NOTES on Hebrews
10:19-25 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews interjects another call for faithfulness and perseverance into his discussion about Jesus being the embodiment of the New Covenant. His careful comparison and contrast of the old and the new covenants compels the writer to emphasize that the new covenant is a life-changing, reality-altering miracle, and we must not trivialize it. As our knowledge of God increases as we behold Christ, so our responsibility and accountability increase. When we experience the power of the Holy Spirit and the truth of salvation, we cannot reject that intimacy without eternal consequences.
We are living in a new era of history, the author explains. We no longer have to come before God bearing animal sacrifices for our sins; we can now enter, not merely approach, the actual presence of God by the power of Jesus' blood which has provided a "living way" for us to enter His presence. This living way is "opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart" (v. 20-22)
The curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place in the wilderness tabernacle and in the temple in Jerusalem represented the body of Jesus. The heavy, brocaded curtain woven in the royal colors blue, scarlet, and purple with the designs of cherubim had hidden from worshipers the light of the presence of God which rested over the ark of the covenant. No curious penitent could peer into the tabernacle and see the presence of God. Neither could the priests who served in the temple courts and the Holy Place.
In the days before the cross, humanity was separated from God by its inherited sin. While individuals could worship God and be saved by faith in their coming Messiah, the new birth was not yet a reality. They could trust God and be saved by faith, but their faith did not put them into a condition of being indwelled by the presence of God. Until the perfect atonement of Jesus which destroyed sins' claim on humanity, even those who trusted God could not be one with him.
The curtain separating the Holy from the Most Holy Place represented the protective, sheltering power of Jesus. From the moment of sin, Jesus was the one that "stood between" the perfection of the God's glory and spiritually dead mankind. It was Jesus who protected humanity from destruction by the omnipotence of God. From the moment of Adam and Eve's sin, we humans were in a state of spiritual death awaiting eternal physical as well as spiritual destruction. We were cut off from Life.
Even before people knew about Jesus as an entity of the Trinity, it was he who preserved us from eternal doom. Even before we could claim to belong to God, even while we were dead in our sins, Jesus veiled the glory of God from us and preserved us for salvation. The scarlet, blue, and purple curtain with brocaded designs of cherubim hanging in front of the Most Holy Place represented the royalty of Jesus. The priests could look at it and know their protector was a divine King.
When Jesus died, the curtain in temple ripped from the top down. When Jesus, the perfect, eternal sacrifice, died, the chasm of sin was mended. Jesus' blood created a new, living way for us to enter God's presence. No longer did His earthly residence have to be a small cubicle in the temple. No longer did human eyes have to be sheltered from seeing the symbols of the covenant. Now all earth has access to God through the body and blood of Jesus. Now the living God lives in us, his new temple.
A Sincere Heart
Because we have a high priest who has opened a new, living way to God, we have five new privileges. We can draw near to God, hold "unswervingly to the hope we profess," "spur one another on toward love and good deeds," not abandon meeting together, and encourage one another. (v. 23-25) Because we know Jesus and are one with God, these five things are truly possible. Without the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, we could not realize any of them.
The first of these privileges is what makes the others possible. We can now draw near to God. There are four conditions for us to meet, however, when we draw near to God. We are to come "with a sincere heart." A sincere heart is a heart that is undivided. We cannot desire God with part of our hearts and desire money or fame or power or success or special status with the other. Jesus said that a house divided against itself cannot stand. (Matthew 12:25) He made it clear that he did not cast out demons by the power of demons. Such a divided house would collapse. We cannot live with mixed loyalties. Jesus asks for us to bring him all of ourselves including our goals, dreams, and plans. If we hang onto those and bring Jesus what's left, we are not coming with a sincere heart. A sincere heart trusts Jesus to hold all of us with love.
James also warned against having a divided mind. We are to believe and not doubt, he says. (James 1:6-8) If we ask Jesus to build us and bless us in him but reserve the right to doubt that he will answer, we are not approaching God with a sincere heart. James further said, "Purify your hearts, you double-minded." (4:8)
For us to approach God with a sincere heart means we must come to him with complete vulnerability. We must be willing for God to have everything in us. We must be willing to know what is true.
Faith and Clean Consciences
The second condition for our drawing near to God is having "full assurance of faith". This condition is related to having a sincere heart. We are to come before God confident that we are saved, that Jesus has paid for our sin and has opened the way for us to be in God's presence. God wants us to approach him with freedom and confidence because we have complete faith in Jesus. (Eph. 3:12) He wants us to act in the confidence of His Spirit working through us. (2 Cor. 3:4-5) He wants us to trust our eternal high priest and confidently come before God to receive his mercy and grace. (Heb. 4:15-16) God wants us to stay open and close to him so we can be confident and unashamed, so we can know, when our hearts condemn us, that God is greater than our hearts, and we are safe in him. (1 John 2:28; 3:21)
We are to draw near to God with full assurance of faith that what God has promised to us is, without doubt, ours. We stand before him as recipients of his mercy and grace, not as doubtful petitioners.
