Who does God say you are? 2: Hebrews 10
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
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We might admit to God that sin that I’ve committed again. Once more we look at ourselves with an element of disdain, knowing that we cannot match God’s moral perfection. We might do well to remember the golden rule to love others as we love ourselves. We might do well to remember Psalm 103:14, which says, “For He knows that we are how we are formed. He knows that we are like dust, but from everlasting to everlasting, the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him.” If we see our Father God as an ogre who set the Old Testament laws as ways to trip us up in our imperfections, I don’t think that that’s the way that things were intended.
At the end of my first year of sick form, we had tests to see how we were getting on. Amongst the students and the staff, I think they were known as tripwires. Great, tripwire exams designed to see how we were failing, as opposed to see how well we were doing. I wonder whether that’s so of many Christians who might see the way that God works. “Be perfect by following my laws,” we might imagine God saying, “And if you can’t, I shall smite you.” Another way Christians often look at things is that there is an Old Testament God whose job it is to set such tripwires, but in the New Testament, along comes Jesus to get rid of them.
This is all by way of an introduction to say that we know about sin. We know that we mess up. Last week I happen to mention that sometimes churches are great at reminding its members that Jesus died for our sins, whilst forgetting that even more exciting news is that Jesus also rose from the dead so that people can live in resurrection life. I explained that though the resurrection of Jesus was more important than his death because it releases us into a fuller life. This morning, we will be delving into how God sees us focusing on how the old way of being, the Old Covenant, is swept away because of the death of Jesus enabling us to live under a new covenant with Jesus.
How we are fully forgiven and Martin’s going to bring our reading from Hebrews 10.
The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan. Since that old “law plan” wasn’t complete in itself, it couldn’t complete those who followed it. No matter how many sacrifices were offered year after year, they never added up to a complete solution. If they had, the worshipers would have gone merrily on their way, no longer dragged down by their sins. But instead of removing awareness of sin, when those animal sacrifices were repeated over and over they actually heightened awareness and guilt. The plain fact is that bull and goat blood can’t get rid of sin. That is what is meant by this prophecy, put in the mouth of Christ:
You don’t want sacrifices and offerings year after year;
you’ve prepared a body for me for a sacrifice.
It’s not fragrance and smoke from the altar
that whet your appetite.
So I said, “I’m here to do it your way, O God,
the way it’s described in your Book.”
When he said, “You don’t want sacrifices and offerings,” he was referring to practices according to the old plan. When he added, “I’m here to do it your way,” he set aside the first in order to enact the new plan—God’s way—by which we are made fit for God by the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.
Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in. It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some very imperfect people. By that single offering, he did everything that needed to be done for everyone who takes part in the purifying process. The Holy Spirit confirms this:
This new plan I’m making with Israel
isn’t going to be written on paper,
isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;
This time “I’m writing out the plan in them,
carving it on the lining of their hearts.”
I’ll forever wipe the slate clean of their sins.
Once sins are taken care of for good, there’s no longer any need to offer sacrifices for them.
The Message (MSG)
Paul W: That’s brilliant, Martin, thank you. I really enjoyed that version. The book of Hebrews is partly an explanation of how it is that Jesus is the once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world. Before Jesus, sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin, in the Hebrew or Jewish, was done annually by the high priests at the temple making atonement for people’s sins by entering the most holy place in the temple by offering blood to God. First, it’s important to note that this was an annual thing, ritual, year by year. The same thing occurring by the same person, year in, year out.
Each year, the priest would perennially make the same thing happen, and so once a year, the people of God would be clean from sin as the priest absolved them through the shedding of blood offered by a high priest. But now, the writer of Hebrews explains that Jesus is the high priest. The job of Jesus as high priest is not only to make atonement for sin but also to be that one that sheds his blood: but not once a year, every year, once for all. Instead of the old way of doing things, Hebrews says that now there is a new way, a new covenant, a promise of new things. Jesus knew it, Jesus was it.
Even on the night when he was betrayed when he shared the last supper with his disciples, He asked them to eat bread and drink wine to proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. So yes, the death of Jesus is radically important because it was a once for all sacrifice for the sin of the world. And yes, the resurrection of Jesus was once for all because he remains alive, meaning that we are still able to worship him to this day. Hebrews seems to have been written to help Jewish people understand that Jesus was the promised Old Testament Messiah.
It helped the first Jewish Christians understand what it was that made Jesus the once for all sacrifice, the once for all chosen one of God to be the saviour of not just the Jewish faith, but for the whole world. There were plenty of traditional Jews still going through the motions of what they had always done, making sacrifices at the temple, saying particular prayers, doing particular things, but many were becoming convicted that Jesus was the promised Messiah, and that traditions had to change. Old wineskins could not hold new wine, to coin a phrase. Books such as Hebrews could help Jewish Christians understand the transition from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.
Sacrifice? No more. God has the ultimate sacrifice in being the literal sacrifice, and so the writer of Hebrews is writing his evidence as to why Jesus is both the high priest and the sacrifice once for all. So what? Jesus death now fulfils the requirements of all the Old Testament regulations, the law. He not only fulfils the promises made in the Old Testament about who the Messiah will be, He also fulfils the law that a lamb without spot or blemish becomes the perfect sacrifice. Nothing more needs to be done by humans. No more killing of animals to appease God.
