Menu Close

“The Blood of the Covenant”

Hebrews 9:15-28
Bob DeGray
February 3, 2002

Key Sentence

The new covenant does away with sin by the blood of a worthy victim.


I. Not without death (Hebrews 9:15-17)
II. Not without blood (Hebrews 9:18-22)
III. Not without Christ (Hebrews 9:23-28)


        I’ve told you before the striking story of how Paul Brand's career in medicine got started. It traces back to a dreary night working as an orderly at a hospital in East London. An ambulance brought a young women into his ward. She had lost much blood in an accident. It had drained from her skin, leaving her an unearthly pale color, and her oxygen_starved brain had slipped into unconsciousness.

        The hospital staff lurched into their controlled_panic response to any patient near death. A nurse dashed off for blood while a doctor fumbled with the apparatus to get the transfusion going. They could not detect even the faintest pulse on her cold, limp wrist. She looked like a wax museum exhibit or a marble statue. Her lips were pale and only a few freckles stood out against her pallor. She did not seem to be breathing. Paul Brand was certain she was dead. The nurse arrived with a bottle of blood, which she buckled into a high metal stand as the doctor punctured the woman's vein with a large needle. They had mounted the bottle high so that the increase in pressure would push blood into her body faster. The staff told Paul to watch over the emptying bottle as they hurried off for more blood.

        Nothing in his memory could compare to what happened next. As he nervously held her wrist while the others were gone, he suddenly felt the faintest press of a pulse. He thought at first it was his own pulse: it was barely perceptible, but it persisted. The next bottle of blood arrived and was connected. A spot of pink appeared on her cheek, and spread into a beautiful flush. Her lips darkened pink, then red, and her eyelids fluttered lightly and at last parted. She squinted at first, then looked directly at Paul. To his enormous surprise, she asked for some water. Paul Brand traces his career as a missionary doctor in India to that event. Medically, it showed him the almost miraculous, life giving power of blood, and as a Christian he could not help comparing this to the life-giving power of Christ’s blood shed for us.

        “The life of the flesh is in the blood”. This is both a medical and a spiritual truth, and the author of Hebrews is very aware of it as he shows how God deals with sin through the blood of a worthy victim. The blood of animal sacrifices wasn’t enough for the sins of men. But the life blood of this willing victim - Jesus - was worth enough to pay the price of all sins once and for all. In the new covenant made through Jesus, God deals with the problem of sin through the blood of a worthy victim.

        We’re in Hebrew 9, reaching the end of our author’s magnificent depiction of Jesus as ‘the greatest’. Here and in chapter 10 we’ll see in detail what we’ve noted elsewhere, that Jesus offers the greatest sacrifice to meet the greatest need. How does he do it? By the blood of the new covenant.

I. Not without death (Hebrews 9:15-17)

        Let’s begin by looking at how a covenant is put into effect. In Hebrews 9:15-17 we learn that a covenant is not put into place without death. For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance--now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. 16In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.

        The first part of chapter 9 showed us the superiority of the new covenant to the old. The animal sacrifices of the old covenant did not really provide for the renewal of the human heart and could not cleanse the conscience from guilt. But the new covenant did cleanse the conscience, because Jesus offered himself as the sacrifice so that we could be redeemed. He sacrificed himself to buy us back from slavery to sin.

        Jesus is, therefore, called the mediator of this new covenant. We think of a mediator as a disinterested third party who negotiates in a conflict to resolve differences. But this implies that the two parties are equal and the mediator is neutral. That’s not the case in our relationship with God. Here the word must mean bringing together things that were separated, tying together things that are naturally distant. One illustration compares Christ as our mediator to the "Chunnel", the English Channel tunnel linking England and France; to the Erie Canal which linked the Atlantic and the interior, to the Transcontinental Railroad linking east and west, or the Panama Canal joining the Atlantic and the Pacific. Each of these opened pathways of commerce and communication, but they pale in significance compared to what happened when Jesus died on the cross, because he opened the way between God and man. Jesus as mediator bridges the gap between a holy God and sinful people.

