Hebrews 10:14 a & b:
For by a single offering he has perfected forever those …(ESV).
One more misconception is that righteousness is completely, totally, and absolutely an individual thing. I don’t worry about anyone else. “It’s just me and the cross.”
I hope to clear up these and possibly a few other horrid misconceptions that are destroying our Christian lives and churches. Throughout the rest of this sermon we’ll be asking ourselves two basic questions:
2. What does Biblical righteousness need?
Let’s move a few verses down from our opening verse.
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. and let us consider how to stir up once another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near(ESV).
Usually that famous passage is simply interpreted as “Now, ya know, we ought to go to church.” Is that all this passage is speaking to? Gosh! I certainly hope not. “Church” at times is the most boring of places to be. Yet, with the usual passive atmosphere in our local churches, entering and leaving the building itself is about all that takes place “at Church” … and that certainly is boring.
While this passage is not about passively “going to church” and passively taking in all the “preacher” has to say and do, and then making hot and fast tracks to get out of there … this passage is speaking to what should be characterize our assemblies, our meeting together. Allow me to make several observations, beginning from the last words of our passage.
The prophet urges us to regularly meet together. Yet, as I assert, this is not for the purpose of simply sitting on a pew, taking it all in. Rather we are to think long and hard about how to “stir one another to love and good works” and build one another up. How many of us meditate on this before leaving for our church gathering and then act on it?
Next, walking backwards up the passage, we are to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering.” How do you suppose we are to do that? Could it be that we become able to persevere and thrive in our faith and hope by actively participating in considering “how to stir up one another to love and good works” and “encouraging one another?”
Continuing backwards still through the passage, we see that we can not only be declared righteous, but we can have “our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience.” It is certainly one thing to seek and receive forgiveness, but what if the memory of that evil past lost its power to oppressively haunt you? It seems that this certainly becomes the case in the midst of a fellowship/assembly that regularly and actively engages in the practice of “stir(ring) up one another to love and good works” and of “encourging one another.” After all the assembly of the believers is the house of the Holy Spirit.
The writer/prophet urges us to use confidence to approach the living presence of God in worship. Now we know that nothing shy of absolute perfection can stand in that most holy presence of God. Yet, the writer/prophet says that we can with confidence enter God’s presence … and we can do so with full assurance of faith. It seems that this certainly can become the case in the midst of a fellowship/assembly that regularly and actively engages in the practice of “stir(ring) up one another to love and good works” and of “encourging one another.” After all the assembly of the believers is the house of the Holy Spirit.After all the assembly of the believers is the house of the Holy Spirit.
I wonder … does all of that characterize our regular “worship” meetings?
Let’s consider again our opening verse, 10:14, “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Certainly, when I first believed and entered into the fellowship of Christ, I was declared righteous through his blood sacrifice. However, that is not all of the verse, as our analysis of the above passage seems to indicate. We are declared righteous, but God also works to actually make us so. How does he do this? The Church … well actually the Holy Spirit being at work in the body of active believers actively engaging with one another and with God, himself.
So … what does biblical righteousness do? I would say … a whole lot.
Now, how about our second question … What does biblical righteousness need? Let’s consider Psalms 148 & 149 and then Matthew 5. While this might be strange, to get a fuller understanding of what the psalmists are trying to communicate, we must sometimes read two, three, or even five psalms together as one unit. With Psalms 148 & 149 this is certainly the case.
Psalms 148 & 149
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD from the heavens;
praise him in the heights!
Praise him, all his angels;
praise him, all his hosts!
Praise him, sun and moon,
praise him, all you shining stars!
Praise him, you highest heavens,
and you waters above the heavens!
Let them praise the name of the LORD!
For he commanded and they were created.
And he established them forever and ever;
he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.
Prase the LORD from the earth,
you great sea creatures and all deeps,
fire and hail, snow and mist,
stormy wind fulfilling his word!
Mountains and all hills,
fruit trees and all cedars!
Beasts and all livestock,
creeping things and glying birds!
Kings of the earth and all peoples,
princes and all rulers of the earth!
Young me and maidens together,
old men and children!
Let them praise the name of the LORD,
for his name alone is exalted;
his majesty is above earth and heaven.
He has raised up a horn for his people,
praise for all his saints,
for the people of Israel who are near to him.
Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD!
Sing to the LORD a new song,
his praise in the assembly of the godly!
Let Israel be glad in his Maker;
let the children of Zion rejoice in their King!
Let them praise this name iwth dancing,
making melody to him with tambourine and lyre!
For the LORD takes pleasure in his people;
he adorns the humble with salvation.
Let the godly exult in glory;
let them sing for joy on their beds.
Let the high praises of God be in their throats
and two-edged swords in their hands,
to execute vengeance on the nations
and punishments on the peoples,
to bind their kings with chains
and their nobles with fetters of iron,
to execute on them the judgment written!
