How Much More!

Reading: Hebrews 9.11-14
"A mother's work is never done", so the old saying goes. No nine-to-five. No shifts. There may not be the sweating over the copper boiler, or the hands-and-knees scrubbing of the floor. Modern electrical appliances have taken the sweat out of many chores - though some will contest that the end-result is no improvement!

But - "a mother's work is never done". We may do those household chores differently, but they keep on needing to be done. Cardboard plates and plastic cutlery may be fine for a party, but - O for regular self-cleaning table-ware! Drip-dry clothes are fine - if you're careful - but usually still need a press. They have non-stick cook-ware, why now non-stick clothes that just don't pick up grease or dirt?

A mother's work is never done because it just doesn't stay "done".

Never "done"

The letter to the Hebrews constantly contrasts the old system of relating to God with the new - established and completed in the ministry of Jesus Christ. The old was promise, the new is fulfilment. The old was shadow, the new is reality. The old was never "done" - it had to be constantly repeated - whereas the new was done "once for all".

Hebrews 9 begins with a brief description of the furnishing of the tabernacle. Most significant in the tabernacle is the fact of the two rooms - the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. "When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year [on the Day of Atonement, Lev. 16], and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance" (vv. 6-7).

The significance of this is that "the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed" (v. 8). In other words, it wasn't possible for any human being to enter the presence of God - except for the high priest on the Day of Atonement, and then only on the grounds that he was carrying with him the blood of the atonement. This instilled in the worshippers an awesome sense of their separation from God.

"Atonement" is the word made up by the KJV translators from "at-one-ment". In Israel they call the day of atonement Yom Kippur - the day of covering. The word implies the covering-over of human sin to protect sinners from God's wrath.

The sacrificial blood is unable in fact to "clear the conscience of the worshipper" (v. 9) - literally, "make the worshipper perfect in conscience".

In other words, the various prescribed sacrifices and offerings were "external regulations applying until the time of the new order" (v. 10).

The Blood of Christ

"When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption" (vv. 11-12).

Here is the final offering, the perfect sacrifice, offered by Christ in heaven itself - the Most Holy Place isn't any human sanctuary, but the very presence of God (note v. 24).

The earthly sacrifices made people "outwardly clean" (v. 13). "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!" (v. 14)

This was a once-for-all sacrifice. Christ's sacrificial work is complete - from the cross he gave his shout of triumph, "It is finished!" (Jn 19.30). This sacrifice doesn't need to be repeated. The work of redemption he has done doesn't need to be done again!

"But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him" (Heb. 9.26b-28).

The Perfect Sacrifice

Sin is serious - in fact, it is deadly! This was symbolised in the old order by the extensive use of blood in purification rituals. The slaughter of animals for food had to be done very carefully. The law said, "And wherever you live, you must not eat the blood of any bird or animal. If anyone eats blood, that person must be cut off from his people" (Lev. 7.26,27). The shedding of blood was always highly significant, "and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness" (Heb. 9.22b).

This is a principle of the new covenant, as of the old - except that the blood has been shed "once for all." The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sins (10.4,11).

"But when this priest [that is, Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God [because his sacrificial work was complete]. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy" (vv. 12-14). "And where [sins and lawless acts] have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin" (v. 18).

The perfect once-for-all sacrifice has been made and offered in the heavenly sanctuary. Our sins are forgiven. God regards us now "in Christ" as Paul wrote again and again. He is still working on us - we are "being made holy" - but we are in fact "perfect forever" with no need for another sacrificial offering to be made.

The old sacrificial system had its place. But it was limited - it had to be repeated all the time. It was limited - leading to outward purification, not dealing with the inner issues. "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!"

Cleansed to serve the living God!

© Peter J. Blackburn, Home Hill and Ayr Uniting Churches, 2 November 2003
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from the New International Version, © International Bible Society, 1984.

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