If you’ve been tracking through the thick theology and reasoning of Hebrews up to this point, well done! But keep cutting, because we have just now got to the middle of this meaty spiritual meal! It seems that everything that the writer has been writing about up till now has been leading him to the point – “the main point” (v. 8:1) – that he wants us to hear loud and clear in the chapters ahead.
And, wouldn’t you know it, the “main point” is about… work.
But not your work. And not my work.
It’s about the work of Jesus – and how this bigger, better, greater, more real and perfectly complete work changes everything!
Day 1: Read Hebrews 8:1-13 (click here to read)
Not only is Jesus greater than prophets and angels and Moses and earthly priests (chpts 1-6), but the work that He accomplished is far better. (By the way, did you know that the word, “better” occurs more times in the book of Hebrews than in the rest of the New Testament combined??).
And the kind of “better” that the writer is talking about here is not simply “better” as in: “I like Honda better than Kia”. That would just be comparing apples to apples. Instead, it’s “better” as in: a real Ferrari Roma compared to its HotWheels toy replica. It doesn’t matter how new, or how rare that replica is. Compared to the real thing, it’s just a toy.
So that is how the writer is talking about Jesus’ work: out-of-this-world-better than the ministry (work) of any spiritual being or spiritual leader who had gone before Him. And ultimately what it produced, was something altogether better as well.
A better “covenant”.
“Covenant” is a meaty word (so it’s not surprising that it’s in a letter like Hebrews!). It’s a word that describes a kind of relationship. An arrangement. A way of relating. More, a way of binding one party to another. And it involves promise – commitment, faithfulness, unending love. Covenant isn’t contract. Covenant is a relationship that cannot be broken.
What Jesus’ work has accomplished, the author is saying, has made a far better covenant between us and God. It’s a covenant that was promised long before, but has now become a reality through Jesus. The old covenant had proven itself too weak to bind God’s people to Him. But not so with this new covenant. Nothing can break the power of this new covenant because it is held together by the finished work of Jesus himself. It’s “set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being. (8:2).
- Take some deep breaths and reflect on the description of this new covenant in vv. 8-12 (It’s a quote from Jeremiah 31, so feel free to check out that whole passage if you’re interested).
- Write out all the benefits of the New Covenant described in these verses, which are given to us through Jesus’ accomplished work. Which are most significant to you in this moment?
- Take a moment to soak in the gracious gifts of the New Covenant. Express your gratitude to Jesus for all of the benefits of His good and gracious work.
Day 2: Read Hebrews 9:1-14 (click here to read)
Now the author begins to turn his attention toward the Tabernacle – not just who performed the important spiritual work of the people, but where it was performed. And this was very important for the people of Israel. Because for them, the Tabernacle (and later on, the Temple) was an incredibly important piece of real estate. Not because of where on earth it was located (remember, the Tabernacle was moved all over the place!), but because of where it opened up to. The Tabernacle was seen as the place where heaven and earth touched – quite literally. It was the one place on earth where you could be sure to be close to God. It had an outer room (or court) and an inner room. And the inner room (The Holy Place) had an even more specific area contained within (The Most Holy Place), which was believed to be literally a piece of heaven on earth. Only one person would enter into this room – the high priest. And even then, only once a year. And even then, only with the blood of a sacrifice to offer on behalf of himself and all the people.
The author describes all this in detail – without going into all the details (v. 5) – in order to come back to his main point once again, but now from another angle.
The Tabernacle may have been a tiny spot where heaven touched earth, and where the high priest got a taste just once a year. But Jesus has just blown the doors open. He went through the “greater and more perfect tabernacle”. And it wasn’t just bulls and goats that were offered in sacrifice. It was Himself! His death on the cross.
Through His sacrifice, heaven itself – the Most Holy Place – has been opened up to all of us. We can now all enter in, forgiven and made new, to see and to serve the living God (v. 14)!
This was so important for the original readers to hear, because since they came out of a Jewish background, one of their greatest temptations was to go back to the Jewish way of life and faith. No doubt, by choosing to follow Jesus they had left the faith that many of their friends and family still adhered to. No doubt, they were ridiculed, excluded, and perhaps even persecuted because of their new found faith in Jesus. No doubt they were under constant pressure to just go back to the way things were. To go back to the shadows, even though that now they had seen the light.
So they needed to be reminded. The way of the Tabernacle wasn’t bad. But it was only a dripping faucet. In Christ, the floodgates of heaven have been opened! How could you go back once you’ve been showered in that kind of grace?
Our most common temptations may not be to convert to Judaism (or any other faith). But there are certainly no shortage of ways that we may be tempted to look for “a piece of heaven” outside of Jesus. Perhaps in the pursuit of wealth or possessions. Or financial security. Or retirement. Or family. Or career.
Just like the Tabernacle, none of these are bad things. But they simply don’t have the power to open up the floodgates of heaven like Jesus does.
- Take a few deep breaths. Slow down your thoughts, and invite Jesus to show you his thoughts.
- Are there any places where you are turning to in order to find your little “piece of heaven” (sense of security, joy, ultimate satisfaction, sense of wholeness or completeness, etc.) outside of Jesus?
- Confess anything that comes to mind to Jesus. And ask Him to show you “how much more” (v.14) He is for you.
Day 3: Read Hebrews 9:15-28 (click here to read)
A better Covenant.
