Tag Archives: Cults

Hebrews 11:13-22 – A Better City

We reminded ourselves last time that everybody lives by faith. It’s not just the Christians; everybody lives by faith. The question is: faith in what? “What is the object of our faith?” Everybody deep within their souls has a longing—a longing for something that will satisfy, a longing for something that gives us significance. We have these deep real longings in our souls as people made in the image of God, and there are millions of people who believe somehow, some way, those deepest longings can be satisfied in this world. They believe somehow this world will ultimately make them happy…will make them significant…will meet the deepest needs in their soul. In essence, they do believe you can create heaven on earth. Most of us here would say, “We simply don’t have that much faith.” We look at the world, such as it is, and it just seems like a reckless leap of faith. Rather we choose to believe there’s got be something different and something better. That’s what we want to talk about today in Chapter 11.  

It’s our second part in Hebrews 11, and it would be good to go back to verse 1 and just remind ourselves again of the Hebrews’ definition of faith. So: “Faith is the assurance, (the confidence) of things hoped for.” Again, hope in the New Testament is something that is certain but it is also something that is yet future. This word assurance is a word that can also be translated as the substance. In other words, it’s something I believe so strongly that it actually becomes the substance or the foundation of my life. I believe it to such a degree that I live in such a way that I actually give people a glimpse today of the world to come. It is: “…the conviction of things not seen,” which reminds us this is a faith that is thoughtful; it’s reasoned; it’s not just a reckless leap of faith, but rather we have examined the evidence and concluded, “This is what we believe is true.” The writer then goes on to illustrate this kind of faith through people like Abel, through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob, which is where we pick up the story in verse 13: 

All of these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. (*NASB, Hebrews 11:13-15) 

This is very important to understand. What the writer says is all of these died in faith, without receiving the promises. We don’t like that. We want what we want, and we want it now. “I want the promises kept and I want them kept now!” Many Christians struggle with this desire to see the promises fulfilled and fulfilled now. We want to believe that somehow the deepest longings of our soul can be satisfied in this world. We want to somehow create heaven on earth.  

It’s a little bit like building your dream house in a war zone. And let’s imagine the builder tells you again and again not to do it, “It’s not going to work,” but you won’t listen; you insist! So he builds you your dream house in a war zone. Then you don’t like it. “It’s too noisy; it’s too dangerous!” But here’s the irony: Then you turn around and you blame the builder. That’s what we do. We take these promises and we want them fulfilled now; we want our best life now!  And so that is what we try to accomplish—heaven on earth.  

But this world just breaks our heart again and again and again, and when it doesn’t work out like we want it to, then we blame God. And God says, “Wait a minute, that’s not what I promised. I didn’t promise your best life now.” You can sell a lot of books with that theme; you can fill a big auditorium with that theme, but it simply isn’t what God promises. What God promises is: this is going to be tough. This is going to be hard. The hope of the gospel is the reminder that one day Jesus is coming back and we will be ushered to the place that our souls long for.  

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob—they all believed the promise that God would give them a land, but they all lived in tents. They all died having never seen the promise fulfilled. The text said they were aliens and strangers. They were saying, “This world is not my home—at least not as it is now.”  The writer says they wanted to find a place to call home, and if they were referring to the cities from which they left, they could have just gone back home. Moving to some other place, trying some other thing is not going to cut it. But rather with eyes of faith, they knew they were headed for somewhere else. Verse 16: 

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  

They understood that even the land of promise is but a shadow of the eventual city their souls long for—which is not an earthly city—it is a heavenly city that will be everything that they longed for. But they believed by faith. They lived by faith; they died by faith…believing it’s true. It’s very interesting what the last part of verse 16 says: Therefore…  As a result of that—remembering that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, these were not perfect people—go back and read their stories. There were times of struggle, times of death; there were times when they seriously messed up. Jacob was a liar; he was a schemer; you don’t even like the guy after you read his story. The message has never been on the basis of their performance but on the basis of their belief. They believed that God would keep His promise.  Therefore God is not ashamed.   

Verse 17: 

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… (Vs. 17a)   

So this story is found in Genesis chapter 22; you can go back and read it for yourself. The verb tense here would indicate that in Abraham’s mind he had already offered Isaac. In other words, he wasn’t still wrestling with the idea.  He had settled it; he would offer his son, Isaac.  

