Twenty-two minutes from https://twitter.com/WelshRev at https://www.facebook.com/TyrBugail for https://www.facebook.com/Grace.Wales.online , https://welshrev.blogspot.com/and https://yGRWP.com
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Never in all my life have I heard and seen such a focus on death and tradition as I’ve seen in the last week.
It has been a very singular week.
Our news media have been dominated with processions, ritual, revelling in tradition and brass bands of the marching sort.
And talk across nearly every broadcast or programme I’ve come across has been of death, has been of ‘a life well-lived’ … and of the re-living of our own personal losses, bereavements and tragedies as we mourn them again by proxy as we mourn the Queen.
Ritual and tradition are some comfort to people, of course.
But they are not commonly vehicles of hope.
And in circumstances like those of the last week, in the teeth of the fiercest of life’s realities, by lifting our eyes just a little bit higher … there is far stronger hope to be found.
Let me remind you of Hebrews 9.
Hebrews 9:27 first of all squares up to and takes the scary stuff head on …
V. 27 “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment …”
The important thing to notice here straight away with v. 27 is that what we are dealing with here is an uncompleted statement.
‘Just as …’ leaves you hanging for the comparison that is being made, but it won’t be a completed comparison till the end of the next verse.
In Hebrews 9 what’s going on is this …
• What Hebrews is getting at
The book of Hebrews tells us what it is going to be saying to us in the first four verses of chapter one:
Hebrews 1:1-4 “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.”
Hebrews is telling us it’s going to be about how God did authentically speak through His servants the prophets but now He has spoken to us through His Son Who is truly God but in a different person and better than anything we’ve known before, and that Jesus, the Son, has provided a complete satisfaction for sins (because He’s now SEATED … job done … on the throne of Heaven ruling as the Heavenly Regent alongside His Father).
Now read Hebrews 9 in the light of that overall message and purpose.
• What Hebrews 9 is getting at
· Hebrews 1-2 is all about how what we have in Jesus is better than angels and the Torah.
· Hebrews 3-4 is all about how what we have in Jesus is better than what they had in times past with Moses and the Promised Land.
· Hebrews 5-7 is all about how what we have in Jesus is better than what they had in times past in the priesthood.
· Hebrews 8-10 is all about how what we have in Jesus is better than what they had in times past in the sacrificial system and the Old Covenant.
And sat right in the middle there in Hebrews 9, we get this adverse comparison of the Old Covenant sanctuary and worship with Christ’s service in the Heavenly sanctuary.
The fundamental point of the comparison is made in Hebrews 9:13-15 which says:
“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. 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!
15 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.”
Now that is GLORIOUS … but the chapter does not shrink back into tradition or ritual in any sense to escape from the realities of life and death.
In fact, our verse here in Hebrews 9:27 tosses that dread ball int the air before swinging hard and batting it into oblivion!
What do I mean?
Stay with me here …
• The reality of mortality
We tend to look on death as if it is catastrophic and chaotic.
In the last week we have seen people who didn’t know the Queen personally, who didn’t have any contact with her at ALL in many cases far from having her as a feature in their daily lives, being deeply sorrowful and upset at her demise.
In many cases, it seems, this is because the death of a celebrity personality drags up personal griefs which somehow get attached to the loss of the prominent person and are then relived to the real distress of the people concerned.
So we need to tread carefully around these matters because people’s real and personal griefs are being raked up by a very public grief that we may not have realised will be painful for personal more than public reasons.
And yet … it should be of some help in these circumstances to address this issue of human mortality directly and Biblically because Scripture in general and this verse in particular is there to tell us that there is a plan, a point and a purpose in the human mortality whose apparent chaos, finality and disorder we are so deeply troubled by.
Look at v. 27 …
Hebrews lobs the ball into the air like this:
“And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment …”
What do you mean ‘appointed to die’?!
Well, hang on, this is a reference to a well-known Biblical ancient back in Genesis 3:19
Humanity has rebelled against God there, and the just deserts for that act of rebellion are meted out in these terms:
“By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread,
till you return to the ground,
for out of it you were taken;
for you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.”
I mean … Hebrews could have stopped there because that would sound hard enough to take, but Hebrews DOESN’T!
It is APPOINTED to mankind (it is mankind not exclusively the male of the species in the Greek there … it’s mankind, humanity) to die and THEN to face JUDGEMENT!
Now that word for judgement there is the Greek word κρίσις (krisis) 'judgment’,
This word occurs about 48 x
Meaning judgment (human or divine), justice, the concept of determining the correctness of a matter and negatively, of punishment and condemnation
And you may well want to say you don’t think God would do a thing like that because you wouldn’t want it to be true, but Jesus says that it is appointed to be like this …
“For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay each person according to what he has done.” Matthew 16:27
Neither the Bible nor Hebrews 9 seek to shelter us from the reality of human mortality, whether by ritual, tradition nor by any other means to cover up and dignify the really very humbling reality.
On the contrary, the Bible and Hebrews 9 set these things in the context of the plan and purpose of the Eternal God, who according to Psalm 145:8-10 (for example) which sets the realities of death and human accountability in the context of God’s character for us:
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
9 The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.”
And that reality about human mortality, setting things in the context of God’s greater plan and appointment of these experiences for humanity which He loves, cares for and has compassion on, finds greater fullness in what v. 28 tells us next …
V. 28 “… just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many,
will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save
those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
• Christ: once-offered sacrifice
We were talking about death and now we’ve gone straight to sacrifice.
Because there is an unbreakable link in Scripture between sin and death!
It was appointed to mankind once to die and then face judgement, and it was appointed to be like this way back in Genesis 3.
