My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did. (New International Version)
Jesus is our advocate, the one who speaks on our behalf, our mediator, who stands in the gap between heaven and earth, standing-up for us when we have no leg to stand on.
Christ has atoned for all our sin, guilt, and shame through his “propitiation” which means that his death satisfied all demands of justice and put to rest the sin issue once for all through his blood. Christ’s gracious intervention has saved us from ourselves.
Jesus Christ has made it possible for us to experience forgiveness, restoration, and new life. Whenever we are so broken and so full of tears that we cannot even speak words at all, Jesus steps in and speaks on our behalf with words that mean something because they have been backed up with the action of the cross.
“But” as the late Ron Popeil used to say on the old commercials, “that’s not all!” Not only do we have deliverance from sin, death, and hell, Christ’s followers have both the means and the opportunity to give back and be a blessing to one another and the world. The Spirit enables us to obey God’s commands and is the continuing presence of Jesus to us and on this earth.
Christians are called to be little advocates, practicing the ministry of coming alongside and interceding for one another before God. We can agents of spiritual healing in a world of brokenness. Our gospel proclamation, a message of grace and forgiveness, gets to the very root of human problems and travails.
Anyone who harms and hurts others as a matter of habit in the name of Christ, and does not heal, is no follower of Jesus but is a victimizer.
Any person who talks a good talk, and walks a bad walk, is not living as Jesus did, and is a spiritual pettifogger.
Anybody who claims the name of Christ and avoids reading and studying and praying over the New Testament Gospels, is a slovenly lout, no matter whether they have prayed a “sinners prayer.”
Whoever claims to live for Christ must live as Jesus did. So, how did Jesus live?
“You know that the rulers of the non-Jewish people love to show their power over the people. And their important leaders love to use all their authority. But it should not be that way among you. Whoever wants to become great among you must serve the rest of you like a servant. Whoever wants to become first among you must serve the rest of you like a slave. In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people.” (Matthew 20:25-28, NCV)
“You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15, NRSV)
Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus:
Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a slave and by becoming like human beings. When he found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8, CEB)
But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
“He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:20-23, NIV)
Christians inhabit unlovely places for the purpose of putting sacrificial love there. This is what it means to live as Jesus did.
O Lord, you have taught us that without love whatever we do is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is the love of God in Christ, the true source of healing and the real bond of peace. Amen.
Because Jesus Christ did what God wanted him to do, we are all purified from sin by the offering that he made of his own body once and for all.
Every Jewish priest performs his services every day and offers the same sacrifices many times; but these sacrifices can never take away sins. Christ, however, offered one sacrifice for sins, an offering that is effective forever, and then he sat down at the right side of God. There he now waits until God puts his enemies as a footstool under his feet. With one sacrifice, then, he has made perfect forever those who are purified from sin.
And the Holy Spirit also gives us his witness. First he says,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them in the days to come, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts and write them on their minds.”
And then he says, “I will not remember their sins and evil deeds any longer.”So, when these have been forgiven, an offering to take away sins is no longer needed. (Good News Translation)
As I sit at my computer, easily keyboarding my thoughts, it is almost inconceivable to me that I made it through my undergraduate college days in the early 1980s with a manual typewriter and notetaking with the old-fashioned pen and spiral notebook. No cell phone, no tablet, no electronic devices aiding me through my education. Typewriters are now obsolete, along with corded dial telephones and wringer washers.
Yet even more incredible is the complete replacement of an old mundane system of ritual sacrifice to a religion of the heart in which God remembers the people’s sins no more. This is such a radical change that it would be like having self-cleaning dishes or total speech-to-text “writing” of “papers.”
The new order of things described in Hebrews is so much more than a labor-saving device; it is a completely different system that leaves the old system obsolete forever. That is what Jesus Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice did on our behalf.
We live in a New Covenant era in which God has put divine laws on our hearts and written them on our minds. No typewriter, no computer, no keyboard necessary, because the blood of Christ has introduced a seminal change in how we relate to God.
