Monthly Archives: December 2012

Still sinning, eh?

More from the Letter to the Hebrews. Here’s yet another dire warning from the author (Heb 10:26-31):

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace?  For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”( Deut. 32:35) and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

We may sin accidentally but to keep on sinning deliberately now that these so-precious things have been made ours for the asking, the taking, is to invite judgment, to court disaster.

Now our author is not talking about the things we often worry about –is this act a sin or is that one? No way.

He speaks here of the unspeakable sin, that of wilfully, deliberately turning away from Jesus, as we have observed previously in chapter 6. The context of this chapter (especially verses 33 to 35) make this plain. In such a state how can there be any sacrifice that can really bring forgiveness and wholeness?  If we reject the ultimate gift, the treasure beyond our wildest imagination, the security apart from which there is no security, the unfathomable love that sent His Son into the hands of corrupt and malevolent mankind and the dread horrors of the cross, …. what then is left for us? Utter darkness. No salvation. No loving assurance. No hope.

Think of a lover who has done all for the beloved but then the beloved one spurns that great love and openness and turns away, spits in the face of the lover. It is the ultimate outrage.

Such is the general state of the human race. The offer of life must be received, taken hold of.

Think about this: the offering Jesus has made is a single offering. It is sufficient for all time, for all people, for all sins! It is totally sufficient. It cannot be repeated. It will not be repeated. That would be totally unnecessary, unlike the ceremonial rituals which pointed to the real and have now been replaced. Finally.

Yet this immeasurable offering cannot be taken lightly, frivolously. We cannot assume God’s grace, take it for granted, not feel the despair, the dread it replaces.

This grace is such astronomically great news. Our refusal of that gift is breathtakingly stupid, insane, suicidal.

Yet even such a decision by an individual is respected by the Lord God, the loving Father –a decision to put oneself far away from all that is good and solid, all that is real and true, so valuable is our personhood, the image we bear, that we can never escape from. Our freedom to turn away from such love remains eternally.

As followers, we may find ourselves sinning again and again after believing, because of our constant fallibility. Yet his great sacrifice remains for us. Jesus’ words about the 7 times 77 forgiveness reminds us we may be forgiven again and again and again. His forgiveness is inexhaustible. Remember, we are taught to forgive others who sin against us after that pattern in Jesus’ so-called Lord’s Prayer.

But if we take all this grace for granted without feeling the horror, the dread, the enormous cost to the Son of God in his offering, our hearts will be progressively hardened and the point may be reached when we fall away from that wonderful provision of grace and mercy. So hardened, that we may lose all capacity to turn to our loving heavenly Dad. We will have insulted the Spirit of grace.

What then is appropriate for us now, as we read these words?

In God’s purposes, it is never too late. We must enter, truly, deliberately, decidedly, determinedly, enter God’s household, by His design –by the blood of Jesus. There is no other way, no other name is given under heaven to save us. This is also the consistent affirmation of the apostles Paul, Peter and John.

No other way. Some may introduce another way— “my way”. When we face judgment, accounting for our lives, our words, our actions, our thoughts, will you be confessing “Your will be done”?

Or will your song be “I did it my way”?

The Sacred Cow of Going to Church

We have seen in the wonderful Letter to the Hebrews that because Jesus is faithful and the promise is lock solid, guaranteed, at last we have something to hold unswervingly.This is the place to be. But notice how the author keeps addressing, not a lot of individuals, but a group of people. This is their place corporately. Together.

So now in chapter 10 and verses 24 and 25, he addresses how and why they met together:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another —and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This all leads to our author’s plea to concentrate on the care of one another. How critical it was that they should consider how to spur one another on toward love and good deeds. It was the role of everyone, not just some vicar or pastor or a dominant leader. Their meeting together—their ‘worship’, was all about encouragement and stirring up one another. In the NT the meaning of ‘worship’ is service by one another, to one another.

Here is the only place in the NT calling believers to be together regularly, but it is often quoted by clergy to keep people coming to their church. It really means something quite different.No one among the first believers “goes to church”. They were the church when together, wherever. They were together the Body of Christ present to encourage, to serve one another and to spur one another on to love and to excellent deeds!

Until the Day of his return, which seemed to them quite ominous.

Two important things stand out. First the necessity of meeting together—we cannot do without our brothers and sisters. We cannot do without expressing the Body of Christ. We must not go it alone. A hand or an eye cannot stay alive apart from being attached to a living body—to recall Paul’s metaphor in 1 Corinthians 12. They were not just a lot of individuals collected together. They were a body! A living body.

Secondly, the one essential matter when gathered was to encourage one another. If we fail to do that we have departed from God’s ordained pattern, God’s design. To follow God’s amazing design, his plans and specifications is to truly worship him. To do otherwise, is to dishonour him.

Look, we are asked to consider how to stir one another to love and good deeds. There is a pattern to follow, and the mundane details are left to us to arrange. But the pattern, most certainly, always concerns reproducing Jesus’ life, his love, his servanthood, his actions, priorities, behaviour, his perfection, his will, his purpose, his way, his truth, his life—by looking unto Jesus.

Our author is consistent with the other authors of the New Testament documents. It is clear that they did not come together to hear or see a “service” conducted by a minister. Nor did they come to hear a preacher. They did not come together to sing “worship songs” or hymns organised by a “worship leader” or clergyman.

They came together to care for one another, to weep with those who weep, to comfort one another, to encourage one another, to help one another in building up faith, to love one another, to confess their needs and faults with one another, to pray for one another, to submit to one another ….

