The Church at Laodicea

Below are my notes from yesterday morning’s teaching on Revelation. I hope you enjoy!

To the Church in Laodicea

Laodicea is an ancient city in present-day western Turkey, founded by Seleucid King Antiochus II in honor of his wife, Laodice.[i] The city was originally called Diospolis, which is “the city of Zeus.” The city of Laodicea was in the Lychus valley, and it was near two other cities – Colossae and Hierapolis. Like the other cities, it was in the general area of the SW corner of modern day Turkey, but it was actually one of the furthest to the East of the others – about 100 miles east of Ephesus. It was located on a very tall plateau and had a prominent position along several trade routes, making it an ideal city economically.

John MacArthur notes on its economic situation:

It was strategically located at the junction of two important roads: the east-west road leading from Ephesus into the interior, and the north-south road from Pergamum to the Mediterranean Sea. That location made it an important commercial city. That the first century BC Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero cashed his letters of credit there reveals Laodicea to have been a strategic banking center. So wealthy did Laodicea become that it paid for its own reconstruction after a devastating earthquake in AD 60, rejecting offers of financial aid from Rome.[ii]

The city’s only weakness was that it didn’t have its own source of water. It had a culvert that ran into the city and provided it with water from several miles away. This would have been a problem if the city was ever under attack, but I didn’t read a lot about attacks on the city.

So this city was basically economically and socially stable, non-controversial, and boring.

In fact, one of the things I found most interesting in my study about the city of Laodicea was that the city itself was not very remarkable. In fact, Ramsay says, “There is no city whose spirit and nature are more difficult to describe than Laodicea. There are no extremes, and hardly any very strongly marked features.”[iii]

Life was pretty easy in Laodicea, and “even the Talmud spoke scornfully of the life of ease and laxity lived by the Laodicean Jews.”[iv]

All of that seems an appropriate segue to what Jesus has to say about the Christians living in this part of Asia…

3:14 “And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.

Let’s just take a moment to notice Jesus’ words about Himself and what they mean. Jesus calls himself the “Amen” because He is the truth. The only other place in Scripture where “Amen” is used as a name is Isaiah 65:16 where God uses it to describe Himself, and the word used is also translated “truth” (that is how the NASB, ESV and NIV translate it). The context of the passage is worth bearing in mind, because the next verse in Isaiah also provides help:

So that he who blesses himself in the land shall bless himself by the God of truth, and he who takes an oath in the land shall swear by the God of truth; because the former troubles are forgotten and are hidden from my eyes. [17] “For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind. (Isaiah 65:16-17)

When commenting on this passage in Isaiah, Peter Gentry says this:

God’s plan of restoration brings us back to the pristine state of Eden – in a world now much better and greater. Augustine once said that he feared to entrust his soul to the great Physician lest he be more thoroughly cured than he cared to be. God’s plan of salvation is absolutely thorough, and He is not going to be satisfied with some half job of reformation and renewal.[v]

We’ll return to verse 17 momentarily…

Next He says that He is the “faithful and true witness” which has to do with the work that God has been doing in and through redemptive history from Adam up until His own life, death and resurrection. Jesus has been a faithful witness to this work, and His word can be trusted because He is “true.”

As Christians we want to be “true” witnesses of the work God has done not only in our lives, but most especially of the work done by God in Christ.

Lastly, He says that He is “the beginning of God’s creation.” Just as mentioned in the context of Isaiah 65:17, which deals with the new creation, Jesus is calling Himself the first creation – not in the sense that He was first made at the beginning of the world, but in the sense of how Paul mentions this in his letter to the church at Colossae “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” (Colossians 1:15-16)

When Jesus tells this church that He is the “first born”, the faithful “witness” and the “Amen”, He is quite simply stating that God has been working in and through redemptive history to bring it to a teleos, a specific goal. And that goal was Jesus Christ. That is Why Paul can say, “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

He is the beginning of God’s work of renewing the entirety of creation. What He inaugurated in Christ, He continues with us, for as Paul says to the Corinthians:

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. [18] All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; [19] that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:17-19 ESV)

And what does it mean to be a minister of reconciliation but that we are fellow witnesses to the work of God, and His great purposes in this world. What began as a promise in Genesis 3:15 has come to fruition in Christ, and now includes us, His new creations!

3:15-16 “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! [16] So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Once again Jesus begins his exhortation with the words “I know.” Therefore let us pause and once again remember that while Jesus was indeed man, and is indeed ever making intercession on behalf before the Father, yet He is God and He shares in the power and wisdom and knowledge of the eternal Godhead. All things are known to Him. He has eyes like a “flame of fire” (1:14) “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” (Hebrews 4:13)

Now, a lot has been made of the chastisement here to this church in past sermons and teachings on this passage. The charge is that they are “lukewarm” – they are basically going through the motions. They hold to the faith – for He is writing to believers, to the church – yet they are lukewarm in their heart attitude about Jesus.

G.K. Beale provides some helpful background:

Laodicea had two neighbors, Hierapolis and Colossae. Hierapolis had hot waters which possessed medicinal effects, while Colossae had cold water, which was also though to be healthy. Laodicea had no good water source, however, and it had to pipe it in. By the time it arrived, it was lukewarm and dirty – only fit for spitting out. In fact, it was generally held to be true in the ancient world that cold and hot water or wine were beneficial for one’s health, but not water which was lukewarm.[vi]

Of course Jesus’ reaction is brutal. He says He’d like to spit them out of His mouth!

It got me thinking – what is it that causes Christians to become lukewarm?

I think that constant trials, discouragement, lack of time in the Word of God, lack of prayer, and especially a forgetfulness of the privileges we have in the Gospel. Perhaps all of these things contribute to this state.

John Owen put it well, “Our greatest hindrance in the Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”[vii]

Christians become lukewarm when we forget the length to which Christ has gone to bring us life and joy. Contemplation on the Gospel of Christ so crucial for helping remind us all that we have in Christ. This is why I love the passage my discipleship group is working to memorize right now from the book of Titus:

For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:3-7)

This is one of the reasons why Paul resolved to preach nothing but Christ crucified (1 Cor. 1) – because if our foundation in life comes from ourselves, it’s easy to fall away. It’s easy enough to fall away when we believe all the right things! We need help – and we need to remember the Gospel.

Now, one other thing also pushes us away from God, and that is idolatry. That is more specifically what was going on with this particular group of people…

3:17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.

They were in this prosperous city, on two major trade routes, and they had everything they needed.

When we are weak, when we are sick, when we are desperately looking for a job – that’s when we turn to Jesus. That’s when we “get religion” isn’t it!

But how quickly we fall away under the weight and distraction of our comfortable lives.

The same thing happened to Israel, which is what Hosea was saying in his prophecy to them. Samuel Rutherford explains:

…that was in Hosea’s days (Hosea 2:14). “Therefore, behold I will allure her, and bring her to the wilderness and speak to her heart.” There was no talking to her heart while He and she were in the fair and flourishing city and at ease; but out in the cold, hungry, waste wilderness, He allureth her, He whispered in news into her ear there, and said, “Thou art mine.”

What was the solution?

3:18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see.

Jesus urges them to purchase refined gold, white garments, and salve for their eyes. To purchase the truth of His word, the purity of the work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit, and the gospel opening power of the Spirit so that they could see.

He describes His gospel as gold – and in many ways He is the true treasure, the true inheritance. He is the great prize, Amen? When we have Him we are rich beyond the measure of this world, we have consciences cleansed from all iniquity and we wear the righteousness of Jesus before the throne of God.

And as I mentioned before, it is only through the supernatural power of the Spirit of God that we are able to see the truth of these things.

I am reminded of the story of the blind man in who Jesus healed in John 9. After washing in the pool of Siloam he was not only able to see, but his whole life changed. His heart changed. It was evident that God was working within him.

That’s what we need; we need to see and to savor the Lord Jesus Christ. We need to see reality – and reality is that He is a great treasure.

3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. [20] Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.

I can’t tell you how often I’ve sat in sermon after sermon and heard this verse used as a plea to the unbeliever. That would be using this out of context. Jesus here is clearly speaking to believers. He begins by saying that “those whom I love” I will “reprove and discipline.”

God doesn’t reprove and discipline unbelievers – He lets them go their own way and in the final day will judge them by their deeds.

Later on here he closes the letter as He does all the other letters, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” Unbelievers don’t have ears to hear. Unbelievers don’t have eyes to see. Those things come from God the Holy Spirit.

Therefore He is speaking to believers here, and knowing this, what He says is all that much more precious. He reminds them that He loves them!

This is very much like what the author of Hebrews says in chapter twelve:

And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. [6] For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” [7] It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? [8] If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. [9] Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? [10] For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. [11] For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. (Hebrews 12:5-11)

And He is calling on them to “repent” – specifically to be zealous and repent. The idea here in being zealous is to snap out of the lukewarm condition He has found them in and act as a Christian ought to act – zealously! And in their zeal they are to humble themselves before the Lord and repent, with the promise that all who do will be once again restored to communion with our Lord. He will “eat with him.”

Eating with someone is an intimate form of communion. You’re guard is down. You’re relaxed. You’re enjoying food – and food is an emotional thing. People are connected to what they eat – they care about it, they spend tons of time preparing it, searching for the best restaurants, learning how to make good food, learning what they like to eat and so on. If you eat a bad meal it sort of angers you. When you eat with someone that is another level of fellowship with them.

And this is the aim of what Jesus is doing here. He is working to restore fellowship with mankind. He is reconciling them to Himself. He is bringing us into a loving relationship with God. All of this is part of His grand program of redemption, and recreation. Once we walked in the Garden with God, now He wants to walk with us through this life and forevermore after this. But fellowship with God requires holiness – it requires repentance. That is what God is calling on them, and on us, His children to do day by day.

3:21-22 The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. [22] He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

Jesus finishes the letter with another wonderful promise that is also grounded in the covenant of creation. Mankind was made to rule the earth, to represent God as His image bearers here on earth. He is now promises that we will reign with Him. This is a HUGE deal. And note what its all hinged upon – the fact that He has already conquered (the resurrection) and that He is already reigning even now.

You see, Revelation helps us understand that Jesus has indeed come into His kingdom, He is reigning now – not simply spiritually in the hearts and minds of believers, but over all the created order. His kingdom is not an ethereal idea that simply illumines our hearts and minds, it is a reality.

We are called to be faithful witnesses as He is faithful. Witnesses of an invisible kingdom, declaring that which is invisible to those who are blinded by their sin and desperately need to be reconciled to their Creator.

This requires faith that isn’t lukewarm. You see the incongruity here. Those who are concerned primarily with the treasure of this earth will never make a difference for the kingdom of God. And there is the challenge: let us rise out of our slothfulness, let us shed our old man with his desires for worldly possessions and gain. Let us repent, and put on the new man. Jesus is calling you Christian to repent for the express purpose of restoring you to Himself, both for your joy and His glory!

 

Footnotes

[i] According to manifold commentaries, but also summarized here: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/laodicea

[ii] John MacArthur, Commentary on Revelation Volume I, Pg. 135.

[iii] Ramsay, Pg.’s 422-423.

[iv] MacArthur, Pg. 135.

[v] Peter Gentry – this came from notes in my Bible’s margin, and I believe he said this at a Bunyan Conference in 2014.

[vi] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 91.

[vii] As quoted by Rev. Ian Hamilton: http://www.reformation-scotland.org.uk/articles/cross-of-christ.php

 

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Sunday evening I had the opportunity to deliver a short sermon on Hebrews 10:23-25 which was aimed at encouraging the church toward having an eternal perspective and how that perspective, along with the indicative of what Christ has done and who He is, ought to govern how we behave amongst the elect.  I hope you find these notes engaging and encouraging!

PJW

Hebrews 10:23-25

Stir One Another to Love and Good Works

Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. [24] And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, [25] 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. (Hebrews 10:23-25)

  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.
  2. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things:
    1. Stirring each other up to love and good works
    2. Meeting together regularly
    3. Encouraging one another
  3. Conclusion: Perspective is everything
  1. The foundation of our good works and our service to the body of Christ is the Lord Himself.

Hold Fast

We’re told here in verse 23 to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” He expresses the command in both positive (hold fast) and a negative (without wavering) terms.

What does it mean to “hold fast to the confession of our hope”?

In this passage, as in the rest of the book of Hebrews, the author’s words are dripping with eschatological richness. What do I mean by that? What I mean is that he always has the future in mind. Furthermore, he sees how Christ’s past work solidifies our future, and guides our present life. That is why he uses the word “hope” here. He is pointing us toward a future time when our hope will be realized.

This hope is ours now – otherwise it would not have made sense for him to tell us to hold fast to it – yet it will not be realized until the Lord returns.

This confession is our profession of faith in Christ and our identification with Him, and the entailment of riches that come to us by means of that confession.

As Calvin says, hope is the child of faith and “it is fed and sustained by faith to the end” (Hughes, pg. 414).

Therefore, we don’t simply confess His Lordship; we confess the hope we have because of His Lordship. Being a Christian comes with great cost, but it also comes with great reward. That reward is packed into the word “hope.”

What does it mean to not “waver”?

John Owen tells us that this generally means that our confession, our lives, must be “immovable and constant” and gives us four different ways in which we must not waver:

  1. No halting (going back and forth) between two opinions as the Israelites did between God an Baal. We must not waiver and be tossed back and forth doctrinally for convenience sake.
  2. No giving in to weakness and irresolution of mind when we encounter difficulties and trials.
  3. No yielding doctrinally or in worship to opinions which do not comport with our professed faith.
  4. No apostasy from the truth of the gospel.

