Unit: Hebrews (Part 1)
Lesson Text: Hebrews 10:1-18
Supplemental Text: Leviticus 4–5; Psalm 111:9; Romans 6:8-11
Aim: Trust in Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice to atone for your sin.
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By Mark Scott
The way of God in the world is sacrifice. After the fall of humankind in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3), God chose sacrifice as the means of getting the world back. Sacrifice forces one to admit how bad sin is. Sacrifice satisfies the demands of justice. Sacrifice was demanded by God (Leviticus 1–7), but hypocritical sacrifice offended God (Isaiah 1:11; Hosea 6:6). Believers can present their bodies to God as living sacrifices (Romans 12:1), and worshippers can offer a sacrifice of praise to God (Hebrews 13:15). Sacrifice is a key term in this text. It occurs nine times (and a similar word, offering, occurs six times).
Hebrews is clearly the “better” Epistle. The writer thus far has argued that Jesus is better than the angels, better than Moses, better than the entire priesthood, and brings a better covenant. Now the writer argues that Jesus is a superior sacrifice—though priesthood, covenant, and sacrifice are quite meshed together. Also, running just beneath the surface of this argument is the reoccurring exhortation of not committing apostacy by turning away from Christ. Why would one want to turn away from One who was the perfect sacrifice?
THE ONGOING SACRIFICES
We sometimes can gain greater appreciation for something by comparing it to something else. When we do, oftentimes we find there is “no comparison.” A Volkswagen Beetle is not comparable to a BMW. Fast food is not comparable to steak and lobster. Water polo is not comparable to the National Football League. Likewise, the sacrifices that preceded Jesus’ unique sacrifice on Calvary were effectual, but their eternal effect was insignificant by comparison.
The law—embedded as it was with the priesthood, the sacrifices, and the covenant—was only a shadow of what was to come. The realities (“pragmatic” things) were the things of real substance, and these were found only in Christ’s sacrifice.
The sacrifices that predated Jesus had multiple problems. First, they had to be repeated year after year. Second, they were less sin remover than an annual sin reminder. Third, though sin could temporarily be forgiven through the sacrifices, the sacrifices failed to substantially improve (make perfect) the worshipper. Fourth, the sacrifices of animals (bulls and goats) were utterly futile in really removing sins. In fact, God was not pleased with them even though he had prescribed them in the law. God knew the time would come when the first covenant, with all its sacrifices, would give way to the second covenant. Finally, the priests performed their religious duties (liturgies) with regularity but without significant effect.
THE ONCE-FOR-ALL SACRIFICE
Jesus Christ’s death on the cross, of course, was the once-for-all sacrifice. Calvary was a real hill in time and space. The incarnation was the beginning of this sacrifice. For Jesus to come to earth in the first place was a sacrifice. The writer seemed to put the words of Psalm 40:6-8 into the mouth of Jesus. A body was prepared (set—as in setting a broken bone) for Jesus. Jesus would accomplish this sacrifice because he was consumed with doing the will of God (something mentioned twice in the text). There would be no blemish or duplicity in Jesus’ offering of himself.
The former sacrifices could not ensure the worshipper would be holy (set apart and dedicated to God). But the sacrifice of Jesus could accomplish that once for all (a phrase mentioned twice in our text and in Hebrews 7:27; 9:12). In fact, so complete was Jesus’ sacrifice that he did not have to give yearly attention to it. When he was done, he sat down at the right hand of God. These days, people sit down to work. By contrast, in the ancient world when someone sat down, it meant their work was finished (John 19:30) and their enemies were conquered (Colossians 2:15). No wonder the high priest Jesus received the place of honor at the Father’s right hand. This once-for-all sacrifice made the worshippers complete and sanctified.
The writer closes this argument with an exhortation from Jeremiah 31, the famous Old Testament chapter dealing with the new covenant. Jeremiah’s people were headed into exile, but God would rescue them and give a new way whereby they could be right with God. God’s laws would not be external and on tablets of stone. They would be internal and written on the heart. And sin would not just be rolled back, but put away and not remembered (brought against the sinner) ever again. Christ’s sacrifice for sin is complete—trust it and trust him.
Dr. Mark Scott serves as minister with Park Plaza Christian Church in Joplin, Mo. He retired in May after more than 30 years as professor of New Testament with Ozark Christian College in Joplin.