The “Betterness” of Jesus
by Joseph Franks
The theme of Hebrews is the “Betterness of Jesus.” Yes, I made up that word, but it makes the point well.
Jesus is better than any of the prophets. He is more excellent than Moses, Joshua, Samuel and Isaiah. He far surpasses Peter, Paul and the other Apostles.
Jesus is better than any of the priests. Aaron and his sons cannot be compared to Christ. He is from a different place. He is from a different father. He is of a different order. He is the Great High Priest who ever lives to intercede.
Jesus is better than the holiest of angels. They were created, he was not. They are servants, he is the Son.
Jesus is better than the Moral Law. It instructs and condemns. He instructs, sends his Holy Spirit, and enables men and women to obey. Today, the Holy Spirit is nearer and dearer to the elect because of the work and will of Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ community is better than the Old Covenant community. In the modern church of Christ, cultural, ethnic and spiritual walls are further torn down; the church is more catholic than ever. As awesome as it was to be a member of the chosen people and a fellow in the old covenant of grace, it is even better for those who find themselves in the household of faith today.
Additionally, Jesus’ manner of worship is better than that prescribed in the Old Covenant. Listen to how the author of Hebrews presents this point:
For since 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. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:1-18)
The author of Hebrews is speaking of the Mosaic ceremonial law, otherwise known as the old covenant rules for worship. These were the regulations God gave to instruct his people in how to properly hold church. And how does the inspired author understand the Mosaic ceremonial rules for worship?
The Mosaic rules for worship were shadowy. They were not the “real deal” but pointed to the “real deal” coming Israel’s way. These laws were the blueprint of the building Christ was about to build. And when the light appeared, the shadows would be done away with.
They Mosaic rules for worship were impotent. Bloody and bloodless sacrifices were made every day; they were offered several times a day. And when Passover and the Day of Atonement came, hundreds of thousands of lambs were slain. The streets of Jerusalem ran red with the blood of animals. And despite the labors of the priests and penitents, the work of atonement and redemption was never quite complete. There was no final rest of the souls for those who were sinful and weary, for the sacrifices were ineffectual. They could not remove sin’s blot and sin’s effect. The sin nature of man was not affected by the required religiosity. Ultimately, these worship rituals could not change one’s heart. Had they been effectual and sufficient, the birth, humiliation and death of Jesus Christ would have been completely unnecessary and gratuitous.
So then, why all the fuss found in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers? Why all the legislation and divine seriousness? What was the purpose of engaging in these rites and rituals? The Ceremonial Law or Mosaic rules of worship adequately presented the holiness of God, the sinfulness of man, the need for an innocent substitutionary representative, and the declaration of justification that redemption was forthcoming from God. The sacrifices and rituals preached. They communicated well, but they did not cover. Therefore, the Mosaic Ceremonial Sacrifices were like an ambulance getting one to surgery; they were a temporary means of help and comfort before the Physician of Souls came on the scene to permanently cure and save.
So how has worship changed? The Old Testament moral law has not been abrogated or adjusted, but the Old Testament ceremonial rules have been revoked. No longer is circumcision required. No longer are bloody acts and rituals needed. No longer are their altars, lavers, bowls, and candles. Even the day of Sabbath has been altered or adjusted.
Therefore, how ought we to worship today? Well, in our corporate worship, there are still some principles, rules, and regulations, but they are not nearly as litigious as those found in the Old Covenant economy. The focus is our worship is Jesus Christ and his revelation. We make a huge deal about Christ’s Word read, Christ’s Word sung, Christ’s Word prayed, and Christ’s Work visually presented through baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
And in our daily worship, the focus is agape-love and worshipful obedience. What God wishes is for men and women to do his will. He desires that they walk according to his precepts; that they love and obey him. God demands and desires that his redeemed children walk in life as living sacrifices. (Romans 12:1-2) The “one and done” atoning sacrifice of Jesus is to result in a “never done and perpetual” sacrifice of Jesus’ friends to him. The agape-love of the Son is to be returned by those in his fold. The passive and active obedience of Jesus is to be recompensed by the active obedience of the elect.
Therefore friends, enjoy the end of the Ceremonial Law. Rejoice in what Christ has done, and pity those who still long to offer forth such offerings. It is foolish to worship in a manner that was impotent. It is somewhat sad and silly to hear dispensationalists long for a day when blood-sacrifices will once again be offered in a physical temple. Brothers and sisters in Jesus Christ, there is no more sin for which to pay. There is no need for Old Testament Ceremonial worship. In addition there is neither penance nor purgatory for those in Christ Jesus. All is done. All is paid for. All is off your account. The righteousness of Christ belongs to you. Relax and sabbath everyday in the love of Christ for you.
And as you rest in Christ, work hard for him. There should be no antinomianism practiced in the Church of God. Worship him well as you gather on the Lord’s Day. And labor for him diligently as you strive to keep his sweet laws on every other Lord’s day.