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; (Vs. 17b)   

It’s the same language as John 3:16—For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. The language means specifically unique or special. We’re called the sons and daughters of God, but we’re not God’s only begotten Son in that special way that Jesus was. In the same way, Abraham had other sons, but they were not the son of promise—Isaac was! And so Abraham is wrestling with this idea that God promised that the seed would travel through Isaac, but He’s asking me to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. At this point Isaac would have been 12 or 13 years old. Verse 18: 

 …it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE  CALLED.”  (So, in his mind, Abraham had settled it.)  He considered… (That word is very strong. He had a deep, deep conviction…) that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Vs. 18-19) 

Essentially what the text is saying is that Abraham, in his mind had sacrificed Isaac—he had settled it. But he believed so strongly in the promise and that God tells the truth that somehow God would raise him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise. As a matter of fact, if you go back to Genesis 22:5 and you read the story, Abraham says to his servants, “Wait at the bottom of the hill and we will return to you.” He believed with all of his heart that he and Isaac would return, and his way of making sense of that is, “God’s going to raise him from the dead.” 

But the other part of that story is in that moment when God stopped Abraham, He provided a ram, and the ram would die rather than Isaac. The ram would be the substitute for Isaac that would die that day. We don’t have to guess at this; the text actually tells us:  that was a type—a shadow, a picture. Isaac’s story was a type (parable, figure, illustration) of the fact that God will give us what He has promised. He was a type of Christ. We’ve had a lot of that in Hebrews. It was the reminder that one day on this same mountain, on Mount Moriah, there would be a Father who would actually sacrifice His only begotten Son for the sins of the world. He would be the substitute. He would be the Lamb of God who would die the death for Isaac, would die the death for Abraham, would die the death for all of us as sinners. We’ve learned this in Hebrews: He died our death. His blood is sufficient payment for sin. There’s nothing more that needs to be done.  

But what the story also includes is the resurrection—that Jesus not only died and was buried, but He conquered sin and death once and for all when He rose from the dead—literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead! That’s Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15—the basis by which we believe that we will experience resurrection after death, and it is not just religious talk, not just wishful thinking. It’s based on the fact that Jesus Himself literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead and conquered sin and death once and for all that we, too, might be resurrected and live even though we die. Verse 20: 

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.  (Vs. 20-22)  

The text is reminding us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph believed the promise, but they would die having never seen it fulfilled. They would never inherit the land in their lifetime. What did Abraham have to pass on to Isaac? The promise! What did Isaac have to pass on to his sons Jacob and Esau? The promise! “Boys, I know we’ve been living in a tent our whole lives, but God tells the truth. We have to trust Him.”  Joseph so believed the promise that he said, “Don’t bury me here.” Egypt was his home. “Take the bones to Canaan, because that will be our land.” It would be over four hundred years before God would raise up Moses to deliver them out of the land of Egypt into the land of promise.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, his sons— they’d all be buried in Canaan. But at the time of the burial, the land would belong to someone else. They just believed by faith, one day God will keep His promise. But it was more than that. They understood the land of promise was yet but a picture of something more. They were aliens and strangers; they were passing through; they wanted a country of their own which ultimately would be a heavenly city that would be everything their souls longed for. It is interesting that in verse 16God had prepared a place. It was past tense—God already had the city ready. . The root of this hope is found in the resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead, He did not rise from the dead with a new body. He rose from the dead with a resurrected body. He showed the imprints of the nails in His hands; He showed the scar in His side. 

It was the body that was crucified and buried that rose again. This is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15.  That is the basis by which we believe this body, such as it is, is the body that will be raised from the dead. This mortal will put on immortality. This body will be restored to me and it will be changed and it will be made the way God intended it to be. It’s the picture of redemption, of restoration, of making right what was taken and broken. This is critically important to understand because it is the message filled with such hope! The things that broke our heart, the things that disappointed us, the things in this world that simply were not the way we had hoped they would be, somehow they’re made right and restored and given back.  

The more you understand this, the more you believe this—the more it changes the way you live everyday. The more it changes your priorities, the more it changes your perspective, the more it changes your values—the more you realize what matters and what doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to create heaven on earth. I’m an alien and a stranger and I’m headed to a better place. God made a promise, and I believe that God tells the truth and I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And I live by faith and I will die in faith, having never seen the promise fulfilled, but believing with all my heart it is true! And there will come a day…finally…where I will finally be home! 

