Biblical Warning: Round 2

Hebrews 3

1And so, dear brothers and sisters who belong to God and are bound for heaven, think about this Jesus whom we declare to be God’s Messenger and High Priest. 2For he was faithful to God, who appointed him, just as Moses served faithfully and was entrusted with God’s entire house. 3But Jesus deserves far more glory than Moses, just as a person who builds a fine house deserves more praise than the house itself. 4For every house has a builder, but God is the one who made everything.

5Moses was certainly faithful in God’s house, but only as a servant. His work was an illustration of the truths God would reveal later. 6But Christ, the faithful Son, was in charge of the entire household. And we are God’s household, if we keep up our courage and remain confident in our hope in Christ. 7That is why the Holy Spirit says,

“Today you must listen to his voice.

8Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled, when they tested God’s patience in the wilderness.

9There your ancestors tried my patience, even though they saw my miracles for forty years.

10So I was angry with them, and I said, ‘Their hearts always turn away from me. They refuse to do what I tell them.’

11So in my anger I made a vow: ‘They will never enter my place of rest.’”

12Be careful then, dear brothers and sisters. Make sure that your own hearts are not evil and unbelieving, turning you away from the living God. 13You must warn each other every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you will be deceived by sin and hardened against God. 14For if we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as firmly as when we first believed, we will share in all that belongs to Christ. 15But never forget the warning:

“Today you must listen to his voice. Don’t harden your hearts against him as Israel did when they rebelled.”

16And who were those people who rebelled against God, even though they heard his voice? Weren’t they the ones Moses led out of Egypt? 17And who made God angry for forty years? Wasn’t it the people who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? 18And to whom was God speaking when he vowed that they would never enter his place of rest? He was speaking to those who disobeyed him. 19So we see that they were not allowed to enter his rest because of their unbelief. (Hebrews 3:1-19, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

A few days ago, I wrote my thoughts about a warning that was included in Psalm 95. You can read my thoughts here.

Just two days later, I came to this passage in Hebrews 3, in which the author quotes the very text I had read from Psalm 95 and highlights the same warning that I mentioned a few days ago.

Coincidence?

Actually, these kinds of random biblical cross-references happen more often than you might think when you’re following the Grant Horner Bible reading plan.

So what is happening in this passage and why is the author referencing Psalm 95 to issue this warning?

The theme of the letter to the Hebrews could be labeled as “Jesus is Better than…”

The audience, as the name of the letter implies, is Hebrew Christians. These believers were in danger of reverting back to their Jewish rituals and customs as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor.

So the author erects an outline, detailing in point by point fashion that Jesus is better than everything associated with the Old Testament religious system.

In chapter 1, the author demonstrates that Jesus is better than the angels, and now in this chapter, the author takes on the greatest icon within the Jewish religious system, Moses himself.

The author states that Jesus is better than Moses in the same way a builder of a house is better than the house.

The author then develops their argument by stating that Moses was faithful in God’s house but only as a servant. Jesus, on the other hand, is in charge of the household because he is a son, not a servant. I wrote about the implications of slaves/servants as opposed to sons here, in a blog post which referenced a passage from Galatians.

The point is that in the household of God, Moses was a servant. Yes, he was important and he played a key role and he was faithful in his duties. But Jesus is a SON in the household and therefore deserves more glory because as a son, He is the heir to the household. He is the owner!

The author then says that we (people) ARE God’s household. Our choice is that we can follow Moses who is a servant in God’s household, or we can follow Jesus, who is a son in God’s household. Which person makes more sense to follow?

It’s at this point that the author references the warnings from Psalm 95.

The warning can be paraphrased as follows:

    • We must listen to God’s voice today
    • Don’t harden your hearts as the Israelites did when they rebelled (see the Psalm 95 blog post here to read about the incident in which the Israelites rebelled against God)
    • The consequence for their rebellion was that they were not allowed to enter into God’s rest – they were not allowed to enter the promised land.

Starting in verse 12, the author of Hebrews begins to unpack the warning of Psalm 95 a bit more, demonstrating the implications of how the warning applies to his readers.

Remember, the recipients of this letter were being tempted to forsake Jesus as the object of their faith and trust for salvation and revert back to the Old Testament legal system, with its many rules and regulations as a means of achieving a righteous standing before God.

