By Simon ManchesterSunday 13 Dec 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
We’re travelling through the letter in the New Testament called Hebrews. In case you thought that when we get to the sermon that we say goodbye to the ‘real world’ and move into a fantasy land called ‘Christianity’, I want to show you that this chapter is key to moving out of fantasy land and into the real world.
This chapter of Hebrews is a piece of genius because it opens a door whereby you can leave things that will let you down and move into things that will sustain and secure you.
We know that discovering what is real and what is unreal can be quite a tricky business and one of the areas where we face unreality most often is the local television.
I don’t tend to watch sitcom television, but Richard Glover who is a radio presenter and a journalist wrote some time ago a very clever article pointing out how unreal television is to normal life.
In the article, he points out, for example, if you ever watch sitcoms on television, when characters enter a café or a pub, and everybody is speaking loudly across the pub, the people will very kindly all lower their voices so that you can hear precisely what the sitcom characters are about to say.
If anybody is on the run from the Police and they enter into a café, the television in the corner amazingly is broadcasting updates on the very case of that particular criminal on the run.
Any table, any set of bar stools wanted by television stars become immediately available as they enter the building.
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No Police Officer can meet an important witness except in a club with a slightly out of focus pole dancer in the background!
In any human interaction, the most important thing is always said with crystal clarity as the person is leaving the room, something concentrates the mind as a person is leaving the room to say exactly what needs to be said.
Although Accountants and Psychologists are usually male and balding, by putting forensic in the equation, they immediately become female, very pretty and 20 years younger!
And nobody in Sydney has a house or unit without a view of the bridge and the Opera House!
Now you need somebody to point that out every now and again don’t you to realise that you are being sucked in by a television presentation that is far, far removed from reality.
What Hebrews chapter 8 does is it puts its finger on unreality in the eternal issues which millions of people fall for sadly, and it puts its finger on reality which millions of people need to get badly. So if reality means anything to you and you’re concerned that your children and your loved ones have some grip on reality, what we read here in Hebrews chapter 8 will help enormously.
This chapter is asking a number of questions:
- Who can you trust especially with your soul?
- Where will you find this person?
- What can they do for you if you do trust them?
The Hebrews were Christians with a Jewish background, and this letter is an alarm bell that is ringing because these Christians with a Jewish background were in danger of giving up on the Christian life which was getting difficult and going back to Judaism.
If you follow the signpost to Christ and you put your trust in Christ, then you belong to the one who is the Son of God and the Saviour of the world and has the great answers of life.
If you abandon Christ and you say ‘good-bye’ to all of that and go back to Judaism you go back to the ‘shadow’ – you go back to the ‘signpost’, and you lose the person that the signpost was pointing to. And that’s why the writer is writing this letter. He is very concerned that people don’t give up on Christ.
In my Pastoral Ministry, I keep meeting people who tell me that they were once a believer and that they are now longer a believer. They look on it as if they have made a piece of progress, as though they have got out of some little box or prison. What they have done is they have left behind the one who is the Son of God, the Saviour and has all the answers. It’s a tragedy. They have not gone forwards at all, they have gone backwards or sideways in a very dangerous way.
I want to look with you at this chapter under three brief headings, and you won’t forget the three points – they all begin with “P” as all preachers have three points beginning with “P” and they are:
- The Best Person
- The Best Place
- The Best Plan
Some of this, I assure you, is quite mind-boggling.
The best person
“The point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven”.
He’s talking about Jesus. He says, you may be tempted to drift off and go back to the temple, and get fixated with the priests because you can see them and you can hear them, and you can touch them, but if you do that you are leaving behind the real priest and you are going back to people who are not priests anymore.
So he says, I want you to understand this is the main point, this is the headline that we have a high priest called Jesus, and let me tell you about him, says the writer, he sits on the throne. Because he sits on the throne, he’s the only great priest. We don’t need anybody else but Jesus. You won’t find anyone else, but Jesus can really help you.
