Hebrews 8 – Shadows and Dust

Read Hebrews 8

Building on the notion that Jesus is the fulfillment of an ancient priesthood, established by Melchizedek, and that this priesthood also has Kingly “intonations” which are also fulfilled by Jesus, the author moves ahead to point to Jesus as also fulfilled the old covenant while also establishing a new covenant.

There are a number of things that make the writer points to as being superior about that which is established by Jesus.  His priesthood is eternal because Jesus Christ is the eternal God, the resurrected Lord, who lives and reigns forever.  He is seated at the right hand of God and Scripture tells us that Jesus is forever interceding for us.  Whereas the priests of the Old Testament had to continually offer sacrifices for the sins of the people as well as worship God in the earthly sanctuary built for Him, Jesus fulfills these roles perfectly both on earth and in heaven before the presence of God.

All of these things, the author points out, are shadows of what was to come in Jesus.  Though at the time they carried great meaning for the people, they now give meaning to Jesus’ life, work, and position in redemptive history.  Jesus’ sacrifice means a lot, but it gains its deep meaning and from the Hebrew sacrificial system that was performed for many years and set up by the law.

In the same way, the Tabernacle and the Temple were built in such a way to be a shadow of the true Temple of God in heaven, God’s true dwelling place.  There was a need for them to be built in such a way as to do this well on earth, but their meaning and purpose point to the greater reality of God in heaven and of the work of Jesus Christ to bring salvation to the world and to reconcile all things which will reach its greatest and true fulfillment when Christ comes again.

Hebrews 7 – Melchizedek

Read Hebrews 7

The Old Testament priest, Melchizedek, is a rather mysterious character in the Bible, showing up only a couple times throughout all of Scripture.  He shows up in Genesis 14 and blesses Abraham after he returns from battle.  In return, Abraham gives 10% of everything he had.  This event, though isolated, becomes a rather a foreshadowing of things to come.

Everytime time Melchizedek is mentioned in the Bible after Genesis 14, he is mentioned by saying “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.”  This saying is unique, and it appears to be said in a manner which suggests familiarity from the reader, though its true meaning in an ancient context is probably no lost.

Interestingly, the name Melchizedek means “righteous king,” and it is noted in Scripture that he is the king of Salem, which means “peace.”  There may be something to these meanings that is drawn forward and fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, Melchizedek combines the functions of both king and priest, something only two other people do in Scripture: King David and Jesus Christ.  So when the writer of Hebrews is talking about Jesus being like (better than) Melchizedek, it is likely that the writer is referring to this in the same way that David mentions this in Psalm 110:4.  While David is an imperfect echo of Melchizedek, both David and Melchizedek are foreshadows of greater things to come, the true fulfillment of both King and Priest (and Prophet) in Jesus Christ.

In addition to this, Jesus Christ fulfills this role eternally as the resurrected Lord, the Great High Priest (in the order of Melchizedek), and the true prophet of God who brings the Word of the Lord to the people, and also represents the people before God.  Everything that comes before Him is a foreshadow, pointing to Jesus Christ and the fulfillment of God’s plan of redemption that came through Him.

Exodus 19-31 “Defining Freedom”

  1. Think about your first experience with the 10 Commandments. How were you introduced to them?  What were you told about their purpose or how you should be following them?  How has that impacted your view of the Old Testament Law?
  1. After leaving Egypt, God had a lot of work to do replacing the identity of the people of Israel as slaves with the identity of being God’s chosen people. How does the giving of the Law help that process?  Do you think that these things could be helpful for us today as we leave our own personal “egypts?”  How?
    1. Do you think the Law could give our church some direction when it comes to leaving our “egypts?” How?
  1. Essentially, the giving of the Law and God’s work to re-identify Israel as His people is an invitation to Love. This is different than slavery’s demand of work and striving.  How does God’s invitation to love challenge you?  What are some of the biggest obstacles to loving well?
  1. Far too often for us, the Law becomes more like “rules” and “regulations” rather than “boundaries.” What is the difference?  Does that difference change your perspective of the Law?  Of God?  Of how we approach the Law in our own lives?  How?
  1. Egypt seeks to take away our true identity and replace it was that of a slave. God begins the process, here at Sinai, of piecing together Israel’s identity once again.  Have you had a “Sinai” moment in your life?  What lies needed to be replaced with truth in your life?
  1. How does knowing that you are called a “treasured possession” make a difference? How do you feel when you hear the words of dignity and love that God speaks over you?

*Some questions taken from Leaving Egypt, by Chuck DeGroat

Hebrews 6 – Moving Forward

Read Hebrews 6

There are some difficult sayings in this chapter that, when we read them, don’t always jive with what we think we know about Scripture and what we know about God’s grace and salvation either.  The author says that it’s impossible for those who are of the faith and then turn away “to be brought back to repentance.”  How does this stand up next to Paul’s words in Romans 8, that nothing can separate us from the love of Go that is in Christ Jesus?

Considering these words, and looking at those around them, and the context in which the author is writing, it doesn’t seem so much that the author is trying to set down some sort of new doctrine where salvation can be lost, but rather to cast a warning about falling away from the faith and the impact that it can have both on the life of the believer and on the church as well.

