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Archive for the 'Highlights in Hebrew' Category

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 27 - Hebrews 10:26–31

A word of warning

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.(Hebrews 10:26-31)

Many countries require a person to have a visa before they are allowed into the country. The visa will often say how long they can stay in the country. If, after entering the country, they sneak back out of the country before the visa is up where there is no entry/exit point and then present themselves to re-enter the country at a proper entry point they would be likely to be in serious trouble.


That is something like what the writer is thinking about here. We received a visa to let us into the Kingdom of God when we first started to follow Jesus. Our writer says we simply cannot leave the kingdom for a while; live in the kingdom of the world; and then return to the kingdom. There is a very important and strong reason why this is so. We may belong to all sorts of clubs: golf, football, book reading or cookery etc., leave the club, cancelling our subscription, and return to it later. But unlike all these clubs the other factor in the kingdom is God himself. On entry to the kingdom we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. He cannot be accepted one minute and returned months or years later just because we want to do something else.

We effectively do that if we continue in deliberate sin. The Old Testament is very definite about this. There are two sorts of sin: unintended and ‘with a high hand’, that is defiantly, quite deliberately and intentionally (Numbers 15: 27 - 31).. The former can be remedied by offering repentance and sacrifice, but for the second there is no such remedy.

Unfortunately there seems to be a great deal of teaching around in this Western world in which God is a kind of benevolent grandfather figure who will accept almost anything from his grand-children merely patting them on the head and saying ‘don’t do that again - it is not nice’ or some such comment. We must not forget that we are dealing with the Creator and Sustainer of this world of ours and all the universe. He is a holy God who does not like - will not accept - impurity.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 26 - Hebrews 10:19–25

Our confident approach to the Lord

Therefore, brothers and sisters,] 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.

The old pun on the word ‘therefore’ was that we should always ask what it is there for. That was never more true than the ‘therefore’ we have here in 10:19. In our last study we noted two things: that Jesus sat down at the right hand of Father God thus indicating his superiority over all; and that this is based on the new covenant, the newly declared purpose and will of God towards his people.

For our writer this was all brilliantly pictured in the way that, as Jesus died on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27: 51). This was the work of God; if a man had been responsible it would have been done from bottom to top. The purpose of the veil had been to keep everyone out of the Most Holy Place, where God was. Only the High Priest went into this presence of God once a year on the day of atonement. That was now redundant. Everyone, or at least all the Lord’s people, now had clear unlimited access to the most holy place, which was Jesus. It is hard to see how the flesh of Jesus can be a way through the curtain. It was his blood shed which was effective. The Jerusalem temple was where God was, more than anywhere else on earth. No longer. Now it was in Jesus that God was to be found and, in the person of the Holy Spirit of Jesus, in every believing person. We have, so to speak, not to travel to Jerusalem to find God, but to reach down into ourselves. That must be counted both a huge privilege and a huge responsibility.

However we need to be careful. The next few verses say, “ 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.” Of those four things keeping our bodies washed would be by far the easiest if it didn’t really mean keeping our souls and spirits clean - nothing to do with soap, I’m afraid!

More significantly, note how the quotation starts with our faith and ends with the faithfulness of the Lord. This is our confidence. It does not have to rest solely on us but draws continuous strength from one who is a great deal more reliable than we tend to be.

When we get to 10:24, 25 we have “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.” To give a picture of this: you can have a good going fire with many pieces of coal on it. But if you take one red-hot piece out of the fire and place it on the hearth all by itself it will very soon darken, cool, and lose all its heat. So it is with us if we remove ourselves from the company of other followers of Jesus.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 25 - Hebrews 10:11–18 Jesus sat down
We are holy!

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest, Jesus, had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Our writer likes to make sure we have heard and understood what he has said. So he repeats himself. Here he repeatstwo things in particular he has already said: that Jesus sat down and that the covenant had been renewed in its new form.

