Hebrews 9:23-28 – Once for All

Ethiopian Orthodox Church icon of Christ’s crucifixion

It was necessary for the sketches of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves need better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself again and again, as the high priest enters the Holy Place year after year with blood that is not his own; for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world.

But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin, but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (NRSV)

Once for all. Those few words are some of the most gruesome and beautiful in the entirety of Holy Scripture.  The sacrifices of bulls and goats in the Old Testament had its place. Yet, those were mere shadows pointing to the reality of the Messiah – the one whose sacrifice is so potent as to do away with sacrifice forever.

The cross of Christ was the once for all sacrifice that has settled the sin issue forever.

This is the heart of New Testament good news. Forgiveness of sins comes through the sheer grace of God in Christ. Through faith, we have the privilege of entering new life. Jesus has paved the way for eternal life, everlasting salvation, and complete remission of sins.

If it has not yet become self-apparent as to why Christ’s once for all sacrifice is such a game changer, then let’s perceive the cross from this angle: guilt is done away with, forever. Do you believe your life would change forever if you never had guilt hanging over your head?  What if all your past indiscretions, unhealthy life decisions, failures to speak or act when needed, overt things done which you cannot take back, or even the little things said or done in anger or hate were all washed away, forever?

Just as Jesus was nailed to a cruel cross, so guilt and shame was nailed there – once for all. There are three options of dealing with a guilty conscience when it happens…

Rationalize

First, you can rationalize it away, as if you have no responsibility or no culpability. One simply ignores their conscience. This is a one-way path to hardness of heart. Whenever we sin in speech or in action, and do not acknowledge it as our fault, then there is a little piece of us which hardens. The next time it happens, it’s a bit easier to respond with callousness. If you’ve ever encountered someone who seems utterly unfeeling to your situation, then there has likely been a pattern in that person’s life of keeping distance from pain. It only leads to hardness of heart.

Punish

A second way of facing guilt is just the opposite of rationalization. It is to punish and beat yourself for your faults and sins. Heaping abuse on ourselves for our sins takes two different tracks with either: discouragement, defeat, and depression resulting in inaction; or, working like crazy to try and earn God’s favor with hyper-activity. Both ways are a kind of self-imposed penance to try and atone for one’s sins or failures.

Confess

Fortunately, there is a better way to face and deal with our guilt. When there is true guilt for things done or undone, said, or unsaid, we must confess it, repent of it, and believe God has taken care of it. Unlike dealing with guilt in unhealthy ways resulting in callousness, discouragement, and hyperactivity, the path of confession and repentance allows the person to have a clear conscience, resulting in freedom. Christ’s once for all sacrifice is completely able to clear the conscience of the worshiper so that they may live into the grace and freedom of an enjoyable daily life. 

Nothing needs to hang over the believer’s head because Jesus Christ, the pioneer of our salvation, has accomplished deliverance from and forgiveness of sin, once and for all. Jesus didn’t just put a nice-looking veneer over sin; he took care of it, thoroughly and completely. Jesus didn’t whitewash things so that we looked okay; the salvation he offers is permanent.

The cross which held Christ’s naked and tortured body exposed the true violence and injustice of sin. The cross revealed what kind of world we have and what kind of God we have: a world of gross unfairness and sin, and, a God of extreme sacrificial love and grace.

What I believe this world, including you and me, need more than anything else is forgiveness – not a cheap sentimental forgiving, but a real forgiveness which lasts forever.

To justify or to judge is God’s business. Our business is to believe in the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus that brings permanent and lasting forgiveness; and, to share that life-giving message with others so that they, too, might experience deliverance from sin and its horrible effects.

“For he delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” (Colossians 1:13-14, NIV)

May you know the freedom and joy today which comes from knowing Christ as Savior.

1 Samuel 15:10-31 – Rationalizing Disobedience

King Saul by William Wetmore Story (1819-1895) at the North Carolina Museum of Art

Then the word of the Lord came to Samuel: “I regret that I have made Saul king, because he has turned away from me and has not carried out my instructions.” Samuel was angry, and he cried out to the Lord all that night.

Early in the morning Samuel got up and went to meet Saul, but he was told, “Saul has gone to Carmel. There he has set up a monument in his own honor and has turned and gone on down to Gilgal.”

When Samuel reached him, Saul said, “The Lord bless you! I have carried out the Lord’s instructions.”

But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?”

Saul answered, “The soldiers brought them from the Amalekites; they spared the best of the sheep and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord your God, but we totally destroyed the rest. “Enough!” Samuel said to Saul. “Let me tell you what the Lord said to me last night.”

“Tell me,” Saul replied.

Samuel said, “Although you were once small in your own eyes, did you not become the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. And he sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”

“But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.”

But Samuel replied:

“Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices
    as much as in obeying the Lord?
To obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed is better than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is like the sin of divination,
    and arrogance like the evil of idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has rejected you as king.”

Then Saul said to Samuel, “I have sinned. I violated the Lord’s command and your instructions. I was afraid of the men and so I gave in to them. Now I beg you, forgive my sin and come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord.”

But Samuel said to him, “I will not go back with you. You have rejected the word of the Lord, and the Lord has rejected you as king over Israel!”

As Samuel turned to leave, Saul caught hold of the hem of his robe, and it tore. Samuel said to him, “The Lord has torn the kingdom of Israel from you today and has given it to one of your neighbors—to one better than you. He who is the Glory of Israel does not lie or change his mind; for he is not a human being, that he should change his mind.”

Saul replied, “I have sinned. But please honor me before the elders of my people and before Israel; come back with me, so that I may worship the Lord your God.” So, Samuel went back with Saul, and Saul worshiped the Lord. (NIV)

“You cannot compensate by sacrifice what you lose through disobedience.”

edwin louis cole

God had given Saul explicit instructions on how to handle a group of people called the Amalekites (the first nation to attack the Jewish people after the Exodus from Egypt, and viewed as the archetypal enemy of the Jews). Saul obeyed only some of the instructions, but not all of them. King Saul rationalized his behavior as worship. But God would have none of it. The Lord rejected Saul as king. God wants no monkey business when it comes to obedience.

Whenever I come across biblical characters like Saul, I find myself trying to distance from them. Yet, oftentimes, when I take the time to sit a bit with the Scriptures, I realize I can have some of the same propensities as their behavior. In today’s Old Testament lesson, I am like Saul whenever:

  • I say I will do something and then get busy and not do it. I sometimes rationalize my lack of follow through by explaining what good things I was doing with my time instead.
  • I justify a purchase of something I do not really need but want with the excuse that I put a lot of money in the offering plate for God.
  • I slander another person, even though it is forbidden by God, with the knucklehead notion that I am protecting and helping others from that person’s evil ways.
  • I keep quiet in the face of a bad situation when I should be speaking up. I dismiss the lack of engagement and involvement with needing to save my energy for people who want it….

I could have kept going with this little exercise, but I got too convicted to keep thinking about it anymore. So, before we get too uppity about saying we are not like Saul and would never be like him, perhaps we ought to sit with the story for a while, being mindful and aware of any unacknowledged disobedience.

Rationalization is the way of sinners.  Repentance is the path of saints.  Which road will you choose today?

Holy God, you expect obedience to clear instructions.  I am sorry for all those times I found creative ways to circumvent your teaching.  Help me not to avoid your good commands, but to own them with vigor and vitality through Jesus Christ my Lord in the power of your Holy Spirit.  Amen.