Summary of the Text
Ministry is arduous. While it is difficult to deal with the day-in, day-out dramas that can come from dealing with people, imagine the grind of constantly sacrificing animals and doing the ritual cleaning and wardrobe-exchanging necessary to just go back and do the same thing again. If you’ve been preaching from Hebrews in this season and you haven’t done so already, then you would do well to read Leviticus 16 and the tedious process of sacrifice in the tabernacle. Imagine what it would be like to do that, knowing all the while that these sacrifices “can never take away sins.” Now, imagine people preferring that to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus!
It’s a wonder that the Jewish priests did not immediately convert to The Way after being given this proposition, but at the same time, it’s nice to be needed. As much of a grind as it was to do the sacrifices, it paid the bills and kept people reliant on the priests. After all, what other job prospects did the Levites have?
As is common in Hebrews, this passage has an abundance of Old Testament images that merit attention but would be difficult to succinctly convey in a sermon. A preacher could dwell on Jesus “sitting down at the right hand of God,” implying that unlike the Jewish priests, he had authority to remain in the Holy of Holies. One could also emphasize the “footstool” image, suggesting that Jesus is not only at the right hand, but is actually sitting at the right hand atop the ark. This is profound—and frankly scandalous—for someone to suggest to an audience of people considering remaining with traditional Judaism as opposed to Christianity.
At this point, however, the author of Hebrews has already progressed the case to the point of Jesus being both high priest and once-for-all sacrifice, so this is the coup de grace for those still following the argument. In the apologetic cycle of explaining both Jesus’s humanity and his divinity, this is the point at which they connect in maximum glory—a glory that he even offers to us while we are still “being made holy” (v.14).
In this context, the quotes from Jeremiah 31 (v.16-17) call attention to a contrast that may not have occurred to people over several centuries and still may not occur to us today. Having the law written by God on our hearts and minds could suggest a human capacity to be perfect under the law. If that were the case, then any sin would seem egregious and inexcusable. It implies that instead of learning the law, we are designed for its keeping and could only violate it intentionally, flaunting the gift of God.
Nevertheless, there are still “sins and lawless acts” that God will “remember no more.” This makes no sense. Surely God would remember writing the law on our hearts and minds and would thus take note of sins and lawless acts. There are two ways to reconcile these verses:
A) God wrote the law on our hearts and minds and stopped paying attention, or
B) God is so taken by one example of perfection as to allow that example to stand as compensatory for any other violation.
It is remarkable how often our actions suggest that we believe option A, when the answer is clearly B, as the author of Hebrews has thoroughly explained (albeit in a more technical than emotional sense).
Option A obviously leads to antinomianism, whereas option B can be understood by anyone who has small children. Parents often find themselves scolding and correcting all day long, only to be smitten with a single act of generosity or display of sweetness that becomes the lasting memory of the day. One perfect act that displays the values that parents work so hard to instill can wipe countless examples of misbehavior from memory.
The passage continues with another astounding proclamation: that we—normal, everyday people—have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place. As demonstrated in the atonement rituals in Leviticus, the high priest himself could only enter with trepidation, even having a rope tied around his ankle in the event that he is smote by God’s glory and his body needs to be dragged out by other priests. By contrast, Jesus has opened the curtain to a “living way” that he, as high priest, invites us to enter alongside him.
In v.22, the author returns to Jeremiah’s heart and mind imagery, noting that the heart on which the covenant is written will not be detached from the law but will naturally draw near to the one who has kept it. Doing so allows for a cleansed conscience (the word is more like “soul” than the previous “mind” but is still helpful in pairing v.22 with v.16-17).
The close of this passage provides an excellent option for a benediction and lays out the behavior reflective of the sincere heart and cleansed conscience. We do not avoid one another, we pursue love and good deeds, and we hold fast to the faith. Moreover, we know that just as Jesus has himself been vindicated, we will receive our vindication in him, or perhaps more accurately, his vindication upon us. Both of these are part of our “being made holy” in v.10. We receive this holiness in Christ’s body, and we pursue it as Christ’s body, encouraging one another towards it through the help of the great paraclete, the Holy Spirit.
Pastors in ECO: A Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians will recognize 10:24 and its association with the denominational value of “our mutual spurring.” In v.24, “spur” is the Greek word παροξυσμός, which means “incitement” or “irritation.” The only other use of this word is the “sharp disagreement” between Paul and Barnabas over John Mark (Acts 15:39). While the use in Hebrews 10:24 is obviously more positive and is even translated as “stimulate” by the usually more literal NASB, it is a reminder of the discomfort than can often happen when we live in community and hold one another accountable, or when we try to get one another off our couches and into the world.
Allen Thompson is senior pastor at Fairview Presbyterian Church in North Augusta, South Carolina. Allen attended Pittsburgh Seminary (M.Div.) and Fuller Seminary (D.Min.) His wife, Kelsey, is a Marriage and Family Therapist, and they have two children.
Allen enjoys golf, hiking, camping, cooking pigs, ice climbing, and live music. He loves to imagine being in the story and culture of the Bible, wondering how we might have responded to God then and how we can follow Jesus now. As an “ideas” person, Allen is passionate about working with others to find out how God is calling us to use the many gifts and resources the Holy Spirit provides.
Allen holds a Doctor of Ministry (Fuller Theological Seminary) and a Master of Divinity (Pittsburgh Theological Seminary).
A Western upbringing tends to stress questioning authority, which is always asking why, why, why.
The modern world detests authority but worships relevance. Our Christian conviction is that the Bible has both authority and relevance, and that the secret of both is Jesus Christ.
The Transfer of Energy
In physics, power is defined as the transfer of energy. In a light bulb, for example, electricity is transferred into light and heat. A 100-watt light bulb is more powerful than a 60-watt light bulb because there is more energy transferred. The same is true in leadership. It is a leader’s ability to transfer their authority to others that actually gives them their power.
Simon Sinek, What Leaders Can Learn From Mandela’s Selflessness and Sacrifice
Comment: Christ’s authority is not one to simply require obedience, it is an authority, like the analogy of a light bulb, that gives out power. In this way, Jesus’ authority and leadership provide an example, par excellence for our own lives.