Jesus Is Better (Hebrews 8:1-7)

Exodus by Marc Chagall, 1952

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. (New International Version)

Jesus Christ is superior to everyone and everything – that is the overarching theme of the New Testament book of Hebrews. Jesus is above the angels, over Moses, and the great high priest of a new covenant. In Christ, the sin issue has been taken care of, once and for all.

Through Jesus, every good promise of God is fulfilled. Christ’s priesthood and intercessory ministry is permanent. His sacrifice for sin is thorough and complete. Jesus lives forever. He saves completely. Christ meets our need. He has been made perfect forever. (Hebrews 7:23-28). 

Frankly, these bold statements from the author of Hebrews are some audacious claims. In fact, they’re downright radical. And yet, say any of those statements in the typical church, and hardly an eyebrow gets raised – they almost seem ho-hum. Our blank affect testifies that we have lost a great deal of the original force and impact of Christianity.

In the first century, to have one sacrifice to end all sacrifices was unthinkable. Every ancient person understood that sacrifices were temporary; you had to keep offering them over and over again. 

Christianity, however, asked the world to have a new understanding of sacrifice. No longer would there be any sacrifice – no grain sacrifice; no offerings of first fruits; no animal sacrifices; no sacrifices, period. There was no longer any need for them because Jesus himself is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. 

Crucifixion by Marc Chagall, 1966

This was such a ridiculous notion for so many people that they mocked Christians for it. Both Jews and pagans could barely wrap their minds around such a progressive idea. It would be like saying to us today that there is no longer any need for money because somebody just became the underwriter for everything everybody does.

Despite this incredible spiritual reality, we in the contemporary church sometimes go back to the old sacrificial system, not by physically offering animal sacrifices, but treating Christ’s finished work as if it were just too good to be true. 

We reason that we need to do something to help save ourselves. However, Jesus has not just saved us partially, but fully. Grace has always been scandalous, and so, we try to tone it down a bit, mitigate it’s actual force:

  • Church attendance can subtly be looked upon as a sacrifice to appease God, as if he needed to be soothed into not becoming angry at us. 
  • Giving can become a non-bloody sacrifice that is meant to satisfy God’s furrowed brow against us. 
  • Service can degenerate into a sacrifice to assuage our guilty conscience. 

In all these kinds of instances, and more, we go back to an old sacrificial system that is obsolete. Nonetheless, the biblical and theological truth is that Jesus has thoroughly saved us from our sin, and, so, has cleansed us from all guilt, including a guilty conscience. 

Jesus meets our need and has completely satisfied God’s wrath against the power and deceit of sin. 

Jesus is our mediator and intercedes for us as we come to God’s throne of grace. That means we do not need to try and get God’s attention with performing spiritual cartwheels or some incredible sacrifice that will somehow obligate him to take notice of us. That’s because there is never a time in which we lack attention from God.

Since we have been justified by faith in Jesus, we need not worry anymore about being good enough. Since Jesus is perfect, his work is made complete in us. A constant anxiety of feeling like we don’t measure-up does not come from God. Jesus is sufficient and has taken our place so that we can live in the freedom and joy of a complete deliverance from sin, death, and hell. There is no longer any necessary sacrifice to make!

“Well,” I have been told by some, “if everybody in the church believed that then nobody would ever do anything!” No, it is just the opposite. When we feel like we don’t measure up, we do less, not more. A low level discouragement sets in and we do nothing because we intuitively know it will never be enough. We do just enough to squeak by, never quite knowing if it is doing anything. 

In such a state, we may consider giving up because Christianity doesn’t work for us (which was the state of the believers in the book of Hebrews). But when we grasp the New Covenant of Christ’s sacrifice to end all sacrifices, and are overwhelmed by grace, then everything we do in the Christian life is a “thank you” with our life and our lips. 

It is the grace, and not the wrath, of God that teaches us to say “no” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live upright and godly lives (Titus 2:11-12).

We are justified and made right by faith in Jesus Christ, and not by our own accomplishments, pedigree, or effort.  Trusting in our heritage, relying on our family’s faith, or believing our hard work gives us a leg-up toward heaven will only end in despair. 

But if we trust in Christ’s perfect sacrifice, then a whole new world of mercy opens before us. Because the grace of God in Christ is superior to everything.

Soli Deo Gloria

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