Hebrews 10

Today we’re reading Hebrews 10.

This chapter wraps up the argument about the superiority of Christ to everything Old Testament. The main point of verses 1-14 is that Jesus’ death is superior to the Old Testament sacrifices because his death was a permanent sacrifice for sins. In the words of 14, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” That’s why Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God” (v. 12b) because there was no more blood work to be done.

The result of Jesus’ sacrifice is genuine salvation, according to verses 15-18. God has forgiven us in Christ (vv. 17-18) and has regenerated us spiritually, putting his laws into our minds and hearts (vv. 15-16). Because all of this is true, the author of Hebrews applied these truths to Christians like by giving us two sets of application steps:

The first set of application steps consist of learning to worship God sincerely (vv. 19-22), devotedly (v. 23), servingly [OK, I made that word up, but it works.] (v. 24), and corporately (v. 25).

The second set of application steps involves not turning away from God (vv. 26-35) but instead to persevere in faith and obedience (vv. 36-39).

Let’s focus today on verse 14: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” This verse compresses into one capsule two important truths about our faith.

First, we are perfect. Don’t deny it or think about all the ways that you are imperfect. When God looks at you, he sees absolute, perfect obedience. Given how easily and frequently we disobey his word, how is that possible? The answer is in the first part of the verse: “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever….”

Notice that it was Jesus’ death that made us perfect in God’s sight–“by one sacrifice.” And, it was his act, not ours, that made us perfect in God’s sight–“HE has made perfect forever.” You and I are not considered perfect by God because God is blind to our sins and flaws; we’re perfect before God because Jesus paid for all of them–past, present, and future. His death did everything that was necessary to cause God to treat us as perfect.

When a defendant is acquitted of murder, the state treats him as if he is and always was innocent of murder, whether he actually was perfect or not. In our case, we were guilty of many crimes before God but Jesus paid for all them. God in his role as judge, then, treats us according to our legal standing in Christ, not according to our actual record of good and evil. This means that, if you are in Christ, there is nothing you can ever do to cause God to treat you as guilty again. You should not try to impress God with your good works or your righteousness or your growth or your knowledge. You should be thankful that he sees you as perfect. This is a “positional” truth; that is, Christ’s death gave us a perfect position–perfect standing–before God.

The other side of verse 14 is that Christ as perfected “…those who are being made holy.” This is the practical truth of our faith. Positionally, we have perfect standing before God if we’re in Christ. But, practically speaking, we have a long way to go. God, however, is working on us. Notice that the voice of verse 14 is passive; we “are being made holy.” Through his word, his church, trials, the conviction of the Holy Spirit, God is working on us. He is changing us so that who we are practically will eventually match what we are positionally. In Christ we are positionally perfect. Through Christ we are becoming perfect in practice. The reason why we obey God’s word now is not to save ourselves, to make God like us or keep him from disliking us. Our position is secure in Christ; God loves us because we are in Jesus and God loves him. The reason why we obey God’s word is because we want to become holy like God is. Like a child who desires to become like his parents–not to gain their favor but because he truly admires them–we as God’s children have a desire now to become holy like he is.

Let these truths change you! You are secure in Christ so you don’t need to worry about sin knocking you out of favor with God. But God is working in you to change you to think and act like Jesus, too. He wants your position to match your reality, so let him purify you from sin as you grow in your faith each day.

Hebrews 9

Read Hebrews 9.

Hebrews 9 continued the argument that Christ was better than the Old Testament sacrificial system. The author of Hebrews presented a tight argument comparing the sacrificial system under the old covenant (vv. 1-10) and the new covenant Christ has set up and mediated (vv. 11-28).

The key point of this chapter is that Christ’s death on the cross accomplished the new covenant. The blood of his sacrifice was offered in heaven not on earth (vv. 11-14) and it purified everything, including us (vv. 15-28). This is why the sacrificial system revealed by Moses is no longer necessary. Christ’s redemption was better and brought that old system to an end.

One of the key takeaways from this chapter for us is that Christ’s death accomplished something for us spiritually that the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament law never could. In verse 13 the author of Hebrews mentioned that the blood from those animal sacrifices had to be sprinkled on the people to make them ceremonially clean. That process was described in Numbers 19 and was used on someone who touched a dead body.

But in verse 14, the author of Hebrews argues that the blood of Christ removed the works of death from our consciences. In other words, it gives us true relief from the guilt of our sins.

