their behalf. He has spent nine chapters contrasting the old and new covenant, presenting Jesus and the new covenant in His blood as not only superior, but singular in its effectiveness. Through His death on the cross, Jesus accomplished for man what the Law could never have done. His sacrifice provided a means by which sinful men could be made right with a holy God.

But there were evidently those in the author’s audience who were having second thoughts about the efficacy of saving work of Jesus. They were having doubts as to whether His death was enough. So they were reverting back to their old habits of relying on the law. They were evidently offering sacrifices in order to cover over their sins, which meant that they were still sinning. The author starts off this section by saying, “for if we go on sinning deliberately” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). What he has in mind are those sins that are willful and planned, not those that are committed out of ignorance or weakness. It would seem that there were those who were sinning on purpose, and relying on the old sacrificial system to atone for those sins. The author accuses them of having “trampled underfoot the Son of God” and having “profaned the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:29 ESV). In falling back to the old covenant as their source of atonement, they were saying the sacrifice of Jesus was not enough. They were essentially rejecting His offering as not having fully appeased the wrath of God. The author warns them that if they reject Christ’s sacrifice, there “no longer remains a sacrifice for sins” (Hebrews 10:26 ESV). If Jesus is not enough, then all that remains is judgment.

So to whom is the author referring? Is he warning Christians from falling away from the faith and losing their salvation? That interpretation would contradict too many other passages that promise believers the assurance of their salvation. Jesus Himself said, “And this is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those he has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day” (John 6:39 NLT). “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29 NLT). Paul tells us, “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). Jesus’ sacrifice was fully sufficient and completely effective. It accomplished the will of the Father by paying in full the debt that was owed as a result of man’s sin. He died once and no other sacrifice is needed. The problem the author is warning about is the very real possibility of someone hearing the good news regarding Christ’s sacrificial death, seemingly accepting it, but then later determining it was not enough. The issue is one of confidence. The author uses this word two times in chapter ten. In verse 19 he tells his readers, “Therefore brothers, since we have this confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…” Then in verse 35 he warns, “Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward…”

Saving faith is enduring faith. It lasts. But there have always been those who seem to express faith in Jesus, but then, when the troubles and trials come, they turn away. They reject the truth. They determine that Jesus is not enough and the promise of salvation is not sufficient. Unwilling to wait for the final fulfillment of God’s promise they seek their satisfaction in this life. They refuse to believe that their sins are forgiven. They fall back on to a life of works and self-righteousness, or simply reject the idea that they can be made right with God altogether. The author warns that these individuals face the judgment of God. He gives the very sobering warning, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31 ESV). It would seem that his talk of God’s vengeance and judgment has nothing to do with believers, but with those who never fully believed in the first place. He makes this clear when he reminds his readers of their “former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated” (Hebrews 10:32-33 ESV). In other words, they had been through difficulty in the past, and they had endured. They had remained faithful and he reminds them, “you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one” (Hebrews 10:34 ESV). These people had not rejected the saving work of Jesus at the first sign of trouble. Why? Because their faith was real. Their hope was in something greater than a trouble-free life. Their confidence was in the promise of God of a great reward to come, not their best life now. So the author encourages them, “you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised” (Hebrews 10:36 ESV). The one who “shrinks back” will have no reward. God has no pleasure in him. But the author makes it clear that “we are not those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls” (Hebrews 10:39 ESV). True believers believe the truth and endure. They have confidence and continue to hold fast regardless of the circumstances.

Hold Fast.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:19-25 ESV

There should be a proper response when we consider all that Jesus has done for us.

