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Really Relate (Hebrews 9-10)

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Approaching God to know Him

If we accept that God exists, can we know him? We return to this topic about knowing to God. Why do we keep talking about it? Because we need certainty in our relationships, even with God. Christianity affirms that we can know God personally. Religion in general does not have this hope, but Christianity insists.

In general, we look for certainty in our relationships. Do they really love me? I don’t mean only God, but also relating to those around us. We work hard to be accepted for what we do, for what we say, for what we get, even to be accepted by the clothes we wear; with the hope that we can win the approval of friends, parents, siblings, society.

Therefore, this subject with reference to God is important. Actually, without God’s approval we are not going to feel good about who we are. This letter called Hebrews was written thousands of years ago, but the issues are still current; we want to know that we are accepted, even loved. Humans have not really changed. Using LED lights now instead of candles or fire torches does not mean a change in what we really need. The intelligence that brings things like electricity is not the same as the wisdom that brings good to our being.

Finding this approval from God does not appear so simple. We are aware that the relationship is not between equals. Our solution is to negotiate or make contracts with God to establish the relationship. Here are seven examples:

    1. Based on needs: I will serve you God if you give me everything I need.
    2. By miracle: I will believe in you if you do this miracle for me.
    3. By emotional blackmail: if you don’t do this, I will never talk to you again.
    4. By separate lives: don’t bother me, and I won’t bother you.
    5. With an exception: I will do anything for you as long as I remain popular, rich, healthy…
    6. No commitment: I will believe anything, but do not expect any response
    7. By good deeds: I’ll show you that I deserve it because I behave well.

When we call attention to this kind of behaviour, they seem a little foolish. Do these with other people, well, we try it too and it does not work out well. Not with God either.

The best way to relate to God is what God offers us

Don’t give up! God wants to relate to us! The author quotes the prophet Jeremiah again to underscore God’s intent:

‘This is the covenant I will make with them

    after that time, says the Lord.

I will put my laws in their hearts,

    and I will write them on their minds.’

Then he adds:

‘Their sins and lawless acts

    I will remember no more.’ (Hebrews 10.16-17, Jeremiah 31.33-34)

God says that he want to know us like that, but he do not want to kill us in the process, like a child playing with an ant. This is the issue: our rebellion does not affect him but his holiness would obliterate us.

From the beginning, God has always helped us get closer to him. This is the description we have here in chapter 9 of the tabernacle. Let’s configure the parts.

First of all, remember that the word ‘tabernacle’ means to dwell. It works as a portal between God and us. It had three parts:

    1. The courtyard to signify that you are approaching God. It is the part where the people are. They could not get closer.
    2. The Holy Place where the lampstand and the consecrated bread are. That is, you enter the place where you will find true light and true nourishment.
    3. The Most Holy Place where the presence of God is, his voice that speaks of forgiveness (mercy) and truth (justice on how to live).

The format of the meeting place expresses the goodness of God. People do not enter to be judged but to be in the light, to be fed, to know forgiveness and to hear the truth.

But it also expresses that this way of dwelling is not enough to overcome our sin of not recognising our creator. People can enter up to a point. God takes the need for justice seriously. Blood underlines the problem:

“When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning.” (Hebrews 9.6-8)

Blood? yuck! Remember that we live in a disinfected world. Very few of us experience war; very few of us get closer to the hunting-gathering of food than a supermarket.

Why blood? According to Hebrews 9.22: In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

Sin at it’s most basic is to break relationship. The fundamental sin is not to trust what God says. The blood represents life, which is also essential to relate. Broken relationships are very difficult to fix; money and possessions can’t really do it. Consider family disputes. Now consider that on the scale of God and the universe. Reconciliation is expensive. The whole problem is that I only have one life to give and the level of my fault demands it all. Think about it. The context is to relate. Not trusting the creator of the universe is no small thing. It has eternal consequences.

The writer’s argument is that Jesus finally brought this to an end. 9.11-15: But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Relating to God is not just a concept or a feeling, it is real. It is as real as interacting with the person next to you. That is something glorious of our God, not to depart from us in his holiness but to approach us in his humility to know truly.

Humility? Yes, because the relationship is established by the blood of God:

That is why Christ, when entering the world, said to God:

 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said:

‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,

    but a body you prepared for me;

with burnt offerings and sin offerings

    you were not pleased.

Then I said, “Here I am – it is written about me in the scroll –

    I have come to do your will, my God.” (Hebrews 10.5-10)

The God whom Christians worship is not immune to real pain. It was his sacrifice that allows the relationship not by force or manipulation, but by goodwill. It was because of his good will. And, just like last week, we are reminded that Jesus sat down (10:12). He did what the substitution of the blood of animals could not.

Why is all this so hard to accept? There is no place for human pride. Remember that our way of approaching God is through contracts and agreements, to negotiate. It’s not the way to really establish a relationship. To relate well needs humility and sacrifice, the posture of serving the other. God offers us something that comes from his goodness. God takes on the cost to really restore the relationship.

It’s hard to remember, and that’s why Jesus told us to repeat the last supper. Look at 9.16-17: In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.

In Greek, the word for a testament and a covenant is the same word. Jesus died to fulfil the covenant. This makes it something objective in history. Then Hebrews 10.10: And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

We celebrate birthdays, not to repeat the birth, but to celebrate that we were born and are alive. So also the Lord’s Supper. We celebrate it because we are already related to God, a living relationship.

Free from guilt, forever!

We finish with the words of Hebrews 9.14: How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

That really is freedom from guilt, not by smoke and mirrors, not by letting time pass, not by pretending. We do not need another way to go to God. This is the reason why Jeremiah’s promise can be ours. Put your effort into this:

‘This is the covenant I will make with them

    after that time, says the Lord.

I will put my laws in their hearts,

    and I will write them on their minds.’

Then he adds:

‘Their sins and lawless acts

    I will remember no more.’

And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary. (Hebrews 10.16-18)

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash