An Odd Story

Last night at our weekly Bible study I taught on Judges 17 and 18.  This has to have been the oddest series of chapters I’ve ever taught on! Yet, there are also profound lessons to be learned.  Below are my notes – they are pretty rough-draft, not polished etc. But they point to a few of the major lessons I learned from my study of these chapters.  I think its fair to say that this story (of Micah and the Danites) is very odd – but also rather funny.  There are satirical nuances laced throughout each chapter, and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

PJW

Chapter 17 (Introduction) 

As we enter our study on chapter 17, we’re beginning to examine the final section of this book of the Bible (there are three major sections).  Chapters 17-21 are sometimes called “appendices” of the book because they add further context to the situation in Israel in the form of two additional stories.

Each of these stories is low on commentary by the narrator, but the writing style is extremely subtle, and sophistication marks the compilation of each composition.

Both of these stories are divided up into two chapters each, and they share many things in common with each other.  In fact, Daniel Block mentions 9 such commonalities, but one that I find most significant is his final one:

Both accounts are punctuated by variations of the refrain “in those days Israel had no king” (17:6; 18:1; 19:1; 21:25). In the first the formula is inserted at critical junctures in the narrative and functions as an episode marker, in the second the formula frames the entire narrative, appearing at the beginning and the end. Twice, once in each section, the formula is augmented with, “everyone did as he saw fit” (17:6; 21:25).

Up until this point God has raised up Judges who saved Israel from her slavery to other nations.  The cycle of sin and judgment and delivery has been a downward spiral with each Judge being less and less moral/upright in their behavior and leadership.

By the time we reach chapter 17 (which is not necessarily after Samson, but probably meant to coincide with the times of his judging Israel) the nation has hit rock bottom.  They are pretty much fully “Canaanized” and have become more like the people of the land than the men and women God wanted them to be.  This is almost surely a result of their failure to expel the native Canaanites from their home turf.

Commenting on this, Tom Schreiner explains the reason for needing to cleanse the land of the Canaanites:

The call to utterly destroy the peoples in Canaan is a shock to modern sensibilities, but despite the attempt of some scholars to say otherwise, it is quite clear that Israel believed that these were instructions from Yahweh Himself. The failure to carry out such instructions would imperil the fundamental tenet of Israel’s faith: Yahweh’s Lordship. Israel must cleanse the land from evil, for Canaan is to be a new Eden, a new garden of the Lord, free from evil.

By not expelling God’s enemies from the land, the Israelites have fallen under their influence and are no longer following the laws of Moses.

So here we are, so far from where Moses and Joshua had come both spiritually and physically.  The people are finally in the land, but far from being a light to the nations, they are hardly discernable from the people who originally inhabited the land.

Lastly, one of the things we ought to notice (that a few commentators brought up) is that there are two tribes in the spotlight here from 17-21: Dan and Benjamin.  Dan would one day lead the northern kingdom and Benjamin the southern.  Both were tribes with settlements that were in the heart of Canaan.  The significance of these things is that we’re seeing here in chapter 17 an example of the private/personal apostasy of one man’s home, and then later in 18 we see it with Dan. But its tempting to think “well I wonder if these are isolated instances…”  The author, I think, purposefully uses these examples (sic Dan/Benjamin) to show us the depth and thoroughness of the apostasy of the nation as a whole.  These are kitchen table issues (as we say in politics).  They range in scope and scale from the least to the greatest and the reach of this kind of lifestyle is vast.  We cannot leave these final chapters without understanding how far men will flee from God given their own devices:

10 as it is written:
“None is righteous, no, not one;
11 no one understands;
no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14 “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (Romans 3:10-18) 

 

17:1-6 There was a man of the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Micah. 2 And he said to his mother, “The 1,100 pieces of silver that were taken from you, about which you uttered a curse, and also spoke it in my ears, behold, the silver is with me; I took it.” And his mother said, “Blessed be my son by the Lord.” 3 And he restored the 1,100 pieces of silver to his mother. And his mother said, “I dedicate the silver to the Lord from my hand for my son, to make a carved image and a metal image. Now therefore I will restore it to you.” 4 So when he restored the money to his mother, his mother took 200 pieces of silver and gave it to the silversmith, who made it into a carved image and a metal image. And it was in the house of Micah. 5 And the man Micah had a shrine, and he made an ephod and household gods, and ordained one of his sons, who became his priest. 6 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Verse 6 helps us explain the bizarre story that precedes it, and the equally bizarre story that continues after it.  This man, who appears to have been a thief and one who disrespected his parents (there goes two of the 10 commandments right there), has the gall to make household idols and then appoint one of his sons to be a priest with an ephod and all the trappings (almost) of a feaux levitical ministry (there goes another one of the commandments).