Our Father, it’s hard to even process the depth of the hope of the gospel. God, we know this world teases us; this world breaks our hearts again and again. And it just reminds us this world is not our home—that we are aliens and strangers—and by faith we are headed to a better city—a place that will finally be home! God, until that day, find us faithful. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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Hebrews 11:1-12 We Must Believe

The writer of Hebrews says that the righteous shall live by faith. He says that we draw near with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith. He said we endure to the end by faith. He’ll tell us without faith it is impossible to please God—which does raise a question, “What exactly do we mean by that? What exactly does the writer mean by faith? That’s what we want to talk about today so if you have a Bible, turn with us to Hebrews 11, certainly the most familiar chapter in the book of Hebrews, often referred to as the Faith Chapter, or the Faith Hall of Fame. So in chapter 11 the writer is wanting to get very practical in the sense of, “What do we mean by faith and what does this look like lived out in real life?”  He starts with what we’re going to call the Hebrews’ definition. I don’t think Hebrews chapter 11, verse 1, is meant to be the all-inclusive definition of faith but it is the Hebrews’ definition—it clarifies how he is using the term.  Verse 1: 

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men (or saints) of old gained approval. (*NASB, Hebrews 11:1-2) 

So again the idea of hope is not wishful thinking. It’s a term that can be misleading. We say, “I hope it doesn’t snow tomorrow,” but that’s not what the biblical term hope means. It’s always future but it’s also always certainThis has been a major theme in the book of Hebrews. The hope of the gospel is not that everything in this life is going to work out and make sense. It is the promise that ultimately our salvation is completed and we are ushered into a new heaven and a new earth where it will be everything our heart desires. That’s the hope of the gospel. For people headed into persecution, that was their hope—that one day it wouldn’t be like that. So he says it’s the assurance of things hoped for.  

Now that word assurance is a word that can be translated a couple of different ways. There is lots of discussion; all of the translations would pick one or the other. The idea of assurance is the idea of confidence. The other possible interpretation carries more the idea of substance. It’s taken the idea of confidence, but I think it pushes it a little farther. It is a term that could be used to describe like the substance or the foundation of a house. It is the foundation on which everything else is built. So the idea is: this isn’t just something I firmly believe, but I believe it so much that it actually creates the foundation or the substance of my life. It is what I live for. It is what defines my values; it is what defines my worldview; it is what defines my priorities and obedience. As a matter of fact it goes so far that, because this is really what I believe and I believe it so strongly, I actually live that value system in the here and now, and by doing that, I create a glimpse today of the world to come. That’s probably the right way of understanding what the writer is talking about—that faith is such a deep conviction, there’s so much confidence, it isn’t just an intellectual assent, it isn’t just getting the right answers on a test, it actually creates the substance upon which I build my life, and in so doing I give people just a glimpse of the world that is to come. 

The conviction of things not seen—that word conviction is a legal term. It carries the idea of weighing the evidence and coming to a conclusion or a conviction. It is a reminder that biblical faith isn’t a leap of faith; it isn’t an emotional, careless, reckless, wishful thinking. It’s actually thoughtful; it’s reasoned out and this is my conviction—this is what I believe is true. That is illustrated then in verse 3: 

By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared (or created) by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. 

Basically going back to Genesis, chapter 1, by faith we believe God created. “In the beginning God created.” Can I prove that to you? No. Were any of us there then? No. By faith we believe that God created. The second part of that verse, So that what is seen…that is this world. It takes no faith to believe that the world exists; that is the walk of sight. The faith step is, “How did we get here?” …and what it says is, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible. So the idea is even though this is what we see, we do not believe that the world created itself. We don’t believe that the world self-created, but rather there was something or someone that was invisible that created what is visible. So this reminds us that the issue is not being a person of faith or not being a person of faith. Everybody lives by faith. The issue is, “What is the object of our faith?” So, for example, if we believe as some do that the universe created itself—that something came from nothing—that’s not science; that is a faith statement. Most of us would simply say we don’t have that much faith. Something doesn’t come from nothing. The universe can’t self-create; if it doesn’t exist, it can’t cause anything to happen. We just don’t have that much faith. So, based on the evidence, we have concluded there must be a God and that God created.  

Therefore we have concluded, with conviction, that Genesis 1 is true. It is not contrary to science; it is based on science. So, “In the beginning God created.” That’s the idea, then, of verse 3.  Starting in verse 4 the writer begins to tell stories to illustrate what he’s talking about: 

By faith Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain, through which he obtained the testimony that he was righteous, God testifying about his gifts, and through faith, though he is dead, he still speaks. 

