Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Heart God Wants (Hebrews 8)

Editor's Note:  The comments below are some notes for a sermon I've been working on about Hebrews 8, still in rough form. Please note, this is not the sermon itself but my preliminary reflections on my studies thus far. Consider it research and ramblings. But any feedback you may have is much desired!

This weekend we'll focus on the spiritual heart. What does it mean to have a hardened heart? And how does Christ's superior ministry and better covenant involve a different kind of heart.

Note the contrast between shadow and substance, and how the Law belongs to the shadow but the substance belongs to Christ. By knowing him, we pass from a two-dimensional knowledge about God to a fully-dynamic, interactive, relational knowledge (i.e. relationship) of (i.e. with) God in Christ.

People should end up asking themselves: Do I have a hardened heart or the kind of heart the new covenant calls for? Do I know God or just about God? If they find themselves in need with regards to either of these areas, I'd like them to discover how to have what God wants for them in each of these areas--and choose to pursue that--through Christ's perfect sacrifice.

Review: There has been a change of priesthood and so, a change of law (Heb 7:12).

Why? Because the old law could not do the job (Heb 7:11).

The New Priesthood:

NOT BASED ON: family or tribe or nationality (Aaron, Levi, Israel)

IS BASED ON: Jesus as High Priest in the eternal order of Melchizedek ... Priesthood of all believers (no clergy/laity). He alone can fix and provide what the old law could not!

With this, Jesus is now the guarantor (promiser/provider) of a BETTER covenant.

OLD Cov't = temporary, passing away (lit. “about to pass away.”)

NEW Cov't = eternal and coming now upon us in the new order of the KOG .

OLD needed repeated sacrifices day after day because it was partial and temporal.

NEW is based on Jesus full, final, permanent, and complete sacrifice--perfect and lacking nothing.

And so we come now to Jesus, who is the perfect high priest who:

1. Sits on the throne of majesty in heaven as king forever, and
2. serves in the true sanctuary, not a replica (like Aaron's tabernacle), as priest forever!

OLD = copy and shadow (2 dimensional & dark, boundaries of shadow give us parameters, not a relationship.)

NEW = the real deal! Involves a
BETTER covenant that is AS MUCH BETTER as substance or person is better than the shadow cast. And it comes with BETTER PROMISES!

THE PROBLEM: Hebrews 8:7 - There was something wrong with the first covenant. What was it God found fault with?

Answer in 8:8-9 - The
people. Specifically, something was lacking in their hearts.

GOD'S SOLUTION: Heb 8:10f - The new covenant changes the human participants in the covenant. God places his laws on their minds and writes them in their hearts. (According to the prophets, God will do this by placing a new spirit in our hearts!) The result is a full and actual relationship (not just one in name only or based on second-hand information): "I will BE their God; they WILL BE my people." And in v. 11 "They will all KNOW me from the least to the greatest." (Note OT use of verb “to know.”)

Knowing and experiencing God on an actual relationship level is now not just the exclusive experience of patriarchs, prophets, earthly priests, or kings, but ALL will know him: young and old, great and small.

How will this happen? 8:12 reveals that Christ's final and perfect sacrifice, of which we've been speaking, resulted in full forgiveness and opens for us total reconciliation with God.


So this leaves us with a huge question because it now is clear just how important the heart is to God. Since the heart is the key to experiencing the fullness of the new covenant, passing from the shadow to the substance, then what does a heart look like that God wants, and what does one look like that he rejects?

The heart is mentioned over 575 times in the OT and 150 times in the NT. We could spend years studying what the Bible has to say about the heart because it probably is the biggest concern God has for his people.

As early as Deuteronomy, Moses was calling people to circumcise their hearts, even though the whole generation born in the wilderness were not physically circumcised for the forty years they wandered--until Joshua brought them into the land of Canaan (Josh 5). Jeremiah echoes this (Jer 4:4; 9:23-26). And Paul makes circumcision of the heart the test of a true Christian or Jew (Ro 2:25-29; Col 2:11). The symbolism is of removing the flesh, particularly dead flesh, and making ourselves open to God.

The kind of heart most often objected to in the Bible is the kind we've heard the Hebrews writer admonish us against repeatedly: the hardened heart.

What does a hardened heart look like?

