Sermon preached on Hebrews 9:23-28 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/16/2018 in Novato, CA.
“To Put Away Sin”
Not all laundry detergent is created equal. In fact, detergent companies continually are working on improving the cleaning power of their product. Certainly, laundry detergent technology has improved greatly over the years. Yet, imagine if one day someone invented the perfect detergent; one that got rid of every possible stain without damaging the clothing. Of course, that doesn’t seem likely to happen, but if it did, there wouldn’t have to be any more research to try to make a better detergent. You can’t improve upon perfection, of course. Well, I used the analogy of laundry detergent recently to say that humans need a cleansing far deeper than any physical detergent could ever possibly provide. As we continue our Hebrew series, today’s passage further develops this theme about purification. It speaks of the purification that we need, and the solution God has provided.
We begin then by seeing this topic of purification referenced in verse 23. There it does so by way of comparison. This passage continues to be comparing the purification accomplished under the old covenant versus the new covenant. And notice that it speaks of necessity. Verse 23 speaks of a necessity for purification under the old covenant, and certainly we see here that there was also a necessity for such under the new covenant. That necessity was due to the problem of man’s sin. This goes back to last week’s passage, when in verse 22 it said that blood purifies for the remission of sin. So then, man needs to be purified from his sins, and God provided for the shedding of blood as a means for purification. Under the old covenant, God accepted the blood of certain animals to provide a measure of purification. Animal blood back then provided some sort of fleshly cleansing according to what we saw back in verse 13. Under the new covenant, God provided a better cleansing with the blood of Christ, one that could cleanse the hearts of men.
Interestingly, as we started to see last week, the necessity for this old covenant purification included the tabernacle and the furnishings within it that were used for divine worship. These too were purified by blood. We could imagine why a physical tabernacle made with hands of sinful man would need the purification of the flesh provided by the old covenant sacrifices. And yet, amazingly, today’s passage also speaks of the need for the heavenly things to be purified with blood, blood better than what they used under the old covenant. That’s verse 23. When it says “heavenly things” it seems fair to interpret that as the true, heavenly tabernacle and everything associated with that in heaven. Whatever pattern Moses saw in heaven and copied in the earthly tabernacle and furnishings – presumably that is what is referred to in verse 23 as needing better blood to purify. That is an amazing thought.
What need for purification would the heavenly sanctuary need? It would be easy to speculate but Scripture doesn’t explicitly answer that here. Yet, what is given to us is the context which compares this with the ratification of the Mosaic covenant and what they did under the old covenant. And so here what they did under the old covenant is described in verse 18 as “dedicating”. They dedicated that first covenant with blood, including sprinkling with blood the tabernacle and its various items used in divine worship. Similarly, several Old Testament passages speak of this in a similar way with the language of “consecration”, in other words in terms of making things holy for holy use.
For example, in Exodus 29:32 we see that the blood placed on the altar would bring purification and atonement in the sense of consecration. We find a similar consecration idea in Exodus 40:9 for the tabernacle and its furniture; consecration made it holy. So, working from the analogy of the old covenant, the idea seems to be that when inaugurating the new covenant, the blood of Christ atones for the people in the covenant in the sense of purifying them from their sin and guilt, thus making them holy. In a similar way, all the items associated with new covenant worship, i.e. the heavenly tabernacle and everything associated with that, is somehow atoned for in the sense of consecration as well. Together we and these heavenly things are dedicated, consecrated, made holy unto God for new covenant fellowship and worship. All of this is part of the purifying power of blood that is seen here. Don’t miss then the application. Old covenant worship consecrated an earthly temple because that’s where they worshipped and experienced God. New covenant worship consecrated a heavenly temple because that’s now where we worship and experience God. New covenant worship is conducted in the heavens! Praise God!
This of course again speaks to how we interpret those Old Testament passages that promise that God would one day rebuild the temple under the new covenant. Some dear fellow Christians have thought that referred to a physical temple on this earth in Jerusalem. But Hebrews sees the fulfillment of such prophecies as us receiving a better temple in the new covenant; the real heavenly one, not the old earthly one that was just a patterned replica of the one in heaven. Some people have had trouble with that because they think it’s not being literal to Scripture. But I give the example like this. If a father gave their five-year old son a Hot Wheels car, and the boy played with it and loved it but then accidently broke it; if the father promised him that one day he would give him a new car; if the boy waited and waited and finally when he turned 16 the father gave him a real automobile, would anyone say the father didn’t keep his promise? Especially if the father reveals that’s what he had in mind the whole time when he made the promise?