The text is not saying that Abel’s performance made him righteous. The text is saying that by faith, what he believed was the basis of his righteousness, but that faith manifested itself in action. Cain and Abel were Adam and Eve’s first two sons. We’re not really privy to what the conversation was with God, but clearly there was something that had to do with sacrifice to God.  Abel believed in God; Abel believed God tells the truth; Abel believed that God’s way is the best way; Abel believed that God is God—Abel believed! And he believed to such a degree that it became the substance of his life, which is reflected by what he was willing to give to God. There’s a lot of conversation about what made Cain’s offering unacceptable. Some think it’s because it wasn’t a blood sacrifice; I don’t really think that’s correct. We know from the law that a grain offering was acceptable to God. We also know from the Genesis 4 text that Cain was a farmer. That’s what he had; he was to give out of what he had. If you go back and read the text in Genesis 4, what it says exactly is that God had regard for Abel and his sacrifice; He did not have regard for Cain and his sacrifice. The emphasis of the text is there was something wrong with Cain’s heart that then was reflected in what he gave; and God was pleased with Abel’s heart, which too was reflected by what he gave. It is interesting to note it is essentially the fourth page of the Bible and we are already being told that what we believe will be manifested in what we are willing to give to God. It just is a reminder that at the end of the day everybody lives out his or her belief system. Ultimately your belief system is not what you say you believe. Your belief system is how you live your life. That becomes the substance that defines your life. So what the text is saying is Abel believed; he believed God’s way is the right way; it’s the best way.  He believed that God tells the truth, and it was reflected in his gift. What the text goes on, then, to say is by faith, even though Abel has been dead for thousands of years, his story still speaks, because what he believed was true and eternal. Verse 5: 

By faith Enoch was taken up so that he would not see death; AND HE WAS NOT FOUND (literally he disappeared) BECAUSE GOD TOOK HIM UP; for he obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God.  

Literally his life brought pleasure to God. I love the way that’s worded because it’s really helpful to think about. What God asks in return for what He has done for us is that we believe it. We believe it to such a degree that we actually live like it, and when we actually live out of what is true, it is a life that brings God pleasure. The story of Enoch is in Genesis, chapter 5. There isn’t much there; the way the text is worded it appears that when Enoch had a son by the name of Methuselah, something happened in that moment that turned his heart to God, and from that moment through the rest of his life he lived in a way that it brought God pleasure. It had to do with what he believed by faith, to such a degree it became the substance of his life and that’s how he lived. It’s an odd story because at one point Enoch disappears. He can’t be found because God simply took him to heaven. Enoch never died; he just walked into the presence of God. Now it’s really important that we don’t misunderstand. The text is not saying, “If you really believe with all your heart, you won’t die; you’ll just walk into the presence of God.”  It’s good to remember Enoch, by faith, didn’t die; he walked into the presence of God but Abel, by faith, was violently murdered. So there is a reality to the story that by faith it is not necessarily predictable; we just believe and live our lives according.  Verse 6 is a very important verse. I want to come back later to it. So I am going to skip to verse 7: 

By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence (or fear) prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith. 

Now the story of Noah is really a remarkable story when you think about it. God comes along and tells Noah that He is going to bring judgment on the earth through this flood, but He is going to save Noah and his family. Noah chose to believe God tells the truth, but what would be required is he would now dedicate his life to the building of a gigantic ark through which they would be saved. The warning period was a hundred and twenty years. Most scholars think the actual building of the ark took somewhere between fifty and seven-five years. Now again, think about this:  Faith isn’t intellectual assent; faith isn’t just sitting around in a  group talking about what you believe; faith is something you believe so strongly it becomes the defining substance of your life, to such a degree that  Noah believed that  something would happen that has never happened before. Imagine spending seventy-five years of your life building a gigantic ark. You’re at least a hundred miles from any significant body of water and the world has never known a flood before. Noah just simply chose to believe God tells the truth, and if that’s what God said, then that’s true, and it defined his life. The text says the reverence—the awe, the worship—of God was so strong in Noah, he believed! The fact that he was building this gigantic ark for salvation was also a message to the rest of the world of condemnation—that judgment is coming and, if you’re not in the ark, then you will suffer the judgment of God. That’s what the text means there. Verses 8: 

By faith Abraham, when he was called, obeyed (the text means obeyed promptly) by going out to a place which he was to receive for an inheritance; and he went out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he lived as an alien in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, fellow heirs of the same promise; for he was looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God. (Vs. 8-10) 

Abraham is just another remarkable story. Abraham and his family lived in what would have been a relatively modern city in the day, and along comes God and says, “I want you to move. I’m going to make you a great nation.” Perhaps Abraham said, “Where are we going?” And God said, “Don’t worry about that.” The text says Abraham obeyed promptly. God said it and Abraham believed it. But again, this isn’t an intellectual assent; this isn’t just a group sitting around talking about what they believe. He actually took his family and left. Having been in that part of the world a couple of times, you get a sense of just how courageous that was.  It’s not a very friendly land. Food, water, safety, protection—these all would have been significant concerns. He left the comfort of where he was to go to a place; he didn’t even know where they were going. He just believed God tells the truth. When he got to the land of promise, it would have been wonderful if immediately he would’ve moved into a lovely mansion by the sea. But he lived as an alien, as a stranger, as a wanderer, in a tent the entire rest of his life! Now just think about this. God promised he would inherit the land, but for the rest of his life—in an ancient world it was very unsafe unless you lived in a walled city—so imagine for the rest of your life you live in a tent as a pilgrim, as a alien, as a wanderer. But he believed some day God would keep His promise. That was equally true of Isaac; it was equally true of Jacob. They all lived in tents. They, never in their lifetimes, ever actually possessed the land; they just kept believing God tells the truth. It says they were looking for a city whose foundations—in other words not a tent, it’s a house, it’s a building with a foundation— foundations whose architect and builder is God.  Ultimately the land of promise was a shadow, but it was only that.  It was a shadow of the land of promise, which is the land to come in the presence of God. Abraham, never in his lifetime possessed the shadow, but he does possess the fulfillment of the promise in the presence of God. The text goes on in verse 11: 

