“It is Finished”

The cross of Christ represents the end of earning, the end of seeking God’s approval based on our own “sacrifices.” This is why the writer of Hebrews specifies that one of the crucial differences between Jesus and the system of the past is the finality of the cross:

 11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.  (Hebrews 10:11-18)

In a 2005 interview, Bono—the lead singer for the band U2—talks about how this magnificent picture of grace has led him away from thinking only in terms of “karma,” the law of cause and effect:

“I really believe we’ve moved out of the realm of Karma into one of Grace…You see, at the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth…every action is met by an equal or an opposite one….Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff…I’d be in big trouble if Karma was going to finally be my judge….It doesn’t excuse my mistakes, but I’m holding out for Grace. I’m holding out that Jesus took my sins onto the Cross, because I know who I am, and I hope I don’t have to depend on my own religiosity…The point of the death of Christ is that Christ took on the sins of the world, so that what we put out did not come back to us, and that our sinful nature does not reap the obvious death. That’s the point….It’s not our own good works that get us through the gates of heaven.”

One of the hardest things to fully wrap our minds around is this basic principle of grace. Sure, I love the idea of my slate being cleaned, but I might hate—absolutely hate—that grace robs me of the privilege to “boast” (cf. Ephesians 2:9) of my moral superiority. Don’t I deserve credit, after all?

The problem of this kind of arrogance is that it leads us into a dangerous path, relationally speaking. Because only one of two things can happen. First, my moral system might actually work for me, more or less. I may spend a lifetime devoted to strict moral obedience. Life goes well—I get a good job, raise good kids, and be respected as a pillar of my community. I conclude that I am blessed; my righteousness has earned God’s approval. And I am constantly sneering at my neighbors, who have not achieved my blessing—clearly because they’re just not as morally upright as I am. Secondly, my moral system might not work for me. I might spend a lifetime of trying, only to be routinely confronted by the naked brutality of this fallen world. I obeyed all the rules; why doesn’t God bless me? I become bitter—at myself, at God, at my fellow church-goers who—despite not sharing my strict moral convictions—always seem way happier than I can ever hope to be.

Life is far more messy than all that. But so is spirituality, so is grace. Jesus joins us in our mess and—as we’ve been saying—absorbs the stains of our sin that we might have God’s approval not through any—any!—works of our own, but only through the finished work that he achieved on our behalf.

This is why it’s hard to hear the gospel if you’re a religious person. Because it’s easy to assume that you already know it—when all along you’ve only been learning to cling more tightly to your moral code. And it’s killing you.

Moral character isn’t a disposable part of the Christian life, but if we make transformation a prerequisite to forgiveness we strip grace of its beauty and strip the cross of its power. At the cross we do more than repent of our self-indulgence; we repent quite equally of our self-righteousness. Let it go. Let it all go—your self-righteous moralism, your sense of self-importance and smug religious superiority, your condescending attitude toward the sin of others deemed to be worse than your own. Let it go, and stand in the glorious grace of the once-for-all grace offered by Jesus. We close this week with the words of an old hymn, a hymn whose title comes from the last words of Jesus on the cross: “It Is Finished.”

“Lay your deadly doing down,
down at Jesus’ feet.
Stand in him and him alone,
gloriously complete.”

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Crux Sola

“The cross is the key signature of our theology.” This was the conclusion of one German author, for whom the cross loomed large in his understanding of God’s great story of redemption. He may as well have been quoting from Martin Luther, who years ago famously said that “the cross alone is our theology.” To be a Christian is to be a “soldier of the cross,” to borrow language from the old hymn. Yet when Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ was released, many reviewers were baffled that Gibson would ignore every scrap of Jesus’ ethical teaching in favor of delivering a brutal portrayal of Jesus’ crucifixion. At least one reviewer sneeringly dismissed the film as the “Jesus Chainsaw Massacre,” revolted that a religious film would disproportionately focus on a man’s blood rather than his message.

But don’t you see? For Christianity, Jesus’ blood is the message: the message of love, of justice, of forgiveness all rolled into a singular, defining event.

This is why the writer of Hebrews—among others—sees the cross as fulfilling and replacing the Old Testament sacrificial system entirely:

8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure insacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:8-10)

The cross was no great accident or interruption in God’s plan of redemption. It was the plan all along.