The author then elaborates on the warning, saying:

    • Make sure your hearts are not evil and unbelieving
    • This results in turning away from God
    • You must warn each other so that you won’t be deceived by sin and hardened against God
    • This hardening results in a lack of trust in God (unbelief)
    • Unbelief is characterized by disobedience

So the pattern is as follows: sin, hardening (lack of openness to God), distrust, disobedience.

When this pattern fully develops into disobedience, we will no longer experience the benefits of God’s rest. All of the benefits Jesus wants us to experience now as His beloved children and followers will fail to materialize.

How do we avoid the hardening, distrust, disobedience cycle?

It starts with listening to His voice, a command the author reiterates again in verse 15.  When we listen to His voice, we learn who He is and we learn to trust Him. We also learn what He wants from us and we learn how to follow Him.

When we don’t listen to His voice, it means that we’re listening to another voice, whether it’s our own or that of the culture or someone else. At that point, we’re no longer following God but we’re following ourselves.

How then do we listen to God’s voice?

It’s possible God may audibly speak to you but I would say that is not typical. The primary way in which God speaks to us today is through His word, the Scriptures. If you want to listen to God’s voice, to know Him and understand what He expects, then read the Scriptures. It’s through God’s word that we understand what is sin and what isn’t. It’s through His word that we understand who He is and who He isn’t.

If we fail to appeal to God’s word as our means of listening to His voice, it is quite likely we will be deceived by sin. We will begin to follow our own ideas about what we think is right and wrong. We may even attribute our new moral values to God Himself. Indeed, it’s quite common today for people to reject certain moral standards from the bible and replace them with more updated, contemporary values that speak to today’s cultural norms.

It is also common for these same people to claim to be God worshipers and Christ-followers. But if they are creating their own morality while rejecting what God explicitly says, they are in effect, creating their own version of God. This is the modern day equivalent of idol worship. I wrote about this in a previous post here.

This is deception, which leads to a hardening of the heart, which is characterized by not listening to God. This results in unbelief which is characterized by disobedience.

This cycle is alluring and it’s easy to fall into, which is why the author exhorts the audience to “warn each other every day”.

We are ALL susceptible to deceiving ourselves and falling into this religious trap.

Hence, the author says again in verse 15, “Never forget the warning”!

Reflection

In what ways are you tempted to harden your heart towards God?

What are some examples in today’s culture where you see people forsaking biblical moral values and substituting them for something that seems to fit our current culture better?

The author says that those who reject God because of their unbelief will not enter God’s rest? What do you think that means? What would it look like to not enter God’s rest?

What are some ways you could heed the author’s warning and ensure that you are listening to His voice today?

What can you do to ensure that you don’t harden your heart towards God?

 

Photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash

 

Have You Been Scammed?

Galatians 3

1Oh, foolish Galatians! What magician has cast an evil spell on you? For you used to see the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death as clearly as though I had shown you a signboard with a picture of Christ dying on the cross. 2Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law? Of course not, for the Holy Spirit came upon you only after you believed the message you heard about Christ. 3Have you lost your senses? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort? 4You have suffered so much for the Good News. Surely it was not in vain, was it? Are you now going to just throw it all away?

5I ask you again, does God give you the Holy Spirit and work miracles among you because you obey the law of Moses? Of course not! It is because you believe the message you heard about Christ.

6In the same way, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him righteous because of his faith.”  7The real children of Abraham, then, are all those who put their faith in God.

8What’s more, the Scriptures looked forward to this time when God would accept the Gentiles, too, on the basis of their faith. God promised this good news to Abraham long ago when he said, “All nations will be blessed through you.” 9And so it is: All who put their faith in Christ share the same blessing Abraham received because of his faith.

10But those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s Book of the Law.” 11Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say, “It is through faith that a righteous person has life.” 12How different from this way of faith is the way of law, which says, “If you wish to find life by obeying the law, you must obey all of its commands.”  13But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14Through the work of Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, and we Christians receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:1-14, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The letter to the Galatians, like many New Testament letters, was written as a response to an issue that had cropped up within the early church. In this case, the church in Galatia had been infiltrated by false teachers who were teaching a “different” gospel. This “different” gospel is still being taught today and therefore, Paul’s words are particularly appropriate in our current culture.

