We have already seen from chapters 9 and 10 of Hebrews, quite a few reasons why Christ’s sacrifice was infinitely better than those of OT times. Now let me read 5 verses from these two chapters to you and see if you notice anything.
9:12 He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.
9:26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
9:28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.
10:10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
10:12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God
Five times in these two chapters the words one and once are used to describe Christ’s sacrifice and for further emphasis, in verses 24 to 26 of Ch 9 we are told that the sacrifice of Christ was not to be repeated often, as with the yearly sacrifices on Yom Kippur. So how many times was Christ to be sacrificed then? Have you got it? Christ was to be sacrificed … ONCE and only ONCE!
THERE is a word here which recurs, like a note on an organ beneath the tumult of majestic sound. Five times, at least, it rolls forth its thunder, pealing through all ages, echoing through all worlds, announcing the finality of an accomplished redemption to the whole universe of God "ONCE!"
Although this point is emphasised so strongly and clearly in these two chapters, it is also confirmed elsewhere in Scripture. For example Peter said: Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit 1Pe 3:18. And in Romans 6 Paul declared: 9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. 10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God
Why then does the Roman Catholic church teach that Christ’s sacrifice is repeated every time they celebrate mass? They obviously have a problem with the maths of Hebrews, but worse they impugn the effectiveness of His sacrifice. The reason that the OT sacrifices needed to be repeated was because they were not effective – they could never truly take away sin 10v1. In contrast Christ’s one sacrifice is eternally effective and so doesn’t ever need to be repeated. (More numerate RCs agree that Jesus was only sacrificed once, but it is not the official, historical teaching.)
What the high-priest acted out every year, Christ did once for real. "He died unto sin once." By virtue of his own shed blood, he went once for all into the real Holy of Holies, appearing in the presence of God for us as our great High-Priest, and forever leaving the way open to those who dare to follow. As Israel’s sin for the previous year was carried away into the desert by the scapegoat, to be put away, so sin, past present and future, rested on Jesus on the cross. He was made sin in my place and bore the judgement of God that I deserved that I might go free.
9:24 For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another–– 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.
10: 1 For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. 2 For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. … 10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.
Why did Jesus only die once? Why didn’t He need to sacrifice Himself each year like the OT sacrifices? It was only once because His work needs no repetition. It is final, complete, perfect!
And there is another phrase which we must couple with it, spoken by the parched lips of the dying Saviour, yet with a loud voice, as though it were the cry of a conqueror: "When Jesus, therefore, had received the vinegar, he said, ’It is finished’; and he bowed his head and gave up the ghost." It is very seldom that man can look back on a finished life-work. The chisel drops from the paralyzed hand ere the statue is complete; the chilling fingers refuse to guide the pen along another line, though the book is so nearly done; the statesman must leave his plans and far-reaching schemes to be completed by another, perhaps his rival. But as from his cross Jesus Christ our Lord looked upon the work of redemption which he had undertaken, and in connection with which he had suffered even to the hiding of his Father’s face, he could not discover one stitch, or stone, or particle deficient. For untold myriads, for thee and for me – all there was done that which never needed to be done again, but stood as an accomplished fact forevermore. FB Meyer
So what is finished? The work of redemption that the Father had given Him to do, which they had planned together in eternity before this world was even created. In particular this meant dealing with sin, so we read: He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself 9:26.
What does to put away sin mean? Literally the phrase means "for the abolishing of sin," but it clearly does not mean that, when Jesus died, sin stopped! We only have to look around at the world, or even into our own hearts to see that this is not so and Scripture never pretends that it did.
It is interesting to compare this with the prophecy in Daniel 9:24 Seventy weeks are determined For your people and for your holy city, To finish the transgression, To make an end of sins, To make reconciliation for iniquity, To bring in everlasting righteousness, To seal up vision and prophecy, And to anoint the Most Holy. … 26 And after the sixty–two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.
We aren’t going to study the prophecy about the 70 weeks today, but in the context of sin there are four distinct aspects mentioned:
• To finish the transgression,
• To make an end of sins,
• To make reconciliation for iniquity,
• To bring in everlasting righteousness.
Some of these would be achieved when the Messiah died, for others there would be the basis in His death and sacrifice, but the result would not be seen until later on.