Yes, it is true that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom 6:23) but Hebrews 9:14 says that Christ’s death cleanses our conscience from those works that lead to death (in other words, sin).

Are you tormented by guilt for the sins you’ve committed in your life? Don’t be! Not because they were not wicked but because, if you are in Christ, they are fully forgiven. Your past has been redeemed in him so now you have the freedom of conscience to live and serve the Lord.

Hebrews 8

Today, read Hebrews 8.

Christianity is rooted in Judaism. Most of our scriptures are Hebrew documents written for Jewish people living in Israel. Our Lord Jesus was the Messiah who was prophesied in those Hebrew scriptures. His death on the cross was the final, perfect sacrifice foreshadowed by the uncountable number of animals who were offered on the altar of the tabernacle and the temple.

Given all of this, why are we Christians not more Jewish in our practice of Christianity? The answer is here in Hebrews 8. It, too, is rooted in the Hebrew scriptures. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, quoted here in Hebrews 8:8-12, God promised to make “a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah” (v. 8). Verses 9-12 describe this covenant and, among other things, they tell us, “No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” This promise has begun to be fulfilled in Jesus. He mentioned this when he turned the elements of the Passover feast into the Lord’s Supper and said, “this cup is the new covenant in my blood” (Matt 26:28, Lu 22:20, 1 Cor 11:25). The fact that we Gentiles would be part of this new covenant is indicated here in Hebrews 8:11, “No longer will they teach their neighbor… ‘Know the Lord….’” We Gentiles are “their neighbor.”

The reason, then, that we don’t practice Jewish feasts and festivals and keep the Law of Moses is that, according to verse 13, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” These Old Testament ceremonies, symbols, and laws are unnecessary anyway because, as verse 10 put it, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” We have a new nature and the Holy Spirit dwelling within us! There are still blessings promised in the new covenant that await us, but we have God’s power within us to wait for them, to grow in our knowledge and love of him while we wait, and to call others to “know the Lord.”

Hebrews 7

Read Hebrews 7.

Unless you have a Roman Catholic background, priests have probably not occupied much of your attention during your life.

But if you were Jewish, especially during the time when the New Testament was written, priests were very important to your religious practice. If you loved God, loved the temple, or thought the life of priests was something to be envied, you were out of luck if you weren’t from the tribe of Levi. The only people who could serve the Lord as priests were those who were born into priestly families, that is families from the Levite tribe.

The author of Hebrews, however, wanted to point out that there were different kind of priesthoods. Yes, there was the priesthood of Aaron and his descendants, but before Aaron came along there were other men who served as priests. One of them, Melchizedek, is brought up in this passage and is compared to Christ throughout this chapter. By the end of the chapter, however, Melchizedek is forgotten and Christ is exalted as the greatest priest of all for three reasons:

  • First, unlike any other priest, Jesus lives forever so his priesthood is likewise permanent (v. 24). In other words, Christ’s priesthood is superior because it transcends death. The result of his permanent priesthood is his ability to save us completely. Although we sin with astonishing regularity, we do not need to worry that someday we’ll sin but there will be no one to secure God’s forgiveness for us because he is dead. Instead, we can be confident that when we come to God through Christ, our salvation is eternally secure because Christ “always lives to intercede” for us (v. 25). Christ is a superior priest because his priesthood will never suffer a gap caused by death.
  • Second, Christ’s priesthood transcends disqualification. Because of who Jesus was—God in the flesh—he will never be disqualified from saving us because of his own sin. This makes his priesthood superior to anyone else’s because every other priest had to atone for his own sin before he could ask God to do anything about our sin (vv. 26-27a). 
  • Third, Christ’s priesthood transcends disappearance. Other priests had to keep offering sacrifices because the sacrifices didn’t really atone for anything. The forgiveness they secured was on credit, waiting by faith for Christ’s death to really pay for them. In order to teach his people that animal sacrifices were not a permanent solution, God ordered that the sacrifices be offered daily. In other words, their power to forgive disappeared almost immediately. Christ’s sacrifice, since he was offering himself instead of an animal, did not disappear for according to verse 27b: “He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.” 

