************ Sermon on Belgic Confession Article 21 ************

By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman

This sermon was preached on June 7, 2020

Belgic Confession Article 21
Hebrews 7
"The Atonement"

Every year Jews all over the world observe Yom Kippur. Yom Kippur is the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will observe this day.

The name "Yom Kippur" means "Day of Atonement." It is a day set aside to atone for the sins of the past year. Jews today believe Yom Kippur is the last chance to change the judgment entered in God's books for the past year by repenting and making amends.

Yom Kippur is treated like a Sabbath so most of the holiday is spent in the synagogue. No work can be performed on that day. It is a day of prayer and fasting. The Talmud specifies additional restrictions that are less well-known: on Yom Kippur you are not to wash and bathe; nor anoint one's body with cosmetics, deodorants, or perfume; nor wear leather shoes; and, a few other things.

The day ends with a long blast on the shofar -- the blowing of a ram's horn trumpet.

It is customary to wear white on the holiday which symbolizes purity and calls to mind the promise that our sins shall be made as white as snow (cf Isa 1:18). Some even wear the white robe in which the dead are buried.

Leviticus 23 tells us what is required: sacrifices, offerings, high priest, cleansing, robes, sprinkled blood, Holy of Holies, and the mercy seat. All of this in the Temple. None of these requirements can be met today since there is no temple, no altar, no sacrifices, and no high priest. Yet, the Jews still observe this holy day. In other words, it is nothing but a meaningless ritual. Even more fundamental is the fact the day no longer is necessary because Christ has come as our Yom Kippur. One of the greatest tragedies of life is the failure of the Jews to believe this.

I The Great High Priest
A Both Articles 20 and 21 deal with the atonement. Article 20 deals with the subject from God's side. It speaks of the mercy and justice of God and how God gave His own Son and accepted His sacrifice. Article 21 looks at the atonement from Christ's side. Yom Kippur requires a high priest and our high priest is Christ. Using the language of Hebrews, the Confession tells us:
We believe
that Jesus Christ is high priest forever
according to the order of Melchizedek.

Who was Melchizedek? The Bible mentions him in three places: Genesis 14; Psalm 110; and Hebrews 5, 6, 7. We first meet him when Abram returns in victory from rescuing Lot and the others the Kings of the East had carried off as captives. Melchizedek comes out to meet Abram; he appears suddenly and just as suddenly disappears. We are told only two things about him: he was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. It seems he was appointed to the office of priest by God. We are not told anything more about him. We do not know who his father or mother was. We do not know who succeeded him as king or whom he succeeded as king. We know nothing about his birth or his death. All the details of his life are shrouded in mystery.

B Now in Israel, only descendants of Aaron, men of the tribe of Levi, were called by God to serve as high priest. Yet, based upon Hebrews 7 and other passages, the Belgic Confession reminds us that Jesus is high priest. How can this be because Jesus was not a descendant of Aaron or of the tribe of Levi; He was of the tribe of Judah. Here is the answer: Jesus was not called by God to be priest according to the order of Aaron; instead, Jesus was called by God to be priest according to the order of Melchizedek.

"Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." This means three things. First, this means Christ, like Melchizedek, is both King and Priest. This cannot be said about Aaron or any of his descendants.

Second, like Melchizedek, His priestly office was given to Him directly by God. Unlike the descendants of Aaron, Jesus did not inherit His priestly office and He did not pass the office on to a successor. The Roman Catholic Church is wrong, then, in claiming the popes are Christ's successors. There can be no successors.

Third, Christ is better and greater than the high priests according to the order of Aaron. Do you remember what happened when Melchizedek met Abram? He blessed Abram and then Abram gave him a tenth of the spoil. The greater always blesses the lesser. And, by giving him a tithe -- which is God's portion -- Abram was recognizing Melchizedek as God's servant and was paying homage to him. Hebrews argues that in Abram, the tribe of Levi was paying homage to Melchizedek, recognizing his priesthood is greater than its own.

C "Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." This is a reminder something more was needed than the high priests from the line of Aaron. Something better was needed. Why? The high priests in the line of Aaron were given to Israel for the atoning of sin. But Aaron and his sons could never accomplish this "because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins" (Heb 10:4). Their sacrifices were ceremonial, a shadow. The reality was the great High Priest after the order of Melchizedek.

D "Jesus Christ is a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." We need to emphasize the word "forever." The work of our great High Priest is not limited to what He did on earth. He is a high priest forever. He prays for the entire church, the church of all times and all places and all peoples.