There is now a thorough forgiveness that no longer requires any labor, ritual, or work. Indeed, it is finished. Now, we have the privilege and opportunity of living into the new reality graciously provided for us. It is an era of great peace, joy, and goodwill. It is so good that it would be absolutely ridiculous to go back to the old way.
So, slow down enough in this season to connect or re-connect with a most wonderful truth: Jesus Christ came to save sinners. Gratitude for our salvation from sin, death, and hell, recognized and acknowledged each day, helps to stave off living in the past.
Continually looking at a bygone era as the good old days probably wasn’t, in reality, near as great as it’s remembered. That’s because when things are hard in the present, we often reflexively retreat into the past, cherry-picking some good memories, then constructing a mental narrative without all the bad stuff which actually went along with it.
Instead, in this Advent season, Christians purposely focus upon and remember God’s merciful descent to live among humanity. Christ lived, died, rose from death, and is alive – interceding for us continually. Past and present come together in the person of Jesus.
The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. (John 1:14, MSG)
The good news of Christianity is that we are gloriously forgiven and redeemed because of Christ, given for us, the once for all sacrifice for sin.
May this season be full of grace and wonder for you, as you pilgrim to the manger and adore Christ the newborn king.
Saving God, you have completely taken care of the sin issue once and for all through the blood of your Son. Forgive me for my predilection to retreat into old obsolete ways of trying to earn peace and joy, instead of adopting the new, which sometimes seems almost too good to be true. Thank you for deliverance and new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again, and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 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.
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.”
Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”
And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (New International Version)
The book of Hebrews was originally a sermon preached to a group of struggling Jewish Christians who were discouraged. They were a congregation in decline. The preacher’s approach throughout is to demonstrate that Jesus is better and superior to anything or anyone ever.
With this high view of the person and work of Christ, the preacher comes to the punch line of his sermon. He insists that what the believers need is perseverance to keep going – no matter what adversity they face. For without the ability to endure hardship, the sagging congregation would continue to decline and eventually give up.
Yet, giving up is not an option when it comes to the Christian life. The Christians may not have been going through a Job-like experience, but they needed to get some spiritual spine to them so that they could stand up for Jesus.
Sometimes, because most of life is lived in the mundane, we can slowly drift from our spiritual moorings and just go through the motions of Christianity without really living for Jesus. Boring and repetitive work; the monotony of caregiving; the tedium of busywork; and the continual grind of it all can be an effective tool in the devil’s workshop.
When we begin sleepwalking through life, we are in danger of wandering from faith. We then need some stout spiritual stamina. “I didn’t sign up for this!” can be the cry of both the person who is downtrodden with hard circumstances, as well as the person who is simply living a dull life.
We all have our quitting point – that point where we say, “enough is enough” and we give up and cry uncle. Those times usually come when the pain or inconvenience of what is happening overcomes the resolve to persevere. The devil keeps detailed notes on everyone’s quitting points, and he tries to get us to that point of being ineffective and giving up on the Christian life.
It easily begins with some minor irritation or complaint against from another. Then moves further along by the loss of someone close. Frustration mounts if financial hardship happens. After a while, if things do not markedly improve, living day in and day out with missed expectations and disappointing situations may lead to bailing out, blowing up, or binging on a sinful desire.
At the quitting point, we throw up our hands, wrongheadedly believing others don’t care and that God is indifferent to our situation.
The preacher of Hebrews knows that the one real measure of a person is the learned ability to push through the quitting points of life. We need endurance and perseverance. But how will we get it? How can we endure, living for Jesus for the rest of our lives?
There are three indispensable elements of the Christian life, necessary to persevering. Perseverance is a privilege, and not some drudging duty to slog through. Following Jesus for a lifetime comes as we embrace our spiritual privileges.
Faith is the privilege of continually approaching the Lord with confidence
We possess the incredible privilege of approaching the throne of grace with confidence because Jesus has opened the way to God. No longer do we need the elaborate Old Testament sacrificial system in order to approach God. So, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.
