The end of Hebrews 4 informs us that Jesus is our Great High Priest and then the chapter ends. Hebrews 5 tells us why he is a better high priest than the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant. The high priests called by God to the priesthood were human beings and had the same shortcomings as the people they ministered to. They had their own sins to confess and be forgiven before they could attend to the sins of others. The Christ is God’s own Son and also a priest forever after the order Melchizedek. Abraham was blessed by Melchizedek in Genesis 14 and Abraham gives him a tenth of everything he has. This is centuries before the Law was given to Moses. The Levitical priesthood had not been established and there was no commandment, at least none recorded, to give a tithe. Genesis will not answer all of our questions. There is no recorded beginning nor ending of Melchizedek’s priesthood and this little detail is used to show what kind of high priest Jesus will be. There is no beginning and no end to his priesthood. He does not have his own sins to sacrifice for, and he is not called by God but is God’s own Son. Although he was the only begotten Son, through suffering in his mortal flesh he learned obedience.
The final verses of chapter 5 is a chastisement to an audience that should be eating “spiritual food” as mature believers but must still be given milk as infants. Hebrews will get to comparing Jesus to Melchizedek in a couple of chapters and list more ways in which he is greater.
Just about every animal has some unique feature that allows it to defend itself from predators. Some have incredible speed, such as deer, while others have sharp claws, powerful muscles or rows of gleaming teeth. Some animals camouflage themselves into the background while the purpose of some camouflage, like that of zebra, make it difficult to distinguish individuals from the group. Even the slow, ungraceful skunk has a very potent defense mechanism. Just about every animal has something, it seems, except sheep. It’s almost as if God intended them to be food for other animals. Sheep are very nearsighted and have to be led to food and water. They cannot drink fast moving water and can actually drown trying. They have to be led to food, led to shelter, and protected from every type of danger. The Bible uses sheep of all things to represent people.Continue reading →
Genesis 22 tells the story of Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac. For clarity’s sake perhaps we should say almost sacrificing his son. Abraham was willing, able and just about to offer his son Isaac when he was stopped by the Angel of the Lord.
Abraham believed God and that belief was counted to him as righteousness in Genesis 15:6. Isaac had been born to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, so Abraham had no reason to question God’s instructions. Hebrews 11 commends his faithfulness, so great that he believed God could restore Isaac to life. An interesting conversation took place as they hiked up the mountain together. Isaac noted they had wood and fire but asked about a lamb to sacrifice. Abraham said that “God will provide himself a lamb.” When Isaac was spared at the last moment, Abraham saw a ram caught by its horns and sacrificed that as an offering of thanksgiving. He named the place Jehovah-jireh or the LORD will provide.
As we prepare to celebrate the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ it’s hard to miss the parallels. We have in the Genesis account a father that is willing to sacrifice the son that he loves. They walked up the mountain together. And even though Isaac is ultimately spared we see the ram serve as substitute sacrifice. It was guilty of nothing but its blood was poured out. Now consider the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, and recall the words of Abraham; God will provide himself with a sacrifice.
Only be sure that you do not eat the blood, for the blood is the life, and you shall not eat the life with the flesh. -Deut 12:23
In Deuteronomy 12 Moses reiterates some of the instructions to the Hebrews regarding where and how animals may be prepared and eaten. If they were killing the animal to be prepared as food then the blood was to be poured on the ground. If the animal was being offered on the altar then the flesh could be eaten but the blood was to spilled on the altar. Why? Because the life of an animal is in it’s blood.
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. -Heb 9:22
As we approach the Passion week it’s appropriate to think about some of those Old Testament lessons. Everything about the sacrificial system help us understand what Jesus did on the cross and does now seated at the right hand of God. The design of the tabernacle, the office of the High Priest, the altar, the sacrifice and the blood of atonement all speak to the ministry of Jesus. Read Hebrews 9 to tie it all together.