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. – Hebrews 5:8-10 ESV

…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, this securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:12 ESV

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 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. – Hebrews 9:28 ESV

His sacrifice on our behalf should provide us with a confidence to come into the very presence of God, with “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22 ESV). When Jesus died, the veil in the temple that acted as a barrier into the Holy of Holies, was torn in two. “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:50-51 NLT). That event was incredibly significant, because it removed, for all time, the veil of separation between man and God. Up until that time, the only person who could enter the Holy of Holies, where God’s presence was said to dwell, was the high priest. And his access was limited to a single day each year, the Day of Atonement, and he could enter only having sacrificed an animal for his own cleansing. If he failed to do so, he would die. And no one else was allowed into the presence of God. But that all changed when Jesus died. The veil was torn, and the barrier to God was removed. It was as Jesus had claimed: “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (John 10:9 ESV). Those who have placed their faith in Jesus as their sin substitute can now enjoy access to God. As His sheep, they can enter into His presence without fear of death or rejection. The can go in and out and find pasture.

But this newly available access to God, made possible by the sacrifice of Jesus, should create in us not only a confident assurance, but a desire to live in obedience to His will. The author tells us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together” (Hebrews 10:24-25 ESV). We are to pursue righteousness, not in the hopes of gaining God’s approval, but in gratefulness for the fact that we are already approved in His eyes. Our hearts have already been sprinkled clean. Our bodies have been washed with pure water. We stand before Him as holy. This does not mean we are without sin. Each of us still retains his old sin nature. We still have the capacity and propensity to sin. But our sins can no longer keep us apart from God. We have been extended forgiveness. We have been fully acquitted. And we have His promise that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 ESV). We have access into the Holy of Holies, at all times, where we can receive mercy, grace, and forgiveness – never condemnation.

So the author of Hebrews tells us to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV). This is the same thought he expressed back in chapter six when he said, “we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain” (Hebrews 6:18-19 ESV). Earlier in that same chapter, he wrote, “And we desire each one of you to show the same earnestness to have the full assurance of hope until the end, so that you may not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:11-12 ESV). We must keep our focus on the promise to come. Our hope is to be based on the completed work of Christ. He is coming again. That is why the author tells us, “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” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). He came, but our hope is based on the fact that He is coming again. And we are to hold fast to that reality. It is to provide us with the motivation we need to remain faithful until the end. It is to give us the encouragement we need to live obediently and not complacently. The apostle John reminds us, “And now, dear children, remain in fellowship with Christ so that when he returns, you will be full of courage and not shrink back from him in shame. Since we know that Christ is righteous, we also know that all who do what is right are God’s children” (1 John 2:28-29 NLT). It is our hope in Christ that gives us the help we need to live godly lives as we wait for His return. It is our faith in His return that provides us with the determination to remain faithful till the end. We must hold fast. We must finish strong. We must fight the good fight and finish the race set before us – “for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23 ESV).

Fully Forgiven.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. – Hebrews 10:11-18 ESV

Year after year, sacrifice after sacrifice, the Israelites followed God’s instructions regarding His pattern for receiving atonement for their sins. The Hebrew word for atonement is kaphar and it means “to cover.” In the sacrificial system, atonement was achieved when an innocent, unblemished lamb, bull or goat was sacrificed and its blood shed. That blood was then sprinkled on the altar and used to “cover” the sins of the guilty party. The death of an innocent animal was used to pay for the sins of a guilty individual. The sacrifice, the shedding of blood, atoned for the sins, essentially hiding them from God’s eyes. But this process was only partial in nature. It could not completely remove the guilt of sin and the penalty of death pronounced by God on all who sin. Each sacrifice was temporary in terms of its effectiveness and limited in duration. Every day, the priests had to stand ready to offer additional sacrifices on behalf of the sins of the people. Why? Because they could not stop sinning against God. They were incapable of keeping His divine laws and holy decrees. And the sacrifices they offered could “never take away sins” (Hebrews 10:11 ESV) – at least not completely or permanently.

But when Jesus sacrificed His life on the cross, it was a one-time deal. It never had to be repeated. And because His sacrifice was effective, He was raised back to life by His heavenly Father and restored to His rightful place next to God in heaven. “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy” (Hebrews 10:14 NLT). Quoting from the prophet, Isaiah, the author of Hebrews reminds His Jewish readers that God had long-ago predicted the moment when something new and better would happen.