But it’s not just an Old Testament thing!
Accountability for sin after death was reinforced by the Lord Jesus during His earthly life … as we just saw from Matthew 16.
Fundamentally in Scripture then (and this is utterly counter-cultural in our era) death is not about physiological processes but about the sin that’s led to physiological decay.
So, if we’re talking about defeating death from the Christian perspective that will be done through the process of death and judgement … mitigated in the believer’s case by Christ’s sacrifice for the sin that’s got you there.
A LOT has been said of the Queen and her ‘values’ and her ‘faith’.
I have no doubt this is due to the position taken by our news media and possibly to some extent by the new King, but speaking for myself when I have died I don’t want people to stand up and say what a great man I was (no risk, eh?!)
I want them to stand up and say that ‘this man was a sinner saved by God’s amazing grace’.
And that’s for this reason.
There is no hope like this hope.
Nothing comes near it.
And there is certainly no fear left in death for the person whose life is hidden with the Christ of Hebrews in the God of the Bible.
“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Not like the Temple ritual.
“This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. 10 They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.
I contrast to the old system where animal sacrifices kept on having to be made a ritual and tradition scrupulously repeated …
v. 11 when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle …”
Once and for all He paid the penalty for human sin and death, and on THAT DAY death lost its sting.
· It isn’t down to my personal qualities.
· It isn’t down to my repeated rituals.
· It isn’t down to tradition or cultural artefact
It’s down to the shed blood of Jesus … once and for all … the done-deal sacrifice paying for my sin.
There’s confidence to be found there in the face of death … not in fancy funerals, big headstones and heart-warming stories about what a wonderful person you WERE … WERE, you see?
But what about … now?
Hebrews 9 faces us up to the reality of mortality and says Christ suffered once and for all to get the sting of death drawn for you and make it a once for all done deal … with no going back on it.
Once for all.
• Christ - coming back to get me
And what that entails is that not ONE of His people will be left behind.
He’s coming back to get you … in the BEST of all possible ways!
“he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
The sacrifice for sin (which is the big thing about dying) has been done fully, once and for all by the Lord.
But it gets brought to complete fulfilment when He comes back for us …
It says He will be seen, He will appear.
The other New Testament use of the word used here is in Acts 1:3 where Jesus appears on a number of occasions after His resurrection to His disciples, and it says:
“After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive.”
Jesus had promised His disciples in John 14:18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.”
There’s the comfort the author of Hebrews is holding out to his readers … and to us.
Christ has DIED for us … He won’t leave us abandoned to our own devices, ESPECIALLY in the face of earthly life’s final frontier!
He’s coming back for His own and won’t abandon His people in this trouble torn, mortality-ridden world …
No wonder, is it, that His people are characterised here as those who eagerly await His return!
• Christ - ‘eagerly awaited’ stamps your ticket
Having dealt once for all, decisively and victoriously with sin, He
“will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Eagerly waiting for Him.
That’s where to channel the angst and the anxiety of mortal lie in a world hostile to and rebellious against God and the by derivation hostile to and against His faithful people.
That’s where to channel the angst and anxiety we feel about leaving this veil of mortal tears bound for the realms of immortality.
If you’re heading for that Gospel train, ‘eagerly awaiting’ is what’s stamped on your boarding pass.
So look … we are emerging from a week where the reality of death has been pushing itself onto our agenda and forcing itself upon our consciousness.
And we’re heading on into a week where the realities we’ve been reminded of are not going to fade away rapidly … there will be ongoing discussion and analysis for some time to come.
And frankly, there rapidly comes a point where we don’t want to hear it.
Not for long we don’t want to hear it.
And not often, either.
Tradition, ritual, white washing the sepulchres by all manner of means to try to sweeten death’s bitter pill of mortality are going to be full on in our faces.
People in our line of sight are going to be doing that coping mechanism ritual and fandango thing right in our faces, but Scripture is going to take us a different way.
Scripture will take us honestly into the reality of death … yes … but God’s Word will be revealing it not as the big, ugly, uncontrolled chaos monster of secular culture, but as a frontier that nonetheless has to keep to its position and to know its place in God’s good purpose, a purpose which He has appointed for us from the start.
To keep its place, its place as the gateway to HIS judgement … because in the end what others think of us pales into insignificance against the reality of His verdict on us.
And to bow its head to the realities of what has been wrought for faithful believers in and followers of Jesus, Who by HIS death and resurrection has consigned death to being on the wrong side of history for them.
And you might want to say. ‘But it doesn’t feel like that’.
No, it doesn’t always.
Christian experience is often lived by faith when feelings are contrary to the facts.
In the experience of grief it can be hard to lay hold of the things to which the finger of the preacher writing Hebrews is pointing.
But that’s what the spiritual life is like … the Lord being there, present and active while His presence may be believed, and even known, but not felt.
More of that next time!
But for the moment let’s recognise how this Scripture addresses and informs us for times just like these when mortality is down-stage centre and in our faces.
Mortality is real and the kind God has appointed it - as well as judgement - for humanity.
It is not a chaos monster but it lies firmly within His plan and purpose, which means that God has got it all in hand for us …
And the thing He has PUT in hand for us is laid out gloriously in v. 29 …
“Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Wouldn’t it be SUCH a tragedy to be so taken up with the reassurance of ritual, the tranquiliser of tradition, the pious platitudes uttered which the world around us puts on offer to try to deal with the pain of the reality of mortality … and by so doing to crowd out the predicted then realised, historic provision God has appointed to be the means by which the sting of death is drawn?
“just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
Away with waiting patiently.
Big up with waiting EAGERLY.
He’s coming soon.