THE CROSS IN ANTIQUITY

We must not underestimate the sheer, shocking brutality of crucifixion in the ancient world. The ancient historians described “being nailed up” as the worst form of death.[1] Latin writers described it as an “infamous stake,”[2] the “barren and criminal wood,” [3] and “a most cruel and disgusting punishment.” [4]

Medical experts tell us that the most likely cause of death was slow, painful asphyxiation—that the lungs could not adequately expand and contract when suspended on the cross. But this might have been one of several causes of death, including death from blood loss, shock, or even being attacked by wild animals.

The practice of crucifixion had been invented as early as the culture of Assyria, though it was the Romans who had perfected it into the form of an art. The methods of crucifixion varied person to person. The Jewish writer Josephus tells us that “The soldiers out of rage and hatred amused themselves by nailing their prisoners in different positions…”[5] The Latin writer Seneca lamented: “I see crosses there, not just of one kind but made in many different ways: some have their victims with head down to the ground; some impale their private parts;  others stretch out their arms on the gibbet.” [6]

This was not done in obscurity; this was done publicly, in the ancient equivalent of the corner parking lot of the local strip mall. The whole purpose, of course, was to shame you, and shame your followers. When Spartacus was defeated after his rebellion against Rome, 6,000 of his most loyal followers were crucified on the 120-mile stretch of road between Capua and Rome. I did the math on this. This means if you left Tri-State Fellowship and drove to Lancaster, roughly 60-70 yards, on either side of you, you’d see a person hanging in agony on the cross. One ancient writer lamented:

“What death is more shameful than to be crucified?  What death is worse than this condemnation is conceivable?  Even now he remains a reproach among all who have not yet received faith in him!”[7]

CRUX SOLA

In the ancient world, when someone was crucified, the public places were chosen so that people would stop and look. And so today, when we speak of the Savior crucified, we must stop and look. We must see the blood. We must see the nails. We must cringe at the (literally) God-forsaken spectacle we see before us, we must see the Savior pushed to the bitter edges of the world that we might be invited to taste in Heaven’s sweetness.

And above all, we must see that here is our shame, lying not on our own shoulders, but on his. On Christ’s. On our behalf.  Here is the sacrifice that lifts away the sin of the world (cf. John 1:29). My shame died there with him. He was broken that I might be made whole again. “The deformity of Christ forms you,” wrote Augustine. “By his wounds,” God said through Isaiah, “we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5).

If you are not a follower of Jesus, then this is your time to begin. If you’ve been following our devotional writings for the past two weeks, then you’ve been confronted with the inescapable truth of your own wickedness, a stain you can’t clean on your own. The cross sets you free from your guilt and shame, it transfers that debt from you to Jesus. Jesus took the penalty that you deserve so that you could be reunited in relationship to God. All you need to do is pause, bow your head, and tell God two things:

  • I know that I am a sinner in need of your grace,
  • I believe that your Son Jesus died in my place. I ask for your forgiveness.

It’s as simple as that. That’s grace. That’s your first small step toward a larger world. If you have said that prayer—either now or as a result of our recent sermon series, we’d love to hear from you. You may find our contact information through the Church’s website (www.tristatefellowship.org), or you can contact me personally at my email address (chris@tristatefellowship.org).

[1] Demosthenes, Oratio, 21.105.

[2] Anthologia Latina 415.23

[3] Seneca, Epistulae Morales 101.14

[4] Cicero, Contra Verres in The Verrine Orations, 2.5.64.

[5] Josephus, Bellum Judaicum, 5.11.1

[6] Seneca, Dialogue 6, 20.3

[7] Eusebius, Preparation for the Gospel, 10.9

A True and Better Priest

I need you to imagine something.

Let’s imagine that you need to go in for surgery. We’ll imagine that it’s an appendectomy—a fairly standard procedure, but in the absence of treatment can become something much more dangerous.

If you’ve ever had surgery, you know there’s a whole pre-flight checklist that everyone goes through. It’s more than just dotting “i’s” and crossing “t’s.” It’s a whole protocol that ensures the absolute safety and integrity of each participant from patient to surgeon. The final step is to wheel you into the operating room where you are put under for the procedure. Now imagine, right as your eyes are about to shut from the anesthesia, that you look over to see the surgeon walk in the room. Instead of wearing the sterile scrubs, mask, and gloves you expect, your surgeon is covered in mud, or wearing those ugly rubber orange gloves she found in the janitor’s closet.

