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Rest In The Sacrifice

John Collins07/24/2013

I received some feedback from yesterday's post — good questions — which make me realize that many people reading this are still trapped in chains of legalistic works-righteous faith and asceticism.  I wanted to continue the thought from yesterday.

Video available here: http://youtu.be/BxMgzOgUbW0

I think the problem is the way in which many have been falsely taught to read their Bibles.  Snip a verse here, snip a verse there, combine them, and make a new Bible with new meaning.

Having been taught under arguably the one of the most legalistic sect of the "Message of the Hour," I find the book of Hebrews to be filled with very profound statements.  It's actually a refreshing change, living my life by the words of the Apostle Paul, and the book of Hebrews is a book that I personally can relate to.

Because of the power in the statements in this book, you will find several single verses that you are familiar with, repeated to solidly back statements during sermons that sometimes have very little to do with the meaning behind those words.  And you may even find some entire chapters that you are familiar with.  Hebrews is a well-studied book by many people.  The words are powerful.  It was the message of faith to the Jews, those once bound by Mosaic Law, and the writing is a very clear and very concise message that describes Christ as the new High Priest.

No longer were the children of God to look to a man as their spiritual leader.

The book of Hebrews is different than some of the other letters to the church.  The Apostle Paul typically wrote his letters with a salutation, and the title line, "To The Hebrews" is not found in some of the earliest manuscripts.  While many still believe that Paul wrote this letter to the Hebrews, there is a growing understanding that this may not be the case.  It is very possible that this was one of Paul's sermons, transcribed by Luke, and used to spread the Good News that Christ was our new High Priest.

As the early church grew, lifting up leaders into excessive power was a common problem, just as it is today.  The people were so accustomed to having high priests — even those who were involved in pagan worship.  They had grown with the tradition of serving their gods through the filter of men, and felt it comforting to lift men into great power and spiritual authority.  As we all have experienced at one time or another, having a physical face to associate with God makes God seem more alive and real to us.

But this was not the way God intended after His work on the cross.

The "book" of Hebrews is not a "book" at all.  Long before printing presses and cover bindings, these letters were written on scrolls.  They were not indexed with chapters, not counted as lines or verses.  The Book of Hebrews was really the Scroll of Hebrews, a single letter written to the early church to describe our new High Priest.

And while the words are very powerful, so much that they are quoted in several sermons, you will find that they are not NEARLY so powerful as when they are read together as they were intended:  One single letter to the church. 

This single scroll addresses many issues found in churches today.  When separated, these chapters do not relay the same instruction to the church.  But when combined, you will find that many churches today — especially cult churches — have fallen into grave error.

The Jews were not the only ones that practiced asceticism, or the idea that you can become more "holy" by the pleasurable things that you desire but avoid for your god.  Pagan worship infiltrated the early church to create Gnosticism.  Gnosis is the idea that the material world was created by the evil forces: Satan's Eden.  Those who practiced Gnosticism believed that they had spiritual "enlightenment" by knowing the "mysteries," and therefore abstained from any sort of pleasure this world had to offer. 

But the Jews were bound by the Mosaic Law.  This Law not only created a similar works-righteous faith, but it came with severe punishment for failure. 

The Children of Israel were familiar with the worship of Baal.  Living in Egypt, walking side by side with Egyptians involved with pyramid worship of the sun god, Ra, Isis, Osiris, and more, they were familiar with Egyptian custom.  And it affected them to the point of their downfall.

When Moses returned from the mountain, having met God face to face, the people were not satisfied to simply believe God for their protection and salvation.  Following the example of the Egyptian worship, the Children of Israel begged Moses to go BACK up the mountain and ask God what THEY must do to secure protection and salvation.

Moses returned with the Law.

Throughout time, the Old Testament describes how men and women tried to save themselves.  A righteous man would be born, realize that people had fallen into idolatry, tear down the idols that were worshipped, and God would bless him.  But over time, even those righteous men would fall.  It sounds very simple to us: "Don't worship those wooden or stone things over there, they aren't gods!"

