From Hebrews 9:27 we reminded ourselves that the Bible says it is appointed for every person to die, and after that comes the judgment. It’s a concept that utterly terrifies thousands of people. Whenever we talk about standing before God in judgment, the elephant in the room is always, “What do we do with sin?” Some, in order to resolve that, just seek to dismiss the concept of sin, yet in our guts we know we can’t just do that. We know deep within our souls, we have a problem—we’re sinners! We have fallen short of God’s perfect standard, and mind you it is not just a handful of ten commandments. So how do we as sinners stand before a holy God? What do we do to deal with the sin problem?
We find ourselves in Chapter 10, verses 1-18, which is really in many ways a summary of the great rich theology that we have learned in the book of Hebrews. Starting in verse 19, which will follow, there’s really a shift to the practical living out of this truth. What does this look like lived out in life? But now, Chapter 10, verse 1:
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form (or substance) of things, (*NASB, Hebrews 10:1a)
So the Law here is used as a synonym for the old covenant. It is the entire Law, as we saw from Hebrews 7:11-28, meaning everything from the tabernacle, the temple, the priesthood, the sacrificial system, the Sabbath, the dietary laws, the feast, the festivals—all of the whole of the old covenant or Mosaic Law. Else where Paul confirms, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. Things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ (Col 2:16-17). And we’re reminded that this entire law was only a shadow. It’s not the substance; it’s just the shadow of the good things to come. Who is the reality? Christ himself. When did the good things come about which the old covenant law was pointing to? “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that have come to be, passing through the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made by hands, that is, not belonging to this creation” (Hebrews 9:11)
So the entire Law of the Old Covenant was looking forward to the fulfillment of the promises. It’s just really important to keep reminding ourselves that the shadow is not the substance. That’s where the confusion lies. So think of it this way: This week I got a card from a friend of mine, and on the front was the picture of a beautiful mountain lake. It was a beautiful picture. But inside the card, the note was, “We need to find this lake together.” There was a clear understanding; the picture [shadow] was not the lake [substance or real thing].
…the very form of things, can never (not it might be hard)... can never by the same sacrifices (meaning the same kind of sacrifices) which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1b)
Because the old covenant was not the substance but just a shadow, there was never even the slightest possibility that by offering the same kind of sacrifices day after day, week after week, year after year, that they could ever make someone perfect-complete…right before a holy God. Now this isn’t a new conversation. We’ve seen it in Hebrews. In chapter 7, verse 19, he said, “For the law made nothing perfect.” It’s critical to understand there was nothing within the old covenant that had the capacity to make sinners righteous before a holy God. No amount of sacrifices. No amount of rituals. No amount of law keeping. No amount of anything in the old covenant could make them complete…right… perfect before a holy God. That was never the intent. Verse 2:
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? (Hebrews 10:2)
The logic of the argument was that if those sacrifices actually cleansed them from sin, then there would be no reason to keep doing it. If it worked, then there’s no need to keep repeating it over and over and over again. In other words, the repetition day after day, week after week, year after year was indicative of the fact it wasn’t actually cleansing them from sin. All the old covenant could do was cover their sin. It wasn’t actually paying the price of sin. It wasn’t actually taking sin away. It was just covering it until the ultimate payment would actually be made. We learned that people in the old covenant were not actually redeemed. They did not receive their eternal inheritance until the death occurred. It was only then that the promises made in the covenant—in the will—were actually carried out and fulfilled. No amount of religious activity can possibly make the sin problem go away. Since we crashed into the holiness of God, and there is now a huge dent that somebody has to pay for. No amount of religious activity, no amount of good works, no amount of good intentions somehow make the dent go away. There’s a debt and the debt has to be paid.
Verse 2 reminds us of the relentless nature of religion. This is what makes religion so oppressive to people—this sense that enough will never be enough. If we’re going to talk about good works, if we’re going to talk about religious performance, if we’re going to talk about some ritual, when is enough, enough, and how do I know that? And if I’m good for today, what about tomorrow, and what about the next day? The problem in the old covenant was even though they offered a sacrifice for sin, an hour later they sin again. Now what do I do? And there was this relentless oppression of, “Enough will never be enough!” That’s the idea—that they realize deep down inside, “Nothing has actually cleansed me from sin.” Their conscience was never free in the sense that the sin debt had not been finally been paid for. We’ve already learned this in Hebrews, that they understood no matter how many times a sacrifice was made, there was no real sense within their conscience that the debt has finally been paid, and so it was again and again and again.
