Sermon Text: Intro to Hebrews
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
A New Deuteronomy
Ok, raise of hands, how many of you have sighted in a rifle before? Personally, I prefer not to sight in my weapon so I can have a cast iron excuse for missing.
Before you go out for the big hunt, where a little bump to your sights might be the difference between a freezer full of tasty meat or just that lonely bag of frozen peas you’re honestly never going to use, you go to the range and sight in your weapon. Right?
Now, not every book of the Bible is like this, but the book of Hebrews is one of those books where we will be served by taking a moment calibrate our theological and textual tools before we jump into the text headfirst.
That is our aim together this morning, to take a moment together to sight in our rifles, to locate and calibrate the tools that will serve us as we make our way through the book of Hebrews.
Paul urged Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:15, “…to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” We want to take care that we rightly handle this book.
Here’s our roadmap this morning: First, I’ll give you three things we need to handle the book of Hebrews skillfully. This is the part where we sight in our rifle.
Then, we’ll aim that rifle, we’ll get clear on the great aim of the book of Hebrews, asking: What is this book trying to teach us and prepare us for? So let’s pray, then we’ll get to work.
Sighting in our Rifle
So here we go, three things we need to handle the book of Hebrews skillfully:
1. We need to believe that the best way to understand how to read the Bible is to see how the Bible interprets itself.
We need to learn that the Bible teaches us how to read the Bible. What if I told you that lots of us never pick up the single most powerful tool at our disposal when reading our Bibles?
See, many Christians—from Bible commentators to pastors to the average saint reading the Scriptures with his morning coffee—often leave their most important, most helpful, most essential tool out in the garage when they open up the Bible to study.
What is that tool? It is the Bible’s own inerrant, divinely inspired commentary on itself. Let me give you an example that I think will help you see what I mean:
When was the last time you read the book of Genesis, and, arriving at Noah’s flood, thought: Now I know that one of the main things Noah’s flood is about is Christian baptism? That’s just what the Apostle Peter tells us in 1 Peter chapter three.
Or that the persons of Hagar and Sarah are about Mount Sinai and Mount Zion—one representing slavery to the Law, and one representing freedom in Christ? That’s precisely what Paul tells us in Galatians chapter four. The Bible provides us with an inerrant commentary on itself, especially contained in the New Testament’s analysis of the Old.
I think an illustration will help you to understand what this looks like. Can you think of a story—a book or a movie, maybe—where something happens at the end that makes you reinterpret everything that has happened already in the story?
From what I understand, The Sixth Sense would be the correct illustration for me to use here. However, I haven’t seen it. I am a bibliophile, not a cinephile. So I can’t do the whole “I see dead people” thing.
But there is another movie that I think will help, The Book of Eli.
The plot of the movie is basically this: Three decades after a horrific war has turned the planet into an apocalyptic ruin, a man named Eli (played by Denzel Washington), carries the hope for mankind’s renewal with him, which is the only remaining copy of the Bible.
Another character, who understands the power of the book, is bent on stealing it, and so all kinds of action and fisticuffs ensue, with Eli going all Walker, Texas Ranger on bad guys and such.
At the end of the whole movie, Eli has made it to the place he’s been trying to take the book, but he’s dying of a gunshot wound. And at the very, very end, the camera zooms in on him reading the book out loud, with his fingers moving across the page—because it’s in braille! Eli, who has been shooting people and engaging in hand to hand combat and all sorts of other things, has been blind the entire movie.
And when you look back over the whole movie, or if you watch it again knowing this, all of the sudden the entire story and all its parts unfold a different, deeper, fuller meaning—and that meaning was there the whole time!
All of a sudden you realize that Eli is named after a guy from the Bible who was blind, that he’s continually quoting Bible verses about walking by faith, not by sight, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, let there be light, along with a hundred other clues that, now looking back with clarity, we realize were meant to tell us that he was blind the whole time.
If we believe the Apostles—if we believe Christ himself—the Bible is like that. In Luke 24, Jesus rebukes two disciples, walking with them on the road to Emmaus after his resurrection, for not believing the Old Testament prophets, that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and then enter his glory! And then at the end of the chapter, Luke 24:44–46,
“Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead…”
Jesus is telling them that this one, big event—his incarnation, coming in the flesh, his sinless life, substitutionary death, victorious resurrection, ascension to the right hand of power, and heavenly rule over the global expansion of his Kingdom—is the key fact that reveals the true, full meaning of the whole story of the Bible, both in its parts and as a whole.
The reason this is essential knowledge for approaching the book of Hebrews is that the book of Hebrews is part of that divinely inspired, inerrant commentary on the Old Testament. In the first chapter alone, the author will quote fully seven passages from the Old Testament, explaining what they mean in light of Christ’s coming.
So we need to believe that this commentary provides us the fullest meaning of those Old Testament texts, that what the inspired commentary says they mean is what they have always meant, even if we couldn’t see that prior to Jesus’ work.
Related to this, number two…
2. We need to know and love the Old Testament.
This book was written to an audience that could most likely be described by today’s standards as experts in the Old Testament Scriptures.
The internet is a great blessing, but one of its curses is that it has convinced us that we are all experts at everything. Have you noticed this?
Think about some controversy that erupted lately—whether it’s climate change or critical race theory, or whatever. What happened? Well, within roughly 45 minutes of people learning that the debate even existed, they are posting Facebook updates trying to convince people of their expert opinion on the subject.
It’s like, “Buddy, you didn’t even know what a bump stock *was* until 45 minutes ago! Maybe slow down.”
We are like that, aren’t we? We convince ourselves that we’re experts in a thing just because we can search it on our phones or hear other people who maybe are experts talk about it.
As we step into the book of Hebrews, we’re walking into an intricate theological masterpiece, inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, and written initially to an audience of Jewish Christians who were massively knowledgable in the Old Testament Scriptures.
Now, if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us are not experts in the Old Testament Scriptures. And so it is important that we take great care as we go through this book to go with it back into the leaves of the Old Testament whenever it invites us to, to slow down and take our time understanding the allusions and quotations the author makes with their context in mind.
If you’d like to get a head start in understanding the book, there are four books of the Old Testament you should make it your business to understand: Genesis, Deuteronomy, Isaiah, and the Psalms. Those four books are quoted more than any other Old Testament books by the authors of the New Testament.
Secondly, there are eight sections of Scripture that the author of Hebrews quotes and deals with extensively, namely Psalm 2, Psalm 8, Psalm 40, Psalm 95, Psalm 110, Jeremiah 31, and Deuteronomy 31–32. I resisted the urge with some difficulty to spend eight weeks sighting in our rifles by preaching through all eight of these sections before we started Hebrews 1.
If you’re looking for those passages again, I post a transcript of my notes along with every sermon on our website, so you can go back if you need that list again.
Finally, if we’re going to understand the Old Testament and how it’s used in Hebrews, number three…
3. We need to enroll in Typology 101.
We need to do that now, because by the end of the book, we ought to have at least a Master’s degree in biblical typology. What is typology? If you’ve been coming to Refuge for long, even if you’re unfamiliar with the term, you’ll be familiar with the concept, because you have heart it quite a bit. But let me explain it a few ways.
One way would be to say that typology is what’s happening when you learn that this is about that. For example, when you learn that the Exodus of Israel from slavery in Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb in order to set out for the Promised Land to establish an earthly kingdom ruled by a king after God’s heart is about the exodus of the people of God from their sin by the blood of Christ in order to set out for the invasion of the whole earth, which has become the Kingdom of our Lord, ruled by the perfect and sinless King, who is himself God.
This is about that.
You know this already, right? The tabernacle, where God dwelt with Israel, is about Jesus, who is God tabernacling with us. The sacrifice of blemishless lambs and bulls and goats for sin was about the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Goliath, clothed in armor of scales, beheaded with his own sword is about the head-crushing of that scaly serpent, Satan with his own weapon, death, on the cross of Christ.
Another way to explain typology is that it is what Paul is talking about in Colossians 2:16–17, where he says,
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.” -Colossians 2:16–17
What was the Sabbath day? A shadow of the rest we have in Christ. What is the feast of Tabernacles? A shadow of our freedom from bondage to live with God.
This is going to happen over and over again in Hebrews, where we learn that this is about that, that something in the Old Testament is analogous to something important for our instruction. The book is full of types and antitypes, shadows and substance, symbols and their meaning.
We’ll see that a strange priest-king from Salem is about our great Priest-King, Jesus.
We’ll see that the 40 years of wandering in the desert before the invasion of the Promised Land is about the Church’s 40 year generation between the resurrection and the destruction of the Temple and subsequent invasion of the globe.
We’ll see that the tabernacle on earth was a copy of something more real in heaven.
We’ll see that Psalm 2 is about the death, burial, resurrection, and great commission of our Lord and his Church.
We’ll see that the Sabbath rest from commerce was about our rest in Christ from meritorious works.
We’ll see that the Mosaic Law was actually about what the author calls “good things to come.”
We’ll learn that the entire mountain on which Jerusalem is built is about the heavenly Jerusalem and its invasion of the entire globe through God’s redeemed people.
To handle this book skillfully requires a sensitivity to God’s speech through types, shadows, and symbols.
What Are We Aiming At?
That’s our brief sighting in and calibration of the tools we need to understand this book. Now that the rifle is sighted in, we need to ask the question of what the book is aiming at? There are different ways we could sum that aim up in a sentence, but I’ll give you one I think opens our eyes Hebrews best:
The book of Hebrews is nothing less than a New Testament Deuteronomy—it is written to give direction and warning to the people of God on the brink of their invasion of a new, global Promised Land.