The Imperative is Grounded in the Indicative

Now I want us to learn some theological grammar this evening. Let us note that in this first verse the apostle commands us to do one thing, and not do another thing, as we have just examined. We are to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering.” That command is called an “imperative.” When we tell someone to do something, we’re using the “imperative.”

But there is something sweet about living in the New Covenant and that is that as you read the New Testament you will notice that these commands, these “imperatives”, are always grounded in finished work of Christ.

When we talk about the finished work of Christ, and His character and Spirit and so forth, we are using phrasing that falls into another category, the “indicative.”

An easy way to remember this is that the indicative “indicates what Christ has done, what He is doing, and who He is.” At least that’s my theological shorthand!

So putting it all together: when we say that “the imperative is grounded in the indicative” we are saying that the commands we are given as Christians are always given in light of the finished work of Christ and His continuing work within us.

He is the rock upon which we rest our hope, and He is the one who is faithfully working within us to build His church. He is faithful therefore enabling US to be faithful.

Perhaps the most classic example of this is found in Philippians 2 where we read:

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

In one breath Paul calls them to work out their salvation with fear and trembling, and in the very same sentence tells that that it’s God who is doing the work within them!

We find the same thing here in Hebrews 10.

We are commanded to “hold fast” to our confession, but this obedience, this work of continuing to “hold fast” is made possible only by the faithful work of Jesus in our lives.

Therefore our foundation for obedience is the faithfulness of Christ Himself.

  1. We must respond to His faithfulness in-kind by doing three things: Stirring each other to love and good works, meeting together regularly, and encouraging one another.

Stirring each other up to love and good works

This “stirring” requires an intentional mindset toward interacting with one another. Not just “I’m going to say hi to him today.” But more along the lines of, “I want to find out how to encourage him today, to spur him/her on!”

In order to do this there is an unspoken prerequisite: you have to actually know each other well enough that you can do this is a meaningful way!

If you don’t know the needs, hurts, goal, desires of the men and women sitting in the pew next to you then you won’t be very good at stirring them up toward love and good works will you!

Secondly, before you can stir someone to love you must first stir with love. In other words, you can’t be much of encourager if your words aren’t governed by love. Paul said it best:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. [2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. [3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)

Meeting together regularly

The next thing we’re told to do is to “meet together regularly” – something we’re doing right now! But you know, there are some folks who fall into the trap of thinking that the don’t need to come to church because they’re already saved, and doing just fine on their own. They have their fire insurance.

In fact, there are some who are good Christians – using that term loosely – and they will tell you that they don’t need to attend church or Bible studies all the time because they read the Word on their own.

Philip Hughes accurately describes the problem here:

Selfishness and divisiveness go hand in hand; for self-love breed the spirit of isolationism. He who does not love his fellow Christians fervently from the heart (1 Peter 1:22) feels no compelling need to associate himself with them. Indeed, the genuineness of the Christian profession of a man in this state must be seriously suspect, for those who are one in Christ cannot help loving one another.

When Martin Luther sat down to translate the Bible from the Latin Vulgate into his native tongue – the common vernacular that everyone could read – there were some well-meaning friends of his who said this could be a major problem. And he didn’t rebuke them, in fact he agreed. But continued on because he believed that the blessings brought by the principle of private interpretation (the idea that every child of God should have access to the Word of God), were worth the risk of that principle being abused.

In isolation and without guidance wiser men of God, people come to all kinds of wacky conclusions about what God’s Word is saying. We need to have God’s shepherds guide us through His Word and fellow believers correct our misguided ideas sometimes.

Furthermore, in isolation we cannot serve each other or the poor in our community, we cannot worship God together, and we cannot enjoy the Lord’s table together and much more. Lone-wolf Christianity is foreign to the pages of Scripture.

It is vital – absolutely vital – that we meet together “regularly.”

Encouraging one another

When we meet together what is it that we should do? Well the author has an idea on that as well! We’re to “encourage one another.”

You know what this rules out? Slander and gossip. This is easy to do – especially with prayer requests. When we are such a close knit group, its frighteningly easy to throw each other under the proverbial bus, or talk rudely or insensitively about those whom we will spend eternity.

My Sunday School class took this into consideration early on in its formation. We wanted to be able to share prayer requests with each other, and yet we wanted to guard against slander and gossip. So at the end of our weekly prayer request email we’ve always included the following statement:

Please remember that as we share our prayers with one another, we do so because we are family, and we have the desire to lift each other up to our Father, and because we believe that our prayers are delightful to Him and He delights in listening to them and working powerfully through them. Please take our prayer emails as opportunities to enter into the presence of God on behalf of another person with whom you will be spending eternity. They are, quite literally, your family.  Please treat them as such, and avoid slander or gossip. Take your thoughts captive for Jesus Christ, and magnify the name of our great God and Father!

This is far from being the end-all-be-all solution, but it strikes a chord with folks and sets a tone. We need to remember who we’re talking about – these are brothers and sisters who we will spend eternity with.

In that vein, let’s read the final verse and conclude…

3. Conclusion: Perspective is Everything. We are doing all of these things “all the more as (we) see the Day drawing near.”

As Christians we need to have a sense of eternity. Our perspective needs to be calibrated through the lenses of Christ’s eyes. We have to have the “mind of Christ.” We know these things, we’ve heard the truths, but how often do we govern our actions based on a timeline that doesn’t end at 5pm on Friday? We section off our lives based on the calendar on our iPhones, instead of the eternal lifespan ahead of us.

How much easier would it be to share the gospel, stir each other up, encourage each other, and meet together if we governed our attitudes about such things based on a timeline that didn’t end at the beginning of the school year, or the end of the weekend (etc.)?

Christians ought to behave different because they have a different perspective. That is what the author of Hebrews is saying. Perspective rules our lives.

One of the things that fascinates me about the Biblical accounts of angels is their perspective.

We meet one such example when Gabriel visits Zachariah in the temple and tells him about how his wife Elizabeth is going to bear a child he is aghast at Zachariah’s reaction – unbelief. Here’s how he responds:

And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. [20] And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” (Luke 1:19-20)

Gabriel is saying “I was JUST in heaven before God’s throne. He’s gives me this message and you don’t believe me??? I mean, I was JUST there – in heaven – in the throne room!”

Christ’s perspective is also infinite. Listen to the account of when Jesus had risen from the grave and Mary mistook Him for the gardener:

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” (John 20:15)

It isn’t as though He is curious about the reason for her crying (see Gerhardus Vos sermon ‘Rabboni’). No. It’s that He’s just come from a party in heaven and what He encounters here is so out of step with reality that He’s taken aback! It’s as He’s saying, “Why in the world are you crying? It’s time to celebrate!”

These reactions are governed by a reality that we must apprehend by faith for the present time.

Therefore, we must behave, think, feel, and talk in such a way that takes into account the “Day of the Lord.”

Those thoughts, feelings, and speech must all be taken captive to the truth – the reality – of a perspective governed by an eternal timeframe.

Let us leave here with that perspective – this is just the start! Life is eternal! I will know each of you FOREVER! We will rule over this earth together FOREVER! How does that change your week, your day, your evening? And how does it change the way you interact with and speak about those here in the church?

Let us bear in mind the truth of what R.C. Sproul is prone to say, “Right now counts forever.”

Let’s pray…

Forgiveness and Repentance in Luke 5

Last week I had the privilege of teaching on a portion of Luke 5 that I found really challenging.  The authority of Jesus is clearly shining through the passage, and the response to His work is just as clear.  We simply can’t respond in a neutral way to this man.  If you look at what Jesus is saying, He’s clearly calling us to repent and follow.

I hope you enjoy the notes!

PJW

The Son of Man has Authority to Forgive You

5:17 On one of those days, as he was teaching, Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there, who had come from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with him to heal.

The Context

Now Jesus is still presumably in the region of the Galilee. In 5:1 we read that He was “standing by the Lake of Gennesaret” which is another name for the Sea of Galilee. Also in verse 12 it says the “he was in one of the cities, there came a man full of leprosy” and one can assume these cities being described are part of the Galilee region. We know He isn’t in Jerusalem, because verse 17 says that people came from every village of Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem. Therefore it seems safe to assume given these clues and the general flow of Luke’s gospel, that this passage occurs during the height of Jesus’ ministry as He walked around the small towns of the Galilee.

The Power of the Lord was with Him

In an important editorial note, Luke mentions that Jesus has been empowered with the Lord’s power to heal. This undoubtedly references the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus, and specifically in these days as He walked through the region of Galilee healing men and women by His words, and His touch.

I think its important to realize that Jesus was filled with the Spirit of God, and that throughout His ministry it was the Spirit who worked through Him to heal.

In fact, if we turn the Bibles back just one chapter we’ll read that Jesus began His ministry in a similar fashion:

And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and a report about him went out through all the surrounding country. (Luke 4:14 ESV)

And…

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. [17] And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, [18] “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, [19] to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:16-19)

This all serves as the context of Jesus’ ministry. He did nothing that could not be described as Spirit-driven.

Now, in the following two accounts I think we’re going to see two main overarching truths:

  1. Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.
  2. Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way, and the response He’s calling us to is repentance.

Now, the passage…

5:18-19 And behold, some men were bringing on a bed a man who was paralyzed, and they were seeking to bring him in and lay him before Jesus, [19] but finding no way to bring him in, because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the midst before Jesus.

For those who have grown up in the church this is likely a very familiar story. I remember the children’s church papers with the pictures of a man being lowered down through the roof of a small house – much to everyone’s amazement. In fact, when watching reenactments and movies on the scene, it always seemed like the people were more amazed at the fact that the friends lowered him down through the roof than what Jesus had to say!

How were they able to do this in the first place? Well, roofs were very often flat, and most were composed not of tile or concrete but of mud and grass. It would have been fairly easy to scrape away the mud from this roof and get their friend lowered inside. Furthermore, since these roofs were replaced (out of necessity) once a year (at least) it wouldn’t have been like they were destroying personal property in the way we would picture them doing so today.

5:20 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Recently I was in Israel and had the opportunity to interact with several folks of Jewish background as we toured around the country. One discussion about this passage came to the fore and our Israeli tour guide remarked that it was the faith of this man’s friends that must have saved him. And, upon a cursory reading, it may seem that this is so. But one only needs to take a scan of the entire NT as a whole to understand that it is the faith of the individual – not any representative – that saves.

And our passage here doesn’t preclude orthodoxy in the least. For Luke tells us that “when He say their faith” the word “their” is likely to include the man who is sick. In fact, it must include that man for the passage to make sense.

Jesus is moved by men and women who cast their hopes on Him. There was no misconception, denial, or kidding about the state of this man. He was paralyzed. His life was miserable, and a shadow of what it should have been. He didn’t live each day fooling himself into thinking he wasn’t paralyzed. His condition was obvious and desperate and he knew it well enough to do whatever was necessary to improve his lot.

It is this attitude of desperation, of holding nothing back, that moved the heart of our Savior.

5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?” [22] When Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answered them, “Why do you question in your hearts? [23] Which is easier, to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Rise and walk’? [24] But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”—he said to the man who was paralyzed—“I say to you, rise, pick up your bed and go home.”

What is the issue here? Why are the Pharisees so upset? Because this man Jesus was claiming to be able to forgive sins. It’s one thing to heal a man using medicine. In fact, its something great if a prophet heals a man with power from God Himself! But – BUT – it is another thing entirely for that prophet, for that mortal man, to arrogate to himself that which only belongs to God.

This man Jesus, this dude from Nazareth, this carpenter’s son, just uttered blasphemy, they say. And…they would be right, wouldn’t they? It is wrong for any man to claim for himself the ability or privilege or right to forgive someone else’s sins. Who made them the judge, or the arbiter? Who wronged them that they might extend forgiveness? What business is it of theirs?

All of these are valid concerns if —- IF —- Jesus isn’t who He said He was.

However, Jesus’ actions and word prove His identity. This is a man who – while they question His right to divine judgment – exhibits divine knowledge by READING THEIR MINDS!

There should have been sirens going off at this point. Red flags ought to have been hoisted before their tired synapses.

For this is how God would also prove in the OT that He was indeed God. He was show His superiority over idols, for instance, by explaining His divine omniscience and then calling on the block of wood to do the same. Here’s an example from Isaiah:

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob. [22] Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come. [23] Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified. [24] Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. [25] I stirred up one from the north, and he has come, from the rising of the sun, and he shall call upon my name; he shall trample on rulers as on mortar, as the potter treads clay. [26] Who declared it from the beginning, that we might know, and beforehand, that we might say, “He is right”? There was none who declared it, none who proclaimed, none who heard your words. [27] I was the first to say to Zion, “Behold, here they are!” and I give to Jerusalem a herald of good news. [28] But when I look, there is no one; among these there is no counselor who, when I ask, gives an answer. [29] Behold, they are all a delusion; their works are nothing; their metal images are empty wind. (Isaiah 41:21-29)

Jesus says in effect, “I know your thoughts and I am endowed by divine prerogative to forgive whomever I will. In fact I can do so in whatever way I will. I can say whatever words I wish. It’s not in the words, its in my superior authority and will that whatever I should wish to come to pass does simply because I think it to be so.”