We need faith to keep going in the Christian life. Faith is more than doctrinal confession; it is something we experientially live by every day. By faith, we come to God through Jesus – not only soaking in more information but also drawing near to Christ.
Jesus, when on this earth, drew near to the Father. We are to follow Christ in his example. Jesus practiced solitude, silence, and extended times of prayer. Our Lord oriented his teaching and healing ministry around his relationship with the Father by engaging in basic spiritual disciplines that put him in a position to hear and listen so that he could then do the will of God.
A successful student orients her life around certain study disciplines in order to learn and reach graduation day. A winning athlete orients his life around certain daily practices in order to develop the skills needed to face the upcoming competition. Likewise, if we want to follow Christ and draw near to God, we need to reorient our time and commitment in order to take advantage of the privilege of growing and maturing in Jesus.
The perspective of Hebrews is that we must orient our lives around basic disciplines of faith and put our hands out in order to receive the gift of faith God wants to give us. Faith is a muscle that must be exercised, or it will atrophy and become useless. And with puny weak faith muscles, it is easy to give up because we have no “umpff” for the Christian life.
Hope is the privilege of living for Jesus with a confident expectation that God keeps divine promises
Perseverance requires hope. Hopelessness happens without the continuing practice of faith expressed in drawing near to God. Hope in Scripture is not wishful thinking; it is a confident expectation that God is good for his promises.
Hope enables us to bank on the words and ways of Jesus. In those times when we feel hopeless; when there is negativity in the air that brings us to the quitting point; when we sense a season of blessing is not going to come; it is in those very times the preacher of Hebrews says to hold unswervingly to your profession.
We will not always squint our spiritual eyes, looking for the least little hope. Just as young mothers must remember that constant lack of sleep and caring for a needy infant is not always going to be the status quo; just as kids must remember that they will not be in school for the rest of their lives; in the same way, we must remember that God will accomplish everything he sets out to do; that there is an end and a goal to Christianity; and we will be richly rewarded if we keep going and do not give up.
Love is the privilege of encouraging fellow believers
We are to pay thoughtful attention to one another. Believers are to take an interest in each other’s welfare, and put some significant thought into how to spur, incite, cajole, and provoke others into keeping up with Jesus.
A major opportunity for encouragement is corporate gatherings. Attendance is not an end in itself. Worship services, small group Bible studies, and other ministries of the Church are important because they are moments for us to encourage other people.
Let’s play good response/bad response to this. Bad response: “I feel guilty about what you just said, so I will try harder to love and encourage others.” That’s a prescription for frustration and failure. It ends in reaching the quitting point because we are focusing too much on the strength of our own will, or lack thereof.
Good response: “Wow! God wants to use me to love other people! I’ll seek to know Jesus better so that I can learn to live and love, just like him. I can’t wait to encourage someone and build them up in the faith.”
Church is not optional equipment for the Christian life. We need each other. We need the Church.
“Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride. Grace cannot be received privately: cut off from others, it is perverted into greed. Hope cannot develop in solitude: separated from the community, it goes to seed in the form of fantasies. No gift, no virtue can develop and remain healthy apart from the community of faith. ‘Outside the church there is no salvation’ is not ecclesiastical arrogance but spiritual common sense, confirmed in everyday experience.”
“May Christians be guided by the Church’s maternal care until they grow up to maturity and attain the perfection of faith…. To those whom God is a Father, the Church must also be a Mother.”
Creates a unique presence with God. (Matthew 18:20)
Provides the nurture, guidance, and encouragement necessary for spiritual development. (Romans 12:4-5)
Helps form our identity as Christians. (Ephesians 2:19-20)
Enables endurance through suffering and brings comfort and encouragement in difficult times. (James 5:14-15)
Nourishes with the Word in preaching and sacrament. (Acts 2:46-47)
Lifts up godly examples to imitate. (1 Corinthians 4:16)
Intervenes when sheep go astray. (Colossians 3:16)
Brings maternal care and help. (1 Thessalonians 2:7)
Let’s be encouragers – loving others with the grace of Jesus. The following are six types of encouragers displayed in the book of Hebrews for us to emulate:
The Promoter. Cheering others on to endurance. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses cheering us on and promoting us to push through the quitting points. They did it, and so can we (12:1).
