Sunday, April 22nd, 2012
"Already and Not Yet"
Pastor Jonathan Sine
There is something truly unique about living as a Christian. In one sense, the Bible tells us that we have attained a particular standing before God. We have been provided victory over sin. We have attained heavenly blessings. We have been predestined, called, justified and glorified. We are now heirs with Christ. We are adopted as children into His family. We have a great high priest in heaven who intercedes for us.
And yet our circumstances seem to suggest otherwise. Sometimes we don't feel God's presence or his blessings. We still struggle with temptation. We do not experience tangibly the riches to which we are heirs. And the more we age, our bodies do not feel 'glorified.'
We are also told that God is sovereign and that Jesus reigns from heaven. And yet we see evil running rampant in our world. Are these things necessarily an either/or situation? I would suggest that the Bible indicates that this is a both/and situation. Or to be more precise, an already/not yet scenario. And I believe that this is evident in our passage this morning. Please turn in your Bibles with me to Hebrews 10.
This portion of the letter brings us to the end of the doctrinal section. To this point, the author has made some very significant remarks about the nature of Jesus Christ - the greatness of his person, the nature of his ministry and his introducing the new covenant to his people. We have plumbed great depths in understanding how wonderful is the truth of Jesus Christ! Consider where we have been.
Chapter 1 began launching headlong into lofty thoughts concerning Jesus. Jesus was said to be greater than the prophets in that He was the ultimate revelation from God. Jesus is said to be greater than the angels. He is greater in his deity. He receives worship and sends angels to do his bidding. He is also greater in his humanity. Jesus became a man and is able to identify with them.
Jesus is greater than Moses. If you want to make a point to Jewish believers, you speak of Moses. And then if you want to make a point about how great Jesus is, you emphasize that Jesus is much greater than Moses. Moses' brother was Aaron who was the first High Priest of Israel. And, oh yeah, Jesus is greater than him too. Why? Because Aaron was not eternal God. And he was a sinner. Jesus is eternal God and a sinless High Priest.
Secondly, we saw that Jesus has also a superior ministry. In chapter 8, Jesus introduced a better covenant than the one that God's people had been living under. Though the new covenant had been promised throughout the Old Testament, the people would need to wait until the One who would live and die for sins could complete his mission.
Chapter 9 spoke of a better sanctuary of which the earthly one is but a shadow and a copy. This conjured up images and thoughts of what the heavenly Most Holy Place must be like, with Christ as our great High Priest. And lastly we have been examining the better sacrifice of Jesus over all of the Old Testament sacrifices. We will be concluding this section this morning.
Next Sunday, we will launch into the more practical section of the letter. Such wonderful news that is rooted in Jesus have practical implications for believers and unbelievers alike. Colin Lye is going to try his hand at preaching the opening section of the exhortations next Sunday. So keep him in your prayers this week especially.
We are in Hebrews 10.11-18 for this morning's message. And we will read this as we get underway. READ.
As you may have noticed there are some repeated thoughts in this section. In fact, this has been true through several chapters. The author seems to reintroduce some things about Jesus and his ministry - and yet does it from different angles. In other words, different aspects are emphasized in the repetitions. And so it is with our passage today.
Remember that our author is writing to a small group of Jewish believers who are tempted, in the light of persecution, to revert back to their familiar system of old covenant practices. For 1500 years or so they were at home with trying to obey they law, offering sacrifices and observing the feasts. Repeatedly and more intensely, the author has been portraying Jesus Christ as the fulfillment of these things and the One who has introduced a new covenant that far exceeds the insufficient nature of the old covenant. He has done so by pointing out that all of what is familiar to them is but a copy and a shadow of heavenly realities.
Think of it this way. Suppose you come across a brilliant picture of the view from the Chief. A cloudless sky, water the perfect tone of blue, springtime green as you look below. Yet those of you who have gone up know that a picture does not fully capture all of this. We often say things like the picture doesn't do it justice. And as we now enter into this time of year, a friend asks if you want to take a walk up the chief on this same sort of day. It's a Saturday morning and you open the windows and the smells of springtime are all around. You know thewonderful Squamish springtime scent I am talking about right? Mountain bikers? Hikers? You know what I am saying. There is something special about the smells of the deep woods here. At the request of the friend to experience this together with you, you respond by saying that you would rather sit at your desk at glance at the photo.
On a very small scale, this is what the author is suggesting. There is no comparison between the copy and the reality. Jesus is far superior to anything they have known. And the new covenant exceeds all their wildest dreams. The author is trying to drive this point home.
