15 – The Sacrificial High Priest

We have come unto an awesome sacrifice, one that has eternal consequences. With this appreciation, we can understand how foolish the readers of the Hebrew document were in their efforts to return to the animal sacrifices of the Sinai law.   We can understand the uselessness of all those today who carry on with similar animal sacrifices in their system of humanly devised religiosity.

It “was necessary that the copies of things” should be purified with sacrifices, but “the heavenly things themselves” must be purified “with better sacrifices than” those that originated from this earth, that is, animal sacrifices.9:23 We have now come into a covenant that has the better sacrifice of Jesus.

We can only imagine the frustration of the Levitical priests of the Sinai covenant. Theirs was a futile effort of “daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices that can never take away sins.”10:11 They knew that the blood of a killed animal could never rectify the spiritual gap that exists between man and God. They knew that a sacrificed animal was useless in mending the separation that was caused by their inability to keep law perfectly in order to be justified before God (See Is 59:2). Theirs was a ministry of frustration. Nevertheless, they remained faithful in offering animal sacrifices in view of the fact that something greater must be in the final plan of God.

When the fullness of time came, the better was reveal when God sent forth His Son (Gl 4:4). And “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”10:14   The cross was a day of historical celebration. What was a momentary time of grief for the immediate friends of Jesus who stood at the foot of the cross, later became a joyous event when they encountered Him alive after the resurrection.   On the day of Pentecost, it was revealed that the cross was the event for which all the sons of Abraham by faith had waited for millennia.

A new covenant relationship was activated with the words from the cross, “It is finished” (Jn 19:30). What Jesus had finished on the cross had been in the foreknowledge of God since the first day He breathed into Adam the breath of life.   The sacrificial offering of the cross declared God just in creating those whom He knew could not live perfectly before Him. If there had been no plan when the first “Let there be …” came forth from God, then God would have been fiendish to create those whom He knew could never live a life of self-justification. The foreplanned blood offering of God was thus in place before the first human existed who needed redemption (See 1 Pt 1:17-21).

Our encouragement comes from the fact that “by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.”10:14 Such was not the promise of the old covenant relationship that God had with Israel.   Since those who lived under that covenant assumed that the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins, they looked forward to the One whom God promised to raise up from among them as He raised up Moses (Dt 18:15). It would be this One who would bring in what the prophets foretold: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days ….”10:16

The new covenant that was enacted was different because it was based on something far different than the old Sinai covenant.   Under the old covenant, Israel as a nation was in a covenant relationship with God. Therefore, when a babe was born, he or she was born into a covenant relationship with God. And because Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, then sacrifices of necessity had to be made for the people as a nation. As children grew up under this covenant, they had to be taught the reason for the sacrifices.

But under the new covenant everything changed.   God had promised under the new covenant, “I will put My laws in their hearts and on their minds I will write them.”10:16 (See Jr 31:33).   Sacrifice under the new covenant was necessary, but the sacrifice that was made resulted in the declaration, “And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”10:17 Since “it was not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins”10:4 under the old, the priests had to stand “daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices” that could never take away sins.10:11   Under the new, however, Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins forever,” and then He “sat down at the right hand of God.”10:12

But there was a difference between the old and new in reference to the time the sacrifice was made for those who would be in a covenant relationship with God. Under the old Sinai covenant, a Jewish babe was born into a covenant relationship with God. The newly born babe had no choice concerning the establishment of this covenant. And thus, from childhood the Jewish child had to be taught the law (conditions) of the covenant. The sacrifices were then offered year by year as one sought to remain in his covenant relationship with God. The sacrifices, therefore, were made after the acts of sin.

But under the new and better covenant, everything changed. The offering for sin has been made once and for all time before we sinned.   Jesus has “offered one sacrifice for sins forever.”10:12   For all those who have life after the cross, during His earthly ministry Jesus revealed to His audience the key to understanding what would come in the lives of His immediate audience:   “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up (Jn 3:14). Jesus continued, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He …” (Jn 8:28). And why? Jesus revealed, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Me (Jn 12:32).