These days a great many people sit down to work and only stand up when it is finished. It was the other way round for them. Nearly everybody stood up most of the time when they were working. It was only at the end of the day, when the work was done, that they were able to sit down. Jesus sat down at the right hand of God - the place of privilege - because his work was done and would never need to be done again 10:12. Unlike the previous sacrifices carried out in the temple every day his sacrifice was complete, perfect, finished. The sacrifices of animals had been but small tokens of the repentance of the person sacrificing and the forgiveness received from God in response to that repentance. The sacrifice of Jesus, the very Son of God himself, had been so far more effective than those it would never need to be repeated. In fact, how could it possibly be repeated? Any further sacrifice could only be the tiniest reflection of what Jesus had accomplished, not really worth the bother!

The sign of the new covenant, the new way in which God was choosing to deal with people, was not to be a sacrifice but a memorial of that one great sacrifice. The sacrifice could not be repeated; only our memory of it could be, and should be, repeated. So Luke says: “he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. (Luke 22:19-20).

Sadly it is not always the case that this is how our memory of him is presented. If we call people ‘priests’ we need something for them to do so we invent altars and a sacrifice for them to do on it. There is no beginning hint that that is the right thing to do here in the New Testament and, in particular, in this book of Hebrews.

If you belong to one of the churches where this is the way things are thought about it may not be possible for you to withdraw. If so then you have to attend that sort of service but you need to say to yourself very clearly every time that what you are doing is remembering that great moment of sacrifice when Christ cried ‘it is finished’, a moment never to be repeated, only remembered.
And that is true for all of us.
What is the effect? We are made holy, made acceptable to appear before the Lord God now and at the end of days.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 24 - Hebrews 10:10–14
We are holy!
 

“… we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
 

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”

The dominant word here is ‘holy’, appearing twice. That is difficult because ‘holy’ is one of those words which tends to mean something rather different in our everyday usage from what it means in scripture. Holiness in common usage tends to mean something like being ‘so heavenly minded as to be no earthly use’! That is far away from scripture usage.

‘Holy’ is the prime attribute of God. He is pure; he is perfect love; he is true justice; he is different from everything else; he is wholly other and above and beyond all else. When the word ‘holy’ is applied to somebody or something on the earth it means they, or it. are so close to God that some of that holiness has ‘rubbed off’ onto them.

We need to put together what our writer says here with what Paul says in Romans 12:1-2. To take what Paul says first he is interested in the practical effects of being holy. He says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

There is no beginning suggestion there, or anywhere else in scripture, that holiness requires withdrawal from every day life. It might be easier if it did! But it doesn’t. We have to live in the world but not in the way of the world. We have to have a different mindset, a different worldview, a different focus of all our endeavours. A different Lord.. We have to please God; we have to let as much of the holiness of God rub off on us as we can. That can only happen if we live in close proximity to him as much as possible. Or, to put it another way, we are to walk hand in hand with the Holy Spirit.

That is Paul’s emphasis. But what about our writer here? He is more concerned with how this can possibly have happened. It is all because of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. This is the positive aspect of what Jesus achieved. We probably, rightly, think more of the negative, of what he did as securing forgiveness of sin for us, sin past, present and future. Positively he set us on a way, a pathway, which we are to walk with the Spirit. He has perfected us! Perfected us in the sense that we cannot, could not, be any more acceptable to the Lord of All than we are through Jesus. We have reached an end a completion of our lives and characters. Wow!

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 23 - Hebrews 9:22

Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

If we have been brought up in a Christian environment it is very easy to overlook the fact that our faith is founded on a human sacrifice! So we cheerfully talk about the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. For those who have not got that sort of background it can be a real stumbling block to them thinking of Christian faith. Paul recognised that when he said “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles”. Even when we think about that verse we may well concentrate on the crucified bit and not think that this means the death of a human being. In almost all the world human sacrifice has been rejected from the beginning even where there is no necessary connection to Christian or Jewish thought. Once we have accepted the idea of sacrifice it is not difficult to see meaning in it as we did in our last highlight from Hebrews.

But why sacrifice in the first place? Animal sacrifice comes into the Bible very early. Animal death is necessary for God to clothe Adam and Eve in ‘garments of skin’ in Genesis 3: 21. It is probable that Abel’s sacrifice was accepted by God and Cain’s was rejected because Abel was a herder and brought animal parts as an offering while Cain was a farmer and brought fruits (Genesis 4: 2 – 5; Hebrews 11: 4). Sacrifice was by no means limited to the nation of Israel.