But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,” says the Lord. “I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiahs 31:33 NLT

The day was coming when God would make a new covenant with the people of Israel. Rather than having to rely on some kind of external code of conduct (the law), they would have God’s will planted right in their hearts. The motivation to obey God would come from inside, not outside. And on top of that, God promised to provide permanent forgiveness for sins.

“And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” – Jeremiah 31:34 NLT

No more temporary, partial atonement. God was going to provide a sacrifice that would take care of man’s sin problem once and for all. And “where there is forgiveness…there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18 ESV). Because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross, offering His body and blood as the payment for man’s sin debt to God, there is nothing more required of man in order to be made right with God. That does not mean that those who place their faith in Christ’s sacrificial death are free to live however they want to live. Paul dealt with this misconception in his letter to the believers in Rome. “Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2 NLT). Paul went on to shoot further holes in this misguided and dangerous assumption. “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living” (Romans 6:15-16 NLT). We are free from the law (rules and regulations) when it comes to our salvation. But we are not free to live as we choose. As children of God, we are expected to live lives in keeping with our new status. That is why Peter tells us, “So think clearly and exercise self-control. Look forward to the gracious salvation that will come to you when Jesus Christ is revealed to the world. So you must live as God’s obedient children. Don’t slip back into your old ways of living to satisfy your own desires. You didn’t know any better then. But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy” (1 Peter 1:13-15 NLT).

We no longer have to obey God’s law in order to be made right with Him. We obey God because we HAVE been made right with Him through faith in His Son. We obey out of love, not obligation. We pursue righteousness, not in order to be earn favor with God, but out of gratitude for the favor He has shown us by sending His Son to die for us. Go back to verse 14. Look at what it says. “For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy.” We are already seen as righteous in God’s eyes. And yet, we are in the process of being sanctified or continually set apart for His use. We are positionally holy and we are being made progressively holy.

We are already right with God, but at the same time, God is transforming us into the image of His Son. That is why we are commanded to put off the old nature and put on the new. We are to die to ourselves daily and to live for Christ. We are in a continual process of transformation that will one day be completed by our glorification by God. At that point in time we will receive new redeemed bodies and complete freedom from effects of sin and the threat of death. But Paul would have us remember:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. – 2 Corinthians 5:18-21 NLT

Our salvation is God’s doing, not ours. In his letter to the Romans, Paul describes it as “the gospel of God.” He further defines it as “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it [the gospel] the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17 ESV). Faith in our own human effort? No. He is talking about faith in the sacrificial death of Christ on the cross. Our salvation is based on God’s plan, Christ’s work, and the Spirit’s power. We brought nothing to the table. Paul paints a vivid picture of just how amazing the grace of God and the gift of His Son really is. We have been fully forgiven. Our debt has been paid. Our future is secure. And our response is to live in willful, joyful obedience to the One who made it all possible.

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 ESV

The Good Things To Come.

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. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. – Hebrews 10:1-10 ESV

The law, the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices – they were all just a shadow, a feint outline of something far greater to come. They were a facade, not the real thing. They were intended to be a temporary representation and a daily reminder of man’s need for something better and more lasting. The sacrifices were ongoing and necessarily repetitive, because they could never fully bring forgiveness of sin. They could not remove the guilt of sin. They could not make someone permanently and completely right with God. In his commentary on Romans, W. H. Griffith Thomas writes, “Some one has well said: ‘The blood of animals cannot cleanse from sin because it is non-moral. The blood of sinning man cannot cleanse because it is immoral. The blood of Christ alone can cleanse because it is moral’” (W. H. Griffith Thomas, Hebrews: A Devotional Commentary). The blood of animals was insufficient. The blood of men was contaminated by sin. Something better was needed.