But I digress. Going back to the point of the purifying power of blood, a question that might be asked here is how does blood actually purify? To start, let’s point out the obvious that the cleansing power of blood was not in the sense of laundry detergent or soap or anything like that. We know that because whenever you get a bloody nose and bleed all over the floor in your house, you don’t leave it there and think, “Good, now I don’t need to clean that spot.” For that matter, the purification power of blood isn’t simply the material substance of blood. This is clear, because if it was, you wouldn’t want to actually kill the calves and goats. You would just prick a few of them somewhere and let out a little bit of their blood, just enough to accomplish your purifying task – so they blood could be a “renewable resource”. No, the purification by blood required the taking away of the life. This is at the heart of the purifying power of blood. I referenced this briefly last week that we see this spelled out specifically for us in Leviticus 17:11. There God says, “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that makes atonement for the soul.” There we see a close connection between the blood and the life of the animal. This relates back to Genesis 9 when God told Noah that we weren’t supposed to eat the blood of animals, and the reason was there again because the life was in the blood. God established a close connection between the life and the blood, so that the sacrificed life of the animal became represented in its blood when it was used for ceremonial purposes of atonement and consecration. In thinking of atonement, then the idea was that you were exchanging the life of the animal in place of your own life.
That of course leads us to our second point then, to consider the superior efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice and shed blood. Several aspects of this are seen in our passage for today. First, this passage declares Jesus’ sacrifice to be better. That’s the implication of verse 23 in context. It’s better, for example, because he didn’t come as a priest bringing the blood of another, like they did under the old covenant, verse 25. Rather, Jesus came and brought his own sacrifice and his own blood, verse 26. Jesus’ sacrifice is better because it is not the value of the life of just some animal, nor even the life of another human, but it’s the value of the life of a perfect human who is also the eternal Son of God. The life of animals can’t possibly really substitute for a human, but Jesus’ superior lifeblood is of sufficient value as a substitute for all God’s people! Remember the life is in the blood, and Jesus’ lifeblood is the best blood that could ever be offered!
Jesus’ sacrifice also has a superior efficacy because it was done in a better tabernacle. Through the eternal Spirit he offered his blood in the true, heavenly sanctuary. Notice that verse describes this as the sanctuary not made with hands, and that this is where the presence of God is! When we think of our atonement and purification, we realize that Christ’s blood isn’t about making us fit for life in this age. It’s making us fit and perfected for glory and life in the age to come. That’s what heaven is all about. Christ’ blood has been brought for us into the arena of the world to come, to purify us and fit us in the Spirit for glory.
We see that Jesus’ sacrifice also has a superior efficacy in that it only had to be offered once. As a side note, this is why we would not see the Lord’s Supper as another offering of Christ as a sacrifice; but I digress. That Jesus’ sacrifice was only offered once is contrasted here with the many sacrifices under the old covenant. Specifically, we see the contrast here in verse 25 with the annual Day of Atonement service – Yom Kippur. That’s when the high priest would annually enter into the Holy of Holies and bringing sacrifices at the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant to make atonement for God’s people. If these animal sacrifices on the Day of Atonement effectively atoned for God’s people’s sins, there wouldn’t need to be any more sacrifices. Hebrews states the obvious when he says that the fact that they needed to keep being offered shows that they didn’t truly remove the sin from God’s people. In contrast, Jesus’ one-time offering is all that is needed. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” he really meant that. Atonement has been made. Our sin has been purged and remitted. As it says in verse 26, that’s why he appeared: to put away sin.
Along these lines we see that the one-time nature of his sacrifice is brought out here in terms of human history. Since Christ’s sacrifice was only required once, he didn’t have to reoffer himself down through the centuries over and over again. Instead, the point is that he only had to come this one time in terms of dealing with sin. And notice when it says he came. Verse 26, “Now, once at the end of the ages.” To say “the end of the ages” marks Christ’s sacrifice as a climatic event in all of human history. Like my analogy at the start of the service with developing the perfect laundry detergent to stop any more new detergents from being made, this is the blood sacrifice to end all blood sacrifices! Never again will another offering of blood need to be made for God’s people.
While we are talking about the efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice here, I’ll point out that its efficacy is seen here to be particular or definite. Sometimes this truth is referred to as limited atonement. What that means is that Christ’s sacrifice was offered effectually for the elect; for God’s people of all times and places. We see that in two ways here. First, its inferred here with the comparison to the old covenant Day of Atonement. If you read through Leviticus 16, it is stated multiple times that the high priest was making atonement specifically for the children of Israel. It wasn’t for the whole world; it was for the people of God. Second, we see this here in verse 28 when it speaks of bearing the sins of many. The “many” are those actually saved by Christ’s blood; i.e. the elect. This echoes the wonderful language of Isaiah 53 that prophesies of the Messiah coming and bearing the sins of many (53:12), justifying many (53:11), by making his soul an offering for sin (53:10).