The third condition for our drawing near to God is "having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience."
Having our hearts sprinkled is reminiscent of Moses sprinkling the people of Israel with blood when he ratified the Mosaic covenant with them. The blood put the covenant into effect. But the blood Moses sprinkled could do nothing more than symbolize the blood of the Savior who was to come. Sprinkling the people could not give them pure hearts.
Hebrews 12:24 says that Jesus' blood speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. Abel's blood cried out from the ground (see Gen. 4) for justice and repayment. Jesus' blood proclaims forgiveness and reconciliation.
We have been sprinkled with blood that can cleanse our hearts. When we say "Yes" to Jesus and trust him with our lives, we put ourselves under his blood. His blood, an eternal reality that opens a permanent living way for us to come into the presence of our Father, "sprinkles" our sinful hearts and brings them to spiritual life. When Jesus cleanses our sins with his blood and brings us to eternal life, our consciences become clean for the first time. Our guilt and shame are gone; Jesus has cleansed us by taking our sin onto himself and suffering our curse. We only receive this sprinkling, however, when we choose to humble ourselves before Jesus and acknowledge our guilt and shame before him. Only when we offer him our past and our future and accept his death for us will our hearts come alive and our consciences become purified.
The fourth condition of drawing near to God is "having our bodies washed with pure water." Water is a symbol throughout the Bible of Jesus and the eternal life he gives us. When God commanded Moses to strike the rock in the Desert of Sin, fresh water gushed out of it and saved the Israelites' lives. (Exodus 17:1-7) The rock symbolized Jesus, and Moses' striking the rock prefigured Jesus' physical suffering and death. The water which flowed out of the distressed rock gave the Israelites life and represented the Water of Life which flows from Jesus.
Forty years later, after Israel had wandered in the wilderness to give the faithless generation time to die, the people came again to the Desert of Sin (Zin in Numbers). Again there was no water. Again the people complained bitterly to Moses. Again Moses went to God to ask for directions. This time God told Moses to go the rock, but this time he was not to strike it. This time he was to speak to it, and water would come out.
Moses was angry, however, and he said to Israel, "Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?" (Numbers 20: 10) He raised his staff and struck the rock twice. Water gushed out and the people drank, but God told Moses he would not allow him to lead the Israelites into Canaan because of his disobedience in striking the rock.
The rock still symbolized Christ. But Moses had, 40 years before, struck the rock in a blow anticipating the crucifixion. Jesus had already figuratively died in this metaphor. God told Moses to speak to the rock because after the crucifixion, people could directly approach God and ask for what they need. They do not have to present sacrifices or doubt the finished work of Jesus. Moses symbolically doubted and "crucified" Christ again. He dishonored the reality of Jesus' eternal sacrifice. (see New Covenant Christians by Clay Peck.)
Jesus told the woman at the well that if she had asked him, he would have given her "living water". (John 4:10) He also said, " 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive." (John 7:37-39)
Water is also a symbol of baptism. Baptism itself does not save, nor is it a means of grace. But it does represent the death and resurrection of Jesus. When we accept baptism, we state publicly that we accept the death and resurrection of Jesus for our salvation.
Water symbolizes Life. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection have purchased our redemption, and the Holy Spirit brings that eternal life into us. When we accept Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection, we receive the Holy Spirit, and we experience a new birth. The life of Jesus is in us, and we are no longer dead in sin. The new birth happens while we are still in our sinful bodies. When we are born again we indeed have "our bodies washed with pure water."
Unswerving Hold on Hope
As New Covenant Christ-followers, we have a sure hope: we have a relationship with God that is based on the completed work of Jesus, not just on the promise of Jesus. We know that our high priest has entered the presence of God on our behalf, and we anchor our hope in heaven. We're no longer kept at arm's length from God; he is now intimate with us. Even though we do not see him face-to-face, our hope on this side of the cross is based on the living Christ.
The author of Hebrews warned his readers to hold to this hope unswervingly. Many of them were in danger of reverting to their familiar patterns of legalism and ceremonies. The traditions of Judaism were part of their identities, and the writer was warning them not to let the familiar routines seduce them away from their "better hopeby which [they] draw near to God." (Heb. 7:19)
If we didn't have the "better hope" of Jesus, our high priest, sitting at the right hand of our Father, it would probably be impossible for us to hold unswervingly to "the hope we profess". Without the power and perfection of the Holy Spirit bringing our spirits to life and making us new creatures in Christ, our habits and temptations would overpower our convictions, and we would fall away. It's only because of the power of the Holy Spirit in us that we are able to live new lives of commitment and obedience to Jesus. It's only because we are new creations in Christ that we have a personal relationship to the Law of God-the living, vital law of the Holy Spirit who holds us more accountable than a rigid word written in stone could ever have done.
Good Deeds and Fellowship
"Good works" is a phrase that sometimes elicits a guarded response from people who have a history of legalism. "Good works", however, is a Biblical term, and we need to understand what it really means instead of what we may have been taught it means.
