Topical - The Incomparable Qualities of Christ (Hebrews)
The Incomparable Qualities of Christ
Hebrews Topical (Easter) March 31, 2002
The book of Hebrews is quite interesting because no one really knows who wrote it or where the people were to whom it was written.
It is clear that the person who wrote it was a man, that the people to whom it was written were Jewish Christians, and that it was written before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
The situation that necessitated this sermon-letter was that these Jewish Christians were being tempted to return to the Jewish sacrificial and temple ritual that they were previously familiar with to ease their consciences from the continuing sin that we all experience even after the time of their conversion to Christ.
Perhaps this was because there was now a sufficiently lengthy time elapsed since Christ arose from the dead and promised to return – but hadn't done so yet, just like today for us. (But I believe Christ is indeed returning soon.)
So there was a time in the past where they felt that the sacrifice of Christ on the cross was sufficient for their sin, as they received him then, but the piling up of the sins that continue in the Christian life were torturing their souls, and they were tempted to return to what they felt had worked before.
The writer of Hebrews emphatically wanted to remind them of what they actually had in Christ – that his sacrifice was sufficient for continuing sin as well as original sin.
But he also challenges them quite pointedly not to continue in sin as well as not to return to the sin of trusting something other than Christ which then would leave them without any forgiveness of sin at all, if that were possible for them to actually do so.
So some people think that Hebrews is hard to understand, or that it doesn't even apply to us today, but it is really quite simple: it's all about Christ.
And if Christ doesn't apply to us today, then I don't know what does.
This day, Easter, is all about Christ. If we just had the cross on Good Friday without the resurrection on Easter Sunday, we could forget all about Jesus since there wouldn't be any forgiveness of sins by his death.
The acceptance of his death by God who raised him from the dead proves that his death is effective for the forgiveness of sins – always – since he always lives to intercede for us at the throne of God.
The writer to the Hebrews concentrates seemingly little on Jesus being risen from the dead and seems to focus more on the eternal meaning of his sacrificial death, since it is the superiority of his sacrifice that the Hebrews must be reminded of with their temptation to return to the OT sacrificial system.
But again, his death would have meant nothing without the resurrection.
Hebrews hits home with modern Christianity more than you might think since one of the greatest threats to our faith is our continuing sin as Christians.
I feel that one of the main reasons people quit coming to church after that great "flash in the pan" of involvement once they get saved is that they found that the Christian life took vigilance and diligence.
Their sins were forgiven at salvation and they felt assured of that, but then the enemy of the world, the flesh, and the devil deceived their way to a newfound intrusion on that faith and began to poison it with the lie that since you still struggle with sin you must not be saved and that Christ is not really effective for you after all. So why keep it up?
So why should I preach this message on Easter? Because many times we see a return on major Christian holidays such as Easter and Christmas of people who were once seemingly well connected to the faith but have slipped away or stopped coming for one reason or another.
This happens to a lot of people, and seemingly more in these days when there are so many attractions and demands to put church aside, at least temporarily, but it seems to become more or less entrenched in time.
We have probably all been in that place at one time or another.
They need to hear that Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever – that he stills wants our worship – that he stills wants our confession and repentance so that he can continue to forgive us.
Perhaps there are some here this morning who have stayed away too long because you came to believe you could never be good enough. Take heart! You're not. But Christ is! We're not. But we believe, according to Hebrews, that Christ is.
He overwhelmingly wants us to know that his death and resurrection are eternally effective for us, if we continue in the faith, and faith is hard to maintain if we separate ourselves from his body, the church.
Which brings me to another point why this message should be preached.
It is not the church that saves us. It is our relationship to Christ that saves us. It is the church that helps us maintain and grow in our relationship to Christ.
ILLUS.: The beliefs of the woman that Selena serves for in-home care.
We can know a lot about Christ and still not know Christ. A dependence on ritual will never save us. A dependence on righteousness will. And our righteousness is in relationship with the One who is eternally righteous.
Perhaps there are some here this morning who are still holding on to spiritual or secular pride in their own accomplishments. You may be connected to a church or you may not be. But you have never truly understood – or have resisted – the truth that you are not good enough to get into heaven. You cannot depend on your own righteousness, no matter how many "good works" you have done.