        As a result of his mediation, believers gain eternal life, the promised eternal inheritance. Donald Guthrie points out that in the old covenant the inheritance promised was a land flowing with milk and honey. It was an inheritance on an earthly level. But the inheritance under the new covenant is eternal and spiritual and inherently better.

        God calls or invites sinners to share this inheritance through Jesus who died as a ransom to set people free from the sins committed under the first covenant. We saw this word ‘ransom’ last week. It’s the same word Jesus used when he said “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” His death is a payment that rescues us from ‘sins committed under the old covenant,” that is sins that were committed by His people before the crucifixion. But his death was also payment for sins yet to be committed - for our sins, though we were born long after the payment was made. In both cases these sins would have been recognized but not really paid under the old covenant. Instead the ancient faith looked forward to the sacrifice of Christ as the ransom payment, and in our case faith looks back to that death which redeems.

        The point is that sin cannot be done away with without death. Every covenant requires a death. Verse 16 shows this: “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” A ‘covenant’ and a ‘will’ are two translations of the same Greek word. When used of spiritual things in verse 15 it is a covenant, when used of legal matters in verse 16 it is a will. Someone’s last will and testament never goes into effect until the person dies. In every culture the will is activated by the death of the one who made it. To paraphrase R. Kent Hughes, you may be the intended recipient of an inheritance that includes millions of dollars, a luxurious apartment, season tickets to the Houston Texans, a condo in Colorado and a private jet, but it will do you no good unless the person who is willing these things to you dies. In the same way Christ’s death made it possible for you to receive the promised eternal inheritance. You could not receive it any other way. Jesus had to die so that his will, with its eternal benefits could go into effect.

II. Not without blood (Hebrews 9:18-22)

        A covenant is never implemented without death. And the symbol - or the reality - that God has chosen to signify death is blood. The new covenant, like the old, could not be inaugurated without blood. Hebrews 9:18-22 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. 19When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. 20He said, "This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep." 21In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. 22In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

        The blood of sacrificial animals was used in the ceremonies that initiated and maintained the old covenant, as seen by our author in Exodus 24. After the giving of the ten commandments and the whole law, Exodus 24 depicts the ceremony that ratifies the covenant. Exodus 24:5_8 “Then Moses sent young Israelite men, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed young bulls as fellowship offerings to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in bowls, and the other half he sprinkled on the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it to the people. They responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said; we will obey." Moses then took the blood, sprinkled it on the people and said, "This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words."”

        The covenant was put in place with the sprinkling of blood. The people were sprinkled, the altar was sprinkled, the tent was sprinkled, the book was sprinkled, everything was sprinkled with blood so that it would be, at least ceremonially, clean. As the author himself says “the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood.” Maybe this seems like nonsense to us because we think that blood stains things - but the Bible consistently teaches that blood cleanses things.

        A father and his son were viewing a parade in London. Because of the chilling wind, they stepped inside a small store and watched through the window. In the course of time a regiment of British troops marched by, and the man exclaimed, "My, aren't those Redcoats pretty!" But the little boy replied, “They aren't red, they’re white: squat down here and look!”. His daddy got on his knees and looked out the window. To his amazement the coats did look white. There was a red band of glass around the storefront window, and at the height that the boy was looking out he was viewing the parade through that glass. When you look at a red object through a red piece of glass, the object loses its color to your eyes. It appears white. The same is true in salvation. When God looks at you through the red blood of Jesus your scarlet sins appear white. And it’s not just appearance - His blood truly cleanses us from sin.

        The author goes on to say “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. This is a verse we should memorize, not because Christianity is a blood-thirsty religion, but because God chose blood as the visual, tactile even olfactory way to convince us of the seriousness of sin. The oceans of sacrificial blood that were spilled during the thousands of years of Old Testament history make this clear. Jewish teachers before the time of Jesus said the same thing. And in Leviticus 17 God says “the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.”

