Key Verse: Hebrews 10:10 “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (NIV).
Let’s follow the writer’s reasoning in the first part of this chapter. The Mosaic Law, and the animal sacrifices it requires for sin, are only a “shadow” of the heavenly reality. Perfection is not achieved incrementally, year after year, but is given to the faithful by God once for all. All that the annual sacrifices on the Day of Atonement do is remind the believer that he/she is still a sinner and still guilty. Why? “Because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (vv.1-4).
The writer tells his readers that Jesus said He had come to the world because the Father was not pleased “with burnt offerings and sin offerings” (v.6). Jesus came to “set aside” the “shadows” and establish the “will” of the Father. That is, through the sacrifice of His own body Jesus would make men holy “once for all” (vv.5-10). And, after He had done this, Jesus “sat down at the right hand” of the Father. There, in that place of ultimate authority, the Lamb that was slain makes his enemies His “footstool” and eternally makes perfect “those who are being made holy” (vv.11-14).
So, in the eternal dimension, those who are covered with the blood of the Lamb are seen as forever perfect. In space and time, we are in the process of “being made holy”. Presently, we are being cultivated and pruned. Eternally, we are “the planting of the Lord”.
Jesus has taken “the wage of sin” upon Himself. We are no longer in need of animal sacrifice. The Lamb has become the Priest, and because He lives forever, those who put their trust in Him no longer have any need of “sacrifice for sin” (vv.15-18). In Christ we are forever saved from eternal death.
Key Verse: Hebrews 9:14, 15 “How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance — now that He has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant” (NIV).
God, for His own reasons (most of which are unknown to us), chose to link forgiveness of sin with the shedding of blood (v.22). In the Old Testament days, no one was allowed into the Holy of Holies, with the exception of the high priest, who entered only once a year “and never without blood” (v.7). The shed blood “of goats and calves” (vb.12) was critical for the covering of the high priest’s sins in order for him to enter “the Most Holy Place” without dying himself. God is altogether Holy and will not tolerate sin in His presence. But when He sees the sacrificial blood, He withholds the “wages of sin” and sees holiness in the supplicant.
But, says the writer of Hebrews, there’s a problem — the sacrificial blood of animals is “not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper” (v.9). “The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean” (v.13). So the outside is covered, but what about the inside?
That’s where Jesus comes in. His blood cleanses much more than the outer man. His blood cleanses the conscience (v.14). He creates a new person on the inside, whose actions on the outside are forever changed. This new creature is able to turn away from “acts that lead to death” and embrace service to “the living God!” (v.14b).
The first covenant showed us what miserable sinners we are, but it gave no long-term relief. The new covenant, on the other hand, sets us free from the penalty and dominance of sin and gives us the glorious hope of an “eternal inheritance” (v.15).
This is all possible because of Jesus, who “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (v.26).
Key Verse: Hebrews 8:6 “But the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, and it is founded in better promises” (NIV).
In verse seven, the writer say, “if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no placed would have been sought for another.” The covenant he refers to is the “expanded” version — that is, it refers not only to God’s promise to Abraham, but to the Ten Commandments given to Moses and the Law that resulted. It’s the covenant that was to “perfect” Israel through the mediation of the Levitical priesthood (7:11). And the writer has the effrontery to suggest that something God initiated was imperfect.
The problem was not with God. The problem was with the other signatories, the people — “But God found fault with the people…” (v.8a). He was faithful, but they were unfaithful. He was keeping His part of the contract, but they were defaulting on theirs.
So what does God do? Instead of satisfying His justice by destroying the defaulters. He chooses instead to send His Son to suffer the “wages of sin” and give the faithless ones a second chance for redemption. He kills Jesus as a penalty for our sin, and then He raises Him up again and seats Him at “the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven” (v.1), in order that Jesus be not only the “Lamb that was slain” but also the Priest who “always lives to intercede” for us (7:25).
What’s more, God then extends the parameters of His grace by writing His “laws in their minds and…on their hearts” (v.10b). He makes “a new covenant” that depends no on the faithfulness of man but on the faithfulness of the Son.
Suddenly, legalism gives way to liberty. Law gives way to Grace. Our new High Priest transcends “copies” and “shadows” (v.5) and serves us where only he serve us best — “in the sanctuary” (v.2).
The Merciful v.7
First a word from Shakespeare, and then Jesus’ brother James:
“The quality of very is not strain’d
It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesses him that gives and him that takes:
‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes
The throned monarch better than his crown”
(Merchant of Venice, Act 4, Sc 1).
“Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not be merciful. Mercy trumps over judgment” (Ja. 2:13)
Then there’s the old French proverb: “to know all is to forgive all.”
In the Hebrew the word “heed” (mercy) has the nuance of “walking in the other person’s shoes.” It denotes “pity plus loving action.” And, without doubt, as Shakespeare suggests, the merciful have on at least one occasion (if not several) been shown mercy. You receive it, you give it. Self-righteousness and pride are eclipsed by mercy received. the merciful seldom, if ever, judge others.
With these words, Jesus proclaimed a counter-cultural view of human relations. In his time the Romans despised pity, and the Stoics dissed compassion. The Pharisees were strident and grating in their self-righteousness (“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices — mint, dill, and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law — justice, mercy and faithfulness…you blind guides!” (Mt. 23:23, 24). In their view if you suffered in any way it was because you had sinned. They were very much like “Job’s comforters”, or “Job’s wife”. Jesus, unlike them, has a Father who loves to forgive, and he loves those who do likewise.