This is honor for all his godly ones.
Praise the LORD! (ESV)
One of the things that no doubt pops out is the driving desire to see the people to praise the Lord. Certainly this is the them of Psalm 148. We hear calls to all creation to praise God. Interesingly enough the first invite is to the armies of heaven. Lastly the invite is to ruling powers on earth, which no doubt includes their armies. Yet something is amiss here. In this culture, ruling powers don’t worship with their constituency. They are worshiped by their subjects. Yet these ruling powers are invited to worship the High King of Heaven. Finally in 148 the promise is that God would set his people on high through some military-like delieverance, “a horn for his people.”
This leads right into Psalm 149, where we see in verses 6-9 that it seems to be promised that God would use Israel to execute domination on all foreign peoples and lands through military power and prowess.
This is what leads people to interpret this psalm as having been composed by the exiles or their decendents who returned from exiled, but who were nonetheless being ruled over by forgein domination. The promise of this psalm was that there was coming a day when God would deliver Israel from foreign domination, renew her, and set her on high above all other nations … and those nations would come to Israel to worship the true High King of Heaven.
To sum up simply, the expectation and hope of these two psalms together is that there is coming a day they would be renewed and restored as THE people of God, living in the kingdom of God, when God would not only deliver Israel from foreign domination, but would also set Israel on high above all nations, and all peoples would come to Israel to worship the one true God.
Yet, what we see in the New Testament is the splitting in two of this hope. In Jesus we see that not only did he come to renew Israel, but he came to restore Israel’s moral influence, and he came to bring all peoples into the kingdom of God with Israel. The military stuff seems to be what marks the end of the world and the beginning of the world to come, as seen in Revelation. Yet the military stuff is not against Gentiles, but against non-believers in Jesus.
This expectation of many Jewish people in Jesus’s day also seems to sound strangely familiar to what many supposedly faithful Christians actually attempt to practice againt one another. “Hey, don’t get in my way. I’m loved by God, so I’m right, you’re wrong, so get out of my way!” This sermon title is called “Mortar Righteousness.” And it seems that Israel in Jesus’s day and many Christians have the military-artillery concept of mortar in mortar righteousness.
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, fortheirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how hsall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so thaty they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Do not think I that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (ESV).
Very quickly it becomes apparent that Jesus is teaching that the kingdom of heaven is coming … but there are some stark differences between their militaristic expectations and this teaching of Jesus. The kingdom was going to be ushered in through the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.
Though this is quite a bit different from God using those who praise him with a double-edge sword … this is in keeping with Psalm 149:4, “For the LORD takes pleasure in his people; he adorns the humble with salvation.” The sermon on the mount simply seems to be an expanded teaching on what it means to be the humble whom God would adorn with salvation.
Nor is the suffering and peacemaking and ushering in the kingdom with good works and righteousness at odds with our two psalms. One of the concepts of Psalm 148 is that of shining. Verse three says, “Praise him, sun and moon, praise him all you shining stars!” Question: what do you need to see the stars, sun, and moon very clearly? You need darkness. During the day time, of course the sun is visible. But the moon barely is, and not one of the stars can be seen during the daylight hours.
Similarly, our lights of righteousness shine best, when there is darkness. Consider that 148:11 & 12 could be possible by the lowly Jewish subjects practicing goodness and righteousness against the background of darkness of foreign domination. Their foreign rulers would see their good works and glorify their Father in heaven? Yet, this is in fact what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:13-16. We in the kingdom of God are to be the salt of influence and the light of good works and righteousness and hope, and “others … may see (our) good works and give glory to (our) Father who is in heaven.” Actively practicing goodness and righteousness against the backdrop of darkness is the subject of Matthew 5:1-12.
In Matthew 5:17-20, we see Jesus promising that he did not come to abolish the Old Testament, and given our context, I think it is safe to assume he meant the hope of the Old Testament … which was a renewed Israel and a Israel that was freed from foreign domination and an Israel that was set on high over all peoples. In fact we see that this hope would be fulfilled in Jesus, and would be brought to pass before the end of this world. He then gives a stern warning about living according to his kingdom principles and practicing a version of righteousness that is utterly selfish at heart. The righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees only served to make the individual increasingly more self-conscious. Remember the parable of the Good Samaritan? This individualistic, selfish righteousness is exactly what we have in many of our churches today.
At any rate, remember our second guiding question, “What does biblical righteousness need?” From a brief survey of our texts, I think it is safe to conclude that biblical righteousness actually needs community … and biblical righteousness needs the world … needs the darkness of the world. Our lights can’t shine without it. Thus, the mortar in “Mortar Righteousness” is a building type of righteousness that builds and maintains a holy communion in Christian fellowship/assembly (AKA the church). And through the building of dedicated holy communion, the light of the glory of Christ can be seen through our active involvement in the lives of one another and in the darkness of the world.