You need to hear this message that there is only One, who by his death and resurrection, proven to be the Son of God, is righteous enough for you to get into heaven on His merits. But you must believe in Him – not yourself. You must depend on Him – not the church.
But you must depend on the church to help keep you dependent on Him.
So this message this morning, Easter morning, in the book of Hebrews (page 1862 in the pew Bible) is about why Christ is sufficient for you, and why he is the only one who is sufficient for you.
What is it about Christ that makes him sufficient for me as my way to God?
A. Christ is Incomparably Holy (agiazw)
1. The holiness that he imparts is inclusive – 2:11
As the Son of God, Christ is the agent of holiness for men. Since he is holy (being God), he is able to make men holy (being man), in order to bring them into a family relationship with the holiness of God. Together in Christ through salvation (2:10) because he has presented God to us (2:12) we are then presented to God by him (2:13) as holy brothers.
2. The holiness that he imparts is thorough – 9:13
The OT sacrificial system imparted holiness only outwardly toward the flesh, but the blood of Christ, as unblemished man (9:14) is able to cleanse or impart holiness inwardly even to the conscience so we are able to serve God.
3. The holiness that he imparts is purposeful – 10:10
When Christ came into the world he set about purposefully to fulfill Scripture (10:5-7) and perform the will of God to be an acceptable sacrifice. It is by his purposeful will that we have been made holy through the sacrifice of his body.
4. The holiness that he imparts is continuing – 10:14
We who were once the enemies of God, being separated from God, are now being made holy because of the one sacrifice for sins (10:12). The sacrifice of Christ had the effect of being at once sufficient and at length transformationally effective for those who received him. It is a process of growing obeisance as we are transformed from being his enemies into being his willing footstool (10:13). His holiness enables us to continue in yielding ourselves to him more fully.
5. The holiness that he imparts is demanding – 10:29
If the holiness of Christ is as awesome as we have discovered so far, then to reject it, especially rejecting it after having become acquainted with it, is the height of folly. With the coming of Christ the ante has increased on both sides of God's equation. Being right with Christ increases reward and being wrong with Christ increases punishment (10:30). To discredit his holiness ("insult the Spirit of grace" - 10:29) by continuing in willful sin is dangerous since it would be to live as if one were not saved and made holy. The holiness of Christ demands respect.
6. The holiness that he imparts is exclusive – 13:12
The nature of the holiness that Christ gives us sanctifies us or sets us apart unto God. The other side of this truth is that it sets us apart from the world. Just as the bodies of sacrificial animals are burned outside the camp (13:11) so too Christ was crucified and suffered outside the city in order to make the people holy. Although this was suffering and disgrace (13:13) it is the example of Christ we must bear to be separated from the world for the cause of his holiness and ours.
B. Christ is Incomparably Singular in His Accomplishments
1. The salvation he offers is a singular opportunity – 6:4
To receive salvation from Christ is a once for all time enlightenment for the one who receives it. There is no possibility of being saved again – either you are or you aren't. The danger for the person who might fall away (6:6) is that they were never saved in the first place. The challenge is to discover now in the first place you must be saved. And since true salvation can happen only once, we must treat it (and Christ) with the respect it (and he) deserves. But indeed, the one being truly enlightened will not fall away.
2. The sacrifice he offers is a singular provision – 7:27; 9:26-28; 10:2, 10
The OT sacrificial system had to continually offer sacrifices (7:27; 10:2). The priests offered these sacrifices both for themselves and the people. But the appearance of Christ at the end of the ages for the purpose of sacrifice was a one-time event (9:26), effective for all time, because of his perfection. The next time Christ appears it will not be for the purpose of sacrifice but to complete the salvation (9:28) of those who are covered by faith in his sacrifice. His sacrifice is effective once for all because of its continuing provision to make us holy (10:10).
3. The intercession he offers is singularly effective – 9:7, 12
Although the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle could only be entered by the high priest once a year (9:7), it needed to be entered each year as he interceded before God for the people. Through his own blood, Christ entered the Most Holy Place once for all. His intercession for the people is permanently effective, not needing to be repeated.
