Sermon preached on Hebrews 10:1-18 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 9/23/2018 in Novato, CA.
“No Longer an Offering for Sin”
Our passage today again starts with an assertion that old covenant worship was modeled after better realities, but they weren’t the realities themselves. For example, back in Hebrews 5, we read the Moses had modeled the earthly tabernacle after a heavenly pattern God showed him. It said that meant the old covenant tabernacle was only a copy and a shadow of the heavenly reality. Well, here it further clarifies what it means when it says these copies are “shadows”. Verse 1 says that to a be a shadow means that they are not an identical representation of the real thing. They are a shadowy representations. It says that they were not the very image of the things they are copying. Earlier when talking about something being a copy, I had given the analogy of an art class using a copy of the Mona Lisa to study it. I pointed out how a copy could be useful but it would be wrong to claim it was in fact the original. Yet, here we would want to further clarify the analogy. We aren’t talking about an exact replica of the Mona Lisa. We are talking more like a rough sketch of the Mona Lisa. Under the old covenant, there were such shadowy sketches of the good realities to come – the tabernacle being one example. What’s the point? This means the old covenant things pointed beyond themselves. You wouldn’t want to hold on to them as ends in themselves. We would want to look to what they foreshadowed and seek that. So then, today, we are told of another major aspect of what the law foreshadowed. The sacrificial system was a shadow of the sacrifice of Christ and the atonement from sin that he would bring. This is biblical typology, the prefigured Christ and his work. So then, in today’s sermon we again exalt the work of Christ.
In our first point for today, we see the shadowy nature of the old covenant sacrificial system by the frequency of their offerings. The old covenant contained many offerings for sin. Verse 1 mentions the annual offerings found in the Day of Atonement ritual. Verse 11 mentions all the daily offerings the priests would do. So many offerings for sin under the old covenant: both daily and annuals ones. In contrast, the new covenant in Christ has only a single offering. The many offerings under the old covenant were supposed to point you to this one offering of Christ that would accomplish what the many old covenant offerings did not.
This passage interprets the difference between the many sacrifices and the one sacrifice in terms of perfection. In verse 1, it says the many old covenant sacrifices couldn’t perfect. In verse 14, it says that Christ’s one sacrifice does perfect. We said earlier in Hebrews that this kind of perfection referred to completion. What God’s people need to complete our salvation wasn’t accomplished by those many sacrifices. They were completed by the one sacrifice of Jesus. That’s because those old covenant sacrifices were merely shadows and pictures of the sacrifice to come that would actually perfect. They were meant to make God’s people look for the sacrifice to come that would solve the problem of sin. Hebrews is saying that the fact there were ongoing, continual sacrifices should have told them and us that they couldn’t perfect. In contrast, when Jesus finished the offering of himself, he sat down at the right hand of God. That’s verse 12 which is Hebrews again returning to a quote from Psalm 110 which had also told us that Jesus was a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek. If there was more work to complete in terms of atonement by sacrifice, then Jesus wouldn’t have finished that work by sitting down at God’s right hand. And so, Christ’s sitting down is only further evidence that his sacrifice really did complete the work needed to atone forever all the sins of God’s people. This includes even the Old Testament saints who in using the shadows of the old covenant sacrifices looked ahead in faith to the atonement God would truly accomplish in the sending of Jesus to die on the cross for our sins. God’s people of all time, past, present, and future, find their perfection in Christ’s sacrifice.
This point is made in a similar way but with different terms when we see the language here about the remission of sins. Hebrews here says that the shadows they had under the old covenant with the repeated sacrifices served to remind them of their sins, verse 3. But, in contrast, he says that the one sacrifice under the new covenant should affirm to us that indeed we have remission of sins, verse 18. We can see even this remembrance of sins very clearly in the Day of Atonement rituals under the old covenant. In the context of making atonement, Leviticus 23:27 says that the Day of Atonement was to be a time of afflicting of their souls and in Leviticus 16:21 to confess the sins of Israel. Hebrews here connects the dots and says that this all shows that the sins weren’t really atoned for by these ordinances in and of themselves. Verse 2 says that if the sacrifices really did atone for sins, the people wouldn’t need to offer them anymore. Similarly, verse 11 says that because they were repeatedly offered shows that in fact their sins weren’t atoned by these things. I think of the example of some of these medicines that treat HIV. You take them over and over because they can help keep the virus from turning into flown blown AIDS. But they aren’t a cure. If they were, you wouldn’t have to keep taking them. Likewise, these old covenant sacrifices had a value in that they were a copy and shadow of a good thing to come, but they themselves weren’t the final cure for man’s sin. As verse 4 says, there is no way the blood of animals could really bring the atonement a human would need. That atonement we all needed was instead going to come in Jesus.
