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Once for All

Series: Better: A Study of the Christian Life in Hebrews

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Jun 30, 2013

Hebrews 10:1-18

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If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Hebrews chapter 10 as we continue our way through this letter. The theme has echoed throughout the book that Jesus is a better Savior. He’s a better priest. He’s a better sacrifice. He’s the better mediator of a better covenant. And especially as we’ve looked at Hebrews 8, 9, and 10, the explanation of why Jesus is a better sacrifice has been very much on the author’s mind.  And in this culminating part of that section, we see a three part argument for the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice.  

And I’d like you to notice, first of all in verses 1 to 4, what is said about the Old Testament ceremonial system. It is argued that that Old Testament ceremonial system of sacrifices did not result in the cleansing of sinners. It did not result in the forgiveness of sins; did not result in the addressing of the problems of a guilty conscience in the hearts of believers.

Then if you look at verses 5 to 10, you will see the author of Hebrews say what did and what does. And that is, the obedient atoning sacrifice of Jesus. That that actually was what was foreshadowed in the Old Testament ceremonial system.

And then finally in verses 11 to 18, the author of Hebrews talks about what that did.  If the Old Testament ceremonial system didn’t work, if Jesus once for all time sacrifice did, what did it do? And the author of Hebrews, especially in verses 11 to 18, appeals to Jeremiah 31, and says that Jesus’ sacrifice did two very important things. We would use the language of justification and sanctification if we were to use the language of our catechism, and even the language of this passage. Forgiveness and transformation were accomplished by the obedient sacrifice of Jesus. I want to look at this passage with you this morning as we learn again how Jesus is better. 

Let’s pray before we read God’s Word.

Heavenly Father, this is Your Word. We ask that You would open our eyes to behold wonderful things in it. And especially, O God, we ask that You would show us the Savior in the perfection of His person and work and that You would grant us by the Holy Spirit faith in Him, that we would put no confidence in the flesh; that we would put no confidence in ourselves, but that all our hope would be in Him, nothing but the blood of Jesus.  This we pray in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

This is the Word of God.  Hear it beginning in Hebrews chapter 10 verse 1:

“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 sin?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin 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 you have 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.’’

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

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.  But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.  For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being 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, declares the Lord:  I will put my laws on their hearts and write them on their minds,’

Then he adds, 

‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

Amen, and thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired, and inerrant Word.  May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.

What were you made for?  What did God create you for?  For communion with Himself; for the enjoyment of God.  You and I lost that in the fall of our first parents.  Who or what can restore that?  The Bible’s answer from Genesis to Revelation is only Jesus. Only Jesus can restore that lost communion. How?  Through his obedient atoning work.  So what is it that we need in order to enjoy communion again with God in this world?  We need forgiveness and renovation.  And that is what Jesus provides us through His obedient, atoning work.  We need justification and sanctification.  We need to be brought back into a relationship of being declared right with God and to have restored to us the desire to treasure God above everything else. And that work God does by His grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s really the topic of conversation in the passage before us.  And I want you to see three things that the author of Hebrews says.  

THE FORESHADOWING OF THE REAL SACRIFICE

The first thing you will see in verses 1 to 4.  There he says this - God designed the ceremonial system under Moses to foreshadow the real sacrifice to come.  The ceremonial system itself was incapable of forgiving sins.  It was incapable of forgiveness or renovation.  But it pointed to the real sacrifice that was able to forgive sins and to bring about transformation.  In other words, the old covenant sacrifices could not perfect or atone for or forgive or reconcile people to God.  But the real sacrifice that they foreshadowed could.  Look at how he argues that.  Look at verse 1.

“The law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities.”You and I really cannot imagine how radical a statement that was, in the ears of those who first heard it.  Can you imagine a Hebrew, hearing a preacher of the Word standing up saying the law was a mere shadow?  It didn’t have the reality in it to which it pointed.  It was just a shadow of the things to come.  And so consequently look at the end on verse 1.  “It can never make perfect those who draw near.”  The author of Hebrews just categorically says the ceremonial law cannot get you to God. The ceremonial law cannot bring you back into communion with God. 

And then in verse 2, he explains why.  Verse 2 is designed to prove the point of verse 1. “Otherwise would they not cease to be offered since the worshippers having been once cleansed would no longer have any consciousness of sins.”  You see the argument.  The argument is, you can know that the Old Testament ceremonial sacrifices did not accomplish forgiveness because they were repeated.  If they had worked, they wouldn’t have needed to be repeated.  The very fact that they were repeated shows that they did not bring about forgiveness.