4. The security he offers is singularly permanent – 12:26-27
In the context of warning that God will again shake the earth as well as the heavens so that what cannot be shaken will remain (which is his kingdom) we are given assurance that indeed what cannot be shaken is in Christ (12:28). Those who are in Christ cannot be shaken.
C. Christ Offers an Incomparable Covenant (diaqhkh)
1. His covenant is more assured – 7:22
The OT covenant depended in man's part upon a sacrificial system of law carried out by priests who were imperfect and changed with the generations (7:8, 11, 23). There was no singular continuing presence serving at the altar to enable man to draw near to God (7:19). But because Christ is perfect with an indestructible life (7:16) he then becomes a permanent priest for man (7:21). Since he always lives to intercede for us (7:24), and because God has sworn this to be true, Christ himself becomes the guarantee for the new covenant. We are assured that since he will never change, his covenant will never change.
2. His covenant is more effective – 8:6, 8-10
Jesus is the mediator of a new covenant (8:6) because of his permanent priestly ministry. This implies that in God's purpose it was necessary to have a change from the old covenant (8:7-8) because the people did not remain faithful to the old covenant (8:9). The new covenant is more effective because now we are enabled to know and love God to the extent that the law is written on our minds and hearts (8:10-11). And the reason we will be able to know God in this way is because through Christ our sins are forgiven (8:12). This ultimate effectiveness of the new covenant through the forgiveness of sins renders the old covenant obsolete (8:13).
3. His covenant is more personal – 9:4, 15-17, 20
The old covenant was impersonal in the sense that it was represented by an ark that sat in a holy place that could only be visited once a year by only the high priest (9:3, 4, 7). This illustrated that the most personal way to God was not yet available (9:8-9). But with the coming of Christ, God became personal with us (9:11-12) so that we might become personal with him (9:14) by having a clean conscience and being able to serve him. The personal nature of this relationship is why this covenant is called new (9:15). A further allusion to the personal nature of the new covenant is its reference as an eternal inheritance (9:15) put in force through death as one would receive an inheritance through a will (9:16-17). Only the member of a family usually receives an inheritance through a will. Christ made this personal by shedding his own blood (9:25-26) as the covenant requirement (9:20) so that he may appear for us in God's presence (9:24).
4. His covenant is more holy – 10:16, 29; 12:24; 13:20
With the advent of new covenant we see the involvement of the Holy Spirit (10:15-16) through which God's law is written on our minds and hearts. He assures us of forgiveness through the eternally sufficient sacrifice of Christ (10:18) through which we are enabled to enter God's holy presence (10:19). Also, since we have partaken of God's holiness in a more distinct and effective way through the new covenant, we must be more careful to give it the respect it is due (10:29) and not insult the Holy Spirit who indwells us. The holy nature of this new covenant is also portrayed as allowing us to come to Mount Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, to thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, to God as judge of all men, to spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus as mediator of the new covenant, and to his blood that speaks better than the blood of Abel (10:22-24). All these are a resounding description of the holy nature of the new covenant. We also observe its holiness through its indestructibility by the resurrection of Christ from the dead (13:20).
D. Christ Offers an Incomparable Sacrifice for Sin (qusia)
1. His sacrifice is incomparably perfect – 5:1; 7:27; 8:3
It is the duty of the high priest to represent men before God in offering sacrifice for sin (5:1), but since he himself is weak (5:2) he must also offer sacrifice for himself (5:3). But Jesus was proven perfect himself as a sacrifice for us by his obedience to death on the cross (5:8). The perfection of his sacrifice lies in the fact that it was not for himself but for us (7:27), and so he himself becomes the source of eternal salvation (5:9). He was chosen as a Son by God to become high priest (5:10) through the offering of himself as a perfect sacrifice (7:26). We further see the perfection of his sacrifice by the fact that he presently sits at the right hand of God (8:1-2) as an acceptable offering for us (8:3).
2. His sacrifice is incomparably genuine – 9:9, 23, 26
In many ways the OT sacrificial system was just a facsimile (8:5; 9:8-9) of what was to come as genuine with the sacrifice and priesthood of Christ (8:6-7). The old system just marked time until the new order would be established (9:10). The difference between sacrifices of the old order compared to the new is that, with the sacrifice of Christ, the conscience can now be cleared (9:9), and so it is proven more genuine. Copies may be all right for things of earth but not for things in heaven (9:23) where Christ, as the genuine article (sacrifice), could enter the genuine sanctuary of the very presence of God himself (9:24). And the genuine article need never fear replacement (9:25-26).