First I want to offer a note of explanation about the curse and the blessing of Micah’s mother. There’s a good chance that the curse itself was enough to motivate Micah to return the silver, and the reason for this is that at the time a “curse” was seen as something that was alive and active – like a hidden warrior who could strike at any moment without you knowing it.  The blessing was thought of as the only way to undue the curse.  So we ought not to think of Micah’s mother as so elated at her son that she sought to bless him (though perhaps she was), but rather that this is the sort of stock response to undue the cursing she had uttered previously.

Now, secondly, note how syncretistic the situation is here.  This man Micah has made idols out of silver, which is clearly a pagan practice in violation of the law of God, yet he has also made an ephod and appointed one of his sons to be a sort of priest for the idols.  He’s doing all this in his own home, which is clearly a violation of how God wanted to be worshiped.  Much of the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy focus on the fact that God will be worshiped as He wants and where He wants.  But Micah is either showing significant ignorance, or rash arrogance.

So when we read in verse six that everyone was doing what was right in his own eyes, it begins to make sense – especially in light of the fact that “there was no king” at the time.  Not only was there no physical ruler that united all the tribes under one lawful banner, but the people who occupied the land of Canaan no longer regarded the Lord as their King.

To this end, I thought it right to quote Baptist Scholar Peter Gentry who said the following while remarking on the nature of the Davidic Covenant and the order of God’s bringing the Ark into Jerusalem prior to making the everlasting covenant with David:

The return of the ark in 2 Samuel 6 indicates that Yahweh is returning to live in the midst of his people as king. The fact that 2 Samuel 6 precedes 7 shows that only when the kingship of Yahweh among his people is firmly established can the issue of kingship in Israel be discussed. A sanctuary for the Lord comes before the monarchy

At this point in Israel, everyone is doing what they think is right.  They are following what they believe to be the right way to live their lives.  However, those guidelines are all subjective to however each man feels or thinks (as Dale R. Davis said, the entire law code seems subject to each man’s “glands”!).

17:7-13 Now there was a young man of Bethlehem in Judah, of the family of Judah, who was a Levite, and he sojourned there. 8 And the man departed from the town of Bethlehem in Judah to sojourn where he could find a place. And as he journeyed, he came to the hill country of Ephraim to the house of Micah. 9 And Micah said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I am a Levite of Bethlehem in Judah, and I am going to sojourn where I may find a place.” 10 And Micah said to him, “Stay with me, and be to me a father and a priest, and I will give you ten pieces of silver a year and a suit of clothes and your living.” And the Levite went in. 11 And the Levite was content to dwell with the man, and the young man became to him like one of his sons. 12 And Micah ordained the Levite, and the young man became his priest, and was in the house of Micah. 13 Then Micah said, “Now I know that the Lord will prosper me, because I have a Levite as priest.”

We don’t know what the name of the “young man” was in verses 8-13, but he was a Levite, and he seems to have been on a journey when he came to Micah’s house.  We don’t know why or where he was going, but once he comes up on the house of Micah his entire life changes.

Block hilariously describes this young Levite as he’s dealing with the fact that we really don’t know a lot about him:

He is a “laid back” professional minister following the path of least resistance and waiting for an opportunity to open up. And he just happens to arrive at the house of Micah in the hill country of Ephraim. But what a stroke of luck this turns out to be, for both him and Micah!

Micah, who we’ve seen is a syncretistic idolatrous sinner, sees this man, this Levite, as from God. Why? Because to date he has been making due with one of his sons as priest, but no longer.  Now he can have the real deal – a Levite!