The author, quoting from Psalm 40, attributes these words, penned by King David, to Jesus. “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it is written of me: I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart’” (Psalm 40:6-8 ESV). Jesus came to do the will of His Father in heaven. As Paul states, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 ESV). Jesus died, not as some kind of a martyr, but as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). Jesus was the sinless, unblemished Lamb, whose sacrifice fully satisfied God’s judgment against the sins of mankind. And unlike the animal sacrifices that had to be offered year after year, the sacrifice of Jesus was once and for all. It never had to be repeated. No other deaths were going to be required to satisfy the just demands of God. But to enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice, each individual must place their faith in Him as their sin substitute. Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 ESV). We must acknowledge our unrighteousness, our lack of a right standing with God due to our sin. We must also accept the sacrifice of Jesus as payment for our sin penalty. There is nothing we can do to satisfy or appease God through our self-effort or attempts at self-righteousness. Paul would have us remember that God “has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). The sad reality is that there are those who believe their right standing with God is dependent upon their own human effort. They spend their days trying to earn favor with God by keeping some set of rules or engaging in some ritualistic behavior in order to keep God happy. They struggle with the idea that someone else could pay for their sins. They wrestle with the idea of Jesus being the Son of God and sacrificing His life on their behalf. They mistakenly view Jesus as nothing more than a model to be followed, a good man who somehow managed to live a sinless life. And they wrongly assume that if Jesus could do it, so can we. That is not the message of the gospel. Paul makes this clear when he writes, “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8 ESV). He doesn’t say, “but God shows his love for us when we figure out how to live without sin.” No, God loved us in the midst of our sinfulness, and He proved it by sending His Son to die for us. The whole sacrificial system makes no sense if this is not the case. The law, the sacrifices, the priesthood – none of it makes sense if Jesus was not the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.

Jesus came to do the will of His Father, and that will included His death on the cross. But as the author of Hebrews writes, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 ESV). Under the old covenant, it was the will of God that men offer up sacrifices, the blood of bulls and goats, in order to atone for their sins. But ultimately, those sacrifices were not enough to satisfy the righteous, holy, and just demands of God. He had given His law in order to show men that they were incapable of living righteous lives and obeying His commands. They lived in a constant state of sin. He gave the sacrificial system in order to provide temporary relief from the guilt and condemnation of sin. Without the sacrificial system, men could not enjoy restored fellowship with God. Their sins had to be atoned for. But again, those things were simply a shadow, a glimpse of something far greater to come. Jesus was not just another man who figured out how to live a sinless life. He was the Son of God, who came in human flesh and lived without sin because He was divine. Because He was born of the Spirit, He had no sin nature. He alone could be the sacrifice for which God was looking. He alone could be the payment that would satisfy and propitiate God. Nothing else would do. No other sacrifice would work. No amount of human effort, rule keeping, good works, and righteous deeds will appease the wrath of God. Only the sinless sacrifice of the Son of God. Which is why Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 ESV). Notice that He did not say, “No one comes to the Father unless they live like me.” He didn’t say, “No one comes to the Father unless they model their lives after me.” No, He said we must go through Him by placing our faith in His work on the cross, not our works on this earth. 

He Died. We Live.

For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 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, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.  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. 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. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 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. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,  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.– Hebrews 9:16-28 ESV

All throughout this section of his letter, the author has been attempting to establish the superiority of Christ’s sacrifice. His death ushered in a new and better covenant. The shedding of His blood was necessary for that new covenant to replace the old one. The author reminds his readers that the original covenant God made with Israel was also inaugurated with blood. Moses sacrificed unblemished animals and sprinkled their blood on the book of the law, the people, as well as the tabernacle and its contents. For, as the author writes, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness os sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV). In the same way, the new covenant went into effect when Jesus sacrificed His life and allowed His blood to be poured out as a spiritual offering to God on behalf of sinful mankind. As Jesus told His disciples at the last supper, “this is my blood, which confirms the covenant between God and his people. It is poured out as a sacrifice to forgive the sins of many” (Matthew 26:29 NLT).