We are drawn to Christ because we are drawn to the sacrifice of the cross that has already taken place. We realize in this sacrifice of the past that we have the promise, “their sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”10:17 It is not that one is born into a covenant relationship with God today as under the old Sinai covenant. We are drawn into the new covenant relationship with God because of what God did for us in the past. The drawing power of the cross is determined by our knowledge of the Son of God and His offering.

Our present relationship with God continues if we continue to grow in the knowledge of Jesus (2 Pt 3:18). The Hebrew writer cautioned, But if any man draws back, My soul will have no pleasure in him.”10:38 Throughout the book, therefore, the writer emphasizes the emotional power of understanding the function of the cross in our lives. It is our knowledge of the function of the blood and cross that draws us to Jesus. Through the cross we have “a better hope, through which we draw near to God.”7:19 Therefore, let us continue to draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith ….”10:22   If in our hearts we lose the drawing power of the cross, then we will draw back to destruction.”10:39

It is at this point in the Hebrew document that we understand what the writer previously meant when he said that his readers had become dull of hearing.5:11   Their knowledge of Jesus and the cross had waned, and thus, the drawing power of the cross had subsequently waned.   When the sacrifice of the cross fails to bring a gasp of awe in our hearts, then we know that we have become dull of hearing. And if we have become dull, then it is time to study this document of the Holy Spirit.

In order to prepare His disciples for the cross, Jesus held up the cup during His last Passover meal and said to His disciples, “For this is My blood of the covenant that is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Mt 26:28). And now we know why Peter said to those who believed on Jesus on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” His Jewish audience knew that there was no remission without blood.   They also knew that unless one somehow connected with that blood of sprinkling, then there would be no sanctification.   Peter’s statement on the day of Pentecost explained how they could connect with the blood of Jesus, and thus, receive the redemption that is in Christ through His blood. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins according to the riches of His grace” (Ep 1:7). When one is baptized into Jesus (Rm 6:3), he is baptized into the realm of the continual cleansing blood of Jesus (1 Jn 1:7).   The minds of about 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost had not become dull of hearing. They were willing to hear, and thus, they asked what to do in order to reconnect with God (At 2:37).

By faith, individuals responded on that day to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. They were drawn to Jesus, and subsequently sought remission of sins in the cleansing blood of Jesus that flows from the cross. When one comes forth from the grave of water, and subsequently comes into a covenant relationship with God in Christ, he has been washed of sins because of the cross of the past (At 22:16). This is not all.

But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn 1:7).

The story only gets better when we are delivered from this body of death into the loving arms of the One who made a onetime sacrifice in the past that drew us into a covenant relationship with God.   In this covenant, we do not need to be taught to know the offering of the cross. It was because of our knowledge of the sacrifice of the cross that we were drawn to Jesus. It was our own volition to establish a covenant with God based on that knowledge, as opposed to those who lived under the Sinai covenant who had to be taught to “know God” because they were already in a covenant with God.

Because the Jewish child was in a covenant with God at the time of his birth, he had to be taught the conditions of the covenant that God had established with Israel. But because we are taught to know Jesus before we make a decision to be drawn into a covenant relationship with God, we already know the conditions of the covenant at the time we are cleansed with the blood of the covenant.   And because of the continual cleansing blood of Jesus as we walk in the light, God promises every day, “Sins and iniquities I will remember no more.”10:17   Those sins that were washed away in baptism, are gone forever. Those sins that we commit while faithfully walking the light are also gone because of our continual confession and the sufficient sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in the past. We do not, as Israel under the Sinai covenant, have to remember our sins throughout the year at the end of every year when the high priest on the day of atonement offered the blood of animals.

And just in case we might forget the beauty of the new covenant we have with God, the Hebrew writer made one last statement in reference to the continuing effect of the cross.

Now the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, equip you in every good work to do His will.13:20,21

The covenant we have established with God through our faith response to the cross, has eternal consequences. When one establishes this covenant with God through obedience to the gospel, he enjoys the blessings of an eternal sacrifice. It is eternal because of the effect of the sacrifice. Jesus “offered one sacrifice for sins forever.”10:12 Even when we come into heaven we can be assured that the covenant continues because the effect of the sacrifice continues. It is an eternal covenant because of the eternal effect of the cross.

[Next lecture:  December 28]

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