Once for all, the lamb of God takes away the sin of the world. Animal sacrifices seem to be quite regular things in the Old Testament. The temple, although it looks like a permanent structure within the long purposes of God was that it was required only until the coming of Jesus, the Messiah. Now, sin had been atoned for once for all. The forgiveness of sin that had cursed humanity in the garden of Eden has now, not only been covered over but it’s been renewed by new agreements. Literally, a new will that had come into force with the death of Jesus. God had absolutely completed the whole law of the Old Testament in the death of Jesus.
When I was speaking last week about the death of Jesus and how many churches often talk about it being the ultimate work of God. It’s true. Without his sacrifice, humanity might still have to go through a priest for absolution of sin, but the death and resurrection of Jesus gives the whole world unadulterated access to Father God. Christians talk about freedom from sin because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, and yet still compelled that they should do something to ensure that they’re saved. A sense of perhaps undeserving. It’s true that Romans Chapter 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death.”
Whoever said we don’t get what we deserve is right as the verse goes on to state, “but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord.” We don’t get what we deserve any more than we get what we don’t deserve. In old language, we’ve been offered a pardon, we have been offered freedom. As Jesus said to more than one person, “Go, sin no more.” Or to put it another way in the story of the prodigal son, “Come home.” It was never about deserving. Though as humans we do have a tendency to lean towards the deserving mentality. I’ve got a Christian friend on Facebook who seems to lean towards a very judgmental attitude of people and I find it sad that they do.
It comes across as unforgiving and cold sometimes, it comes across as having just the first half of that verse in Romans 6, “The wages of sin is death,” but no “ but the gift of God is eternal life.” It made me think about how we as British people, if we were invited to somebody’s home for a meal, we might bring a gift, perhaps a bottle of wine, and the host might say something like, “There’s no need to do that, but that’s very kind. What a kind gesture.” We like to be appreciated in return for others having done something for us, and how that sometimes spills over into matters of faith. Jesus died for me, I’m forgiven all my sins so I need to do X, Y, and Z.
No actually, the price has been paid even if I were the worst Christian ever. There’s nothing more to earn forgiveness. Just enjoy the party perhaps without having to feel that I had to bring a bottle of wine, it’s free. The X, Y, Z should be my response for being forgiven. Not a way of feeling better about myself. Because that’s the way God sees us. We don’t get what we deserve, we get what we don’t deserve. It’s all about the grace of God. When we were still in sin, Christ died for us. Every single sacrifice, every offering never took sin away forever. Only Jesus can do that. Every evil thought, thing, deed, word ever spoken has been atoned for by the death of Jesus: fact.
Whether or not we can believe our luck about such a fact is not God’s problem. It is whether we can believe our luck that Jesus death means that we can live without the threat of guilt or shame or sin hanging over us any more. Yes, we do still feel guilt or shame because we don’t have the same way of looking at ourselves as the way God does. We may naturally beat ourselves up perhaps over our pattern of sin, but you or we or I could never do anything or enough, which is why the writer of Hebrews makes quite clear that Jesus once for all takes away the need for any sacrifice for sin. The sinless sacrifice, the great high priest has done it.
Our problem perhaps is accepting such grace. Christ sacrificed his life for ours, somehow fixed the temporary form of having to get a priest to make people right with God once a year. Now, Christ’s sacrifice was once for all. Never again need I beat myself up over that sin because in Christ my sin has not just been forgiven, but atoned for. It’s been forgiven, forgotten, done. That’s the central part of our faith, forgiveness. God’s forgiveness for me, but also so that I can pass on that forgiveness to another, as we forgive those who trespass against us. This Christianity thing seems to be very practical because we know that unforgiveness can chew us up on the inside.
Our aim in being whole is to work to becoming forgiving people, to learn first that it’s okay to live as a forgiven person, to know that it’s not okay to keep beating ourselves up over the things that God has already dealt with, and then to live forgiving people, not holding grudges, learning again, and again, and again, what it is to be fully whole. We know that so often forgiveness can be a process, a daily choice, a decision to perhaps even verbalize that this day I want to choose a better way because we know what it is to be brought down by sin. We really need to know how to live in the joy that the death and resurrection of Jesus brings.
I have been forgiven by an almighty God whether or not I can believe this truth. I need to learn to be okay with myself, to even forgive myself, and then I can walk more easily in the way everlasting. To close, I want to quote from a book called “Jesus Wants To Save Christians” by Rob Bell and Don Golden, and they say the first covenant, the one at Sinai, the promises that God made to Moses was terrifying. It involved so much fire, and smoke, and thunder that the people said, “Moses, you speak to us because if God speaks to us, we’re going to die.”
Jeremiah later insisted that the new way would be totally different. God will put the truth in their minds and write it in their hearts. No more fear, no more terror, no more thunder. That was the old way, the former thing, the first covenant. Jesus brings about a new covenant, a new agreement, a new will, in which the forgiveness of sins was the central promise. When Jesus sat down, as it says in Hebrews there, it meant his work had been accomplished. He has taken His seat signifying that His principal work is over. Our sins are forgiven.
So to close, just to finish a few more verses from Hebrews Chapter 10:19–25.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
May God bless himself to us as we receive his Word.
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Scripture quotations marked NIVUK on this page and in the talk are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Bible quotations marked MSG on this page and in the talk are from THE MESSAGE, copyright © 1993, 2002, 2018 by Eugene H. Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.