A New Testament Deuteronomy
This function as a New Testament Deuteronomy shows us how all of the aims and sections in the book work together to accomplish the author’s goal. Let me sketch out briefly why we should see the book of Hebrews like this.
Both Hebrews and Deuteronomy were given to the generation living directly after God’s salvation had been accomplished: Deuteronomy, to the generation living after the salvation of the Jews from Egypt in the book of Exodus, Hebrews, to the generation living after the salvation of all of God’s people from sin in the gospels.
Both Hebrews and Deuteronomy serve as key instruction to that people at this pivotal moment in their history. They’re moving from one controlling paradigm to another. For the Jews, the old paradigm was slavery in Egypt. For the Christians, that old paradigm was the Old Covenant and slavery to sin.
For the Jews receiving Deuteronomy, their instruction was how to conquer and dwell in the land that God was bringing them to after 40 years of wandering in the wilderness because of unbelief.
For the Church of Christ receiving Hebrews, that instruction was how to evangelize the nations and live in the new global Canaan, the new global Kingdom of God after coming out of the 40 years of wilderness between Jesus’ resurrection and the utter destruction of the entire Old Covenant System with the destruction of the Temple.
That 40-year period was also a time marked by unbelief and death, this time the unbelief and death of the majority of Israel, who rejected their Messiah; as Jesus’ prophesied, the way was narrow and few found it.
There are other reasons to see it this way that are more technical, relating to the structure of both of the books, as well as the author of Hebrews’ continual quoting from Moses’ final speech in Deuteronomy, but I’ll leave it at that.
The great aim of the book of Hebrews is to prepare a church on the brink of invading the world with the gospel to complete that work and live with God in this new global Kingdom. Out of that great aim, we will see 3 great themes emerge through the book, each of them a cosmic improvement Moses’s charge to Israel as they invaded to the land:
Jesus is better.
The conquest is global.
Never go back.
Jesus is better.
As a New Testament Deuteronomy, one of the primary aims of the book is to convince us that Jesus Christ is better than every shadow, type, and symbol that pointed to him.
So the author of Hebrews will shout out the glory and majesty and perfection of Christ—“Jesus is better than angels! He’s better than Moses! He is better than bulls and goats! His covenant is better! His redemption is better! His priesthood is better! His Kingdom is better!”
Before he sends us out to conquer the nations in Jesus’ name, the author of Hebrews would have us conquered by the greatness of Jesus himself.
The conquest is global.
Our mission, then, is to be mastered by Christ and then go in his name into every corner of the world, for his glory, and with the word of the gospel in our mouths.
As the Jewish nation went into a Land the Lord had already claimed, so we go into a world already bought by the blood of Christ. As the Lord promised to cause their enemies to flee before them, so our Lord has promised us that even when puny us resists the devil, he will flee.
As they went declaring the message that a new Kingdom had arrived, so do we—but ours is a better Kingdom, a Kingdom the prophet Daniel said would never end or decrease, but only ever increase.
So finally, one of the great themes that will emerge is the command: Never go back.
Never go back.
“…we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.”
Over and over and over again, the book of Hebrews will warn us not to harden our hearts as did the generation that fell in the wilderness before the next generation went into the Promised Land to conquer and dwell.
At the point in the history of the Church when Hebrews was written, with the Temple still standing and the final destruction of even the vestiges of the Old Covenant system of worship likely just a few years or even months away, there was a great, abiding temptation to shrink back to Judaism, to return to the shadows and the types.
This generation, as Jesus promised it would in the Olivet Discourse of Matthew 24, saw probably the greatest apostasies and heresies and false christ of all time. False Messiah after false Messiah would rise up, urging the people to trust in himself, or alternatively urging the people to return to the ceremonial law.
Over and over again, the author warns: Don’t do it! The blood of bulls and goats is impotent now that the Lamb of God they pointed to has come! Don’t shrink back to be destroyed along with the Temple—press on with the gospel! The message stands for us today, to take warnings against apostasy seriously.
Yes, don’t dare to return to the ceremonial law of Judaism—as even a family from our very fellowship did last year—and at the same time, don’t shrink back to the futile ways of your fathers.
Don’t return to the vomit of they very sin out of which Christ redeemed you. Don’t return to the enslaving idols you and your family worshiped. Don’t go back to self-justification. Don’t go back to hiding your sin. Don’t go back to Mormonism. Don’t go back!
Read with the Benediction in mind.
So let me leave you with this: We ought to read Hebrews with the benediction in mind. Hebrews 13:20–21.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
Here it is: May God himself, through your membership in his great covenant of grace through the blood of our great God and Shepherd, Jesus Christ, equip us with every good thing in his power to give—in order that we might please our Lord with our lives.
May we have ears to hear in this great book the word of the Lord to us, to be made ready for life with him in his Kingdom—the new and better and global Canaan. May we be a people who bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to bear in this far corner of the globe that the Lord has placed us in.