Let’s imagine that you have something wrong with your car, so you take it to your mechanic. Your mechanic says he fixed it, but two weeks later it’s doing it again. So you go back and two weeks later you go back again, and two weeks later you go back again. Wouldn’t you at some point be very clear, “You’re not fixing it! If you were fixing it, I shouldn’t have to keep coming back every two weeks.” It’s the same basic argument. If the blood of bulls and goats could actually cleanse them from sin, then it would not be necessary to keep doing it again and again and again. Verse 3:
But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year (Hebrews 10:3).
So, a good question would be, “Then why did God tell them to do it?” Well, the answer is because it created a picture…shadows…images of the ultimate fulfillment to come. In Genesis 3 God made a promise that was developed in different places in the Old Testament and then within the old covenant. These are pictures; these are images; these are reminders. And so what the text says is these sacrifices day after day, week after week, year after year were reminders of sin, were reminders that I don’t measure up, reminders that I’m a sinner in need of a savior. We learned that when God gave the covenant to Moses, it was sprinkled with blood. Right from the beginning it was all sprinkled with blood as a reminder there will need to be a death. God promised through the seed of a woman He would send someone—God in the flesh—to die our death. So sprinkled with blood was the reminder that this isn’t the solution. This is just a shadow, but ultimately there will have to be a death in order for salvation to come to sinful men and women. The old covenant wasn’t bad. Just the opposite, it was good. God actually instituted the old covenant. God wanted the sacrifices. God wanted the tabernacle. God wanted the temple. God wanted all that; He commanded it. But they had to understand the purpose and the scope. It wasn’t to accomplish salvation for them; that wasn’t the purpose. They couldn’t ask the old covenant to do something God never intended for it to do. It was simply a shadow or a picture—in this case a reminder of their sin and their need for a savior.
We talked about the game of Monopoly. Is it bad to play Monopoly? Of course not; it’s a game! Is it bad that the makers of Monopoly made all that Monopoly money? No, it’s part of the game. There’s no problem with that. The problem is when you lose sight of the scope of the game, and you take a wad of Monopoly money to the bank and think you can buy a house with it. At that point you’re using the Monopoly money for a purpose for which it was not intended. You’ve gone beyond the scope of the game; that isn’t going to work. That’s the same thing that happens when people start taking the activities and rituals and purposes of the old covenant and trying to do something it can’t possibly do. Now for us today, it would just be good works. It would be religious rituals. It would be religious performance. It would be this idea that as long as I have more good than bad…or, “If anybody gets in, I’ll get in.” It’s all that sense in which somehow, someway, I can do this myself. That was never the intent of the old covenant and the text is emphatic, “That could never, never make a sinful man or woman right before a holy God!” Verse 4:
For it is impossible (not difficult, not challenging) for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:4)
That was never the intent of the old covenant. That simply was impossible. It will not deal with our sin problem, which is why we’re, then, so thankful for the therefore in Verse 5:
Therefore, (In light of this, is there no hope?) when He (Christ) comes into the world, He says, (So this is a quote from Psalm 40, but the voice in the psalm is Jesus Himself.) “SACRIFICE AND OFFERING YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, BUT A BODY YOU HAVE PREPARED FOR ME; (This is the Son saying, “I know the sacrifices aren’t what going to bring salvation, that the Father has prepared a body for the Son from the seed of a woman. God must become human flesh in order to pay the price for sin.) IN WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE TAKEN NO PLEASURE. “THEN I SAID, ‘BEHOLD, I HAVE COME (IN THE SCROLL OF THE BOOK IT IS WRITTEN OF ME) TO DO YOUR WILL, O GOD.’” (Hebrews 10:5-7)
So this is Jesus saying, “I know that all these sacrifices aren’t what ultimately pay for sin. Instead the Father has prepared a body for the Son. He must take on humanity and fulfill the will of God, to fulfill the promise going all the way back to Genesis chapter 3. He even says, “This is what the Book is about.” When He’s talking about the scroll, He’s talking about the Scriptures. This is what the Book has been about all the way along. This is the fulfillment. This is the will of God. The Son’s offering of Himself is the true and final offering for sin, because it is the sacrifice, which, according to prophecy, God desired to be made, and not the killing of animals. God has no pleasure in them.