Let’s turn now in our third point and see what this passage says about the future. Though on the one hand, Jesus appeared this one time at the end of the ages, we are reminded here that this is not the final end of this age. While we live in these last days, human history continues to move forward until the final end. And its here in verse 27 that we are reminded of the reality that even before the final end of human history, most of us will meet our end in this age in death. For, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” On a side note, this verse is one of several reasons why I don’t put much stock in contemporary claims of people who say that they died, went to heaven, and came back to life. This verse says people die once, and then the judgment, but I digress. The bigger point here is that as much as we can’t escape death, we also can’t escape judgment; at least not on our own merit. For when we die and judgment ultimately comes, there are only two possible outcomes. We can either be openly acknowledged and acquitted as those made righteous in Christ by faith. Or we can be judged guilty on the basis of all our sinful deeds. Those so acquitted in Christ, will be brought to glory and reward. Those so found guilty for their sins will be cast into the eternal lake of fire, where the worm does not die and the fire is never quenched. Verse 27 is meant as a warning concerning this final day of judgment. It is why we need our sins to be put away by the sacrifice of Christ. It’s why this passage in Hebrews is so important. The gospel is so important because the reality of a coming judgment is an elementary principle and a certain reality. If someone doesn’t believe a judgment is coming that won’t stop it from coming, just like if they don’t believe they will die that can’t stop death. Death is inevitable. Judgment is inevitable. But salvation is possible… in Christ Jesus!
That’s exactly what this passage ends with. Verse 28 puts before us that hope of the return of Christ to bring us into the full consummation of our salvation. Notice that it says in verse 28 that when he comes again it will be apart from sin. In other words, when he came the first time it was precisely to deal with sin; to put it away for his people. But when he comes the second time, it won’t be to deal with sin. When he comes again it will be to usher us into the world to come; into our glorious inheritance which he has prepared for those he has purified. That’s the future for Christians and it is wonderfully redeclared in verse 28.
Notice then how it describes what we will be doing in the meantime. There’s an implied exhortation here. Verse 28 says that we will be eagerly waiting for him. That’s the continued theme we find in this book. Our hope and faith is one that requires patience and perseverance. That’s the book message that comes throughout this book. It’s a pilgrim’s life. It’s a pilgrim’s life because this world is not our final home. We are eagerly waiting for Jesus to return and bring us to our final home. So, in the mean time we wait, and we trust, and we look to follow Christ in our daily lives.
Saints of God, in conclusion we’ve been presented with the perfect, purifying power of the blood of Jesus Christ and the new covenant he offers to those who will come to him in faith. This blood and this covenant is superior to the blood and the covenant of the old covenant. This blood and this covenant perfectly gives us the kind of salvation that we need, and so there will never be an improvement nor do we need any improvement. The arrival of Jesus’ purifying blood that washes away the sins of all who trust in him, is the most pivotal event in human history. And it is the best and only way to be saved from the judgment to come and live in glory in the presence of the amazing God.
Realize the significance of this. The world and other religions today offers various other solutions to man’s spiritual needs. I say this humbly, but those are all illegitimate. If even the formerly legitimate old covenant purification has been obsoleted in light of its fulfillment in the blood of Jesus, then all these other options out there are surely unable to deliver. Don’t get me wrong, these various options out there might seem at first glance to have something valuable to offer. But they don’t ultimately deliver.
Likewise, as Christians we can fall into the trap of trying to atone for our own sins. Though we know better, we too often can fall into the trap of trying to do something for God to forgive us. Don’t get me wrong, if we’ve wronged somebody and we can do something to try to make restitution for those wrongs, that is a good and godly thing. But those good deeds don’t atone for our sins. Don’t practically replace Jesus’ blood in your heart by elevating your deeds to such a status. Live for the Lord but realize it’s the one sacrifice of Jesus Christ that provides the purification for our lifetime of various sins.
And yet we rejoice, because that blood is not only all we have available to wash our hearts; it perfectly and completely washes our hearts. We can’t improve upon that perfection of Christ’s blood. Let us then eagerly wait for his return while we look to live for him in this life; not to somehow atone for our sins, but in faith trusting that our sins have already been fully washed away by that perfect blood of Christ!
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.