Let's look at our first point from or text: Standing, Sitting, Waiting. We see this in the opening verses of our section. In verses 10 and 11, the author is setting up a contrast. In fact, it is an emphatic one. It is not translated this way in our English Bible, but it is like 'one the one hand' this. 'On the other hand'...
So, on the one hand every priest stands daily at his service offering sacrifices repeatedly that can never take away sins. In the old covenant system, there was no place for the priests to sit while they were about their duties. Deuteronomy 18:5 "5 For the LORD your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the LORD, him and his sons for all time.
And they would do this day by day. We have noted extensively the nature of the Day of Atonement which would take place once a year. However, the priestly ministry extended beyond this and was a daily service. Numbers 28:1–3 "1 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Command the people of Israel and say to them, ‘My offering, my food for my food offerings, my pleasing aroma, you shall be careful to offer to me at its appointed time.’ 3 And you shall say to them, This is the food offering that you shall offer to the LORD: two male lambs a year old without blemish, day by day, as a regular offering.
The point being made here is that their sacred duties were never fully accomplished. They were offering repeatedly these same sacrifices. The sacrifices were ineffective for the forgiveness of sins. This has been repeated throughout the last few chapters. This is where this chapter begins. Verses 1 and 4 confirm that the blood of bulls cannot take away sins or make perfect those who draw near. I think that we’ve gotten this point already.
But Christ. But on the other hand… Verse 12. When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. We’ve seen in Hebrews 7:27 “27 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. Jesus is the perfect and ultimate sacrifice for sins.
Hebrews 9 concluded with this wonderful truth. Hebrews 9:25–28 “25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Once for all. Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice. A single sacrifice for all time. You can say it many different ways. One sacrifice for all sins. What wonderful news!! It doesn’t get better than this.
How do we know that it was effective? How do we know that the offering was accepted? Look at the next phrase. “But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” This is significant on many levels. The earthly priests stood continually because their work was never finished. Day after day standing in the tabernacle offering up sacrifices. Jesus sat down. One sacrifice – finished.
Sitting down next to the Father means that the sacrifice was accepted. It has met the expectations necessary for the payment for sins. Also, in the Old Testament, to stand in God’s presence was considered a great honour. But the exalted Jesus sits as a sign that he shares the authority of God himself. Remember his words from Matthew 28? “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” Sitting down signifies this authority.
Of course we’ve heard this before. Our letter began in verse 3 stating that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high. And we have seen how this was a fulfillment of the author’s favorite psalm. Psalm 110 speaks of a future King who would also be a priest. Jesus now sits as this reigning King.
So what is Jesus doing right now? Verse 13 indicates that Jesus as Jesus is sitting at the right hand of God, he is also waiting. Jesus is ‘waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.’ So, is he sitting back in his La-z-boy recliner sipping on a smoothie? Is it time yet? No? I’ll read another book and have another drink. What is he doing?
Sorry. No smoothies. No recliner. Remember that Jesus also acts as priest. Hebrews 7:25 "25 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." Jesus is actively interceding for the saints. Remember also that the believer comes to the throne of grace that he may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Jesus is involved in answering our prayers for mercy and grace. Jesus now rests from his earthly work, but is actively involved on the throne in heaven on our behalf.
In fact, the waiting here denotes an eager waiting. What is he waiting for? Jesus is waiting for the day when his enemies will be made a footstool for his feet. Psalm 110:1 1 The Lord says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.” Another allusion to this fulfilled prophecy in Christ. The implication in both of these passages is that this is not yet attained. Jesus sits in heaven awaiting the day when he will eradicate his enemies.
Hebrews 2:6–8 6 It has been testified somewhere, “What is man, that you are mindful of him, or the son of man, that you care for him? 7 You made him for a little while lower than the angels; you have crowned him with glory and honor, 8 putting everything in subjection under his feet.” Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. This certainly speaks to our current experience in the world, doesn't it?
Who are these enemies? Those who crucified him? Not specifically. We know that the devil is an enemy. Hebrews 2:14–15 “14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
But I believe that the enemies extend beyond the realm of Satan and demons. In fact, the apostle Paul referred to many as being enemies of the cross of Christ. And he says in Philippians 2.19 that their end is destruction. And in verse 20, he draws the contrast. “But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
One commentator suggested that the solemn warning that follows may imply a warning that that urges the readers not to let themselves be counted among the enemies of the exalted Christ, but instead be acknowledged as his friends and companions who follow him faithfully to the end. Hebrews 10:26–31 “26 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 29 How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
There are some who are obvious enemies of Christ and those who are not. Perhaps we have felt the wrath of the hostile enemies. Whether it is physical persecution, public ridicule or blaspheming the name of our Lord Jesus, isn’t it comforting to know that this does not escape the watchful of the One who is waiting to deal with his enemies?
