Was the coming of Jesus the fulfilment or the postponement of the promises God made to Abraham? Does God have one covenant people today or two? Is the Church the Bride of Christ or a parenthesis to God’s continuing relationship with the Jewish people? Does the Temple in Jerusalem still need to be rebuilt before Jesus returns? Hebrews was written in part, to answer these questions. Jewish believers in Jesus living in the First Century were confused on whether they should attend Temple services? Should they continue to keep the Law? Should they celebrate Jewish Festivals? Should they offer animal sacrifices? They were torn between loyalty to their heritage on the one hand and loyalty to their Gentile brothers and sisters. The on-going conflict between Jews and Palestinians over the Holy Land is a controversial subject. It arouses strong emotions and heated debate among Christians. This too has its theological origins in passages such as the one was are looking at today. It helps us see that Bible study is not theoretical but can have profound ramifications in people’s lives and world affairs. This morning we are going to focus on Hebrews 10:1-18 but you may find this outline helpful, which gives the wider Biblical context to these questions. I hope it will stimulate your thinking and enrich your Bible study.
One of my favourite places to walk is the Pilgrim Way. It follows one of the ancient footpaths from Winchester to Canterbury across the Downs. Now there are many public footpaths in England but this one is unique. As the name suggests, for hundreds of years it has been used by pilgrims. For some it was a way to do penance and earn merit with God. For others it was a special time which they used to concentrate on their relationship with God and deepen their spiritual walk. It was a great experience to walk where so many before us had walked. The trail ends at the Canterbury Cathedral where pilgrims knelt at the spot where Thomas Becket was killed by the knights of Henry II. There is a simple memorial which marks the place of Becket’s martyrdom. For nearly a thousand years, Christians have knelt there to ask God that they, like Becket, might live courageously for him in spite of the powers of the world. Becket was a close friend of King Henry II who appointed him to his court. When the position of Archbishop of Canterbury fell vacant, Henry appointed Thomas Becket in the position thinking he would do his bidding. But something happened to Becket after he was appointed as spiritual leader of England. He stopped being complacent about his faith. He put politics and luxury behind him. He gave up his former wealth and style of life. And to his peril, he began to oppose the king when it came to differences between the church and the government. He paid the ultimate sacrifice. But Becket’s willingness to be a martyr for the faith did not earn him a place in heaven. Neither does a pilgrimage walking to Canterbury or indeed to Jerusalem.
There is only one way our sins can be taken away — only one sacrifice sufficient to atone for our sins. It is the perfect sacrifice of Christ, and this sacrifice makes all other sacrifices unnecessary. I want us to observe 3 reasons from Hebrews 10.
1. Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He was one of us
“Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me.” (Hebrews 10:5)
In Old Testament times God told the people to sacrifice animals as a temporary covering for their sins. It was a temporary plan for the perfect sacrifice that was coming. As they confessed their sins and laid their hands on the head of the animal which was to be sacrificed, they understood that something was dying in their place. They deserved to die, but God was providing a substitute. This sacrificial lamb was to be a picture of the perfect Lamb of God who would come. After the lamb was sacrificed on the altar, the person who offered the lamb would take it home and the whole family would eat the lamb in a sacrificial feast. The sacrifice would actually become a part of them. The sins of the people in Old Testament times were covered as they looked forward to the perfect sacrifice that was coming. Our sins are taken away as we look backward to the perfect sacrifice of Christ.
Daily we must confess our sins and in prayer have them placed on the head of the one who was our substitute and sacrifice. Because he died in our place and was offered as a sacrifice for our sins, we partake of his body and blood metaphorically as we receive the wine and bread of communion. It becomes a part of us as we ingest it. And now, when God sees us, he sees the sacrifice of Christ. We do not come depending on our own ability to make a worthy sacrifice — we know that is impossible — we come depending only on the sacrifice of Christ.
Remember Hebrews was written at a time when the Temple was still standing and animal sacrifices were still being offered daily. That is why God insists:
“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. 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. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4)
The sacrifice of animals could never take away our sins. We deserve to die for our sin. The perfect sacrifice had to be one of us. That’s why Hebrews 2 says
“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death…For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people” (Hebrews 2:14-15,17).
Jesus was the perfect sacrifice, first of all, because: He was one of us.
2. Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He was Sinless
“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… For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:9-10, 14)
We have been made holy, made perfect like him. Remember what you learnt from Hebrews 1:
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Hebrews 1:3)
And from Hebrews 4
“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)
And from Hebrews 7
“Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Hebrews 7:26-27)
There was just one problem with priests offering sacrifices for the sins of the people — they were sinners just like the rest of the people. So before they could offer sacrifices for anyone else’s sin the priests had to offer sacrifices for their own. And the sacrifices had to be repeated, not because they kept sinning, but because the sacrifices only provided a temporary covering for sin. They did not actually remove sin. No sinner could atone for anyone else. But God had a plan. He would become one of us, and then die in our place, to be our ransom. In doing this, he would do something that no one else was able to do — he would become the temple – the place of sacrifice, the priest who would offer the sacrifice, and above all, he is the Passover lamb the atonement sacrifice – all in himself.
The perfect sacrifice because he was one of us and because he was sinless. And there’s a third reason that Jesus is the perfect sacrifice:
3. Jesus is the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He is Divine
We know his self-sacrifice was accepted because God’s word tells us:
“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” (Hebrews 10:12-14)
He sat down. He sat down because his work was complete. He was able to do this because his sacrifice was accepted and also because he is Divine. Do you see the past event that now has present effects?
“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” You have been made perfect. You are being made holy. That is because he continues to intercede for us, applying his work on the cross in our place, defending us against our accuser before the very throne of God.
“Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. Such a high priest meets our need — one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:23-26).
Let’s sum up what we have found. Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He was one of us Jesus was the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He was Sinless Jesus is the Perfect Sacrifice: Because He is Divine
Let me close by illustrating the significance of this.
During Napoleon’s Austrian campaign, his army advanced to within six miles of Feldkirch.
It is a beautiful little village nestled in the mountains of Austria. It looked as though Bonaparte’s men would take the little unprotected town without resistance. But as Napoleon’s army advanced in the night, the Christians of Feldkirch gathered in a little church to pray. It was Saturday night before Easter morning. At sunrise the bells of the village pealed out across the countryside. Napoleon’s army, not realizing it was Easter Sunday, thought that the Austrian army had moved into Feldkirch during the night and that the bells were ringing in jubilation. Napoleon ordered a hasty retreat, and the battle at Feldkirch never took place. The Easter bells caused the enemy to retreat, and peace reigned in the Austrian countryside. What a wonderful God we have who has put our spiritual enemy in retreat and given us victory, given us peace, given us assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life because of the death, the resurrection and the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. He always lives to intercede for us. Because he lives, our enemy has not only retreated, he has been totally defeated. Jesus is indeed the Perfect sacrifice. Amen.
With grateful thanks to Rodney Buchanan for his sermon, Jesus, the Perfect Sacrifice on www.sermoncentral.com for inspiration and content.