************ Sermon on Hebrews 9:23-26 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 24, 2016
"A Better Sacrifice"
You and I have a debt with God, dear friends. In fact, everyone of Adam's descendants have a debt with God. A debt that increases every single day. I am talking about the debt of sin. Because of that debt we deserve punishment both in this world and forever after.
Doing good doesn't pay our debt -- because the good we do isn't good enough. Pointing to good intentions won't do -- because sinners only intend evil and not good. Religious devotion and exercises won't pay our debt. Making large financial donations won't pay our debt. Being a good neighbor won't pay our debt. Being environmentally friendly doesn't pay your debt. Being a disciple of Trump or Clinton won't pay your debt either. Nothing we do or bring or are can pay off our debt.
That leaves us with a problem. How are you fit for heaven? How can you qualify for that place? How can you someday stand before God? How can you be at peace with God? What can pay off the enormous debt you have with God?
You all know the answer -- or you should know the answer: the blood-sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This sacrifice is sufficient for the worst of sinners. It is sufficient for the worst of sins. For, as we learned last time, there is forgiveness only because of the shedding of Christ's blood.
Are you a guilt-ridden, sin-filled, debt-afflicted sinner? Do you want peace with God? Do you want your debt of sin paid for? Then go to the cross because that's the only place you can go.
Now, keep in mind the setting. The whole of Hebrews 9 compares the old covenant and its sacrifices to the new covenant and its sacrifices. The old covenant sacrifices covered only sins done in ignorance; so the conscience was not cleansed. The new covenant sacrifices, however, cleans the conscience from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God.
Tonight, we want to ask why. Why does Christ's sacrifice succeed in cleansing us whereas the old covenant sacrifices failed?
I Christ's Sacrifice is Superior
A To answer this question, Hebrews starts by reminding us of what Christ has done. In verse 23 we see a comparison to the old covenant and its sacrifices:
(Heb 9:23) It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices ...What are the copies of the heavenly things? In mind is the earthly tabernacle, its furnishings, and all the utensils and tools used in its ceremonies. All of this, remember, is a copy, a shadow, of what is in heaven. Verse 21 reminds us that all of this had to be purified with sprinkled blood.
But now Hebrews adds something strange about the heavenly things: "but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these." What is Hebrews saying about the heavenly things? Hebrews is saying the heavenly things, like the earthly copies, have to be purified. Does this even make sense? Is Hebrews saying heaven is not perfect? Is Hebrews saying the abode of God needs to be purified? If so, what heavenly things? Obviously it can't be God or the abode of God. It can't be heaven's altar. It can't be the throne of God. It can't be the seven blazing lamps. Something needs to be purified but what?
Let me ask: of everything that is in heaven what needs to be purified? I can think of only one answer: you and me, the saints, the chosen, believers. Of everything that is in heaven, we alone need cleansing. Keep in mind that throughout the New Testament, the church, the people of God, are referred to as God's new temple. God's abode is us.
(Heb 3:6) But Christ is faithful as a son over God's house. And we are his house ...
(Eph 2:21) In [Christ] the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.
(1 Pet 2:5) you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house ...
The tabernacle and its furnishings in the wilderness had to be sanctified before God entered it as His dwelling place on earth. In the same way, the New Testament people of God need to be cleansed and sanctified to be the habitation of God in the Spirit. In other words, what happened to the Old Testament tabernacle has also happened to you and me: we've been sanctified, we've been purified, we've been sprinkled with the blood of Christ.
B Now, says Hebrews, Christ's sacrifice is better and greater than anything in the old covenant for two reasons. First, Hebrews points to the place in which the blood of the sacrifice is being displayed. Look at verse 24:
(Heb 9:24) For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.
