A Full, Perfect, and Sufficient Sacrifice
Epistle: Hebrews 9:11-15 (KJV)
Homily Text: Hebrews 9:11-14
11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building;
12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.
13 For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh:
14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
15 And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.
Do you ever wish you could go back to time when life was easier? If so, you can understand what readers of the letter to the Hebrews were experiencing.
They were Jews who had come to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. Then life got hard. They experienced many hardships including persecution. Some of them lost family connections and property, and some had gone to jail.
Judaism was a recognized and protected by the Roman Empire. Christianity was not. So some of them were thinking about leaving Christianity and going back to Judaism, of leaving the church and going back to the synagogue.
Hebrews was written both to warn that if you leave Christianity you lose Christ. You give up…
... salvation accomplished for
... the reality for the picture
... the permanent for the temporary.
1. Compared with the Old Testament system of worship Jesus is best.
Since we are not Jews and have never practiced Old Testament worship, we don’t have the background the original readers of Hebrews were familiar with. So it will help us if we get several things in mind about the tabernacle, the priests, and the sacrifices.
- Think about the tabernacle as a large
rectangular tent surrounded by a fence. Inside the fence and in front of the entrance to the tabernacle there was an altar where sacrifices were made. There was also a basin where the priests washed themselves before the went into the tent.
- The tent itself was divided into two rooms. The front and larger room was called the Holy Place and had three pieces of furniture: a table for ceremonial bread, an incense altar, and a gold lampstand.
- The Holy Place was separated from the second room by a thick curtain.
- The smaller room was called the Most Holy Place was the place where God revealed his glorious presence. In that room was a chest overlaid with gold called the Ark of the Covenant. The cover of the chest was pure gold and on either end were cherubim that faced one another with their wings covering the center of the cover, which was called the mercy seat.
- There were many priests but there was one High Priest.
- Priests went into the outer room of the Tabernacle every day, but only the High Priest could go into the inner room and he only once a year.
- Sacrifices were offered every day on the Altar outside the Tent.
- However there was special day, the most holy day of the year, called the Day of Atonement. On this day blood a bull and a goat were sacrificed on the altar. Then the High Priest went into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled blood on the front of the mercy seat to atone for the sins of the people so that God could continue to live among them and not destroy them because of their sins.
Now we can better understand what the writer is telling us about Jesus.
Jesus is the High Priest of good things to come. Aaron was the first High Priest, and many others followed him. All the High Priests who came before Jesus could do no more than point to the need for a better High Priest. All of them were sinners who had to make atonement for their own sins. All of them were mortal so their priestly ministries were temporary. The sacrifices they offered were never complete but had to be offered again and again. Their ministries prophesied good things to come, but never brought those good things.. Those good things - a perfect Priest who lives forever, a perfect sacrifice that can really take away our sins - came only with Jesus.
Jesus is not only the High Priest but the sacrifice. The High Priests of the Old Testament sacrificed goats and calves, took their blood into the the Most Holy Place, and sprinkled it on the mercy seat to make atonement for sins. But the whole ritual had to be repeated year after year. Sin was never removed by an Old Testament Priest. But, Jesus as High Priest, sacrificed himself and offered his own blood to atone for sins - to remove them for good and forever. He obtained an eternal redemption for us. He freed us from slavery to sin, guilt, and condemnation by finally and fully paying the price of our freedom, which was the shedding of his blood. He gives us a forever salvation.
He took his blood into the real tabernacle. The tabernacle, and especially the Most Holy Place, was where God lived among his people on earth. But God could not ever or really be contained in an earthly tent or building. God’s dwelling place is heaven. The tabernacle was built by human craftsman and it was located in creation. The earthly tabernacle was modelled on the heavenly tabernacle where God lives. Heaven was created by God and does not belong to this creation. Jesus, having sacrificed himself and shed his blood on the cross, went into heaven and, as it were, sprinkled his blood before God. That was the sacrifice that God accepted. Now our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled with God forever.
Suppose you developed very early in life a love for Mustang cars. As various gift giving occasions came around parents and relatives would buy you models, at first just toys and then kits each more complicated and detailed the the previous one. You have an impressive collection of Mustang models. Then, when you graduate from college, your parents give you a brand new Mustang. But, you say, “I’m not so sure I want the car. I have all these nice models.” You prefer the replicas to the real thing. That’s the way it was for these Jewish Christians who were thinking about giving up Jesus, the fulfillment of the Old Testament and the Reality to whom it pointed, to go back to Judaism. That’s the way it is today for any who would put anything in the place of or in addition to Jesus and his sacrifice for sin. Why would you take a picture rather than the Person in the picture? Why the shadow when you can have the Reality? Jesus is what you need, and he is all you need.