The nature of the false teaching had to do with the law. The false teachers were labeled “Judaizers” because of their strict adherence to the Old Testament rules and rituals. These teachers were advocating that belief in the Jewish Messiah was just the first step in the process of salvation. It was necessary, according to these teachers, to continue to observe all of the Old Testament laws and rituals, including circumcision, after accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah.

The issue of what is necessary to be saved was quite controversial in the early church, especially when Gentiles (non-Jews) began responding to the gospel. Some within the church, particularly those who had been Pharisees before conversion, continued to advocate for strict adherence to Old Testament laws and rituals, which meant that Gentiles would have to adopt all Jewish cultural rites, including circumcision. But Paul and Barnabas disagreed and did not require new Gentile converts to become “Jewish” culturally in order to gain admittance into the church.

This issue became so contentious that the church convened a special session to discuss the matter. The details of this Jerusalem Council are recorded in Acts 15 and I wrote about it previously here.

Paul’s words to the Galatians are strong. He calls them “foolish” and asks them “what magician has cast an evil spell on you?” Most translations use the word “bewitched” to describe the response to this false teaching. The idea Paul is communicating is that they’ve been duped or scammed. One version uses the word “hypnotized”.

Why would Paul say they were “bewitched”? Exactly what was so bad about this teaching and how were they being “tricked”?

To answer that question, let’s first explain what Paul had taught and compare it with the false teaching the Galatians had begun to follow.

Paul’s gospel says that EVERYONE is a sinner and NOBODY is righteous enough to earn their way into God’s presence. Trying to follow all of the Old Testament laws is futile. It cannot be done because we are sinners and we are going to fall short. Therefore, any system that requires adherence to a religious code in order to gain favor with God is doomed to failure.

Jesus offers a different way and this is what makes it good news. According to verse 13, Jesus died in our place, paying for our sin so that we could escape the penalty the law required. We are thus saved, not by our own good works, but by Jesus’ shed blood on the cross.

The false teachers said that once a person places their faith in Jesus, they must maintain their right standing before God by the things they do, namely by following all of the commands of the law. Paul argues that if one has to follow the law to maintain their right standing before God then they are no longer trusting in Jesus alone to provide the righteousness that is needed to enter God’s presence.

Hence, if you are going to follow the law as a means of maintaining your salvation, then you must follow the law completely in order to secure it in the first place.

The differences between Paul’s gospel and the false teaching can be clearly seen in how each system views a person gaining the righteousness required to enter into God’s presence. Paul’s gospel says that Jesus gives us His own righteousness (which is perfectly holy) when we place our faith in Him. This righteousness cannot be lost because it is based on Jesus’ complete work of atonement on the cross.

The Judaizers taught that righteousness is maintained by our adherence to Jewish laws and rituals. Hence, the source of righteousness is the individual’s own good works and personal efforts.

Though these teachers acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah, their doctrine was really a back-door method for maintaining a works-based system of salvation.

We do the same thing today in our Christian circles. We invite people to accept Jesus by faith and then inevitably, we think, and even teach, that being a good Christian means following a set of rules. It’s not likely that circumcision is on our list of what makes a good Christian, but you probably can come up with your own list of “sins” to avoid and “activities” that are required, or “strongly encouraged” in order to maintain your Christian “witness.”

We teach people that salvation is a “free gift” but then subtly give the impression that staying saved is more like a privilege that can be forfeited if we don’t toe the line.

Paul calls this kind of gospel and this line of thinking foolish and those who fall into this trap as being bewitched.

It turns out that this theological trickery is the oldest scam in the book. And yet, people are still falling for it today.

Reflection

How do you think you can tell if someone has been bewitched? Or, to put it another way, how would you determine if a person was following a false, rules-based gospel instead of the true gospel that Paul preached?

What are some religious activities that you may be tempted to elevate to “required” status in order to evaluate a person’s eligibility for salvation?

What are some of the “sins” that Christians have used in the past as evidence of someone not being a “true” Christian?

Why do you think people of every generation and culture tend towards rules-based religious systems as a means of appeasing God and gaining His favor?