A contrast is drawn here to the old covenant sacrifice. The high priests of Israel entered the Holy of Holies in the man-made sanctuary. I described the events of the Day of Atonement in my first sermon on Hebrews 9. Three times, remember, the high priest entered the Holy of Holies. The first time he filled it with incense, the second time he sprinkled the blood of the bull, and the third time he sprinkled the blood of the goat. Now, how much time did he spend in the inner sanctuary? Do you think he took his sweet time with the incense and the blood? Do you think he walked as slowly as possible? Do you think he tried to spend as much time as possible in the Holy of Holies? The truth is, he kept his eyes down and he got his duties done as soon as possible, as quickly as possible. You know why: because in the old covenant access to God was severely limited. You see, sinners cannot be in the presence of a holy God and cannot see God without being consumed. So the high priest kept his eyes downcast, performed his duties, and left. Quickly. Immediately. ASAP.
Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary. "He entered heaven itself." Did He leave ASAP? Did He perform His duties and leave? In the Greek language the word "entered" is understood as completed action; that is, Christ entered heaven and remained there and remains there to this day. He is in no hurry to get out. He is able to enjoy God's presence without fear. Why? Because He entered with the blood of a superior sacrifice. He entered with His own blood. And now enjoys permanent, unending access to God.
C What makes Christ's sacrifice better and greater? Second, Hebrews points us to what Christ is doing for us right now: "now to appear for us in God's presence." We need to understand the Greek word for "God's presence." It literally means "God's face, God's appearance, in front of God." Jesus is face-to-face with God. No downcast eyes for Him. No worry about seeing the glory of God. Intimacy. Immediacy. No barrier. Full and complete access.
Next, look at the word "appear." This is the same word used throughout the New Testament for the incarnation, for the coming of Jesus in the flesh, for what we celebrate on Christmas Day. He appeared. Visibly. For all to see and behold. Openly. Publicly.
Isn't this one of the themes of the New Testament? We are told over and over and over again that He appeared. As John puts it in the introduction to his gospel, "we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (Jn 1:14). He appeared and was seen by the shepherds, by the wise men, by Simeon and Anna, by the Teachers of the Law. He was seen in Gethsemane, at the home of Caiaphas, before Pilate. He was seen by the soldiers who whipped him and mocked him. He was seen as He walked through the streets of Jerusalem on the way to Golgotha. He was seen as the soldiers nailed the spikes into Him and lifted Him on the cross. He was seen as He hung there crying out to God and man the seven words of the cross. He was seen as His side was pierced and blood and water poured out. He was seen as He was buried. He was seen as the risen Lord. He was seen arising into heaven. All of this is emphasized by the word "appeared." But the most important appearance: in the presence of God as the risen and ascended High Priest.
Let me point out one final phrase: "for us." "He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence." For us. For us. For us. For us. I keep repeating this because most Christians think of the cross "for us." Or, His beating and crown of thorns "for us." Or, His prayer in the Garden "for us." But according to Hebrews the highpoint of what Christ did and does "for us" is in heaven before the face of God, right now, today. Whatever Christ is doing in heaven is for us. He is in God's presence for us!
D I want you to take note of the phrase that begins our Bible reading this evening: "It was necessary." Required. Ordered. Needed. Not one of many options. Not one of some options. Not one of different ways to obtain forgiveness. "It was necessary" that He enter heaven to appear for us in God's presence. It was necessary or we do not receive forgiveness. It was necessary or our conscience is not cleansed. It was necessary or we remain in our sins. It was necessary that Jesus enter heaven and appear before the face of God for us.
Why can He do this when the Old Testament high priests could not? Because He came with the blood of a superior sacrifice.
II Christ's Sacrifice is More Than Sufficient
A Why does Christ's sacrifice succeed in cleansing us whereas the old covenant sacrifices failed? The first reason is that His sacrifice is superior. The second reason is that His sacrifice is more than sufficient.
Like out first point, this second point also begins with a comparison to the old covenant sacrifices. Look at verse 25:
(Heb 9:25) Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.