Because here is the reality: As believers, we are pilgrims on this earth awaiting our final home – our heavenly rest, the Promised Land. And while we are here, we are called to live by faith in the One who died for us and sits on a throne waiting eagerly for the day when he deals with his enemies and calls his friends home. In the meantime, however, the Enemy is actively and continually trying to blemish God’s glory by blinding the eyes of unbelievers and derailing Christians in their walk of faith. Though nothing happens outside the authority and control of our God, Satan is more powerful than we are. So we are unable to overcome the attacks of the Enemy on our own. This drives us to our knees in prayer to the One who is interceding for us for the grace to help in time of need. We are powerless without Him and victorious with Him. Make sense?
But we also realize that this is a difficult life to live. We feel the attacks from the Enemy. We see the effects all around us. And as I reflected on this, shouldn’t we also wait eagerly for Jesus to make his enemies a footstool for his feet? I long for this to happen. I see Christian marriages disintegrate, relationship struggles, temptations to sin all over the place. I want Satan eradicated! Dealt a heavy blow by King Jesus!
Don’t you think that He wants the same?? Think about it. Jesus is active on the throne. He intercedes for those that He loves. Jesus watches on as his children suffer and wrestle with the attacks of the enemy. I imagine him leaning forward on the edge of his seat. Waiting… eagerly… to cease the attacks, the temptations… forever… Jesus’ reign is already and not yet. He sits on the throne and awaits the fulfillment of the times when the enemies are no more. Jesus is the ever-active priest for those he saves.
Verse 14 goes on to further explain this completed work. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” The means by which Christ has perfected his people is his sacrificial death. It is a perfect tense verb. Karl reminded us last Sunday that the perfect tense denotes a completed action in the past that has ongoing results. The perfection that has taken place we have already seen. It refers to qualifying believers to draw near to God and enjoy the certainty of a new covenant relationship with God. The old covenant communicated separation from God. It was the High Priest once a year that could come into the presence of God. The new covenant announces a nearness to God that had been unknown to His people till now.
It involves the forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of conscience so that believers are consecrated to God’s service and will participate in a promised heavenly inheritance. Hebrews 9:15 “15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” However, the terminology of perfection here stresses the realized aspect of salvation. It is already accomplished! Consider it done!
Christ now has continuous and uninterrupted access to the Father, and shares authority at his right hand. Because of his one sacrifice, Christians, though still on earth, share the same permanent access to the Father. “For all time” our text reads. Jesus has done it all! By his death, he has perfected us eternally! Praise God for his grace!
But this is only for those being sanctified. Karl did a great job explaining the difference between a ‘positional’ sanctification and an ‘ongoing’ or ‘progressive’ sanctification. Though either one is a possible meaning here, I believe the author is emphasizing the ‘positional’ sanctification. Basically, this refers to those who are set apart as God’s people – those who have believed in the provision of Jesus Christ and have trusted in him for salvation. Again, the author is trying to nail down the realised aspect of their salvation. It is for those who have already experienced the forgiveness of sins and the cleansing of the conscience and anticipate a promised eternal inheritance.
Let’s now consider our second point: New Covenant Empowerment. Have a look at verse 15. Notice the beginning words. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us. A couple of
things to realize about these significant words. The Holy Spirit is spoken of here as the author of Scripture. It was the Holy Spirit speaking through Jeremiah in his writing. We’ve seen this already in Hebrews 3.7 and 9.8.
Secondly, the Holy Spirit expands on the recipients of the new covenant. Initially these words came from the prophet Jeremiah to the people of Israel. Here they are applied to believers in Jesus Christ. Peter O’Brien remarks that “The Spirit addresses both the author to the Hebrews and his readers directly since the promise of the new covenant are for this community – and ultimately for other believers as well.”
And we have here an abbreviated portion of the new covenant prophecy that we have looked at before. “This is the covenant that I will make with them.” This is the covenant that has been realized in Jesus Christ. “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.”
What has changed is that though there was an obedience from the heart that was expected under the old covenant, now this will be accomplished by God himself. So, not only do we now experience the forgiveness of sins and cleansing of conscience but an obedience of the heart which expresses a consecration to God. Those who have faith in Christ will demonstrate it with their lives in their obedience.