It was commonplace in all the surrounding nations. The crucial difference was that the line of Abraham had a strong and well defined sense of sin and that the purpose of sacrifice was to cover that problem. Other peoples thought of sacrifice basically as an appeasement of capricious gods to try and improve their tempers and get on the right side of them. Biblically sacrifice was about human shortcomings whereas most other thinking was about the gods. Sin in the early chapters of the Bible is all about the breaking of relationships, particularly those with God, rather than with any infringement of a law. In a way nothing much has changed. We still sin because we break relationships with each other or with God. Even the original sin of Adam and Eve was not really about the eating of the fruit so much as disobeying God. it was more a matter of a relationship broken than a wrong action. The penalty for the broken relationship with God was death. Not physical death immediately in the garden of Eden but spiritual death - the death of an unblemished relationship with God. The same principle still applies. How could immediate death be averted? Only by a substitute death - that of an animal substituting for the human being. So throughout the Old Testament animal after animal died to carry the many sins of human beings.

Was there any way that continual death could be averted? Only if something or somebody of eternal worth could die in their stead. And so Jesus went, voluntarily, to his death so that you and I could be forgiven our sins, particularly our sins of breaking relationship with God.

Was there any way that continual death could be averted? Only if something or somebody of eternal worth could die in their stead. And so Jesus went, voluntarily, to his death so that you and I could be forgiven our sins, particularly our sins of breaking relationship with God. People have sometimes died for other people. Like the firefighters who went into the Twin Towers in `New York in 2001 to try to rescue other people. The difference between their action and that of Jesus is that they went in hoping to live even as they took the enormous risk of going back into the towers. Jesus knew he was going to die. He could have walked away from the squad sent to arrest him as he did from the lynch mob in Nazareth (Luke 4: 28 – 30), but he did not. He could have used his superior power over Pilate, but he did not. He could have walked away from the terrible scourging and the mocking of the soldiers, but he did not. He could have nailed the execution squad to the cross in his place, but he did not. Jesus, not just man but also God, died for you and for me, deliberately a human sacrifice for sin. “He did not use his equality with God to his own advantage … he was obedient to death” (Philippians 2: 6, 8) . We are forgiven as a result. Worship him.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 22 - Hebrews 9:11-14

The blood of Jesus


When Jesus Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He 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, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The 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. How 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, cso that we may serve the living God!

Perhaps a summary of the OT (Old Testament) practices that the writer is relying on for so much of his argument is necessary first. This has two aspects found in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Negatively - full of ‘no’ and ‘not’ - are all sorts of instructions about how they were to live and what they were to eat. Our writer is not very interested in these. They comprised the Law. Positively there were detailed instructions about the tabernacle ( a sort of big tent construction) used during their wilderness journey and the practical details of how sacrifices were to be made there and what they accomplished. They thought of the tabernacle as the place where God was much more than anywhere else. Later the same basic idea was transferred to the temple that was to be built in Jerusalem. These sacrifices constituted a recognition that no one is perfect and there would be many involuntary infringements of the Law. These could be remedied through the complex sacrificial system. Not that it was the sacrifices that effected the remedy. They were symbolic of the attitude of the one sacrificing and of the grace of God that accepted his or her contrition.


Even with the help of the Holy Spirit we too are not perfect - we sin - and we need Jesus to remove defilement from us. His death is effective and does remove the consequences of our sin from us. This is the great concern of our writer who explains the effects of the death of Jesus in terms of the OT examples.

Of course this is not really about the ‘blood’ of Jesus. It is what is called a metonymym where a small part of something is used as a name for a whole. (Another example is the way some people will refer to their car as their ‘wheels’.) The ‘blood’ refers to the whole death of Jesus given as a sacrifice for us. In a quite remarkable way the writer uses the practices associated with the temple to explain what Jesus death means for us. He says that the earthly temple was, by Moses instructions (8:5), a copy of the true temple in heaven. So he is able to use the known facts about the earthly temple to indicate the deeper heavenly truths. The central purpose of the temple was as the place of sacrifice for sins and for worship.