 

Photo by Tara Winstead from Pexels

How Good do you Have to Be to Be Saved?

Romans 4

1Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What were his experiences concerning this question of being saved by faith? 2Was it because of his good deeds that God accepted him? If so, he would have had something to boast about. But from God’s point of view Abraham had no basis at all for pride. 3For the Scriptures tell us, “Abraham believed God, so God declared him to be righteous.”

4When people work, their wages are not a gift. Workers earn what they receive. 5But people are declared righteous because of their faith, not because of their work.

6King David spoke of this, describing the happiness of an undeserving sinner who is declared to be righteous:

7“Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sins are put out of sight.

8Yes, what joy for those whose sin is no longer counted against them by the Lord.”

9Now then, is this blessing only for the Jews, or is it for Gentiles, too? Well, what about Abraham? We have been saying he was declared righteous by God because of his faith. 10But how did his faith help him? Was he declared righteous only after he had been circumcised, or was it before he was circumcised? The answer is that God accepted him first, and then he was circumcised later!

11The circumcision ceremony was a sign that Abraham already had faith and that God had already accepted him and declared him to be righteous—even before he was circumcised. So Abraham is the spiritual father of those who have faith but have not been circumcised. They are made right with God by faith. 12And Abraham is also the spiritual father of those who have been circumcised, but only if they have the same kind of faith Abraham had before he was circumcised.

13It is clear, then, that God’s promise to give the whole earth to Abraham and his descendants was not based on obedience to God’s law, but on the new relationship with God that comes by faith. 14So if you claim that God’s promise is for those who obey God’s law and think they are “good enough” in God’s sight, then you are saying that faith is useless. And in that case, the promise is also meaningless. 15But the law brings punishment on those who try to obey it. (The only way to avoid breaking the law is to have no law to break!)

(Romans 4:1-15, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

What is required to be saved? How good do you have to be? If you fail to live up to the law, does that disqualify you from going to heaven?

These are the kinds of questions Paul is answering in Romans 4 and he uses Abraham as his prime example to explain that faith is the key to being saved, NOT obedience to the law.

You might remember that in Acts 15, there was a pivotal moment in the early church where this issue of circumcision was debated. I wrote about this critical issue in a previous blog post here, but the summary is that some Pharisees who had been converted argued that Gentiles had to become circumcised AND adhere to the law in order to be saved. Faith in Jesus was not enough.

Paul and Barnabas argued against this view and it was brought before all of the early church leaders at what has come to be known as “the Council of Jerusalem.” Long story short, all of the church leaders agreed with Paul and Barnabas and it was determined that circumcision was not a requirement for salvation.

In this chapter of Romans, Paul makes the argument for his position. Though the details of the debate that took place at the Jerusalem Council are not revealed, Paul’s outline in this chapter could very well have been the centerpiece of his defense against circumcision as a requirement for salvation.

Paul’s argument is as follows:

    1. Abraham was justified (declared righteous) by God BEFORE he was circumcised. Circumcision was a sign that Abraham had faith and that God had accepted him.
    2. If Abraham was accepted by God before being circumcised, then the acceptance (justification) is not dependent on being circumcised. It is based on the faith that came before the circumcision.
    3. Hence, Gentiles, who are not circumcised, can also be accepted (justified) by God  based on their faith.
    4. Therefore, circumcision is not required for Gentiles to be accepted.
    5. In the same way, Jews are also accepted by God based on their faith in Jesus, not on their circumcision, since Abraham was declared righteous as a result of his faith, NOT based on his circumcision.

What does this mean for us today?

It’s not likely that many of us think about circumcision as a requirement for salvation, so what are we to make of this passage?

Though we may not be advocating for circumcision as a requirement for salvation, we have a tendency, as humans do, of adding all kinds of work-related requirements to the salvation “formula”.

We have a tendency to think that salvation is secured by placing our faith in Jesus but then it is maintained by keeping a set of religious rules, which may vary depending on your denominational or family upbringing. In this scenario, if you break one of the rules, your spirituality or even your standing in the God’s family may be questioned.

If you think about it, adding any kind of religious requirement to faith is no different than adding circumcision to faith as a requirement for acceptance.