        It was a substitutionary system: the death of a sacrifice, instead of the death of a sinner. The repeated offering of blood gave repeated proof, as R. Kent Hughes says, that ‘sin brings death; sin brings death; sin brings death.’ The purpose of the sacrifices was to show that ‘sin alienates one from God.’ That ‘sin is rooted in the heart of humanity.’ That sin ‘cannot be eradicated by any self-help program.’ and that sin ‘leads to death.’ Death is the consequence. Unless we can find a sacrifice worthy to be substituted for our lives, death is the only option.

        Blood is the symbol of the death that substitutes for ours. As such it is also the symbol of the covenant. As Moses sprinkled the people he said ‘This is the blood of the covenant.’ You may not ever have thought about it, but these are virtually the same words Jesus used at the Lord’s supper. In Matthew 26 for example, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” Jesus was saying that the new covenant of cleansing from sin was being initiated in the blood of his sacrifice. And every time we take communion we remember the shed blood which is itself a symbol of the death that substituted for ours.

III. Not without Christ (Hebrews 9:23-28)

        So we’ve seen that the new covenant, like the old, will not be initiated without death, not without the cleansing blood of a sacrifice. The new covenant is glorious because Christ has become the sacrifice and his death paid the price of sin once and for all. Hebrews 9:23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24For Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence. Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Then Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

        The new covenant made real the earthly pictures of sacrifice seen in the old covenant. Salvation and forgiveness were accomplished in God’s eyes and in the lives of His people through something more than an earthly sanctuary and animal sacrifices. The blood sprinkled on the earthly tabernacle and the bodies of the people was sufficient to make them ceremonially clean, but to make them really pure in heart and able to see God took a better sacrifice. Jesus wasn’t sacrificed at a literal tabernacle or temple, but when he died on the cross he became a more real sacrifice, spiritually effective. As our high priest he entered a real holy place - the presence of God where he now appears for us, on our behalf, as our mediator before the Father.

        Furthermore the sacrifice he made was once and for all. Verse 25: “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own.” Christ was offering a far better sacrifice that did not need to be repeated. The blood of bulls and goats, since it was only a picture of Christ, couldn’t free men and women from sin. It addressed a specific sin, or period of time, but it had to be repeated for the next sin, the next time. A priest had to keep bringing the blood of sacrifice, time after time. But Christ brought better blood - his own, the blood of a willing, morally righteous and worthy victim. In fact, his was the blood of a divine victim - God himself, offering himself to purify those he loved. Only one perfectly holy, perfectly human and perfectly divine could offer the perfect sacrifices for the sins of imperfect men.

        The repeated nature of the earthly sacrifices was a learning tool. We’re slow, and we had to see over and over the necessity of sacrifice for sin. But the repetition wasn’t an essential feature. Sacrifice didn’t have to be repeated to be effective, and it would have been nonsense for Christ to be sacrificed every year, every day, every moment for the new sins people sinned. Furthermore, that would have devalued his sacrifice to some quota of sins, as a bull or goat would only be enough for one person’s sins, or for a certain time period of sins - a week or a year. But Christ wasn’t limited to a quota. His righteousness was enough to pay for all the sins. He “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.”

        No matter how great our sin, the one time sacrifice of Christ paid the penalty for it: His sacrifice did away with sin or put away sin. In one sense this is just another way of saying Christ paid our ransom, as we said in verse 15. But the word used here throws a new light on our redemption because it says that the payment he made erased our sins. It annulled them, so that if you have trusted in Christ it is as if your sins never happened. They are wiped off the record - gone. In your financial life a bad debt, even if paid off, will show up for a long time on your credit history. But in Jesus a bad sin, once paid off, is immediately wiped off the record.

        One night in a church service a young woman felt the tug of the Holy Spirit in her heart. She responded to God's call and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior. The young woman had a very rough past, involving alcohol, drugs and prostitution. But, the change in her was evident. As time went on she became a faithful member of the church, even becoming involved in the ministry teaching young children. It wasn’t very long before this faithful young woman caught the eye and the heart of the pastor's son. The relationship grew and they began to make wedding plans.