There were at least three implications of a sacrifice:
1. It rendered clean those who were not because of their past sinfulness. The OT system, particularly with the annual sacrifice in the innermost part of the temple made by the High Priest once a year, allowed for recovery from sin, that is redemption, Verse 12 uses that picture to explain what Jesus did “he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. .
2. The Old Testament sacrifice was a symbol that the person making the sacrifice wanted to live in and for the Lord. This becomes what verse 14 says about “serving the living God”;
3. In the giving of the blood of the OT sacrifice it died in place of the one sacrificing. Now Jesus obtains for us an eternal redemption, “ He 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, thus obtaining eternal redemption” (9:12). Of course, we must expect that we shall die one day in a physical sense. How then can our redemption be eternal? By the fact that although we shall die in an earthly sense we shall live forever as members of the eternal kingdom.

So we have past, present and future aspects to the meaning of a sacrifice. The Old Testament sacrifices had to be made again and again, daily, monthly and annually. Because Jesus was both human and divine his sacrifice was effective forever and did not have to be repeated.

This then is the great central teaching of the book of Hebrews. Christ was sacrificed to take away our sins (9:28); he sets us the greatest example of how we should live, ‘serving the living God’ (9:14); and he gives us a great hope for the future ‘he will bring salvation to those who are eagerly waiting for him’ (9:28).

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 21 - Hebrews 8:1; 7:25

What is Jesus doing now?

“Jesus sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” Hebrews 8:1
“ he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them”. Hebrews 7:25


Jesus was with his Father in heaven, he came to earth (incarnation), he ministered, he died (crucifixion), he rose again (resurrection), he disappeared back to his Father (ascension). Where is he now and what is he doing? These are the two questions these verses answer. His ascension to heaven also enabled the Holy Spirit to start his great work in the hearts and lives of the Lord’s people.

To sit at the king’s right hand was to occupy the position of highest honour, second only to the king. Psalm 110 says ‘The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”
The LORD will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”
 
Peter used those verses in his speech at Pentecost (Acts 2:34). It is referred to in Philippians 2:9 where Paul says ‘God exalted him to the highest place’. He also said “ he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.” (Ephesians 1:20, 21) emphasising the great power and authority he now had. Jesus himself, in a prayer that amounts to a clear prophecy said ‘Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began’ (John 17:5).

So it is quite clear where Jesus is now. But our text adds something to those statements, which is of great importance for us. What Jesus is doing is to intercede for us. Paul says this clearly in Romans 8:34 “Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” John calls Jesus our advocate with the Father (1 John 2:1). An advocate is a law court term for someone who speaks on behalf of someone else). The work of the Holy Spirit is to enable us to pray effectively. Jesus then relates our prayers, perhaps filtering them, to the Father. How he can possibly do that when there must be thousands, or millions, of prayers made every second we will never know. But he is capable of doing that because although he is the man in heaven he can also exercise his divine prerogative at his Father’s right hand.

This is a great encouragement for us. Our prayers are poor, inadequate, things but they are received and polished by our Lord himself before they are presented to God the Father. Hopefully he also fills in for us some of the prayers we should make but fail to do so from laziness or inadequacy. Thank you, Lord.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 20 - Hebrews 7:24-27

Meeting our needs

“because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

What do we really need? All sorts of things spring to mind but it is unlikely that they are the same things the writer is thinking about. He is concerned almost entirely with our status before God and therefore with our eventual destiny. As that affects us he wants us to have a sense of purpose in life and a sure destination to be going to. These two things are hugely important but many modern cultures ignore them almost completely. Our sense of purpose should come from setting out to follow Jesus and staying faithful to that calling for the rest of our lives. Our destination is to be with him after death - in a way that is not clear but is fully expected throughout scripture. We have a journey to make. It is not the case that setting out to follow Jesus will protect us from all the possible troubles and difficulties of this life. We may still suffer ill health, bereavement, loss of a job, and all the other ills that can affect us but we have a clear and certain path through these things taking us through to our destination.