Having established in this first point that the old covenant sacrifices looked beyond themselves, we are ready now in our second point to consider how many under the old covenant stumbled over this reality. Many passages in the Old Testament record how Israel would hard heartedly and blatantly sin, without any real remorse or repentance, and then think they could just offer some sacrifices and God would have to forgive them. There are several passages that present this concern, and God’s typical response is that what he especially desired over sacrifice was obedience in the first place. God’s most desirable offering is devotion from the heart to obey him. Some passages are very strongly worded about this. Those passages put a tension between atonement for sin and obedience. Yet, of course, God himself gave them the sacrificial system, as well as his commandants to obey, so they aren’t inherently in conflict. Though, certainly too many people stumbled by not properly relating these things together when they thought they could live however they wanted, blatantly and defiantly disobeying God’s laws, only to then give sacrifices after the fact to try to “get out of jail for free”.
So then, Hebrews quotes one of these passages that dealt with this concern, in verses 5-7. It is quoting Psalm 40:6-8. The psalm in its most basic sense puts obedience to the will of God over the sacrificial system of the old covenant. It says that is what God truly desires out of his people. But notice how Hebrews takes this and understands Psalm 40 messianically. In other words, Hebrews sees Psalm 40:6-8 as taken up in the lips of the Messiah, and therefore especially fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ.
With regard to the first part of the quote from Psalm 40, in verse 8, Hebrews references the language of all the sacrifices that it says God did not desire. There, Hebrews makes sure everyone understands what is being referenced. He says these are the very sacrifices the law required. Hebrews says there’s a sense in which God didn’t really desire those old covenant sacrifices. And then notice what he does in verse 9. In referencing the second half of this quote from Psalm 40, where the Messiah is quoted as coming to do God’s will, he says this replaces the sacrificial system of the old covenant. Verse 9, “He takes away the first that he may establish the second.” Hebrews is saying that this quote from Psalm 40 is another example of how God prophesied the replacement of the old covenant sacrificial system with something better.
But then notice how verse 10 drives this home. It takes this quote about the Messiah doing the will of God and says that’s what the cross was about. In further connecting with the psalm’s reference to God preparing a body for the Messiah, he sees that culminating in the Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. In other words, Hebrews says that Psalm 40 sees that instead of the many old covenant sacrifices, the Messiah would give God obedience. But that obedience would be the sacrifice of himself to do what all those many other sacrifices could not do. What an amazing harmony of these seemingly competing principles of Scripture. God ultimately wants obedience over sacrifice but how then do you solve the real problem of human disobedience without sacrifice? In Christ, God gets both. We get both! Christ obeyed God’s will for us, and that will of God directed Jesus to be the sacrifice for sin that we need to atone for all our sins.
As a reminder that the Christ was acting out the will of God, notice the reference from Psalm 40 about the book of the scroll. Though it doesn’t specifically identify that book, we can think of in general all the Scriptures that spoke of what God’s will was. And specific to the Messiah, we can think of all the Scriptures that foretold things the Messiah would do to accomplish his saving work. Remember how frequently Jesus would say that he did certain things in order to fulfill the Scriptures. This was especially true at the cross. Remember Isaiah 53:10 that described how it was God’s will to make the Messiah’s soul an offering for sin. Or when Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but yours be done,” we again see that the Christ was obedient to God, even to the point of death, even the death on the cross (Phil 2:8).
What we see here is what we refer doctrinally to the active and especially the passive obedience of Christ. The active obedience of Christ refers to how Jesus perfectly kept all of God’s commands while he was here on earth. In that, we have available Christ’s righteousness to be accounted to us by faith. The passive obedience of Christ refers to the suffering obedience of Jesus. All the suffering but especially his sacrifice on the cross was done in obedience to God. His passive obedience makes possible the remission of our sins described in this passage.
