Hebrews 10 (14 Nov 2021)

Over thousands of years the Hebrews sacrificed huge numbers of animals, birds and other produce.  But why? And do they still make these sacrifices? 

They are not the only people who have made sacrifices to their gods.  That’s a very long tradition amongst groups of people all over the world. When God revealed himself to the Hebrews he pointed out that he is, in fact, the only true and living God.  He instructed humans to honour and worship only him and gave them details as to how they should do so, not only with sacrifices but mainly through obeying his commandments and caring for each other.

Early in human history, soon after Adam and Eve had rebelled against God’s right to rule, God took an animal snd make them a covering for their nakedness from it.

Their sons, Cain and Able had problems with making sacrifices required and Cain ended up murdering Able.

As the years went by the priests and teachers took the commandments God had given and turned them into hundreds of fine-print style rules for people to follow.  The rules included yet more details about sacrifices which made them even harder to keep.

When Moses led the people from bondage in Egypt and they spent decades wandering in the desert until they reached the promised land the sacrifices were carried out in a tent, a portable tabernacle. They continued to use this tabernacle for many years until King Solomon built the massive temple in Jerusalem and that became the centre of worship and sacrifice until it was torn down by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC. 

The Persians allowed them to build a second temple some 60 years later and this was enlarged and rebuilt by King Herod in 37 BC. 

But what was the purpose of these sacrifices and the Tabernacles and Temples? 

For one thing it was a matter of obedience.  God said do this, so they did.  

Also, it was part of their worship.  It was how they acknowledged God as the one and only one to be served.

It was a way of acknowledging and memorialising major events in their history.

It was a way of giving thanks to God who had been so good to them.

In addition, when they sacrificed an animal it was seen as laying their sin on the animal which was sacrificed and they were given forgiveness. That is, forgiveness until they sinned again, which they inevitably did. They were humans, after all.

So they needed to front up to the Temple with another gift to be sacrificed so as to receive forgiveness again season after season, year after year.

But Jews do not carry out sacrifices nowadays, do they? The reason they don’t make animal sacrifices in our time is obvious and practical.  

Last week there was a brief mention of the passage in Mark 13:1-2: “As Jesus was leaving the temple, one of his disciples said to him, ‘Look, Teacher! What massive stones! What magnificent buildings!’ ‘Do you see all these great buildings?’ replied Jesus. ‘Not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.’”

About 30 years after this conversation Jesus’ prophecy was fulfilled. An unsuccessful uprising by the Jews was defeated and amongst other things, the Romans destroyed the the Temple in Jerusalem, literally leaving no stone unturned.  

600 years later Muslims invaded Jerusalem and built a massive mosque on the site of the old Temple.  There have been moves and rumours of building a third temple. There have even been some people who expected help from Donald Trump to get one built.  However, there is no temple in which Jews can make sacrifices so no sacrifices can be made.

Modern Jews live hoping that they will be found good enough to be acceptable to God without the sacrifices.  

Some Orthodox Jews expect that a new temple will be built when the Messiah arrives. As we know, they are almost right about this!  They have missed Christ’s first coming but, like us, they are waiting for his second coming, complete with a new heaven, a new earth and a new temple!!

The thing is,  Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross was the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, the sacrifice which made all previous sacrifices effective, the sacrifice which was not, cannot and will not be repeated.

This truth is summarised in Hebrews 10:11-14

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.”

The role of priests was to represent the sinner and appeal to God, presenting sacrifices on their behalf. For thousands of years this process was repeated over and over and over again.

Who is your priest? Who is the priest who appeals to God on your behalf?  

How about the priest who is higher than any High Priest has ever been?  How about Jesus? How about God himself? Go straight to the top!  

Christ came, God in human form, God incarnate, Immanuel - God with us. Jesus came as the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, the sacrifice provided by God himself.

When he was crucified he was the only sacrifice good enough to mean that no other, no alternative, no better, no subsequent sacrifice is possible.

