29 January 2011 : Hebrews 10 : 1-18

It’s great to be back. Or so I keep telling myself and eventually I’ll believe it. Maybe. Anyway, since we last saw you we have had 2 weeks of doing precisely nothing in our usual holiday hideaway of Caleta de Fuste. It is not a resort, or an island, of spectacular natural beauty, nor is it exactly bouncing with exciting on-the-edge things to do. And maybe that’s why we like it, especially after Christmas. Especially after last Christmas, when so many of the celebrations had to be, literally, put on ice.

Happily, no epic journeys through hard-packed snow to the airport this time, no need to de-ice the plane to escape the blizzard that enveloped north-east England within a few hours of our 2010 exodus. No delays on the flight, no episodes with the luggage or the transfer to the resort. No surprises with the accommodation, in fact we even got the very room we had requested. No problems with the weather, indeed actually sunnier than it had been in June and not a drop of rain while we were there.

The reason we chose our room was simple. It is one floor up, has a balcony about the size of our living room at home which gets the sun from morning till mid-afternoon, and we plopped our lazy selves out there day after day, me with my whodunits and Alexis with some rather more wholesome reading material, Joyce Meyer etc. A quick stroll to the shopping mall at lunchtime for freshly baked rolls from Hiperdino Express, a trot round to the Chinese takeaway at night, and we maintained a healthy diet!

Do not imagine, however, that the fortnight of idleness, however blissful, was entirely without incident. On the very first day, we had cause to wonder about the wisdom of our chosen room 350. We got in all right, but when I tried to get back out again to pop round to the shops for such life essentials as water and tea – no, not brandy, that wasn’t till the second shopping trip – the door handle wouldn’t work. Locked in!

I phoned reception, but being the patient man I am, I gave it 10 minutes and then took non-violent direct action. Out on to the aforementioned balcony, climbed over the wall, and jumped for it. Trotted round to reception to explain the situation – then saw the look of shock and horror on the receptionist’s face. But sir, your room is top floor! Clearly the poor soul was visualising this old guy with the beard leaping like Superman from the top of high buildings, and the ensuing compensation claims for broken legs.

I did point out that my escape route wasn’t quite as dramatic as that, and if I was careful I could manoeuvre myself from the balcony over the wall and on to the steps leading to the apartment without undue risk to life and limb. I’m not sure if this news was comforting, but let’s just say the repair was effected within about five minutes. Tea-making supplies duly acquired, the kettle at last went on, but wouldn’t go back off again. Not only that, but the handle over-heated. For the second time in that first hour, a trip to reception. A new kettle, and a complementary bottle of red wine, soon appeared!

Being painfully deprived of live football action during the preceding weeks, I also took the opportunity to attend a game on the island. It was odd to be sitting in t-shirt and shorts, basking in sunshine, on a January afternoon, enjoying a Spanish 3rd Division match between Corralejo and Realejos. It was, I guess, of a similar standard to the games I’m usually actively involved in here and I think I could happily fit in at that level as the assistant refs appeared to be of roughly the same age, fitness and competence as me – which is not necessarily, shall we say, a compliment to them!!

I noticed the spectators were at least as animated as they are here, and overall I’m quite relieved that my few words of Spanish did not include the more heated exclamations directed at the arbitro. A good game, a nice ride on the bus there and back, and that night a trip to the improbably-named Aberdeen Steak House for a good Sunday dinner, served on a plate about the size of a tractor wheel.

One encouraging feature of the trip was the pair of doves that visited our balcony just about every day. There is something oddly comforting about relaxing in the sunshine, with a dove, as it were, guarding over you. In the scripture, the dove is a symbol of the Holy Spirit, and of peace, and indeed the spirit of peace that surrounded us throughout our stay was wonderful. The dove was also a reminder of the wonderful promises of God’s Word, an acted parable of Father God’s constant vigilance over His children.