Verses 8 and 9:
After saying above, “SACRIFICES AND OFFERINGS AND WHOLE BURNT OFFERINGS AND sacrifices FOR SIN YOU HAVE NOT DESIRED, NOR HAVE YOU TAKEN PLEASURE in them”, then He said, “BEHOLD, I HAVE COME TO DO YOUR WILL.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:8-9)
He’s talking there about the old covenant. He takes away the old covenant—the shadows, the pictures—in order to bring in the new covenant which is the fulfillment. He’s already told us the old covenant is obsolete. It’s done; it’s served its purpose. The old covenant has given way to the new covenant. We’ve learned in the book of Hebrews that Jesus did not come to serve in the tabernacle. He didn’t come to serve in the temple. He didn’t come to offer more sacrifices. He did not come to minister the Law of Moses. He wasn’t just a better version of what’s gone on before. He was the fulfillment. He was the tabernacle itself. Jesus came to do away with the old covenant as the fulfillment and establish the new covenant, which is what the shadows had been picturing all along. Verse 10:
By this (by Jesus doing this) will (by fulfilling God’s purpose), we have been sanctified through the offering (that’s sacrifice language) of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
Now Paul uses the term sanctified in a little bit different way. He uses it as a little bit more of a process. You can tell by just the verb tenses something happens. But the writer of Hebrews consistently uses sanctified as something that happens at a moment in time, the moment we’re saved, much like justified. In that moment we are set apart for God as God’s children. The verb tenses tell us that clearly. So by what Jesus has done, we have been sanctified. How did that happen? Through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Now this is in contrast to this idea of sacrifices being offered continually day after day, week after week, year after year. They were just a shadow; they were just a picture. They couldn’t ultimately remove sin. They were just a reminder that, “This is our problem,” and, “This is the solution.” But when Jesus came as the fulfillment, Jesus sacrificed Himself once for all. The debt was ultimately paid by the once for all death of Christ. Verse 11:
Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins (Hebrews 10:11)
Again, the old covenant system was not intended to do that. You can’t ask it to do something God didn’t intend for it to do. The priest stood because the work was never done. They were continually offering the sacrifices because people were continually sinning. It talked about this all the way back in chapter one. But what’s unique about Jesus? Verse 12:
…but He (Christ), having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, SAT DOWN AT THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD (Hebrews 10:12)
As a result of the work being completed, Jesus himself, hanging on the cross uttered, “Tetelestai!” It’s an accounting term and means “paid in full”. Sins past, present and future are paid for in the once for all time death of Christ. Therefore, He sat down at the right hand of God. Verse 13:
…waiting from that time onward UNTIL HIS ENEMIES BE MADE A FOOTSTOOL FOR HIS FEET (Hebrews 10:13)
In other words, the next time He stands up—figuratively speaking—will be to return and to gather His children and usher them into their ultimate salvation, and all the wicked will be destroyed. Verse 14:
For by one offering He has perfected (so He did what the law, what the old covenant could never do) for all time those who are sanctified (set apart, those who receive His gift of salvation) (Hebrews 10:14)
You remember the writer of Hebrews talked about how God made this promise that this payment would be made once for all time, and for all eternity it would be sufficient. As a matter of fact, we were told earlier in Hebrews, He both promises and made an oath that as long as Jesus lives as the ultimate high priest, the payment for sin would be sufficient forever…forever! We may set our conscience at ease, because we are truly, really, and accepted in him. “He has perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Those who are “perfected,” that is, “sanctified” or set apart, have been declared “free from the guilt of sin”. That’s what He just said. Verse 15:
And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; (meaning this is also written in the Scripture), for after saying, “THIS IS THE COVENANT (the new covenant) THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THEM AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS UPON THEIR HEART, AND ON THEIR MIND I WILL WRITE THEM,” He then says, “AND THEIR SINS AND THEIR LAWLESS DEEDS I WILL REMEMBER NO MORE.” (Hebrews 10:16-17)
So again it’s a quote from Jeremiah 31. He quoted a little bit more of this passage in Chapter 8. When we were in Chapter 8, He said, “The old covenant is obsolete. It’s been replaced by a new covenant,” which He said, “is a better covenant because it’s built on better promises that gives us a better hope.” There were four better promises that He identified.