When Jesus died on the cross, He dealt completely with the guilt and consequences of the sin of His people (ie the punishment due) and reconciled us to God so that we can pray to Him and have fellowship with Him. Though, of course, we don’t experience that until we are saved – and sometimes we even try to hang on to the guilt – it is the ghost of sins past that breaks our peace. But it is not real, it has no substance if we truly have been forgiven. (More on this next time, DV.)
But Jesus put sin away as when a debt is paid. As Paul put it in Col 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. He has taken the bill that sets out the size of our immense debt to God and across it has written, in His own precious blood, “Paid in Full.”
Who can collect on these past sins when God’s beloved Son has declared the account settled? God has also wiped the head office copy of the debt – their sins and iniquities will I remember no more 10:17. No wonder Paul said 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.
During the siege of Plevna, the Czar, while going around the camp one evening, found a man who had fallen asleep while writing a letter to his wife. This officer had told of his hard work and exposure in the trenches, but said that these were nothing compared to his debts. "Who will pay my debts?" he wrote. Then he fell asleep brooding over his trouble. The Czar glanced over the officer’s shoulder, read the letter, and wrote underneath the question, "I will. -- Alexander." When the officer awoke he could hardly believe his eyes. His heart leaped for joy.
He also defeated Satan there and then as he died on the Cross, although the sentence has yet to be carried out. Satan will remain active throughout this age although the effects of His evil are limited by the work of the Holy Spirit through the Church. (This is one reason why Jesus called the Church the salt of the earth. One of our functions, like salt, is to hold back decay around us. There is also a hint of this as a role of the Holy Spirit in His work in and through the Church in 2Th 2:7 where I think that He is the one described as restraining the mystery of lawlessness.)
At the end of time, however, Satan will be cast into the Lake of Fire and sin will be put away, once and for all. The victory that was won on Calvary will be seen by all.
10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Rev 20
Sin will also trouble me no more in heaven. As Isaac Watts put it
Sin, my worst enemy before,
Shall vex my eyes and ears no more.
My inward foes shall all be slain,
Nor Satan break my peace again.
Then shall I see and hear and know
All I desired and wished below,
And every pow’r find sweet employ
In that eternal world of joy.
It is wonderful to look back at Calvary to see the penalty of our sin dealt with for ever. It is also great to look forwards and think of Satan’s eventual doom and the perfection of heaven. But it gets a bit harder – not theologically, but practically –when we think about sin in our lives today! Ch 10: 14 tells us that by this one offering Christ has perfected His people forever, but experience shows us that Christians are far from perfect – even if, sometimes, we give the impression that we think we are! This verse acknowledges that reality for in full it says For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
When God looks at us He sees the perfection of His beloved Son, but He also recognises that there remains much more to be done in our lives. This is what the reference to sanctification is about. Jesus death provided the means for us to live lives that are victorious over sin. The Christian does not need to sin. Satan no longer has power over us to make us sin, but it does not mean that God flips a switch when we are saved so that we instantly become perfect. Sadly our old nature still tends to pull us in that direction, but, by the power of the Holy Spirit at work within us, we can resist.
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. Rom 6
Would that I knew more of this daily victory over sin in practice! While I can be victorious in many areas of my life there are some where I fail time and time again because I do let sin reign, I do present my members as instruments of unrighteousness and do not present myself to God. While I live on the earth it will always be a struggle and the process of sanctification takes a lifetime – and even that seems too short for some of us! Even Paul found it a real struggle: O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 I thank God––through Jesus Christ our Lord! Ro 7:24
Thank God at least that there is a struggle. As someone put it any dead fish can go with the stream! But only a live one can swim upstream. In the main the people of this world don’t think about sin, so there is generally no struggle. (Sometimes there is with things like addictions, where they can see that a sin is damaging their lives and relationships.) Mainly however they just do what makes them feel good or seems in their interests. Are you struggling or going with the flow?
There’s a story about an old Cherokee chief sitting before a flickering fire with his grandson. The boy had broken a tribal taboo, and his grandpa wanted to help him understand what made him do it. "It’s like we have two wolves inside us," said the chief. "One is good, the other is bad. Both demand our obedience." "Which one wins?" asked the boy. "The one we feed!" said the wise old chief.
We’ll return to this, DV, later in these studies. For now let us remember that God has made it possible for us to resist and overcome sin through the death of His Son and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. All that we have to do is to resist and, by His grace and power, we can be victorious.
1Pe 5: 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 9 Resist him, steadfast in the faith
May God help us to resist.