Instead of putting his laws on stone tablets, they are placed in the very center of the believers being, so that there is an inner impulse that both delights in knowing his law and doing his will. Before coming to Christ, we have no desire to live for him. When God calls us and saves us, suddenly we have new affections and desires. We long to know God through His Word. That’s not natural! It is supernatural. If you don’t know Christ, why would you want to honor God with your thoughts and your actions? You can’t anyway.
Kent Hughes uses this story to illustrate what takes place. Shortly after the armistice of World War I, Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse visited the battlefields of Belgium. In the first year of the war the area around the city of Mons was the scene of the great British retreat. In the last year of the war it was the scene of the greater enemy retreat. For miles west of the city the roads were lined with artillery, tanks, trucks, and other materials of war that the enemy had abandoned in their hasty flight.
It was a lovely spring day. The sun was shining, and not a breath of wind was blowing. As he walked along, examining the war remains, he noticed leaves were falling from the great trees that arched along the road. He brushed at a leaf that had fallen against his chest. As he grasped at it, he pressed it in his fingers, and it disintegrated. He looked up curiously and saw several other leaves falling from the trees. Remember, it was spring, not autumn, nor was there enough wind to blow off the leaves. These leaves had outlived the winds of autumn and the frosts of winter. Yet they were falling that day, seemingly without cause.
Then Dr. Barnhouse realized why. The most potent force of all was causing them to fall. It was spring—the sap was beginning to run, and the buds were beginning to push from within. From down beneath the dark earth, roots were sending life along trunk, branch, and twig until it expelled every bit of deadness that remained from the previous year. It was, as a great Scottish preacher termed it, “the expulsive power of a new affection.”
This is what happens when God writes his will on our hearts. The new life within purges the deadness from our lives. Our renewed hearts pump fresh blood through us. The life of Christ in us—the same life that said “Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God”—animates us! You may be saying to yourself, “I don’t think I can ever live the Christian life”—and you are right! But a new heart, the expulsive inner power of new affection, will make it possible. The sense that you cannot do it is precisely why you should come to Christ. In fact, it is the qualification!
Lastly, let’s look at New Covenant Forgiveness. In verse 17 is the fulfillment of the prophecy that God will remember sins and lawless deeds no more! Those who belong to the new covenant have the assurance of sins forgiven… forever… The “I will” statements are rooted in God’s character. It is his faithfulness and trustworthiness that assures us of the forgiveness of sins.
And God says in verse 18 that “where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” Christ’s sacrifice achieves its end in the forgiveness of sins. There is no longer any role for animal sacrifice. And this may seem obvious to us. Of course we do not offer up bloodied animals on altars anymore. But do we really believe in the forgiveness of sins? I know you can open up your Bibles and Systematic Theology books and affirm a mental assent to the truth of this statement. I suspect that many Christians would acknowledge these words but practice differently. Let me explain.
In our attempts to live a faithful Christian life we will fail. We will continue to wrestle against our fleshly nature and our adversary. We will sin. But do we truly live our lives as if we are forgiven? Or when we sin, do we inadvertently try to pay God back and atone for our own sins? Do we heap up good deeds? More time to church attendance? Do we still attempt to make offerings for our forgiveness?
Do we carry around a load of guilt that weighs us down needlessly? Do you know what I am talking about? We think that God is angry with us or will stop loving us or is disappointed with us. Does God really mean it when he says that he will remember our sins no more? Do you believe this? Do you rest in God’s faithfulness to promises? This will make a huge impact in your success for this life! It will determine your level of joy, your level of effectiveness for the Kingdom. Have you considered this?
I have wrestled with this personally. When we try to earn our favor before God, we will live a joyless and difficult life. But when we take God at His Word there is freedom and joy. And it will become quite evident to a watching world. The world lacks this experience. Sure there are temporary pleasures, but no deep, lasting joy. It is only to be found in Christ. It is only to be found in the forgiveness of sins.
It is likely that in a group of this size that there is someone who has not yet trusted in Jesus Christ for salvation and has not experienced the forgiveness of their sins and the cleansing of their conscience. You are burdened with guilt. Listen. This whole book is about Jesus and the salvation that he offers us in Him. Apart from him you remain an enemy and will face his wrath on the day of his return. The only delay is for those he has yet to call to himself. I beg you to turn to Christ today. Repent of your sins and trust in him completely for your eternal salvation. And you too can experience newness of life, new desires and the forgiveness of your sins forever.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. 10 But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.