The sacrifice of Jesus was better and more effective. He “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26 ESV). And His sacrifice was not offered in some tabernacle made with human hands, but it was accepted by God Himself in heaven. “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” (Hebrews 9:24 ESV). Jesus did something no other sacrifice had been able to do. He died and was brought back to life by the power of God’s Spirit, which signified that His sacrifice had been acceptable by God. Jesus did not cease to exist after death, but His earthly body died. It remained in the grave for three days until God, through the power of His Spirit, raised it back to life. When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, they fully recognized Him because He was, in a sense, His old self. His body even carried the holes left by the nails in His hands and feet and the wound from the spear in His side. As the author makes clear, Jesus was not going to have to die again. His sacrifice was fully sufficient. “…he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began” (Hebrews 9:25-26 NLT).

Paul would have us remember the incredible nature of the power that raised Jesus back to life, because we have that same power available to us in the form of the indwelling Holy Spirit. That power not only brought the body of Jesus back to life, but raised Him back to heaven where He sits at the right hand of God the Father.

I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him in the place of honor at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms. Now he is far above any ruler or authority or power or leader or anything else—not only in this world but also in the world to come. – Ephesians 1:19-21 NLT

And just as Jesus came the first time in order to die for the sins of mankind, He is coming a second time to complete what He began. We all still face the reality of death. It is inevitable and inescapable. But the author of Hebrews gives us the good news regarding the death of those who have accepted Christ as their Savior. “And just as each person is destined to die once and after that comes judgment, so also Christ was offered once for all time as a sacrifice to take away the sins of many people. He will come again, not to deal with our sins, but to bring salvation to all who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:27-28 NLT). Jesus is coming again. And to all those who have placed their faith in His substitutionary sacrifice, He will provide victory over death. They will receive new, resurrected and redeemed bodies, free from pain, suffering and sin. Those under the old covenant who depended on the blood of animals to cleanse them from their sins, received a temporary atonement. They lived to sin again. They enjoyed forgiveness for the moment, but would eventually be required to offer another sacrifice. And they had the constant presence of their guilt before them and the fear of death facing them. But because of Jesus’ death, those of us who call Him Savior no longer live with the condemnation of sin or the fear of death. We are forgiven. We have a promise inheritance. Our future is secure. Because we have placed our hope in a better sacrifice.

Blood Bought.

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. 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. – Hebrews 9:11-15 ESV

To understand this passage, it is essential to understand God’s view on blood. For those of us living in the 21st-century, the very idea of a blood sacrifice is appalling and distasteful. It sounds barbaric and cruel. But you have to go all the way back to the book of Leviticus to get God’s view on blood and its role in the sacrificial system He established for Israel. “And if any native Israelite or foreigner living among you eats or drinks blood in any form, I will turn against that person and cut him off from the community of your people,  for the life of the body is in its blood. I have given you the blood on the altar to purify you, making you right with the Lord. It is the blood, given in exchange for a life, that makes purification possible” (Leviticus 17:10-11 NLT). The blood was a symbol of life. Without blood, life would be impossible. So when innocent animals were sacrificed on the altar of the tabernacle, they were acting as substitutes for the people of Israel. Their blood was spilled so that the guilt of the sinful Israelites could be atoned for. The Israelites, like all people, sinned regularly, and their sin, according to God’s law, deserved death. So God allowed an unblemished animal to serve as a substitute. But the atonement the Israelites received was temporary and incomplete. It could not fully cleanse them from sin. The life on an animal could never fully replace the life of a human.

So the sacrificial system and the tabernacle were both symbols of something greater to come. And the high priest, who acted as a mediator on behalf of the people, was also a type or imperfect representation of someone else to come – namely Jesus. Ultimately, Jesus came to die. Yes, He was born of a virgin, grew up to be a man, performed miracles, taught His disciples, raised the dead, walked on water, and spoke often about His Kingdom. But His mission was to die – to shed His blood, to offer Himself as a substitute for the sins of mankind. The author makes this perfectly clear. “With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever” (Hebrews 9:12 NLT). The sacrifice Jesus offered was not made in the earthly temple and was not done using the blood of bulls or goats. He shed His own blood. It was just as He had told His disciples the night they shared their final Passover meal together. “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The blood of Jesus had to be poured out on behalf of all men in order for complete atonement to be made. Jesus was sent by His Father to be the atoning sacrifice, just as John the Baptist had prophesied. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 ESV). The prophet, Isaiah, recorded these powerful words centuries before Jesus appeared on the scene.