A better Tabernacle.
And now, a better Sacrifice.
If you’ve been tracking with the author’s argument to this point (well done, by the way!!), then it’s not hard to see how Jesus’ once-for-all, self-giving, love-filled sacrifice before the very Throne of God is far better than the repeated sacrifices of bulls and goats at the Tabernacle (or Temple), which is just a pale copy of the real thing.
This is the climax of the author’s whole argument. He’s been building up to this point for the last nine chapters and now that he’s explored all the sides, he’s just coming out and saying it:
He’s the only one who can take away our sins! He’s the only one who can save! (9:28)
You may have heard preachers say things like this. And it’s true. But not because of some arbitrary decision God made in the bathroom one day. Jesus is the only one who can save because He is the only one who is good enough to bear the weight of the world’s sin AND continue to love the world at the same time. (Just think of how hard it is to respond lovingly to someone who has harmed you.)
And His sacrifice has proven both of these things true.
- It’s been said that the good news of Jesus tells us that we are both more sinful than we would ever care to admit, but more loved than we would ever dare to imagine.
- Consider the “once-for-all” work of Jesus.
- In what ways do you find it difficult to admit your sin and brokenness?
- In what ways do you find it difficult to receive Jesus’ full forgiveness and complete love?
- Ask him to speak to you about this in light of his perfect, once-for-all sacrifice.
Day 4: Read Hebrews 10:1-18 (click here to read)
Just in case there was anything left unclear, the writer has more to say about his “main point” (which, by the way, started in 8:1 and continues until 10:18!!). And understandably, because there really is so much to say about the work of Jesus.
But there’s three things the author says in this section that I think are well worth our attention. And just for effect, let’s look at them in reverse order to how the author unpacks them…
First Jesus’ work gives us complete forgiveness (10:18)… No longer necessary are the temple rituals and sacrifices. Not because they were bad. But because they’re just no longer needed. Once a heart patient gets a new heart transplant, they don’t need the pacemaker anymore! Christ’s sacrifice is not merely another stop-gap measure. It has given us the complete forgiveness. Through and through. Once for all.
Second Jesus’ work makes us completely new (10:16)... Let’s carry with the organ alalogy, because that’s what the author uses. Not only does Christ’s work give us complete forgiveness from our sin, but it goes even further, working to transform our broken and sinful hearts and minds altogether! New hearts and new minds, with God’s goodness and good ways implanted from within (The Holy Spirit), not merely imposed from the outside (the law).
Third, Jesus’ work is complete (10:12)… In every sense of the word. It’s complete in that it’s full, leaving nothing undone, lacking nothing. And it’s complete in that it’s finished. Unlike the temple priests who were never out of a job, who had more sacrifices to perform each and every day, Jesus has done his job perfectly. And because of that, He has now “sat down at the right hand of God”. And mysteriously, incredibly, though His work is done, it still continues to go out in power, making us more and more “complete”, just like Him. So the author speaks of Jesus’ work in both the perfect tense (past, finished, accomplished, completed) and the present, ongoing tense (we’re still experiencing the impact and effects) – see 10:14.
Take some deep breaths as you turn the attention of your heart and mind to the completed and complete work of Jesus.
- What in this draws you into gratitude and worship? Offer your thanks and praises to God. Perhaps you even want to write them out in a prayer.
- What in this draws you into prayer and petition – for yourself or for others? Ask Jesus to continue to carry out his perfect work of forgiving and transforming.
- For you or someone else, perhaps particularly in a relationship where this is tension or fracture
- For others who haven’t yet discovered the forgiveness and transforming love of Jesus.
Day 5: Read Hebrews 10:19-39 (click here to read)
Now, and only now – after 10 and a half chapters of exploring and explaining and expounding on Christ’s work – does the author begin to address our work. And this is most certainly by design. The author is saying something important.
Our work – the work Jesus has given us to do – matters. It’s important. It just doesn’t come first.
If we make our work “first”, then we put ourselves at risk of constantly being drawn into all kinds of destructive pressures.
Instead, our work is meant to flow out of Jesus’ work. His work is meant to fuel, and direct, and give life to our work. The fruit of our lives is meant to come from deep roots in the life and work of Jesus (10:19-23).
And as our roots grow deeper in Jesus, then all kinds of beautiful fruit (work) comes out of us. We become people freed to joyfully and confidently work, full of hope that our work is actually serving to do some of the things Jesus will do ultimately when He comes again to Complete everything.
So our work can take on all kinds of expressions of love and good deeds, to encourage and strengthen others (10:24-25). Our work can look like the ongoing pursuit of holiness, inviting Jesus to make himself known and seen in more of us (10:26-31). And our work can persevere, even in the face of difficulty and opposition.
- Take some time to reflect on the work that you do (whether paid or unpaid)…
- Are there ways that you have lost sight of how Jesus’ work is (or could be) the source — the fuel, the motivation, the power – for your work?
- What fruit is coming from your work these days? What attitudes and emotions do you bring to your place of work? Do you bring encouragement or complaints to others you work with? Are there ways that the culture of your workplace is shaping you more than you are shaping it?
- Invite Jesus to draw your roots more deeply into the fullness of His work for you and those you work with. Reflect on 10:19-23. Ask Jesus to show you how you might respond today.