|Look to Jesus: The Perfect Sacrifice, Part II (Hebrews 10:1-18)
Looking to Jesus: The Perfect Sacrifice, Part II
Minister’s Summary: The ministry of a high priest is to officiate in sacrifices on behalf of the people. The beautiful truth of Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice of himself on our behalf is affirmed here. Jesus is both the one offering the sacrifice and the sacrifice that was offered.
The fundamental point of this text is the contrast between the inadequacy of the provisions of the law in terms of both priests and sacrifices and the adequacy of the work of Christ as both priest and sacrifice. The many priests and sacrifices of the old covenant are inadequate in comparison to the one priest and sacrifice of the new covenant. This contrast is focused on the obedience of Jesus to the Father in carrying out his work. The atoning work of Christ is adequate and fully sufficient because Jesus is the obedient one who inaugurated a new covenant of forgiveness and life (“written on the heart”).
This, of course, continues the themes introduced from chapter 7 forward. The priesthood of Jesus (ch 7) inaugurates a new covenant (ch 8), which secures eternal redemption through his presence before God for us (ch 9). Hebrews 10:1-18 is the climactic underscoring of the significance of these themes. It focuses the point in the light Christ’s obedience and its significance for us.
William Lane, Call to Commitment, p. 130, divides this section into four parts—the last part responds to the first part, and the third part responds to the second part in a chiastic fashion. He sees the following chiastic relationship:
A The inadequacy of the provisions of the Law for repeated sacrifices for sin (10:1-4).
B The repeated sacrifices have been set aside by the one sacrifice of Christ who did the will of God (10:5-10).
B’ The Levitical priests have been set aside by the one priest enthroned at God’s right hand (10:11-14).
A’ The adequacy of the provisions of the new covenant: a sacrifice for sins is no longer necessary (10:15-18).
This arrangement enables the reader to see the climactic point and how the preacher brings his argument about covenant, sacrifice and priesthood to final conclusion. The next section in Hebrews (10:19ff) is an exhortation or an encouragement based upon this extended argument (7:1-10:18).
1. Hebrews 10:1-4.
The word that the preacher uses to describe how “continuously” or “endlessly” the sacrifices are offered to purify worshippers is the same word that is used to describe the work the intercession of Christ in Hebrews 10:12 and 10:14. The phrase “for all time” in 10:12 and the word “forever” in 10:14 are the same word in Greek. The theology of this connection is powerful. What the Law did continually in reminding us of sin, Jesus did “for all time” by one sacrifice so that we are “forever” perfected by that sacrifice. In contrast to an annual reminder of sin, we have, by virtue of Christ’s “for all time” sacrifice, the status of eternal (“forever”) perfection!
This perfection is the reality that Jesus accomplishes—it was what the Law foreshadowed but could not accomplish. The blood of bulls and goals (Day of Atonement) was not sufficient to dispel the memory of sin and guilt.
The preacher uses two words to describe the effect that he wants to underscore—perfection (10:1) and memory (reminder; or “feelings of guilt” in 10:2). This is equivalent to the cleansed conscience of 9:14. But “perfection” is the word that the preacher emphasizes in this section. The term “perfect” occurs again in 10:12 and 10:14. Thus, the term “perfect” and “endlessly” are connected in the same verses three times.
2. Hebrews 10:5-10.
The preacher brings another Psalm into his argument. He quotes Psalm 40:6-8 in Hebrews 10:5-7, and then quotes parts of it again in Hebrews 10:8-9.
The context of Psalm 40 is important. It is a prayer for deliverance (Ps. 40:11, 14). In the prayer, the Psalmist recognizes that God’s interest is primarily on a transformed life, a heart of obedience. God is not interested in sacrifices, even though he commands them. God’s interest in ritual is how it mediates his presence through the heart of a person who seeks him. To obey is better than sacrifice (cf. 1 Samuel 15:22).
The preacher, however, picks up a phrase that is not in the Hebrew Old Testament, but is in the Greek translation of the Hebrew OT. The word “body” in Hebrews 10:5 does not appear in Hebrew (the Hebrew reads: “you have pierced my ears” which refers to belonging to God as a servant). The preacher uses the word “body” to connect the Psalm to the theology of the incarnation. When Christ came into the world, he was given a body—a body through which to sacrifice himself, but—more importantly—a body through which to do the will of God as obedient Son. It is through the “body” of the Son that we have been “made holy.”
The body of Christ means our sanctification (holiness). We have been sanctified (made holy) by the sacrifice of the body, which is Christ’s obedience to the will of God. The term “holy” will appear again in 10:14.
3. Hebrews 10:11-14.
The contrast between the Levitical priests and Jesus is strong in this text. While they continually sacrifice, Jesus has made an eternal sacrifice once for all and is now seated at the right hand of God. The priestly image is also shaped by a royal image—Jesus is seated as a royal figure who conquers enemies. He will sit there till all the enemies of God are destroyed.