The basic problem of every human life is sin. From our very first howl as babies when we want fed we have a strong streak of self-interest in all we do. We should be living to glorify the Lord God and his son Jesus but we don’t - we are really more concerned with ourselves most of the time. Jesus has rescued us from the consequences of that level of self absorption. Jesus - holy, blameless and pure - as the writer says. Because he was human he could stand alongside us, represent us and substitute for us. Because he was himself God he could do that for not just one person but for a huge multitude of people - including you and me! Before Jesus died the High Priest had to makes sacrifices every day and particularly on the one day of the year when he went into the innermost part of the temple where, they thought, God dwelt. All that was now unnecessary.

We each have a path to walk through life. Our paths are all different but they are all converging on one spot and one person who accompanies us every step of the way maps them all out for us. Our paths may not be easy. They may not be as easy as we would like. But he is with us and lead us through the difficulties, through the marshy bits, up the steep hills, all the time even as our legs get tired and we want to stop and rest for a while. He knows every way we should walk. He will show up some of our ‘needs’ to be just ‘wants’. All the true needs he will fulfil from his richly abundant grace. We should and must rejoice in our saviour and God.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 19 - Hebrews 7:17-22
A better covenant

. For it is declared: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: “The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’

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

Promises are important, particularly when they are God’s promises, but covenants are even more important. God made a great promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:2, 3). Then 24 years later he turned that promise into a covenant (Genesis 15:8 - 19) in what seems to us a very curious ceremony but was the way they did it in those days.

The idea of a covenant was that there was a high king and lesser kings (in more modern terminology we should perhaps say a king and war-lords). The high king would make a covenant with a lesser king. He would promise to come to the aid of the lesser king if he was attacked. The lesser king would agree to send armed men to the high king, if required. to defend one of his other lesser kings. It was a mutually beneficial arrangement.

A promise is a promise, particularly when it is God who is promising. But a covenant is even stronger. If we promise someone they will have our house when we die that is one thing but if we go to see a lawyer and get it all written down in what we call a will that is quite different. So God is doing something to increase our confidence in what he is doing, not to ensure that he actually does it. Once a will is made the only person who can change it is the person who made it in the first place. In this chapter and the next 3 God is explaining how it is that he has changed his will (covenant) for us into a new and better one. All the covenant with Abraham still stands. It is the bits that were later added to it at Sinai to Moses which are being changed.

The great prophet, Jeremiah, was given a prophecy in which he said “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. …
This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Our writer quotes these words at length in Hebrews 8:8-12. The critically important statement is in 8:10, ‘I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.’ Jeremiah did not know how that would be done. He probably thought it would be by an intensification of the laws of Sinai and a tighter control of the people. He did not know. He could not know, how it would happen. When the Messiah, God on earth, came to establish his new covenant he would have a sort of secret weapon which would enable all those things to happen. That great secret was the gift of the Holy Spirit of God and Jesus who would enter the lives of his people. Ezekiel gets closer to what would happen when he says in his 36:26, 27 “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.”

That is the great difference in the new covenant by which the Lord God would establish his people, his new people of every tribe and nation. What is the difference because this is a covenant and not just a promise? The answer is that this is a two-way event where promises are only one way. But we will leave that thought for another day.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)

Part 18 - Hebrews 6:20–7:10

The great high priest – Melchizedek

The argument our writer is pursuing is going to be that Jesus is the greatest High Priest, superior to all others and therefore the one who should set us all the greatest spiritual example. So he says “… Jesus … has become a high priest for ever, in the order of Melchizedek. This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means “king of righteousness”; then also, “king of Salem” means “king of peace. Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.”

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

There have already been several references to this rather strange episode involving Melchizedek. The argument of our writer is that Jesus was and is the greatest high priest ever, surpassing all others. This is not obvious because he was descended from Judah and not from Levi and Aaron as all high priest had to be.
The connection he uses is in Psalm 110. Here there is a prophecy of a man with three roles. He is to be the Messiah. That is not obvious from the psalm but is the way it was interpreted by both Jesus and the Pharisees (Matthew 22: 41 - 46). Then the Psalm refers to ‘your sceptre’ (Psalm 110: 2) and a sceptre is the symbol of kingship. Finally it says ‘you are a priest for ever’ (Psalm 110: 4).


