A Single Sacrifice for All Time
Topic: Covenant/New Covenant Passage: Hebrews 10:1–18
Perhaps you’ve seen it before—two rappers engage in what’s called a freestyle battle. Using improvised lyrics, they go back and forth to demonstrate who’s got the better skills. But often a point comes in the battle when one rapper triumphs so confidently that he does what’s called a mic-drop. You do that when you know your opponent ain’t got nothing against what you just laid down.
We might say Hebrews 10 is the mic-drop moment on Jesus’ superior priesthood. Since chapter 5, Hebrews has been arguing that Jesus is the superior high priest. He argues this way because some are on the verge of abandoning Jesus for their old ways in Judaism. They’re reverting to the old covenant. And Hebrews is saying, “Don’t do that! That old covenant anticipated a better one. Jesus brings the better one. Keep your eyes on Jesus.”
To this point we’ve learned that Jesus comes after the order of Melchizedek—he’s a priest-king. He’s of a superior priestly order. He brings the new and better covenant. Jesus brings the new and better covenant because he also brings the better sacrifice. Chapter 10 explains that better sacrifice even more. It is effective; it is final. It seals the deal. If the writer was in a freestyle battle with a Jewish apologist, this is moment he drops the mic. Or, maybe Beethoven’s more your style—it’s the coda in Symphony No. 9—that final, emphatic section of music that puts it away. It’s the slam dunk that ends the finals. It’s the bat flip after a walk-off homerun.
Old Covenant Sacrifices Were Ineffective
The opponent has nothing else to do here except bow the knee to Jesus. Arguments for reverting to the old covenant aren’t even worth considering after you see the finality of Jesus’ sacrifice. But let’s talk about how he gets there. The first thing he does is expose how the old covenant sacrifices were ineffective.
Verses 1-4, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it’s impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”
Under the old covenant, God instituted the sacrificial system. Sin separates people from God. By sacrifice, though, God provided a way for the high priest to enter his presence—he represented the people. The people as a whole couldn’t enter still—only the high priest could and only by way of a bloody substitute. That happened every year. When it came to addressing the sin problem, though, here’s where that old system was lacking. He mentions several weaknesses…
For starters, it was only a shadow of the good things to come—verse 1. It wasn’t the reality. It exposed the problem—sin separates us from God. It also pointed to the solution—we need a bloody substitute. But never did it bring the substitute we really needed. The “good things to come” are things like real forgiveness; open, unhindered fellowship with God; new hearts that love God and gladly obey his word. That’s what the shadows pointed to. But they could never make them happen. They could only anticipate.
Also, they had to be repeated. They were “continually offered every year,” it says. The fact that they had to be repeated proved they weren’t effective. Effective in what? Effective in making us perfect, so we can draw near to God. Don’t think perfect in the sense that you’ve never done anything wrong; think in terms of everything necessary to make you whole before God’s presence. That perfecting work has to occur before anyone can draw near to God. If those old sacrifices actually worked, then they wouldn’t have had to continue. But they did continue; so it’s clear they didn’t work. The worshipers weren’t cleansed inwardly. The guilt remained.
Why? Well, he also reasons that “it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins”—verse 4. Not one sin was decisively and finally removed by the old sacrifices. They couldn’t do it; and by where he goes in verses 5-10, it’s pretty clear why they couldn’t take away sins. Sinful humans need a human substitute; and a perfect one at that. They need someone who willingly lays down their human body in place of theirs. Now, he’s not saying the old covenant sacrifices were bad. God didn’t make a mistake by telling Israel to do this. He’s simply saying that from the beginning they were only provisional. They pointed beyond themselves to another.
If they never took away sins, and if they had to be repeated, then every time another lamb went to the slaughter it only reminded the people of their sins. That’s what verse 3 says, “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” Imagine that. Every year, you watch the high priest make the sacrifice. You watch him enter the tent, and then the most holy place with the blood. But never does that sacrifice take away your sins. It only reminds you of them. Jewish tradition will teach that sacrifices did remove sins, as long as you had the right motive. But Hebrews contradicts that. They didn’t remove sins. They reminded of sins.
It reminds you of what you need to get rid of them, but it never actually gets rid of them. They function more like a bunch of IOUs. It delays the payment, but they just keep stacking up. Every year, you become more keenly aware of how much you owe, but they never actually make the payment. Every year you’re reminded that your sins keep you from entering God’s presence. As long as you have them, you cannot enter freely. The way to God is not opened for you.