THAT is why the Pharisees are mistaken. They didn’t realize they were talking to GOD in the flesh.

5:25-26 And immediately he rose up before them and picked up what he had been lying on and went home, glorifying God. [26] And amazement seized them all, and they glorified God and were filled with awe, saying, “We have seen extraordinary things today.”

There are two important fruits we see in the lives of those touched by Jesus. First, men whose lives have been changed by Jesus are obedient to Him. They don’t slave under His law, but rejoice to obey His Word. Secondly, they give glory to the God who brought them out of darkness and into marvelous light. God deserves glory for His work in our lives.

This is exactly what we see in these two verses.

The first thing this man does is “immediately” rise up and obey the Lord Jesus. This is indicative of all believers who come to love the Lord Jesus. This man is a picture – a physical picture – of what happens in the hearts and minds of men who are born again by His Spirit.

Obedience is the fruit of regeneration. Those who love Jesus love His law. They hear the Master calling and they are quick to obey. Why would this man not obey? Jesus has done more than He could ever ask. The first command he receives, therefore, he obeys!

Secondly, when God does something in our lives and the lives of those around us it is right to marvel. It is right to praise Him and to be amazed.

In verse 26 it says that “amazement seized them all” – and their reaction is to give glory to God.

SIDENOTE: One of the ways you can easily recognize a false prophet comes in whether or not they give glory to God or take the credit for themselves. Tragically, history is full of men like Mohammed who elevated themselves to a point far beyond what is Biblical or appropriate. The results have been devastating – hundreds of millions populate Hell’s cauldrons who once thought Mohammed something grand. Such will be the fate of any who fail to recognize the Son as Supreme and repent before Him.

All you whose lives have been touched by Jesus rejoice and give Him glory, for as Fanny Crosby said in her hymn ‘To God be the Glory’:

Great things He hath taught us, great things He hath done,
And great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
But purer, and higher, and greater will be
Our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see.

Now, onto our last section…

5:27-32 After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” [28] And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. [29] And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. [30] And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” [31] And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. [32] I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

What Jesus knew about the physical state of the paralytic He also saw in the heart of the tax collector Levi. The paralytic was a physical example of the disastrous condition of mankind. Since the fall our lives have been marred by sin – both physically and spiritually.

Each of these hemispheres of decay are represented for us in the passage above – both illustrating man’s need, and Jesus’ solution.

I mentioned before that there are two key points we have to take away from this passage, and I’ll bring your attention back to them now:

First…Jesus is Lord of all and has the authority to heal bodies and forgive sins because He is the Son of Man.

The Son of Man has the ability to look inside your mind – He knows your evil thoughts. He knows your selfishness. He knows your crookedness, your stinginess, your self-righteousness. He knows it all. Because He has the power to know it all. He is God. But He also has the ability to forgive it all.

In fact, if you’re here tonight at this prayer meeting/Bible study, you are most likely a Christian. One of the beautiful truths about the Christian faith is that we worship a God who wants to forgive us. This is the overriding characteristic of this passage is it not?

Look at the contrast between the world as represented by the Pharisees, and God who is the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus’ heart is forever bent toward seeking and saving the lost. That was us – it could be you! The Pharisees are like the world – they grumble when you are saved, they grumble when you are satisfied in Christ, they grumble when your guilt melts away like ice cream on a hot summer day! They HATE that you’re forgiven and have the gift of peace in your life. They hate that you’ve found peace and a hope for tomorrow.

Not Christ – His heart is ever on your spiritual well being. He is calling, He is tugging, He is nurturing, He is pleading with you. He invites men like you and me to come and surrender and be healed.

Which leads us to the Second point…Jesus’ mission on earth wasn’t neutral – it’s impossible for us to encounter Jesus and not respond in some way. You can’t read this story and just say “well, that’s interesting.” It doesn’t work that way.

Well what kind of response does a Christian have to this? What do you think? When you read about these men who are healed and who dine with Jesus, what is your heart telling you? What did Jesus tell them? How did He tell them to respond? What was it about them that was similar?

These men couldn’t have been more different. One’s rich, one’s poor. One’s a powerful tax collector, the other is a weak and lowly member of society. One probably has no true friends (since he’s seen as a traitor to his people), the other has friends close enough to do whatever it takes to help him. The common characteristic is this: They both had a humble and repentant heart.

Jesus is calling us to the same. He’s calling us to repentance: “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

Conclusion

If you are here tonight and are a Christian, you need to remember what Christ has done for you – you were the paralytic, you were the tax collector. You were DEAD. You were lost. You were bound for Hell, friend.

John Owen sums up the problem we have so well:

How can we possibly believe the promises concerning Heaven, immortality, and glory, when we do not believe the promises concerning our present life? And how can we be trusted when we say we believe these promises but make no effort to experience them ourselves? It is just here that men deceive themselves. It is not that they do not want the Gospel privileges of joy, peace and assurance, but they are not prepared to repent of their evil attitudes and careless life-styles. Some have even attempted to reconcile these things and ruined their souls. But without the diligent exercise of the grace of obedience, we shall never enjoy the graces of joy, peace and assurance.

We need to be like that paralytic in our walk with Christ. Obey – immediately obey. Rejoice for what He has done in your life, take up that bed, and get to work – go live life and share eternal life with others. Unless you are too ashamed…to which Paul says this:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. [17] For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:16-17)

The mark of a Christian is grateful obedience and surrender. It is the realization that you would be bound for eternal Hell had Jesus not supernaturally said to your heart, “follow me.”

Let us search our hearts tonight and repent of our lackluster faith. Let us rekindle the gratitude we once had for our Savior and diligently seek to obey Him each day.

Pressing on To Maturity

For the last two weeks I’ve been preaching a message from Hebrews 5 and 6 to several different churches.  Below are my notes on this passage and I hope you enjoy them!  I would just add a disclaimer that they are my raw preaching notes.  So not every thought is written long-form, there are several footnotes with other thoughts at the bottom, and everything is in bullet form.  It this doesn’t turn you off, then I hope you are able to enjoy the study!

PJW

Press On Toward Maturity

Hebrews 5:8-6:3

Personal Note and Background

This series of verses has had an outsized impact on my own life and walk with the Lord. It was these verses that God used to spur me on to learn more, to read more, to draw closer to the Lord and to teach what I learn to others.  When I read this passage several years ago I thought  (rightly) that “I can’t teach anyone now”, but realized that my inability wasn’t God telling me not to teach, but rather it was Him calling me to learn and grow closer to Him in obedience in order to teach when the time presented itself.

The hallmark of this text is a warning to believers not to live their lives as introverted and covetous people.  We are to be people marked by inward heart transformation and a mind renewed in the knowledge of God, which we can readily share with others.

As Moses says, this Word of God is our “very life” – surely it is worthy of our attention today.

The Text: Hebrews 5:8-6:3

 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. [9] And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him, [10] being designated by God a high priest after the order of Melchizedek. About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. [12] For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, [13] for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. [14] But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. 6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, [2] and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. [3] And this we will do if God permits.

I want us to focus on 3 Key Points we must take away from this passage, which we will see rise up again and again in our reading today:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

The Biblical Theology

What the author of Hebrews says here, is not an isolated teaching, but reflects what we see throughout the Scriptures from the immutable plans of God for his image bearers, namely that God desires for us to know Him more intimately and to repent of the sin that hinders us from doing so:

And when Moses had finished speaking all these words to all Israel, [46] he said to them, “Take to heart all the words by which I am warning you today, that you may command them to your children, that they may be careful to do all the words of this law. [47] For it is no empty word for you, but your very life, and by this word you shall live long in the land that you are going over the Jordan to possess.” (Deuteronomy 32:45-47 ESV)[i]

One generation shall commend your works to another,
and shall declare your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of your majesty,
and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
They shall speak of the might of your awesome deeds,
and I will declare your greatness.
(Psalm 145:4-6 ESV)
 

“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, [19] and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. (Isaiah 66:18-19)

***Isaiah clearly has an eschatological purpose here, and I will talk later about how Paul sees God’s glory as currently mediated through the Bible (2 Cor. 3:18)

It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me— (John 6:44-45)

***Jesus connects knowing God soteriologically and says it’s the results of His Spirit’s work within us

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. [14] He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. [15] All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:13-15)

***The work of learning from God the Spirit ultimately brings Him glory, and is His plan for us

And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, [10] so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, [11] filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9-11)

From the law, wisdom literature, the prophets, our Lord Himself, as well as the Apostle Paul, there has been a call to deepen our knowledge of the Almighty, His ways and His Son, and to lean on His Spirit’s power in order to shine that light[ii] of knowledge to all nations[iii] as well as with our own families and friends.

The Situation/Context – 5:8-10

Now as we look again to the context of today’s passage, let’s once again examine verses 8-10.  The Author is expounding on some deep Christological truths – mostly pertaining to the Priesthood of Jesus – that required a foundational understanding already in place.  We just need to glean a few things to understand the context…

    1. That Jesus, though divine, was fully man and “learned” obedience – vs. 8
    2. That Jesus was perfectly righteous and that righteousness enabled him to be our source for righteousness and salvation – the very fountainhead from which we would derive our right standing before a holy God – vs. 9
    3. That these things contributed to the fact that Jesus is a priest, not an ordinary priest, but one “after the order of Melchizedek” which is an order both eternal and personal in type. There are many OT types but Melchizedek was the only type who represented not simply the offices of Christ (Messiah, King, Shepherd etc.), but also his person (eternal, and without father or mother).

–       Needless to say these great truths – these are deep truths – and they aren’t going to make a whole lot of sense to someone still stuck on the basics.  One cannot understand or appreciate the need for Christ’s imputed righteousness, the importance of His being fully man, the significance of Christ’s non-Levitical (and eternal) priesthood, or the typological significance of this enigmatic character Melchizedek if one is still learning the basic truths upon which these are built.[iv]

And so he stops and levels this charge against them (read verses 11-12) 

CHARGE #1 – Dull of Hearing – 5:11-12

–       As we read in verses 11 and 12 its almost as if the author stops mid course as he extolls the virtues of these great truths pertaining to Christ, and has to stop and say, ‘you know, I’d go on here, but its obvious that you aren’t ready for it – even though I have “much to say” still!’   He’s stymied by the stagnation of these church members.

–       They ought to be teachers but instead they need someone to still teach them the basics. They come to church every week and never apply their minds past the elementary truths.  They have regressed.[v] They have become “dull of hearing.” (nōthros – “no-thross” – slow, sluggish[vi], indolent, dull, languid)

–       This is not saying they ought all to be teachers in the sense we have today as one called to preach, but rather they must be able to convey their beliefs to others – this is at the heart of “making disciples” (Matt. 28).

–       John Owen rightly explains that this charge against them isn’t aimed at their being slow mentally, or having a learning disability.  His charge is a moral charge “you treasure not them up in your hearts, consciences, and memories, but let them slip out, and forget them” says Owen.  He continues “The natural dullness of our minds in receiving spiritual things, is, it may be, included; but it is our depraved affections, casting us on a neglect of our duty, that is condemned.”

–       Therefore the principle problem here is not primarily an intellectual one, nor is it a communication problem on the part of the Apostle, rather it is primarily a problem within the hearts of these Hebrews, and within our own hearts as well.

–       “By nature the hearts of all people are dull and insensitive to the things of God, nor are people genuinely interesting in hearing and seeing what God has to say to them (Matt. 13:15). Mark emphasizes that the same malady afflicts the disciples.  They suffered from hard hearts that resisted the revelation of God in Jesus (Mark 6:52; 8:17, 21). They failed to grasp the significance of Jesus’ teaching, and their failure cannot be attributed merely to intellectual incapacity.” – Thomas Schreiner[vii]

–       In short, the sins of pride, covetousness and possibly laziness are to blame.  We love the world more than we love God.  We love Monday night football more than we love reading the Scripture. We love our hobbies more than our conversations with the Lord.  And where we spend our time and money is an accurate reflection of where our affections truly lie.

–       Matthew Henry says, “It is a sin and shame for persons that are men for their age and standing in the church to be children and babes in understanding”

–       This is why James rightly says, “Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:21 ESV)

–       We must also not misunderstand and think that the “elementary truths” are not precious, that is not what the author is stating.[viii]

–       The basics of the gospel are the foundation for understanding greater mysteries appertaining to the gospel, and to what the author is getting at here, namely the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ, and in this context, His priesthood.

–       Thus to be “DULL OF HEARING” is to have hearts loaded down with other matters – worldly matters, and minds that are clouded with other priorities. These are sins that block the blood flow and clot the arteries of our faith, causing our thirst for the knowledge of God to dry up.

–       We need hearts whose desires are to follow hard after Christ, not spend endless years on spiritual life support!

And why is this?  Because you are “unskilled in the word of righteousness”

CHARGE #2 – Unskilled in the Word of Righteousness – 5:13-14a

–       Philip Hughes writes, “The author is now seeking, as it were, to wean them from the debility of the milk-stage, into which they have sunk back, and bring them on to the solid diet of the doctrine of the high priesthood of Christ, who, as their Melchizedeck, is the King of Righteousness (7:1).”

–       When the author describes the “mature” the Greek word is teleios (tel-ay-oss), which has the idea of something brought to its end, completeness, it is perfect, it is fully grown, it is consummated.

