Something kept telling him that there had to be something more, a better way, a lasting solution, a quiet assurance. He knew in his heart that it was out there, but he had never found it. Jacob was a young man who had been born into a Jewish family. His family read the Hebrew Bible every night. They prayed that God would forgive them of their sins. They asked God to bless them so that they could be a blessing to those around them. Jacob?s family loved God. His father and mother lived a life of quiet humility with servant?s hearts overflowing with gratitude for everything that God had given them.
Jacob saw how his father?s faith influenced everything that he did in life. He was a craftsman who sold his wares in the marketplace alongside of others trying to make ends meet. Jacob?s father was fair while he saw how others cheated the common folks in the market on a daily basis. Jacob?s father and mother gave to their neighbors who were going through a hard time even when there wasn?t an abundance of food for their own family because they knew that God would provide for them if they provided for the poor. Jacob?s family worshipped in the Temple every time they were given the opportunity, not out of duty, but because they were people of gratitude.
As a boy, Jacob had seen the priests make sacrifices day-after-day so as to provide offerings for the sins of the people. It was an endless, tireless, relentless practice that the boy watched day-in and day-out. The sins of the people were always before them as the sacrifices and blood spilled forth to remind the people that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness for sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 NIV)
Jacob was grateful for the priests and the sacrifices they made on behalf of the people, but the sacrifices and blood were a constant reminder that sin had separated the young man, and all others, from God. Even after the sacrifices were made and the sins of the people were covered, Jacob knew that another sacrifice would have to be made soon for sin was just around the corner.
Like workers changing shifts at a modern-day factory, the priests would come and go around the clock because provision had to be made for the sins of the people. As Jacob watched the priests wear themselves out making sacrifices by shedding the blood of animals he would often think to himself, “There has to be a better way, a lasting solution, a quiet assurance that my sin can be forgiven and I can know God.”
Jacob knew that the priests were shedding the blood to cover his sin, and yet it only seemed to uncover the hardness and darkness of his own heart. He felt as if he would never escape his sin and be able to fellowship with God with the assurance of his sin being forever forgiven.
One day while Jacob was on his way to the market to take lunch to his father he saw some men looking on as another read to them. The man who was reading was smiling and enthusiasm echoed from every word as he read,
1 In the past God spoke to our forefathers 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 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. (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV)
Jacob?s heart raced as he heard the final sentence, “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” The words struck Jacob as strange since he knew that there was not one seat in the Temple for the priests to sit upon since they had to continually make sacrifice and offerings. The priests worked round the clock to provide for the sins of the people ? there was no time to sit and relax. Jacob asked himself, “Who is this priest who has provided for the purification of my sins? Who is this priest who finished His work and sat down to enjoy His finished work?” Jacob?s heart raced within him as his mind wandered, “Could it be true? Could this be the better way, the lasting solution, the quiet assurance that my sins are forgiven and the door has been opened for me to really, truly know God? Could it be?” Jacob?s heart jumped with joy at the thought. He peered in to take a look at the man reading from the letter. The man read,
15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are?yet was without sin. 16Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16 NIV)
Jacob?s joy was overwhelmed with a sense of overwhelming gratitude and humility as he heard the words. “Who is this high priest who sympathizes with my weaknesses?” Jacob was so struck by the power of this Man?s compassion because he had watched the priests perform their duties with blank looks upon their faces. He had never thought that they might be identifying with the weights of sin carried into the Temple by those who had come seeking relief. Could there possibly be a high priest who has been tempted in every way that Jacob had? Could there possibly be a high priest who had felt the pull of sin?s magnetic tug? Could there possibly be a high priest who hurt, who felt sympathy, and who grieved for the struggles of Jacob?s life? Could there possibly be a high priest who felt all of this even though He had never sinned, never once given into temptation, and never succumbed to the pull of the flesh, the world, or the Enemy?
Jacob kept listening as the man continued to read,
11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:11-14 NIV)
Jacob?s mind sped to the Temple as the man read about the priests daily making sacrifices. How many times had he looked on as the priests made sacrifices and yet he never felt the freedom from the weight of his sins bearing down upon his heart and mind. He knew that the sacrifices couldn?t take away the sins and yet he kept going back with his family over and over again. The men began to cheer when they heard the words, “because by one sacrifice he had made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” One sacrifice? Made perfect? Oh, the sweet release as Jacob felt the weight of his sins lifted from his shoulders at just hearing the words!
