Now faith is the reality of what is hoped for,
the proof of what is not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 CSB)
I have often said that as we read the Bible, we should pay attention to repeated words and phrases because they show common themes in a sentence, paragraph, and book. In today’s Bible reading, “by faith” occurs 22 times in the 40 verses of Hebrews 11. I think it’s safe to say that “by faith” is the big idea of that chapter.
The writer cites examples of Old Testament saints who lived by faith in something they never got to see. They had no proof of what they believed. But they believed anyway.
You may be familiar with “Doubting Thomas”, a disciple who said that he wouldn’t believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead unless he saw Jesus and could put his finger in Jesus’ pierced hands, feet, and side. We could paraphrase his statement as, “Seeing is believing.”
But when he encountered his risen Savior, all he could say was, “My Lord and God.” (John 20:28) Jesus responded, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29)
Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas for his unbelief without seeing; instead, He praised him for his belief. And He added that those who don’t require visual evidence are blessed.
Someone said that there is more evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus than for most other events in not-recent human history. I like the fact that in the New Testament, we have corroborating eyewitness accounts. The Bible story actually happened in real time and in real space. The Resurrection really happened. Paul even says that after His resurrection, Jesus appeared to over five hundred people at one time. (1 Corinthians 15:6) Imagine how long that would take to hear from five hundred witnesses in a court trial!
The Old Testament saints believed without seeing. We get to believe with seeing evidence. For Thomas, “seeing is believing.” But for those who lived by faith, “believing is seeing.”
Sometimes today, we can be so shortsighted. Even with the evidence for the Resurrection, we must remember Paul’s comment, “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (CSB)
Walking by faith isn’t always easy. Jesus never promised it would be. But living by faith is the life we live.
In yesterday’s devotional based on our Bible reading, I talked about how the High Priest was allowed in the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Today’s Bible reading continues that idea.
The writer says that,
“Since the law has only a shadow of the good things to
come,and not the reality itself of those things, it can never perfect the worshipers by the same sacrifices they continually offer year after year. Otherwise, wouldn’t they have stopped being offered, since the worshipers, purified once and for all, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? 3 But in the sacrificesthere is a reminder of sins year after year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4 CSB)
Every day, the priests offered sacrifices in addition to the annual sacrifice. The writer adds,
“Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:11–12 CSB)
The old covenant sacrificial system only a shadow of the real spiritual reality. Therefore, it is inferior to the once-for-all sacrifice under the new covenant. Every day, priests would stand up to offer sacrifices, but Jesus stood up once, offered His own blood and then He sat down.
Today, we might say that this was a “mic drop” moment. Or we could say that when Jesus offered His blood, He said emphatically, “Game Over”!
Under the new covenant, you don’t need to go to a priest to have your sins forgiven. You don’t need to bring a spotless, perfect lamb to someone else who is authorized to make the sacrifice. The sacrifice has already been made by the perfect High Priest, Who also happens to be the perfect Lamb, Who offered His own blood in the Most Holy Place in the presence of God the Father.
His sacrifice was sufficient. Forgiveness is complete. The perfect High Priest sat down, never again to stand up to sacrifice anything else.
In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 9, the writer says that the ministry under the new covenant ministry is better than the ministry under the old covenant.
Under the old covenant in the Tabernacle — and later in the Temple — the ordinary priests could enter the Holy Place to do their ministry, but ordinary men couldn’t go there. The High Priest could enter the Most Holy Place (the “Holy of Holies”), but ordinary priests couldn’t go there. And the High Priest could only enter the Most Holy Place once a year, on the Day of atonement. He had to do this every year. The writer says that Jesus’ blood was so much more effective than the blood of goats and bulls in cleansing the conscience of God’s people. (Hebrews 9:13–14). (More on this tomorrow)
Imagine feeling the guilt of committing a sin, knowing that it couldn’t be covered by a sacrifice for 364 days. Imagine carrying the conviction for that sin and every other sin you commit multiple times each day for an entire year. That’s a lot of guilt.
Next, imagine the feeling on the Day of Atonement when the High Priest emerges from the Most Holy Place. All that guilt from all those sins you committed for the past 365 days was covered… in an instant!
Ministry under the new covenant is so much better! No longer do God’s people have to look forward to a day when their sins could be dealt with. Now, we can look back, knowing that our sins have been covered — all of our sins, once for all time — by Jesus’ blood. What a relief!
If you are a believer, you don’t even have to worry if a sin you committed a moment ago is covered. It was already covered almost 2000 years ago, long before the Holy Spirit even convicted you of that sin and you asked for forgiveness!
In today’s Bible reading from Hebrews 8, the writer refers back to a prophecy delivered by Jeremiah.
“Look, the days are coming”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. This one will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt—my covenant that they broke even though I am their master”—the Lord’s declaration. “Instead, this is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after those days”—the Lord’s declaration. “I will put my teaching within them and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 4No longer will one teach his neighbor or his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know me, from the least to the greatest of them”—this is the Lord’s declaration. “For I will forgive their iniquity and never again remember their sin. Jeremiah 31:31–34 (CSB)
In this, the writer of
Under the old covenant, God’s people obeyed in order to get God’s favor (which was really unachievable). Under the new covenant, God’s people obey because they have already obtained God’s favor.
How do you relate to God? Seriously, do you relate to God under an old covenant model — hoping to obtain God’s favor because of your behavior? Or do you relate to God under a new covenant model — behaving because you already have God’s favor?
Perhaps the best way to see if you understand this is to answer this question: Do you think you can make God any happier with you because of something you do (or don’t do)? If you think God will be happier with you if you ____ (fill in the blank with some behavioral change), then you probably relate to God under an old covenant model.
Prayerfully consider your answer.
I’m sure that when Jewish believers read what the writer of Hebrews said in today’s Bible reading, they were not a little bit shocked, and possibly offended.
In a parenthetical statement in Hebrews 7:19, he says, “for the law perfected nothing”. Why would he say such a thing? Take a look at the immediate context: “So the previous command is annulled because it was weak and unprofitable (for the law perfected nothing), but a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.”
OK, that sounds even more offensive to the ears of a traditional First Century Jew! The law was weak and unprofitable?!
Look at what Paul had to say about the purpose of the Law:
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for through faith you are all sons of God in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-25 CSB)
The King James Version says that the Law was our schoolmaster and the New Revised Standard Version says that the Law was our disciplinarian. I think that now, we’re beginning to understand what Paul and the writer of the Hebrews
Going way back to Genesis 3, Adam and Eve broke God’s command to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. He had warned them that the day that they ate that tree’s fruit they would truly die. They did, yet not in the way we expect. They continued to live long enough to have children. But they died that day in relation to having a relationship with God. So God gave their descendants the Law so that they would know what God desired in order to reestablish the relationship: Complete obedience.
Centuries of living under the Law could not restore that broken relationship, regardless of how hard they might try to obey. Why? Because the Law’s purpose was to show how we don’t — and can’t — measure up to God’s perfect standard.
We needed something else. Something else outside of ourselves. Mankind was dead and the Law was incapable of giving life.
But Jesus is!
Believer, you have access to a restored relationship with God through His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus raised Himself from the dead and you were given a new life at conversion as you put your faith in Him!
Keeping the Law couldn’t restore that broken relationship with God, because dead people can’t accomplish spiritual requirements. God gave the Law to show how we were completely lost and totally hopeless.
And then Jesus showed up.