EZEKIEL 20:1-49 | HEBREWS 9:11-28 | PSALM 107:1-43 | PROVERBS 27:11
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Ezekiel, the prophet in exile, hasn’t been a source of great comfort to his people so far — he has been foretelling the further misfortunes that are to come upon Israel in the near future, and if you think all hope is lost, you might have given up on the God of Israel a little too soon.
For what Ezekiel has to say next to his people is not altogether unpleasant. We see him serve as the mouthpiece of the Lord when he conveys this message to his people.
He says, speaking as the Lord’s mouthpiece: 41 I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will be proved holy through you in the sight of the nations. 42 Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your ancestors. 43 There you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. 44 You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, you people of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.’”
Again, it is not because of Israel’s good works that God is going to take them back; it is inspite of all the blasphemous, sacrilegious, and despicable acts committed by Israel that God is prepared to accept her back.
And also because of God’s own sake. That is exactly what God says to them: “for my name’s sake”.
This means, of course, that the covenant that was made by God with Abraham to accept Abraham as God’s friend, and to make Abraham’s descendants God’s “chosen people” is going to be honored by God.
It also reiterates one of the stunningly significant qualities of this God: the capacity to forgive — time and time again!
We move on now to our reading in the book of Hebrews, and find the writer continuing with his mission of explaining the concept of a more superior priest and temple. Remember the audience is a predominantly Jewish one that has professed a newly adopted faith in Jesus Christ, and now call themselves Christian.
As a result, these Jewish Christians have established churches throughout Asia Minor, and have been attempting to understand their new faith and are practicing it, even while they struggle with many of their own Jewish practices of worship.
The writer of Hebrews, having established the superiority of Jesus Christ, also known as God incarnate to be a better priest, now begins to speak directly to the tasks of a priest, which in Judaic tradition, primarily consisted of offering an animal sacrifice for atonement.
And what does he say about all this? Here’s what he’s saying essentially: forget all those animal offerings, folks, here’s a sacrifice that is more perfect than any offering you can imagine. And what’s more, it is a one-time offering. This high priest, Jesus, who lived and breathed among us, was indeed the Messiah, who was also the perfect Lamb of God. This lamb was sacrificed for you and me, so that a full and final payment might be made to God for the sin of the world, and with the shedding of this divine blood, there was remission of sin for the entire human race.
So, you mean, there is no need for pigeons, goats, and sheep to be sacrificed for each individual sin anymore?
That’s right, folks, you got that right! Jesus’ blood that was shed was shed for you and me, and you can receive “eternal redemption” by simply believing in this plan of salvation.
The writer lays it all out like this:
11 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. 12 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, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 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.
And there you have it! A simple plan of salvation that requires only faith on your part, because everything else has been done already. And not just done, mind you– it has been done in the most perfect way possible, where forgiveness is free to both Jew and non-Jew alike, and freedom from the bondage of sin is to be had by one and all.
There’s no need for a priest, a temple, a sacrifice, or any of that from the old order.
We have now entered into a new covenant with the Almighty, where grace welcomes you with open arms, and faith leads the way to truth.
The writer of this book wishes to leave nothing to doubt and controversy. Now that he’s brought up all these important symbols and practices of the Judaic tradition, he elaborates even further on the concept of Jesus Christ being both high priest and sacrifice rolled into one, and the purpose that this has achieved.
He says: 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
We turn now to our reading of the Psalms, and find a most joyous psalm of praise. The Psalmist is raising his voice to offer thanksgiving to the Lord for all his mercies and provisions. He says:
1 Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
2 Let the redeemed of the LORD tell their story—
those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those he gathered from the lands,
from east and west, from north and south.
A constant refrain throughout the psalm is this verse:
8 Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love
and his wonderful deeds for mankind.
And he ends with this exhortation to his listener and reader:
43 Let the one who is wise heed these things
and ponder the loving deeds of the LORD.
Finally, a verse from the book of Proverbs, in which Solomon, wise king of Israel, speaks to the value of a good child who brings much joy to his parents. He says:
11 Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart;
then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.
May God bless the reading and reflection of His Word. Amen.