If you caught such a vision, your last thoughts before shutting your eyes would be paralyzing fear. This was the one person you were counting on for what would ultimately be a life-saving procedure. Yet your health had now been compromised by her lack of purity.

A DEFILED PRIEST

In the book of Joshua, we catch a vision of the high priest on what seems to be the great Day of Atonement, the day when the high priest would offer a sacrifice for the provision of the nation:

Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. 2 And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” 3 Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. (Zechariah 3:1-3)

at in the Hebrew, we would notice that it doesn’t just say “Satan,” but “the satan,” which might simply mean “the accuser.” Again, this is a vision, not reality, so we wouldn’t be surprised to see such supernatural elements here, but it’s not necessarily clear that Zechariah is referring to the devil himself or merely an enemy of Israel hurling accusations.

What we are meant to see is the defilement of Joshua, the high priest. Customarily, priests like Joshua were sequestered for a week to prevent them from coming into contact with anything unclean so that they could perform the ceremony undefiled.  There was even a set of ritual bathings, after which Joshua would emerge wearing pure white robes.

But in Zechariah 3:3, Joshua is wearing “filthy robes.”  The original Hebrew seems to suggest that he is actually covered in excrement.  He is expected to be clean, to bring purity to the nation.  But in God’s eyes, all the rituals and duties do not truly cleanse the stain.

We find a similar theme in the letter of Hebrews—though here the author focuses not on the priests or the Day of Atonement, but the entire sacrificial system:

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,

“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” (Hebrews 10:1-7)

There’s no doubt about it: sacrifices ultimately meant nothing.

A TRUE AND BETTER SACRIFICE

Not to keep using such visceral imagery, but we need to truly wrap our minds around the culture of sacrifice in the ancient world. To do this, we can actually look at the history books from the ancient people and catch a glimpse of what their religious system looked like.

The writer Josephus, for example, tells us that major Jewish holidays attracted so many worshippers to the temple that there were over 200,000 sacrifices made for 2.7 million people. [1] Even if you think this is an exaggeration, we might point out that Jewish commentaries describe the need to install drainage systems in their temple system:

 “At the south-western corner [of the Altar] there were two holes like two narrow nostrils by which the blood that was poured over the western base and the southern base used to run down and mingle in the water-channel and flow out into the brook Kidron.”[2]

The Kidron would have looked like the Chicago river on St. Patrick’s Day—only instead of green it would have gradually become a deep red.

In short: the system was bloody.  So when Jesus made a once-for-all sacrifice, it would have stood in sharp contrast to this older style of worship.  Imagine living in a city where once a year, the local river turned red from all the killing.  Where the sounds of thousands upon thousands of animals being slaughtered could be heard above the traffic.

Inadequate, the Bible says. Only a shadow of what’s to come.

See, we need a better high priest—a true and better Joshua. We find this in Jesus. He’s the true and better high priest who offers a true and better sacrifice, so that his once-for-all sacrifice could atone for the sins of God’s people, past, present, and future.

 

 

 

 

[1] Josephus, Bellum Iudaicum, 6:423-427.

[2] Mishnah, 3:2.

Enduring to the End (Hebrews 10:32-39)

150 years ago today on April 9 of 1865, the Generals of two massive armies – such as had practically never before been assembled – met in the parlor of a house in Appomattox, Virginia to come to an agreement ending the American Civil War.

It was the culmination of a great struggle of ideas and values.

Holding onto one set of ideals was an awkward country lawyer who had, through circuitous circumstances, became President in the most controversial of times. Because of plots against his life even before assuming office, Abraham Lincoln essentially had to sneak into Washington by train under cover of darkness to take his place in the great struggle of leading a fractured nation.

His life was constantly in danger. Yet he held onto those ideals that he knew to be correct. He was hated and embattled by varied factions at every turn, continuously holding together the most fragile alliances and walking the frailest of political ropes to accomplish truth and justice.

And on the occasion of his final breath – again, soon to be remembered 150 years ago – he was honored by the prescient words of Edwin Stanton, Secretary of War, who reportedly said, “And now he belongs to the ages.”

If you are going to give your life to something, particularly when investing in identification with a person or cause that may be despised by the masses of the people, you want to know that it is the substance of truth and enduring value.