Christ’s Sacrifice Is Effective and Final
The old covenant sacrifices were ineffective. Nevertheless, there was in them a shadow of the good things to come. The true form of these realities came in Jesus Christ. That’s where he goes next: Christ’s sacrifice is effective and final. He develops this from two Old Testament psalms. Christ comes to fulfill what these psalms anticipated.
The first is Psalm 40. He uses it to show this: Christ came as a man to fully obey God’s will. That’s what Psalm 40 anticipated about the Messiah. It’s a very fitting prophecy because it foreshadows the Messiah’s work against the old covenant sacrifices.
Look at verse 5: “Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’” “When Christ came into the world”—that’s talking about God the Son becoming man. The eternal Son entered our world. He took on our humanity to do God’s will.
That event was anticipated by the words David spoke in Psalm 40. David was Israel’s ideal king. God made a special promise to preserve David’s throne. But also David becomes a pattern. The way David represents Israel, the way David relates to God, the way David suffers and triumphs—these aspects of David’s life point forward to Jesus. God had David write about himself in such a way that it anticipated Jesus’ work. Only, when Jesus finally comes, he’s much greater than David.
Psalm 40 is but another place this happens. David is in the middle of rejoicing and praising the Lord for his faithfulness. David was suffering, but he cried to the Lord. He waited patiently. And the Lord drew him up from the pit of destruction. So he rejoices. He proclaims the Lord’s deliverance to the people. His hope is that many others will put their trust in the Lord just like he did.
Then right in the middle we get these words. “In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted…” We might think, “Wait a minute, I thought God told the people to make sacrifices. Why wouldn’t God delight in them if he commanded them?” Because far better than sacrifice for sin was obedience to God. Sacrifices only existed because the people were rebels. They had sin. So the sacrifices were necessary to atone for sins. But far greater is total obedience. So David goes on to assert that in Psalm 40.
Instead of sacrifices, “a body you have prepared for me.” Your Psalm 40:6 probably doesn’t read that way. It has something like, “you have given me an open ear…” That’s because Hebrews is drawing from a Greek translation of the Old Testament; and that translation is interpreting Psalm 40. “You have given me an open ear” has to do with a posture of obedience, of willingly hearing God’s will and then giving your body to do it. I mention that so you don’t get confused.
The point is this: God prepared for Jesus a body in which he was going to be totally submissive to God’s will. That’s why the psalm goes on to say, “Behold, I have come; in the scroll of the book it’s written of me; I delight to do your will, O my God. Your law is within my heart.” The Law outlined God’s will for the king. The law itself even anticipated a king who would obey God’s word fully. That king was not David. In fact, Psalm 40:12 mentions David’s sin. The king who comes to do God’s will fully is Jesus Christ. That’s what Hebrews is saying.
When Jesus comes to do God’s will, here’s what happens: the law is fulfilled; he becomes the perfect, blameless One who can actually stand in the place of sinners. He obeys God at every turn, even when it means willingly sacrificing himself in the place of sinners. We sinned in the body; so we deserve punishment in the body. Jesus did everything right in the body; he deserved no punishment in the body. But he gave up his body in our place, so that our punishment could be taken away.
In other words, Jesus’ obedience to the will of God, even unto death on the cross, makes Jesus’ sacrifice effective in taking our sins away. The debt we owed—he paid it for us. So he goes on to say in verse 8, “When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He does away with the first [i.e., the sacrifices] in order to establish the second [i.e., God’s will].”
The will of the Father in the sacrifices was never for the sacrifices themselves to be permanent. The sacrifices begged for another to come, who would fully obey God’s will such that he wouldn’t need a sacrifice but he would give himself as a sacrifice for others. Jesus is that sacrifice; and by his sacrifice we have been sanctified, made holy—verse 10 says. “…By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Because he obeyed fully, Jesus’ sacrifice is effective.
He makes us holy. God is holy. If he was to use someone or something, they had to be set apart as holy, as exclusively for God. Under the old covenant, that involved blood sprinkled on the altar and applied to the priests. In a far greater way, when the blood of Christ is applied to the believer, you are set apart for God’s holy service. That’s what it means to be sanctified. Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished that for you. In other words, it’s effective. The others could only cleanse in some ways, ceremonially. Jesus cleanses us in all ways, that we might be counted holy in God’s presence.
The second psalm he draws from is Psalm 110. If verses 5-10 stress the effectiveness of Jesus’ sacrifice, verses 11-14 stress its finality. We’ve addressed Psalm 110 several times before. So we won’t spend as much time there, only to say this. Psalm 110 is also a psalm of David. It too anticipated a better king in David’s line, but this king would also be a priest. So it becomes a very fitting psalm for Hebrews as it shows how Jesus’ priesthood is so much greater than the old priesthood.