He is on the throne of heaven, and he’s on the throne because he is the King. Somehow Jesus combines power and sympathy. You don’t often get the two together. You’ll often get power without sympathy or sympathy without power. I can help you/I don’t want to help you. I’d like to help you/I can’t help you. Jesus brings together power and sympathy. He is the High Priest on the throne of heaven.
He is seated. This is a very significant detail. Why is he seated? Because his work is finished. Other high priests would stand in the temple, and people would bring in their animals for sacrifice, and they would offer the animal on the altar, but Jesus Christ has finished his offering of himself – the job is done, and the work is finished, and he now sits.
But he also, we are told, intercedes. We are told this in chapter 4, he prays for his people and he listens to the prayers of his people.
So there are three remarkable things about this person called Jesus Christ.
- He is the King and the High Priest
- He sits on the throne because he has finished his great work of salvation
- He continues to take an active and moment by moment interest in his people praying for them and listening to their prayers that are prayed to him.
The writer wants you to know that this is the whole point of what he is saying in the letter. Don’t avoid, miss, neglect, bypass Jesus. He is the key to the solutions of you, and your children and your loved ones and all the world and people need to grasp hold of him.
That’s why the old Negro Spiritual “I must tell Jesus” is expressing a piece of theological genius that when you know how great he is, and how good he is, you’ll go and you’ll speak to him about the things that are on your mind and your heart because he can do things as he sees fit and he is keen to help with a very sympathetic spirit.
And if you have got some things that are on your mind and heart what better to do than go and find time to speak to him. Perhaps go down your little list with him and say ‘can I, please bring these matters to you’? ‘I’m not necessarily expecting that they will be solved in a second but I want you to give me the resources for trusting you and obeying you and I would certainly like you to intervene according to your wisdom and power’. I must tell Jesus – that’s how we respond to the best person.
The best place
Where do we find him? And of course, there are many people who look for him in the wrong places. It is possible to go to the wrong place sincerely.
I was reading recently that two American sisters had been visiting the wrong grave to pay respects to their deceased mother for 20 years. For 20 years they had been going and visiting a grave which is not the grave of their mother, and they are seeking huge compensation for the emotional stress! But there they are sincerely at the wrong place, and it’s possible to go to the wrong place to find your Saviour and your Lord.
Look at verse 5, it says “those priests serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and a shadow of what is in heaven”.
Can you believe this? The great temple which was probably still operating when this letter was written in the 1st Century. For all the greatness and the grandeur, that great temple is a copy and a shadow of the heavenly temple.
When Moses was given the Ten Commandments, God put in place a Tent or a Tabernacle which would be a place where sacrifices would be offered so those who broke the Commandments could go to the Tabernacle or the Tent and offer sacrifices for the forgiveness of their sins.
This Tent or Tabernacle was something which followed the people of Israel all the way through their journey through the wilderness until they got to the Promised Land. When they got to the Promised Land, they soon abandoned the Tent or the Tabernacle because that was portable and small and they build a massive Temple.
The question we have to ask is ‘where did Moses get his design for the Tent, Tabernacle and finally the Temple. Where did he get his plan, where did he get his blueprint?’
Moses was shown the heavenly design by God.
When Moses went up the mountain, we read in Exodus chapter 24, he went up with Joshua and 70 Elders. They had remarkable fellowship with God. Then Moses and Joshua left the 70, and they went up a little further, and eventually, Moses left Joshua, and he went up a little further. It seems very clear from the Old and New Testaments that Moses in some remarkable way was shown the heavenly lay-out of the heavenly temple or the heavenly glory or the heavenly splendour.
God said to him ‘when you go back down, and you build the Tent or the Tabernacle and eventually the Temple, build it on the layout of what you have seen’.
The old saintly preacher of the 19th Century, Frederick Brotherton Meyer says “Moses trod the aisles of the true Tabernacle”, and because he got to read the aisles of the true Tabernacle, when he came down he knew the design or the layout for the earthly Tent, Tabernacle and Temple.
You see the point of what the writer is saying? If the Jews go back to visit the Temple and devote themselves to the Temple and think that’s the goal of their religion, then they are going back to a copy or imitation of the heavenly reality. They are turning their mind and their heart away from where there is a real future, and are going back to where there is no hope or future.
