Hebrews 9: Forgiveness

One thing that’s really becoming clear to me as I read through Hebrews is that this book is intense. The theological concepts presented and the constant reference to Old Testament knowledge often make it difficult to understand. I’m probably only gleaning the most elementary of insights; that said there is still so much application! I love that about God’s Word — so much at the surface and yet inexhaustible depth too. Amazing!

Anyhoo, chapter 9 is about the foreshadowing of the earthly tabernacle. We are reminded that the tabernacle built by Moses was a mere copy of the true tabernacle in heaven and that the sacrifices offered in it were temporary. Chapter 9 also discusses why forgiveness requires the shedding of blood. From the “garments of skin” Adam and Eve wore in Genesis 3, to the blood shed by the high priests in Exodus, to Jesus himself — forgiveness from Genesis to Revelation is blood-dependent. For those who do not know Jesus, this probably sounds gruesome, unsophisticated, even primitive. But if God has given you eyes to see your own heart, or an inkling of His holiness then you understand.
You understand how desperately you need forgiveness, and you understand what it is to long for a clear conscience. Hebrews 9: 9 tells us that the Old Testament sacrifices were an illustration “indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper.” The annual Day of Atonement provided fleeting comfort; true and ongoing forgiveness and the peace therein weren’t available. I think I often take for granted what a gift forgiveness truly is, that nothing I’ve ever done is counted against me. Nothing. Not even that time I… Or when I was … Or that awful thing I said to… Jesus blood is a complete covering for every transgression. As Psalm 103 says my sin is as far removed from me as the east is from the west.
But where does that leave me? Skipping along a forgiven and carefree path? Not exactly, because a forgiven person is called to forgive and that’s not always easy. As C.S. Lewis said, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” (The Weight of Glory)
So do you know someone who has done something inexcusable to you or someone you love? I do. This is an incredibly timely message for me, and it is indeed sobering to know that I am called to forgive this person. The idea of doing it in my own strength is laughable. Yet God’s grace is sufficient today, and it will be sufficient tomorrow when I’ll need to forgive again.
So this week may we pray the Lord’s Prayer with conviction, “forgive us, as we forgive others!”

Hebrews 8: Our Inner Tabernacle

The Israelites of the Old Testament were instructed to build a tabernacle which was in essence a mobile sanctuary, and the blueprint given was incredibly precise. If you’ve ever read through Exodus, you know what I’m talking about. Exact measurements are mandated, the materials to be used are specified, even the orientation and placement of every object is spelled out. The exactness is almost odd. Or so it may seem, until you read Hebrews.

Hebrews 8 is about the “true tabernacle” which is in heaven. Verse 5 is striking: it tells us that the sanctuary constructed by Moses was “a copy or shadow of what is in heaven.” That is why Moses was warned, “see to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” You see Moses wasn’t just being shown a yet-to-be constructed plan, he had a glimpse of the true tabernacle. Inexplicably, I lived thirty-seven years without even knowing there is a true tabernacle. I’m certainly guilty of glossing over passages like this one, but I also think the modern church is just deficient in delving into the connectedness of the Old and New Testaments.
Because for me, the connectedness — the amazing coherence — is what makes this passage from Hebrews so profound. After all, the purpose of the tabernacle in Exodus was to provide a place for the Israelites to commune with God. The Old Testament tabernacle, or tent of meeting, was the literal place where God dwelled among His people. The true tabernacle in heaven is the literal place where we will dwell with God eternally. So this begs the question, where do we have access to God in this life? Where can we dwell with Him? Must we go to church? Is there a specific, physical place we need to visit? The answer is no! The New Covenant is the promise of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19)
From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible is very much about God dwelling with His people. God’s desire to commune with the created is consistent throughout — Jesus is just the culmination and perfect manifestation of God reaching out to us in the post-garden era. Yet how would so many different writers over hundreds and hundreds of years so perfectly portray the heart of God without divine inspiration? I would think that would be a really tough question for unbelievers. How in the world did the Bible end up with such a consistent message?
We miss out by failing to study the connectedness and coherence of the whole Bible. In fact, this is a glaring need in my own life. I can highly recommend Beth Moore’s A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place. This study of the tabernacle draws heavily from both the Old and New Testaments. It is sure to leave you with a greater appreciation for the connectedness of God’s Word as a whole. Click here for videos or to read more. But this is probably the most systematic study I’ve ever done; I’d really like to do more and would welcome suggestions.
This time of year we see so many things for Passover. I was just in the grocery yesterday and saw all of the special foods that are used for the Seder. I am always encouraged when I learn about Passover both from the Bible and from Jewish custom, because it so clearly points to Jesus. Jesus is the perfect Passover lamb. He completes the story. And He completes our story too.
This week may we have eyes to see Jesus on every page of Scripture, and pray that God would help us to appreciate the consistency and coherence of His Word. And most of all, may we meet Him in our inner tabernacle!

Hebrews 6 and 7: Once for ALL!

Hebrews chapters 6 and 7 are not easy to understand, at least for me. I know there is depth in these verses that I am just not equipped to plunge. No doubt there is great symbolism in the discussion of the priesthood that the original recipients of this letter understood. They were Hebrews, after all. Their priest had been a very present and important figure in their upbringing. But I’m afraid much of it is lost on me.

What is clear, even to me, is that there is something about Jesus that is like (“in the order of”) Melchizedek. Melchizedek blessed Abraham in Genesis 14. Obviously it is significant that his name and title mean “king of righteousness” and “king of peace” and that he brought out bread and wine for this ceremonial blessing. Yet theologically, I do not know if Melchizedek was actually Jesus or just a foreshadowing of Jesus.
But either way, Jesus is our forever priest. Unlike the priests of the Old Testament, Jesus “is able to save [us] completely…because he always lives to intercede for” us. “Such a high priest 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.” (7:25-28 emphasis mine)
Aren’t you glad that the sacrifice is complete? That it really was once for all? The Hebrews of the Old Testament never had that assurance, and modern Jews do not have it today. That’s why the Day of Atonement is so important. But if you stop to think about it, no religious tradition offers the peace of Jesus. Ask a Buddhist if the work is complete. Ask a Mormon. Ask a Muslim. Ask anyone. All religions have an aspect of striving. The goal might be enlightenment, emptying yourself of desire, living increasingly in accord with religious law, or something else, but only Jesus claimed “it is finished.”
There is literally nothing we can do. We are wholly incapable, but it is also wholly unnecessary. Jesus did it all.
If we believe that, if we really live that out, our lives should look much different from the rest of the world. For starters we should exude peace and gratitude. Are you? Are you just pouring out peace and gratitude everywhere you go? I’m afraid I’m not either. But perhaps the problem isn’t what we think. Maybe it’s not a lack of solitude or blessing or prayer, but a lack of belief. The candid plea of the father in Mark 9 comes to mind yet again, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
This week may our lives be convincing evidence of what we claim to believe. In short, may our hearts be grateful and our peace contagious.