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.

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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.’