Hebrews Week Sixteen: The Greatest Contrast of All (10:1-18)
By Justin Clemente
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
I would describe Hebrews 10:1-18 as a passage of enormous contrasts. Nowhere are these contrasts more evident than in the heart of the passage, verses 11-14. Here we see the seated, reigning Christ contrasted with the priests of the Old Covenant, who continually stand. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant were given by God to underline the problem of sin, not to fully deal with it, and so the priests’ work continued, as a reminder that sin was never definitively dealt with. Think of this way: if you’re prescribed a medicine and it cures your illness, it has done its job. However, if you have to continue to take that same medicine for a chronic disease, the medicine is simply a reminder that you are still sick.
But, Jesus’ work was done in order to put away sin forever. Just think of what this means for us:
First, when a person believes that their sin is too big for God to deal with, it is the equivalent of saying to Jesus, “Get up. Your work’s not done.” It is unbelief of the highest order. Of course, what we try do then is deal with sin on our own, and Hebrews has already written the words “IMPOSSIBLE” over all of that. And yet, many in our world today would rather pursue our own self-justification projects than admit that the problem is too big for them, fall down on their knees, and call the work of Christ enough. We would like to say that sin is in the rear view mirror for our culture – an outdated category – but the way we live shows otherwise. Many today are offering their own sacrifice for sin, and all the while the only one that has ever counted is already finished. We have to continually embrace that for ourselves, and we have to invite others to embrace it for themselves, too. It’s a powerful way to preach the Gospel. Say to others, “Jesus work is finished FOR YOU, repent and believe it.”
Second, this passage gives us an extraordinarily clear picture of how the Gospel works and what God has done for us in it. I want to draw your attention back to verse 14: For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. Do you understand your status in Christ? Do you know what it means? Do you know what it means to have God look at you and see, not your faults and failures, not your need to make atonement, not the endless “never done” of sacrifice, but instead perfection. This is why justification by faith is so central to who we are as Christians, because it’s simply how the Gospel works. God looks at us, and he says “pardoned and innocent.” My family, my child. A Barabbas no longer. More than that, he says “perfected” (past tense), for the sole reason that he covers us in the righteousness of Christ. This is the unfathomable beauty and grace of the Christian Gospel. Here is perhaps the greatest contrast of all: God does not treat us as we are, but as his Son IS. Paul said it so well: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” It also reminds of what Luther so famously said: “The law says, “do this”, and it is never done. Grace says, “believe in this,” and everything is already done.”
But the passage goes on and says, “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (present tense) See, that’s the already and not yet of the Christian life. God loves us so much and grace is so powerful, that not only does God forget our sins, he also releases us from slavery to them and begins to form his own Life in us. There is a way of speaking about grace in the world today, especially in the West, which ends up saying something like, since grace is true you can never really ask anything of anyone, you shouldn’t talk about obedience, or discipleship. Quite the opposite. Grace is so powerful, so overwhelming, that we must talk of such things. It is the will of God that every son and daughter of his take on the life, character, and image of the Lord Jesus. That is, in fact, the only goal that is certain for each of us. We probably all have long lists of things we’d like to accomplish in this life – perhaps even a bucket list. But, if you belong to Christ, the only certain thing is that you will be like Christ – glorified, in the life to come. And, amazingly, it begins in the here and now. In fact, if we believe what this passage says, it has to begin in the here and now.
Let me end with Romans 8: 29-30:
“29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:29-30)
Christ is the beginning and Christ is the end of that journey: the means, the way, the truth, and the life. May we thrive on grace all the way to our goal. Amen.