A Perfect Sacrifice
(The following text is taken from a sermon preached by Gil Rugh in 1978.)
In our last study we examined Hebrews 9:15-28. As one will recall, verse 15 was the key verse in this passage because it explained that the death of Jesus Christ was the reason that people were saved under the old covenant as well as under the new covenant. The writer said, 'And for this reason He is the mediator of a new covenant, in order that since a death has taken place for the redemption of the transgressions that were committed under the first covenant, those who have been called may receive the promise of the eternal blessing.' The death of Jesus Christ provided forgiveness for Moses, just as it does for you and me, because everything in the old covenant points toward the person and work of Jesus Christ.
Verse 22 was also an important verse. The writer said, 'And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.' This verse proves that no system of works can provide forgiveness for sin. There must be a death involved for sin to be forgiven.
The writer concluded this section of Hebrews in verses 26-28, illustrating the consummation of the ages, when Jesus Christ had been manifested to abolish the power of sin by offering Himself as the sacrifice. Just as man physically dies 'once' and faces 'judgment,' so too, did Jesus Christ only have to die once to provide eternal salvation to those who believe.
The first time Christ came to earth He came to sacrifice Himself, but the second time He comes it will not be '..to bear sin,' but to bring 'those who eagerly await Him' into His presence for eternity. What a blessed hope!
For the Law, since it has (only) a shadow of the good things to come (and) not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? But in those (sacrifices) there is a reminder of sins year by year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, But a body Thou hast prepared for Me;' Then I said, Behold, I have come (In the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will, O God.' After saying above, 'Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and (sacrifices) for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure (in them)' (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, 'Behold, I have come to do Thy will.' He takes away the first in order to establish the second. By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are 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, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, And upon their mind I will write them,' (He then says), 'And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. 'Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer (any) offering for sin.
The writer continues his flow of thought from chapter 9 into chapter 10. He is addressing the subject of the old covenant and the new covenant. One will notice that there is quite a lot of repetition in regard to the content of the chapter. This is because of the importance of the message being communicated. We, as believers, need to understand that the content of these passages is foundational to the rest of Scripture.
He begins chapter 10 by demonstrating the insufficiency of the Mosaic Law in verses 1-4. Then he goes on to demonstrate how Jesus Christ overcame those insufficiencies. Finally, he will conclude with a comparison which demonstrates the superiority of the work of Christ.
The writer begins verse 1 with the word 'For,' continuing his thought from chapter 9. He says, 'For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.' The writer is again demonstrating that the Law cannot bring a person into the right relationship with God. The Law could only give a glimpse 'of the good things to come.' It was not reality, it was only a 'shadow.'
T his is the same thing that we saw in Hebrews 8:4-5, where the writer stressed that the Law was '...a copy and shadow of the heavenly things.' An example of such a 'shadow' was the earthly tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build. It was not the real tabernacle that is in heaven, but only a symbol of what is to come.
Because the Law was only a shadow of the things to come, it could never 'by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near.' No matter how many times the shadow was reproduced, it could not form the reality. Because the Law only pointed toward the death of Christ, it could never attain to the forgiveness of sin that is only produced by the death of Christ.
The proof of the Law's inability to bring people into a right relationship with God is illustrated in verse 2; 'Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins?' If the Law could have provided complete forgiveness of sins, there was no need to offer more animal sacrifices because people would have known they had experienced the assurance of forgiveness. But they did not have assurance, and that was the reason they had to continually offer sacrifices.
Many people have asked me the question, 'If animal sacrifices did not do anything for the forgiveness of sin, why did they continually offer them?' Verse 3 is the answer; 'But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year.' The animal sacrifices continually reminded the Jews that they were sinners, and were deserving of judgment from God.
This reminder should have prepared them for the coming of the Messiah, who would have taken care of their sin, but instead, they became so caught up in the shadow (the ritual of the Law) that they were not ready when the reality (Christ) came to earth.
The writer reminds us again in verse 4 that the blood of animals does not provide cleansing from sin. He says, 'For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.' This goes back to the picture of reproducing the shadow of something in the hope of producing the real thing. The writer stresses that no number of animal sacrifices will ever be sufficient to equal the death of Jesus Christ.
People today do the same thing. They go to church as many times as they can because they think that the more they go, the better off they will be. This is not true according to Hebrews 10:4. It does not matter if someone goes to church five times a day for their entire life. If they have never trusted in the person and work of Jesus Christ, they are no closer to salvation than the day they began.
In verses 5-10 the writer demonstrates that God has provided a substitute for sacrifice which was not an animal, but a man: Jesus Christ. He quotes from Psalm 40 in verses 5-7, proving that the old covenant itself said that animal sacrifices were not sufficient for the forgiveness of sins. Rather, it would take the death of one who had humanity. He says, 'Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, 'Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou hast prepared for Me. In a whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will O God.'' The context of these verses is the forgiveness of sins. God never desired animal sacrifices to provide forgiveness of sins. Rather, He took pleasure in the obedience of His people to His revelation.
As we have examined, Jesus Christ willingly became a human being ('but a body Thou hast prepared for Me') in order to offer Himself as our sacrifice ('I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of Me) to do Thy will O God'). This is the only reason that Christ can provide salvation for mankind-He became human! Salvation is not provided for Satan or his fallen angels. Why? Because Christ did not become an angel.
The writer drives home the point again in verses 8 and 9. He says, 'After saying above, 'Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them' (which are offered according to the Law), then He said, 'Behold, I have come to do Thy will.' He takes away the first in order to establish the second.' The writer is establishing that the old covenant itself prophesied its own end. The 'first' (old covenant) would be demolished so that the 'second' (new covenant) could be established.