–       The immature are “unskilled” in the word of righteousness.  They don’t know how to handle their Bible, and consequently they are not living a life in accordance with God’s will – they aren’t pressing on toward “completeness” (Phil. 3:12)[ix]

–       This admonition comes in the context of learning, therefore the call is for God’s children to have discernment about sound teaching and a developed taste for the sweetness of God’s Word.

o   Children have a taste for simple foods, simple drinks, and simple deserts.  Adults, however, desire couscous, cappuccino, and Crème Brulee – not peanut butter, apple juice, and popsicles.

–       NOW there are consequences to being “unskilled” in the Word of God. When you are lazy in your learning, you hurt the body of Christ and cause other people (and yourself) pain in at least two ways:

1. You use the Sword of the Word in an unwieldy way and lead others astray, therefore causing great pain and spreading sour milk (to use the author’s dairy term) around the church.

2. You are completely impotent as a comforter to those who are hurting, in need of wisdom, or exhortation.  This means you cannot effectively correct and guide your children, encourage your wife, lead others in a Bible study, or share with those in pain. You’ve essentially benched yourself

–       The “mature” have a right knowledge of God resulting in the ability to discern between good and evil in all things. This “discerning” is shorthand for living in such a way that reflects God’s work within you – it means loving others and God, and is the result of a renewed mind and transformed heart.

–       Being able to discern between good and evil, then, is the fruit of a life transformed by God.  It is the evidence of faith, and the outward reality of a changed heart within us.[x]   And it is God’s prerogative to use the instrument of His Word and Spirit to do this.

But how is that achieved? How is it said that we obtain this discernment?

The Remedy: Discernment Attained by “Constant Practice” – 5:14b

–       Here we learn how this discernment is achieved: by constant practice.  This means, no doubt, that we must be continually abiding in the Word of God if we’re to grow closer to God, and live out lives transformed by God’s Spirit.

–       We would do well to examine what Paul says about the nature of “renewing our minds” and the close connection between being “renewed” and the ability to “discern the will of God.”

o   “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

–       Therefore, the discerning Christian/growing Christian is marked by time in Scripture and prayer. We must immerse ourselves in Scripture Reading, Scripture Memorization, Scripture meditation, and prayer.[xi]  We must inculcate His truths into our minds and lives.

–       This means a real application of our time, energy, and even finances to learning the deep things of God. [xii]

–       Let me suggest then that you do a few practical things:

o   Read the Word Daily: spend time taking in several chapters of the word each day.  This is more than simply one or two verses.

o   Memorize Scripture:[xiii] Chuck Swindoll says, “I know of no other single practice in the Christian life more rewarding, practically speaking, than memorizing Scripture. . . . No other single exercise pays greater spiritual dividends! Your prayer life will be strengthened. Your witnessing will be sharper and much more effective. Your attitudes and outlook will begin to change. Your mind will become alert and observant. Your confidence and assurance will be enhanced. Your faith will be solidified”

o   Extended Times of Prayer: Praying for 30-60 min. greatly increases our love of time with the Lord and grows us in unexpected ways.

o   Read Good Christian Authors: Many of us spend our time reading all fiction, or all one field or another.  We need to be diverse in our reading, but first and foremost we need to read good Christian authors (I’m not talking TD Jakes or Joel Olsteen), slowly working our way up to deeper more mature reading.  Start with the modern day Christian classics: Packer’s ‘Knowing God’, Sproul’s ‘Holiness of God’, Piper’s ‘Desiring God’, Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’, and Schaeffer’s ‘True Spirituality’.

–       Furthermore, it is the universal witness of Scripture that calls attention to ITSELF as the instrument by which God changes us and blesses us with a closer knowledge of Him: Consider just a few examples…

o   David begins the Psalms with this important exhortation, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; [2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. [3] He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

o   And Paul writes in 2 Corinthians the following, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)

–       We behold that “glory” today by reading the Word of God.  The glory of God is mediated through the written Word of God and effectively applied to our hearts by the Spirit of God. This is what transforms us by “constant practice.”

–       Matthew Henry rightly states, “The word of God is food and nourishment to the life of grace: As new born babes desire the sincere milk of the word that you may grow thereby.

–       And yet again, we must read as much with our hearts as with our minds, applying both to the task.  As C.H. Spurgeon says:

o   “If you had a New Testament in Greek it would be very Greek to some of you, but it would do you as much good to look at that as it does to look at the English New Testament unless you read with understanding heart.”[xiv]

And so now you see the thrust of what we’re getting at here.  We have a heart problem when it comes to learning about God and it is only through the implanted Word and by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are changed and transformed. And that leads the Apostle to his final exhortation…

The Exhortation – 6:1-2

–       “Leave” here does not mean “forsake”, for the author clarifies by stating “not laying again a foundation”, in other words you need to start building on the foundation.

–       Imagine a home where the builders laid the foundation, got the plumbing and electrical set in, built the cement blocks structure and decided to take a break…for a few years!  The structure is exposed to the elements until the rest of the house can be built upon it. Rain hits it. Snow sits upon it in winter…and the heat of the sun bakes it in the summer.  Left as it is, water creeps into crevices and freezes, thereby expanding and cracking the cement blocks. The process repeats itself over and over, until finally decay starts to take place.  So the construction crew has to come and rebuild the foundation again.  What the author of Hebrews is saying is that these men and women in the church had let that foundation rot and deteriorate over and over and over.  They just kept on rebuilding!  The outline was already in place; they’d done it before.  No problem, just replace those blocks!  We need to build upon the foundation, not become so complacent in our learning that that we’re stuck in a perpetual process of groundbreaking!!!

–       This is not to say that we don’t cherish the foundation, of course. For we continually point people to the foundation points of the gospel – and we too need to be continually reminded about them and revel in their glories![xv]  However, we build upon this foundation in order to plumb the deeper mysteries and glories of Christ.[xvi] 

–       At the heart of the Spirit’s work within us is His desire for us to know Christ more. Not to move on from the Gospel, but to better understand and appreciate the profundity of it glory.

–       We are called to “go on toward maturity”, to bring to fullness that which God has started within us.  We do not do this in our flesh, but in cooperation with His Holy Spirit who applies the Word we read to our hearts (which I will mention more in just a minute)

–       Therefore we must be continually putting ourselves in a position to learn more, to hear the Word more, to pray more.  These are the meat and potatoes of the Christian life!  It is in these things that “solid food” is apprehended and consumed.

Finally, the Apostle does not stop with this exhortation, but goes on to deliver a comforting reminder (read verse 3)

 

The Reminder: God is Sovereign – 6:3

–       Along with the exhortation, the author delivers an indicative statement about the character of God.  You see, God never gives commands (imperatives) without first laying the foundation for the ability to obey those commands.  This ability, this foundation, is always grounded in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of God the Spirit working within us.

–       Verse 3 reminds us that all we do, all we strive for, is done by both the permission and the power of God.  He is the one who is cleansing our hearts and renewing our minds and He will give us the faith to press on, and the discernment to do His will. For as Paul says:

o   “Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. [2] For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. [3] For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3a)

–       Furthermore, we can rest in the fact that it is God – the all powerful – who is working within us.  Yet we are exhorted to obey, and held responsible as new creations to work toward holiness.  For as Paul says elsewhere:

 o   Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, [13] for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.  (Philippians 2:12-13)

–       Therefore we note once again that God desires for us to know Him.  And it is His working in and through us that will help us do so.  Yet we as Christians are responsible to seek His face, to confess our sins, to pray and ask the Lord to change the desires of our hearts and conform our will to His in order that we might be able to discern what is right and that from a changed heart and a renewed mind, we will please and honor Him.

 

Conclusion

And so in all of this we again see the three things I mentioned above:

  1. God’s desire and purpose for His image bearers is that we know Him. This call is especially so for believers who have been united to Christ
  2. Our growth in maturity is blocked not merely by intellectual issues, but by sin and love of the world, indicating a serious heart issue
  3. God calls us to press on toward maturity in the strength He has given: in prayerful reading and studying of His Word, asking for and depending on God’s help for our increased spiritual growth

My message today has been mostly aimed at those who profess the lordship of Jesus Christ and are followers and believers in His name.  However, if you have been listening to this message and feel a stirring in your heart to know God, then I would implore you to seek Him while He may be found.  Act on that conviction and surrender your heart to His call.  We are all sinners, we have all acted against the law of God which has been emblazoned on our consciences.  We know right from wrong, yet we have spurned the Lord and Creator of all that is right.  All men will one day give account for their behavior during this life.  Only in repentance and faith in Jesus are you able to be saved from the consequences of your sin.  Jesus not only promises (and delivers) forgiveness, He promises and gives a healed heart and transformed life to those who call on Him and believe in His name.  You must trust yourself, your heart and your soul and your entire life to His command.  If you have come to a point where you realize the condemning nature of your sin, and the need for salvation, then I urge you to surrender and be forgiven and receive eternal life in the name of Jesus.

For those of you who have heard this message and are followers of Christ, I urge you to take this calling seriously and work out your salvation with fear and trembling. Realize that God is calling you not to a life of intellectual boredom, but to a renewed mind and transformed heart — a mind which sees terrors as joys and trials as blessings.  A mind and heart that look through the gray havens of today to the eternal riches of His presence in heaven.

We can do this, as Christians, by prayerful meditation on the Word of God.  By asking God to change our hearts’ desires to match that of His Son’s.  By continual “hearing of the Word” and submitting your lives joyfully to its teaching.  This will bring you both peace and joy and give you great strength when all else seems to fail.

None of this can be done alone, can it?  That is why we have the fellowship of the church.  And so I admonish you to stir up one another toward good works, toward meditation on the word, toward times of prayer together, and apart.  That you will together as a congregation seek the face of the Lord with all diligence.

We will do this with His great help, and with David we say:

Oh give thanks to the LORD; call upon his name; make known his deeds among the peoples! [9] Sing to him, sing praises to him; tell of all his wondrous works! [10] Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice! [11] Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! [12] Remember the wondrous works that he has done, his miracles and the judgments he uttered, [13] O offspring of Israel his servant, children of Jacob, his chosen ones! (1 Chronicles 16:8-13) 

 

[i] This is also seen in Exodus 33:11, 17 and 18.  Moses is talking to God and God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name” (vs. 17). This follows close on the heels of verse 11 which stated, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend…” So what we see is that God has initiated a personal relationship with Moses (keep in mind this is in the Old Testament, for those of you who think God has somehow changed and is more loving and personal now because of Jesus).  Moses’ reaction is what our reaction ought to be when God changed our heart, “Please show me your glory” (vs. 18b).  Moses’ reaction is “I want to know you more!”  That is the proper reaction toward a God who has entered into a personal relationship with us!

[ii] (Is. 49:6, 60:3)

[iii] Matthew 5:16; Acts 13:47

[iv] Owen is right to cite 1 Corinthians 2 which says, “It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—[46] not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:45-46).  Paul then goes on to say, “ [10] these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10)

[v] Hughes makes a wonderful point that the fact that they have “become” dull of hearing means that at one point they were not dull, they have regressed.  Therefore it is not a mental, or intellectual issue he’s dealing with, nor is it a communication problem with what the author is saying to them, rather it is a problem of the heart.

[vi] In the Reformation Study Bible R.C. Sproul says, “The Greek word translated “dull” reappears in 6:12 (translated as “sluggish”), suggesting that the danger of spiritual laziness is in view throughout this section.

[vii] This quote from Schreiner is from his New Testament Biblical Theology, Page 512.

[viii] These are foundational truths, as John MacArthur says, “the phrase is equivalent to the gospel of salvation by faith rather than works.

[ix] Again we see the call to Spiritual maturity, which is more than simply “intellectual sophistication” (Sproul). And while none of us will reach our “completeness” in this life, yet we agree with Paul who says, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Philippians 3:12)

[x] As Paul says, “the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.” (2 Cor. 2:15-16a)

[xi] I like what Tony Reinke says on reading through the Bible in a year, “Reading the Bible from cover to cover in 2013 is a noble goal. And it’s a goal that positions us well to commune with God. Keep communion as your aim, and remember the words of Scripture are there for us to know God’s heart, to commune with the Living Christ, and to respond appropriately to his beauty and to his voice.”  The thing this passage really stresses as a result of diving deep in the word of God is the ability to have discernment between what is good and what is bad (vs. 14).  But there are obviously many other benefits to spending time in God’s word, which flow from a renewed mind, and a transformed heart.  Here’s the link: http://www.desiringgod.org/blog/posts/why-we-read-the-bible

[xii] I don’t know where to put this, or if it really even fits in, but there is such a stark contrast between our own affections and those of the angels in Zechariah 3.  Here we see that they are completely obsessed with adorning Joshua (the High Priest at the time) with the best robe etc. in order that God will be pleased.  Their minds are continually thinking “how can I please God in my actions?”  They are obsessed with that!  So also was the Apostle Paul.  When you take the entire corpus of his work, his writing, you’ll see a man so transfixed on Jesus that in order to summarize his entire mission to the Corinthians he says that he resolved to know nothing else but Christ and Him crucified.  Christ permeates Paul’s writing to such an extent that it would be impossible to read around it.  Paul’s entire lens of thinking was seen through the Lordship prism of Jesus.  Jesus was all to him.  So should it be with us – but this means we must have hearts that are desirous of this and not simply our own obsessions and hobbies.  Everything must play the servant to Christ. All desires and all hobbies, all people and all family must be His second fiddle.

