Sunday, October 17, 2021

The Book of Hebrews: Old Testament meets the New in Christ

“As the name imports, Systematic Theology has for its object the gathering of all that the Scriptures teach as to what we are to believe and do, and the presenting of all the elements of this teaching in a symmetrical system. The human mind must seek unity in all its knowledge...The method of construction is inductive.

It rests upon the results of Exegesis for its foundation. Passages of Scripture ascertained and interpreted are its data. These when rightly interpreted reveal their own relations and place in the system of which the Person and work of Christ is the center.” -A.A. Hodge, quoted in Credenda Agenda, Vol. 4, No. 5, p. 1.

Many think of Romans when they think about a systematic theology of Christianity. But there is another book that speaks forth systematic theology in my view, the book of Hebrews.

We are not sure who wrote the book of Hebrews. Some think it was the apostle Paul, who wrote about one third of the New Testament. Others think it could be Barnabas or Apollos. But no one knows for sure. In fact if you look at Hebrews 1 there is no initial greeting in the letter which is very uncommon for a new testament letter. Hebrews was written in AD 67, so if it was written by Paul it would be his last letter. Hebrews is a fairly long letter, encompassing 13 chapters. A little shorter than Romans. But like Romans, Hebrews is a very theologically rich letter. We often talk about the theological power and depth of Romans, but Hebrews to me is just as theologically deep and instructive.

Hebrews chapter 1 illustrates the beauty and depth, it says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.”

As we can see from the title Hebrews is written to Hebrews, to Jewish Christians who understand Jesus Christ from the backdrop of the Old Testament. So Hebrews goes into a lot of detail about how the gospel of Jesus Christ rests within the nexus of the Old Testament, as a fulfillment of the history of Israel and the law of Moses. But Hebrews also makes it clear Christ’s supremacy over those things, and as one who is not simply an angel or a created being, but one is himself God with us. In fact in Hebrews 1 and Hebrews 3 we see the writer telling us Jesus is greater than angels, and greater than Moses. And leading up to chapter 10 in Hebrews we see the argument made that Christ is the perfect eternal “high priest” for Israel and indeed all the people of the world. He is one who stands in for us as the perfect sacrifice.

In Hebrews 3:1-6 we see how Jesus is explained as being greater than even Moses, the great patriarch of the Old Testament. It says, “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2 He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself. 4 For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. 5 “Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,” bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. 6 But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.”

We also see one of the key themes of Hebrews is the command to not fall away. Particularly in chapters 2 and 3 we see that message. But it is echoed throughout the book. It was common in Israel’s history for generations to begin to drift away from God and go after idols, so the writer of Hebrews reminds the Hebrew readers to continue steadfastly in the faith, not drifting away.

We find a stark reminder about falling away at the end of Hebrews 3. The author of Hebrews compares the danger of falling away to the Israelites who were saved from bondage in Egypt only to die in the wilderness because of their unbelief.

It says, verses 12-19 “12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said:

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.”

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.”

Then in chapter 5 we see an important reminder about the promises of God found in Jesus. All the promises of God are “yes” in Christ! Did you know that? And the author of Hebrews compares these promises, to the promises God made to Abraham.

Hebrews 6:13-14 says, “When God made his promise to Abraham, since there was no one greater for him to swear by, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” 15 And so after waiting patiently, Abraham received what was promised.”

The challenge there is of course to continue waiting patiently, and then after we have waited, we receive what was promised, just as Abraham did. And Abraham waited a total of 25 years for God’s promise to be fulfilled. Are you good at waiting?

In the next few chapters we see more warnings against falling away, we see Jesus compared to Melchizedek in the Old Testament. And we see Jesus described as the perfect high priest of a new covenant, a new agreement between God and man.

In Hebrews 9 we see a beautiful depiction of the gospel, it says, “14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”

And again at the end of chapter 9, “27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”

Then in Chapter 10 we see a challenge to persevere in the faith to the end, it says, ‘19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” -Hebrews 10:19-25

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess! Let us draw near to God with sincerity of heart. And with a deep assurance with the faith we have in God. And let’s encourage one another toward love and good works. And heres an important reminder for people today in the COVID era, let us NOT give up meeting together. We’ve gotta meet together, it’s a command of God. We as the church belong together.

At the end of chapter 10 we see a severe challenge not to continue sinning after we come to faith in Christ. It says, Hebrews 10:26-31 “26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

That’s a very severe reminder isn’t it? But it’s important to recall that God is a serious God. He expects us to obey his commands and to repent away from sin, and to live in closeness with Jesus Christ our savior. God will judge his people. I believe that. On judgment day, I’m sure many people will be surprised, who goes into paradise, and who is turned away. Everything will become clear about who people really were on that day.

Hebrews chapter 11 and 12 are two of my favorite chapters in the entire Bible. Hebrews 11 is the faith chapter, and we go through a history of Israel’s greatest heroes, and how their faith in God guided them to do great things.

It speaks for itself, so I’ll just read for you the first 12 verses of Hebrews 11, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. 2 This is what the ancients were commended for.

3 By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

4 By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel still speaks, even though he is dead.

5 By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death: “He could not be found, because God had taken him away.” For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God. 6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that is in keeping with faith.

8 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. 9 By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. 10 For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. 11 And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise. 12 And so from this one man, and he as good as dead, came descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as countless as the sand on the seashore.”

And it continues, by faith Isaac, by faith Jacob, by faith Joseph, by faith Moses, all the great heroes of the OT are mentioned.

Hebrews chapter 12, is just extremely powerful and theologically deep. It says in the first 3 verses, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

That is the challenge to focus on Jesus, and turn away form sin, and focus again on Jesus, and do not lose heart!

Then we get the challenge to endure correction from God, it says, “7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all.”

Remember if you’re disciplined by God, that’s good, because that means you’re His child!

Verses 14 and 15 remind us to be holy and live in peace: 14 Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.”

And at the end of Hebrews 12, it says, “28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our “God is a consuming fire.””

God is a consuming fire. So we should reverence and fear Him, and let us be thankful for the Lord we serve.

In conclusion today, the book of Hebrews is a rich, theologically deep and beautiful book of the Bible that reminds us that the history of Israel, the Old Testament is inexorably connected to all the new testament and of course to Jesus Christ our savior. It’s all connected. And we’re part of that story today. It all fits together as one concise narrative telling us who we are, what our history is, what our present is, and what our future is. And all of it put together is all about Jesus Christ our savior.