The Professor. Affirming others’ work as valuable and important. God will not forget your work and the love you have shown God’s people and how you continue to help them (6:9-10).
The Preacher. Rebuking and admonishing in love (Proverbs 27:5). We must pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. How shall we escape punishment if we ignore such a great salvation? (2:1-3).
The Prayer Warrior. Approaching the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (4:16).
The Partner. Coming alongside one another daily so that no one may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (3:13).
The Pastor. Shepherding others through the confusing situations of life. Jesus suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Together, let’s go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore, as we look forward to the heavenly city to come (13:12-14).
It’s our privilege to persevere through the spiritual gifts of faith, hope, and love. Use them for building up one another so that together we can endure for a lifetime.
For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (New International Version)
Jesus is the central figure of the Bible. I could preach on the finished work of Christ every Sunday and never exhaust the immensely rich implications of his death for us.
Maybe today’s verses seem like a re-hashing of things we already know. Yet, it is important to keep plumbing the depths of Christ’s once for all sacrifice because it is through continually examining Jesus that we will experientially know our forgiveness is real. Having this reality sink deep into our souls enables us to extend forgiveness to others.
The original recipients of Hebrews were experiencing spiritual fatigue due to their difficult circumstances. The believers were so tired from swimming upstream that they considered quitting and giving up on Christianity (or at least the Church).
The author of Hebrews truly believed that the way to combat this tiredness was through a robust understanding of Christ. So, he sought to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to the old sacrificial system and has even superseded it.
There are three main distinctions between the old sacrificial system and the new way of Christ. They are meant to encourage us so that we will know our forgiveness is real. This awareness will help us persevere and live for Jesus in all we say and do, until he returns.
First Distinction: Reality versus a Simulated Copy
The Old Testament sacrificial system, and its worship rituals in dealing with the sin issue, were only a copy and a shadow of the real sacrifice, which is Christ. The Temple sacrifices, in other words, were merely a facsimile of the real thing.
When my girls were small, they always enjoyed going to our local large grocery store. At that store they had a row of mechanical horses that only cost a penny to ride for one minute. Riding the horses was always the highlight of shopping for them. Their Aunt once came for a visit and brought a coffee can full of pennies and took them to the grocery store just to ride the horses for an afternoon.
All three of my girls are now grown adult women. They do not ride mechanical horses anymore. They now ride real live horses. My daughters, as excited as they were to ride mechanical horses as small girls, now have no desire to do so because those horses were only a simulation of the real thing.
As Christians, since Christ has come as the true and real sacrifice for sin, we are no longer to be content with simulations and copies of the real deal. And we are to know the difference between them. Our forgiveness is neither a simulation nor a copy because Christ is the real thing.
As my girls were growing up, my wife and I had a certain process we went through with them when they did something wrong toward one another. We would talk about the offense, and then they would need to say the words, “I am sorry.”
However, the matter was never over until they hugged each other and told each other they loved the other. If they could do that, it was the real deal. You see, they could mouth the words to get us off their backs, but to hug and express love was the reality.
Jesus did not just mouth words of forgiveness to us. He secured it through his death on a cross. It is not a cheap imitation kind of forgiveness. It is real. Christ died a violent death. The emphasis in Scripture on blood and sacrifice can be upsetting for many people.
Yet, we need to understand that the brokenness of this world is so bad that it requires drastic action. Christ’s death reflects the horrible sin of humanity. Since Jesus has secured forgiveness for us at such a steep price, we are to receive it with great humility and joy that God loves us that much.