He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter. And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. – Isaiah 53:7-10 NLT

Jesus came to earth in order to take on human flesh and do something no other man had ever done: Live in complete obedience to God. Paul tells us, “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6-8 NLT). His perfect obedience made Him the perfect sacrifice. He was the “spotless lamb”. So His blood was an acceptable sacrifice to God for the sins of man. His atonement was permanent, not temporary. His death was able to “purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14 ESV). No longer do men have to carry around a sense of guilt and apprehension because they worry whether they have done enough to please God. They don’t have to wonder if their sacrifice was acceptable. They don’t have to live with a sense of impending doom because they of their inability to stop sinning. The sacrifice of Jesus covered the sins of men completely and permanently. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:1-2 ESV).

Because of what Jesus has done, we can serve the living God, both in this life and in the life to come. We have forgiveness of sins. We have been made right with God. We have the assurance of our salvation and the promise of eternal life. Not based on anything we have done or will do, but based solely on the shed blood of Jesus Christ.

 

The Time of Reformation.

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. 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. – Hebrews 9:1-10 ESV

In verse ten of this section of Hebrews, the author made an interesting statement. He referred to “the time of reformation”. The Greek word he used was diorthōsis and it means “a making straight, restoring to its natural and normal condition something which in some way protrudes or has got out of line, as broken or misshapen limbs” (Greek Lexicon :: G1357 (KJV) Blue Letter Bible). It could also mean to straighten thoroughly, rectify or restore. Some Bible translations refer to it as the “new order” or the time “when things will be put right”. But it is clear that the author is referring to the new covenant. The old way has been replaced by something new and improved. The author gives a brief description of the old way by listing some of the more important characteristics of the tabernacle and the worship that took place there. He mentions the Holy Place and the lampstand, table and bread of the Presence. He brings up the curtain that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place, in which there was the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. He includes the priests and the high priest, who were responsible for making sacrifices on behalf of themselves and the people. But he can’t help but remind his readers that “according to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper” (Hebrews 9:9 ESV). The sad reality was that the old covenant could never provide the worshiper with intimate access to God or the relief that their sin debt was taken care of.

The very fact that the average Jew could not enter the Most Holy Place, but had to rely on the high priest to minister on their behalf, paints a picture of the inadequacy of the old way. It could not make the worshiper fully right with God or provide a personal experience of His presence. By these things “the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing” (Hebrews 9:8 ESV). As long as the tabernacle or the temple were still in use, the people would never fully experience the joy of access to and intimacy with God.

In John’s gospel, he records an encounter Jesus had with the Jews outside the temple just after He had chased out the money changes. He made a bold statement. “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19 ESV).  Angered and more than a bit confused by Jesus’ statement, the Jews responded, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” (John 2:20 ESV). Thankfully,  John provides us with clarification. “But he was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21 ESV). In this brief exchange, we are provided with a glimpse of the “time of reformation” to which the author of Hebrews refers. Jesus was the temple of God through which men would enter into the His presence and receive a declaration of full acquittal for their sentence of death and complete forgiveness for their sins. In other words, they would be made right with God through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. He is not only the high priest and the sacrifice, but the temple of God itself. He alone can provide access to the Father. Which is why, when He breathed His last breath on the cross we are told, “At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, rocks split apart” (Matthew 27:51 NLT). The barrier to God’s presence was removed. Which is why Paul reminds us, “Because of Christ and our faith in him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence” (Ephesians 3:12 NLT). And the author of Hebrews told us, “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT).