There are several NT passages outside of Hebrews that describe it for us: Mt 13:14-15, Jn 12:40, and Ac 28:27 all look to Isa 6:9-11. And here's what we find:

A hardened heart results in and is therefore evidenced by these symptoms:

1. Little or no understanding of God
2. Does not hear God (and therefore does not heed God)
3. Does not see God or his truths
4. Therefore it will not and cannot turn from its errors (repentance) and therefore,
5. It prevents God from healing the person who has it. And the major area of healing is in regards to their relationship to God, but also in regards to having a healed, healthy spirituality that lives in harmony with God and his world.


The greatest example is Pharaoh - 17 references in Exodus to his hardened heart attempting to undermine God's plans. (cf "God hardened his heart" to "my sister got me angry.")

Proverbs 28:14 - Contrasts hard heart to one that trembles before God (in reverence and awe).

Daniel 5:20 - The whole chapter is a chilling example of how Nebuchadnezzar's hardened heart and now his son's similar heart, brought horrible consequences -- the fall of Babylon and the death of the king that very night. Here the hard heart is associated with pride and brings God's opposition and judgment.

Zechariah 7:12 & context, esp. vv. 8-14 - Those who ignore social justice and the oppression of the poor are said to have hardened hearts. We might add to this, those who ignore the salvation needs of their lost neighbors, families, and friends.

Jesus associated divorce with hardness of hearts. In other words, our relationships are affected, even broken and destroyed, when we harbor a hard heart. Hard hearts are uncircumcised hearts. And therefore they operate in the flesh rather than in the Spirit. They block God out and presume to live life without his power. Even if a person with a hard heart seeks to live a holy life, they do so in their own strength and will always end up in the opposite place from holiness. As in the case of divorce, hard hearts lead to sin, even adultery, alienation of relationships, animosity, division , fighting, complaining, bitterness. This is a brief summary based on a cursory survey of the passages that talk about the heart.

When the disciples lacked understanding and faith in Mark 6:52 and 8:17 with regards to Jesus' ability to provide loaves of bread, Jesus explains their lack of faith and understanding as hardness of heart! The message here is that hard hearts prevent faith, that therefore can block God's provisions and miracles in our lives.

There are many other passages we could discuss. But the last three times the NT speaks of people hardening their hearts is in the passages we studied together in the past few weeks (Heb 3:8,15; 4:7). Those passages, you will recall, hearkened back to the problems God and Moses had with the people complaining and rebelling against their leaders in the wilderness. Even though they complained about seemingly necessary things like needing food and water and security and safety, their behavior was in accord with hardened hearts rather than hearts of faith, full of the knowledge of God. And so an entire generation fell in the wilderness and none of those people, not even the ones who made it into Canaan with Joshua, found their way into God's rest.

Again, we could spend a long time on this. Hopeful we can develop it more in the weeks ahead. The Bible has much to say about a heart that's right and acceptable to God. David asks God for clean heart and a new/right spirit (Ps. 51). Ezekiel speaks of the same (Ez 36:24-28) and calls us to have an undivided heart (Ez 11:19). Jesus promised that the pure in heart would see God (Mt. 5:8). The Psalms say in a couple of places that only the one with clean hands and a pure heart may enter God's sanctuary.


None of us is immune from having a hardened heart. Even the most devout among us can find hardness has crept into our thoughts, our decisions, our choices, our conscious and unconscious commitments. This is not the kind of thing we can finger point about. Nor can we judge others harshly when we ourselves must remain constantly vigilant over our own hearts. (In fact, it is usually those who are most judgmental who have the hardest hearts!) So: "Guard your heart!" the book of Proverbs warns, "for everything you do flows from your heart!" (Pr 4:23).

And so with what little time we have in this service, I want to beg each of us to examine our hearts. Consider if you've hardened it to God or to others in your life. You don't need special instructions or hours of discipleship to know this. You probably felt a twinge of awareness as soon as I raised the matter.

Where is your heart today? Is it open? Is it laid bare before God and thirsty for his Spirit to be poured out? Is is sensitive to his voice and compliant with his leadings? Or is it eclipsed by your own fleshly attitudes and opinions, your own self-confidence and your own selfish agendas?

God wants you and each of us fully immersed in his new covenant. That's the place were all sin is removed and forgotten because of the shed blood of the now risen Christ--our high priest.

God wants you on his team—the Melchizedekian priesthood, interceding for others and bringing the gospel to others. But most of all, he wants a relationship with you, where in you KNOW him as he knows you. He wants you to understand, hear, see, turn and be healed. What a blessed life of peace and wholeness that will be! This is what it means to enter his rest. This is what the priesthood of Jesus, his sacrifice, and his covenant are all about!

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