The phrase one another appears over 40 times in the New Testament in relation to believers together.

How can we practice this if an “ordained” priest or minister or a dominant leader is present?  They will instinctively do what they have been trained to do, what they are paid to do. There is no hard evidence of any official or officers active in the churches described in the New Testament record. There is function and not form. There is dynamic action led by the Holy Spirit, his gifts distributed among his people, the organisation of the Holy Spirit.

Today, churches are frequently described in terms of their leader, pastor, priest or minister, in terms of a dominant controlling leader. Jesus sternly warned his disciples to avoid this scenario. Paul warned against this and constantly calls himself ‘a servant/slave’.  Peter echoes Jesus words that God’s people are not to be ‘lorded over’ by leaders. And so does our author.

God knows how much we are in need of him, his resources and how much he has to give us through our brothers and sisters when we submit to one another in the fellowship of Jesus.

We need all the help we can get, eh?

Perfect unmatched design ignored

I am really fired up by looking at the Letter to the Hebrews. Just look at chapter 9 verse 11,

But when 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.

Clearly, for our author, along with the rest of the New Testament writers and teachers, under this New Covenant, human constructed temples, buildings, “churches” have been superseded in favour of a more perfect tabernacle, not made with human hands, not a part of this creation. Those who first received this blessing understood they had access to a perfect place, singly and together, the place where Jesus is: at the right hand of God. Think about it—what a privilege this is! They met together in homes, courtyards, public spaces, not in specially designed buildings. So different from the old deal with the nation of Israel and its temple. Everything has changed!

Specially designed buildings came much later, and with it came veneration of spaces, consecration of buildings just like the pagans around them. (Even the Jews did not venerate their synagogues.)

Stupid, human, pagan ideas came in, ushering in the imitation of worldly religion, organisational administration and waste of resources. The invention of sacred places was perhaps necessitated by the invention of ‘services’ and formal liturgical ‘worship’. It became part of the triumphalism of the Catholic multi-national organisation that took root in the third century (which persists today in many forms) and then evolved into establishment of mystical sanctuaries where God is somehow imagined to dwell.

This stuff is totally without apostolic mandate. It slaps Jesus in the face, ignoring his work and denigrating the perfect place he has prepared for us. Do we think we can do better than God? As Isaiah (Isa 66:1) shouted

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
 Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”

Why do we Bible-lovers persist in behaving like the rest of mankind when the Father has planned something so much better for us? Why have we gotten so far away from the teachings of the apostles? There is so much in this Letter to the Hebrews which should turn our hearts to the real, away from the shadows and make us feel sick of the pathetic, boring, world-conforming imitations around us.

Just look at the total confusion around the use of the word “church” (from the Greek ekklesia).  In the Greek that word meant meeting, gathering. It was the everyday, common word for assembly. And now it commonly means a building, a total manipulation of the meaning to replace the gathered people of God in and around Jesus, with something made by human hands. How pathetic.

Remember how Jesus turned angrily on the Bible-lovers of his day who kept on putting tradition before the Word of God, that word which will never pass away, though all other words, systems, philosophies, religions, will disappear. What will he say to us when we see him face to face?

When are we all going to get it?


We continue looking at the Letter to the Hebrews, and in chapter 10, verses 11 to 14 we read,

Day after day every [Jewish] 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.

Again our author returns to this constant theme to remind us that under the Old Covenant a priest needed to repeat the sacrifices every day without fail. Not only that, but also, these sacrifices are useless in taking away sins and restoring full friendship with God.  No wonder a new arrangement was necessary.

The posture of a priest is standing. A priest stands to make sacrifices and offerings, is never seated. So it was with the priests of Judea in Jerusalem in the Ancient World. And so it is today with many modern priests.

But Jesus’ posture in sacrifice was to allow his precious body to be stretched out and nailed to the tree.

But then he is said to have entered and stood with his blood in the heavenly sanctuary. Now, his posture is seated and at the place of greatest exultation, power and influence where he waitsfor his enemies to be under his feet.

The Letter to the Hebrews over and over, gives a clear and unmistakable assurance to anyone who wants to draw near to the Father, that the way is open—a full, complete, sacrifice has been made by Jesus in his death for the many, for us, and one that makes “perfect” forever.

This perfection is “for those who are being made holy”, those who are in his way, pursuing his truth, living in his endless life. This is both a done deal and an ongoing process! Cool, eh?

The result is again, one sacrifice has perfected (the Greek verb here means the action is done, final) those in the on-the-earth process of being made holy (the Greek verb here means the action is ongoing).

Then in verses 19-21, we read that this is a new and living way. Not the old, not a dead way! Not a theoretical or philosophical way! This way is his body, Jesus’ body,  that wonderful body which men and women touched and by which they were touched. How different this is to Greek ideas with its abhorrence of the human body. How much this underlines the fact that these heavenly things are realities and not just “spiritual”. A real, warm, flesh and blood, human body sits (that is, reigns) beside God Almighty right now, for us.  Moses is no longer in view. Jesus has replaced Moses—the great high priest over the house (Greek, oikos) of God. The household, true family.

So we can draw near to God with a sincere heart and with full assurance. We do not have to pretend, to act it out, to imagine or have some magical or mystical access—or be insincere. It is a matter of sincerely believing. And drawing near to stay, not to withdraw, to abide, permanently! Jesus told the 12 that it was better for him to go away—because they could have access to him in his absolute reign on high continually.

The place to be!