[xiii] Dallas Willard, professor of Philosophy at the University of Southern California, wrote, “Bible memorization is absolutely fundamental to spiritual formation. If I had to choose between all the disciplines of the spiritual life, I would choose Bible memorization, because it is a fundamental way of filling our minds with what it needs. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth. That’s where you need it! How does it get in your mouth? Memorization” (“Spiritual Formation in Christ for the Whole Life and Whole Person” in Vocatio, Vol. 12, no. 2, Spring, 2001, p. 7). http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-memorize-scripture

[xiv] He says a ton of great things here.  Just a few sentences later Spurgeon goes on to say, “It is the spirit, the real inner meaning, that is sucked into the soul, by which we are blessed and sanctified. We become saturated with the Word of God, like Gideon’s fleece, which was wet with the dew of heaven; and this can only come to pass by our receiving it into our minds and hearts, accepting it as God’s truth, and so far understanding it as to delight in it. We must understand it, then, or else we have not read it aright.”   http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1503.htm

[xv] Peter O’Brien says it well, “the author is not suggesting that they should leave behind the gospel for some form of deeper or fuller instructions for initiates. There is no proposal here that the listeners should abandon these basic truths. Indeed, the author reminds them of some of the essential elements of the foundation by immediately listing them. His point is that they are not to lay again the basis of elementary teaching, but to make progress by building on it. The solid food they need is a development of the themes of repentance and faith, resurrection from the dead and eternal judgment’, in the light of the author’s exposition of the high priesthood of Christ.”

[xvi] In the context of Hebrews 5 the call is to understand better the mystery of the priesthood of Christ.

Practical Implications of Union with Christ

The Practical Implications of Union with Christ

I wanted to write a short blog post about the nature of “union with Christ” and its practical ramifications.  The doctrine is so profound that I’m not sure it is possible to write a short blog post about this and do it justice!  But my goal is not to lay out a complex doctrine, but rather offer encouragement to the saints, because I agree with John Owen when he stated:

Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.

My brief thoughts fall under two headings:

  1. Because of Union with Christ we have lost everything
  2. Because of Union with Christ we have gained everything 

We’ve Lost Everything

Jesus makes it pretty clear that when we follow Him we are leaving everything behind (Mark 8:36, Luke 9:60) – and that “everything” may seem like a lot at first blush.  But the Spirit clearly gives us eyes to see that what was formerly “everything” is really rubbish.

As Paul said, “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8).

That “rubbish” is first and foremost our sin.  We leave that behind when we’re saved – we’ve lost all the guilt of our past deeds.  We have nothing of that past life to hang onto and have been completely freed from the punishment due to us (Romans 6).

We’ve also, secondarily, lost our desires for the things the world has to offer. This is not the instant transaction that occurs at justification, rather it is part of the slow process of sanctification. It is the change of our desires.  It is the subordination of all other earthly goals to one higher goal: the know Christ – as Paul mentioned above.

By nature of our union with Christ, we begin to have His mind because we are filled with His Spirit.  The practical upshot is that the football game may not seem as exciting or worthwhile as reading Scripture or spending time at church.  Wow…that seems odd.  Pretty much.  But after a few years I guarantee that you’ll look around at your life and begin to see a fundamental reorganization of your priorities – not because you “feel it’s the right thing” from legalistic duty (I hope not!), but simply because your own desires have changed.  This comes from the Spirit and from beholding Christ (2 Cor. 3:18) – you are united with Him…and that has implications.

We’ve Gained Everything

By nature of our union with Christ we stand to gain everything.  Jonathan Edwards remarks upon this eloquently (though its old English so bear with him):

By virtue of the believer’s union with Christ, he doth really possess all things. That we know plainly from Scripture. But it may be asked, how [doth] he possess all things? What is he the better for it? How is a true Christian so much richer than other men? To answer this, I’ll tell you what I mean by “possessing all things.”

I mean that God three in one, all that he is, and all that he has, and all that he does, all that he has made or done—the whole universe, bodies and spirits, earth and heaven, angels, men and devils, sun moon [and] stars, land and sea, fish and fowls, all the silver and gold, kings and potentates as well as mean men—are as much the Christian’s as the money in his pocket, the clothes he wears, or the house he dwells in, or the victuals he eats; yea more properly his, more advantageously more his, than if he [could] command all those things mentioned to be just in all respects as he pleased at any time, by virtue of the union with Christ; because Christ, who certainly doth thus possess all things, is entirely his: so that he possesses it all, more than a wife the share of the best and dearest husband, more than the hand possesses what the head doth; it is all his.

But it is certain, so much shall the true Christian possess all things; ’tis not a probable scheme, but absolutely certain.[i]

I think that the reality as well as the practical outgrowth of this is difficult for us to comprehend.  But we know that because Christ rules over all things, we have assurance that we too will one-day rule with Him.

The idea of ruling with God’s Son is so far removed from the daily beat-down that life offers emotionally, physically, spiritually and so forth, that I think its worthwhile on a Saturday morning to step back and rejoice in these realities, and the hope which is to come.

The practical implications are not all future, however.  They extend into the present day.  The one I’d like to leave with you is that because of our union with Christ we are completely unassailable before God’s throne.  The Devil may accuse all he wants to no avail.  This morning this was brought home to me powerfully once again by Tullian Tchividjian.  Tchividjian quotes Luther and then adds on an eloquent rejoinder:

“So when the devil throws your sins in your face and declares that you deserve death and hell, tell him this: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell, what of it? For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction on my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is there I shall be also!’” (Martin Luther).

Well may the Accuser roar, of sins that I have done; I know them all and thousands more, Jehovah knoweth none![ii]

The Mission of the Spirit

Below are my notes for John 15:21-27 which chiefly pertain to the mission of the Holy Spirit here on earth.  I hope you find these edifying and encouraging!

PJW

15:21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.

Jesus is saying that people will persecute His followers for a specific reason – that reason is because they have no fear of God.  If their hearts believed that Jesus was sent by God the Father, then they would not have persecuted Him, nor would they persecute us.

So the problem, Jesus is saying, is not that they don’t believe in God.  The problem is their lack of believe in me. They don’t believe that I am who I say I am. Therefore, you will be seen in that same light.

The Apostle Paul was a man whose life was heavily impacted by this truth.  And he explains for us the situation in this extended quote from 2 Corinthians 4:

Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:1-6)

15:22 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin. 23 Whoever hates me hates my Father also. 24 If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin, but now they have seen and hated both me and my Father. 25 But the word that is written in their Law must be fulfilled: ‘They hated me without a cause.’

It is not that Jesus is saying these men of the Jews were not sinners, but rather that in their rejection of Jesus as Christ they were rejecting the Father’s salvation and the Father Himself by extension – and this was a sin greater than any other (so MacArthur, Morris, Sproul et all).

F.F. Bruce says, “Had they recognized Jesus as the Son of God, they would have recognized the Father in him; as it was, in repudiating the Son they repudiated the Father also.”

As Jesus said earlier in John 5, “Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23b).

The unity between the Son and the Father is brought home to roost here.  Morris says, “The guilt of the Jews consisted in this, that they rejected the revelation of the Father that was made known in the Son” and then adds this sharp observation, “Jesus does not speak of ‘the Father’ but of ‘my Father.’ His special relationship to God is very much to the fore.”

In doing this they were heaping judgment upon themselves.  The concept is similar to what we learn from John’s illustration of light and darkness in John 3:19-20.  Those who reject Jesus are judged “already”, because they ran from the light and “loved the darkness.”

“He had come to show them the love of God, but the reacted to his love with hatred, just as, when the he came to them as the light of the world, they chose darkness rather than light (John 3:19). They thus passed judgment on themselves: if they rejected the giver of true life, they shut themselves up to the only alternative – death” says Bruce.

R.C. Sproul summarizes it this way:

Jesus reminded the disciples that the Father had demonstrated categorically that He was God’s Son. He did not just say it, He demonstrated it by the power that was entrusted to Him, by the miracles that He performed in the presence of eyewitnesses all over Israel. No one in that generation could claim ignorance as excuse for rejecting Him.

J.C. Ryle says:

They had seen Christ’s works, and heard Christ’s teaching, and yet remained unbelieving. What more could be done for them? Nothing – absolutely nothing! They willfully sinned against the clearest possible light, and were of all men most guilty.

The guilt is intensified with this generation because of the fact that they saw, they heard, yet they rejected the light of the gospel.  Again Ryle is on point, “To see light and not use it, to possess knowledge and yet not turn it to account, to be able to say ‘I know,’ and yet not to say ‘I believe,’ will place us at the lowest place on Christ’s left hand, in the great day of judgment.”

By rejecting the Cornerstone (Acts 4:11) the Jews had completely undermined their life’s purpose and orientation – this reality would manifest itself physically for the Jews when God sent the Romans to destroy the Herodian temple in 70 AD.

A Final Thought…

What is perhaps most remarkable to me about this is that this all happened so that “their Law (would) be fulfilled.”  And what is remarkable in this is that 1. Jesus fulfilled all of these OT prophesies (in this case probably Ps. 35:19 or Ps. 69:4 cf. MacArthur & Bruce) to the “enth degree” and 2. That He knew this would happen, and that He would be treated in such a way, and yet He still came.

Later, in his first epistle, John sums this up beautifully…

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)

15:26-27 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. 27 And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.

The Historical Background

I agree with Carson that there is a synthetic parallelism here that helps us understand both the unity of the Trinity (namely the Father and the Son) and the sending agent (both Father and Son) which has been the sources of much controversy in church history.

The issue was that the Eastern Orthodox church held that the Spirit proceeded from the Father only, and saw the Son as not above the Spirit in hierarchy.  They couldn’t seem to divorce ontology from mission, or ontology from role.  As a result they saw verses like this as needing interpreted through the lens of their own Father-centric view, especially since they had a tendency to focus on ontology to the degree that they missed the main point of passages such as this, which are namely related to the mission of the Spirit (cf. Carson).

Eventually due to the heavy influence of Augustine on the Western Church the Latins (what I might call the Western Church in Rome) adopted what is known as the filioque. This is simply Latin for the term added to the Nicene Creed, “and the Son.”  This was added and ratified at the Council of Toledo in Spain in 589 A.D.

It was this addition (along with many political and power issues between East and West) that led to the major church schism of 1054 A.D. between the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople and the Western Latin Church based in Rome.

“Maintaining the Cause of Christ”

This passage, however, isn’t mainly concerned with the ontology of the Trinity, rather it is Jesus’ way of reassuring His disciples that when He leaves He will send the Spirit.

As Matthew Henry puts it, “It is here promised that the blessed Spirit shall maintain the cause of Christ in the world, notwithstanding the opposition it should meet with.”  Indeed it is a comforting thought that we do not battle the world, the flesh and the Devil alone. We would utterly fail if this were the case.

I wonder, however, how we practically appropriate this each day.  Do we push through a frustrating circumstance, or do we pray through the problem?  Do we rest in Christ, or do we create anxiety in our hearts over that which we cannot control?

I do not think we spend enough time contemplating or grasping the power we have in the gift of the Spirit.  I do not personally claim and special understanding either practically or intellectually in this realm, but I do endeavor to better submit myself to His comforts and wisdom in the days ahead.

As John Owen aptly remarked, “Our greatest hindrance in Christian life is not our lack of effort, but our lack of acquaintedness with our privileges.”

In His mission the Spirit is the primary witness of Christ, and we are secondary witnesses in that we are simply the instruments, and not the source (cf. Henry & Ridderbos).  Therefore the Spirit uses His vessels (us) to do the Father’s will, which is to point men to Christ Jesus. He does this specifically in the following ways:

He saves us by regenerating power from slavery to sin

Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. (John 3:5-6)

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (2 Cor. 3:17)

He comforts us

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

He intercedes for us

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27)

He bears witness to our spirit/soul (giving us assurance of adoption and salvation)

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:14-17)

He enlightens us with the wisdom of the gospel

He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)

He gives us words to speak

But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He uses His inspired word to sanctify us

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

Summing it up, the Spirit’s Mission: Ultimately the Spirit’s mission is to save souls and sanctify the bride of Christ. The Spirit is God’s active hand in time and history, bearing witness to Christ, and working through human instruments in supernatural ways to accomplish God’s good will for God’s glory.

And this practically applies toward daily victory in Christ…Calvin explains:

And, indeed, when the world rages on all sides, our only protection is, that the truth of God, sealed by the Holy Spirit on our hearts, despises and defies all that is in the world; for, if it were subject to the opinions of men, our faith would be overwhelmed a hundred times in a day.

We ought, therefore, to observe carefully in what manner we ought to remain firm among so many storms. It is because “we have received, not the spirit of the world, the but Spirit which is of God, what we may know the things which have been given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12).” This single Witness powerfully drives away, scatters, and overturns, all that the world rears up to obscure or crush the truth of God. All who are endued with this Spirit are so far from being in danger of falling into despondency on account of the hatred or contempt of the world, that every one of them will obtain a glorious victory over the whole world.

Christ our Great High Priest

Below are the notes from my sermon last night.  I preached on the priesthood of Christ and you’ll find the notes in sermon format.