3. His sacrifice is incomparably personal – 10:1, 5, 8, 11-12, 26; 13:15-16
Since the law is only a shadow of the reality of Christ (10:1) animals needed to continually be sacrificed. There was little personal involvement. But with the advent of Christ this got lifted to a new personal level when he acknowledged God didn't desire such impersonal sacrifices (10:5, 8). Instead Christ said that God prepared a body for him to sacrifice in accordance with God's will (10:6-7, 9). He would personally become the acceptable sacrifice (10:11-12). But the onus is on us to take his sacrifice for us personally as well by sacrificing ourselves to obedience in dying to sin (10:26) lest there be no sacrifice for sins left. We also see the personal nature of his sacrifice for us mirrored in our personal response of sacrificial praise to him and in sacrificial service to others (13:15-16).
E. Christ is Our Incomparable Priest (iereu", arciereu")
1. His priesthood is more relational – 2:17; 3:1; 4:15; 10:21
Christ shared our humanity (2:14) so that by his death he might destroy the power of death and free us from the fear of death (2:15). The only way this could be accomplished was for Christ as God to become one of us as man to serve as our high priest and atone for our sins (2:17). This relational aspect of his priesthood is what makes it effective even to the point of helping us when we are tempted because he also suffered when he was tempted (2:18; 4:15). We are commanded then to relate to him (3:1) even to the point of approaching him with confidence (4:16) to receive help in time of need. Not only can we approach him relationally, we can approach the place of his ministry, the Most Holy Place, with confidence (10:19) because the curtain has been drawn for us through the shed blood of his body (10:20). And because of his position as great priest over the house of God (10:21), we can even approach God himself relationally (10:22), drawing near with full assurance of faith.
2. His priesthood is more credible – 4:14; 5:1, 5, 6, 10; 6:20; 9:6, 7, 11, 25; 10:11; 13:11
Every other high priest is selected from among fallible men to represent them before God (5:1), but Christ is the great high priest who has gone through the heavens (4:14; 9:11) as the Son of God and chosen by God (5:5) to be a priest forever (5:6) in the order of Melchizedek (5:10). He has gone before us as high priest on our behalf forever behind the curtain in the inner sanctuary (6:20). This is in comparison to the earthly high priest who could only enter once per year (9:7, 25) with blood not his own (13:11). Every other priest must continually offer sacrifice (9:6; 10:11) that doesn't even take away sin, but Christ offered the one sacrifice of himself and then sat down at the right hand of God (10:12).
3. His priesthood is more biblical – 7:1, 3, 11, 14, 15, 17
Melchizedek as both king and priest of Salem is held forth as an acceptable biblical figure for an explanation of the high priesthood of Christ (7:1). He too seems to appear without explanation as a priest forever like the Son of God (7:3). Although perhaps not a theophany he is at least a historical figure placed in the biblical record as a prefiguration of the ministry of Christ. As such, this gives credibility to a different order of priesthood than Aaron (7:11) and from a different tribe (7:14). So in a priesthood like that of Melchizedek (7:15) Christ has come not on the basis of regulation of fleshly ancestry but on the basis of an eternal presence (7:16-17) as a witness to the original biblical record.
4. His priesthood is more confirmed – 7:20, 21, 23
It is not enough to say that Christ has been made a priest forever but that God should also confirm it with an oath (6:18; 7:20-21) to verify beyond all doubt that Christ is as far as the priesthood will ever go (7:23-24).
5. His priesthood is more unique – 7:26-28; 8:1, 3, 4
The priesthood of Christ meets our need like none other since he himself is not a sinner and he himself is exalted above the heavens (7:26). The only sacrifice for sin he ever made or will make is the one he made of himself and not for himself (7:27; 8:3). He has not been appointed by the law but by God himself (7:28). He is the only one who will ever occupy the place at the right hand of God (8:1) to serve in the heavenly sanctuary not in the way of earthly priests (8:2, 4).
