Monthly Archives: November 2012

Holiness for the many

Continuing looking at the Letter to the Hebrews, in chapter 10, verses 1 to 3, the writer drives home again that the Jewish law is a mere shadow with great limitations. Those same sacrifices were continuing—they did not stop because they were ineffectual, he said. They did not bring holiness.

In religious circles today, what offerings or worship do people make that needs continual repetition? Do these make them holy? Do these remove the feelings of guilt? We are often reminded that feelings are untrustworthy. Sure, only God is trustworthy! Yet, if we feel guilty, it may be because we have not entered into the true life in the Spirit, promised for us for us in the New Covenant to give us great hope for what is to come.

Much of today’s public expressions of Christianity carry continual reminders of sins to the hearer. In many places the order of service (not a New Testament idea) obliges people to confess sins in a vague, non-specific sense and they are expected to feel contrition. Then there are often sermons preached ‘six feet above reproach’ which are designed to induce guilt feelings but not real guilt. (Actually amongst the primitive believers in Jesus, there were no sermons, no preaching, no clergy, just encouragement and exhortation by one another.)

Real sense of guilt comes from God, from the Holy Spirit, a result of the reality that we have offended God and friendship with him has been severed as a result. It is a precondition for true holiness.

Hebrews 10 goes on to show that Jesus understood these famous words from Ps 40:6-8 to apply to him,

“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;  with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll —I have come to do your will, my God.’”

Jesus accepted the central mission on which God had sent him—to offer himself in a human body, in his own human body, to do the will of God. Remember the scene in the garden, Gethsemane? And this perfect offering has replaced all other! This once for all obedience makes us holy, an emphatic statement much repeated. We do not understand this cosmic event, but we are amazed at its wonderful depth and sure of its benefits.

Jesus was no puppet, no mechanical man dictated to by God. No. Jesus had a will of his own. He chose to make his will conform to the Father’s will. It was the will of the LORD to bruise him, we read in that amazing servant song of Isaiah 53. At Heb 10:10,  our author maintains

by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all

Holiness is a gift from another to be received by turning to Him and believing—can’t be achieved any other way.

Do you get it?

On death and judgment

We are looking at the Letter to the Hebrews and in chapter 9 and verses 25-26, we are told that Jesus’ doing away with the sin of many was a once-only event. He cannot be offered again and again like the continual offerings in the earthly tent or even worse, in some ritualistic, religious ceremony using pagan-like church altars by sacerdotal ‘priests’ in a human inspired ‘service’.

But now, ritual has been done away with forever—now we have the real. Instead of an ineffectual sacrifice we have the Real Presence of our great high priest at our gatherings.

God and man at table are sat down!

Hebrews 9 continues …

Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (9:27-28)

We will all face death once and once only. And after we die, we will face the Judgment, each one, and only once, no hint of a second chance here or anywhere else in the Scriptures. And why should there be, from God’s point of view? We have been warned. Prepare to meet your God.

But, in contrast, Jesus, in completing his earthly work for us, offered himself and was sacrificed once. He died. God’s Messiah died! And he died once only, as we will. But after his death, no judgment for him, he lives, the sinless one who died for the sinful many.  He appeared once as a helpless human being like us. He died once, like us. Judgment for all men is faced once.

But he will appear a second time— the only New Testament occurrence of the phrase “second coming”!  The time for sin-bearing is then over–it is then the Day of Salvation.

His salvation, not judgment, comes for those who are waiting for him. Paul in 1 Thes 1:9-10 describes Christian believers as those who

have turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead —Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.

What a simple and yet profound definition of a Christian! and totally consistent with this amazing letter. Though judgment awaits all men and women, we who are his, gladly serve God and eagerly wait for Jesus’ return.