2. Compared with the effectiveness of the Old Testament sacrifices, Jesus’s sacrifice is best.
I often spill coffee on the fronts of my tee-shirts. When my laundress puts them in washing machine with the regular detergent, the tee-shirts come back with the stains embedded. From from time to time, however, she washes them with detergent and bleach, and they come back without stains. There is a big difference between the effectiveness of detergent alone and the detergent plus bleach.
The writer of Hebrews compares the effectiveness of the sacrifices offered by the Old Testament priests and the sacrifice offered by Christ.
Old Testament Sacrifices
In the Old Testament there were two kinds of defilement - ways that a person was unclean in God’s sight. These two wer closely related.
- There was the defilement caused by the general sinfulness that belongs to the whole human race and the resultant defilement caused by particular acts of sin. Sin made you guilty and and condemned before God and cut you off from fellowship with him.
- There was also ceremonial or ritual defilement which meant you could not participate in the worship at the tabernacle. One of the main ways you became defiled so you could not come participate in worship was by contact with a dead body even inadvertantly.
- The way the guilt and condemnation of sin were removed was by the daily sin offerings and by the annual sprinkling of blood on the mercy seat. These sacrifices restored you to fellowship with God.
- The way ritual defilement was removed involved the mixing of ashes of a sacrificed heifer and water which was then sprinkled on the defiled person. You could then have fellowship with God in worship.
- The effect of these cleansings was very limited. They cleansed the body. They removed external defilement, so that you could have fellowship with God by participating in worship.
The sacrifice of Christ. The difference between those Old Testament sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ can cleanse the conscience from dead works. What are dead works? There are two kinds. One kind is life ruled by sin. Another kind of dead works is trying to be good to win acceptance with God.
- The first are the kinds are sins that were characteristic of the lives of Gentiles - what Paul calls “the works of the flesh.” He illustrates these in the letter to the Galatians: “Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:19-21).
- The other kind of dead works were more likely to be found among the Jews. The Jews were prone to try to establish their own righteousness by following the ritual and moral regulations of the Old Testament. Paul also spoke of this kind of dead works also in Galatians: “We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified...For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 2: 15-16; 3: 10-11)
- Suppose you got up this morning and knew you needed to get ready to go to church. So you took a shower and put on clean clothes. You’re ready to go to church and worship God. This is something like the effect of the Old Testament sacrifices. They got you clean on the outside. But, while you are dressing your conscience begins to bother you.
- You think perhaps of the lies you tell, or the lusts you indulge, or the malice in your heart toward another person. What if someone knew what you are really like? But God knows.
- Or maybe your conscience goes in another direction. You think about allyour good works, and it strikes you that all your good works are are not good enough. You realize they are what St. Augustine called “splendid sins.” You know that your righteousness is really self-righteousness.
- What can you do about these things that trouble your conscience? A shower and clean clothes can’t touch your conscience. But the blood of Jesus can. When you trust in his sacrifice that has been accepted by God, you can shut your accusing conscience up. You can say, “Yes, I am guilty of horrible sins - of action, word, thought, and heart. But Jesus blood cleanses me from all sin.” Or, “No my best good works and efforts at self-improvement are not good enough and will never be for me to have peace with God. But, it not my good works, but the blood of Jesus that cleanses me and makes me fit for fellowship with God."
It is the cleansing of the blood of Jesus, Jesus’s sacrifice for our sin, that makes it possible for us to serve the living God.
- Serving God means first worshiping him. By the blood of Jesus you are free to come into God’s presence to sing his praises, to offer him your prayers, to hear his Word, to feed upon his body and blood. Without the blood of Jesus no one of us can worship God in a way he accepts. But the blood of Jesus covers up our sins, our mixed motives, all our defilement and defects so that God not only accepts but delights in our worship.
- Serving God means also living for him. How can you serve God by living for him? You need a chance to start over as though all the mess-ups and failures of the past were not there. But how can that be? All those sins and weaknesses of the past are not imaginary; they are real. So how can you get that chance to start over? Because the blood of Jesus covers the past and cleanses you of the sins of the past. But, perhaps you think: “Well the Lord has given me a chance to start over, but I keep blowing it. I keep messing up. I am sure he has run out of patience and rejected me.” No, as long as you confess your sins, ask his forgiveness, and seek his grace for the future, the blood of Jesus will cover not just the sins and failures of the distant past, but the sins and failures of yesterday, and this morning.
We say in the service of Holy Communion that Jesus “made there (on the cross) (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins.” He is the perfect High Priest, who offered the perfect sacrifice for sins, entered heaven, and secured our eternal salvation.