How can this be? King Saul got into major trouble with Samuel because he acted as a priest when Samuel was late for a ceremony (1 Samuel 13: 8 - 14). Only Solomon seems to have been allowed to offer sacrifices as a king (1 Kings 8: 64 - 66). The Messiah was to be both a king and a priest because he was to be ‘a priest in the order of Melchizedek’. This refers to the unusual story of Genesis 14. It is about how Abraham had to rescue his nephew Lot when he got caught in the skirmish between 4 kings and 5 kings. (Since Abraham could sort them out with only 318 men, ‘king’ is a bit of an exaggeration. ‘Warlord’ or ‘Clan chieftain’ would probably be more realistic titles.) On his way back Abraham meets Melchizedek. Every other significant man in the book of Genesis gets a detailed genealogy. Melchizedek doesn’t. Hence our writer says “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever.” He just comes into the account from nowhere and disappears again. Yet Abraham treats him as the senior personage, giving him the tithe of a tenth of all his plunder and accepting a blessing from him. All that is very difficult to understand; it seems that Melchizedek was a priest of some senior line, which also worshipped the God of Abraham.

All this is exactly what our writer wants to explain the role and status of Jesus. From his very first verses he speaks of Jesus as the Son, the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his [God’s] being. Beyond dispute Jesus was and is King. Now we see he was also a priest, a High Priest, senior to the Levitical high priests, more able than any one else has ever been to “ save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.” (7: 25 - 28).
This is the glorious reality the writer presents to our wondering gaze. Worship Jesus.

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Highlights in Hebrews
Highlights in Hebrews
(with Roger Kirby)
Part 17 - Hebrews 6:18-19

Hope is an anchor

God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope set before us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,

Hope is the desire for something longed for. At school it was perhaps to be in the top team; then it became the hope that our new computer would be as good as we hoped; then we hope for a good and loving life mate; for a happy and enriching family; for a satisfying and rewarding job. In all probability it is only when we reach old age that we begin to think of hope in terms of what might happen when we die. Hope stands out in the New Testament as something to be sought and it is about the last of those things. We, in the more developed parts of the world anyway, are little concerned with such thoughts. They, in the writer’s days, had a life expectancy probably only in the 40s or 50s and a good chance of dying at any age. We, with all the modern medicine available to us, can expect to go on in a reasonable state of health much longer than that. It is therefore no wonder that we are less concerned with hope than they were. They will have been much more used to seeing people die young or not very old. We hide the thoughts away for many years until we come to the point where we begin to hope we shall not get dementia, or will not only die until after a long and painful illness. And what happens next is not a major consideration until we are so set in our ways and beliefs that we have no real hope.

New Testament hope is quite different. Paul talks of “the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1: 27). It is that part of hope that, I am guessing, does not come much into your thinking until you are fairly old. In a way that is not surprising because our natural hopes exist with vast gaps between them. When we are younger that final hope is something that flits in and out of our thoughts at quite rare intervals. But this - hope in our future beyond this life, and in our Lord Jesus - is another matter. If we are members of the Kingdom here on earth we have a great and wonderful hope that we shall still be members after we die.

What guarantee do we have that this will indeed be the case? Our writer says it is as secure as an anchor that is firmly embedded amongst rocks on the sea bottom.

Going back a couple of verses he has said that there are two unchangeable things. It is not obvious what these were but he must be referring to what God said to Abraham after Abraham had passed the terrible test of being prepared to sacrifice his son and thus appearing to destroy the previous promise of God that he would have many descendants. “I swear by myself, declares the Lord …” (Genesis 22: 16). Nothing we experience will ever be as bad as what happened to Abraham. The Lord gave his great promise to Abraham and confirmed it ‘by himself’. In other words our God is totally trustworthy, whatever may be happening to us that seems to prove otherwise. This is our hope. Then, mixing his references up in quite a confusing way our writer says that our anchor is in ‘the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’, which is where the Lord God was thought to reside more than anywhere else.

The rocks between which our anchor is so firmly wedged that it can never be pulled out are our Lord, his person, his Word, our Lord and Master.

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