F. Christ Offers an Incomparable Rest (katapausi") – 3:11, 18; 4:1, 3, 5, 10, 11
The concept of a state of settled or final rest for the children of God is held forth most uniquely in Hebrews among the NT books as a distinct reality and as something quite desirable. It is clear that it is something that God, through the Holy Spirit (3:7) is able to withhold (3:11, 18; 4:3, 5) or bestow (4:1, 3, 10, 11). There were many Israelites who never entered it (the Promised Land) because of their rebellious, sinful, unbelieving hearts during the time of testing in the desert (3:8-12). The contrast is seen most clearly in 4:3 where the word is used twice; those who believe enter that rest just as surely as those who don't believe will not enter it. This verse clearly states that it is God's own rest that we are invited to enter (my rest, 4:3, 5). This is defined as God's rest from creation on the seventh day (4:4). It is also clear that all who heard the gospel will not enter that rest (4:6) since not all will obey the gospel. We are challenged to take advantage of the present time (Today, 3:15; 4:7; make every effort, 4:11) in order to obey by believing his voice. Since this rest did not come through the patriarchs (Joshua, 4:8), it refers to the present time of Christ. It is his gospel we must believe in order to enter the Sabbath-rest reserved for the people of God as well as for God himself. This rest is yet future for all who remain at any given time (4:9). The blessing of this rest is that it is a rest from our labors (4:10). We are further exhorted to desire this rest (4:11) and not disobey since the Word of God stands as the judge over it (4:12-13). So since there is no rest for those who are not in Christ, the rest that he offers is incomparable.
G. Christ is Incomparably Better in All Things (kreittwn)
1. Christ is better than the angels in both name and person – 1:4
This superiority is based upon his more intimate relationship to God, being the Son of God, the heir of God, the co-Creator, the essence of God's glory, the exact representation of his being, the sustainer of the universe, and the resurrected Savior (1:2-3). The angels are to worship him and minister to him, he is God himself, his kingdom and his throne is eternal, and righteousness is his hallmark (1:6-9). He is eternally unchanging and will humble his enemies (1:11-13).
2. Christ's offer of salvation is better to whatever we might otherwise expect if we had remained in disobedience – 6:9
Salvation is spoken of as enlightenment, a heavenly gift, participation in the Holy Spirit, tasting the goodness of the Word of God and the victories to come (6:4-5). These are the things that accompany salvation (6:9) as a promised inheritance (6:12).
3. Christ offers us a better hope through a superior priesthood – 7:19
This hope is better because through Christ, having a better priesthood than Melchizedek based on the power of an indestructible life (7:15-17), we are assured of being able to draw near to God.
4. Christ offers us a better covenant – 7:22
His covenant is better because it comes with the guarantee of the oath of God (7:20-21) that he is a forever priest (7:17, 21, 23-24) to administer it by interceding for us (7:25). His covenant is better because his salvation is assured of being complete (7:25).
5. The ministry that Christ has received is better than that of the Aaronic priesthood just as his covenant is superior since it is founded on better promises – 8:6
This verse introduces two new areas of superiority and reiterates the previous one. His ministry is better because it supercedes the old one that was ineffective in producing obedience (8:8-9). The better promises of the new covenant that he administers are that the law is to be written on our hearts because sins will be fully forgiven (8:10-12).
6. Christ provides a better sacrifice – 9:23
A covenant is not enacted without sacrifice, without blood (9:18-22). The earthly tabernacle and its covenant people were purified with animal sacrifices (9:19) but they were only copies of the heavenly realities (9:23). The heavenly sanctuary required a better sacrifice which is found in Christ since he was found acceptable to enter the heavenly sanctuary (9:24) by the sacrifice of himself (9:26).
7. Christ offers us a better inheritance – 10:34
We are enabled to hold loosely onto earthly possessions with the realization that more lasting possessions are in store for the people of God. We are assured our confidence will be richly rewarded (10:35) and that we will receive what he has promised (10:36). Although these things are not specifically detailed in this context, even if it is just salvation itself (10:39) it would be enough. Hereafter begins the great faith chapter of Hebrews (ch. 11) that gives the foundation of our inheritance assurance.
8. Christ offers us a better country (future) – 11:16
A number of faith champions are listed victoriously endured the present in light of the future (11:13). They believed that something better was theirs by faith in God, a better country, a heavenly one (11:16). And by that faith they were claimed by God who prepared a place for them.