Second Distinction: Once versus Endless Repetition
Jesus Christ came to deal with the sin issue once for all through his blood. He came to do away with sin, not just veneer over it. The old sacrificial system was like whitewashing a barn – it took care of the issue for a while, but it would need to be done over and over again.
We are familiar with temporary arrangements. For example, annual fees need to be paid and renewal stickers have to be put on a car’s license plate every year. Christ’s atonement, however, is no temporary arrangement. The forgiveness Jesus offers is permanent.
There is no need to keep offering sacrifices over and over because Christ is the sacrifice to end all sacrifices. The forgiveness we possess is not like paying an annual fee and getting a forgiveness sticker for the year. In Jesus Christ, we are forgiven! And this forgiveness was purchased with Christ’s own blood.
Author Henri Nouwen once told a story of a family he knew in Paraguay. The father, a doctor, spoke out against the military regime there and its human rights abuses. Local police took their revenge on him by arresting his teenage son and torturing him to death. Enraged townsfolk wanted to turn the boy’s funeral into a huge protest march, but the doctor chose another means of protest.
At the funeral, the father displayed his son’s body as he had found it in the jail—naked, scarred from electric shocks and cigarette burns, and beatings. All the villagers filed past the corpse, which lay not in a coffin but on the blood-soaked mattress from the prison. It was the strongest protest imaginable, for it put injustice on grotesque display.
The cross that held Christ’s naked and marred body exposed the violence and injustice of this world. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness, and a God of sacrificial love. Because Jesus was willing to do this on our behalf, we have forgiveness once and for all through his blood.
This world needs forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving but a real forgiveness that lasts forever.
Third Distinction: Salvation versus Judgment
A lot of religious energy can be spent trying to figure out how to make ourselves acceptable to God. Part of the good news is that, in Christ, we do not need to fear the future. We have been made right with God through the death of Jesus. Through Christ’s sacrifice the doors to heaven and earth get flung wide open. The way has been secured, the trail has been blazed, and the road has been made smooth to come to God.
Jesus, unlike any Levitical priest, has entered God’s presence, providing access to the living God. Christ did not need to offer sacrifice for his own sins but offered himself solely on our behalf. Jesus did more than offer the sacrifice; he himself became the sacrifice. It was a sacrifice to bring deliverance to humanity, not judgment.
Either to justify or to judge is God’s business, not ours. Our concern is to believe in the once for all sacrifice of Jesus that brings a permanent forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, can experience deliverance from sin, death, and hell.
We can have such a hard time forgiving others because we struggle with experiencing our own forgiveness. The path to extending grace to others is in deepening our knowledge, understanding, and awareness of God’s grace in Christ.
The author of Hebrews meant for the Christian life to be an exciting and abundant adventure following Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation. And yet, many Christians do not know anything about this kind of life. They only see the Christian life as a duty and a chore, a kind of cross to bear.
It is important we recognize it is our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the object of our faith, who has delivered us so that we can live a new life of freedom enjoying our forgiveness and inviting others on the journey.
There was once an immigrant that booked passage on a ship with just enough money to buy a ticket, a block of cheese and some crackers for a long voyage. The first few days at sea the crackers and cheese tasted good, but eventually they became stale.
As he watched the porters carry large steaks, lobsters, chicken, beautiful salads and many other delicious foods to the other guests, he became so hungry that he finally stopped one of the porters. “I’II do anything to get one of those steaks,” he said. “I’II wash dishes, clean rooms, even mop the deck.” The porter replied, “You bought a ticket, didn’t you? The meals come with the ticket.”
Too many people today are cheese and cracker Christians—missing out on all of God’s steak dinners. All the resources of God are available to us, yet far too many of us live in self-imposed spiritual poverty.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.(Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)
Jesus did not die on the cross and rise from the dead so that we could live ho-hum Christian lives. He has granted us forgiveness so that we will eagerly enjoy the Word of God; enjoy laboring together in the Gospel; and look forward to how the Spirit will transform lives through Christ’s forgiveness.
Real forgiveness opens our minds, hearts, and our energies to live for Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation.