Hebrews 10:1-10: True Sacrifices

Read: Hebrews 10:1-10

Burnt offerings and sacrifices are not what the Lord delights in, nor does he require them, according to the Psalmist in Psalm 40. The author of Hebrews quotes from this psalm to make a point about the insufficiency of the blood of bulls and rams to atone for sin. On the other hand, the author of Hebrews argues that in these sacrifices is a reminder of the cost for sin. Israel on many occasions forgot this and got in the habit of rote ritualistic religion. What God really wanted them to do is come to him with a contrite heart and broken spirit (Psalm 51:16-17, 1 Samuel 15:22, Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 7:22-24, Micah 6:6-8).

The author of Hebrews then goes onto apply what David wrote about the obedience to Jesus who came to “do your will” – that is the will of God. The gospel of John over and over asserts that Jesus came to do the will of the Father (John 4:34, John 5:30, John 6:38, John 15:21). The work of Jesus, as the author of Hebrews notes, was to do away with the Old Covenant and establish the New Covenant by dying on the cross. His death was once and for all. There is no need for the sacrifice for bulls and rams anymore, and even so, they could not accomplish the task of forgiving sins in the first place.

When Christians approach God, they should do so by the blood of Christ, not through their own merits or through some other sacrifice other than Jesus’ sacrifice. God does not delight in any sacrifice made by means of rote rituals or contemptuous hearts. He desires a contrite, humble heart and obedience to his will. Jesus came to do the will of the Father, and so should those who call upon his name.

Lord, you desire obedience and humility – help me to offer these to you!

Hebrews 9:16-22: The Shedding of Blood

Read: Hebrews 9:16-22

Shedding blood seems like a grotesque and gruesome act. And rightfully so, as the use of blood was used to show the weightiness of whatever it was being applied to, and in this case it was the initiation of covenants. The author of Hebrews quotes from Exodus 24:9, reminding his readers to that the Law of Moses and the Old Covenant was inaugurated by blood. He then goes to argue that the New Covenant, which he spoke if in Hebrews 8 was inaugurated by blood also, namely the blood of Jesus himself.

During Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before he went to the cross, Jesus used common elements during his day – bread and wine – to symbolize his broken body and own blood that inaugurated the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-28). The early Christians used these symbols and partook of them often to remind themselves of this fact. Paul explains that these elements were not to be taken lightly, because these elements represent the body and blood of Christ that was poured out for the forgiveness of sin (1 Corinthians 11:23-29). Every time Christians take communion, they should examine themselves and think about the price Jesus paid to inaugurate the New Covenant. Forgiveness of sin wasn’t cheap – it wasn’t cheap under the Old Covenant, nor is it cheap in the New Covenant. As Jesus stated and the author of Hebrews stated, his blood was for the forgiveness of sin which is not a light issue.

Lord, you made my forgiveness possible by shedding your blood!

Help me to not make light of it!

Hebrews 9:1-15: A Clear Conscience

Read: Hebrews 9:1-15

The sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a piecemeal operation: it required the fallible high priest to make sacrifices for himself, then on behalf of the people of God, enter into the Holy of Holies (a place that was only entered once a year) and make offerings using the blood goats and sheep and the ashes of heifers. The author of Hebrews even goes to argue that the Holy of Holies was shown to signify that the holy presence of God was not revealed to man just yet. And even more so, he continues to make the argument about the temporality and incompleteness of the Old Testament system in light of the “true” temple in heaven.

When Jesus came, he entered into the Holy of Holy as high priest and offered himself as a sinless sacrifice for the sins of the world. This offering was, as the author of made in a “greater” and “more perfect” tabernacle in heaven by a sacrifice that he made by the eternal Spirit of God for eternal redemption. This sacrifice was not required year after year, rather once and for all and it was done by him who could accomplish it without fear.

Because Jesus’ sacrifice is a perfect sacrifice, there can be no doubt about the implications of it: those who believe in Jesus are indeed redeemed and their conscience is clear. In other words, they do not have to worry about even the possibility that sin could keep them apart from God because Jesus has made the way possible, enabling those who believe to serve God all the more. There is no need to do the rote rituals year after year, nor does one have to rely on this for redemption. God’s sacrifice is perfect and true, and Christians can live life free of guilt and religiosity for that reason.

Lord, you freed my conscience! Help me to find confidence in your redemption and not my religion!

Joshua 21:1-42: Staying Close By

Read: Joshua 21:1-42

The Levites were the descendants of the Levi, and they were responsible for a number of cities scattered throughout the land of Israel. The Levites did not receive a land inheritance in the manner of the rest of the tribes of Israel, rather they received cities and some of the surrounding pastures for live stocks. The Levites received God as their inheritance, meaning that their work was to be ministry to the people, and the people in turn would offer tithes and offerings (Joshua 13:8-33). The Levites would take their portion from these offerings so they could have something to eat.