This was the struggle of the recipients of the Hebrews letter, early Christians who had suffered joyfully for some time, but who were struggling to endure fully and to the end. And so the writer says of their past …

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

He tells them that there is reason to endure.  Earlier, they had come to trust in Christ. They knew in those early days of faith that it made all the difference in their lives; and though persecuted and ridiculed, they endured – standing in identification with others of the same – even those imprisoned … even when losing homes and possessions.  They had an appropriately accurate view that their earthly possessions were of no comparative value whatsoever to what was to be eternally their inheritance.

But the ridicule, losses and abuse just kept going on and going on. And now some were debating going back to the old ways to just fit better into the surrounding world and thereby make life easier.

And the writer has given them now almost 10 full chapters of reasons as to why their faith in Christ was superior to the old stuff, the old ways, the earthly ways, the temporary world of mere things. He encourages them to run toward what is perfect and eternal!  Run away from death; run to life!

This always was (and always will be) God’s encouragement and directive for His people – quoting Old Testament passages from Isaiah and Habakkuk …

36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” 38 And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.”

The reason to hang on is because the hope of the inheritance of life eternal is better than the current merely temporary possession of the visible comforts of this world.

WHY? Why is that true?  It is true because of the resurrection of Christ!  The curse of sin and death has been broken through!  Those who are identified with Christ will break through with him and in him! And this is the hope we have in the resurrection of Christ, as Paul wrote of it in his Corinthian letter (which you should recall was very early, even before all the Gospels were complete)…

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

And that is essentially the same truth as the writer to the Hebrews finishes with in chapter 10…

Hebrews 10:39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

The writer expresses here, as he does in several other places, that those reading this are going to respond positively to his message. They were going to persevere through the trials, or, as in the title of our study, they were going to ENDURE.

We have been fortunate in our time and in our country to live in unusual periods of ease for people of faith in Christ. However, there is evidence all around us that this comfort is crumbling. Where might it lead? We do not know. But what we do know is that, no matter how bad it gets, we have a hope that is eternal and is worth it all to endure in faith and trust.

No Other Place To Go (Hebrews 10:26-31)

Today’s passage is simply frightening; there is no way to soften it. It is sort of the spiritual equivalent of being told by the doctor that there is nothing else that can be done to save a person’s life. This is the end of the road.

This section is one of several warning passages in Hebrews, and they are difficult to teach and explain easily and clearly. But as always with this letter, remember the situation of the readers – people being warned not to throw off the Christian faith to return to an easier life of convenience.

The previous passage ended with a thought about the approaching day of the Lord and the end of time. Peace and stability in this life is great, but to trade off the truth for such would be to make a pretty stupid deal. And beyond ignorant, it put a person in a place of terrible judgment as an enemy of God. There were no sacrifices for such an apostasy.

The Old Testament Scripture being referenced was one that talked about the judgment that fell upon someone who embraced idolatry. How much more severe judgment would surely therefore befall someone who walked away, not merely from the shadow of things in the OT system, but actually from the fulfilled reality of redemption in the person and work of Jesus Christ. If you reject the final payment, there is no other payment in the pipeline.

These verses also picture more than a merely mild decision. The “trampling” verb used in this verse is one that means to stomp all over and trample completely under foot. This level of apostasy would only be done by one who never really had received and fully trusted in the truth of Christ to begin with.

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”  31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

So how do we apply such a passage as this to our lives? Our current circumstances don’t quite match up in a one-to-one way with these original readers. However, a day may come when it is more like what they faced. It is a common theme of discussion in our country right now about the increasing pressure upon Christians and societal disdain for our values. The future may be more difficult for living for Christ in an open way.

At the very end of Paul’s writings, at a time when his own martyrdom was fast approaching … of being “poured out,” he said, “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  The abnormal thing is to not be persecuted.

The Christian life can be very difficult in a hostile and secular culture, but there is no other place to go.

Behind the Curtain; Let’s Make a Deal (Hebrews 10:19-25)

Probably more than a couple of you reading this have no memory of a silly but popular TV game show in the 60s and 70s called “Let’s Make a Deal.”  People from the audience became “traders” and were given a prize for being selected that was of some moderate value – like a television. They were then offered the opportunity to either take the prize and be content with what they had, or to trade it for something unseen and unknown, often hidden behind one of three curtains. It could be something of truly great value, or something absolutely ridiculous and worthless.