Number one was the reality that as a result of what Jesus had done, we would be transformed from the inside out. It would no longer be this external thing as it had been in the old covenant, but this would be an internal transformation. We would be born again. We would be made a new creation in Christ, which he alludes to again here in Chapter 10.
The second promise was that there would be an intimacy in this relationship that was unimaginable in the old covenant. You remember when Jesus died, the veil that separated the Holy of Holies was torn in two, symbolic of the fact that now we as the people of God could enter directly into the presence of God. People in the old covenant were separated from the presence of God by multiple layers. It was just unimaginable to them that it would be possible for sinful men and women to actually, themselves enter the presence of God. That’s the better promise; that’s the better hope that we now as people whose sins have been forgiven, can have an intimate personal relationship with God.
The third promise was that access to God is available to everyone. There is no priestly class to go through. There is nobody more than or less than. It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. It doesn’t matter if you’re a really good person or you’re just the vilest sinner in the room. It doesn’t matter! The sin debt has been paid, and He offers the forgiveness of sin to anyone who chooses to receive it.
The fourth promise upon which all this was built was the reminder that on the basis of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the long-awaited death that would be necessary to pay for sin had been made and that, as a result of that, we stand before a holy God forgiven! The Day of Judgment is no longer a day of terror, but a wonderful celebration as God invites us in as His children to experience His paradise forever. Not on the basis of religion…not on the basis of good works…not on the basis of ritual Sabbath observance in the last days or anything we have done, but simply on the fact that Jesus paid the debt of sin once for all and offers the complete payment for sin now and forever to anyone who chooses to receive it by faith. Verse 18:
Now where there is forgiveness of these things (these things referring to Verse 17- their sins and their lawless deeds; there is forgiveness for these things), there is no longer any offering for sin. (Hebrews 10:18)
What that just said is on the basis of what Jesus did once for all, there is nothing more that’s needed. Nothing more! You don’t need to go out and get religious. You don’t have to somehow accomplish this salvation. There’s nothing more. There’s nothing more that some church offers. There’s nothing more you need from me as a teacher. There’s nothing more you need from some priest. There’s nothing more…there’s nothing more! The debt has been fully paid and it’s freely offered.
Religion does one of two things to people. Either religion makes people very self-righteous. They convince themselves that they’re really good religious people and that by carrying out their religion, by carrying out the rituals, by carrying out the practice, customs, holy day observances, by convincing themselves they’re better than everyone else, at the end of the day, certainly if anybody gets in, they will get in. You hear people say that. Religion deceives us into thinking, “Somehow, someway I can do this myself.” The text couldn’t have been clearer. It is virtually impossible for any religious activity or work to make us right as sinners before a holy God. Not hard…not difficult…virtually impossible! But the other thing that religion does to people is just the opposite. Religion becomes so oppressive. There’s this sense of, “Enough will never be enough,” and, “I will never measure up and I will never be good enough.” Eventually they drop out and they say, “Why would you want to go and get reminded of what a loser you are all the time with the sense that one day when I know I’m in trouble, I have no chance to make it before a holy God?”
This is the oppression of religion. People just check out and they’re done, and they convince themselves, “There’s no hope for me. I’m too far down the wrong path.”
The reminder of Hebrews is, “That simply isn’t true!” It doesn’t matter who you are. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter what’s been done to you. That isn’t relevant. There’s nobody here that doesn’t need a savior. We’re all sinners in need of a savior. God offers His salvation freely as a gift to anyone. You simply choose to believe Jesus did for us what I could never do for myself—and I choose to believe that by faith! It is appointed for men and women once to die and after that judgment, but that doesn’t have to be a day of terror. Having received God’s gift of salvation, knowing Jesus has paid for my sin once for all time, it’s a day of celebration! It’s a day of God welcoming His children home and ushering them into the paradise our souls long for.