Coming now to our third point for today, observe how Hebrews ties this all together by pointing again to the new covenant as prophesied in Jeremiah 31. Recall that back in chapter 8 he quoted several verses from Jeremiah 31 to show how the Old Testament predicted the coming of a new covenant to replace the old one which the people couldn’t keep. Here, in verses 15-18, he returns to this passage of Jeremiah again. He confirms again the establishment of the new covenant by connecting it to this single sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
He begins this point in verse 15 by a reference to the Holy Spirit. Basically, he’s saying how the Holy Spirit spoke through the prophet Jeremiah and he continues to speak today to us through that written prophecy. As a side note, that’s a wonderful recognition of the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and how God works by the Spirit through the Word. At any rate, the point here is that Hebrews points to the final part of this quote from Jeremiah regarding the forgiveness of sins. He ties that in with the sacrifice of Jesus. The efficacy of Jesus’ sacrifice is the fulfillment of this Jeremiah prophecy. That confirms Jesus had inaugurated the new covenant in his blood. But in the same way, since Jeremiah declares the definitive forgiveness of sins with this new covenant, therefore this too shows that there is no more need for sacrifices – since the sin issue has been dealt with by the blood of the new covenant. No more need for Jesus to offer himself – that was only needed once. And no more need for any animal sacrifices like what they had under the old covenant.
So then, in this final point, we see that not only does this passage tell us that the sacrificial system is obsoleted with Christ, per Psalm 40, but also the whole old covenant. Jeremiah’s prophecy has come about in Jesus and with it the definitive release from sins for all who are a part of this covenant. That then brings us again to a gospel call. God holds out the call to be a part of this new covenant to all who will repent of their sins and turn to Jesus Christ in faith for salvation. If you have not yet come to Christ, I urge you to do so today. Express your faith and repentance by being baptized into Christ’s church and you too will have the definitive remission of your sins.
Of course, this Jeremiah prophecy also reminds us of the internal renovation that comes to us under the new covenant. It’s seen there in verse 16, that God will write his law on the hearts and minds of everyone who belongs to this new covenant. Every true believer in Christ has begun to experience this work of God within us by the Holy Spirit. And the completion of that work is seen in the language of verse 14 which describes in present tense how God is sanctifying us. That heart work begins at our initial conversion, and continues in this life, and is perfected when we die and go to be with the Lord, or at his glorious return.
In conclusion, brothers and sisters, I want to leave us with a point of application. We mentioned today that under the old covenant there was the issue of hard-hearted people who religiously offered sacrifices when really they hated righteousness and lived in rebellion to God and his laws. I draw your attention that there can certainly still be people of that sort in the church today. They live boldly, they sin boldly, and all the while they say, “Well, I’ll just ask for forgiveness.” They’ll claim the blood of Jesus Christ over and over as the answer to their lifestyle of unrepentant sin. It’s amazing how close that comes to the gospel but it really is a mockery of God’s grace. The new covenant is not about some system to cheat God into forgiving you for all the sin you are going to do anyways. It’s not about atonement to fuel our disobedience.
Rather, let us see that at the heart of this new covenant is our union with the one who is simultaneously our atonement but also our righteousness. Jesus came into this world in the incarnation to do the will of God. We who are truly united with Christ will be having this Christ formed within you. So that the confession of hearts should begin to be the same as his, “Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God!”
This passage talked about how the ordinances of the old covenant left the people with a remembrance of sin. I point you in contrast to the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in the new covenant. It would be easy to think that such a ceremony is to also remind us of our sin, and certainly in some ways it does. Yet, the point of it is not to offer another sacrifice to atone for our sin. No, the point is to remember his sufficient sacrifice and proclaim that again to us until he comes. We do that in remembrance of Christ and his atonement not in remembrance of our sin. So then, as we partake of the Lord’s Supper may we then ultimately be turned from a remembrance of sin to a remembrance of our union with him. May we see the Supper then as something God has given us under the new covenant for our growth in our union with Jesus.
So then, as Christ is proclaimed again today, may you renew your faith in him, but may you also be renewed in seeing Christ at work within you. This is part of what the new covenant brings: real change of heart! Let us seek to take this psalm on our lips, like our Lord, so that we too will delight to live out the will of God. It’s a great blessing as we see this fruit of salvation coming forth already in our lives. As we press on in this regard, we do so remembering the final outcome. As it says in verse 1, there are good things yet to come for us. In faith, we live Christ as we eagerly await the final installment of those good things to come. Amen.
Copyright © 2018 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.