When the writer of Hebrews talks like this, he’s not falling into what you may know as platonic philosophy.
Platonic philosophy is this idea there are sort of objects, but somewhere there is a form or a reality behind the objects. The writer of Hebrews is basically saying – do you realise that Tent, Tabernacle and Temple was temporary. It’s gone, it’s obsolete, it was pointing to someone who would come – and that someone is Jesus and he would offer himself, he would be the priest who offers himself and that would be the end of sacrifices and the end of altars and the end of priests and he would enter into the true heavenly tabernacle and that’s where we must focus our faith and our hope.
If you drift back, you are basically missing the whole purpose and direction of where you should be going.
The flip side is, if you look to Jesus Christ based on the Word of God and the promises of God and lift up our heart to him and we say you are the Son of God, you are the Saviour, you are seated on the throne of heaven, you are the one I want to trust, you are the one I want to serve, then you receive everything that he has come to provide, and you are also heart-safe where he resides.
So to go backwards to some religious set-up is a tragedy. To lift up your mind and heart to Christ on the throne is an absolute triumph.
I’d like to show you if you are here next week how the layout of our buildings says a lot about our beliefs.
- What does the Stonehenge construction say about the people’s beliefs who set it up?
- What does a temple in Thailand say about the beliefs of the people who built it?
- What does a church being built in the Western Suburbs of Sydney today say by its layout?
- What have the builders of this building tried to say by the way they have constructed the building?
These are very interesting questions, and I hope that we will look at that in weeks to come. But you see the bomb-shell the writer is dropping. He isn’t just saying ‘make sure that you don’t turn away from Jesus’ – he is saying ‘do you realise that if you put your worship into something that is earthly, even if it’s a good building like the temple which God authorized, you are just devoted to something which is passing, plastic and tragic.’
Unless your heart is in heaven, fixed on Christ, trusting Christ, the one who is enthroned and the one who offered himself, your devotion, and your religion no matter how sincere can be utterly mistaken. If it is in Christ, it is utterly secure, utterly accurate and you have found the very best place for the goal of your life.
We often say, how people follow their hearts. And that’s a tragedy if your heart is in the wrong place and it’s an absolute joy if it’s in the right place. And here the writer is saying to his readers ‘your heart should be fixed on Christ who has gone into the true tabernacle of glory and is seated on the right-hand side of God and he is the one who is ruling the world and he is the one who can save.
The best plan
The last section is basically teaching that when Jesus did his work and offered himself and entered the true tabernacle, he brought the old plan of God, the Old Covenant to an end. And he brought the new plan of God, the New Covenant into being so the Old Covenant closed down, and the New Covenant opened up.
Do you know what a covenant is?
A covenant is an agreement or a contract which gets sealed or confirmed or inked in by two parties. The two parties may not be equal. One may be superior, and one may be inferior, but basically, that’s what a covenant is. It’s a contract between two parties.
This reference to the first Covenant is talking about the Covenant that God made at Mt Sinai. And we are told in chapter 8 verses 7-8 that the Covenant failed and failed because the people failed. They couldn’t keep the arrangements. They couldn’t keep the Commandments. And the Old Covenant had no petrol to help them to do it.
So God announced that there would be a New Covenant, and the New Covenant would succeed and he predicted the New Covenant in many of the prophets of the Old Testament but none better than Jeremiah which is the long quote here in chapter 8. Jeremiah said this 600BC that there would be a New Covenant. And when the New Covenant would come, it would be a better covenant.
Now, friends, I can’t tell you how important this is this morning because if you belong to the Old Covenant you’ve basically got to work your way up into glory and you’ll just never do that. It’s very easy to moralise people including our children and say to them “if you perform well then one day you’ll get there”. And that’s the way the pagan world thinks. That’s what most of the religions of the world are thinking. We must somehow climb a great ladder up to God.
But the New Covenant is something completely different.
It comes to us as a Covenant of grace. It’s a gift, and there are three things in chapter 8 as we come to a close which the New Covenant is able to do.