The Hebrews were essentially on the edge of – from the writer’s perspective – making a terrible deal. They were ready to keep the familiar old thing that they knew (the earthly, visible, Levitical system of sacrifices) rather than trading it for something of inestimable and eternal value (Christ and the New Covenant).

But here was the deal for them: what was behind the curtain was not unknowable. The curtain was open to see what was there – literally, it was. The curtain spoken of in our passage today was that one that prevented access to the Most Holy Place in the temple – the one that only the high priest went behind on one day of each year.

Recall though what had happened at the moment of Christ’s death. There was an earthquake that caused this huge, thick, heavy curtain to rip from top to the bottom. The result was that the most holy place was open for view. And of course this all symbolized that an entirely new day had arrived with a final sacrifice for sin. The old system was now obsolete.

Details about this work of Christ as the ultimate high priest have been the theme of our most recent chapters. The way was now open. Jesus is our high priest at the right hand of God. There is open and confident access to the very presence of God – what the passage today calls “a new and living way.”  The Law of the Old Testament, with its limited access to God’s presence said, “Danger, stay away, judgment awaits any who dare to enter the holy place.”  But the New Testament message of the Gospel says rather, “Come to God through the blood of Christ; judgment has already been made and the price paid.”

There are three practical applications, set off by three “let us …” statements …

  1. We can confidently draw near to God. What a wonderful truth this is. The creator God wants us who know him as our Lord and Savior to enter right into his royal presence without any fear of judgment. Amazing truth.
  2. We have a hope to hold onto in any and every circumstance. This is because of God’s faithfulness. There is nothing that happens outside of that.
  3. We should serve one another by being faithful to be together. When you don’t do this, you hurt both yourself and other people. We need each other. None of us have everything that we need to any extent that we can make it by ourselves. Is there an application out of this verse that missing church should be far more rare than common? Yep! God said it, not me! See you Sunday, if not before.

19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 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.

The Priest Who Sat Down (Hebrews 10:1-18)

There are very few of us alive in America now who can remember what it was like to live in an era without electrical or indoor plumbing utilities. Life was much harder without these conveniences, and gaining them was a great relief.

I don’t remember such a time, but I grew up with parents who did.

I do remember when I was in 3rd grade that we had a well drilled in our yard, just outside the dining room windows. I recall becoming buddies with the well-drilling guy – can still remember his name to this day! I thought it was really fascinating, and for a while, that is what I wanted to do in life!

My father was so excited about this for another reason that I did not really understand at the time. He was looking toward to the relief of not having to deal with the work of a constant water supply concern. Prior to the well, the water in our country house was from a cistern. There were valves on all the downspouts from the house and garage that would direct rain water from those roofs either into the cistern or out onto the ground. I recall my dad going out into the rain to make sure they were either on or off, depending upon the need. He had to try to keep the supply in the tank full, yet if he was not watching carefully enough, an oversupply would cause it to overflow and flood the basement.

But there was a worse time in his life. He grew up on a farm in the early 1900s … far from electrical supply, and long before plumbing. Water had to be carried from a springhouse at the bottom of the hillside. It was one of his chores as a boy. Light was provided by kerosene heaters; and heat came from a pot-bellied woodstove in the kitchen – which honestly only heated the kitchen. Snow would blow through the window frame cracks, and at 5:00 in the morning when he awoke to milk the cows, he might find small snow drifts on his bed sheets.

So my dad never really got over the amazement of indoor plumbing and electricity. He was profoundly thankful and believed himself to be living in the ultimate modern age. The work of carrying water and lanterns was done. He could flip a switch or turn on a faucet, and everything he needed was right there.

Our passage today talks about the ongoing work of the system of the old covenant – one where the Levitical priests had endless work. It was a career with job security. People sinned continuously, they needed their sins dealt with continuously, and so there was an endless parade of sacrifices and a literal river of blood … there really was! Ancient writers talked about what the Temple area was like on the occasions of the major feasts, such as Passover. Over a quarter-million sacrifices were made for over two million people. Holes and channels in the floor area of sacrifices carried the blood out to the Kidron stream – which flowed red like the river in Chicago flows green on St. Patrick’s Day.

Imagine the sights and sounds of this! Consider the mess … the carcasses of the animals. The entire scene pictured what a terrible mess was the issue of sin, while also illustrating the price of covering it … but it wasn’t really covered! Not permanently. The repetitious nature of it illustrated that the Levitical system was insufficient and inferior.