Paul’s argument stands for circumcision or any other work you might be tempted to add. Just replace the word “circumcision” with your religious rule in the outline above and Paul’s argument still holds.

The bottom line is that faith alone justifies a person in God’s eyes, not adherence to the Old Testament law or any other modern day religious code that we might be tempted to concoct. The truth is that Jesus came to die for us precisely because we are incapable of living up to any religious code, ancient or modern.

So let’s dispel the myth that Christians must practice a, b or c rituals to become saved, or that Christians cannot participate in x, y, or z activities or they will lose their salvation. Faith in Jesus is the key, just as it has always been.

Reflection

What religious rules are you tempted to want to add as a requirement for salvation? What is the basis for emphasizing those rules (church you grew up in, family environment, general culture, etc.)?

What activities are on your “prohibited” list of things Christians shouldn’t do. For example, I grew up in a church that generally frowned upon drinking, dancing, rock music, etc. 

Why do you think we have this tendency to add requirements to the process of becoming saved or for keeping our salvation?

 

Photo by Joshua Miranda from Pexels

You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good!

Romans 3

21But now God has shown us a different way of being right in his sight—not by obeying the law but by the way promised in the Scriptures long ago. 22We are made right in God’s sight when we trust in Jesus Christ to take away our sins. And we all can be saved in this same way, no matter who we are or what we have done.

23For all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24Yet now God in his gracious kindness declares us not guilty. He has done this through Christ Jesus, who has freed us by taking away our sins. 25For God sent Jesus to take the punishment for our sins and to satisfy God’s anger against us. We are made right with God when we believe that Jesus shed his blood, sacrificing his life for us. God was being entirely fair and just when he did not punish those who sinned in former times. 26And he is entirely fair and just in this present time when he declares sinners to be right in his sight because they believe in Jesus.

27Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on our good deeds. It is based on our faith. 28So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law. (Romans 3:21-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

Back in the day there was a popular song by Linda Ronstadt with a chorus that said, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby, you’re no good”! (see Ronstadt YouTube video here)

It’s doubtful that Ronstadt (or whoever actually wrote the song) had Romans 3 in mind when they penned the words, but this chorus is actually the sentiment of Paul’s message in Romans 3.

Paul has spent the first 2 chapters of Romans outlining how the pagan, the moral person and even the religious person are all sinful and therefore under God’s judgment.

In this chapter, Paul finalizes his argument that all people are no good. It’s doubtful that he could bust out the lyrics as soulfully as Ronstadt but Paul’s message is essentially, “you’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good….baby you’re no good.”

Perhaps you disagree with this assessment. After all, a lot of people think that people are basically good. And many would argue that at least SOME people are good. So how can Paul say ALL people are NO GOOD?

It all comes down to how you define good. We (people) tend to define good in relative standards that make us look good and feel good about ourselves.

For example, if Hitler is the standard of bad, then I feel good about myself because I’m reasonably confident that I’m a better person than Hitler.

And that’s the problem. Everybody is using a different standard of goodness and each person’s standard tends to be derived in such a way that they themselves end up on the good end of the spectrum.

Is this not blatantly obvious? How many people would actually say they are no good? Very few, in my experience. Even the most hardened criminal is likely to point to someone whom they believe to be a worse person than they are as their comparison for measuring and evaluating goodness.

But God’s standard of goodness is different than ours. God doesn’t use Hitler or Stalin or any other authoritarian tyrant as the standard for what is good. God uses HIMSELF as the standard of goodness.

With God as the standard of goodness, we can see that being good requires us to be as good as God is, which is impossible. This is why Paul says in verse 23 that “all fall short of God’s glorious standard” and it explains how Paul can say that ALL are NO GOOD!

That may seem like really bad news, and it is, but fortunately, that’s not the end of the story. There is good news, really good news actually.

Paul states that God has created a different way for us to be made right in his sight. Before Jesus, Jews tried to maintain a right standing before God by following the Law – the long list of legal requirements as outlined in the Torah – the first 5 books of the Old Testament. Adhering to all these religious requirements (over 600 of them) proved to be impossible for even the most devout God-follower. It simply highlighted the reality that we are sinful and incapable of fully following God’s rules consistently.