Better Promises.

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 8:8-13 ESV

In this passage, the author of Hebrews uses the Old Testament to prove his point and bolster his case. He quotes from Jeremiah 31:31-34. In this passage, Jeremiah, the prophet, tells the rebellious people of Israel that they day is coming when God will do four things for them. Back in verse six, the author of Hebrews refers to these four things as the “better promises”. Each of theses four promises fall under the new covenant, that will not be like the old covenant He had made with their fathers in the wilderness. God said that when the new covenant was enacted, He would put His law into their minds and write them on their hearts. In other words, their motivation for obeying God would be internal and not external. They would have the capacity to obey Him willingly and gladly. He also promised that they would be His people and that He would be their God. That speaks of a unique and special relationship, even better than the one they had enjoyed during their days in the wilderness and as His chosen people living in the land of promise. The history of the people of Israel was one marked by blessing and cursing, faithfulness and apostasy. And ultimately, God was forced to give them over into the hands of their enemies, as punishment for their failure to remain obedient and faithful to Him. That is why He says, “they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them” (Hebrews 8:9b ESV).

The third promise God said would come with the new covenant was an intimate relationship with Him – for all Jews. They would no longer need to be taught about God, because they would know Him closely and personally. Finally, God promised that the new covenant would bring complete and permanent forgiveness of their sins. No more sacrifices would be needed. No more threat of punishment, condemnation or death.

When God spoke these words through Jeremiah, He was indicating that the old covenant was on its way out. Not long after this the people of God would find themselves taken captive by the Babylonians and living in exile. There would be no more temple and therefore, no more sacrificial system. Jerusalem, the city of God, would be a wasteland, destroyed by the Babylonians. And even when they were graciously returned to the land by God 70 years later, the temple they rebuilt would be a shadow of its former self. The great city of Jerusalem would never achieve the glory or status it had once enjoyed in the days of King David and his son, Solomon. Over the following centuries, the Israelites would find themselves a conquered people, living under the heavy yoke of a long line of conquering kings, all the way up to the occupation of Rome in the days of Jesus.

But the promises God gave them in association with the new covenant were fulfilled, in part, with the coming of Jesus. His death, burial and resurrection made them possible. That is why Jesus, on the night He shared His last Passover meal with the disciples, told them, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you” (Luke 22:20 NLT). The sacrificial death of Jesus made possible the new covenant. And with the coming of the new, the old became obsolete. Even at the time the letter of Hebrews was written, the old covenant, based on the Mosaic law, was passing away. With the destruction of the temple by the Romans in A.D. 70, the sacrificial system was brought to an end. Jesus had predicted this event when He shared with His disciples, “Do you see all these buildings? I tell you the truth, they will be completely demolished. Not one stone will be left on top of another!” (Matthew 24:1-2 NLT).

In using the passage from Jeremiah, the author of Hebrews is telling his Jewish readers that God is not yet done with the people of Israel. The promises found in Jeremiah were specifically for the people of Judah and Israel. But Gentile believers  have been grafted in to the family of God and have become descendants of Abraham. That is what Paul meant when he wrote, “if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29 ESV). Paul also wrote that “you Gentiles, who were branches from a wild olive tree, have been grafted in. So now you also receive the blessing God has promised Abraham and his children, sharing in the rich nourishment from the root of God’s special olive tree” (Romans 11:17 NLT). But while the Gentiles have been included in to the promises of God found in Jeremiah 31, He fully intends to fulfill those promises made to His chosen people. That is the point the author of Hebrews is trying to make. There is no reason for them, as Jewish Christians, to fall back to their reliance on the old covenant with its rules, rituals and regulations. It could not save or sanctify anymore than it could back in the days of Moses, David and Solomon. He has been trying to get them to understand that Jesus has ushered in something far greater and better. A better high priest. A better covenant based on better promises. A better sacrifice. A better mediator. A better outcome altogether.