By faith even Sarah herself received ability to conceive, even beyond the proper time of life, since she considered Him (God) faithful who had promised. Therefore there was born even of one man, and him as good as dead at that, as many descendants AS THE STARS OF HEAVEN IN NUMBER, AND INNUMERABLE AS THE SAND WHICH IS BY THE SEASHORE. 

Now the discussion moves to Sarah, and Sarah often gets a bad rap. We fail to really understand the faith and the courage of this woman. Imagine the conversation with her husband when they are quite nicely settled in a relatively modern city and Abraham says, “We’re leaving.”  “Where are we going?”  “I don’t know. We’re just going out into the wilderness, and God will tell us.” But she believed; she trusted her husband and she believed. It’s true there were moments where she struggled; there were moments when Abraham struggled. But try to get your head around this. She is told at age sixty-five, as a barren woman, that she is going to have a child, and ten years later, still no child. So she comes up with plan B: “Maybe Abraham should sleep with my maid; we’ll do it that way.” God shows up and says, “We’re not going to do it that way. You’re going to have to trust Me.” Fifteen more years go by, and what the text tells us is: she believed!  She believed that God tells the truth; she believed that God would be faithful. She believed so much that she stayed with her husband.  She believed so much that she was still having relations with her husband and, at age ninety, she had the child. That is unbelievable faith! That’s not intellectual assent. That’s not a group of people sitting around talking about it. That became the very defining substance of their lives! It caused them to take significant, courageous steps of faith, based on the belief God tells the truth. 

Back to verse 6, which I consider to be a very significant verse—in some ways a life-changing verse for me: He says in verse six: 

And without faith it is impossible to please Him, (…not difficult, not challenging…it’s impossible! I cannot live a life that brings God pleasure without faith, without really believing that God tells the truth.) …for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. 

Now what does he mean when he says we must believe that God is? He is not merely saying you believe God exists; James says the demons believe that God exists.  It is much more like when Moses is before the burning bush and he asks God His name and God says, “I Am.” It’s a very similar statement in the sense that you must believe that God is…that God is who He says He is… that God tells the truth…that He has done what He says He has done…and I believe that to such a degree that it actually becomes the substance of my life! It creates my worldview; it creates my value system; it creates the tracks upon which my life will travel. 

So now let’s get really practical with this. Last time in chapter 10, verse 22, we talked about the imagery that we brought back from the book of Galatians of the idea of the Light Room. When the writer of Hebrews tells us—commands us to draw near—it’s the invitation into the Light Room, into the very presence of Jesus, to experience the intimacy and the depth of the relationship, to dance with Jesus to the music of Amazing Grace. But he says, “When you do that, you come with a sincere heart, a true heart, rightly motivated. I’m not doing that to earn anything or prove anything, I’m just coming because of what I believe is true.” He says, “Draw near to God with a sincere heart  in full assurance of what? …of faith!” In other words it’s based on the fact I really do believe God tells the truth!  

I cannot prove to you that Jesus died for your sins. I cannot prove to you that the blood of Jesus is sufficient to cover your sins. I cannot prove to you that there is nothing else that needs to be done. I cannot prove to you that you stand right in the presence of a holy God. I cannot prove to you that Jesus is coming back. I can’t prove any of that to you. You choose to believe it by faith. Oh, we could talk about things like the authority and reliability of the Scriptures; we could talk about the record of God’s faithfulness throughout history; we could talk about changed lives, but at the end of the day I can’t prove any of that to you. You’re left with wrestling with the question: “Do you or do you not believe God tells the truth?” The alternative is to believe God is a liar. So the idea of drawing near with a sincere heart, in full assurance of faith is saying, “I believe that and that is the basis by which I dwell in the Light Room. Even on my worst days when I’ve blown it again, I still believe what God said is true, and I dwell in the light!”  