The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote that the Holy Spirit shows (the Holy Spirit must be a real person! He shows, speaks, can be grieved, etc)showsthat the way into the true Most Holy Place of the Lord was hidden. In fact, only once a year could just one man enter the temporary copy standing on earth! (Hebrews 9:8)

But now a different tabernacle now stands! It is a person, a human like us, yet unlike any of us, the one-and-only Son of God.  He has tabernacled –pitched his tent— among us by coming in human flesh. Now he lives forever in God’s presence to carry on his work for us who abound in his work, participants in his movement. In him we find all our needs met, all our dreams fulfilled, all our weaknesses helped, all our sins forgotten.

We have seen how the conscience of the individual remained clouded and confused and rose up to condemn him under the Old. Only the outward was included, the inner person remained untouched. A better “tent” was needed to touch the inner person. It is here. And it’s no leaky tent.

So our author reminds us yet again He offered himself, which deals with our guilty conscience, but more than that: that we may serve the living God!

“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and came to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

To be ransomed means a price was paid for our freedom. What an astronomically great price! And now our great privilege is to serve the living God.To serve is to worship—to acknowledge his tremendous worth. Worshipping God means working in his service. It does not mean sitting in a church pew being entertained –or bored to sleep.

To serve the living God—how good is that!

As John Wesley shouted : THE BEST OF ALL IS GOD IS WITH US.

Instead of rules and regulations

The first covenant had regulations—lots, as well as the amazing earthly sanctuary, says the author of the Letter to the Hebrews, (chapter 9, verses 1 to 5). The spectacular tent with its out-of-this world design, specially crafted furniture, consecrated unrefrigerated food, the Most Holy Place, incense, the gold covered covenant box, not to mention the hundreds of rules governing the ceremonial work of the priests.

So, what are the regulations of the New Covenant? The setting up of numerous different kind of earthly sanctuaries called “churches”? A worldwide institution “the Church”? Pulpits, pews and altars? Mystical foods? A new order of priesthood? Transcendent sacrifices?  Better smelling incense? A priestcraft elite? Excited audiences and religious entertainment?

None of the above. Definitely. Absolutely not. Full stop.

But as you know, tragically, all too soon, men set up such things which were not even a shadow of the real. These survive today after a long history of slowly evolving forms: Catholicism, Anglicanism, sacramentalism, mysticism, countless other isms, formality, liturgy, clergy driven—old, superseded models but without any of the glory of God, no cherubim, no stone tablets written with the finger of God, no budding rod, and no true sacrifice for our atonement, and without any mandate whatsoever from the Lord of Hosts for the shabby substitutes men instituted. Empty. God has left this kind of house.

Under the Old Covenant, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry.  But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance, as it says in Heb 9:6-7.

But today in so many earthly temples, earthly priests regularly enter their sanctuaries to carry on their ministry and without any Aaronic authority, imagining they re-crucify the Lord of glory on some pathetic copy of an altar. In a mockery of the real, the true, they imagine wine is magically changed to blood by their mumbo-jumbo mantra instead of directing needy souls to see that Jesus has finished his work once for all and ensure the people of receive their inheritance, now.

In the old Jewish order, sins committed in ignorance were atoned—wonderful grace assuring worshippers that it did not depend on them dotting every ‘i’.  But the so-called sacrifice of the mass keeps people in perpetual dependence on a mediatorial priesthood, for they must come continually to maintain the believed benefits of forgiveness.

But what can really cleanse from sin? And what about sin not done in ignorance–deliberate?  What can cleanse my conscience? –nothing in the old covenant arrangement, glorious though it is. A better deal awaited God’s people, now come in the Christ and his offering for us.

So again you may ask, what are the regulations of the New Covenant?

Well there are none. There are patterns to guide us and above all the example of the Lord Jesus, who came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. The habits, practices and attitudes he demonstrated to his little band of followers are there for us to practice towards one another : love, forgiveness, joy, patience, service, cooperation, togetherness, thanksgiving. Here we are not remotely on the same planet as Law, rules and regulations.

Jesus has gone from us to a place where he is constantly at work for us.