You may not think of priests very often, but you need a faithful one who is pleading with God, based on his perfect sacrifice, for your sins constantly. And Christ met our need (v. 26a) in every way because, unlike any other priest, Christ cannot die, will not disqualify himself by sinning, and won’t see the value of his sacrifice disappear. Yesterday’s devotional referenced the doctrine eternal security but today’s explains why we are secure. Not only is Christ’s sacrifice perfect and potent enough to save us forever, he advocates for us forever as our perfect priest.

Hebrews 6

Read Hebrews 6.

The Bible clearly teaches that true salvation can never be lost (John 10:27-30). But Hebrews 6 presents a significant challenge because it seems to describe a genuine Christian who somehow became unsaved.

Verses 4-5 describe the person in question in not merely as one who “believes” in Christ. That would be easier to handle because we know that there are different kinds of “belief” (see James 2:19). But our passage, Hebrews 6:4-5 seems to go overboard to describe someone who has received the gift of new life from God. This person has “been enlightened” has “tasted the heavenly gift” has “shared in the Holy Spirit” has “tasted the goodness of the word of God” and even has tasted “the powers of the coming age” (vv. 4-5). The word “tasted,” commentators point out, doesn’t just mean “sampled” like a child might taste, then refuse his vegetables, because the author of Hebrews used the same word in Hebrews 2:9 to tell us that Christ would “taste death for everyone.” So the description here is not of someone who merely professes salvation; this person has deeply experienced Christ in multiple meaningful ways.

Yet, the author of Hebrews said, “It is impossible if someone experiences all this and falls away to be brought back to repentance.” Falling away must mean a departure from the Christian faith in some way because the end of verse 6 says they “are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” In other words, they have joined the ranks of those who rejected and crucified Christ originally. So what do we make of this passage?

Clearly the person described in this passage has been associated with the Christian community that we call the church for some time. He has seen God do things and heard God’s truth. But the passage does not say that he put his faith in Christ. It does imply that he expressed some form of repentance for verse 6 says that his repentance cannot be “brought back.”

There have been many attempts to explain this passage and this devotional is not the best place to weed through them all. What I would say about this passage is the following:

First, “falling away” does not seem to mean a cooling toward Christ or a period of wandering or questioning one’s faith. It seems to be more deliberate and intentional that that because verse 6 says a person like this is “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.” This is a public, explicit denial of Jesus, a Judas-like departure where the person in question joins the ranks of those who consciously chose to put Jesus to death. So someone who has moments of weak faith does not seem to be in the same category. Though Peter denied Christ three times, he did not join those who were crying “crucify him” so this seems to be a meaningful difference.

Second, what else does the passage say about this person? Verses 7-8 use the metaphor of farm land to describe why this person can’t be restored. The reason is that he or she received all of this goodness from God but never produced a crop; instead, all they produced was “thorns and thistles.” This indicates that, although they had all the blessings of the Christian faith showered on them (vv. 4-5), it landed on a hard heart that never produced the evidence of true faith that the Bible says always accompanies salvation. 

Third, speaking of what “accompanies salvation,” the author of Hebrews in verse 9 contrasts his readers with this person who falls away. And, what is the difference between them in verse 9? The readers show lives that evidence “the things that have to do with salvation.” They are productive for Christ; verse 10 specifies how: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.”

So this passage is a warning that tells us not to judge anyone’s Christianity based on their association with the church for a long time or even their profession of repentance. Those are necessary for salvation, but they are not proof of salvation because there can be false professions and self-deceived people.

Instead, the Bible always commends a productive, enduring faith. Verse 11 demonstrates the importance of this when it says, “We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized.” So, while we do believe in what is called “eternal security,” a better way to describe this aspect of our doctrine is the “perseverance of the saints.” Our eternal security, like every aspect of our salvation, is totally dependent on the grace of God. But the genuine gift of God in salvation is productive—it shows itself in a person’s life by how that person responds to the truth.

When someone receives all of God’s gracious gifts and becomes more like Christ, showing their love for Christ by working for him and helping his people (again, verse 10), that person is demonstrating the things that accompany salvation. When someone receives the gracious gifts of God but continues to produce more “thorns and thistles” of sinful patterns (v. 8) and ultimately rejects Christ and campaigns for his disgrace (v. 6b), that person is hopelessly lost.

So, cultivate your faith! Respond to God’s word and let it produce a holy life, one that is growing in the fruit of the Spirit and the love of God’s people. The one who believes in Jesus and grows in him to the end will be saved—not because you did something to earn salvation but because you have genuinely be born into new life that has changed your life more and more to the glory of God.