But here’s the thing you have to wrestle with. If you find yourself so often in the Dark Room, with your shame and your guilt, in the dark room with your definition again of being Loser Christian, and somehow you have to, to some degree pay for your sin again, the only thing you can conclude is you don’t believe God tells the truth. The only basis by which you dwell in the Dark Room again and again is apparently you don’t yet believe God tells the truth. Why else would you be there? Now part of it is just learning and understanding the truth. I understand that. A lot of people have been taught a lot of things that aren’t correct. I also understand that a lot of people have been taught a lot of lies and those voices can be very powerful. That’s why we gather; that’s why we open up the Scriptures to study together, to learn, to understand what God says. At some point I can explain it to you, but I cannot believe it for you. You have to decide whether or not you believe God tells the truth. That’s the essence of his definition of faith: “I believe it to such a degree I actually live that way. It becomes the defining substance of my life!” 

He says those who come to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him. What’s the reward? The reward, in this case, would be to live in the light, in the presence of Jesus, the life that your soul longs for. That’s the reward of your faith if you choose to believe God tells the truth. 

Our Father, we celebrate Your faithfulness today. Lots of us would say sometimes things just make no sense. They’re painful, they’re confusing, and sometimes they just seem cruel and contrary to who You say You are. God, those are the moments we choose to live by faith. We believe that You tell the truth and that You are a rewarder of those that seek You. Lord, may that be true of us today. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Hebrews 9:1-14 The Perfect Tabernacle

Now even the first covenant had regulations for divine worship and the earthly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:1)

Now even the first covenant had regulations for divine worship. The meaning here is the first covenant or old covenant, or former arrangement had religious laws, rites and services regulating the worship of God.

And the earthly sanctuary. The term “worldly,” applied to “sanctuary,” here means that it pertained to this world rather than to heaven. This earthly sanctuary was the blueprint God gave the Israelites because it pictured a greater reality in the heavenlies.

For a tabernacle was equipped, the outer sanctuary, in which were the lampstand, the table, and the sacred bread; this is called the Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2)

The outer sanctuary.  The first room on entering the sacred edifice is called the “outer sanctuary”. The apostle then proceeds to enumerate the various articles of furniture which were in this room. 

The lampstand. There was this lamp stand with seven branches out of it. It was lit. There were little cups of oil, and they would put the wicks in the oil and it was the light in this portion of the tent.

Table and the sacred bread. On the table were twelve loaves of bread.

This is called the Holy Place. The first room is called the Holy Place.  The author of Hebrews does not say that the candlestick, and the table of showbread, and the other furniture that follows were designed to represent some particular truth or had a designed spiritual meaning. There are other passages in Scriptures that allude to their meaning which will not be elaborated here.

Behind the second veil there was a tabernacle which is called the Most Holy Place (Hebrews 9:2)

This is the second room. This second veil divided the holy place from the most holy, as the first veil did the holy place from the courts. This represented the visible symbol of His presence.

Having a golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s staff which budded, and the tablets of the covenant (Hebrews 9:3)

Having a golden altar of incense. The Greek must not be translated as “altar of incense,” for it was not in “Most Holy” place “after the second veil,” but in “the holy place”; but as in 2 Chronicle 26:19, and Ezekiel 8:11, “censer”. This GOLDEN censer was only used on the day of atonement. Alternatively, the writer of Hebrews probably meant that at the veil, not the Most Holy place, had the altar of incense and the ark of the covenant connected with it (Hebrews 9:3; cf. 1 Kings 6:22).

The ark of the covenant. This is often called “the ark of the testimony,” i.e., the ark containing the tables of the Ten Commandments, which were the symbol of the covenant of God with Israel. (See Exodus 25:10-16.)

In which was a golden jar holding the manna, Aaron’s staff which budded. The golden pot holding the manna and Aaron’s rod that budded were not said in the Pentateuch to have been placed in the ark of the covenant; but no objection can be lodged against the statement in Hebrews to that effect, because such a keeping place would have been perfectly in line with God’s instructions that they were to be “laid up before the Lord” (Exodus 16:33), and “before the testimony” (Numbers 17:10). 

And the tablets of the covenant.  The stones on which the decalogue or ten commandments were written are called “the tables of the covenant” (Deut. 9:9), which were a handful of ten laws from the law of Moses, which outlined a handful of duties towards man and God, and this was placed inside the ark of the covenant. The author of Hebrews does not appear to go into all the details (Hebrews 9:4), but there was also the book in which the law was expanded and applied for the Jews (613 commandments including the ten) called “the book of the covenant” (Ex. 24:7), and this was placed by the side of the ark (Deut. 31:26) in the Most Holy place. The first or “Old Covenant” (now obsolete) included an earthly sanctuary, ceremonial aspects, and also the “tablets of the covenant”. It cannot be any clearer. Efforts to dissociate the tablets of that covenant from the annulment (obsolescence) that fell upon it fail in the light of such clear identification as this.