The man read on and with each word Jacob?s joy grew greater and greater still. The man read,
8Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 5:8-9 NIV)
This man was designated, He was called, He was appointed, He was put in place by God Himself to be the great high priest. He is the One who is the source of eternal salvation. He doesn?t offer sacrifices for momentary relief or for the covering of the sins of the people ? His sacrifice secures salvation for all of eternity for those who will obey Him.
Jacob listened and listened as the man read on and on. He never tired of hearing the words that were jumping off of the pages. It seemed that everything that was being read was giving Jacob the assurance he had longed for. He found himself saying, “Yes, Yes!” over and over again. Finally, as the man read the final pages of the letter Jacob heard these words,
1Therefore, 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. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12:1-3 NIV)
Jacob?s eyes were lifted to the Heavens as he praised God! He knew that Jesus was the long awaited high priest who had the power to make the perfect sacrifice. Jesus was the not only the high priest, but He was the sacrifice Himself ? a lamb without defect or blemish who could do more than cover Jacob?s sins?He had carried them on a cross of shame. Jacob bowed his head and cried tears of joy, tears of sorrow, tears of release to the God who had opened the door to Heaven and invited him in.
Jacob?s story is every person?s story. We know that there must be something better than the momentary relief we feel from the weight of our sin. We don?t travel to a Temple today to find relief, no we look to our friends to reassure us that what we?ve done and who we are are not nearly as bad as we once thought. The high priests of our day offer the sacrifices of other sin-stained people who serve to show us that we aren?t nearly as bad as others. With all of their counsel and comfort we find only momentary relief because deep in our hearts we know that we are not right with God, that there is no explaining away the hardness of our hearts and the ungodliness of our actions.
We know that there must be some solution to our severance from the God who loves us. Instead of seeking reconciliation in the way that God has provided for us, we go through all kinds of mental machinations to assure ourselves that God winks at our ungodliness and will accept us no matter what since He is a God of love. We even use the Bible to justify our positions as the privileged and prized possessions of God. Some even go to the great lengths of claiming that we are all God?s children regardless of the condition of our hearts or the commitments our lives. We know that there must be, out there, somewhere, some quiet assurance of our forgiveness and acceptance by God, but where can it be found? Where can we go to escape from the guilt and conviction that we know in our hearts when we consider our lives?
I have good news for you this morning my friend. We are beginning a brand new study on the Book of Hebrews that will carry us through the next many weeks and in this study we will come face-to-face with the better way that God has provided for us. The Book of Hebrews has been said to be the “most neglected book of the New Testament.” This has been so because some have spread the rumor that it can?t be understood, that it is too Jewish in its content, and that it doesn?t have any practical application for modern-day followers of Jesus. I will tell you, after studying this wonderful letter from God that it is one of the most practical of all of the books of the Bible. I have often shared with you how troubled I have been by folks who have said that they are “New Testament” believers. These folks trouble me because I will tell you that there is no way to make sense of the New Testament unless you understand the Old Testament. The New Testament has not been given to us in a vacuum, it is built and supported by the foundation of God?s promises to His chosen people, the Israelites. The Book of Hebrews makes so clear for us the fulfillment of God?s promises given throughout the ages. The argument that has been made that Hebrews is too difficult to understand merely points out the lack of humility and commitment to allowing the Lord to shed His light upon His Word. I will tell you that apart from humbling ourselves before God and asking Him to reveal the truth of His Word to us, there is no understanding for any part of God?s Word. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and explained this truth to them by saying,
14The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Corinthians 2:14 NIV)
God has placed the Book of Hebrews in Holy Scripture because He desires to teach us deep and timeless truths about ourselves and our relationship with Him. We can gain so much from undertaking this study over the next several months if we will humble ourselves today and ask God to begin to teach us.