And then he goes on the say, notice, that the Old Testament worshipers were in fact - look at verse 3 - reminded of this very point every year when they had to repeat the sacrifices.  “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.”  The author of Hebrews is telling us that the Old Testament worshipers would have been subjectively reminded of their sin, in the very act of having to repeat year after year after year the annual atonement ritual.  And so he says the God-designed, old covenant ceremonial system, was not able to forgive.  It pointed forward to the sacrifice that would forgive.  His point is, the law could not give us what we need.  What do we need?  We need forgiveness. That forgiveness is promised to us in Jeremiah 31 verse 34, a passage that we read just a few weeks ago as we have been working through the book of Jeremiah; a passage which is quoted later in this chapter.  Look down in your Bibles to verse 17 where he quotes Jeremiah 31:34 - “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

Now note the contrast.  He says the very repetition of the ceremonial sacrifices would have reminded us that we still need forgiveness.  But when he quotes the promise of Jeremiah 31:34, it is the promise that God will remember our sins no more. Now his point is to contrast the Old Testament ceremonial system, that did not bring about the full forgiveness of sins, and the promise of the new covenant which anticipated God remembering our sins no more.  So if the Old Testament ceremonial system couldn’t give us what we need, where do we find that?  That’s what he answers in verses 5 to 10.

JESUS IS THE REAL SACRIFICE

Look with me there where he says that “Christ came into the world as the real sacrifice in obedience to the Father’s will.”  The Old Testament prophesied that there was a real sacrifice to come.  Who is that sacrifice?  What is that sacrifice?  Jesus! Jesus is it. He fulfills God’s will.  He bears the penalty of God’s will broken. He fulfills perfectly the requirements of God’s will. 

And what the author of Hebrews does is he quotes Psalm 40, verses 6 to 8.  If you turn back in your Bibles to Psalm 40, and look up at the top of that psalm you will notice that it is by David. So when he is quoting Psalm 40, he’s quoting David.  And he quotes especially verses 6 to 8.

And here’s what he quotes - “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me.”  Now chances are, your English translations read slightly differently in the second half of that verse.  That’s because your English translations are based on the Hebrew reading of that passage and the author of Hebrews is quoting from the Greek translation of that passage.  And it’s a fascinating story that I’m not going to get into today. But the author of Hebrews quotes this Greek passage on purpose, for a specific reason.  Notice what he says - “but a body have you prepared for me.”  Now why is that significant? Because of what he says in verse 10.  “By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”  

Now let me explain what is going on here. Many of you will remember that one of the great themes in the Old Testament prophets, especially the later prophets, is obedience is better than sacrifice.  It’s not always said exactly that way, but things like that are said repeatedly in the prophetic literature.  And the point is of course what?  That God doesn’t want you to go through the motions of outward ceremonial worship and not worship Him with your heart and in your life.  In other words, God doesn’t want you to be hypocrites. He doesn’t want you to go through the ritual of worship without really worshipping Him from your heart and in all your life.

Isaiah chapter 1 verses 10 to 16 make that very point. When God says through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, “I hate your new moons and your feasts and your sacrifices,” why does God say that?  Because the people are worshipping Him with their lips but their hearts are far away from Him.  So over and over in the prophetic literature there is this theme, “to obey is better than sacrifice.” Obedience is better than sacrifice. “Don’t perform the rituals of the sacrificial system and feel all holy, when you don’t really love the Lord your God from your heart and in all of your life,” is the message that we hear over and over.  And by the way, Jesus picks up on that message and turns it on the Pharisees repeatedly.  He says, “You know Pharisees, you talk about how much you care about the law, but the fact of the matter is, it’s all outward with you. You don’t care about the essence of the law. You don’t care about the moral law.  You don’t live life. You don’t worship God like you really believe the law. You obey the lesser matters of the law and you ignore the weightier matters of the law.”  So Jesus says the same kind of thing in his ministry to the Pharisees.

Now, when David quotes this passage and says, “Sacrifices you have not desired, but behold, as in written in the scroll of the book of the law, I come to do your will.”  What is David saying? He is saying, “Lord, I know that you are not just interested me going through the outward motions of worshipping You. You really want me to worship You from the heart. You want my will to be given over to You. You want me to wholly give myself over to You.”  And David is declaring, “That’s what I am going to do, Lord. I am going to obey You.”  Now of course, David did that imperfectly. He did not perfectly obey the will of God, but he is expressing there a desire to obey God and not simply go through the outer motions. 

