NOTES on Hebrews
13:15-25 (click here for study)
The author of Hebrews segues from following Jesus outside the camp and bearing his disgrace as we wait "for the city that is to come" (v.14) to offering "to God a sacrifice of praise-the fruit of lips that confess his name." (v.15) He uses a word that has a history of meaning for his Jewish readers-sacrifice. The word "sacrifice" would conjure for his readers memories of sin and thank offerings chosen from one's own herd, flock, or harvest and carried to the priest to be killed and burned in fulfillment of the law. Sacrifices, in Jewish tradition, cost the worshiper tangible value. Flocks, herds, and harvests were the ancient Israelites' currency. They literally "had to pay" every time they confessed their sins or offered praise to God.
Sacrifices involved two aspects of the worshipers' experiences: acknowledgement of their guilt and their consequent debt to God, and honor given to God in the form of obedience to his commands to them. When an Israelite offered a sacrifice to God from a heart of contrition and reverence, he was honoring God's sovereignty and demonstrating his submission and loyalty to his Lord.
At the time Hebrews was written, however, Jesus had already died on the altar at Calvary. Humans no longer have to pay every time they confess; Jesus has already paid. God's people no longer have to bring sacrifices before God as a means of obtaining forgiveness. Yet Paul, Peter, and the author of Hebrews talk about Christ-followers offering sacrifices to God. Now, however, sacrifices are spiritual acts of worship, not just physical.
Sacrifices: Living and Spiritual
In the New Covenant we enjoy a living connection with God. Our souls have come alive by means of the Holy Spirit living in us and restoring us to spiritual eternal life. God has given us hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. Our intimate relationship with the living God transforms our worship, and we are able to worship not only intellectually and physically but also spiritually. Our spirits, alive because of Jesus' finished work and the indwelling Spirit, can honor God in a way the ancient Israelites' spirits could not worship.
The Israelites' sacrifices were shadows of the true worship Christ's redeemed would offer their Savior. In Romans 12:1 Paul says we are to offer our bodies as "living sacrifices" which is "our spiritual act of worship." We are no longer bringing animals to kill; we are bringing our living bodies as sacrifices to God. We are giving up our rights to ourselves and offering our bodies to God for his use. We are inviting him to live his life in and through us, and to use our hands and heart and feet as his own. This offering is not a physical act as the ancient sacrifices were, although it involves our bodies. This offering is spiritual and comes from the love and surrender of that part of ourselves that knows Jesus. When we perform a spiritual act of worship, we are not fulfilling a law. Rather, we are responding to God's Spirit. Our sacrifices are of ourselves, not merely of what we have.
Paul further states in Philippians 4:18 that the church's gifts to him were "fragrant offerings" and "acceptable sacrifices." Our gifts prompted by the Holy Spirit in support of our brothers in need are a form of sacrifice for a Christ-follower. The focus of a believer's life is not on observing the laws and staying forgiven and ritually pure. Our focus is on responding to the love that our new birth has placed in our hearts. Instead of offering sacrifices for the purpose of atonement and achieving forgiveness and holiness, they are now outgrowths of our certain forgiveness and completed atonement. Instead of being for the purpose of preparing ourselves so the love of God can work in our hearts, sacrifices on this side of the cross are for the purpose of working out the love of God from our hearts into the world around us.
Peter said in 1 Peter 2:5 that we are "living stones" being built into a spiritual house. We are a "holy priesthood", and we offer "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God." When our spirits sacrifice to God, that offering is not primarily physical. It is an outpouring of the eternal love and life that Jesus has placed in us. Sacrifices are no longer acts of penance or the taking of life in order to restore ourselves to relationship with God. Now we praise God from our spirits, freely allowing the vitality of his life to pour from us into our world and back to him.
Old Testament sacrifices were physical rituals that foreshadowed the spiritual sacrifices we would offer after Christ died and rose again and brought us to life with his Spirit.