Forever. Even after the Last Day has come, and the promises and plans of God have been fulfilled, this priesthood will still endure.

If we follow this High Priest into the sanctuary, we will not be rejected. Says Hebrews,
(Heb 7:24-25) but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. (25) Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Yom Kippur is past but our great High Priest prays for us. He presents us to the Father, saying, "Accept him and receive her for my blood covers their guilt."

II The Satisfaction Worked by the High Priest
A Christ is both the great High Priest and the sacrifice:
... he presented Himself
in our name
before his father,
to appease his wrath
with full satisfaction
by offering himself
on the tree of the cross
and pouring out his precious blood
for the cleansing of our sins ...
Jesus is the great High Priest who offered Himself. He took our curse upon Himself, standing in our place, suffering and dying. He appeased God's wrath. His sacrifice is acceptable to God, and all who seek refuge in this sacrifice will be accepted and welcomed by Him. Aaron and his sons could never do this:
(Heb 10:1,4) The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship ... (4) because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Their sacrifices were ceremonial, a shadow of the work of Christ. This does not mean, however, that the temple and tabernacle ceremonies had no worth. After all, the Lord Himself instituted them. But their value was not in satisfying God's justice. Their purpose was to teach what Christ would and did do. Their purpose was to point to Christ.

B The Belgic Confession stresses the full satisfaction of Christ's sacrifice because in the days preceding the Reformation some theologians denied this. These theologians said Christ's sacrifice was partial payment that God accepted as being enough. In this view, it is as if God says to Christ, "Never mind the rest, My Son. Never mind. You have shown your willingness and that is good enough." This is called the Acceptance Theory of the Atonement.

Is the sacrifice of Jesus merely good enough, a partial payment? Absolutely not! It is of infinite worth and infinite value. It is once for all -- once for all men, once for all time, once for all sin, once for all people. It is fully sufficient and nothing is lacking or missing in it. It is a sacrifice that is more than sufficient for your sin. Perhaps you struggle about your salvation. Rest assured, Christ's sacrifice is of value to you today because it is of infinite worth.

Come to Jesus, all you who know yourselves to be fallen and guilty. Come to Jesus and know the blood will never lose its power. Come to Jesus and know there is cleansing at the cross. Come to Jesus and know nothing is left undone, nothing is outstanding, all your sins are covered.

Are you cleansed? Do you say, "I believe that Jesus presented Himself to appease and satisfy"? Be careful, be careful, that you do not deny the power of Jesus, the love of God, and the witness of the Holy Spirit.

C Back to Yom Kippur. Jews today want nothing to do with the sacrifice and blood of Yom Kippur. Like so much of modern theology they sneer at the idea of an atoning sacrifice. Sacrifice and blood, they say, puts us down to the level of primitive tribes from a dark corner of this world. We are no longer primitives and should move on to more civilized things.

How serious are we to take the idea of an atoning sacrifice? As serious as Christ Who died and gave His life as a ransom for many. The cross may be an offence to the Jew and foolishness to the Greek, but for us it is the power of God unto salvation.

III The Witness of the Scriptures
Some say the theory of satisfaction is an invention of Augustine, or Luther, or Calvin, or the scholastics of the Middle Ages. What a blessing it is to know, instead, that it is revealed in the Bible! The Scriptures present us with the living Christ who gave His life for sinners.

It is the Scriptures that speak with authority of Christ's sacrifice. It doesn't come from our pagan or primitive past. It doesn't come from some personal testimony. It doesn't come from some minister's ideas. It comes from the Bible. The bulk of Article 21 is direct quotes from the Bible. Take a look at the footnotes at the end of the article: Isaiah 53:4-12; Psalm 69:4; 1 Peter 3:18; Luke 22:44; Matthew 27:46; 1 Corinthians 2:2; Philippians 3:8; Matthew 1:21. All the sufferings of Christ were according to and in fulfilment of the Scriptures.

Jesus is the great High Priest according to the order of Melchizedek. He offered Himself as the once for all sacrifice.
We find all comforts in his wounds
and have no need to seek or invent any other means
to reconcile ourselves with God
than this one and only sacrifice,
once made,
which renders believers perfect forever.
It is Jesus and only Jesus who saves.

Do you fear it doesn't include you? Place your finger on any of the passages quoted by Article 21. Any of them. Rest assured they are for you, they include you. God will not refuse you. Because Jesus is our Yom Kippur, God does not reject anyone who comes to Him in repentance and faith.

What a marvellous Gospel! What a beautiful Savior!
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