Well, did you notice in this passage when the author of Hebrews quotes it, he does not say, “Now when David came into the world,” he said - what does he say?  He says, “When Christ came into the world.”  Go back and look at verse 5.  “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.’”  In that passage, Jesus is saying that David said more than he knew.  That David’s words were actually ultimately fulfilled in Him.  And Jesus was not simply saying, “I’m not only going to worship God outwardly through His appointed ceremonial system but I am going to obey Him with my life.”  He is actually saying this. Jesus is saying, “All of those ceremonial sacrifices pointed to My sacrifice, and My giving of My body as a sacrifice for you is the will of God that saves you. My obedient atoning sacrifice is what everything in the Old Testament ceremonial system was pointing forward to.”  The reason that Old Testament saints were forgiven is not because of the blood of bulls and goats, which we’ve already learned in verse 4 cannot forgive sins. The reason they were forgiven is because Jesus died.  Jesus’ death worked backwards and forwards to forgive all those who trust in Him.  It is the only real and effect sacrifice.  So the author is telling us here that Jesus, through His obedience and offering as a sacrifice, accomplished what we need.  The Old Testament sacrificial system couldn’t do what we need. Jesus did it.

FORGIVENESS AND TRANSFORMATION 

CAME THROUGH THE REAL SACRIFICE

Well what did Jesus’ sacrifice do for us?  That’s the third thing I want you to see and we see it in verses 11 to 18. Here, the author of Hebrews explains that Christ’s work bring about the fulfillment of the new covenant promises. Christ’s obedience to the will of God effectively and perfectly reconciles us to Him.  Look at verse 11 to 18.  It’s a fascinating contrast.  “Every priest stands at his service.” The author of Hebrews draws attention to the fact the when Old Testament priests were in the tabernacle or temple ministering for you as your representative before God, how did they do that?  They did that standing and they did it repeatedly.  They were in there every day.  So they were standing on your behalf every day.  And he contrasts that to Jesus’ work.  Verse 12 - “When Jesus had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.”  What’s the point?  The point is that you can see that Jesus’ work is finished, it’s perfect, it’s done, and therefore you are forgiven once for all because He’s not standing; He’s sitting at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  It’s an indication that His work is done and His reign has begun. Whereas the Old Testament priest had to stand all the time, every day, on and on and on, doing their bidding on your behalf, Jesus does his work, offered one sacrifice, and sat down at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.  And he says, “You see, this shows you that Jesus is a better priest. He has finished his work.”  

What work has he finished?  Well, he tells you. Look at verse 14. “For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Now that is a fascinating thing. You might expect him to say, that “He has perfected for all time those who had been justified.”  But he says that “He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”  He has provided for your forgiveness.  He is providing for your transformation.  And he quotes Jeremiah 31 to explain this.  Look at verse 15. “The Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord.’”  Now what will be involved in that covenant?  First, “I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds.  I am going to renew you. I am going to transform you. I am going to change you from the inside out.  I am going to renovate you so that instead of treasuring something else other than God, you’ll treasure God; so that instead of loving something else more than God, you’ll love God; so that instead of being totally focused on yourself, you’ll love others - your neighbors and your brothers.  I am going to transform you from the inside out.  I am going to write my law on your heart.” What is the summary of the law that Jesus gives?  Love God, love your neighbor. “I am going to write that on your heart.”  “And,” verse 17, then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” What’s that?  That’s justification! He’s going to forgive us. 

So in this passage the author of Hebrews is telling us that Christ brought about the realization of the promises of the new covenant both sanctification and justification; both renovation and forgiveness. You see our whole hope for the Christian life is in Christ.  Look away from Him and you look away from hope.  Our whole hope in the Christian life is in Christ and if we look away from Christ we look away from the only place where there is hope.  What do we need to experience communion with God in this world?  We need forgiveness and we need sanctification.  And who can provide that?  Only Jesus. And how does he provide that?  Through his blood.  And is there anything else that can provide that?  No, nothing but the blood of Jesus.

And my friend, you can sit in churches, even Gospel believing churches, and hear that said in your ears and not act on it in faith.  And that would be a tremendous tragedy because the only hope that there is to be had in this world is in Jesus.  If you want to commune with God, if you want to glorify and enjoy Him forever, if you want to have fellowship with God, if you want to live forever in His presence, nothing but the blood of Jesus will provide what you need.

Let’s pray.

Heavenly Father, grant us faith in the finished work of the Savior so that we might enjoy not only free justification, an act of Your free grace, but that we might also have our desires so molded by Your Spirit in sanctification that we actually want to be with You; that we care about being with you more than anything else in this world.  We ask this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Now, if you take your hymnals in hand and turn with me to number 307, we will sing this very truth in, “Nothing but the Blood of Jesus.”

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Christ Jesus.  Amen.

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