Generosity, Obedience, and Prayer
The writer follows his exhortation to praise with a reminder to "not forget to do good and to share with others." He emphasizes this command with this statement, "for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Generosity is a spiritual offering. It is a physical act that flows from the love of Jesus in us, and it bathes those we serve with God's love. When we open our homes and feed others at our table, we create a setting of increased intimacy and vulnerability. We give more of ourselves, and we communicate our willingness to know our guests at a deeper-than-casual level. God loves us through each other, and he glorifies our times of sharing when we submit those events to him and ask his Spirit to be present.
The author also admonishes his readers to "obey your leaders and submit to their authority." The leaders he refers to are their spiritual leaders at the time he wrote. Even though all believers are priests of God, those placed in positions of authority and responsibility for overseeing and teaching and caring for the local groups of believers deserve our respect and support. God places each person in the position he designed for them, and we need to honor His sovereignty and respect each other as fulfilling God's will through their work.
We need to pray for our leaders. Their positions make them even more vulnerable to temptation and spiritual attack than if they were working in the background. Part of our calling as members of the body of Christ is to support and intercede for the other members. Our prayers and support of them and our accountability to them will make their God-appointed work easier. Our prayers will also help to protect them against temptations to step beyond the boundaries of trust and faith as they face subtle and powerful distractions.
Blood of the Eternal Covenant
The eternal covenant is God's "New Covenant" which Jesus put into effect at Calvary. It is an eternal covenant, however, in that Jesus the Lamb was slain from the creation of the world. Inside time, though, God promised Abraham that he would send a King who would rule forever over his people. The Mosaic covenant was temporary, not eternal. It existed from the beginning of Israel's formation as a nation and lasted until Jesus came. (see Galatians 3:16-18) But God's promise to Abraham still stands. Jesus inaugurated the New Covenant when he died and healed the rift of sin between God and us. That restored relationship is permanent; nothing can undo the fact that Jesus shed his blood to pay the price of sin. His blood will for eternity bridge the otherwise unsurpassable gulf between us and our God. For eternity we can have intimate, personal relationships with our Creator.
The paradox of the eternal covenant is that it required Jesus, God himself, to die. Humanity succumbed to the lure of sin which was already present in the universe. Satan, disguised as a serpent, deceived Eve who tempted Adam, and the rest is history. Adam and Eve did not commit the first sin. When Jesus redeemed Adam and Eve and all of us, he did more than redeem humans. He forever broke the power of sin, the dark evil that sowed destruction in God's creation. He "disarmed powers and authorities, triumphing over them by the cross." (Colossians 2:13-15) Only the Creator himself, the one who designed the creatures who originally rebelled against him, could rectify the breach sin caused.
Jesus had to become a human and die as a man in order to redeem humanity. He had to rise from the dead in order to bestow on us eternal life. The mystery of the incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus is illuminated slightly by the enigmatic statement in Hebrews 13:20: "May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will"
This verse states, essentially, that Jesus was raised to life by the power of his own shed blood. Without his own death, Jesus the man could not have risen from the dead. Jesus was both God and man. He was the only begotten Son of God (John 3:16). Only God could stop sin and break its inevitable curse of sin on all humanity. Sin was not just weak flesh and weak wills that succumbed to "sins". Sin was, essentially, a rip in the universe that separated God from humanity by an unbridgeable abyss. Sin demanded death. Sin put its victims out of reach of Life. There was no hope for humans born into sin. Jesus, born as a human, was the only man born with a living soul. He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; he was the only human born eternally alive, connected to God because he was by nature God.
When Jesus died, his human body fell into the claim of Death, the essence of evil. Death held humanity prisoner. Death, the inevitable result of sin, claimed Jesus' human body when he died. Yet Jesus was also God. He had a living soul, eternal life, and death could not claim his soul. Because Jesus was God, he had to die and bleed to satisfy the demands of sin. Because his soul was alive with eternal, original life, his blood did what no other blood could do.
