Once For All!
You can see the powerpoint Tim used with this message by clicking here
If we were meeting at St Martin’s or Holy Trinity or many other Christian Churches across the world today we would be remembering Palm Sunday. We might be given a palm cross and remembering that time when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on donkey to cries of Hosanna to the son of David. A real mountain top moment before we move to remember the other events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus at Easter.
But we are not in these places we are at Living Word and we often look at things a little differently.
From our study of Nehemiah we have seen how the Jewish people have a history of Mountain top moments (sometimes literally) and valley of the shadow of death moments. The valleys of exile in Egypt and Babylon and the occupation of Rome.
With the advantage of hindsight, the events of Palm Sunday are surely not something to go ‘yeah’ about. This incident, this mountain top, represents a further reinforcement of all we know of how the Jewish people, and let me stress here how all of humanity seems to deal with its relationship with God.
You see the guy with his coat on the ground on this Palm Sunday shouting and hollering Hosanna, could very well be the guy on Good Friday shouting crucify Him and in between we see
Events marked by the lowest form of human behaviour towards the highest and yet most humble human
Disheartened Hebrews and the challenge today
Fifty or sixty years after the events that we remember this week, a prominent leader, an apostolic figure in the early Church (who’s name we are not sure of) wrote to a disheartened, discouraged Jewish Christian community to encourage them.
He wrote to affirm them and to ask them to place all their doubts and fears in the context of the Jewish History that they and we know.
The prophetic teaching about the coming Messiah, the inspiring songs that make sense of all that they have seen and give to them
The reason to maintain their hope in the face of confusion persecution and fear.
Now here we are 2000 years after these faithful believers took their message of hope across the known world and these very same words of hope and encouragement can make sense of the events of Easter in a way that may surprise the most cynical and longstanding believers and also provoke you to worship.
They also bring meaning to this act we were commanded by our saviour to make, to remember these events afresh.
Hebrews Ch 10 we will be looking at verses 1-25.
This passage represents the central idea of this writer, it is the words of a man bathed in the history of the Jewish people, yet inspired by the work of the cross and what it means for us all.
For many of those early Hebrew Christians this passage would have been a lightbulb moment for them. They would of seen for the first time how all that their childhood studies in synagogue and temple led to a revelation of the purposes of God
One of those times when you say ‘wow, I have never seen that before.’
The Shadow and the signpost
It is so easy to forget the context of the world in which this letter was written. In every city across the world at this time, there were temples and in those temples sacrifices were made.
Simply put you brought some of your stuff an animal or some grain or fruit or whatever and gave it to the priests. They would then destroy it (or part of it) In place of YOU
You were saying Ok Baal, or Jove, or Odin, I have brought you the best I’ve got now please forgive me for being unkind to my children, or Please give me a good harvest, or help us have a son.
These God’s of stone and wood were pale imitations of something impossibly greater than the people around could imagine.
Into this context of temple sacrifice, God provided the Jewish people with a way that they would understand, to relate to Him, To come to him and show their love for Him as He showed His for them, forgiving them temporarily.
But this was never meant as some permanent way of relating to God all the laws the temple itself was like a temporary structure – a portakabin waiting for the architects design to be completed.
In Verse 1 The letter writer describes this way of getting close to God as being a shadow.
Who remember this bit of Peter Pan?
That’s right Peter’s shadow has taken on a life of its own and Peter is trying to get it back where it should be. Peter is the reality not the shadow. That is what had happened with the law and temple worship. The rituals the behaviours the practice of those people had become and end in themselves they had become the main event.
Those early Jewish Christians would have been well aware of the passages the writer uses and more besides
6 Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but my ears you have pierced;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
7 Then I said, "Here I am, I have come–
it is written about me in the scroll.
8 I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart."
I want you to be merciful; I don't want your sacrifices. I want you to know God; that's more important than burnt offerings.
11 " What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?"
Says the Lord.