We know that there’s a lot more to being a Levitical priest than simply being a descendent of Levi – there are ceremonial cleansing, and learning and all manner of rules that one must go through.  But not so here, Micah doesn’t care about all that.  And why should he?  In his lifetime, and in the generations that have come before him, I’m betting he never saw the priesthood properly modeled, not only that, but a true encounter with God hadn’t happened in quite some time.

When verse six says that everyone did what was right in their own eyes, it reminds us that there was no fear nor any love for God in the eyes of Israelites.

What this means is that men like Micah would have been more superstitious than religious.  Micah thinks that simply having a Levite as his own personal idol-priest will make him to “prosper” (as Block says, “the Levite is nothing more than a good luck charm”)!

We get a chuckle at this because is sounds absurd, but we see the same thing in our churches today.  In fact, I was just reading Matt Chandler’s book ‘The Explicit Gospel’ and he talks about how in Texas where he is a pastor, there are record church attendees.  It’s a way of life to go to church on Sunday morning.  Having spiritual transformation, obedience and love for God are not necessarily part of the equation.  It’s motivated partly by a way of life, partly based on some superstition (enabled by the prosperity gospel preachers), and partly on feel-good self-help centered gathering that give attendees a helpful trinket of useful to-dos for the week ahead.

So as ridiculous as Micah’s situation looks to us, let’s not forget that many of us have grown up in churches, or know those who still go to churches, that don’t preach the full gospel of Jesus Christ.  Ignorance of the Word breeds superstition, prosperity gospel, and all manner of evil.

Chapter 18

18:1 In those days there was no king in Israel. And in those days the tribe of the people of Dan was seeking for itself an inheritance to dwell in, for until then no inheritance among the tribes of Israel had fallen to them. 

The more clear way of putting this is that there was no inheritance “taken”, perhaps.  They were given an inheritance (as we read of in Joshua 19:40-48) but they were beaten back by the Amorites and could not repel them – see chapter 1.

So instead of going before God and asking for help, they have basically been stuck in these two cities of Zorah and Eshtaol (likely their basecamps from which they launch their initial Canaanite expedition) for several generations, having failed to take the land the Lord gave them.

We might note that this entire chapter is somewhat of a parody of the earlier conquest accounts.  As Block says, “this chapter is deliberately composed as a parody on the earlier spy mission traditions. Nothing in this chapter is normal; people’s values and behavior are all topsy-turvy.”

18:2-6 So the people of Dan sent five able men from the whole number of their tribe, from Zorah and from Eshtaol, to spy out the land and to explore it. And they said to them, “Go and explore the land.” And they came to the hill country of Ephraim, to the house of Micah, and lodged there. 3 When they were by the house of Micah, they recognized the voice of the young Levite. And they turned aside and said to him, “Who brought you here? What are you doing in this place? What is your business here?” 4 And he said to them, “This is how Micah dealt with me: he has hired me, and I have become his priest.” 5 And they said to him, “Inquire of God, please, that we may know whether the journey on which we are setting out will succeed.” 6 And the priest said to them, “Go in peace. The journey on which you go is under the eye of the Lord.”

So like in former generations, the Danites send out “spies” to scout out the land.  The “able men” as the ESV translates it, could also be “noble men” or “noble/mighty warrior” to which Bock comically states, “the present designation would have suited Joshua and Caleb, the two trustworthy members of the original team of twelve Israelite scouts (Num. 14:5-10), but here it is ironic. The Danites may be heroic figures physically and militarily, but they are spiritual pygmies.”  Ha!

It is interesting that these Danites recognize the voice of the Levite, and though we don’t know how (the author doesn’t explain it) they recognize his voice, they begin to immediately interrogate him.  Interestingly, his responses are reflective of his totally self-serving agenda.  He talks about how good Micah has been to him (vs.4) and how Micah has paid him good money to be there (vs.4).

The next thing that happens here is that the Danites seem thrilled to have run across someone who can tell them their fortune – what luck!  As Block says, “Just as Micah’s cult has lacked credibility and authority  until the Levite arrived, so the mission of these scouts lacks authority without an oracular authentication from the deity.”  But now they have a genuine Levite before them – heck, he’s even got an Ephod!

