Saturday, 5 November 2011

Our three great needs


According to Hebrews we have three great human needs

  1. our need for purification – so that we can stand in the presence of God
  2. our need to live the good life – perfection
  3. our need for eternal life
  1. PURIFICATION
We are cut off from God because of sin.

I wonder whether you have ever been in a situation where you are seriously underdressed.

You come to the front door in your torn jeans and dirty T-shirt, and it is the Bishop.

What you need is a good scrub up.

We cannot come into the presence of God with our metaphorical torn jeans and dirty T-shirt. We need to be scrubbed up.
And with God it is not about something on the outside. We need to be purified within. We need a deep clean.

When we stand in front of God, he sees us as we are. What is inside us becomes completely transparent: the laziness, the resentments, the selfishness, the arrogant pride, the lack of love and hard-heartedness, the fears that drive us, the unforgiveness and jealousy which cripple us.
And if it stayed like that, God would take one look at us and walk away. He would say, ‘I didn’t make you like that; I didn’t create you to live like that’.
And we would want him to walk away. There is no way we can cope with something like that.

So most of us keep God at arms length. We might use the language of God; we might like religion; we might make up our own god; we might cry out to God when there is no other option, but most of the time we want to keep God at a distance.

What we need, if we are ever to approach God, if we are going to begin to get to know God, to become friends with God – is a good scrub up. A scrub up, not on the outside, but on the inside.

The book of Hebrews is good news, because it tells us that the scrub up is possible. We can be purified.

That is what all this stuff about priests and sacrifice is about (vv26-27).

In the Old Testament, the people would take an animal, bring it with them into the temple, into the presence of God, would lay their hands on it and then kill it. It was a way of saying to God that they recognised that in his presence they deserve to die. And in that way, and only in that way, could they stay in the presence of God.

But, says Hebrews, there was a problem with the sacrificial system. It was only temporary. The sacrifices needed to be repeated, day after day (v27).

They were a bit like a patch up job on a suit that is falling to pieces. There is a hole - you stick a patch on it. Another hole – you stick a patch on it. The problem is that the holes are appearing faster than we can put patches on.

People sometimes think: Do I need to say sorry and make some sort of payment to God after every sin. Well in the Old Testament the answer was ‘Yes’. Theoretically you needed to make a sacrifice after every sin. That might just be OK for sins that are actions; but how does that work for sins that are about us having a wrong state of mind?

So although the Old Testament sacrifices point us to a God who longs for us to be in his presence and who provided us with a way of being in his presence (after all, it was God who gave the sacrificial system), – it was only provisional.

And that, says Hebrews, is where Jesus comes in. God sent him as a new high priest, not like the priests of the Old Testament.
They were appointed because the law said that the children of Aaron should be priests. He was appointed because God said so, and God swore it with an oath.
And Jesus made a sacrifice of a completely different order to the Old Testament sacrifices. He sacrificed himself, and because he was perfect his sacrifice was ‘once and for all’ (Hebrews 7:27). It never needed to be repeated.

As an aside what we do here today in communion is not a sacrifice. That is why I prefer to call the table not an altar but the Lord’s table. We remember that sacrifice; and we receive from Jesus the benefits of his sacrifice.

And so the person who comes to Jesus, who – as it were – lays their hands on Jesus, identifies themselves with Jesus (we do that through faith and baptism), has been purified. We have been ‘justified’, declared clean, declared righteous. At one level we haven’t changed. We still do filthy stuff. But we ourselves have been changed. The real ‘us’. We are no longer filthy. We have been washed, scrubbed up, by Jesus.

We stank, but God has poured precious perfume all over us: so that we smell with the beauty of Jesus.
We are in dirty rags, but God has given us a radiant robe which covers everything.

So when he looks on us, he looks on Jesus.

And so we can stand confident in the presence of God. We do not need to keep God at a distance. We have been purified.


  1. PERFECTION
Our second great need is to live the good life.

Story of three ambassadors: A local radio station asked them what they would like for Christmas. They broadcast the answers. The Chinese ambassador said, ‘I would love to see peace on earth’. The American ambassador said, ‘I would love to see an end to world poverty’. The British ambassador said, ‘A small box of jellied fruit would be lovely’.

Our problem is that when we go to Jesus we do not ask big enough.

We might ask for help in a particular situation, for something, for a bigger house, for success in a project, for a holiday. Maybe we ask him to give us someone to go through life with us; for children; for healing, for wisdom. Many will ask for freedom; many will will ask for enough food to feed their family; others will ask for strength – to get through today and the next few days; for justice – to have their fair share, or to be vindicated; Maybe we ask for peace – so that we wake up in the morning and are not knotted up. Maybe some ask God to take them out of the hell that life seems to be. I think of the person who said, ‘I tried to take my life three months ago, and I wish I had succeeded’.

We ask for those things, but actually what we really want are not necessarily those things. What we really desire is an absence of pain and of conflict and of a paralysing fear. What we desire is love, fulfilment, goodness, peace, joy and significance. 
What we really desire is to live the good life. 

The priests in the Old Testament pointed to this good life. They taught the law, and the law showed how the good life was to be lived in a particular situation. But, as with the sacrifices, there was a problem. The priests may have taught the good life, but they were unable to live the good life. They were sinners just like the people. And so in v18, Hebrews says, ‘The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect’).

But says Hebrews, another came who did live the good life. ‘He has been made perfect for ever’ (v28). So if we wish to live the good life, we need to go to him. We need to go to Jesus.

There is so much more to say, but I will refrain!


  1. ETERNAL LIFE
Hebrews speaks a great deal about death.

It speaks in ch 2 of the devil who held the power of death, but his power was broken when Jesus suffered death on the cross. And as a result Jesus has freed ‘those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’ (Hebrews 2:15).

This does not mean that Christians will not fear death.
But it does mean that our fear of death does not need to control us. We do not need to be slaves to our fear.

In the Old Testament the priests offered sacrifices, but they were temporary; they taught the good life but they were unable to live it; they declared a God who was eternal, but they were weak and they died.

Jesus was different. He made a sacrifice that was eternal; he taught and he lived the good life. And he lived ‘an indestructible life’ (v16). He died, but death could not hold him. And 3 days later he rose from the dead, and he ‘lives forever’ (v24).


We need: 
Purification – so that we can stand in the presence of God
Perfection – to live the good life
Eternal life

The Old Testament priests were often very helpful, but they cannot give us that.
The ‘priests’ of today– GP’s, counsellors, teachers or tutors, agony aunts, bloggers, opinion writers – are often very helpful, but they cannot give us that.

But if you want to be made clean, so clean that you can stand in the presence of a perfect God; if you want to learn to live the really good life; if you desire to be set free from the slavery to the fear of death, and to live the perfect life for ever – turn to Jesus.

He is at the right hand of Father God and he is praying for you.
“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him”. (v25).

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