But it wasn't that easy.  In a spiritual sense, we have the same exact thing today, and future generations will rise, looking back at us and ask themselves:  Why do they worship EVENTS in history?  Why did they think that following a MAN had anything to do with their salvation?  Didn't they read the book of Hebrews?

The Children of Israel had the same exact problem.  Moses was their great spiritual leader.  He didn't have photographs that looked like halos or clouds, but he was the "great one" that spoke directly to God.  He brought the Mosaic Law, the code that they lived by.  Moses was the closest thing to God, and he was their mediator between God and man.

The Book of Hebrews breaks them from falling into worship of a man, starting in the third chapter:

"Therefore, holy brothers, you who share in a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest of our confession, who was faithful to him who appointed him, just as Moses also was faithful in all God's house. For Jesus has been counted worthy of MORE glory than Moses—as much MORE glory as the builder of a house has more honor than the house itself.  (For every house is built by someone, but the builder of ALL THINGS is God.)  Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later, but Christ is faithful over God's house as a son.  And we are his house if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope."

Hebrews 3

Works were necessary.  The Mosaic Law was necessary.  Any house that is built is built by works.  If you do not labor, your lumber and brick will lay in stacks never assembled.

Chapter 4 of Hebrews assures the people that this work was not in vain.  Their devotion towards building the house, the Body of Christ, had value.  But at some point, you rest in your labor. 

When you build a house for your family, long hours are spent in the hot sun laboring to make the walls and roof.  Once the foundation is set, the walls are raised, and the roof has covered, the labor does not stop there.  The inside must be finished and the house must be made livable.  It is a tremendous undertaking to construct a house, but when you are finished, you rest.  You don't finish the house and continually labor — there is nothing more to do.  You ENJOY the house!

Chapter 4 reminds us that this rest is deserved.  And it is not considered "unholy" to rest from the works-righteous faith that the Jews once knew.  The chapter reminds the people that even on the seventh day of building the earth, God rested! 

And rest is very important.  The chapter also reminds us that the work was already finished from BEFORE the foundation of the world.  Yet God rested.

But this part of the chapter is VERY IMPORTANT to understand.  In works-righteous faith, you must save yourself.  If you try to uphold PART of the Mosaic Law, but do not uphold the REST of the Mosaic Law, then you deserve the over three hundred punishments of that Law. 

The Mosaic Law came with a reward of three hundred blessings if the people kept ALL of the Law, and three hundred curses if the people failed ANY PART of that Law.

I hear many pastors today, quoting the Mosaic Law in order to enforce "godliness over worldliness," yet NONE of them will stone their children when they disobey.  NONE of them wash their hands in brass basins before entering church.  There are more Laws that they breach than they preach.

Chapter 4 BEGS us to enter God's rest from works-righteous faith.  It was not for Joshua's time, Joshua was building the house.  It was not for the people before them, it was here, it was now, It was Christ!

And those who did not enter it, those who remained in works righteous faith, will fall to the same disobedience that is described in the Old Testament.

For if Joshua had given them rest, God would not have spoken of another day later on.  So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God,  for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.  Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

Hebrews 4

 

But at the end of the chapter, it sets up the very foundation for the entire scroll of Hebrews:

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

This thought is continued in chapter five, describing how Christ was now our High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.  It tells us how the high priests offered small sacrifices on our behalf, but Christ bore the pain on our behalf.  He paid the penalty and BECAME the sacrifice.

It's funny, because in Chapter 5, the writer realizes that people will one day stop reading this scroll in its entirety.  It is almost as if the writer can peer into the future, how they will ignore this new High Priest so that they can set up "Super Apostles" or "Prophets," or "Seventh Church Age Messengers."

The writer gives this warning:

About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing.  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, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child.  But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.  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, and of instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.

Hebrews 6

Look at what we have today!  Super apostles, prophets, and more telling us that THEY have a better way!  You must baptize this way, you must believe there is NOT an eternal hell!  Hebrews chapters 5-6 CONDEMNS this!

