It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 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)
In truth, I could preach on the Cross every Sunday and never exhaust the immensely rich implications of Jesus Christ’s death for us.
Perhaps, for many Christians, today’s New Testament lesson seems 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, through continual examination of Christ and the Cross:
- We will know, both intellectually and experientially, that our forgiveness is real.
- We will be able, both spiritually and emotionally, to extend real forgiveness to others.
The original recipients of Hebrews were experiencing spiritual fatigue due to their difficult circumstances. The believers were so worn down from swimming upstream of their problems, that they considered throwing in the towel 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 and the Cross. So, he sought to demonstrate that Jesus is superior to the old sacrificial system and has superseded it.
There are three main distinctions between the old sacrificial system and the new way of Christ so that we will be encouraged to know that our forgiveness is real.
Reality vs. Simulation
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.
The difference between the old temple sacrifices and the sacrifice of Christ, is like the difference between riding a mechanical horse and an actual horse. Mechanical horses are merely a simulation of real riding.
Since Christ has come as the real sacrifice for sin, we need no longer be content with simulations and copies of the real deal. The Christian’s forgiveness is neither a simulation nor a copy because Christ is the real thing.
Jesus did not just mechanically mouth words of forgiveness to us; Christ secured real forgiveness through his death on a cross. This is no cheap imitation of forgiveness. Christ died an actual 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, knowing that God loves us that much.
Permanent vs. Temporary
Jesus Christ dealt with the sin issue once and 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.
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 a permanent forgiveness, settled once and for all, through his blood.
This old world needs real forgiveness that lasts forever – not a cheap sentimental forgiving that is merely a flash in the pan.
Salvation vs. 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 of 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. We must recognize that it is the 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.
Jesus didn’t die on a cruel cross, then rise from death so that we could live ho-hum Christian lives.
Christ has granted us forgiveness so that we will enjoy the Christian life, appreciate the Word of God; relish in laboring together for the Gospel; and look forward with anticipation to how the Spirit will transform lives through Christ’s forgiveness.
Real forgiveness opens our minds, hearts, and energies to live for Jesus, the pioneer of our salvation.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace. Clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.