Father guards all our ways, keeps us safe from all harm, from secret traps and deadly diseases, releases us from fear of any sort of disaster. Although thousands may fall by the wayside all around us in unbelief, God has declared that none of these things will touch those who confidently trust in Him These are covenant promises God makes to His children and He commands His angels to enforce His care and protection.

We made a quality decision to set aside a Bible Study time each morning, going through the book of Hebrews during the fortnight. I commend that practice, and it’s one we’ll continue now we’re back home, but today I just want to share with you a few brief thoughts sparked off by Hebrews ; if we manage to complete Matthew before Jesus comes back for us, Hebrews is likely to be next for our Sunday services.

Scholars have debated for centuries who wrote it, without coming to a conclusion, but that doesn’t matter nearly so much as the content. It’s meaty stuff that goes right to the heart of the New Covenant between God and the believer, a new covenant of pure and unconditional grace, based 100% on what Jesus has done for us.

The letter addresses a situation where, it appears, Christ-followers are coming under a great deal of pressure to compromise in their radical cutting-edge faith in Christ alone, and to come back into the fold of the Jewish religion. Yes, have a bit of Jesus if you like, but you must keep all the Jewish practices and rituals and traditions. The unnamed author of Hebrews systematically and ruthlessly demolishes this bad teaching, and does so by reference to the Jewish scriptures themselves.

Our lesson today is a long one, but it sets out the climax of the argument. It starts by pointing out the futility of religious practice that simply goes through the motions time and time and time again without actually changing the heart. The liturgy of the temple, with animal sacrifices, basically did nothing more than remind the people how sinful they were and always would be. It created a sin-consciousness [v.3] – but Jesus came, as it says in v.10, so that by the holy will of God we could be made perfect through the physical sacrifice of Jesus once and for all time. And we all shout hallelujah!

Except that it is painfully easy for Christians to slip back into sin-consciousness, and to beat ourselves up over our mistakes, and if we’re not careful, what we do in church can contribute to that. I’m no longer convinced that it’s a good idea to have a regular slot in the Sunday service for prayers of confession of sin. Let me explain that. It’s not that I’m suggesting sin doesn’t need to be taken seriously. Far from it.

When we mess up, it’s good to fess up, and do it as quickly as possible. Lock ourselves in the loo and tell God : sorry, Lord, that was not clever : and then, as best we can, go and apologise to whoever we’ve hurt and, if possible, repair the damage. That is a good and godly thing to do, of course it is. What I’m not keen on is the 5 minute catalogue of human failings I used to present here on a Sunday morning in an attempt to catch all the slip-ups all of us had made since our last trip to church. All that does is remind us of our past failure. It creates sin-consciousness, which is basically self-consciousness.

Worship should not engender self-consciousness, but Christ-consciousness. It should not focus on how sinful and unworthy we are, which does precisely nothing to nourish, encourage or inspire the human soul, but always on how wonderful and generous and gracious Jesus is. The more Jesus is proclaimed and glorified, the more His Spirit lifts and infuses our spirit. The church has no authority to act as travel agent for a guilt trip.

Hebrews 10,10 : We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus once for all. Note that sentence is in the perfect tense. The transaction is complete, in and of itself, and guilty feelings on our part do not add to it, they detract from it. Also Hebrews 10.12 : When Jesus, our great High Priest, had offered, for all time, one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God. Job done.

Hebrews 10.14 : By one sacrifice Jesus has made perfect, for ever, those who are being made holy. Unpack that. Already, 2,000 years ago, Jesus paid in full for all human sin for all time, and anyone who puts their trust in Jesus HAS been made perfect … AND is being made holy. In other words, we are already, totally and irrevocably, perfect in the sight of God, BUT we are in an ongoing process of becoming more Christ-like, being changed, as Paul says, from one degree of glory to another, and God is much more patient about that, and much less stressed about that, than we usually are.

Make a decision today to stop beating yourself up about what’s still not right in your life, trust in the total forgiveness of Jesus, and let His free gift of grace be the power in your life to change you – gradually – into a person more and more like Him.