The end of Chapter six reminds us of God's everlasting covenant with Abraham, and denies this "little bride theology" that the Gnostics were spreading.  This promise was not for a small number that could be counted.  God's promise to Abraham was a promise that his people would be as the sands of the sea. 

"For when God made a promise to Abraham, since he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, saying, "Surely I will bless you and multiply you."  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.  For people swear by something greater than themselves, and in all their disputes an oath is final for confirmation.  So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us.  We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek."

Chapter 7 is where it starts getting good.  After establishing that we do not need men as our "spiritual leaders," after establishing that Christ is the new High Priest, after establishing that the people had finally deserved rest, the writer starts to build confidence that we will still have salvation in our rest from works-righteous faith.

The Old Covenant of Law had failed.  It was useless towards salvation, and time after time in the Old Testament we have examples of its failure.  The people still sinned, and the High Priests offered sacrifice for their continual sin.  Blood was required.

For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.  And it was not without an oath. For those who formerly became priests were made such without an oath, but this one was made a priest with an oath by the one who said to him:

 

"The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, 'You are a priest forever.'  [Not just until some 'Seventh Church Age'] This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant.  The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.  Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

 

For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.  He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.

The scroll continues, describing the New Covenant and comparing it to the weakness of the Old Covenant.  But starting in chapter 10, we find the fundamental element described that is missing in many churches today, especially those that practice works-righteous Christianity.

The Pentecostal movement taught preachers to break down their congregations in order to increase the numbers at the alter calls.  The sermons are designed to point fingers at every single possible sin that every single member of their congregations could have possibly committed during the course of the week.  Then, pretending to wipe a tear from their eye with a starched handkerchief, they say, "Now if you have sin in your lives, don't let this day pass.  What if this is your last day on earth.  What if you get in an automobile accident on the way home, what if you suddenly fall from a heart attack.  Don't let this be your last day without repenting … IN FRONT OF ME"

In other words: "Don't trust in your salvation.  Don't trust in the work that Christ did for you on the cross.  Don't accept THAT by faith, accept THIS TIME RIGHT NOW as your ticket to salvation!"

But starting in Hebrews chapter 10, the writer does the EXACT OPPOSITE.  The faith of the church is built up. 

Listen to these powerful words:

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

Immediately after this paragraph, there is one single verse that is SNIPPED out of context, MISUSED AND ABUSED, and all in the name of Pentecost.  To this day, and even after the Pentecostal movement has fizzled out, preachers around the WORLD preach this single verse into the ground, not realizing just how badly they have taken it out of context:

For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins —Hebrews 10:26

But read the entire chapter in context.  Read the chapters before it and after it. 

At the end of that chapter, the writer describes how that we are NOT under that same category, and then goes on to describe how faith in Jesus Christ is the key to salvation — not works!

"But we ARE NOT OF THOSE those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls." — Hebrews 10:39

After describing the many examples of how faith prevailed in the Old Testament, all throughout Hebrews chapter 11, the writer tells us how to secure that faith:  With witnesses.

Many of you will be familiar with this chapter, and will have read this paragraph.  But unless you apply it to the entire rest of the scroll, this paragraph has very little value.  This is the paragraph that ties everything together, the seal that binds us under the Blood of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.

Our brothers and sisters in Christ are our witnesses.  We no longer need to be burdened with this sin that plagues us daily.  NONE of us have endured our sin until we have died for it — ONLY Christ has been able to achieve this.  We sin daily.  We are unworthy. 

But we are not to be burdened down by the weight of sin.  The weight that the writer says "clings to us."  Christ is the perfecter of our faith, the One who shed His blood so that we don't even have to worry about it!

Hebrews is an AWESOME book if you have been bound by legalistic, works-righteous faith.  Read it!  Understand it!  Believe it!  It's the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News that Christ has taken away our sins!  Our new High Priest has given His own life so that we can be part of His Body!  Now, we can strive to be more like Him, without worrying about our shortcomings!

Spread it!  It's the Gospel of Jesus Christ.