The writer pauses to urge his readers not just to admire all this “solid food” (Hebrews 5:14) that he has been sending them in this letter. They need to eat it! Food that is just smelled and admired with our eyes (like the meal in the picture above), and that we poke around on the plate with a fork, does us no good at all. We must taste it, experience the textures and flavors and swallow it. Only then can we fully enjoy it and derive all the benefit it is designed to give!
LOOKING BACK (Hebrews 10:1-18)
The writer turns our understanding of how things work on its head in the opening verses of this chapter. We think of shadows as being without substance. They require something physical and substantive to produce them. In the spiritual realm the opposite is true. The “substantive” reality is the things of the spiritual realm that are unseen to our eyes. The shadow they produced was the very physical Tabernacle and ceremonies of the Mosaic law. The shadow was a testament to the existence of the heavenly reality.
In another way, though, the shadow the writer speaks about here is very similar to our usual experience in this world. When we see a shadow, our instinct is to turn away from it and to see who or what is casting it. As a rule, we don’t keep gazing on the shadow (in fact, it is deeply unsatisfying to do this) but we turn from it to the reality that produces it. In the same way, the shadow that was inherent in the Law (note in the passage that the law “has a shadow” rather than the law “is a shadow”) was intended to cause the Jews to look away to the spiritual realities that cast it.
Because they have no substance, shadows in general are incapable of doing anything except shading the land where they fall, but the reality making the shadow can be capable of some quite extraordinary things. So the writer tells us that the shadow possessed by the continuous offerings on the altar day in, day out, served to remind the people of their sin. It also taught them that those offerings in themselves were useless to cleanse the conscience (or they would have ceased to be needed). But they were cast by One Who would do extraordinary things to fully and finally resolve the sin problem!
So when Christ came into the world, He put aside the useless sacrifices required under the law and offered up Himself in their place as the once for all Sacrifice that provided complete cleansing. In token of the total efficacy of the work He did on the cross and in His resurrection, Jesus ascended into heaven and sat down at God’s right hand – His one offering having perfected for all time those who God is making holy and fit to draw near to Him.
Finally, the author reminds us that the complete forgiveness of the sins of God’s people is exactly what God included in the terms and conditions of the New Covenant when He announced them through Jeremiah centuries before. And he stresses that if the sins of the people have been truly forgiven, then logically there can be no place for additional sacrifices – “it is finished!” (as Christ said as He gave up His life on the cross).
So there we have it – the author points us to the reality of a Savior seated in heaven (His work accomplished) Who has fully paid the price of sin, putting an end to the anticipatory but shadowy sacrifices of the Old Covenant by completely outshining them.
The readers, then, were foolishly thinking of looking back to the Old Covenant, to something that could never equip them to draw near to God. Indeed, all of us are all born into this world knowing that we are not right with God and trying to work out our own fixes for our sin problem. But nothing will set our consciences at rest before God except the work of the One Who was fore-shadowed in the law and its sacrifices – Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, Who takes away the sin of the world. Are you resting in Him alone as your hope of eternal life? Turn from your sins and useless efforts, come to Him now, and He can be!
LOOKING FORWARD (Hebrews 10:19-25)
Electric vehicles are pretty amazing things! In many ways, they are superior to what has come before. There are all kinds of things that we can learn about them: How many motors does a certain model have? How long does it take to get from 0-60mph? How long does it take to charge? What is its range on a single charge?
Once we have saturated our minds with these specifications, we can look at one and admire it’s superb and elegant design – so clearly superior because of the design improvements that are possible compared with gas cars and yet they are closely tied to what came before. At the end of all this, we can think “That is a pretty phenomenal thing!” But if we walk away at that point and don’t actually get in and experience what it is like to drive it, it’s just an intellectual exercise.
And the writer to the Hebrews makes a point similar to this in this next section of the letter. He has been going into some detail essentially from Chapter 1 verse 1 about how much better Jesus is than all that has come before, and yet how closely linked He is through prophecy, types, shadows etc. with that past economy. But now he wants to say to his readers, including us, “It’s not enough to admire all these things conceptually.” It is not enough to smell a delicious meal so that your mouth starts watering in anticipation but never actually eating it. It’s not enough to be able to recite all the specifications of an electric car that is standing in front of you but never getting in to drive it. You have to experience these things, not just know about them. And much, much more importantly for the wellbeing of our souls, we have to experience Jesus – actually to know Him, rather than just knowing all about Him.
He first reminds us again that Jesus shed His blood and opened a way for us to draw near to God that was closed off (almost totally) under the Old Covenant. He draws to our minds that Jesus is our eternal High Priest Who saves to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. Then He says, in effect, “The benefits and blessings of what Christ has done are meant to be enjoyed and experienced by His brothers and sisters, so:
- Draw near. Jesus fully cleansed our consciences by His sacrifice. He opened a way for us so that we may draw near to God – well, then, get on and do it! Experience the closeness with the Father that Jesus died to make available to you!
- Hold fast to your hope! The writer has said before that this hope belongs to the children of God. So that we might be assured of it, the Father promised it and then swore by Himself to give it to us – well, then, get on and hold fast to it! Experience the peace and the assurance that are meant to be ours because our hope is so certain!
- Stir one another up! We are meant to experience relationship with Christ as we fellowship with one another – since He is being formed in them and in ourselves. Well, then, get on and experience the joy of fellowship and the encouragement there is when brothers and sisters live together as the work of Christ has enabled. Of course, we cannot do this if we drift away and get into a habit of not meeting with other believers.
So let’s heed the exhortation in this passage! Let’s not be content with knowing about Christ and all that He accomplished in His work to save lost souls like yours and mine. How foolish to die still in our sins when we knew all about a wonderful Savior and a glorious and certain salvation that He gives to all who will come to Him. You can experience Christ right now! You can feel what it is like to have a clean conscience. Truly knowing Christ, you can know love which surpasses all understanding, joy which is unspeakable and full of glory, supernatural peace in your soul. You can sense the spiritual ties that are created between you and every other true believer. What could possibly be holding you back from this?