Epistle: Hebrews 10:11-25 (Proper 28, Series B)
This week we come to the end of our readings in Hebrews for Series B. There is a lot here, so rather than argue about the cohesion of the text, which I hope becomes obvious, let us get right to a few avenues for preaching. The pericope from 10:11-25 fits beautifully with the week’s theme and church’s preparation for Christ’s return. The preacher, it seems, will have to decide which aspect of Hebrews 10 his congregation needs most urgently to hear. The obvious choice is to take up 10:19-25 and the culmination of the preacher’s admonition that, “the Day is drawing near” (v. 25).
But we should not pass by Hebrews 10:11-15, which restates the argument in 10:1-10. Christ has come to establish the everlasting covenant and will of God by doing away with the old covenant and Levitical sacrifices. Christ does away with the first and establishes the second to sanctify us (v. 10). How does this sanctification happen? We find the answer in verses 12-13. These two verses are a sermon all by themselves. The writer paints the entire life, death, resurrection, ascension and return of Christ into two short verses, and places the emphasis on His “waiting” [ἐκδεχόμενος]; it is in the context of this waiting that we are sanctified. One might say the entire Christian life is now lived out in this, “waiting until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet.” This is not a one-time defeat of His enemies when He returns. His victory is taking place even now. It is a great consolation for sinners to hear that God, even now amid the sorrow, weakness, sin, and mess of this life, is making footstools of His enemies by the preaching of the Gospel. Sin is forgiven, death is swallowed up in victory, and Satan is cast down and bound even while it looks like the very opposite is true. “In the very midst of life, death and hell surround us,” the church sings (LSB #755). But the point is, wherever Christ reigns there is forgiveness and life. The reference to Psalm 110:1 (Heb. 1:13; 2:8) shows how the victory of Christ is being accomplished in us now “until” everything is consummated in Christ’s return. See also Acts 2:34-35, where Peter connects the Psalm to the ascension of Christ, as we have here, and 1 Corinthians 15:20-27, which connects this victory more exactly to the resurrection and, according to Romans 6 and arguably Hebrews 10:22, is already ours because of our Baptism.
Another way to come at this text is to take up verses 15-18. It should not be overlooked that the writer is doing some reinterpreting of the law that extends beyond the Levitical priesthood. In 10:16-17, he quotes Jeremiah 31:33-34 loosely from the LXX (Jeremiah 38:33-34), which is YHWH’s promise to establish a New Covenant with His people and to place the Law (Torah in Hebrew but νόμους μου in the LXX) into their hearts. He seems to be quoting from memory, since he switches the order of the Jeremiah passage in the LXX. “As I give [my covenant] I will place my laws into their minds and write them on their hearts,” becomes, “When I place my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds.” On this verse, Luther and Melanchthon repeatedly insist (if you have Luther’s Works as software you can do a search for Jeremiah 31 to see how Luther uses this verse) this is not the law of sin and death, but the law of grace, faith, and life that is put in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The writer of Hebrews, however, interprets Jeremiah 31:33 a bit differently. The law that is done away with in Hebrews 10 includes not only sacrifices, but the entire divine law that belongs to the old covenant. If we follow the writer of Hebrews, then, the law that is placed into our hearts is not the law of faith, but the law that written on our hearts, so that all are held accountable before God (Romans 2:15). The twist in the text comes with the introduction to the quote: μετὰ γὰρ τὸ εἰρηκέναι or, “For after He said….” The text variant at the start of v. 17 [“then He says”] makes the first quotation the universal law that God has written on the heart to accuse all men. The quotation that follows, from Jeremiah 31:34, is a proclamation of God’s Gospel in Christ, the new covenant in the narrowest sense. God will remember our lawless deeds, or the deeds that we committed against the law written on our hearts, no more. With our Lutheran Confessions we say that the word Gospel can be interpreted in a broad sense. So too we should interpret the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 in the broad sense, that is, it includes the preaching of repentance and forgiveness of sins. A powerful proclamation of Law and Gospel can flow from these verses.
By this point, you probably already have some ideas for preaching 10:19-25. The way in which we are sanctified, while Christ waits to make a footstool of sin, death, and hell, is in worship, when the church is gathered in the Name of Jesus and Jesus is in her midst, forgiving sin. The setting of 19-25 is blatantly liturgical. The imagery found in these verses is from the earthly temple, but it now refers to the heavenly worship of Christ’s body, the Church. Christ’s flesh is the curtain. The holy place is the altar with Christ’s own body and blood. The Holy of Holies is heaven itself. The ritual washing is Holy Baptism. And blessed are those who by faith have confidence to enter the presence of God, covered and sanctified by God’s own blood.
There is limitless preaching that can be done on these verses. But if you go this way, you will certainly want to preach the reality of Christ’s presence with us in the Sacraments and the Divine Service and the confidence we have in Him to approach the altar, which is truly heaven on earth. For pastors looking for a natural way to preach on the Sacrament or on the liturgy or on the church’s architecture, or in general why we do what we do and why God does what He does in a worship service, this would be a great opportunity for this. It helps that the writer of Hebrews places everything about our worship on the threshold of heaven. We enter the Holy Place, into His presence, expecting the skies to rip open and for our Lord to bodily enter His creation again. That is a proper expectation for every Christian as they worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).
The Biblical constellation for interpreting Hebrews 10:11-25 seems to be most clearly Psalm 110, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Matthew 27:32-54, Acts 2:14-41, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, and Romans 5:1-2 (and no doubt many more that you may find). But because the Gospel from Mark points us back to Daniel 12, and Hebrews flows with the eschatological theme, it fits well with those readings too.
Concordia Theology-Multiple resources for preaching Hebrews 10:11-25 from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO.
Preaching on Hebrews-Lectures by Dr. John Kleinig on preaching the book of Hebrews.