THE PERFECT SACRIFICE

Hebrews 9:6—10; 10:1—18

In this letter to the Hebrews, its author has devoted many verses discussing the material surroundings in which various sacrifices took place. In the first five verses, we read about what was in the Holy Place and beginning with verse 6, the author moves on to the topic of the ministry of the earthly priests.

1. Inadequate sacrifices, Hebrews 9:6—10; 10:1—4

a. The earthly tabernacle, 9:6—10

The priestly duties on a day-to-day basis took place in what was known as “the outer room.” In this room took place their regular duties, which included things like burning incense, setting out the loaves of bread, and trimming the lamps. All that took place in this “outer room” concerned simple ritualistic worship. It was all very formal and cold and lacked the intimacy of what went on in the “Holy Place.”

Into the second room, the “Holy Place,” went the Levitical High Priest, alone, several times a day, ONE a year. Earlier in the wilderness, it was Moses who went into the “Holy Place,” and there he met with God face-to-face. When the High Priest went in, he went in representing all the people, symbolized by the breastplate he wore, on which were affixed precious stones, one for each tribe. In essence, the priest engaged in a “vicarious liturgy,” in that his mission was to make atonement for his sins and the sins of all the people. The sins he was atoning for were the “sins of ignorance.”

Going into the Holy Place was dangerous—very dangerous. The High Priest had to do everything just right, exactly as prescribed by the Law. In fact, it was considered so dangerous that, according to rabbinical teaching, the High Priest took care to keep his prayers short, so as “not to put Israel in harm.”

According to the author of Hebrews, it was the Holy Spirit’s purpose to take the pattern established by the Tabernacle/Temple worship services, and use it as an illustration to show how inadequate it really was.

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (verse 9)

The reason this whole system was inferior was that in spite of how careful the priests and High Priest were in carrying out their duties, it was all ceremonial; nothing really changed in the people. For example, all the blood used never stopped the people from sinning. The scape goat, that symbolically carried the sins of Israel way out into the desert, symbolically separating those sins from the people, really served to illustrate how God separates our sins from us so that we never see them again. Yet, the people of Israel did see their sins over and over again for their consciences were never cleared. It was obvious there was nothing permanent about any of the OT sacrifices.

b. A shadow of good things, 10:1—4

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. (verse 1)

Something else that was made clear in the inadequacy of the Law, was that the way to God was closed. Nobody could get close to Him, with the exception of the High Priest, and even that was no occasion for joy, but fear. Because of their sin, the people of Israel were locked out of a relationship with their God. Their hearts longed to be set free from those sins. Their situation reminds us of Charles Wesley’s powerful words:

Come, Thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us;
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and Consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Even though nothing in the OT sacrificial system did anything to free anybody from their sins, there was a purpose: it showed the people how holy and righteous God was and how sinful they were. In essence, all the ceremonies at the Tabernacle/Temple did was to remind the people how good God was and how bad they were. It made them long for something better. In that sense, it was merely a shadow of that “something better.”

What should be noted, though, is that at no time is Hebrews ever critical about the OT sacrificial system. All this letter does is point out how inadequate it was.

2. God’s perfect sacrifice, Hebrews 10:5—10

a. A divine sacrifice, verses 5—8

The writer of this letter always defers to Scripture to cinch his argument, and in these verses he does it again. The old way was powerless in dealing with the sin problem, therefore a new way needed to be provided. The citation from Psalm 40 gives the reason for the Incarnation, and the speaker is the second Person of the Trinity:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, O God. (verses 5—7)

What was necessary for the forgiveness of sin was a sacrifice sufficient to atone for those for sins. That “body” for sacrifice had been prepared by God for Christ. In the Father’s eternal plan, the Son would be clothed with the flesh of man in order to offer Himself as the perfect, all-sufficient atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The OT sacrifices were all substitutionary in nature, but what God really wanted was for the people to simply practice obedience to His revealed Word. In that, the Son excelled. So, here is why God’s “new way” was so superior to the “old way.” Jesus Christ was the perfect sacrifice and He offered Himself perfectly.

b. A willing sacrifice, verses 9, 10

Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The annual sacrifices were inadequate and unpleasing to God because the corresponding obedience from the people was missing. This, coupled with the Son’s completely willing obedience to offer Himself as the perfect atoning, substitutionary sacrifice, spelled the end of the old way. What Christ did was totally within the will of God so that no other way would ever be needed.

Another way to put this is that Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice is the foundation and the means of our sanctification because what He did He did willingly, in obedience to the Father’s perfect will. Behind the Incarnation was God’s plan that was actually recorded in Isaiah 53.

The sacrifice of Christ on the Cross was no martyrdom; it was the climax of an eternal plan. This is a very profound thought. At Creation, God gave man free will. Knowing what man would do with that free will, God had prepared beforehand a plan to deal with it. Calvary was not a surprise or a disappointment to God. The body, the life, the death, and the Atonement were all part of that great plan of God. We just benefited from it.

3. The results of Christ’s sacrifice, Hebrews 10:11—18

a. Christ seated at God’s right hand, verses 11—13

Every priest—not just the High Priest—worked all the time. They had duties to perform all day, every day. Their work was never done. But when Christ’s work was done, He was able to sit down at God’s right hand, traditionally a place of authority, because His redemptive work was finished. The contrasts between the ongoing work of the earthly priests with the finished work of our Heavenly Priest is stark and powerful. In the one case, the sacrifices go on and on and on, the blood of animals never stops flowing. The priests never, ever sit down. In the other case, Jesus Christ shed His blood, offereingHimself one time then sat down, His work finished. In the once case, the earthly High Priest ALONEentered into God’s presence ONE day a year. In the other case, Jesus Christ rests in God’s presence,  making a way for us to fellowship with God.

b. Holiness made possible, verse 14

because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

To be “made perfect” does not mean there is no need for further growth on our part. It means that all believers have been brought to an experience where they are made complete in Christ. In Christ, we lack nothing that is needed to be saved. When sins are forgiven fully by God in Christ, and forgiveness fully received through personal repentance and personal faith in Christ, nothing else needs to be done.

c. Inner witness given, verses 15, 16

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

How good do Christians have it? We have the witness of God’s Word on the inside to guide us. Strictly, this is referring to the great prophecy given in Jeremiah and quoted in Hebrews 8:8—12. Whereas under the old covenant, God’s Word was on stone tablets, under this new and improved covenant, His Word is planted in our hearts. What Jeremiah promised, Christ delivered.

d. Sins cleared out, verses 17, 18

Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

This might be the most comforting provision of the new covenant: assurance that our sins are really and truly forgiven. Can you imagine the stress of never knowing your standing before God? Of never knowing what He thinks of you? The Christian never need doubt what his standing before God is! He is forgiven! He is clothed in the righteousness of Christ! His sins are blotted out, never be brought to His charge again.

What the old covenant couldn’t do, the new one does, completely and perfectly. Verse 18 succinctly ends the author’s discussion. If there are no more sins to be forgiven, then the work is done. Scholfied famously said this:

The difference between the Atonement as set forth in the Old Testament and as presented in the New is that in the former case the sheep died for the shepherd; in the latter, the Shepherd died for the sheep.

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