Before we get into the study of Hebrews, I want to give you some important foundational information about the book. First of all, let me tell you that we have no idea who God used to write the book. There have been many suggestions as to who wrote Hebrews ? Paul, Barnabas, Apollos, Luke, Priscilla, and Peter to name a few. The fact of the matter is that the truest statement ever made concerning the authorship of Hebrews was made by one of the early Church Fathers, Origen, when he said, “But as to who actually wrote the epistle, God knows the truth of the matter.” I think it is no accident that we do not know who wrote the powerful book because the theme of Hebrews is the supremacy of Christ as the High Priest of God. All attention is focused on Jesus and not on the person who wrote it.
The second important bit of information that we need to understand as we begin our study is the audience to whom the book was written. John MacArthur, in his commentary on Hebrews has said,
There are no references to Gentiles in the book. Problems between Jews and Gentiles in the church are not mentioned or reflected here, indicating almost certainly that the congregation being addressed was strictly Jewish. To these suffering Jewish believers ? and some unbelievers ? are revealed the merits of Jesus Christ and the New Covenant in contrast to the Old Covenant, under which they had so long lived and worshipped. (John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Hebrews (1983), p. x.)
We don?t know where the congregation was located, but from studying Hebrews we can learn that the congregation was made up of three different groups of folks. This past week, as I was working on our study, I was struck with how similar we are to the congregation that was being encouraged to grow in their faith. We, at Britton Christian Church, are a church that is made up of people who have committed their lives to Jesus as Lord and Savior. Some of you have yielded your lives to Jesus and you are seeking to grow in your walk with the Lord every day. Also in our congregation are folks who intellectually confess that Jesus is who He said He was, Jesus is God in the flesh, the only Savior of lost sinners. You have come to that conclusion you have never surrendered your hearts to Jesus. For some reason known only to you and God you are resisting bending your knee before His glorious throne of grace. It might be that you are concerned with what your family would think of you if you truly lived your life with passion for Christ.
I heard of a teenage girl who started attending church with a friend. Her family thought that it was a good thing for her to go to church so they gave her friend permission to pick her up on Sunday mornings and Sunday nights. Mom and dad felt that their daughter could gain some moral instruction while attending church. They thought that she would have a better chance of making some good friends at church. But they were unprepared when she came home one night from her youth group meeting and told them that they had prayed with the Youth Pastor to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The girl?s dad said, “Honey that?s fine, but just don?t go getting radical on us.”
Maybe you are concerned with what your family or friends might think of you if you accepted Jesus as Lord of your life. You might fear that your friends would turn away from you or that Jesus might call you to be a missionary in Kuwait. Fear could be the barrier that is keeping you from God this very day.
There are others among us who believe that Jesus is truly the Son of God, but you know that if you accept Him as Lord of your life that He is going to rearrange the furniture of your heart. You know that there are some things that He will remove and you are clinging to them like Linus clinging to his blanket. We only have two arms and they will either cling to Jesus or they will cling to the things of this world.
The third group of folks who attend Britton Christian Church are those who are not intellectually convinced that Jesus is the promised Messiah of God. You think he was a good man. You admire what He did while on the earth, but you can?t believe in your heart that He is the Savior of the lost.
These three groups were all present in the church that received the letter to the Hebrews. There were Jews who had been converted by the message of the followers of Jesus and they were living in obedience to Jesus and not to the faith that had been passed on to them by their families or community. There were also Jews among the congregation who believed the things that were said about Jesus, but they considered the cost of turning away from their Jewish faith and family and they could not take the step of embracing Jesus as their Savior. There was a third group of people in the congregation who were fascinated by the Christians, they admired Jesus, but they didn?t believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah.
God sent all three groups a letter to exhort them, to encourage them, to consider Jesus, to follow Jesus, and to grow on to the fullness of faith in Jesus that God intended.
There is the possibility for our deliverance from the sin and guilt that plagues us because of a more superior way than the way offered us by any religion or our friends. There is the possibility of our knowing God, of going beyond the veil that separated us from God so that we can truly know God in an intimate way. There is the possibility of our pressing on and not giving in to our fleshly sin-nature or throwing in the towel. There is the possibility of our growing in our walk with God. There is the possibility for us to fix our eyes upon our Savior and to throw off every weight that has entangled and enslaved us in the past. There is the possibility and the possibility only exists because of what God has done in Jesus, His Son and our Savior.