The distribution of the Levites throughout the land of Canaan was strategic because it made the ones responsible for the ministry of God accessible to all. Rather than being cornered away in a particular part of the countryside, the Levites had 48 towns. In a country the size of Israel, this means that there was sure to be a Levitical city nearby. The priests acted as intercessors for the people of God in their time. They were also the ones who offered sacrifices, managed worship, acted as scribes, administered judgment, taught the Law, among many other responsibilities. Having a priest nearby was therefore important to for giving sacrifice, receiving education, having access to justice. If they were far away, one would have to travel great distances to have access to such things.

When Jesus came, he became for Christians the priest before God (Hebrews 7:20-22). He offered the perfect and final sacrifice for sin (Hebrews 9:25-28) and makes intercession for all (Hebrews 7:25). Christians no longer have to go to a priest for intercession – they can plead before God and Jesus intercedes. Likewise, Christians do not have to make sacrifices because Jesus again is the sacrifice. Staying close to Jesus therefore should be a top priority in the lives of those who believe. While Jesus fulfills many of the priestly duties, there are some duties that are given to the church to administer such as teaching, managing worship, evangelism, collecting offerings, and carrying out the ministries of helps (2 Timothy 2:2, Acts 2:42-47).  Hebrews 10:18-25 relates Jesus’ ministry to the Christian’s ministry: because Jesus is the great priest and the great sacrifice, there is confidence and hope. Around this confidence and hope Christians should unite and encourage one another to love and do good deeds in a spirit of unity. For this to happen, their needs to be a gather – that is a local church – for the believer to both encourage and be encouraged to carry out the ministries of the church God has given. Keeping Jesus close and the church close (not just geographically, but in relationally too) are quintessential to living a life committed to God.

Lord, I want to be close to you and your church!

John 19:31-42: Jesus: God’s Passover Lamb

Read: John 19:31-42

Crucifixion was a slow and painful death for the one being crucified. He would have to push up with his legs or pull up with his arms to breath. Breaking the legs of the prisoners on the cross would force them to use their arms to pull up while they were dying, thereby tiring the faster, and speeding up the process. The Jews wanted the prisoners to die faster so the bodies would not be left hanging outside Jerusalem while it was Passover. No Jew would defile himself by touching a dead body on the holiday or else he would not be able to celebrate the Passover. Jesus was already dead, so rather than break his legs, they stabbed him in the side. Jesus would certainly be dead as a result. John reckons this to be a fulfillment of the requirements for the Passover lamb that was slain every year for the feast and was eaten (Exodus 12:46). Jesus was elsewhere called the “Lamb of God” that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29, John 1:36) and the “Lamb” all throughout the book of Revelation.  Peter comments on the matter, saying that Jesus was the Lamb and it was through the blood of the Jesus that men are redeemed (1 Peter 1:18-19). Up to this point, John notes the pseudo trials before Pilate and Caiaphas were Jesus’ guilt is never established. He is crucified not because he is guilty, but because Caiaphas and Pilate had ulterior motives. Jesus’ bones were not broken and he was a certainly without blemish. Through this sort of sacrifice, the law was fulfilled.

John also reckons that in the piercing of Jesus’ side, that Jesus also fulfilled Zechariah 12:10. The passage speaks of a pouring out of the Spirit of God and they will look on the one they have pierced with mourning. This outpouring came in Acts 2 when Peter preached a sermon at Pentecost. Luke records that those who heard Peter’s sermon were “pierced” in their own heart. Certainly, anyone who had just been told that they had just killed one sent from God would have been mourning such a deed because of the conviction that was laid on heavy and thick. One of the roles of the Holy Spirit is to convict people of their sins (John 16:8). The piercing of Jesus was noted here to point to when Jesus would start drawing all men unto himself, much like the fulfillment of Psalm 22 in which the world would turn and worship him.

Joseph of Arimathia asked Pilate for the body of Jesus because he was a follower of Jesus, but in secret. He was afraid of the Jews too. He, alongside Nicodemus prepared the body of Jesus for burial and put Jesus in a tomb in which no one else had laid. The tomb was apparently very close to the location of the crucifixion. This was apparently done in haste so that the body would not be left up and to fulfill the law requiring executions in Deuteronomy 21:33.

The sacrifice of Jesus is nothing to be taken lightly. Jesus gave his life so that others may live eternally. The good news about Jesus is that he did not stay dead and is able to receive worship because of this. Jesus’ resurrection is proof that resurrection is possible and that there is a real hope for those who believe. But even with this hope, one should never forget what it cost Jesus. Jesus gave Christians a vivid reminder of his sacrifice in communion. This symbol was a proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). His body was broken and his blood was spilled so that he would fulfill the law and make a way for mankind. Jesus was not the sacrificial lamb of a man that was required year after year, but God’s Lamb more perfect in every way than anything of this world. This one Lamb was the once and final sacrifice for all men (Hebrews 7:27). The appropriate response to this should be conviction because it was one’s own sin that put Jesus on the cross. One should mourn this and be sorrowful because of it, but at the same time, be joyful that God loves them and that in his mercy made a way. This is truly amazing love!

Lord, help me not forget what you did for me!