Here’s the specific point he draws out, though: Jesus sat down at God’s right hand. Listen to the way he develops it. Verse 11, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”
The old priests had to stand daily. Again and again they had to slit the animal’s throat and sprinkle the blood and offer the sacrifice. Same thing next day—always standing. Why’d they keep standing? Their sacrifices never took away sins. By contrast, Jesus sat down after making his sacrifice. Why? Because another sacrifice isn’t needed. His death was sufficient, complete. Nothing more needs to be added. All our sins are taken away. So he sits. He made a similar point in 1:3, “after making purification for sins, [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” He ain’t getting back up, either. It’s finished. It’s final. That’s Jesus’ mic-drop moment, isn’t it?
The Son didn’t stay dead. God raised him up. Even more, he seated him as a man at the place of highest honor. And what that means is this: “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Nothing more needs to be done for God’s people to enter God’s presence. Jesus opened the way for us. He enables us to draw near. So for those two reasons—Jesus fully obeyed God’s will by giving his body in our place; and Jesus sat down at God’s right hand after purifying our sins—Christ’s sacrifice is effective and final. That makes it way better than those offered under the old covenant.
God Remembers Our Sins No More
Do you know what else makes it way better? Jesus’ sacrifice means that God remembers our sins no more. Remember how this began in verse 3? “In these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” Now look at this in verse 15, “And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there’s no longer any offering for sin.”
It’s one thing for you to remember your sins. It’s another thing when God remembers them. In the Old Testament, there’s a lot of things you want God to remember. You want God to remember his promises. You want God to remember mercy. You want God to remember you in the face of suffering. But you didn’t want God to remember your sins. It’s not that he forgot in the sense that it slipped his mind. He’s omniscient. It’s covenant language. For him to remember was for him to act according to his covenant; and his law-covenant demands punishment for covenant breakers. For God to remember your sins was for him to call them to mind for judgment.
But this is what the cross of Jesus Christ means: God will no longer call your sins to mind for judgment. He already called them to mind, and punished them all in Christ. There’s no reason to call them to mind anymore. They’ve all been dealt with in Christ. There’s no longer any offering for sin; Jesus’ was sufficient. That record of debt you owed—God erases every trace of it. Your offenses, your guilt—it’s all cleared from your record; and in its place is the righteousness of Christ.
Jesus is the real answer to people’s guilt. Trust in him.
This is the real answer to people’s guilt. To be clear, not everything we feel guilty for is actually wrong. You might feel guilty for sharing the gospel on your lunch break, when all your coworkers then file a complaint with HR. But that guilt is misplaced. You actually did the right thing. We’re not talking about that guilty feeling. We’re speaking here of real guilt for actually doing wrong before God.
The world has its own solutions for that guilt. One of them is to redefine guilt, so that it has more to do with our subjective feelings rather than God’s objective evaluation of us.[i] Once guilt is redefined around feelings, the solution is then a matter of improving the way we view ourselves or ignoring the way others view us. But little to no thought is given to the way God views us.
Another solution to guilt is simply to conceal it. Keep it hidden. Carry it with you, but don’t let anyone see it. Pretend it’s not there, when deep down you know it is. Or, another solution is to spoil the one you offended to make yourself feel better, to convince yourself that you’re a good person after all. At other times people will participate in some religious activity. Another tactic is to compare your guilt to someone else’s: “Surely there’s someone who’s worse than me.”
The problem is that none of these solutions actually work. They also keep man and his doings at the center and not God. Nor do they address our deepest need before God—the actual removal of our sins. The real answer to people’s guilt is found in Christ alone. When you trust in him, he makes you perfect so that you can draw near to God. Do you know Jesus? Are you trusting him alone to remove your guilt? Only he can remove your guilt. Trust in him. Come to him. Take up your cross and follow him.
Jesus is sitting. Live like it and relate to others in light of it.
I’m speaking also to those of us who already know Jesus. We need him as much as anybody else. Let me ask you a different sort of question, though. When it comes to your Christian walk, do you live as if Jesus is standing or sitting? It’s not uncommon for the Holy Spirit or the word of God to convict us of sin. Perhaps we’ve behaved in a sinful way towards others, and we know it very deeply. Before God we know our offense.