Hebrews reminds us of two weaknesses of the old covenant sacrifices. First, the high priest offered the sacrifices again and again and again. Every year of every decade of every century. For over 1500 years. That's a lot of sacrifices. That's a lot of blood. The second weakness: the high priest came with the blood of animals -- bulls, goats, lambs. It wasn't the blood of a man. It wasn't his own blood. But, as the Catechism asks in Q 14, can another creature -- any at all -- pay the debt of our sin? The answer: Absolutely not!
B So, what makes Christ's sacrifice different? What makes Christ's sacrifice sufficient? Verse 26 answers this question:
(Heb 9:26) Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.Hebrews presents three characteristics of Christ's all sufficient sacrifice.
First, Christ does not enter the heavenly throne room with the blood of goats and bulls and lambs. Rather, He comes "by the sacrifice of himself." Himself. Remember Who He is? Remember what Hebrews says about Him? God's own Son. The Son God loves. The Son God sent. The Son Who was perfectly obedient. The Son Who is superior to anything and everything else in all of creation. He offered Himself. The best offering possible. The most valuable offering ever. An offering beyond worth. Here is a saying you should always remember: The effectiveness of a sacrifice is based upon the value of the sacrifice. Or, to put it another way: The most valuable sacrifice results in the most effective sacrifice. That's what is being said in verse 26.
Second, imagine for a moment if Christ's sacrifice of Himself was like the sacrifices of the Old Testament high priests. Then Christ would have had to suffer and die repeatedly. "Then," says Hebrews, "Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world." Here we see one of the biggest errors, weaknesses, heresies of the Roman Catholic Church. They have adopted an Old Testament view of Christ's sacrifice in which Christ is offered daily by the priests.
But Christ and Christ's sacrifice is different from what we find in the Old Testament and in the Roman Catholic Church. Christ's sacrifice is "once for all." I cannot tell you enough times how important this phrase is in the book of Hebrews. ONCE FOR ALL. Once for all times. Once for all sins. Once for all sinners. Never to be repeated. Never needs to be repeated. It is sufficient for all sins and all guilt. It is sufficient for all your sins -- past, present, future. It is sufficient for the sins you are born with as well as the sin your actually commit. It is sufficient for all your guilt and all your shame. It is ONCE FOR ALL.
Third, Christ offered Himself "to do away with sin." That's why He appeared in heaven's throne room: to do away with sin. I don't hear much about the movement today, but remember the phrase WWJD? What Would Jesus Do? For many, Jesus is basically an example: WWJD. Others look at Jesus as a moral or social crusader: He stands up for the widow and orphan, the poor and the hungry; liberation theology loves this view of Jesus. Hebrews tells us the preoccupation and intention of Jesus is "to do away with sin." Remove sin. Abolish sin. Notice the singular: sin. Sin itself. The idea of sin. The concept of sin. The root of all that is bad and wicked and evil.
Dear Friends, you can't pay God for the debt of your sin. Jesus, and only Jesus, is able to pay for your sin.
So, do you have a clean conscience? Is your debt of sin paid for? Are you right with God? Are you free from eternal condemnation?
You might wonder: How do I know Christ has paid for my sin? How do I have the assurance?
Let's look at the opposite for a moment. If Christ has not done away with your sin, then your life will be marked by rebellion, defiance, unbelief, disbelief. If Christ has not done away with your sin you won't care about God or Christ or the church or the kingdom. If Christ has not done away with your sin you won't want to serve God and won't even care about serving God. If Christ has not done away with your sin you won't repent of your sins. You can be sure Christ did not pay for your sin if any of this is true of you.
On the other hand, you can be sure Christ has done away with your sin if you believe in Him and Him alone as the means of forgiveness. You can be sure Christ has done away with your sin if you seek forgiveness in Jesus alone. You can be sure Christ has done away with your sin if you stop looking to saints or other creatures or yourself to pay your debt and look only to Jesus.
"But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26). Is this your confession? Even if this is your confession for the first time, come to Jesus and realize His sacrifice is for you.
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