It’s just such an odd situation – it’s as if you’re watching a Monty Python movie or something.  I can picture these guys getting made fun of so badly.  Everything is so whacko…

Then, to add to the oddities, the response of the Levite is pretty much instantaneous…its almost like he just glibly answered, “Ya, looks like you’re blessed…move along.”  Did he even bother to consult with God?  Who even knows!? In fact, its not as if he answers them clearly that God will bless the mission!  But it doesn’t seem to bother the Danites – they take it the way they want to take it and the Levite sends them on their way…and like the dolts that they are, they proceed in the utmost happiness and tranquility of mind. 

18:7-10 Then the five men departed and came to Laish and saw the people who were there, how they lived in security, after the manner of the Sidonians, quiet and unsuspecting, lacking nothing that is in the earth and possessing wealth, and how they were far from the Sidonians and had no dealings with anyone. 8 And when they came to their brothers at Zorah and Eshtaol, their brothers said to them, “What do you report?” 9 They said, “Arise, and let us go up against them, for we have seen the land, and behold, it is very good. And will you do nothing? Do not be slow to go, to enter in and possess the land. 10 As soon as you go, you will come to an unsuspecting people. The land is spacious, for God has given it into your hands, a place where there is no lack of anything that is in the earth.”

Here are more parallels between the original mission to spy out the land of Canaan, and this comical less-than-holy mission of the Danites.  They spy things out, they like what they see, they come back, they report on the situation, and the response seems favorable.  They have scouted a land that is safe, has natural defenses of mountains and naturally occurring ramparts to safeguard the city (see Block), and is far from the Amorites and the Sidonians who wouldn’t want to bother with anything inland anyway.  They have plentiful resources, and they live a sort of idyllic life – a life that the Danites see themselves enjoying soon!

The scouts are so excited, that they accuse their fellow brothers of stalling and even through in that the land has been given to them by Yahweh – no doubt encouraged by their encounter with the fake priest.

18:11-14 So 600 men of the tribe of Dan, armed with weapons of war, set out from Zorah and Eshtaol, 12 and went up and encamped at Kiriath-jearim in Judah. On this account that place is called Mahaneh-dan to this day; behold, it is west of Kiriath-jearim. 13 And they passed on from there to the hill country of Ephraim, and came to the house of Micah.

14 Then the five men who had gone to scout out the country of Laish said to their brothers, “Do you know that in these houses there are an ephod, household gods, a carved image, and a metal image? Now therefore consider what you will do.”

One of the interesting things that we find in verse 11 is that there’s only 600 men that decide to go with the 5 who spied out the land.  It seems like a small amount given the fact that the whole tribe of Dan had commissioned them. This is reflected in the fact also that in verse 11 the author uses the word “clan” instead of tribe (even though the ESV uses the same word here, the Hebrew is more limited).  So I think that the sense of the text is that many people from the tribe didn’t decide to go – and as Block notes, the rest of them pretty much disappeared from the pages of history.

Once the group gets the Micah’s house, they are definitely going to stop and check in with their lucky Levite.  After all, he offered great advice the first time, so why not stop again – heck, why not stop and offer the man a better job?  After all, he would probably take it…

18:15 And they turned aside there and came to the house of the young Levite, at the home of Micah, and asked him about his welfare. 16 Now the 600 men of the Danites, armed with their weapons of war, stood by the entrance of the gate. 17 And the five men who had gone to scout out the land went up and entered and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, while the priest stood by the entrance of the gate with the 600 men armed with weapons of war. 18 And when these went into Micah’s house and took the carved image, the ephod, the household gods, and the metal image, the priest said to them, “What are you doing?” 19 And they said to him, “Keep quiet; put your hand on your mouth and come with us and be to us a father and a priest. Is it better for you to be priest to the house of one man, or to be priest to a tribe and clan in Israel?”

18:20 And the priest’s heart was glad. He took the ephod and the household gods and the carved image and went along with the people.

I think its fairly obvious that “the priest’s heart was glad” signals the ambition of this Levite.  He thinks mostly about himself first, and doesn’t seem to give a whit about loyalty to Micah – much less about the blatant apostasy he’s been committing.

This reminds me of the simony that marked the church in the medieval ages.  Becoming a church minister became a normal career to consider like that of a farmer or dairyman, rather than a calling from the Lord.