Christ our Great High Priest

December 8, 2013

Key Points

  • The inadequacy of the old covenant sacrifices
  • The purpose of Christ’s priesthood: once-for-all sacrifice and mediator for His chosen people
  • Christ’s death inaugurated a new covenant adequate to deal with our sins
  • The new covenant entails a spirit led life of Christ-like obedience

We’re going to look tonight at how Christ, in his office of High Priest, has once and for all made a perfect sacrifice for mankind, and how that sacrifice was Himself.

This is part two of a three part series on the offices of Christ; those offices are prophet, priest, and king. During this season we want to both celebrate what was anticipated, and what is.

We want to stir our minds and hearts up again to worship God for the destiny that He had for this child, His Son. Though He was born in a lowly way, He would be called greatest of all men.

Though He came from an obscure part of the world, yet He would fulfill hundreds of Old Testament predictions. And though He was poor, and came from a poor family, He would offer the richest gift in redemptive history.

In short, we are studying these offices of Christ because we need to be reminded that the incarnation of Jesus Christ was the beginning of the most significant work ever done on this earth – yet it was just the beginning.

So let us begin by reading from our text for this evening, which is Hebrews 10:1-18. Follow along with me and see how Christ is our great mediator and high priest.

Reading of Text and Opening Prayer

First things first: What is a priest’s role in the Bible? The priest (under the Old Covenant) was one who represented the Israelites before God.  I mentioned last week that the prophet was one who represented God before His people, and this is just the opposite.  Perhaps you are starting to see that the role of Christ is to be both our representative to God, and also the Father’s representative to us.

The Old Testament priest would yearly offer sacrifices for the atonement of the people, and he would also offer sacrifices throughout the year for specific individuals who came to the temple with their gifts.  We’ll examine this role as we get into the text…

The flow of the Text is like this (cf. Lane):

1-4: The inadequacy of the law’s repeated sacrifices
5-10: The OT sacrifices have been superseded by Christ’s sacrifice
11-14: The Levitical priests have been superseded by Christ’s priesthood
15-18: The supremacy/adequacy of the New Covenant

  

Exegesis of the Text 

PART 1

The inadequacy of the law’s repeated sacrifices 

10:1 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

This section of Scripture (10:1-18) is really the encapsulation of two chapters of instruction and explanation about Christ’s sacrificial role, and in many ways these 18 verses serve as a summary statement of that teaching. [i]

Christ as Antitype

This idea of the law being a shadow is important to remember.  In theological terms we call this “typology”, and when something in the OT is a shadow, or a glimmer of the fulfillment in the NT, we say that we have a “type” in the OT and the “antitype” in the NT.  In almost every instance of an OT type, we find the antitype fulfilled in the life and ministry (person and work) of Jesus of Nazareth.

What the Spirit is saying through the author of Hebrews is that the “law”, especially as expressed in the sacrificial system of the OT, is a “shadow” a “type” of something that was “good” that was still “to come.”

That “good thing” is Jesus ChristHe is the “true form of these realities” and the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, and in a broader way, the law as a whole.

Puritan Pastor and Theologian John Owen said:

For he himself first, principally, and evidently, was the subject of all promisesHe was the idea in the mind of God, when Moses was charged to make all things according to the pattern showed him in the mount…every thing in the law belonged unto that shadow which God gave in it of the substance of his counsel in and concerning Jesus Christ.

This is what Paul meant when he said, “These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” (Colossians 2:17, ESV).

And so the author of Hebrews is telling us that all of the OT sacrifices pointed forward to Christ and found their terminus in Him.[ii]

The Problem: Never Perfected

The bulk of this verse tells us that we have a dilemma on our hands.  The OT Jews were continually breaking the law by sinning, but their sacrifices never perfected them.  There was nothing happening to them spiritually internally. They were not a regenerated people, and the sacrifices they were making did not have the power to regenerate them.

What was the result?  The Israelites continued in their rebellion – they loved the world more than they loved God.   What they needed was not only a sacrifice that would legally put away sin once and for all, but a Priest who would represent them to God when they sinned[iii] (But, as we’ll see, God gave His children even more…)

William Lane says this of the OT sacrifices, “Their ineffectiveness in this regard exposed a fundamental weakness in the cultic provisions of the old covenant. The law was effectively precluded from becoming the organ of salvation.”

10:2-3 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

Now the author begins to build a case for his assertion that in Christ’s ministry as our priest we no longer need the OT priesthood, or the sacrificial system that it entailed. He does this by showing that if these sacrifices were really efficacious, then people’s consciences would have been made clear of sin…however, that wasn’t the case.

That Horrid Reminder!

And so, those OT sacrifices were only temporary, and they needed to be continually redone. They symbolized the continual sin of God’s people. Here in verse three, specifically, you have the allusion to the Day of Atonement, which was simply a shadow of the true Day of Atonement that occurred 2,000 years ago on the cross of Calvary.

This Day of Atonement was a day in which the Jews would offer sacrifices in the holy of holies once per year. It was a day designated for fasting (Leviticus 23:26-32) and the confession of sins (Lev. 16:20-22).

Owen comments, “…the Jews have such a saying among them, ‘That on the day of expiation all Israel was made as righteous as in the day wherein man was first created.”

But the reason the author of Hebrews brings it up here is because those Jews who say that these sacrifices were making them righteous were fooling themselves.  This verse(s) is “a candid acknowledgement that the sacrifices offered each year lacked ultimate efficacy” to cleanse the conscience (Lane).

Not only were the sacrifices ineffective, but also they were a “reminder” of sins every year![iv] That means that in the OT the Day of Atonement was a day of mourning and reminder of the guilt of sin.  And certainly that was a rightful thing to do, to mourn over sin.  We too ought to mourn over our sins (Matthew 5:4). But unlike the Jews, when we look at our day of atonement, we are reminded of the reason we have for celebration!  We look at the cross and rejoice because our sins have been forgiven, once for all. Our conscience can rest easy.

A decisive cleansing of the conscience is a prerequisite for unhindered access to God, and this has been achieved only through the sacrifice of Christ” (Lane). 

10:4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

What’s the Point???

And if you’re like me, you read this and are asking: “well why in the world would they do all this sacrificing in the first place?  I mean, if it wasn’t going to work, what was the point?”

Well the answer is that the whole purpose of the Levitical system of sacrifice was not to take away sins, but rather to point a coming Rescuer who would later take away sins.

Owen, in his classic 17th century charm, reminds us that the point of these sacrifices was three-fold:

  1. As a reminder of the seriousness of sin (as mentioned above),
  2. As a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ
  3. As a way to display His wisdom and design for future salvation: “These things do evidently express the wisdom of God in their institution, although of themselves they could not take away sin.”

Each time the Israelites made a sacrifice – and especially on the Day of Atonement – they were forced to encounter the holiness of God, and the reality of their own sinfulness. It drove them to repentance and taught them to hope in a future deliverance from the bondage of sin.[v]

Paul explains this in Galatians when he says, “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).”

And this is why Christ is so much better. And it is also why He had be both divine and human. If He was not fully human in His advent, it wouldn’t have truly been a sacrifice.  If He wasn’t divine, He would have had to continually make the sacrifice!

In sum, because our sin is an offense against an eternal God, payment must satisfy the demands of His eternal character.  This is why it had to be Jesus, the God-man, whose divinity made the sacrifice worthy to blot out our transgression – not simply because our sins were “eternally bad” but rather because they offended an eternally holy God.[vi]

Thankfully the Spirit doesn’t stop there…

 

PART 2

The OT sacrifices are superseded by Christ’s sacrifice 

10:5-7 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, 

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure. 

Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,

as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”

The Spirit here attributes this quote to Jesus, who is citing Psalm 40.

First, notice the Trinitarian work involved here. It is the Spirit writing the book of Hebrews, it is Christ quoting the Spirit’s inspired work of the Psalms, which says that He, Jesus, is prepared to submit to the “will of God” the Father.

No Pleasure

Now when He says that God took “no pleasure” or that He had “not desired” these sacrifices, what He means is not that God was not pleased in the obedience of the people per se, but rather that the people were misapplying the reason for the sacrifices.  In other words, the sacrifices were never intended to expiate sins, but rather point to the One who would. [vii]

John Owen gives a great parallel example: God commands us to obey Him and that obedience in the New Covenant pleases Him, for sure.  But that obedience of good works of love and kindness to our neighbor is not appropriately applied to our salvation. For good works are expressly said NOT to be the source of salvation in Scripture; so too with the Israelites and their sacrifices.  They misapplied them toward an end that did not suit them.[viii]

And that is what compels God to say ‘I take no pleasure in these sacrifices.’

Anticipating the Incarnation

We can sense the anticipation of the work of the Messiah here. Not simply the anticipation of a Rescuer, but of a great High Priest whose body was prepared by God for sacrifice before the foundation of the world – a sacrifice which will supersede all of the sacrifices that have been repeatedly offered until this point in time.  This is the hope we celebrate at Christmas – the reality of the incarnation.

I love how Athanasius grabs a hold of the reality of the incarnation here and works out what it means for the victory of Christ as our priest and sacrifice, “…this is the reason why he assumed a body capable of dying, so that, belonging to the Word who is above all, in dying it might become a sufficient exchange for all…He put on a body so that in the body he might find death and blot it out”![ix]

Christ coming into this world was not “plan B.”[x]  God wasn’t surprised by the Fall of Adam, and God purposefully designed the OT sacrificial system to point forward to His Son.  The Father always wants to exhibit the Son. He is essentially always saying, “consider my Son”, “look at my Son”, “this is my Son in whom I am well pleased.”[xi]

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus tonight, we ought to be driven to worship by the fact that the Father ordained that this baby, born in utter humiliation[xii] in order to die in utter humiliation, would do so in order to achieve extreme glorification.  His low point was also arguably the point at which He glorifies the Father the most. That’s how God thinks.  That’s how OTHER He is from us.  His ways and thoughts are FAR above our own.

10:8-10 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), [9] then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. [10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 

The Old Covenant is “Done Away With” 

Catch this here: it is the “will” that is the latter, and the “law” that is the former. And so it is God’s “will” that the Son come to earth in that body prepared beforehand in God’s plan and mind, that He would become the fulfillment of the law and offer that sacrifice.  That “once for all” sacrifice.  The merit of Christ’s sacrifice is here on display as eminently more worthy and glorious than that of the OT sacrifices prescribed by the law.

“Sanctified”

Now what does this word “sanctified,” mean? It means two things:

  1. Consecrated or “set apart” for salvation and service to God in this new covenant arrangement.
  2. It can also mean “purified” or “cleansed”[xiii] – but the two ideas usually come together in one meaning – set apart for holiness unto good works.

Christ has purified us from sin by His sacrifice, but He has done so in order that we will obey Him (He is preparing us for obedience which only comes from the Spirit and the Spirit is a sign of the New Covenant’s inauguration).

Lane comments on the action part of “sanctified”: “Christ’s self-sacrifice fulfilled the human vocation enunciated in the psalm. By virtue of the fact that he did so under the conditions of authentic human, bodily existence and in solidarity with the human family, the new people of God have been radically transformed and consecrated to his service.”

Not only has the payment for sins been purchased by our great high priest, but the sacrifice He made inaugurated an age of obedience – His great act of obedience was the climax of a life of obedience and began an era of obedience from his people – not by our own might or strength, but his own indwelling work in us.  He continues his work in and through His new covenant people while ruling from heaven’s highest throne.

Paul expressed it this way:

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

PART 3

The Superiority of Christ’s Priesthood 

10:11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

The Supremacy of Christ’s Priesthood

Now we move from a specific discussion of the sacrifices into the office of priest itself, specifically the inadequacy of the Levitical priesthood, and the supremacy of Christ’s priesthood.

I love how Martyn Llyod-Jones says,Every one of the offerings made by the priests pointed forward in some way to Jesus Christ and what He would do in perfection.”

Note here how instead of referencing that Day of Atonement, which we had read about earlier, the author is referencing the daily sacrifices.  These too cannot take away sins. Also we see that these Levite priests “stand” continually making the sacrifices, whereas Christ has “sat down at the right hand of God.”  This sitting down symbolizes the once-for-all work that He did. There’s no need for continually making more sacrifices because His sacrifice was “once for all.”

These priests had to always be on the ready for whenever anyone would come in to offer their sacrifice for sin. So, as Owen says, “there was no end of their work.”

Christ’s work is, however, much more final than this.  Once His work was done, He sat down at His Father’s right hand with no need of rising to continue on in the sacrificial duty.  As Jesus Himself says in His High Priestly Prayer:

I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

This, no doubt, testifies to the superiority of the New Covenant.  Christ’s Priesthood and the covenant He inaugurated is better in that His sacrifice is better.  It was everlasting, and was of infinite worth because of the infinite worthiness of the One who offered it.  Yet, as we will see, it was not a universal sacrifice, but a particular one for a particular people.  His intention was not to offer a sacrifice for all of humanity, but for all those whom He came to save – His bride.

Christ’s Intercession for Us

Now, Christ whose sacrificial work is completed has continued on in his mediatorial work – another part of His graciousness and love poured out on our behalf.  And this happens in the throne room of God.

For though (as I just mentioned) His sacrifice was once for all, yet His intercession for us continues, as this verse indicates. That is what verse 12 ought to bring to mind, and it is primarily that which John 17 displays to us in a magnificent way now, seated at the right hand of God, He continually intercedes for us.  Paul makes this crystal clear in Romans 8:

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:34)

Lane says, “Jesus’ place in the presence of God enables him to exercise in heaven the ministry of the new covenant. This is the basis of the assurance extended to the community that they possess now full access to God.” 