And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the atoning cover; but about these things we cannot now speak in detail (Hebrews 9:4)

And above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the atoning cover. Above the ark of the covenant were glorious cherubim (plural). The atoning cover is translated elsewhere as the mercy seat. This was the ornate “lid” for the ark of the covenant, made with the designs of cherubim upon it. The blood of sacrifice was sprinkled upon it for the forgiveness of Israel’s sin on the Day of Atonement (Exodus 25:17-22). As God looked down into the ark, He saw the symbols of Israel’s sin, rebellion and failure. But when the blood of sacrifice was applied to the mercy seat, the blood of sacrifice had provided atonement for Israel’s sin.

About these things we cannot now speak in detail. The writer declined to speak of the tabernacle furnishings in more detail as we saw earlier (Hebrews 9:3) because his main purpose is not to give details of the first covenant and the earthly sanctuary but to contrast the two rituals and the two covenants.

Now when these things have been so prepared, the priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship (Hebrews 9:6)

Now when these things have been so prepared. The earthly sanctuary was prepared and set up exactly as how God wanted.

The priests are continually entering the outer tabernacle, performing the divine worship. So, the priests could go into the holy place (outer tabernacle), and they had various functions on a daily basis (continually). 

But into the second, only the high priest enters once a year, not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people committed in ignorance (Hebrews 9:7)

But into the second, only the high priest enters once a year. But only the high priest and only once a year was he allowed to go behind the veil (Most Holy place) and only with blood in order to make payment for sin.  This was a day of utter terror for the people of Israel as they stood and waited, wondering if the high priest would come out alive.  If he came out alive, it indicated that God had accepted the offering for another year.  

Not without taking blood which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people. The atoning blood was first for his own sins and then for the sins of his people.

Committed in ignorance. Sins of ignorance were the specific aim of the Day of Atonement. It is known that known sin would be taken care of (atoned, cleansed, forgiven) through regular sin offerings and the daily sacrifices in the daily sanctuary service. Sins of ignorance (unatoned) were the specific aim of the Day of Atonement. God does not require two different atonements for the same sins as Seventh-day Adventist teach (see: Truth About the Sanctuary Truth)

The Holy Spirit is signifying this, that the way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed while the outer tabernacle is still standing, which is a symbol for the present time (Hebrews 9:8-9a)

The Holy Spirit is signifying this. The Holy Spirit is unveiling this.

The way into the holy place has not yet been disclosed. The way into the heavenly sanctuary or heaven itself was not revealed. 

While the outer tabernacle is still standing. When the earthly sanctuary is still standing and functioning according to God’s design in a way that’s pleasing to God, it indicates that the Messiah has not yet come. If the Messiah had come, then the purpose of the earthly tabernacle, the covenant and the temple would be fulfilled and completed. Then the way into the heavenly sanctuary would be unveiled. In other words, the continuing activities at the first (old) covenant tabernacle were “signifying” that the way into the entire heavenly sanctuary, was not yet ready until the Old Covenant ended. From God’s perspective these activities ended at Calvary (Mt 27:51; Mk 15:38; Lk 23:45). At His ascension, Christ’s New Covenant ministry in the heavenly sanctuary began (Ps 110:1; Acts 2:33-34).

Which is a symbol for the present time. The things of the earthly sanctuary were a shadow, a picture, a temporary figure, it was for that present time only till the earthly sanctuary stood. Once the heavenly sanctuary is unveiled, the earthly pattern is abolished, and ought not to be revived. Again, the patterns given from heaven concerning the (old) covenant sanctuary were only “a figure for the time then present.” They were NOT “a figure for the future” as SDAs argue. They do not depict reality in heaven.

Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience, since they relate only to food, drink, and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until a time of reformation. (Hebrews 9:9b-10)

Gifts and sacrifices. Thank-offerings and bloody offerings. All kinds of offerings to God were made there in the earthly sanctuary.

Cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience. That could not take away sin, and remove the stains of guilt. Since gifts and sacrifices were outward and ceremonial rites, and even when offerings were made for sin, the conscience was not relieved. And the fact that they had to do it every year made them constantly conscious of their guilt.

Since they relate only to food, drink, and various washings, regulations for the body. Since under this old covenant system, food, drink, various washings, and regulations were limited to the outward and external cleanliness, they could not change the consciences of the ones who participated in them.

Imposed until a time of reformation. The idea here is that those rites and ceremonies (old covenant) were only temporary in their nature and were designed to endure until a more perfect system should be introduced. That is until the new covenant.  “Until the time of reformation” refer to the death, resurrection and ascension of Christ (Gal 3:19). The Old Testament pattern of sanctuary service ended when the “time of reformation” arrived. SDAs part with the majority of Christians at Hebrews 9:9-10. The truth is that all of the patterns, examples and shadows given to Moses in the Law were only temporary blueprints of Old Covenant pre-Calvary reality!