Hebrews 7:18-19 illustrated this same truth; 'For on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God.' The point is, again, God was never pleased with animal sacrifices as a means of taking away sin. It was always God's plan that His Son would come to earth and carry out His will to die on a cross to pay the penalty for the sins of the world.
Verse 10 concludes this section of Hebrews. The writer says, 'By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.' It is the will of God that we are 'sanctified,' or set apart for God. How are we sanctified? 'Through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ.' You may say, 'I go to church every week and practice good works so that I can win favor with the Lord.' That sounds great, but this type of activity is no different than the sacrifices of the old covenant system. They can not bring you any closer to God than you were before you began. The only means of entering into an eternal relationship with God is to believe that God sent Jesus Christ to earth to die on a cross for your sins, and trust Him as your Lord and Savior.
The death of Christ occurred 'once for all.' The tense used to describe Christ's offering in verse 10 denotes a settled fact. It has happened, and the result is that those who trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ are sanctified.
In verses 11-18 the writer draws everything together. He demonstrates the contrast between the finality of the work of Christ under the old and new covenants. The point is made again that those who experienced forgiveness and cleansing under the old covenant did so because they believed in the revelation of God concerning the coming of Jesus Christ.
Verse 11 says, 'And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.' As we have examined before, the picture of the high priest standing was a symbol that his work was never done. The irony was that he continually offered sacrifices 'which can never take away sins.' You may say, 'OK, fine, I get the point. Why do you continue to talk about sacrifices? I have never sacrificed an animal in my life.' The problem in the church today is that the average person goes to church every week, or gets baptized, or gets confirmed, and they think that makes them more acceptable to God. If you ask them why, they usually respond, 'I want to be forgiven, and the more I do to please God, the better chance I have of being forgiven.' The only problem with that theory is that it is wrong. Forgiveness is not given based on how much we do. It is the shedding of Christ's blood that provides the forgiveness of sin. There is no difference between those people and the high priests of the Old Testament who continually offered sacrifices which would never provide forgiveness for sins.
The writer contrasts the continual sacrifices made by the Old Testament priests with the death of Christ in verse 12; 'but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God.' Do you see the difference? The earthly high priest's work was never done, but Christ offered 'one sacrifice,' for 'all time,' and then He 'sat down at the right hand....' This action proves that when Christ died on the cross, His work was finished, and He took His place in the seat of power and prominence next to God the Father.
At this very moment, Christ is sitting at the right hand of God 'waiting from that time onward 'until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet.'' This goes back to 9:28, and the second coming of Christ, when He will rule and reign over the whole earth. The writer is quoting Psalm 110 in verse 13, emphasizing that one day everyone, great or small, will be subject to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are only two choices that determine your eternal destination: bow before Jesus Christ now, as Lord and Savior, and be forgiven of your sins, or reject Him now, and be forced to bow before Him in judgment on the day He returns to rule as King of Kings and Lord of lords. Which path are you on?
Imagine standing before a group of people today saying 'I am acceptable to God because I am perfect.' That sounds rather arrogant doesn't it? But that is exactly what the writer says in verse 14; 'For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.' Again, one sees the emphasis on the 'one' sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The writer stresses that those who believe and trust in the person and work of Jesus Christ are made perfect in the eyes of God, not because we are better than anyone else, but because our sin has been covered by the perfect blood of Jesus Christ.
This is exactly the opposite of what the old covenant could accomplish. The old covenant could never make anyone perfect, but the sacrifice of Jesus Christ perfects 'for all time those who are sanctified.' God demands perfection, and completeness. The promise He gives us is that those who are saved by the blood of Jesus Christ are cleansed and forgiven for the sins of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. We are saved forever!
In verses 15-17 the writer quotes from Jeremiah 31 once again. He says, '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, says the Lord: I will put My Law upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them,' He then says, 'And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.'' One will note how the writers of the New Testament consistently indicate that God was totally responsible for the Old Testament as well.
The writer reminds us that the old covenant promised two things would happen when the new covenant was established. First, God would inscribe His character on the hearts of His children. Secondly, He would remember their sins 'no more.' It is a tremendous feeling to know that our sins have been totally forgiven. We do not have to feel guilty because of the sins of our past. God does not remember our sin. The same is true for any sin I may commit today or tomorrow. God will not remember it. Obviously this does not mean that we can go out and live in sin. When a person believes in the person and work of Jesus Christ, he is made a new creature, and the desire to sin is taken away. It becomes uncharacteristic for a child of God to continually be in sin, and the sins that were so attractive in the past become undesirable to the person who is filled with the Spirit of God. The desire of the true Christian is not to sin, but rather to serve the living God in obedience to His Word.
Verse l8 again stresses the fact that there is no longer a need for any type of sacrifice. The writer says, 'Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.' If we have been totally forgiven, and made a new creature in Christ, there is no need for anything else to be done to receive salvation. There is no need for works, there is no need for church membership, and there is no need for baptism. The salvation provided through the person and work of Jesus Christ is perfect, and provides salvation for all of eternity.
Where are you? Have you been totally forgiven of all your sins-past, present, and future? Have you come to a point in your life when you understood that you were a sinner deserving of death, and falling short of God's standard of perfection? Have you recognized that Jesus Christ, God's Son, provided the sacrifice for your sin, and the moment you trust in Him, you are forgiven, and made a new creature in Him? If you have not, the time of salvation is today. Do not wait any longer to enter into an eternal relationship with a God that loves you and has provided a perfect sacrifice for your sins.
If you have already experienced this salvation, are you living a life that is pleasing to God? As believers, we have the character of God inscribed on our hearts. We are not to be living in sin, but rather we are to be serving the One that died on the cross in our place.
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