Christ’s Work vs. Our Work

Perhaps one last thing to take away from this passage is the fact that the efforts of man can never rival the work of Jesus Christ.

Our salvation rests upon the work of Jesus Christ and Him alone.  That is why Paul says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, ESV).

Now what is the solution to this?  What “work” do we do that affects anything for us? Jesus has the answer:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” 28 Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (John 6:27-29, ESV) 

When we look at Christ’s priesthood, we will see again and again the sufficiency of His work, and it contrasts in our minds (does it not?) that those in the Catholic faith who have sought to add on to His work and His ministry are in grave error.  They have denied the effectiveness of His mediatorial role by adding layers of intercession, from the local priest to the saints who came after Him. They have denied the efficacy and once-for-all nature of His sacrifice by insisting on crucifying Him again at every Mass for the last 1500 or so years.  It is important that we see these distinctions.  There is no room for addition to His work – by anyone. 

10:13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.

This verse is taken from Psalms 110:1 and it is anticipatory of the eschatological promise that one day Christ will bring consummation to His kingdom.

Philip Hughes says it well that, “Future judgment (of Christ’s enemies) is only the application of the final judgment that has already taken place at Calvary.”[xiv]

And to be honest, I don’t know if you can put it anymore plainly than this!  If you are trying to say that someone is “supreme” then there is no better way to say it than to say that all of those person’s enemies shall be made a footstool for them!

It reminds me of the story of Roman Emperor Valerian.  When he became Emperor he renewed persecution against Christians throughout the Roman Empire. Any leaders within the church were to be punished immediately with death. Others were to be moved to the empire’s vast estates where grains were grown (especially in Northern Africa) and enslaved, or forced to dig in the mines.  Interestingly, Valerian died in 259 A.D. fighting against the Persians (persecution stopped almost immediately after he died).  Valerian was captured and killed and then skinned, and stuffed for use as a footstool for the Persian king!  The result was that fear of the Christians spread throughout the Roman Empire because many people blamed the Christians for this outcome and were fearful that by persecuting Christians worse things could come upon their Empire.[xv]

Christ is indeed ruling now.  And we look forward to the day when He consummates the victory He achieved on the cross over sin and death, for on that day all “his enemies” will be completely vanquished. 

10:14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

So finally here we see the antithesis of what verse one says – namely that the people couldn’t be perfected under the old covenant.  Therefore we have “the rejection of the ineffective ministry of the Levitical priests in favor of the effective ministry of the eschatological priest enthroned in the presence of God” (Lane).

We have talked a great deal of Christ’s priesthood, therefore look with me carefully at two more things.  1. There is a particular people who are being sanctified and 2. Those who are being sanctified are “perfected for all time.”

Note here that the author of this epistle is writing with a group of people in mind. It is not the whole world who is sanctified, rather it is a certain group of people. Who are those people? They are the elect of God. They are His children. They are the subject of the atonement – they are those for whom Christ died.

Secondly, these men and women for whom Christ died are “perfected” for “all time.” “Perfected” simply alludes to “sanctified” or “cleansed” as we talked about when examining verse 10.  This is what we would call “positional sanctification”, and it means that in the eyes of God the Father we are pure, we are righteous and holy. Why?  Because of the righteousness of Christ. Christ’s blood covers us, and causes us to be perfect. How long will this occur? “For all time.”

In Romans 8:30 Paul tells us that once Christ’s love has been set upon us, we are never able to be separated from that love:

…those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Paul talks about those who are “glorified” as past tense.  Not because it has happened in space and time, but because of the certainty that it will happen.  In the eyes of God, it is as good as done because when He promises something He always keeps His word.

PART 4

The (supremacy) adequacy of the new covenant 

10:15-16 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,” 
 

The Supremacy of the New Covenant

The author is saying that Christ’s supremacy in both sacrifice and priesthood are both part of a new covenant – a better covenant enacted on better promises as was stated earlier in the book:

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. (Hebrews 8:6-7)

More than simply the unparalleled sacrifice and priesthood of Christ, the new covenant gives us something more, namely the indwelling presence of the Spirit who “bears witness to us” and writes the laws of God upon our hearts.

So no longer do we need OT sacrifices – we have Christ.  No longer do we need OT laws – we have the Spirit and the Word incarnate.  Christ has fulfilled and superseded every promise and every type of the OT, and He has given us a new covenant marked by the giving of His Spirit and the obedience of His people – people who can actually love God and others. We are a regenerated people; a royal priesthood of believers; a people called after His own name.

So what is it that characterizes new covenant people for whom Christ died?  Quite plainly, what characterizes the Christian community is the work of the Spirit on our hearts, the fruit of which we see in the lives of those whom He came to save. 

10:17 then he adds,

 “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” 

10:18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

First I just want to note the use of the word “lawless” here because it is a very strong word. We forget sometimes of the descriptors that the Bible uses for those who are not believers.  Before you were a Christian you were a “rebel” a “lawless” one (Rom. 6:19), an “enemy of God” and a “dead” man spiritually.  I mention this because its against this backdrop that we must view Christ’s sacrifice, and it makes it all the more valuable as we reflect on these final truths in verses 17 and 18.

Now, the purpose of verse 17 is to tie in the forgiveness of sins with the commencement of the New Covenant. The author is saying here that one of the features of living in the New Covenant is that, along with the law of God being written on your minds and hearts, you Christians will also have your sins remembered by God “no more.”[xvi]

It is the capstone to the blessings we experience as New Covenant believers that we are no longer held in bondage to our sin experientially (vis a vis the holy spirit’s indwelling work), but we are also loosed from the grip of sin legally as well.  So that on the Day of Judgment, we can stand before God knowing full well that He will not count our sins against us.

Therefore, as the chapter began by driving home the inadequacy of the Old Covenant sacrifices, and the nature of the OT saints (that they disobeyed), now we are told of the complete adequacy of the sacrifice of Christ and the new covenant it inaugurates.

No longer will God remember our sins, no longer will we need to go through the painful guilt-laden process of animal and grain sacrifices.  There has been a perfect sacrifice by a perfect high priest.  That sacrifice was the Lord Jesus Christ who offered up His body – He was both the sacrifice and the sacrificer, and now lives in heaven interceding for us as our mediator and priest in the throne room of God. His work: ultimate. His supremacy: indisputable. 

Conclusion

We have reason to celebrate this Christmas.  Christmas marks for us a reminder of the humility and mystery of God, who in the course of His redemptive plan stooped to empty Himself, to set aside His divine glory and take upon Himself the flesh and frailty of a human being.  This season is a reminder of that humility and His ultimate mission – to seek and save the lost.

The message of this passage is clear: If you are sitting here tonight content to believe the false premise that your own merit will somehow grant you a spot with Christ in eternal bliss, then I’m here to tell you that you are sadly mistaken.  Jesus Christ is the only One whose righteousness is worthy to open those doors of heaven. He will not deign to admit any who do not call upon His name and trust in HIS righteousness and His sacrifice alone.  If you find yourself in such a position tonight, then I would beg you to heed the message of the Bible – repent of your sins, and turn to the Lord Jesus Christ who is the only one capable and worthy of saving you.

Closing Prayer

Appendix 1 – Christ’s Antitypical Role as Priest

Peter Gentry and Stephen Wellum, two Baptist Scholars from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary have great insights into Christ’s antitypical role:

…the old covenant is an entire package, within the law-covenant many typological structures are developed which ultimately find their antitypical fulfillment in Christ and the new covenant…

Of course, related to the institution of the priesthood is the entire tabernacle-temple-sacrificial system. All of these institutions not only serve as a means by which Israel may dwell in the land and know God’s covenantal presence among a sinful people. But also point beyond themselves to God’s greater provision of atonement in the servant of the Lord (see Is. 52-53) who will fulfill and eclipse the role of the Levitical priest (Heb. 5:1-10:7-10), bring the tabernacle-temple to its terminus in himself (see, e.g., John 2:19-22), and by his new covenant work achieve full atonement for sin (see Jer. 31:34; Heb. 10:1-18).

Also in his 4th volume on the book of Acts, Martyn Llyod-Jones has several pages of commentary on Acts 7 where he discusses typology, specifically Mosaic typology.  It is really fantastic. He makes allusions to Hebrews 10 there as well.  But here are some of his great quotes from that passage:

Now the word type is interesting. A type is that which foreshadows or forecasts or represents beforehand something that will happen later, which is called the antitype. And, of course, in the Scriptures the type points to the great antitype, Christ.  The use of types is an essential part of the teaching of the whole Bible – it can be said that the Old Testament is a great book of types – and we cannon understand the Bible truly unless we understand this teaching.

The sacrifices and offerings and rituals were all types. They are representations of what would happen in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Every one of the offerings made by the priests pointed forward in some way to Jesus Christ and what He would do in perfection.

…the very exodus of the children of Israel, the deliverance from Egypt into Canaan, has always been recognized as a great type of the salvation that God would send one day in the person of the Messiah whom He was going to raise up.

Before you dismiss Christianity and the message concerning the Lord Jesus Christ as just being an ancient religion, something concocted by men – as we are being told by the humanists and others – you should read the Bible and watch typology – this foreshadowing, this prefiguring of Christ, and the correspondence between the types all the way through. And you will see that there is this one great continuing message from beginning to end.

This purpose of God is a purpose of salvation and deliverance. That is what the types mean.

Appendix 2 – The Chiastic Structure of the Passage

According to Theologian William Lane there is some “symmetry” to this passage – what today’s theologians would term a “chiasm.”  I find these helpful in understanding the flow of the passage, and how the writer is making their argument. In fact, I’ve really based my sermon around these breakdowns, and have seen that most other commentators on the book have broken the section down in this way as well.

A. The inadequacy of the provisions of the law for repeated sacrifices (10:1-4)
B. The repeated sacrifices have been superseded by the one sacrifice of Christ in conformity to the will of God (10:5-10)
B. The Levitical priests have been superseded by the one priest enthroned at God’s right hand (10:11-14)
A. The adequacy of the provisions of the new covenant, which render a sacrifice for sins no longer necessary (10:15-18)

Appendix 3 – The Reason for OT Sacrificing

I really found this to be an interesting study – I had asked myself time and time again “why go through all the machinations of the sacrifice if it wasn’t going to work???”  Soon I began to learn the reason why – it was the obedience (working through faith) of the Israelites to God’s command that He wanted.  Specifically, faith in God that He would redeem them efficaciously one day. They looked forward in faith, and sacrificed in faith.  Their obedience was an outgrowth of this faith and the fear of God.

Because I didn’t get to fit all the thoughts and quotes re: this into the main body of the sermon, here are the rest:

The way that the Old Testament sacrificial system worked is spelled out throughout the book of Leviticus.  Many of the sacrifices that were offered were done so daily, or on a regular basis as different sins occurred within Israel.  But I think what the author of this text in front of us has in mind is more specifically the Day of Atonement.

One of the questions I asked myself as I was thinking on this passage was: if the people were continually making sacrifices for the sins they committed throughout the year, why do a corporate yearly day of sacrifice?  I think the answer lies in the fact that the sacrifices were more about reminding the Israelites of their sin and pointing them to Christ than actually expiating sin (as we have seen above).  So the Day of Atonement was a yearly gathering to remember the sins of the entire congregation (to paraphrase Owen).[xvii]

God didn’t want His people taking sin lightly, and there is always the chance of religion becoming more ritual than true reminder. That really couldn’t happen on the Day of Atonement.  The entire day was based around the reality of Israel’s sin and God’s holiness and mercy.  There was no escaping these truths.

When one goes through the book of Leviticus and sees the kinds of sacrifices that must be made for particular sins, and then reads of the sacrifice for the day of atonement (one goat), it becomes obvious that this sacrifice isn’t enough to cover all the people effectively from an expiation standpoint.  But it is enough to remind the entire congregation of who they are before a holy God. The symbol and the reminder is the key here. These were lessons to lead them to the truth about themselves – they needed a redeemer, they needed God’s Son.

John MacArthur says:

The Levitical system was not designed by God to remove or forgive sins. It was preparatory for the coming of the Messiah (Gal. 3:24) in that it made the people expectant (cf. 1 Pet. 1:10). It revealed the seriousness of their sinful condition, in that even temporary covering required the death of an animal. It revealed the reality of God’s holiness and righteousness by indicating that sin had to be covered. Finally, it revealed the necessity of full and complete forgiveness so that God could have fellowship with His people.

Martyn Llyod-Jones says, “Those sacrifices were by types pointing to the coming of the great anti-type; they did not really deal with sin.”[xviii]

Appendix 4 – The Session of Christ

In verse 12 in our passage the session of Christ is referred to when it says, “he at down at the right hand of God.” In the main body of the sermon it was discussed how this shows forth the finality of his sacrifice (once for all etc.) but it also tells us of His rule and reign over all things. The allusion here reminds us of the fact that Christ came to usher in a kingdom – one that He reigns over right now.