Many of us grew up believing "good works" were the good deeds people did as responses to loving God. The problem with this understanding of good works, however, is that it is easy to rationalize acts of charity as expressions of our loyalty just because we are "being good". Good works in a legalistic setting consists of deciding to participate in charitable causes and assigning motives of worship and loyalty to those acts. In reality, those acts may have sprung entirely out of altruism or guilt. They may not have had any connection to love or selflessness at all.
Good works in a Biblical setting, however, are works of the Holy Spirit in us. They are not works we decide to do based on our feelings of guilt or our assessment of need; they are works God literally brings to us. To paraphrase Oswald Chambers, if we are working for God by doing things we think will advance His cause, we are probably not doing God's will but our own. When we trust Christ, God then assigns us our work. Sometimes our work is to wait patently and pray. Sometimes our work is to pray while we fill a need God has laid on our doorstep. When we become born again, our job is to learn to rest in Jesus, pray without ceasing, and be ready to act when the Holy Spirit makes it clear we are to act.
When we depend on God to bring us our work instead of defining and generating it ourselves, everything falls into place. When God gives us a job, he also provides the means and the prayer support and the affirmation of other believers to make his call and purpose clear.
When we become part of the body of Christ, it becomes our privilege to encourage one another to become grounded in faith and to encourage each other to rest in Jesus and trust him to make his assignments clear. Our encouragement of one another is what God uses to reassure us of his forgiveness and mercy toward us. It is through one another that God demonstrates his love for us. We become His hands and heart and voice to one another. God makes many of his blessings tangible to us through the love and kindness of our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Our great privilege is to be part of the mystery hidden from the ages: the church. God indwelling human hearts and uniting them as one body representing him on earth is a phenomenon that had never been known before Jesus came and took care of the sin problem.
God calls us to accept our position in His Body and to do the work he gives us to do to keep the Body healthy. He calls us to allow him, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to let go of our compulsive drive to convince our unbelieving friends of the truth. He calls us to let go of our dreams of service and good works and allow him to reveal to us the work "he created in advance for us to do." (Ephesians 2:10) He calls us instead to rest before him. Living in Christ is a life of quietness and prayer.
Even though we may be busier than ever before, when we are truly doing God's work we will not feel driven or compulsive. God asks us to present to him the people we love who do not know him. He calls us to a life of prayer and trust. He calls us to relinquish our dreams of working for him and of professional advancement.
God calls us to surrender to him every dream, every flattering opportunity, every temptation to argue doctrine, every good idea we have. He asks us to surrender to him our egos, our desire to prove ourselves and to become known for our expertise.
God's sovereign plans for us include unimagined fulfillment and internal freedom. He cannot bring them to pass, however, when we cling to the dreams and the offers life presents to us. Only when we give to Him our desires to fulfill our dreams and to take advantage of opportunities the world gives us can he transform our circumstances and bless our work with his love and success.
Jesus assigns us our work. When we are submissive before him, our work will be His work. It will not be about us and our "program" or our "vision" or our cleverness. It will be about God's love transforming us and his love flowing through us to the people he places in our lives. What functions we perform and the venues in which we do them will be secondary. Our primary work will be to speak for God and to do what he gives us to do. When we wait for God to define our work, we have peace and rest inside instead of feelings of being driven or of restlessness to make our dreams happen.
When we are in the body of Christ, God's call to us is to pray. Bring before him the people you love. Intercede for those in your life who do not know him. Entrust to him your career, your time, your work. Let God reveal to you who you are in him, and allow him to define your work and the ways you spend your physical and mental energy.
God is calling you to a life of prayer and surrender. He is asking you to surrender to him the opportunities in your life. He is asking you to give to him the vision you have for ministry. He is asking to be the only object of your desire and energy.
When we replace our professional concerns and relational desires and personal dreams with dedication to Jesus, he takes care of all the other needs in our lives. When we truly surrender everything to him, he gives us contentment and fulfillment we could never have foreseen.
"But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." (Matthew 6:33)
Open your hands and your heart to Jesus right now. Release to him the dreams and opportunities, the flattery to your ego that you face in your life. Let all of it go to him, and ask Jesus to place his spirit in your heart and mind and to give you his wisdom. Ask him to show you how to wait before him as you face change and make decisions. Ask him reveal truth to you in the situations you face.
Jesus will give you abundantly more than you ask or imagine. It may not look like your dream for yourself; it will be infinitely more fulfilling. You may feel you are giving up your greatest opportunity and exercising poor professional judgment. But God is a better business person than you are, and he will direct and bless the work he gives you. He will provide everything you need.
Praise God that he is sovereign and that he places us exactly where he wants us. Praise Jesus that he has redeemed our selfish, insecure hearts so we can be alive in him and responsive to the will of God. Praise the Holy Spirit for giving us God's peace deep inside and for revealing how we are to live and wait for him.
Praise the Trinity for blessing us with every gift, service, and work
that we need to fulfill our position in the body of Christ.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 3, 2001.