It has been said that the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. There is something dysfunctional about man. Man is by virtue of the fall, a sinner and he is in need of redemption.
If there is one thing that was respectable about the old Judaism, it was that they recognized this. Most religions today do not. By most accounts, most view man as mainly good. If there is anything wrong with him, it can be corrected with just a little teaching.
I asked them what the purpose was for the alter and for the slaughtering of the animals. They were quite open to say that the sacrifices have no atonement factor. They said that the sacrifices were “merely expressions of personal devotion.”
Now there is something that correlates to that in the Biblical sacrifices. But to say that all that blood was merely for devotional purposes is to completely miss the point of the sacrificial system.
But at least the ancient Jew understood the point of the sacrifices. They were instituted because of the radical nature of sin. Man was wicked. We have offended God. As a result, there is no way to have communion with God, unless atonement be made. God is righteously angry, and, if we wish to live, that anger must be appeased.
Unfortunately, many of these ancient Jews sought the remedy for reconciliation in the sacrificial system. And that is the point of the book of Hebrews. And that is the point of our passage today. Here in this passage the author seeks to pry them away from this silly notion and point them to the true means of salvation: the singular sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
That this is the emphasis of our text is easy to tell. It’s noted twice in our passage. In verse 12 it says that Christ offered “for all time a single sacrifice for sin.” Then it is mentioned again in verse 14, where it says that “by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” That, of course, is contrasted with verse 11 and the repeated sacrifices of the priests.
So the point is clear: Salvation comes by the singular sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And the author makes it clear that those who trust in this sacrifice will be saved. And those who don’t, they will be damned.
Now, the overwhelming weight of our passage focuses on the former. It declares in very clear terms that those who trust Christ will be saved.
I. Those who trust in it will be saved.
And we know that they will be saved because the passage tells us that their sins will be forgiven and forgotten.
Look at verses 11-14. Here we see how through Christ’s sacrifice our sins are forgiven.
A. Our sins are forgiven
It begins by talking about the priests and their daily sacrifices. There were not only the yearly sacrifices on the Day of Atonement, but there were daily sacrifices; one in the morning and one in the evening. And it says that the priest stand daily at his service offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins.
The idea there is that of a coat or garment that you would remove. Literally, it says that these sacrifices could not strip off from around you your sin. So, you can picture sin as completely covering you.
But, in verse 12, it goes on to talk about Christ and his sacrifice. And the implication is that this sacrifice, being offered once and being accepted by God does strip away that sin. Your sins are forgiven because your sins are completely torn away and God no longer sees them as clinging to you.
Verse 14 reiterates the same idea, i.e. the fact that our sins are forgiven. It says that by this single offering Christ has “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” Now, we know that Christ’s sacrifice does not make you inherently perfect. We know that by experience; we all know that we continue to sin. The passage also says that we are “being sanctified.” So it implies that we are still sinning. So, when it says that we are perfected, it is talking about that forgiveness. Since God has forgiven our sins, he sees us as having been perfected.
Let me give you an example. Take a banana that has sat out too long. It has not only ripened, but it has become overly ripened. Now it has all those brown spots on it. It may even look more brown than yellow. Now let’s say we strip away the banana peel. How does it look now? It looks pretty much like a normal banana. After that disgusting peel has been removed, the banana may seem like a perfectly good banana.
There is a sense in which that is what is being communicated here about you and me. We are covered in sin. But when we trust in Christ and his sacrifice, our sin is peeled away. In God’s eyes our guilt is completely removed. As a result, in God’s eyes we look like we have been perfected.
The point of all this though is there is real forgiveness. There is a way to have our sins pardoned and our guilt can be removed. What’s more, through the sacrifice of Christ, our sins will not just be forgiven, they will also be forgotten.
B. Our sins are forgotten
That’s what the second half of our passage seeks to communicate. In verses 15-18 the author quotes Jeremiah again and his prophecy of the new covenant. We studied this back in chapter 8 already, and here he quotes it again. But this time he leaves out quite a bit of that passage. He wants to emphasize what is in verse 17; the part where God says, “I will remember your sins and lawless deeds no more.”
He’s saying that if you trust in Christ, your sins are never held against you ever again. The Lord, does not just forgive us of our sin, but he completely forgets them.
Our God is not like us in that respect. We have that saying, “Forgive and forget.” But how often do we really do that? It’s pretty rare, isn’t it? Sure, we might forgive them, but we are pretty slow to forget their sin. We hang on to it for quite a while. Sometimes that’s just to protect ourselves. If someone has hurt us and they come and repent, then we are not quick to forget because we don’t want to be wronged again. We are a little reluctant to confide in them or deal with them again because we don’t want to be burned again.