But do you then run freely to the Father and know his forgiveness in Christ? Or do you attempt some act of self-atonement? Do you respond like the world does and try to spoil your kids after speaking harshly to them, instead of turning to the Lord for forgiveness? Do you keep beating yourself up? Do you self-loathe and say things to yourself like, “I’m just not good enough.” Of course you’re not good enough! That’s why you need Jesus; and this text says his work is finished. He sat down after making purification for your sins—all of them! Walk in confidence that Jesus sat down.
What about your relationship with other Christians? Do you live with them as if Jesus’ is standing or sitting? We shouldn’t deny that there are sometimes serious, temporal consequences for the sins we commit. Forgiveness can be present even though consequences remain a while longer. But if we’re considering true forgiveness, are there things a brother or sister has confessed to you that you’re unwilling to forgive? Things you continue holding against them? Things you want them to pay for, and keep paying for? Do you remember sins that God himself has chosen not to remember, in the sense that you can’t wait to tally up all the wrongs and really stick it to them?
To do so is to live as if Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough for them. Something further must be added to it. It’s to live as if Jesus is still standing, when in reality he sat down. He not only sat down for you. He sat down for the sake of your brothers and sisters in the church as well. All their sins were taken away too. We must treat them so. Judgment is without mercy to the one who shows no mercy. We have been shown great mercy, great forgiveness. Let us show the same to others.
Burdened to pray? Draw near to the Lord with confidence.
Also, draw near to the Lord with confidence. I’ve been interacting with a number of you about current events—COVID 19, protests, justice, racism, policies, the ideologies driving different agendas, how to relate to others in these conversations, what’s the best way forward. There are multiple layers to these events, and often people aren’t willing to stop and listen and patiently work through the questions. But in the midst of this, a couple of you have said, “I feel very burdened to pray…These things aren’t easy. They’re over my head. I don’t know what to do. But I feel a great burden to pray.”
How great it is that Jesus’ sacrifice has opened the way for you to draw near to God. We’ll cover it more next time, but the main exhortation following chapters 5-10 comes with verse 19: “Therefore…since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…[verse 22] let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith.” Those of you so burdened to pray, know that the way has been opened. You have access to the Lord himself. In the midst of turmoil you can sit with the one God who is unmoved, never-changing, and whose kingdom is unshakable. In the face of uncertain times, he is our Rock and our Refuge. Drawn near to him. Lay your burdens before him. Tell him your anxieties. He knows you. He cares for you. He will supply you with all you need to be faithful to him during these times.
Don’t lose heart. Jesus’ enemies are being put beneath his feet.
Lastly, don’t lose heart. God assures us here that Jesus’ enemies are being put beneath his feet as we speak. Notice again verse 13: “…he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
The image is a king placing his foot on the neck of his enemies as a sign of their fall and his rise to the throne. God will put every crooked enemy beneath the feet of Jesus. And because he is exalted, the world is already heading there. You might think, “I don’t know, it sure doesn’t look like it. I see injustice. I see riots. I see vitriol and envy. I see liars and false worldviews driving people to act in foolish ways. I see turmoil within the church and false teachers dividing the church. Sure doesn’t look like he’s in control.”
However, time after time in Scripture we see that none of these things stop the risen Lord Jesus. Every one of those obstacles rise in the book of Acts; and never once do they stop the gospel’s advance. Also, the book of Revelation mentions the Great Prostitute and the Beast. She depicts a great system of evil rallying others against Jesus’ kingdom. She has in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the impurities of her sexual immorality. She murders Christians for sport. She deceives multitudes and nations.
Then it says this in 17:16-17, “And the ten horns that you saw, they and the beast will hate the prostitute. They will make her desolate and naked, and devour her flesh and burn her up with fire, [listen to this] for God has put it into their hearts to carry out his purpose by being of one mind and handing over their royal power to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.” Perhaps, on the ground, it looks like they’re in control. But from heaven, they’re not. God even uses his enemies to accomplish his purpose. With the things you’re seeing—he’s doing the same. He’s working out his purposes until every last one of his enemies rests beneath the feet of Jesus.
That should give you great hope, beloved. Don’t be given over to fear in our fear-ridden society. The media wants to control you with fear. Platforms like Facebook can become a hotbed for fear-mongering and conspiracies seeking to keep you from faithfulness. Fear the Lord. Regard him as holy. Give yourself to his wisdom and his ways. Be faithful with what’s placed before you. Rest in God’s power to bring his kingdom in his timing. God is putting all his enemies beneath Jesus’ feet.
[i] David F. Wells, Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 140.