9. Christ offers us a better resurrection – 11:35
Through faith (in Christ) we are enabled to gain victory for the kingdom of God (11:32-34) and even suffer for the kingdom of God (11:35-38). Examples of OT resurrection are alluded to (11:35), but the real point of the better resurrection in this verse refers to the rewards that will be received in heaven for willingly and faithfully enduring hardship for the kingdom of God. It is through our faith in Christ and his faithfulness to us, as well as his resurrection preceding us, that assures us not only of resurrection itself but of the rewards to be received therein.
10. Christ offers all who have faith something better than what this life offers – 11:40
Through the resurrection and the life of Christ, NT saints as well as OT saints will receive what they believed God for by faith – the things he promised them by faith. Together in Christ we will be made perfect – the desire of our hearts to be like him.
H. Christ is Perfect (teleiow)
1. His perfection is revealed in suffering – 2:10
Not only is Christ better in all things, he is perfect. This picture begins to emerge with the death of Christ for sin which was perfect in the sense in which he accomplished it willingly and sacrificially without compulsion for the good of others (2:9). He was proved perfect in his suffering (2:10).
2. His perfection is the source of perfection for others – 5:9; 10:1
The perfection that Christ accomplished on the cross became the means by which others might also attain to his perfection – called salvation (5:9). His death on the cross qualified him to be high priest (5:10) in a way that allowed him to confer his resurrection upon others who submit to his leadership and intercession (5:9). The perfection that he imparts is a perfection the law could never provide (10:1).
3. His perfection is the way to God – 7:19
Perfection could not be achieved through the law (7:18-19), but Christ is put forth as the better hope as the implication for that perfection by which we can draw near to God (7:19). Additionally we see that God confirmed the power and quality of his priesthood to do so (7:20-22).
4. His perfection is permanent for himself – 7:28
Since his sacrifice was a one-time event because of its eternal acceptability (7:27), his perfection is then also eternal as attested to by God (7:28). In this we can take confidence (8:1-2) because he is always at God's right hand.
5. His perfection is cleansing – 9:9
The illustration (9:9) of the regulations of the earthly tabernacle revealed that they were only temporary (9:8, 10) since they had to be continuously repeated (9:6). As such, they were not able to perfect the conscience of the worshipper (9:9). The implication of this is that the sacrifice of Christ would be able to do so (9:11) since he had gone through the more perfect tabernacle of heaven.
6. His perfection is permanent for us – 10:14
Not only is Christ affirmed to be eternally perfect (7:28) but also all who have received the benefit of his permanent perfection by faith in his sacrificial priesthood are made perfect for all time in him (10:14).
7. His perfection is congregational – 11:40
Our perfection in Christ is not for us alone (11:40) but also for all who preceded him (11:40) who believed by faith so that there might be a great cloud of witnesses to his perfection (12:1).
8. His perfection is heavenly – 12:23
This great cloud of witnesses (12:1) who have believed Christ by faith (12:2) are the church of the firstborn (12:23) whose names are written in heaven. Because of their perfection in Christ they are with God forever in heaven.
What is it about Christ that makes him sufficient for me as my way to God?
A. Christ is Incomparably Holy (agiazw) Pg. 4
B. Christ is Incomparably Singular in His Accomplishments Pg. 5
C. Christ Offers an Incomparable Covenant (diaqhkh) Pg. 6
D. Christ Offers an Incomparable Sacrifice for Sin (qusia) Pg. 8
E. Christ is Our Incomparable Priest (iereu", arciereu") Pg. 9
F. Christ Offers an Incomparable Rest (katapausi") Pg. 11
G. Christ is Incomparably Superior in All Things (kreittwn) Pg. 12
H. Christ is Pefect (teleiow) Pg. 15
Because of Easter, Christ is all we need to be right with God.
Because of Christ, every day is Easter for you who believe (Lam. 3:22-23).
All of Christ's incomparable qualities have to do with one thing – you.
Will you come into relationship with his righteousness today?
Or if you have fallen away from him, won't you return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your soul – a renewed relationship with his righteousness?
He wants your worship. And he wants you to live in his continual forgiveness.
He wants you to be where he is – right with God – and with God forever.