And sometimes it is a bit more sinister than that. We might offer a sort of superficial forgiveness, but we still hold a grudge against them. We don’t forget what they did because we want to hold it against them and make them pay. And maybe sometime down the road—at just the right time—we’ll use that against them. We’ll pull that out that offense and say, “Do you remember how much you hurt me when you did that? Now you’ll pay!”
That’s how we typically act. It is a rare thing that we forgive and forget.
But God promises complete amnesia when it comes to your sins. When you turn to Christ and trust in his sacrifice, God promises that your sins will never be brought up again. When you get to the Day of Judgment, the books will be completely wiped clean. God won’t be like us and say, “Oh, but do you remember this one. That was a real doozy. I couldn’t believe you did that!” That’s not what he does. He promises that not one sin will ever be remembered ever again.
Now this is something that is quite wonderful. I work with guys in the prison. I don’t know what most of them have done. But I know their crimes are of such a nature that they belong there. And even though they might serve their time, when they get out there is still a lot of baggage that they will carry. They will still be labeled a felon, and they’ll have the stigma that comes with being a felon. In other words, they’ll still have that record that will follow them everywhere they go. They supposedly have “paid their debt to society.” But their sins will still hover over them to a great degree. They’ll be certain jobs that they will not be able to get and they might even have restrictions on where they can go. Even though they get out, their crimes will still be remembered and held against them.
But that’s not the way God treats those who put their faith in His Son. If you come to God through Christ, believing in his eternal sacrifice, the Lord will forgive all your sins. He will strip them away fully and finally. And once he does you become the beneficiary of divine dementia; the Lord is no recollection of them ever again.
If you trust in Christ’s sacrifice, you will be saved because the Lord will forgive and forget your sin.
Now, as I mentioned, that is the main thrust of this passage. The majority of this text is pressing the fact that those who trust in Christ’s sacrifice will be saved. But he also hints at the fact that those who refuse to do so will be damned.
II. Those who refuse it will be damned.
Again, it is ever so subtle, but yet it is there. Right there in verse 12-13. He said, “When Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet.”
Now, a casual reading might not catch this. But think about how this might have struck a Jew who was thinking about skipping out on Christ. Here he is, on the verge of denying the faith and turning his back on Christ. Then he hears, “Christ’s enemies will be completely vanquished.”
That’s what it means that they are being made a footstool for his feet. That imagery is drawn from the wars of the ancient world. Kings, once they conquered a people, would sometimes bring out some of the prisoners who might have been taken and he would have them kneel before his throne. Then, as an act of humiliation, he would prop his feet up on them and use them as a footstool.
You can imagine the indignity of that if it happened to you. There was nothing you could do. You were completely powerless. If you tried to resist, you could be beaten or killed. All you could do, is sit there with your face on the ground, supporting the victor’s feet. It was a full declaration that you had been conquered.
That’s the imagery that is used here. And it is here to remind us that Christ has not only been victorious in bringing about the forgiveness of sin, but he continues to be victorious. He is that priest-king, and he is on a conquest. All his enemies will be conquered, one way or the other.
Do you see how this might have been a nice subtle motivator to these Jews? Right in the middle of this great passage about forgiveness and the supremacy of Christ’s sacrifice, we are reminded that God will not tolerate those who reject him and stubbornly refuse to accept his offer of salvation. Anyone who does so will be damned forever and there in hell they will face the greatest humiliation & degradation.
It is a good reminder to us as well. It reminds us that there is not a second to waste in this life. God calls us to believe in his Son and embrace the sacrifice that he made for our sin. And we must not hesitate. For, if we die without Christ, then we will not be saved.
Such a warning should stir us. It should make us ever more willing to cling to the one who will forgive and forget our sin.
Long ago there was a little boy who belonged to an old time country schoolhouse. In the early part of the year he was not much interested in schooling. He drifted carelessly through his lessons and, subsequently, did quite poorly. But halfway through the year his teacher spoke some kind words to him and he was roused to a new interest in his studies. It was a distinct change and he became almost a new boy as he studiuously worked his lessons. At the closing exam he performed quite well, to the great joy of his father and mother.
But after that exam, his parents were given his copybooks from the school year. They were given a chance to peruse his work. The little boy began to be ashamed because of the poor performance that he had in the earlier sections. Sure the latter pages would be pleasant enough, but he sulked at the thought of his father and mother seeing his carelessness.
He watched his mother flip through the pages. To his surprise she seemed quite pleased with everything she saw. She even called his father over to look with her.
Afterward the little boy had a chance to look at the book. He then understood his mother’s reaction. He found that his teacher had removed the pages of the book that had been tarnished by his sloth. The book began where he had started to do better.
In truth, this is what it will be like for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. When you trust in his sacrifice, he promises to tear away the pages in the book that carry your sins. All will be completely forgiven and forgotten. Nothing will be found on them, except for the life you've lived for the Lord.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.