None of this, however, negates the promise of God, originally made to Abraham, to be God to His people.  Because of God’s mercy, love, and enduring faithfulness, we know that God will always be with us and never turn His back on us.  No matter what we do, God promises to be faithful to us.

This promise was confirmed to us in Jesus Christ, who came to the earth as a human to make a way for us to be in a relationship with God.  As Jesus eternally fulfills the role of “priest,” as the writer of Hebrews says, He eternally intercedes for us before God.  As the sacrifice for our sins, He washes us clean so that we have the hope of salvation which can never be taken away.

Here the writer of Hebrews encourages us to move forward, deeper into this relationship.  As we realize the love that God has for us, we respond in relationship with God, growing closer to Him and taking greater hold of our hope and salvation.

Hebrews 5 – The Great High Priest

Read Hebrews 5

There are three major offices, or important positions, in the Old Testament: Prophet, Priest, and King.  Each one has its own function.  However, each represents God to the people in a different way.  Jesus fulfills the roles of each of these offices.  He is the King of kings, the one true King who will reign forever.

He is also the Prophet to which all the prophets before pointed.  Jesus is the very Word of God, as John says, and represents the ultimate way that God speaks to His people and communicates His love.

Here, the writer of Hebrews talks about Jesus as fulfilling the role of  Priest.  In the Old Testament, the priests serve as a mediator between God and the people.  Priests represented the people before God through the sacrificial system, bringing the sacrifices of the people to God and seeking forgiveness.  They were also responsible for the worship in the Temple, bringing the worship of the people before God.

In the same way, they represented God to the people, communicating that forgiveness as well.  The priests were set apart from the rest of the people, consecrated and clean, keeping to the rituals of cleansing so as to be able to do the work of worship as part of their calling.

Jesus fulfills this role in many ways.  He represents God to the people, the incarnation of God in human flesh.  Being human, Jesus understands our weaknesses, but being God, He is able to come before God.  He also communicates the forgiveness of God through his ministry and also through His work on the cross, not just offering a sacrifice, but becoming the sacrifice for our sins.

Because of this, the author of Hebrews writes, we can approach God’s throne with confidence and boldness, knowing that we have been cleansed through the blood and offering of the Great High Priest and are welcomed into God’s presence as His own people.

Hebrews 4 – Sabbath-Rest

Read Hebrews 4

The theme of “sabbath” is much greater than a simple “day of rest” once a week that the people of God are called to honor.  Sabbath is about intentionally honoring God through the putting aside of one’s self and the things that we value in life and giving that time to God.  When I was young, we knew some people that wouldn’t let their kids even ride their bikes on Sunday because it was the Sabbath…  while I can see now what they were trying to instill in their children, I think, I do believe that rules like that entirely miss the point of the Sabbath.

Sabbath has often been relegated to the notion of self-care as well.  We take our own “sabbaths” from work in an effort to regenerate or re-energize ourselves.  Though self-care is an important part of our lives, sabbath’s focus is directed toward God, not self or rules, and it is in that intentional redirection that we find true rest.

But the notion of Sabbath extends far beyond physical or even spiritual rest.  God’s true Sabbath rest for His people was the fulfillment of His promise to bring them into the promised land.  The reality, though, is that the physical land was not actually what brought them the rest, it was following God, His Law and living into the identity that He gave them; something they did not do.

Jesus, through His life and ministry, draws this idea forward, offering a Sabbath rest for all people by grace, through faith.  The true promised land, then, is a relationship with God and the salvation that comes by putting our faith in Jesus Christ.  Because of what He did, the way is opened for us to enter this Sabbath rest which is actually a new beginning, not an end unto itself as the Israelites thought the promised land was.

What is no longer necessary is work, striving for salvation… here we find rest.  Here, then, we find true freedom and life in Christ, responding freely to the grace we have been given.

Hebrews 3 – If You Hear His Voice…

Read Hebrews 3

The main theme of the book of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ over all who have come before and, as such, all who will come after as well.  Moses was, our at least could be known as a type of Old Testament messiah.  He was called by God and used by him to save the people of Israel from the hands of the Egyptians.  After leading them through the Red Sea, Moses brought them to Mount Sinai where they received the “Law of Moses,” which became the standard for rules and laws and the identity of the people of Israel from that point on.

Yet, here the author makes a distinction: Jesus is greater than Moses.  Everything that Moses represents was merely a shadow, an echo of what was to come in Jesus Christ.  What Moses did, he did imperfectly; Jesus represents a fulfillment of that position, as well as the Law that was given at that time.

Here, then, the author gives a warning.  Moses came, and the people followed him for a while.  When it came time to “enter God’s rest,” which the author uses to refer to as the Promised Land, the people rebelled, fearful of the inhabitants of the land.  Their rebellion is attributed to a lack of faith and as such they were punished and a whole generation had to die (including Moses) before they entered into the promised land.

What the author doesn’t say here is that Christians should be fearful of God punishing us with death if we rebel, or don’t follow Him.  But there is a warning that is given.  We have to be careful to listen to God’s voice and to follow closely what He says.  Just as the people of God had hardened their hearts back then, so too can we do that now and the results can be just as devastating.  Perhaps we won’t experience the physical loss of life, but rather the spiritual ramifications of people living and dying without knowing the Lord and of the people of God living our a spiritually dead religion that means nothing and leads nowhere.