The new covenant reaches into the heart
First of all, it reaches into the heart. The Lord says ‘I will write my laws on their hearts’. In other words, I will give them a heart which is new. The Old Covenant was on stone blocks – the New Covenant was going to be written on the human heart.
God is able to change the hearts of people. And when he decides to save people, and people put their trust in his Son, their hearts are transformed.
I tell you when your children get to be teenagers and you watch them travel out for the evening, you’ll thank God if their heart has been transformed because of their faith in Christ because that will guide a huge amount of their decision making that night.
Whereas if you’ve got to give them 5000 rules and laws before they head out that night, they’ll not only forget them, they won’t like them, and they won’t have the strength to do them.
So the transforming power of the New Covenant is revolutionary. There may be some people this morning trying to live the Christian life, but your heart has not been changed. And your heart will be changed when you put your heart into the very hands of Christ.
I spent quite a bit of time this week talking to a man who comes to this church quite often and yet it seems clear to both of us that Jesus is not his Lord and Jesus is not his Saviour, he’s not re-born, he’s not transformed but he is trying his very best to live the Christian life without a new heart.
No, the New Covenant says the writer will change the hearts of those who believe.
The new covenant will cause people to know God
Not just know about him but to know him. it’s like when you’ve met somebody who is famous, and you can say forever more “I know that person”, and now under the New Covenant it’s possible to say “I know God”. You don’t have to badger me to know him; you don’t have to pester me to start a relationship with him because I know him. That’s the mark of the New Covenant and what a privilege.
And one day because you know him you’re going to come face to face with him and he’s going to say to you “I know you”, but if you don’t know him, there’ll come a day where you come face to face with him, and he’ll say to you in the words of Matthew 7, “I don’t know you”.
So important it is that this New Covenant would come into the world which would transform our hearts and would help people to know him. What a privilege to know him.
The new covenant brings forgiveness
The third thing we are told about this New Covenant (verse 12) is that it will bring forgiveness and God will remember our sins NO MORE.
If you went down to the Temple and offered your animal sacrifice, it didn’t buy forgiveness. It only bought about a bit of time because no animal can stand in for a person because the animal is not a willing sinner and therefore can’t pay for a willing sinner.
But when Jesus Christ came, he was a ‘willing sacrifice’ and therefore he can pay for the sins of those who willingly fail and sin. And when this wonderful forgiveness is given to us, and we find that the sins which we have committed are removed from our record FOREVER, we walk before God with a clean conscience, thanks to Christ and we will one day meet him with a clean slate, thanks to Christ.
And in the present, of course, God remembers our sins no more and there is nothing more wonderful than being able to pray to a God and say to him “would you please forgive me for my sins, I feel so terrible about what I have said or done” and he says “yes, I gladly will forgive you” and then you go back to him and say “I just feel so terrible about what I said or did” (and if I may say this respectfully) he says “I don’t know what you are talking about – I just don’t remember what you are talking about – it’s gone, I’ve forgotten that it’s forgiven, it’s washed, I remember it no more”.
That is the blessing of the New Covenant:
- A new heart
- Knowing God
- Being forgiven.
When you grasp this, you never fall for cheap, shoddy models of religion because you know that they cannot do what Christ can do and that he can do what they cannot do.
That’s why you life up your mind, and heart to Christ on the throne of heaven and you say;
Thank you so much for being the best person in the universe to trust and obey
Thank you for being in the best place where I will be one day and
Thank you for being the one who has brought in the best plan by which my heart can be changed – I can know you personally and I can walk before you with a clean slate.
There’s no greater privilege for us and our children.
Our Father we thank you this morning for the reality of the coming of Christ. We thank you for the reality of his death and resurrection. We thank you for the reality of his Ascension, his seating on the very throne of heaven and we pray that you would enable us by your grace and by your power to trust him, to look to him and to walk with him.
We pray that you would give to all who are gathered this morning the ability from you to put genuine trust in him and we pray for our Heavenly Father that you would transform many hearts and bring people into a true knowledge of you and we pray you would also give to us today and every day, the joy of forgiveness and fellowship and a future.
We ask it in Jesus’ Name – Amen.