The Book of Hebrews is about the superiority of Jesus over all things and every body. If I were to offer you an outline of our study for the next several months it would look something like this:
First, in chapters 1-4:13 we find the superiority of Jesus Christ position over every messenger who has ever come from God. Jesus offers us a greater message, a greater salvation, and a greater Savior. He is better than Moses, better than Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. Jesus is better than the angels who delivered the Law. He is better than the prophets who spoke for God. He is better than any of the wisdom ever offered by philosophers, academicians, or societal commentators. Jesus is better than the best this world has to offer.
Second, from Hebrews 4:14-7:28, we will take a look at the superiority of Jesus Christ?s priesthood. The Levitical priests had to offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could ever offer a sacrifice for the sins of the people. The priests never experienced rest since they had to offer sacrifices day-in and day-out, but Jesus on the other hand offered one sacrifice, the sinless offering of His own life, and He sat down at the right of the Father ? His work finished forever!
Thirdly, as we study Hebrews 8:1-10:18, we will see the superiority of Jesus? ministry. The covenant brought about by Jesus? sacrifice is better than the covenant of the Old Testament. Jesus, at the Last Supper, said, 28 This is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28 NIV) We will see that Jesus not only offers a better covenant, but He does so in a better sanctuary than the Temple which would be destroyed by General (later Emperor) Titus Vespeasian in A.D. 70. The Temple that was cherished, but be no more in only a few short years, but the Kingdom of God reigns and rules forever in the hearts of His people.
Fourth, as we study Hebrews 10:19-12:29, we will see the superiority of the believer?s privileges in Christ. We will take a look at saving faith, false faith, genuine faith, the heroes of our faith, and the persevering faith that God calls us to as we seek Him with all of our hearts.
Last of all, in the last chapter of Hebrews we will take a look at the superiority of Christian behavior. You and I are called to be holy, set-apart for our Master?s service. As Jesus comes to live within our hearts He begins to change our passions, alter our attitudes, and elevate our lifestyle so that it reflects His. Through His Spirit, Christ empowers us to live a different life in relation to others, in relation to ourselves, and in relation to God.
If there were ever a day in history that the Book of Hebrews was desperately needed it is our day. I am able to say that because today there are all kinds of competitors for our hearts and allegiance. There is a multitude of magnetic pulls seeking to pull you and me away from the throne of grace. Within the Church there is a growing opinion that it doesn?t matter how we live as long as we say that we believe in God. The writer of Hebrews challenges us, exhorts us, and encourages us to consider Jesus, and once having considered Him, to cling to Him with all that we are as we seek to walk with Him in obedience of life.
There was once a man who loved art, but he lived on a modest income. He read about the fabulous artists of the past and he admired their works as he had the opportunity to walk through museums that housed their treasures. The man decided one day that he would begin to collect the famous art works of history, but he knew that he didn?t have the means to collect the originals so he traveled to the mall and bought his first piece. He found a copy of Rembrandt?s “The Last Supper” in a Prints R? Us Store and bought it for ten dollars. He bought one of those cheap frames that you find posters framed in and hung it on his wall. The man went on to purchase cheap imitations Van Gogh, Michelangelo, Pablo Picasso, Leonardo Da Vinci, Pananni, and others until he had the walls of his living room lined with prints of the greatest pieces of art known to man. The man would often entertain his buddies and share with them all of the tidbits he had learned about each artist from his readings as he showed off their work. Even after his friends would leave, the man would admire the paintings until he had convinced himself that his living room was the famous Louvre Museum in Paris, France.
The man may have convinced himself that he was enjoying the real deal, but the man had actually settled for something less than the best. I want to encourage you this morning to never settle for less than God?s best. Don?t settle for a cheap Saviors R? Us imitation of God?s best for your life and mine. Jesus is the promised Messiah of God who came as our high priest to offer Himself for the payment of our sins. I hope that this very morning you will invite Him into your heart as Lord and Savior.
An Overview of The Book of Hebrews