In the process of putting the notes together for this text it became apparent that Psalm 110 was a very important scripture for the author. That Psalm goes like this:

The Lord says to my Lord:
“Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
The Lord sends forth from Zion
your mighty scepter.
Rule in the midst of your enemies!
Your people will offer themselves freely
on the day of your power,
in holy garments;
from the womb of the morning,
the dew of your youth will be yours.
The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind,
“You are a priest forever
after the order of Melchizedek.”
The Lord is at your right hand;
he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
He will execute judgment among the nations,
filling them with corpses;
he will shatter chiefs
over the wide earth.
He will drink from the brook by the way;
therefore he will lift up his head. (Psalm 110, ESV)

Martin Luther, commenting on the Psalm said the following:

For nowhere else is Christ prophesied with such clear, plain words as a priest and an eternal priest. It is prophesied as well that the priesthood of Aaron would be abolished. This psalm is yet again and more splendidly extolled in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It is indeed a shame that such a psalm is not more richly extolled by Christians.

Therefore I wanted to just take a minute and make note of the depth of theology here and the import of this passage. Like Isaiah 61:1-2 is to Luke 4:16-18, Psalm 110 is vitally important to Hebrews 10:1-18.

Bruce Ware writes, “This psalm, then, is fundamentally about David’s Greater Son who will be both King (vs. 1) and Priest (vs. 4), a dual role that none of the previous king of Israel or Judah could play.”

End Notes

[i] Lane says, “in 10:1-18 the writer elaborates the ‘subjective’ effects of Christ’s offering for the community that enjoys the blessings of the new covenant. Christ’s death is considered from the perspective of its efficacy for Christians.”

[ii] Theologian William Lane says, “Its use (“foreshadowing”) suggests that the function of the law was to point forward to that which was perfect or complete…The contrast implied is temporal and eschatological in character; the law is a past witness to a future reality.”

[iii] Lane says, “the reality only foreshadowed in the law is the actual possession of the people of God through the new covenant.”

[iv] Lane says, “The elaborate ritual was intended to accentuate a consciousness of sins. The solemn entrance of the high priest into the Most Holy Place dramatized the fact that sin separates the congregation from God.

[v] Owen says, “Hereby they became the principal direction of the faith of the saints under the old testament, and the means whereby they acted it on the original promise of their recovery from apostasy.” What he’s saying is that the OT saints had a faith directed forward toward (the future) Christ, and the way they exercised that faith was in the carrying out of these sacrifices.

[vi] It was St. Anselm who first really explained the importance of this, and I can see his influence on a quote from John Piper that I think captures the idea here: “We glorify what we enjoy most and (because of sin) it isn’t God. Therefore sin is not small, because it is not against a small sovereign. The seriousness of an insult rises with the dignity of the one insulted. The creator of the universe is infinitely worthy of respect and admiration and loyalty. Therefore failure to love Him is not trivial, it is treason! It defames God and destroys human happiness.”

[vii] It is remarkable how far Owen goes to pound this into the head of his readers. He gives at least 6 reasons why these sacrifices were pleasing to God in their rightful way, but yet not in the manner in which the Jews might have mistakenly thought them to apply (i.e. expiation of sins).  “God may in his wisdom appoint and accept of ordinances and duties unto one end, which he will refuse and reject when they are applied unto another – So he doth plainly in these words those sacrifices which in other places he most strictly enjoins.” Owen then gives what I think is the best example of why this is so form a NT perspective: “How express, how multiplied are his commands for good works, and our abounding in them! Yet when they are made the matter of our righteousness before him, they are as unto that end, namely, of our justification, rejected and disapproved!”

[viii] Owen says, “there was such an insufficiency in all legal sacrifices, as unto the expiation of sin, that God would remove them and take them out of the way, to introduce that which was better, to do that which the law could not do.”

[ix] I actually got this  quote from Philip Hughes’ commentary and shortened it up to fit the sermon. He’s got a lot more here from Athanasius’ De Incarnatione.

[x] Owen calls this, “the federal agreement between the Father and the Son as unto the work of the redemption and salvation of the church.”

[xi] I take this way of expressing the Father’s view of the Son from Bruce Ware – this is sort of a paraphrase from his book on the Trinity.

[xii] Hughes rightly says, “he condescends to our estate in the self-humbling act of incarnation, so that the Psalmist’s words, a body you have prepared for me, receive in him a fulfillment which is ultimate and universal in its evangelical significance. The body prepared for the Son was the body he assumed in the incarnation in which he obeyed the Father’s will, even to the death of the cross.”

[xiii] Philip Hughes says, “It is by that will, and that will alone, that we have been sanctified, that is, cleansed from sin and restored to the holy sphere of God’s favor – not, of course, that the will of God is intended apart from action of God in Christ, for, unlike man who, left to themselves, finds that to will and to perform are all too often two different things, with God to will and to do go together.”

[xiv] Hughes is really magnificent here.  He also says, “The complete defeat of his enemies is assured, for the supreme exaltation by which the redemption he accomplished on earth as the incarnate Son has been crowned spells the doom of every opponent of his authority.”  Wow! Well said!

[xv] Cf. Dr. Shawn Wright’s lectures on Church History, ‘Introduction to Church History’, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

[xvi] As O’Brien notes, “The perfecting of which our author speaks includes not only the decisive forgiveness of sins or cleansing of the conscience which is the basis of a new relationship with God. Intimately related to and flowing from it is that obedience of the heart which is expressive of a positive consecration to God.”

[xvii] It wasn’t as though their sins weren’t going to be forgiven, for they were in Christ, but the act itself of sacrificing these animals wasn’t taking away the sins it was simply pointing forward to the one who would.

[xviii] This quote is actually from an advent devotional compilation by Nancy Guthrie called, ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.’

Bible Study Resources

This is a post I’ve had on my “to-do” list for a LONG time now.  Many people ask me for tips on how to study the Bible, and how/where to find the answers they need as they are reading.  It’s a very common thing (for me and everyone one I know) to be reading along and stumble on a word, a phrase, an idea, a name etc that raises questions, concerns, or curiosity.

So where do you go to find the answers to these questions? Well, I’d like to begin a post here with some sites/books you can use to compliment your Bible Study.  I’d imagine that I’ll need to periodically update this post as I find new resources myself – I also intend on starting with a relatively small list and adding as I have time. So here goes…

Bible Overviews and Handbooks

Bible overviews usually take a broad look at whole books, locations, and people in order to distill things into a readable and quick reference.  I like:

Wiersbe’s ‘With the Word’ – this is a chapter by chapter summary of the entire Bible.  Very cool stuff.  Very easy to read.

MacArthur’s Bible Handbook – this book is fantastic.  It gives a book by book overview of the entire Bible, including “where is Christ” in every book, an outline of each book, and many other great background and authorship notes.  It also has a “tough questions answered” section for each book – very neat and very helpful!

Westminster’s Theological Dictionary – ever wonder what those fancy theological terms mean? Well now you can know! LOL  This book is seriously really great.  Each definition is only one or two sentences long.  Very concise and easy.  Very helpful.

New Dictionary of Theology – this is like the Westminster Theological Dictionary, only a little more expanded.  It almost reminds me of an encyclopedia.  This one is written and edited by Ferguson, Wright, and Packer, so needless to say its VERY good!

What’s in the Bible? – this is a great overview of the entire Bible by R.C. Sproul and Robert Wolgemuth.  Its eminently readable, and very helpful if you’re looking to get a quick overview of entire books/sections of biblical history.

Bible Commentaries

Commentaries are probably the most important study resource a Bible Scholar should have on their shelves at home.  Commentaries come in a variety of different ways.  Some are a collection of notes on each book of the Bible by 1 author (like Calvin or MacArthur), others are a collection of notes on each book by a series of authors, others are simply stand alone notes on one or two particular books of the Bible by 1 author.  Some commentaries are expositional and some are more pastoral.  The former is focused more on a verse by verse explanation of the text, the latter focuses on the bigger picture only and takes large sections of the text at a time.  As you might imagine, commentaries reflect a Biblical theology of the writer, and shouldn’t be taken as “gospel” (so to speak).  However, every pastor I know uses commentaries to see what the great Christian men and women thought about the Biblical text long before we were born.  Here are some of my favorites (though I may not agree with each person on every point):

Calvin’s Commentaries – these are available online for free and here. These are a blend of pastoral and exegetical. Calvin wrote commentaries on most of the Bible, but some of the OT books are left out, as is Revelation.

Barnes Notes – Albert Barnes wrote these, this is a new testament only. He’s very conservative, and really solid on most every passage.  He does a great job of dispelling error and helps you logically sort through the possibilities for difficult verses as well.  Really like a lot of his work.

Wiersbe’s Commentary – very pastoral in his approach, this is most of the entire Bible, with a few of the old testament books combined. I enjoy his writing and his overarching points.  It’s not a “must have”, but its very helpful on some of the OT books and minor prophets.

Sproul’s Commentary Set – this is very pastor in its approach, and not as in-depth on a verse by vese basis as some of the others.  Still, there’s no one with insights quite like R.C. Sproul.  Often he has things to say that many of the others simply don’t think of, or are too timid to focus on.  He has only done 5 volumes (6 books) thus far.  I’ve read through most of all of them (except the Mark edition which I don’t have) and have really enjoyed them thus far.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible – great puritan preacher Matthew Henry wrote these notes for teaching his family, not his church.  But they have ended up as classics, and show a brilliant depth of understanding, and wonderful heart for God.  A blend between exegetical and pastoral style.

Pillar Commentary Set – I’ve used D.A. Carson’s volume on John (which is what this link is for), and have a lot of respect for some of the other authors in this set (some overlap here with the New International Commentary Set).  This is a more exegetical/technical commentary set from what I’ve seen. Only New Testament.

MacArthur’s Bible Commentaries – These are very good, very exegetical, and really helpful commentaries.  He takes the time to explain words, phrases, and history even larger themes.  This is only New Testament though. They can be purchased as a set or individually.

John Stott’s Set – These are edited and partially written (in some cases) by Stott and from what I’ve read thus far they are really solid.

MacArthur Whole Bible Commentary – these are his Study Bible notes (maybe slightly expanded) put into a one volume edition.  A good quick resource for getting a grasp of the passage you’re looking at.

The New International Commentary Set – These are very technical and very good.  If you’re interested in knowing all the angles, all the background, and all the key view points on each passage of scripture, I’ve found that these are great editions.  Leon Morris, Douglass Moo, F.F. Bruce and others wrote each volume. This link is for the NT, but there’s also OT volumes as well.

Vernon McGee’s Commentary – This is very pastoral, very funny and light hearted.  He has some good insights, notes, but you won’t get the kind of in-depth education that MacArthur or Carson will provide.  He’s also dispensational in his approach to the Scripture, which means that some of his Old Testament comments are a little wacky.

James Montgomery Boice– This is a link to his set.  He’s done Daniel, Romans, Acts, and several other books as well.  These are probably some of the best pastoral-styled commentaries that I’ve ever read.  He and Ryle are probably tied at the top of my favorites list for men who know how to bring out the very best in a passage of scripture.

J.C. Ryle’s Commentary on the Gospels – He only did the gospels, but its worth looking at anyway!  Ryle is very pastoral, but also provides a verse by verse analysis in some parts (especially in John).  You can also get his Matthew commentary online for free here. 

Crossway Classic Series – This is a set of commentaries that form a compilation of many great authors, including Ryle, Calvin, Manton, Henry, Owen, Hodge and more.

Systematic Theologies

Systematic theologies sound more daunting than they really are!  A systematic theology is a book that organizes the different theological topics of the Bible and provides a doctrinal overview of each topic.  Topics usually range from election, adoption, the incarnation, justification, sanctification, the millenium and much more.  These books are heavily influenced by the theology of the person compiling the volume, but most that I’ve read try and offer an objective viewpoint and reason why we believe what we believe.  You really only need one or two at most, because they are SO large!  However, these are some of the most helpful tools you can have at home for personal study.

Grudem’s Systematic Theology – if you’re going to buy one systematic theology, it should be Grudem’s.  I don’t agree 100% with him on the millenium or on the age of the earth, but he’s very very good on just about every other big theological issue.  Just a tremendous resource to have at your fingertips.

Michael Horton’s Systematic Theology – I am borrowing this edition at the moment, and unlike some of his other work, I think its a slightly more readable volume.  Horton tends to speak in a sort of unnecessary academic vernacular, so if I had to recommend a volume that is readable for the layman, this probably wouldn’t be my first pick.  As I read more I’ll add more information here.

Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology – This is one that is a classic, and is really good as well.  I don’t have as much experience pawing through its pages as some others, but I can’t begin to count the times that Sproul and others have quoted this volume.

Websites

CCEL – this is an amazing collection of online commentaries, essays, sermons and more.  Calvin, Ryle, Augustine, Edwards and on and on.  All of it is here.

Blue Letter Bible – This is probably the best place I’ve found online to look up the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words in Scripture.  It’s simply an amazing resource.

Biblos – One of the best parallel Bibles online today.  This site is also just simply terrific.  You can get commentaries here as well, and there are some language tools available too.  What I like most about it is that when you look up a verse, you can immediate see 10 different versions of the verse.  There are also pretty decent maps that go along with some of the passages here.

ESV.org – If you don’t own an ESV Study Bible, well, you should.  The notes in the ESV are probably the best notes available today.  The general editor was JI Packer, and the contributing editors and authors are nothing short of a laundry list sof the finest scholars in the world.  It’s been endorsed by just about every major Christian scholar today.  If you have the study Bible, you have automatic access to the online study notes, maps, and other goodies.  If you don’t, then you can at least read the Bible, but you need the code to sign up and get the study notes.  The site also has the ability to plug in MacArthur’s study bible notes as well if you purchase them.