God ‘s better way involves us being made right with God when we trust in Jesus to take away our sins. When Jesus died on the cross, he actually was being punished for our sins and, according to verse 25, God’s righteous anger is satisfied as a result of Jesus’s death.

When it says that God’s anger is satisfied, it’s saying that God’s punishment has been poured out on Jesus instead of on us. So when we trust Jesus to pay for our sin, we receive a full pardon from God and there is no longer any punishment reserved for us.

However, we can still choose to reject Jesus and continue to follow the old pattern for achieving a right standard before God. We can choose to be evaluated by our works and our own ability to live up to God’s moral standards. In that scenario, we will be found guilty and we will experience punishment for our sins because we’ve rejected Jesus’s alternate method of paying for the penalty of our sins.

Or we can choose the better way…trust Jesus, receive a full pardon for all of our sin and experience a right standing with God that saves us from the punishment that we actually deserve!

Reflection

What is the standard you have been using for determining goodness? How close is your standard to the one Paul says that God is actually using?

What would you say to a person who claims to be a good person?

What would you say to someone who claims that it’s not fair that God would condemn anyone to an eternity in hell? What arguments would you make to demonstrate that it is fair and just?

 

Photo by Nick Gavrilov on Unsplash

A Better Sacrifice

Hebrews 9

11When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation.  12He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

15For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.  25Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,  28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28, NLT)


The Daily DAVEotional

The theme of the book of Hebrews is “better”. The author gives a logical argument for why Christ is better than all of the elements of the Jewish religious system. He’s better than Moses; He’s better than the angels; He’s a better high priest and in this chapter, the author outlines why and how Jesus’s sacrifice is a better sacrifice than the Old Testament sacrificial system.

The short answer to why Jesus’s sacrifice is better is: it’s the blood.

In the first 10 verses, which I didn’t list, the author gives a brief description of the layout and function of the earthly temple, including the exact detail of the priestly duties in relation to the Holy of Holies, which the high priest entered only once a year to atone for his own sins and the sins of the people.

The first reason the author gives for Jesus’s sacrifice being better is that Jesus offered his sacrifice in the heavenly temple, not the man-made temple. According to verse 24, the earthly temple was merely a copy of the heavenly temple, and when the earthly high priest made atonement, once a year, he was doing it in the earthly tabernacle, which was merely a symbol of the heavenly temple.

Secondly, when Jesus made atonement, he did it with better blood. The earthly priests offered up sacrifices with the blood of goats, bulls and calves, which are imperfect animals. As a result, the earthly priest made this atonement on an annual basis. There was always a reminder of sin because of the constant need for atonement.

Jesus, on the other hand, offered up his own blood, which is perfect in every way, because he is not only better than an animal, he is God himself. His blood does not come from an imperfect, sinful being.

This logically leads to the final reason Jesus’s sacrifice is better. Jesus sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices because it is FINAL. As has been mentioned, the Old Testament sacrificial system required a constant stream of sacrifices to atone for sins committed. This is because the blood of bulls and goats could not permanently atone for sin.

But Jesus’s blood DOES permanently atone for sins. The author declares in verse 28 that:

Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people;

The argument the author is making is crucial to his audience, the Hebrews because there was a strong urge to hold fast to Old Testament rituals and to maintain adherence to the Law, even after trusting in Jesus as the Messiah. It was difficult for these believers to shift their thinking and see that there was no longer a need for the religious rules and rites they had been following for centuries. The author is helping them to see how the Old covenant had a purpose, but Jesus offers a new and BETTER covenant.

He offers this better covenant to us as well as the author notes that “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Reflection

Early Jewish Christians had difficulty discarding their old religious traditions, (namely, the sacrificial system) and putting their trust in Jesus’s sacrifice alone. What religious traditions might be easy for you to subtly make a substitute for Jesus’s sacrifice? In other words, what rules or religious rituals apart from Jesus,  are you apt to put your hope and trust in as somehow providing a means of forgiveness and atonement?

The author states in verse 27 that man is destined to die once, and then comes the judgment. What is your reaction to the idea that there are no second chances after we die?

What new awareness or insights do you have regarding Jesus’s sacrifice as a result of this chapter of Scripture? How will this new awareness impact your relationship with Christ?

 

Photo by Dave Lowe