But, as the writer has indicated, there came an entirely new priest of a new order. This priest – Jesus Christ – was also at once the sacrifice as well. Entering one time into the true tabernacle – not the shadowy one of the Levitical system – with his own blood he made a once and for all, final, sacrificially-sufficient payment for all sin of all time.

Illustrating the permanence of this sacrifice, the writer says that this priest “sat down” at the right hand of God. The work was done. There is no more need for sacrifice or a system that was endless in operation. And what were the last words of Christ?  “It is finished.”

Man, that is awesome! We don’t have to do something like bring animals for some intermediary spiritual personage to sacrifice for our sins. Those sins have been paid for already. What we do regularly is memorialize and remember the one who paid that price for us. And that is what we do with communion.

And oh what a relief it is to have the payment made once and for all.

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10:1 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”

8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

One Check that Pays all Debts (Hebrews 10:1-18)

Here we are just five days away from the most odious of all days on the calendar – April 15th. To be honest with myself and you, it is not just that it involves the payment that it does – though I support the Reaganesque concept of economic growth resultant from lower tax rates. The bigger problem is the actual annual headache it produces in terms of the piles of paperwork and meetings with accountants, etc. This is all greatly exasperated by family business ownership ventures along with unique tax categories for the clergy part of it – involving employee status for the IRS but self-employed status in terms of social security (I’m not making that up!). It is a mess to sort out!

It would be so wonderful to have a situation where it was simply not necessary anymore. Imagine that! Think about what it would be like to not have to pay so much money toward a government that spends so much of it (along with our kids’ and grandkids’ future money) in ways that are far from necessary or honorable. Imagine never again having to gather financial information, tax forms, accountant appointments, etc. That would be fantastic! It is said that there are only two certainties in life: death and taxes. The annual experience of dealing with the latter makes you want to experience the former!

In the Old Testament / Old Covenant system of worship, it must have been a similar sort of pain to have to deal with sin. After arguing with his wife about whether the sheep in the backyard were a flock or a herd (either is correct), the worshipper was always having to pick out the best young lamb for yet another sacrifice. In honest self-evaluation, it was unjust to be angry about the situation – after all, as a sinner there was no ground for any attitude other than humble contrition and gratitude that a method existed for paying the great debt of sin. It was an annual reminder that a final payment had not been made, and that the best that could be found was always only temporary and short of the perfect ideal.

But in Christ, a new day has come. A new priest has come. This priest was like no other; he was of a different sort. He also brought a new sacrifice unlike any other. It was not some dumb bull or goat (like all the priests heretofore had done). He himself was the sacrifice, as well as the priest. The debt of the old system was paid and an entirely new system established. The new way had no necessity for annual or regular payments, all because there was no more debt to be paid. In fact, the debts have not only been paid, they have been erased and forgotten forever.

So, aren’t you glad that this coming Sunday you don’t have to bring a goat, sheep, bull, turtledove or whatever and slit its throat and sprinkle blood all over the place and burn it on an altar?  Yep!  And … uh … you ARE going to be there at church, right? I mean, after all, isn’t that the least you could do in light of what we’ve been studying about these cross words?

Now that I have gotten this far with these thoughts, and fearing that you might think I’m laying a guilt trip on you that is self-serving, I’m going to ask you to read just a bit farther in the chapter through verse 25.  Here it is: 19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 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. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 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.

OK – YES, I’M YELLING NOW! AND I’M DOING IT FROM THE HIGH GROUND OF BIBLICAL TRUTH! AND I DO NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT AT ALL. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR NOT VALUING REGULAR ATTENDANCE WITH GOD’S PEOPLE. YOU NEED US; WE NEED YOU! DON’T GET INTO A HABIT OF NOT DOING IT! BE THERE!  I’LL SEE YOU SUNDAY.

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2 Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3 But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. 4 It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.

5 Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me;

6 with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.

7 Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”[a]

8 First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9 Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10 And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14 For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says:

16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”

17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.

Cross Words for today …

Vicarious – This is really another word for “substitution” … the idea of how Christ took our place. In theology it is often used with the word atonement. So, to say “vicarious substitutionary atonement” would be to almost pile up redundant modifiers.

Assurance – The concept of the once-for-all final payment of Christ gives us assurance of salvation.

Efficacious Grace – This means that God’s grace has efficacy = sufficiency… that it works!

puzzle day 18