************ Sermon on Hebrews 11:40 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 23, 2017
"God's Better Plan"
This evening we look at "God's better plan." "Better" is one of four important words that helps us to understand the book of Hebrews. It is used thirteen times in Hebrews as the writer shows the superiority of Jesus Christ and His salvation over the Hebrew system of religion:
-Christ is better than the angels (Heb 1:4).
-Things that accompany our salvation are better (Heb 6:9).
-Christ brings a better hope (Heb 7:19).
-Jesus is the guarantee of a better covenant (Heb 7:22).
-The ministry Jesus has received is better (Heb 8:6).
-The covenant Jesus mediates is founded on better promises (Heb 8:6).
-Christ offered a better sacrifice (Heb 9:23).
-Christians have better and lasting possessions (Heb 10:34).
-Abel offered a better sacrifice (Heb 11:4).
-The Old Testament saints were longing for a better country -- a heavenly one (Heb 11:16).
-Some of the saints endured torture so they might gain a better resurrection (Heb 11:35).
-The sprinkled blood of Jesus speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24).
Better. Better. Better. Do you see how important this word is in the book of Hebrews?
This evening, we are told about God's better plan. I want to answer four questions about God's better plan. First, for whom is God's better plan? Second, what is God's better plan? Third, what makes God's plan better? Four, what difference does God's better plan make?
I For Whom is God's Better Plan
A First Question: For whom is God's better plan?
Look at verse 40: "God had planned something better for us ..." "For us." That is, for the author of Hebrews. For the audience of Hebrews. For the Hebrew Christians. "For us" also includes you and me and all New Testament Christians.
B "God had planned something better for us." Better compared to whom? Better than His plan for the Old Testament believers. God's plan for us is better than His plan for the Old Testament believers.
Hebrews is not saying God's plan for the Old Testament believers was bad. Hebrews is not saying God's plan for the Old Testament believers was not good. God's plan for the Old Testament believers was plenty good. Think of God's plan and God's promises for those Old Testament saints:
-an elderly Abraham and Sarah were promised an impossible child, the child of the promise
-Jacob was promised the presence of God
-the children of Jacob were promised relief from famine and deliverance from Egypt
-the children of Israel were led to the Promised Land and promised victory and rest and security
-God promised the Old Testament saints a Savior, the Seed of the woman Who would crush the head of Satan; a King Who would sit on David's throne and rule forever establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness; the Immanuel, God with us Who would be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace
Nothing wrong with this plan. In fact, God's plan for the Old Testament saints was very good. However, says Hebrews, God's plan for us is better. God's plan for New Testament believers is better than God's plan for Old Testament believers.
C "God had planned something better for us." Let's understand this rightly. God loves all His people whether they are in the Old Testament or the New Testament. God saves all His people whether they are in Old Testament or the New Testament. But the Old Testament saints do not receive the same blessings and privileges as do the New Testament saints.
(Heb 6:9) ... dear friends, we are confident of better things in your case--things that accompany salvation.
"God had planned something better for us." Isn't this exciting and wonderful? Look at God's good plan for the Old Testament saints; none of it is anything to dismiss or to take lightly. Yet, for us "God had planned something better."
II What is God's Better Plan
A Second Question: What is God's better plan?
Let's peek ahead to Hebrews 12:2. That verse helps to put God's better plan into focus.
(Heb 12:2) Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus." Who can do that? Can the Old Testament believers fix their eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith? Can the Old Testament believers fix their eyes on Jesus, Who endured the cross and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God? This was not something any Old Testament believer could ever do. Because Jesus had not yet come. All they had -- the Old Testament believers -- all they had was shadows, copies, and ceremonies pointing ahead to fulfilment in Christ.
B "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus." This is something only New Testament believers can do. Why? This is something only New Testament believers can do because Jesus has come, has died, has risen, has ascended, and has been seated at God's right hand.
God's better plan goes from the promise to the fulfilment. God's better plan goes from the shadows to the reality. God's better plan goes from a coming Savior to the Savior Who has come. Those who are under God's better plan are able to fix their eyes on Jesus.
Think of this like the difference between an engagement and a marriage.
Engagement is an exciting time. There is the proposal and the ring. There are bridal showers. There are plans and preparations for the wedding: the date, place, dress, reception, pre-marital counseling, and so on. There are decisions to be made on the house, furnishings, location, bank accounts.
But all of this comes secondary to actually living together as husband and wife.
The engagement is a good time, an exciting time. But the marriage is even better.
C Do you see the difference, dear friends, between the Old Testament and New Testament people? God's Old Testament plan called for faith in what is to come:
-Abraham, someday all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.
-Moses and Joshua, someday my people will enjoy rest.
-David, someday someone will sit on your throne and rule forever.
-Isaiah, someday the Immanuel will be here.
Someday. You can count on it. You can be sure about it. But right now I want you to believe in promises you will not see happen during your lifetime on earth.
By way of contrast, God's New Testament plan calls for faith in promises fully accomplished. God's better plan is based on His promised Son Who has come, has borne punishment for our sins, has died as the sacrificial Lamb of God, has risen from the grave, and has purchased salvation for all who believe in Him. This is God's better plan. God's better plan is based upon promises fulfilled.
III What Makes God's Plan Better
A Third Question: What makes God's plan better?
Let's go back to the ceremonies and rituals of the Old Testament. The priests were always washing, always purifying, always cleansing. Again and again they had to prepare themselves to do their priestly duties. And, don't forget the sacrifices: the goats, the sheep, the rams, the lambs, the bulls, the rivers of blood. And then there were all the prayers: every high priest made intercession for the people.
All of these were shadows. All of these were types. All of these were copies. All of these pointed ahead to the reality in Christ.
B The problem with shadows is that they are shadows. What would you rather have? The shadow of a house or the house itself? The shadow of a child or the child herself? The shadow of a diamond ring or the diamond ring itself? The shadow of a hundred dollar bill or the hundred dollar bill itself?
Think about a shadow. A shadow implies a lack of light. A shadow doesn't reveal enough. A shadow is not the real thing. A shadow is unable to satisfy. A shadow is unsatisfactory.
Think of the Old Testament saints and their shadows. What do they really know and understand:
-about an atoning sacrifice reconciling God and man
-about redemption providing release from bondage
-about propitiation satisfying the wrath of an angry God
-about justification by grace alone through faith alone
-about the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting
-about the pouring out of the Spirit into the hearts and lives of believers
Yes, all of these principles are taught in the Old Testament Scriptures. But apart from the coming of Jesus it is impossible to understand and appreciate any of them.
C The reverse is also true: with the coming of Jesus it is possible to understand and appreciate all of the concepts only foreshadowed in the Old Testament. With the coming of Jesus it becomes possible to rightly discern what the shadows and types and copies could only anticipate.
Because of the coming of Jesus we know and understand the atoning sacrifice that reconciles God and man. We know what redemption is because Jesus has come and with His blood has purchased our freedom. Because Jesus was forsaken by God on the cross we understand how the wrath of God against our sin has been propitiated. Looking at Abraham or Paul in the light of Christ we understand justification by grace alone through faith alone. Because Jesus died, was buried, and rose on the third day with a glorified body we understand our future resurrection. The intercession of the earthly high priests only makes sense when we see Jesus at the right hand of God forever making intercession for us.
IV What Difference Does God's Better Plan Make
A Fourth Question: What difference does God's better plan make?
There are many differences the author of Hebrews can highlight. But he mentions only one in our text this evening:
(Heb 11:40) God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.Do you hear the difference God's better plan makes? The goal, the end, the difference mentioned by Hebrews: "only together with us would they be made perfect."
"Perfect" is another one of the four important words we need to properly understand in order to understand the book of Hebrews.
In our circles "perfect" speaks of the character of something. For instance, Ruth and I saw a perfect fireworks display on a boat at Bass Lake on the Fourth of July. The sound was amplified and echoed by mountains. The view was magnified by the reflection off the water. Perfect means it was a great display. Or, a student is given perfect on a test. This means every question was answered correctly. I've been at funerals where the dead were eulogized as people of perfect character.
"Perfect" is a technical word in Hebrews. It says nothing about the character of something or someone. Rather, the word "perfect" speaks of the completion of God's saving plan. "Only together with us would they be made perfect." Hebrews is saying that only together with us would their salvation be completed.
The Old Testament saints went to heaven when they died. But it was on the basis of something that had not yet happened. They experienced the benefits of salvation before Jesus died for their salvation. That is, Abraham and Moses and David are in heaven right now for the very same reason you and I will be in heaven: because of Jesus.
B "Only together with us would they be made perfect." As I studied the Greek of our text I noticed our pew Bibles turned a negative statement into a positive statement. In the original Greek it reads this way: "apart from us they would not be perfected."
If I was writing Hebrews I am sure I would want to say "apart from Christ they would not be perfected." But Hebrews says, "apart from us they would not be perfected." This makes sense when we realize Hebrews is not talking about the how but about the when. When are the Old Testament saints perfected? When is their salvation completed? "Apart from us they would not be perfected." Or, to turn it into the positive of our pew Bibles: "Only together with us would they be made perfect."
Abraham and Moses and David got to heaven. And they waited for something. They waited and waited. Century after century they waited.
It is like a surprise birthday party. The festivities cannot really begin until the guest of honor shows up.So Abraham and Moses and David waited. They waited for more than Christ. They waited for the New Testament Christians: the Apostles, the Hebrews, the persecuted dead, the early church fathers, Luther, Calvin, you and me. They waited because "apart from us they would not be perfected." They waited because "only together with us would they be made perfect." God deferred their full experience of salvation so that when it happens it happens together with us. We are like the guest of honor at a party. And the festivities cannot really begin until we show up.
We have looked, dear brothers and sisters, at the Old Testament heroes of faith. But God had planned something better for us. Isn't this amazing and wonderful?!
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