And to those Gentiles who enjoy a restored relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, the new covenant has brought freedom from law-keeping and self-righteousness. Obedience and faithfulness to God is no longer based on external motivators or the keeping of rules and ritual. It is based on the indwelling Spirit of God who encourages and empowers us to live in faithful service to God. We don’t have to earn His favor, we already have it. That is why Paul reminds us,

We are confident of all this because of our great trust in God through Christ. It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. He has enabled us to be ministers of his new covenant. This is a covenant not of written laws, but of the Spirit. The old written covenant ends in death; but under the new covenant, the Spirit gives life. – 2 Corinthians 3:4-6 NLT

Better In Every Way.

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.” 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. – Hebrews 8:1-7 ESV

A better covenant. A better high priest. A better ministry. A better promise. Everything about Jesus is better. To borrow from an age-old, tried and true advertising slogan, you might say it is “new and improved”. Jesus didn’t just provide man with another option among many. He provided the one and only option for men to be made right with God. Unlike the priests who served in the tabernacle in the wilderness and the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus ministers in the heavenly tabernacle of God, seated at the very side of His Father. His is not an earthly, temporal ministry, but a heavenly, eternal one. He is no longer offering up sacrifices to appease or propitiate God, because His death fully paid the penalty for sin and satisfied the just demands of a righteous God – once for all.

In this section of chapter eight, the author continues to establish Jesus as better. But he does so by contrasting the old covenant with the new covenant. In verses 22-28 of chapter seven, he pointed out that Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant”. This new covenant only requires on priest: Jesus. It’s high priest will never die or need to be replaced. It requires no more daily sacrifices for sin. In chapter eight, we are told that the high priest of the new covenant sits at the right hand of God in a heavenly tabernacle, not an earthly one. It is the real thing, not a replica or poor reflection. The original tabernacle and temple were intended to serve as “a copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 ESV). The millions of animal sacrifices offered in those two structures over the centuries were simply a foreshadowing of what was to come. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 ESV). They could provide temporary atonement or relief, but were never a permanent fix. That is why the sacrifices  were “continually offered every year” (Hebrews 10:1 ESV). In his gospel, Luke records the words of Jesus to His disciples on the night He shared the passover meal with them for the last time. “After supper he took another cup of wine and said, ‘This cup is the new covenant between God and his people – an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for’” (Luke 22:20 NLT). With the death of Jesus, a new covenant was made between God and man. It replaced the old covenant. Why? Because it provided a better way for men to be made right with God. In fact, it provided the only way for men to be made right with God. Under the old covenant, the shedding of blood provided a temporary relief from the condemnation of sin. But with His death, Jesus provided a permanent solution to man’s sin problem. Rather than man having to try and earn a right standing with God through his own efforts, Jesus provided the gift of His righteousness. He took on man’s sin and gave His righteousness in return. That is why Paul wrote, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NLT). He further elaborates on this point in his letter to the Romans.

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. – Romans 8:3-4 NLT

In chapter nine, the author of Hebrews continues his elaboration on the point that Jesus was the better mediator of a better covenant. “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” (Hebrews 9:15 ESV). It was not that the old covenant was bad. It was simply that it was incomplete. It pointed to something better to come. It was a foreshadowing of something greater to be revealed. It revealed man’s sinfulness so that he would understand his desperate need for a Savior. It is interesting to note that when Jesus walked this earth, He made the sad commentary on the spiritual state of man: “Healthy people don’t need a doctor – sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners” (Mark 2:17 NLT). His point? Those who think they are without sin and in no need of a Savior, will never turn to Him. It is those who are “weary and carry heavy burdens” (Matthew 11:29) who will find rest for their souls. The apostle John wrote, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth” (1 John 1:8 NLT). “If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts” (1 John 1:10 NLT). Jesus offers a better ministry as a better high priest and the mediator of a better covenant based on better promises. But to take advantage of it, men must recognize their sin and their desperate need for a Savior. They must desire something better. They must turn from the old and receive by faith the new that is offered to them through Christ. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).