"I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams
And the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.
12 "When you come to appear before Me,
Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?
13 "Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me.
New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies —
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
14 "I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of bearing them.
15 "So when you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide My eyes from you;
Yes, even though you multiply prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are covered with blood.
16 " Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean;
Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight.
Cease to do evil,
15 O Lord, open my lips,
That my mouth may declare Your praise.
16 For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it;
You are not pleased with burnt offering.
17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise
So they well knew that God had something else in mind… The Messiah to which all this temple worship pointed.
Other commentators describe the law as being like a signpost pointing to the reality to come of law written on hearts.
The problem was that the sign posts to something wonderful had turned into a place in their own right.
It would be like travelling to the FA Cup final all dressed up in your Chipping Norton Rovers Team strip and, seeing the sign on the M25 for Wembley, you all pile out and start cheering and singing…. When it’s only a signpost.
It appears that God was NEVER really interested in us making sure the Ram was the right kind to be sacrificed, or that we had the right clothes to wear in the temple.
He was interested in why they were worshipping what had moved their hearts to worship and what that did to their behaviour out in the communities around them as Hosea says with the widow, the orphan and the alien.
The writer of that letter does not pull his punches, remember who he is talking to here.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
The Main Event
Now this is all leading to that astonishing verse
12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13 Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Jesus is that to which the signpost was pointing, He is the fulfilment of all that God intended for His people.
In this the Spirit of God has moved out of the portakabin, to take up residence in the architect’s fully furnished intended habitation- The Human Heart
His crucifixion was the sacrifice that took away their sins once and for all.
How does this work for us?
How on earth does this have any relevance for us. This law stuff the sacrifices. I can see that it might have meaning for a culture that had sacrifices,
It’s all very well for the Hebrews to have had their letter but what of us 2000 years later
Is there a need for a letter to the Basildonians
Well maybe there is OR maybe we can look again at what was said to the Hebrews.
Day after day its says the priests stand making their offerings.
Day after day after day after day after day......... Year on Year
Making offerings that cannot take away sin.
Now let’s be clear here-
Sin is Toxic and leads to only one outcome death.
It is spiritual Ebola and there is only one vaccine.
But my observation of the Church and the world would be that whilst we don’t sacrifice animals in temples any more. We are constantly looking for ways to feel better about ourselves to DO stuff that will seem to let us off for good behaviour
Well it simply does not work like that
There is a new priesthood that seeks exactly the same kinds of results as in the temple
The search for prosperity using the Lottery/loans/credit
The search for beauty to seek significance by adopting a body image that is physically impossible - Because you’re worth it. NO! You were always worth it and it does not need you to look like a poster to be considered of great worth.
Success in our business- I must have this gadget or that piece of furniture and to do this I will work every hour and never see my family- leading to overwork the cult of success/aspiration
Even in the context of the Church we see new forms of behaviours that can make us think they make us feel better about ourselves, accepted more, approved of.
They become activities that are measured not as a heart response to Jesus who has forgiven us all things, but rather as behaviours we do for the approval and recognition of others.
The worship time- It wasn’t good enough, not anointed, didn’t use songs that release the Spirit- We forget worship is a response of MY heart to God.
The Bible study- That was just an intellectual exercise
The length of our prayer time
The generosity of our Community to Mission
Cults of Christian personalities/ Ministries/ TV/ Christian book authors.
These can become the things that we do day after day, but that will of themselves do NOTHING to make our relationship with God right.
Because He has already done everything necessary
Let’s read together v14
14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
Now let’s gather around this table and I will read something
This is a loaf of bread and this is a cup of wine.
Everything that happens here happens within the human heart mind and spirit.
But this is also a Holy place where submitted hearts express their love and gratitude for The Once and for all sacrifice.
We remember, He reminds us, we submit and He responds, we are grateful and He demonstrates His love over and over again.
That Once and for All Sacrifice.