THIS WEEK’S R2R DISTINCTIVE
Salvation by Grace (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 3:23-25; 8:38-39): We believe a person has a right relationship with God only by His grace, through faith in Jesus Christ. This makes believers eternally secure in Jesus Christ.
I have a picture hanging on the wall in my office at the church. I’ve had it since my college years. It shows a magnificent landscape of the Swiss Alps. There is a small cabin in the foreground with a well-used trail leading down into the valley. The hillside meadows look like they would welcome a herd of sheep or cattle to feed off of its luscious, green grass. In the background are the towering Alps.
Many years ago, I started to think of this picture as my “Five Minute Vacation.” When life gets stressful, and I feel overwhelmed with too many things to do, I can go and get a cup of tea, sit there and stare into my picture, and for five minutes imagine myself walking that shepherd’s path. I feel the gentle breeze and the freshness of the mountain air. I gaze off into the mountains so skillfully crafted by our Creator and say to myself, “if this earth is so majestic, what must heaven be like?”
As wonderful as this picture is, in reality, it is just that…a picture, and image of a real place. Even though I appreciate the picture, and the beauty it brings to my office space, I am not fooled; I recognize that the picture is nothing compared to the real meadow in Switzerland. I enjoy the picture, but I have never experienced the meadow.
As we have studied Hebrews, this seems to be the reality the writer is presenting to his readers. Yes, the Old Covenant was beautiful, majestic, even beloved, but it was just a picture–a shadow of reality. Jesus and the New Covenant are reality.
Returning to my picture for a moment, there is nothing in this picture that will sustain life. There is no grass to feed sheep or a mountain stream of water to satisfy our thirst. It is just a picture.
Likewise, the Old Covenant provides nothing to forgive us of our sin or ease our conscious. There is nothing in the Old Covenant that brings forgiveness or new life.
The writer states it clearly: “the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near” (v. 10:1). This was the Old Covenant. Back to our picture illustration, imagine getting engaged to marry the love of your life. Before you can get married, however, you must first serve a one-year deployment with the military. Before leaving, you take a favorite picture of your fiancé and put it in with your personal papers. Each night, you take out the picture and look at your fiancé and dream of the day you will be reunited and ultimately married. If I came to you and offered the opportunity to simply keep your picture and never get married, you would tear up the picture before you would exchange the intimacy of a real marriage with the image you carry as a reminder of your future spouse.
This is the Old Covenant. It was given to Israel as a picture of things to come. The purpose was to point them in the direction of their true priest and king, and that is Jesus Christ. Still, what the writer of Hebrews is arguing is that some are clinging to the picture. They are contemplating whether or not to exchange their beloved picture (the Old Covenant) for the real, intimate relationship with their Messiah.
Before you scoff at the prospect and accuse the First Century Hebrews of clinging to the past rather than embracing Jesus, I think we must acknowledge that for these people, the picture had become reality. The Old Covenant was deeply interwoven into their culture, history, and even family life.
Imagine if as a church we started to encourage you to leave behind the traditions of our culture and history. All of a sudden you are told that Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, are no longer to be a part of our tradition. Now, these traditions are meaningless and have been replaced by a new set of traditions. From a human perspective, that could fall into the category of easier said than done. These are First Century believers. They didn’t have 2000 years of history under the New Covenant; they had 1500 years of history under the Old Covenant.
p class=”p1″>The caution for us is to be certain we don’t fall for similar wrong beliefs because of nostalgia or tradition. Jesus is the only way to a relationship with God. There is no other way. He completed the work of redemption once and for all when He stated “It is finished!” on the cross of Calvary. As our Lord and Savior, Jesus is worthy of all our praise.–Chris Eller