Hebrews 5

Read Hebrews 5.

One of the struggles I’ve had as a Christian is the feeling that God hasn’t listened to my prayers.

I know that God hears and knows everything, so the problem isn’t that my prayer wasn’t heard. The problem is that, although God hears our prayers, he often seems not to answer.

When you speak to someone and they ignore you, it hurts. It feels like you don’t matter to that person. It feels like he or she can’t be bothered with your issues and problems. It feels like that person doesn’t care.

It feels about the same way to me when God doesn’t answer my prayers. Does he not care? Did I offend him somehow with my request? Is there something in my life that he wants me to address first?

Who knows….?

Jesus can relate.

Verses 7-9 describe Jesus’s prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane. It says that he prayed “with fervent cries and tears” (v. 7). His goal in these prayers was to be saved from death (v. 7b).

Yet he did die. He was betrayed by Judas, arrested by his enemies, denied by Peter and forsaken by the other apostles, tried and crucified. God was able to save him from death but he did not. It seems like an unanswered prayer.

Yet verse 8 says, “…he was heard.”

He was?

How? In what way was Jesus “heard”?

The answer is given in verse 8, “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” In other words, Jesus learned what it meant to be told, “No.” He prayed fervently and emotionally but his request was not in God’s will. He knew that, already, which is why he also prayed, “not what I will, but what you will” (Mark 14:36).

Jesus prayed fervently and emotionally but he also prayed submissively. Jesus asked God for what he–Jesus–wanted but he learned what it meant to submit to what God wanted instead.

Have you prayed about something and felt like it was a waste of time and breath? God’s answer may still be yes but not now or it may be a hard “No.” Understand, though, that it is not because God does not care for you. It is because his will is better than your will.

Trust in that. Keep praying, but remember to pray submissively.

Hebrews 4

Read Hebrews 4.

Jesus had it easy, right? Sure, he had to contend with the limitations of human nature during his days on earth. But since he was God he did not have to worry about being “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13). He knew what a liar Satan is and how sin offers us pleasure that it cannot ultimately deliver, at least not for long. So it was easy for him to live the faithful life that chapter 3 talked about, right?

At least, it was easier for him than it is for us, it seems. So the statement here in 4:15 that our high priest “has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” feels a bit hollow, yes?

Well…, think about it this way: imagine you are running a marathon-26.2 miles. Some people drop out after a mile, some after five miles, some quit 10 miles in, and so on. You’ve done some training and are in the best shape of your life, but from mile 10 onward your legs are just screaming to you, “Stop it!”

You have the ability to quit at any time.

You can drop out of the race anywhere.

So who feels punishment of running the most, the person who completes the entire race or the one who drops out after a mile? Who feels the discomfort of high winds the most, the runner who quits at mile 5 or the one who finishes the race? What about the hot sun? Who gets burned the worst, the runner who quits after the finish line or the one who quits at mile 15? Whose foot blisters hurt the most? Who suffers most from the internal arguments that your brain engages in to try to get you to quit?

All of these problems are felt most acutely by the runner who completes the race. Whether he or she is in better shape than you or not, the toll of the race is felt most fully by the one who completes it.

Similarly, when I was in seminary my systematic theology professor said that only the one who withstands temptation completely knows the full force of it. If you give into temptation before the temptation goes away, you haven’t experienced the full intensity of it.

So Jesus, the “one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (v. 15b) is able to “empathize with our weaknesses” (v. 15a) fully because he successfully endured every scheme the devil had to throw at him.

Sure Jesus had a perfect nature but so did Adam and he quit after the first half mile. Jesus, however, endured every temptation obediently. He finished the race so he felt the difficulty of it more than anyone else who has ever lived.

This is why the author of Hebrews urges us to “approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (v. 16).

You may be tempted to throw your faith away (v. 14c) at some point in your life; in fact, you probably will be tempted to do that somewhere along the way.

But the best thing you can do when you feel tempted to sin in any way is to go to Jesus in prayer. Many of our failures to live a holy life by resisting temptation are due to relying completely on ourselves and our willpower instead of coming to Christ for the mercy and grace he offers. So, go to him in prayer when your faith is weak and your desire to sin is strong.

He’s finished the marathon, he knows what it is like, and he will help you if you ask him for it.