Summary: Many options in the religious and secular world are given for how to deal with our everyday experience of sin, the guilt it brings and the dread of potential ultimate condemnation. The Book of Hebrews is adamant that there is only one solution for sin, and no other substitutes.
The great American psychiatrist Karl Menninger, author of the book, Whatever Became of Sin, once stated that if he could convince patients in psychiatric hospitals that their sins were forgiven, 75% of them could walk out the next day.
His statement underscores the struggle that all of us human beings have in a fallen world, where our sin is an everyday fact of our lives. How in the world do we deal with our sin, the guilt that assails our consciences as a result, and the dread of an ultimate judgment or condemnation that may come as a result?
Well, as the writer of Ecclesiastes has said, “God made man upright, but he has sought out many devices.” Among those devices, according to psychologists, are defense mechanisms, all the mental gymnastics which we exercise in an attempt to deal with our sin and guilt. I looked at one website this week that listed 31 different defense mechanisms that you and I and others use to some how try to wipe the slate clean, somehow absolve ourselves of the sins we have committed. Among them are denial, magical thinking, blame-shifting, rationalization, spiritualization, excuses, projection, sublimation, acting out by washing hands, etc., etc. etc.
So I ask you this morning, do you feel guilty? Do you have regrets about things you have said or done, how you may have hurt other people? I do! Absolutely I do! Those things tend to happen to one degree or another every day in my life. The question is whether there is any solution—where there is any way to wipe our slate clean—to cleanse our conscience of the sins that it declares to us we have most certainly committed. How can we escape the guilt and the dread of condemnation that comes with being sinful human beings?
That’s really the question before us this morning as we come to the concluding arguments of the major teaching or doctrinal section of the Book of Hebrews. How do you deal with sin and guilt? And the answer is this—that there is only one way to deal with our sin and guilt for all time and forever, and that is to trust in Christ’s sacrifice as the payment for our sins. God has offered only one solution to the problem of guilt and sin that we all face, and that is Christ’s death on the cross where He satisfied God’s just wrath against us once and for all men for all time.
Now, remember, the writer to the Hebrews has written Hebrew or Jewish Christians in the first century out of the Holy Spirit’s concern that many among them were contemplating abandoning their faith in Christ to return to Judaism—a religion that had offered the forgiveness of sins through the Old Covenant sacrifices of bulls and goats in the tabernacle and then in the temple, which still existed at the time of its writing. Their erroneous thinking would no doubt have been that God gave both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. He gave both the Old Covenant sacrifices to forgive sins and He gave Jesus Christ’s sacrifice to forgive sins. Since both were at one time or another viable ways to receive God’s forgiveness for sins and to be right with God, then what difference does it make if I continue to follow Christ or return to Judaism?
He combats that thinking by teaching that the Old Testament sacrifices never did take away sin. That wasn’t their purpose. That in fact the Old Testament itself predicted and affirmed that only one sacrifice would ultimately take away sin—the sacrifice of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who paid for sins once and for all men for all time.
In verses 1-4 he tells us that the Old Testament sacrifices, or the Law, never did work to take away sins. In verses 5-9 he tells us that the Old Testament itself predicted that Christ’s sacrifice alone would perfect us, not animal sacrifices. And in verses 10-18 He concludes the Christ’s sacrifice alone provides forgiveness of sins for all mankind forever.
So verses 1-4—the Law was never effective with regard to this problem of sin and guilt which we all face. The Law never took away sin. In fact, it only foreshadowed, or showed how it would happen.
Now the writer had just stated clearly in Hebrews 9:26-28 that Christ Himself had been offered once and for all to take away all sins. And so the question the Jews he was writing to might have asked was this: Why were there Old Testament sacrifices at all? Didn’t they do the same thing. Didn’t they result in the forgiveness of sins? Why would it be so bad to return to them in order to have my sins forgiven?
His answer in verses one through four is as a matter of fact, those Old Testament sacrifices never did take away sin. The real purpose of the Old Testament animal sacrifices was only to be a shadow, or a rough outline, an explanation of how our sins would be taken away ultimately once and for all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.