His sacrifice was so complete and effective that he offered for all time one sacrifice for sins. Once this was done there was nothing else to be done, so he sat down at the right hand of God. It is finished.

Once we accept that Christ is our great High Priest who has made the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice on our behalf then there is no need for us to make any more sacrifices other than the sacrifice of praise.

We now live in Holy Spirit times.

Hebrews 10 goes on to say in verses 15-18

“The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: ‘This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.’ Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”

Christ’s Holy Spirit tells us what God wants us to do.  He convicts us of sin and reminds us when we need to confess and seek forgiveness. We get that conviction every day so the practice of repentance, confession and forgiveness is pretty much continuous.

When we confess our sins to God he regards Christ’s sacrifice as paying any penalty for us, of cleansing us, forgiving us and reassuring us that no further sacrifice is necessary. It’s not that we come to the priest to have yet another sacrifice made.  Our priest, Christ, made the one perfect sacrifice which is the only one needed.

I have been told that sometimes it is necessary to forgive and forget - but forgetting an offence is often hard to do.  And, besides, God goes further than forgive and forget.

God determines that he will forgive and deliberately and purposefully not rememberour offences any more. When you stop and think about that you can be staggered, overwhelmed by such incredible mercy and grace.  God determines not to rememberyour offence.  It’s mysterious behaviour, isn’t it? We keep dredging up hurts and regrets when God determines not to remember them.

Corrie Ten Boon pointed out that God casts our sins into the depths of the deepest sea and puts up a sign saying, “no fishing”.

God’s example gives us the best advice: forgive and don’t remember the offence. Receive God’s forgiveness and don’t remember the offence.

The writer to the Hebrews goes on to say,

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Hebrews 10:19-25 NIVUK

The Most Holy Place is in the presence of God, the place we can only go to with clean hands and a pure heart.  And you and I, brothers and sisters, can go there with confidence because the blood of Jesus has opened the way for us.  We can go straight up to our Heavenly Father assured that we are acceptable and welcome, with our hearts sincere, our conscience clear, our hands clean because of the sacrifice of Jesus the Christ.  We come to the Father through Jesus the Son who is the great priest over the house of God.

How is your level of confidence to enter the Most Holy Place? Whether it’s not too good or needs a boost then let me encourage you, to spur you on towards love and good deeds and confidence. Isn’t that what we are asked to do? The Bible tells us here, Let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another.  

Make a mental note; who will you spur on today? Who will you encourage this week?

We can’t keep putting it off because we’re running out of time - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

We have read that when Jesus had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool and that time will be when Jesus returns as he promised he would.

At that time at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:10-11 NIVUK

This great expectation was prophesied by the old prophets, by Jesus himself - as we heard in the reading from Mark 13, and by the apostles and especially in the book of Revelation.

Christmas is a celebration of Jesus’ birth, his first coming.  The weeks leading up to Christmas are the church season of advent which has the purpose and theme to remind us that Jesus will return to judge the heaven and the earth - and you and me and everyone else.

Would you be comfortable if that Day was next week? Or if it was tomorrow? Or if it was today?

The Bible readings for today don’t leave us with nothing to do. We have mentally noted who we will be encouraging this week, we have the powerful news of Christ’s sacrifice, of his kingship, of him being accessible and approachable.

In Hebrews 11 we have this wonderful exhortation: “therefore, my friends, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary… let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith!”

In Hebrews 4:16 we are told, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”

Confidence because we have it on the highest possible authority to do so.

Confidence because the Lord himself made the way possible.

Confidence because we have been invited, welcomed, even urged to come.

Confidence because God loves us.

You know, when you approach God with confidence you can approach God with celebration! Confidence and celebration go together!

When we worship, when we pray, whenever we approach God’s throne of grace we do so with confidence and with celebration!

We respond to this wonderful gospel with greater urgency, and certainly with celebration, when we are reminded by the writer to the Hebrews that the Day is approaching.

Let’s be reassured with this good news because the King is coming!

1325 Modified: 19-08-2022
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