But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation)he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh,how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God,purify ourconscience from dead works to serve the living God. -Hebrews 9:11-14
Does you church have an altar (or more than one altar) in the sanctuary? Does each service end with an altar call style invitation? What are we being invited to do at the altar if/when we get there? I would like to put aside personal feelings, experiences and what any particular local church does or doesn’t do and look into the Bible as we analyze the purpose of the altar. Ultimately I would like us to answer this question: what is the place of the altar in the New Testament church? Continue reading →
Genesis 22 tells the story of the sacrifice of Issac. Well, Isaac wasn’t really sacrificed but it was a close call. The point of the story is that Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son, thus passing his test of faith. As they were going up the mountain, Isaac notices they have wood and fire and actually asks his dad about not having a lamb. Abraham says “God will provide himself the lamb.” (Gen 22:8) After he was stopped – at the last possible moment – from sacrificing his son, he saw a ram caught by the horns in a thicket. That lamb was slain as an offering of thanksgiving. But did Abraham really know? He reasoned that Isaac’s birth had itself been a miracle, and if God chose he could restore Isaac to life. Now think about Jesus on the cross, the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Recall Abraham’s words: God will provide himself the lamb. Truer words were never spoken. Continue reading →
The banner at the top of this page is da Vinci’s portrait of the Last Supper. Renaissance Christians knew that Jesus and his disciples were not white with brown hair and blue eyes. They would not have been sitting in chairs at a table either. Despite the cultural “anomalies” the most important things are still visible; Jesus broke bread and passed the cup. That, after all, was the point.
This is Holy Week, the final days leading up to the crucifixion of Jesus. On Easter Sunday we celebrate the resurrection, but these days between Palm Sunday and Good Friday are about remembering the last precious days that Jesus had with his closest followers. This would be the last time they celebrated Passover together, and Jesus still had a lessor or two he wanted to share. During the course of the meal, he gets up from the table and removed his outer robe. He then ties a towel around his waist, kneels on the floor, and begins washing the disciples feet. We know what happens to our own feet during the summer months, going about in sandals or flops. Imagine wearing sandals everyday and walking everywhere you went. He then asks if they understand why. Jews did not wash feet; feet are unclean, both literally and religiously to the Jews. He was their Master and Lord (and maker of heaven and earth) but he was humble like a servant. If he then, he explains, is willing to wash their feet they should each be doing the same. It is not a literal command to wash feet, but a lesson about humility and service to others.
Jesus broke bread to remind his followers that his body was broken. The fruit of the vine in the cup reminds us that his blood was poured out. He said that without taking part in his body and blood we had no part in him. But if we receive the one he sends – the Holy Spirit – then we receive him. And if we receive him, we receive the one who sent him – God the Father. The Hebrews had been celebrating Passover since they were brought out of Egypt. When the death angel saw the blood of the sacrifice it “passed over” that home, sparing the first born. Jesus takes the elements of that meal, and gives them new meaning for his followers. He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world. When God sees the blood of Jesus on our hearts, his judgement will pass over.
I still think starting Bible Survey was a great idea. I wish we were halfway through the New Testament right now instead of still in Genesis, but when were promised everything we want, right?
There is just so much to say about Abraham. His story runs from Genesis 12 to 25, and I’ve found it hard to summarize or skip anything. In Genesis 22, Abraham is willing to and almost does sacrifice Isaac. There are some good lessons in the story about God, and they are all about his love and mercy toward sinners, not about him being vicious, cruel or scary.
There was a time I wondered why so much emphasis was placed on the resurrection. Jesus died on the cross as the all-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. Even if there had been no resurrection, his sacrificial death would have brought salvation; what could be more important than that?
The blood of Jesus was a more excellent sacrifice than that of bulls, sheep and birds. His death on the cross brought an end to the temple sacrifice system. The entire Gospel pivots around the cross. It is the universal symbol of Christianity. But the implications of resurrection are equally powerful, a fact that I can now appreciate as well. Continue reading →
The 23rd Psalm; a very familiar passage and perhaps the most quoted poetry from the Old Testament. In John 10, Jesus explains that he is the good shepherd. He is not a hireling, but loves the sheep, and would lay down his life for them. He has been entrusted by the Father to care for the sheep. And of course, we’re the sheep.
We’ve all seen pictures of Jesus holding a lamb. But it’s more than a cute analogy. Sheep must be cared for. They have few natural defenses, and are very near sighted. They need the shepherd. We too are no match for the devil, often nearsighted (or blind), and desperately need the Good Shepherd. Continue reading →