Lastly, the whole situation here is just odd, as I’ve mentioned before.  The household shrine is now stolen from Micah, who ironically had stolen his mom’s silver which was then used to pay for this shrine by his mom in the first place…not only this, but they have the arrogance to think that wherever they setup shop the Lord will be with them.  “We can plop down a shrine anywhere and be all set!”

18:21 So they turned and departed, putting the little ones and the livestock and the goods in front of them. 22 When they had gone a distance from the home of Micah, the men who were in the houses near Micah’s house were called out, and they overtook the people of Dan. 23 And they shouted to the people of Dan, who turned around and said to Micah, “What is the matter with you, that you come with such a company?” 24 And he said, “You take my gods that I made and the priest, and go away, and what have I left? How then do you ask me, ‘What is the matter with you?’” 25 And the people of Dan said to him, “Do not let your voice be heard among us, lest angry fellows fall upon you, and you lose your life with the lives of your household.” 26 Then the people of Dan went their way. And when Micah saw that they were too strong for him, he turned and went back to his home.

If ever you wondered about whether the Danites might have been righteous men, this passage should stop your wondering.  They have stolen what was not theirs, and subsequently stolen into the night.

In his anger and frustration, Micah chases after the band of miscreants and upon catching up to them tries to stop them from stealing all that he has.  You would think, at this point in the story that the Levite might interject himself – that perhaps he would feel a sense of remorse for what he had done.  But that isn’t the case.  Instead, he keeps silent.  He has made his bed and will lie in it.

When Micah realizes that to argue further with the men would result in his termination (“you lose your life and the lives of your household”), he desists and returns home.

Is this the way righteous men act?  Is this the way the promised land was taken?  Is this the way those who fear God and serve Him behave?  With no consideration for others…this is yet another indication of the self-centered idolatry that permeated all of Israel from the least to the greatest, each man followed in his path according to his own ideas and counsel.

Today there are many who call themselves Christians – even claiming to be part of the evangelical church.  But they are nothing short of Danite robbers.  They have no honor, nor do they live according to the word of the Lord.  They are pretenders who are self-centered glory seekers.  They are, in the end, mercenaries.  They are mercenaries because they serve themselves and not God.

18:27 But the people of Dan took what Micah had made, and the priest who belonged to him, and they came to Laish, to a people quiet and unsuspecting, and struck them with the edge of the sword and burned the city with fire. 28 And there was no deliverer because it was far from Sidon, and they had no dealings with anyone. It was in the valley that belongs to Beth-rehob. Then they rebuilt the city and lived in it. 29 And they named the city Dan, after the name of Dan their ancestor, who was born to Israel; but the name of the city was Laish at the first. 30 And the people of Dan set up the carved image for themselves, and Jonathan the son of Gershom, son of Moses, and his sons were priests to the tribe of the Danites until the day of the captivity of the land. 31 So they set up Micah’s carved image that he made, as long as the house of God was at Shiloh.

Laish means “lion” but the Danites named it after Dan, their ancestor, one of the sons of Jacob (Israel).

It is not until verse 30 of this final chapter in the two-chapter story that we really understand the full weight and depth of the Canaanization of the land.  And this is because we finally learn in verse 30 that the Levite who has whored himself out to idols and to the highest bidder is a direct descendent of Moses himself.  His is the son of Gershom (“son” in this case likely means “descendent” but if it does not, then there is good reason to believe this story took place earlier in the Judges narrative than later).

The intent of the story is to leave you feeling nauseous.  You want to throw up because if you’ve been reading the accounts of Scripture up until this point and have any idea as the manifold destiny of this people you can’t help but feel like they have unwittingly charged forward to their lowest point since slavery in Egypt.  Instead of slavery to Pharaoh they are slaves to idols.  They have broken free from service to God and have whored after other gods who are not Gods at all.  They are foolish, arrogant and headed for ruin.

So might you and I be had it not been had it not been for the grace of God.  You and I are like these Danites.  We spy out land that isn’t given to us.  We are always looking for greener pastures – never content to conquer what has been given until our hands by the Lord.  We steal, pilfer, and snub our noses at God and rebel against all that He has intended us to be.  If Christ hadn’t rescued us from ourselves we would be lost.  Forgotten in the pages of history.  Missing in some dungeon in Hell’s dark cavernous landscape never to be heard from again except by those who share our fate.

Praise God that He rescued us.

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.’