But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things having come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made by hands, that is, not of this creation (Hebrews 9:11)

But. But here stands for contrast with what happened in type. 

When Christ appeared as a high priest. Now that the Messiah has come as a High Priest. We cannot doubt that these words are contrasting between the true High Priest and the High priest on earth. Christ came as a High Priest from Judah after the king-priest rank of Melchizedek (Heb 7:11-18). He did not come as an Old Covenant Aaronic High priest from Levi who was required to follow the Law-patterns.

Of the good things having come. A more perfect system has been already introduced by which the conscience may be made free from guilt. Good things are now already here because Christ appeared as a High Priest.

He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle. He’s not entering the earthly tabernacle; He is entering the true tabernacle in the heavenlies.

Not made by hands, that is, not of this creation. The meaning is, that the place where he officiates is not made by human power but it is the ultimate presence of God. It’s the heaven itself.

And not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood, He entered the holy place once for all time, having obtained eternal redemption (Hebrews 9:12)

And not through the blood of goats and calves. Christ did not offer the blood of bulls and goats, these were the animals sacrificed on the day of atonement (Leviticus 16:3,11) which had no real power to make anyone clean—but would actually offer Himself.

But through His own blood. Christ would offer His own blood as payment for sin.

He entered the holy place [ta hagia] once for all time. The Greek word here is literally “holies.” The Septuagint uses it repeatedly in Leviticus 16 for the most holy place. The word itself can mean the sanctuary as a whole, or it can mean the first apartment, or it can mean the second apartment. You can prove nothing from the Greek, because it has these possibilities, but from the context it is obvious. It is speaking about a place that the high priest alone went once every year with the blood of bulls and goats. Here, Jesus entered the most holy place (heaven itself) once for all time. Having died “once for all” (Hebrews 7:27; Hebrews 10:10) He was able to enter God’s presence “once for all.”

Having obtained eternal redemption. As long as the ultimate High Priest lives, His payment for sin is valid, and because He is eternal, then His payment for sin is eternal—so the redemption that He provides is an eternal redemption.

Since our high priest entered into heaven once for all, and has obtained not a yearly respite, but eternal redemption, he need not make an yearly entrance into the presence of God, or every 100 year entrance into the presence of God or even an 1844 entrance into the presence of God. He entered once for all time into the heavenly sanctuary, heaven itself, the presence of God, in opposition to the annual entering of the high priest into the holiest of all, with the blood of the yearly victim. Note again. In the earthly type, daily and yearly sacrifices were made. Instead of following the type pattern by dying many times, Christ fulfills the type by having died “once for all”. In the earthly type, the priest entered the sanctuary many times (daily and yearly). Instead of following the type pattern by entering the sanctuary many times (daily and yearly), Christ fulfils the type by entering the heavenly sanctuary, heaven itself “once for all”.

Andre Reis, an SDA theologian writes: “The book of Hebrews explicitly negates the notion that Jesus has engaged in a two-phase ministry since his ascension, with the final phase to be commenced sometime in the future. Hebrews 6:19-20; 9:12, 25; 10:19 are full of verbal parallels drawn from the sanctuary ritual culminating with the yearly Day of Atonement to explain Jesus’s sacrifice and subsequent activities as the Heavenly high Priest” (source: https://spectrummagazine.org/article/2015/10/22/perspective-1844-pillar-faith-or-mortal-wound ).

For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh (Hebrews 9:13)

For if the blood of goats and bulls. Referring to blood of sacrificial victims.

And the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled. The heifer was sacrificed, and the ashes were used to make people clean when they had become unclean.

Sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh. If these things are adequate to restore a man to ceremonial cleanness which was a type of moral purity.

How much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Hebrews 9:14)

How much more will the blood of Christ. If the blood of an animal had any efficacy at all, even in removing ceremonial pollutions, how much more virtue must there be in the blood of Christ, to cleanse us from all sin?

Who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God. Through his own eternal Godhead, offered “himself” without blemish, meaning the great sacrifice was “perfect”.

Cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God. The weakness of the sacrifices, “akin to dead works” made by earthly priests is that they could not really give us a clear conscience to serve the living God. They were a reminder of our sins that God had not completely dealt with our sin. And the fact that they had to do it every year made us constantly conscious of our guilt. But Jesus Christ has now purified our consciences for having to not offer “dead works”, instead we have peace that our sins have been cleansed (forgiven, blotted out, cancelled) to serve the Living God under the new covenant.