In this context, the enemy is sin and guilt. The perfected one now sits at the right hand of God as he reigns over and intercedes for those who are being made holy. The word “holy” is a present passive—it indicates a process of transformation. The people of God have been made holy (10:10), but are also in the process of being made holy (10:14). It is both/and, not either/or. We are saints, but yet in the process of being sanctified. We are cleansed, but in the process of transformation. We are forgiven, but yet in the process of learning obedience just as the Son learned obedience. I see this as an allusion to the process of sanctification (contra Guthrie, p.329).
4. Hebrews 10:15-18.
This section reintroduces the quotation from Jeremiah 31:31-34 which the preacher introduced in Hebrews 8:8-12. He does not quote the full text again, but emphasizes two aspects of the text.
The first emphasis is on the nature of the new life in the new covenant—it is a transformed life by virtue of the presence of God in our hearts. God has written his law on our hearts so that we might understand him and obey him. The second emphasis is on the nature of forgiveness—it is a decisive cleansing of the conscience so that even God no longer remembers our sin. If God no longer remembers it, then we need not remember it either. Sin is gone and life is transformed by the work of Christ.
God’s goal for his fallen creatures is to provide a “perfect cleansing” for their consciences. His goal is the perfection of his people, which involves both (1) a conscience cleansed of guilty stains—where there is no remembrance of sin, and (2) a heart upon which God has written his law so that life reflects God’s holiness.
Theologically, Christ offered himself through the eternal Spirit to secure eternal redemption so that worshippers could enter God’s presence with cleansed consciences (9:14). This once for all action meant that Christ is seated at the right hand of God in God’s presence for us (9:24) so that we can approach God without guiltiness and without the hindrance of guilty memories. Annual sacrifices reminded worshippers of their guilt (10:4), but the work of Christ means that guilt is no longer a factor. It has been decisively eradicated and the consciences of worshippers has been cleansed (forgiveness) and renewed (law written on the heart).
The theological center of this text is the obedience of Jesus. Twice the “I have come to do your will” text of Psalm 40 is quoted in reference to Jesus. This emphasis should not be overlooked. Jesus became the author of eternal salvation through obedience (Hebrews 5:8). This salvation, however, is for those who obey God, that is, who persevere in faith and follow their champion on his path of an obedient life (Hebrew 5:9).
The work of Christ makes us holy—he has perfected us through his sacrifice (10:14). This sacrifice means that we are forgiven (no more memory of sin; no more guilty stains, 10:17) and that God’s law is engraved on our hearts so that we may obey (so we can persevere through the suffering; 10:16).
The obedience of Christ (who does the will of God) is followed by our own obedience because of the work Christ has done and continues to do for us. Our obedience is rooted in his obedience. He has done the will of God so we can do the will of God. He obeyed so we can obey. He inaugurated a new covenant where the law of God is written on our hearts and our hearts are fully cleansed of guiltiness.
Our obedience (perseverance in faith) does not arise out of a motive of guilt or fear. Rather, it arises out of a cleansed heart as God has worked in Christ renew our hearts by his Spirit. He has written the law on our hearts, and our obedience arises out of that heart.
Because of renewed and forgiven hearts, we can persevere in faith. We can progress, grow and mature. Because of God’s work in Christ, we can enter the presence of God with confidence and without fear or guilt. The work of Christ prepares, emboldens and reshapes our hearts for the journey. It strengthens us for the journey.
Perseverance requires two things, at least in this text: (1) it requires a cleansed conscience along with an understanding of what that means and how it is rooted in the work of Christ alone; and (2) it requires the resolve to do the will of God despite the suffering and problems of life, yet with an understanding that the desire and obedience arises from God’s work in our hearts. Perseverance is by obedient faith, but obedient faith is rooted in God’s gracious work in Christ.
The connection between this lesson and last week’s is the issue of guilt and a cleansed conscience (heart). I think I will begin with that connection and remind the class of the theological argument of 9:11-28. Christ has offered a sacrifice that cleanses our consciences so that we may enter God’s presence without guilty stains. God has removed guilt as a barrier, whether it is the guiltiness of sin that barred our entrance into God’s presence or the memory of guilty that hinders our approach to God within our own psyche.
However, I will place the emphasis this week on the idea of obedience, and the quotation of Psalm 40 as a model for both Christ and contemporary believers. By focusing on Psalm 40 and the use the preacher makes of this text, we can call believers to obedience in their lives. But this obedience is rooted not in our own self-resolve, but in a renewed heart by the power of the Spirit.
We, too, just as Christ, come to do the will of God. It is not the rituals upon which God focuses, but the life and obedient heart that seeks him. God is more interested in transformation than he is ritual. Consequently, an application to work out in this setting is the contrast between sacrifices and an obedient life that is embedded in Psalm 40 upon which the preacher here draws.
After reminding the class of the argument about consciences and the work of Christ that removes the memory of sin—even from God’s own memory!—I will take them back to Psalm 40. Looking at that Psalm in its own context, and then moving to the context of Christ’s work, and then bringing it home to our context as we take up the words of the Psalm and Christ into our own lives, “Look, I have come to do your will.”