Hebrews 9:22 states it this way: "In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness."
Ephesians 1:7-8 declares, "In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding."
Forgiveness and the disarming of sin required sacrificed life. The life that had to be sacrificed, however, was eternal life, the Source of Life. Since sin separated creation from the Source of Life, derived life, such as that of any of God's creatures, could not heal the breach of sin. Only true, authentic, original life could undo eternal separation from Life. Jesus, the God-Man, had to die and sacrifice his life in order to bridge the impassable gulf of sin. Only by disarming the power of sin and fulfilling the requirements of the law-the shedding of blood-could Jesus hope to rise from the dead. He died as a human. But he shed his blood, the symbol of his perfect, eternal life with which he was conceived and born, in order to reunite his race with the Father. By shedding his blood of eternal life, the blood of the eternal covenant, he made it possible for himself to rise from death and to offer that same resurrection and eternal life to his followers.
The author ends with a benediction for the "God of peacethat great Shepherd of the sheep, [to] equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."
The Bible is clear what things God will "work in us [that are] pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ." We will obey his commands to love one another. (1 John 3:22-23) We also will stand uncondemned before him and have life in his name when we believe in him. (John 3:18: 20:31) We are "washed, sanctified, and justified" in the name of the Lord Jesus. All of these things are possible because we have been given His Spirit. (1 John 4:13) God has also "lavished on us" the "riches of God's grace" with "all wisdom and understanding." (Ephesians 1:8) Additionally, the fruit of the Spirit are ours through Christ: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." (Galatians 5:22-23)
We are equipped to do God's will because of the blood of the eternal covenant. Resurrection from sin and death is only possible because of Jesus' shed blood. The Life that raised Jesus from the dead will also bring life to our mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in us. (Romans 8:11)
"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness." (2 Peter 1:3)
Jesus' death and resurrection made Pentecost possible. His Spirit indwells us because Jesus has paid the price of sin and has rescued us from death and separation from him. Because Jesus shed his blood and rose again, he can now give us eternal life and eternal connection with him through His Spirit. The indwelling Spirit of God equips us completely for doing the Father's will.
Conclusion and Commitment
As we conclude the book of Hebrews, praise God for Jesus! Praise Him that he has given us life through the blood of the eternal covenant. Praise Him that he has made it possible for us to offer him spiritual sacrifices of praise and worship and generosity.
Ask God to reveal to you the things in your life which need to be brought to light. Ask him to reveal his love to you deeply and to increase your trust in him. Ask him to glorify himself through you and to reveal his will for your work and your life.
You can trust Jesus with your life. He who died the crushing death of separation from God knows the crushing weight of sin that you carry. He stands before you, resurrected and eternal, asking you to surrender to him the load of shame and guilt that you carry.
"I have already carried your guilt to the cross," he says to you. "I have already forgiven you!"
Nothing you do can surprise him. He created you; he loves you, and he has rescued you from the relentless demands of trying to be good. He asks you simply to accept his love and believe him when he says he has forgiven you. He asks you to open your heart to his grace and allow yourself to begin to feel. He asks you to be vulnerable to his love and allow him to heal the hurts you've buried.
Jesus wants to bring you into the light of truth. He wants you to know the truth about your own twisted motives and unclean conscience. He wants you to experience the truth of his Spirit forgiving those organic flaws in you and giving you a new heart.
The cross of Jesus is the altar upon which your past has died and your present and future have become alive. You stand, sanctified and justified, before your heavenly Father, perfect in his sight because of Jesus.
Praise the God of Peace for bringing Jesus back from the dead. Praise Jesus for shedding the blood of the eternal covenant. Praise the Holy Spirit for living in us and equipping us with everything good to do his will!
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come." (Revelation 4:8)
All contents copyright (c) 1999-2001 Graphics
Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised December 30, 2001.