And there is the glorious gift of his Spirit! In his place he sends the Holy Spirit! People in the NT era knew they had received the Spirit from Jesus. They knew because they could abound in the work of the Lord (1 Cor 15:26). They knew because they were members of a functioning body all joined together, each with manifestations of the Holy Spirit to encourage one another. They knew because the Word of God flowed from their hearts and through their lips. They were bold, courageous.

Yes. There is also the eternal Word of God by which we continually hear His voice. What marvellous resources!

Surely we have such abundance in this great design plan that Jesus has inaugurated! What need then do we have of formalised institutions and commercialised religion? Of priestcraft and liturgical magic?

To hang on to such substitutions instead of God’s creative, revealed ways is to dishonour Him. To hear and put into practice His ways is to honour Him, to hallow His name.


A new deal has come

Our writer to the Hebrews said the first agreement was defective (8:7-8) and a better one was always needed. Our author has already shown how much more serious this new deal is and it cannot be ignored.  God’s design for his people’s service unfolded in the New must be followed and not lost or replaced by worldly or pagan ideas and practices.

The choice for us to worship (=serve) God is a choice between two systems, two ways.

There is the system of law following the type of Aaron: Christ is redeemer and because of his wondrous act, his death on the cross, we compel ourselves to love and obedience, though it may not be our delight.  So we have a striving and not the promised rest from trying to be righteous. Others around us looking on get the message we are self-righteous though we may deny it. And they have every right to form that opinion.

By pursuing the way of law at the expense of the Holy Spirit and his revealed Word, we invariably add in our own ideas, mixing right with wrong, light with darkness and dropping the true and real by hanging on to vain traditions and practices of religion. Like sheep we go astray.

But a much better deal has been made for us! We are called into the experience of the Lord Jesus in the power of his endless, imperishable life in which he works in us who draw near. He promises to energise within us, in our own life, breathing his life in us, so that it becomes our new nature to love him, delight to do his will—his own life in us. That is, to worship him in Spirit and in Truth, each of us and together.

Surprise: Meeting together as Christ’s people today (“going to church”) is frequently inferior to that experienced even by Jews in Jesus’ day. For example in the synagogue, there was no pastor or priest ruling over them, running the show, so anyone was able to speak and to question what was said.  No one person jealously guarded who was allowed to share the word of God and for how long.

Nor did they think they were meeting in the ‘house of the Lord’. And each synagogue (means gathering) was independent and they did not have to toe the line of any outside superintendent, C.E.O., denomination board, statement of faith, or any head office.

Hebrews 8:7-8. God found fault with the first covenant in the hands of his ancient people and said (in the words of Jeremiah 31:31-34) ….

I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach 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.’

We are supposed to have embraced the new arrangement. But appallingly, today, we see a denial of much of the glorious features of the New. Instead of God’s laws poured by the Holy Spirit into their minds and written on their hearts, many are content to get their spiritual input not from the Lord Himself, but from middlemen with agendas—spiritual directors, priests, pastors. Instead of being the people of God, many see their identity as Baptist or Catholic or Evangelical and so on. Tradition, blind, mindless tradition.

So instead of all God’s people being in unbroken fellowship with the living God—knowing Him in their personal experience—they are dependent on professional Christians as mediators.

In the fantastic deal we have received in Jesus, we have become part of a household, a family. We are each born into a Body—the Body of Christ. Individualism is contrary to the New Deal and to our organic, community life in the Body of Christ. We are many members and one body. God has made covenant in Jesus with a people, not with individuals.

Hebrews 8:13. When the Lord talks about a new agreement, he means that the first one is out of date. And anything that is old and useless will soon disappear. (CEV)

All kinds of spirituality are inadequate and have now been made obsolete by God’s flawless design. What is not planted by the Father will be rooted up, said Jesus. And what is built, if not with God’s specified materials, will be destroyed, even if on a good foundation, said St Paul.

It seems to me, God is calling on us to abandon obsolete, sinking, old-hat stuff that we should have jettisoned ages ago and join Jesus’ movement of love, joy, freedom and power as he promised. What do you think?