        That’s when the problems began. About half the church didn’t think a woman with a past such as hers was suitable for a pastor's son. They began to openly argue and fight about the matter at a congregational meeting. As the people debated and tensions increased, the meeting got completely out of hand. The young woman became very upset about the things brought up from her past. As she began to cry, the pastor's son stood to speak: "My fiancee's past is not what is on trial here. What you are questioning is the ability of the blood of Jesus to wash away sin. Today you have put the blood of Jesus on trial. So, does it wash away sin or not?" We have to believe what that church had to recognize - that sin is done away with by the blood of Christ, and our record of sins completely wiped clean. He did not sacrifice himself to partially pay for sins or partially erase their record. He gave his blood to wash us clean - whiter than snow.

        Our author summarizes this teaching in verses 27 and 28: “Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Each person in this room faces a question: ‘who will be judged for my sins?’ There are only two answers - either I will be judged for my sins, or Christ has already taken my judgement.

        In the normal course of events - unless Christ returns first - every one of us in this room is bound to die. It could come sooner, it could come later, it could come at any moment, as September 11th surely proved. But it will come. Long ago, a certain prince asked that his tutor prepare him for the life beyond. "There is plenty of time for that when you are old," the tutor said. "No!" exclaimed the prince, "I have been to the cemetery and measured the graves, and there are many shorter than I am."

        Everyone dies. The human mortality rate is still 100 percent. And beyond death comes a judgement. God will look at you and either he will see the guilt and shame of your sins, large or small, or he will see your soul cleansed and pure because of the blood of Christ. Either your record is wiped clean, or God will see on your record that you have been in constant rebellion against him, opposed to his good and just ways, and guilty of shameful behavior toward those you were supposed to love.

        Don’t think these verses are just talking about judgment for those who have blasphemed or murdered or raped. Your record probably doesn’t include those sins. But it does include all the times you’ve been angry and mean for no reason; all the times your thoughts have committed acts you were thankfully too frightened to carry out; all the times you put yourself and your desires ahead of God and ahead of others in how you behaved. It will factually state that you were a rebel against God, not willing to submit to him. And when God reads that record, his judgment will be quite fair: he will say “Rebel? All right - I grant you your rebellion. Go away from me for eternity.” But if the record is clean he will say to the Son, ‘I see the work of your sacrifice here. This one belongs to us, doesn’t she? She can enter in.’ Every one will die once and have his record examined. But Jesus died once to put away sin, to wipe clean the record for many people. Are you one of them?

        You need to decide that question soon because verse 28 makes it clear that Jesus will appear a second time, but not to bear sin again. He’ll return to complete salvation for those who trust him - to make us in reality what God already sees in our record: pure and sinless and worthy of his holy presence. This complete salvation will be given to those waiting for him - looking forward to his coming because they have received the cleansing of his sacrifice. They have been redeemed by his blood.

        Peter Ruckman in his commentary on Colossians tells of a man who joined the Army in 1938 as a born again Christian, but didn’t live out his faith. He was captured when the Philippines fell, and somehow survived the infamous Bataan death march and two years as a P.O.W. under the Japanese. One night while he was being moved, his jailers got drunk and he slipped out of a porthole, and just made it to a nearby island. For days he lived on forage before he became aware of military activity on the far side of the island. Waiting till it was near dark he cautiously approached and saw American helmets and landing craft. Joyously he broke cover and ran towards them but was checked in mid_stride by a challenge: "Stop! Give the password."

        He suddenly realized his short stature, emaciated state and hear nakedness made him look Japanese. He said, "I_I don't know the password. My name is __ , my serial number is __ . I joined up in 1938 in Maryland. I'm a G.I." In return he heard the terrifying sound of the sentry drawing back the bolt to chamber a cartridge. "I got orders to shoot anyone from the General down who don’t know the password."

        American forces commonly established passwords with an ‘L’ sound in them, because the Japanese would pronounce it with an ‘R’. But the man cried out, "I don't know. I escaped off the ship. Don't kill me after all I've been through. Look at me! I'm a G.I." The sentry raised his rifle, "Sorry, buddy. I got orders. Prepare to die." He screamed out, "If you're gonna kill me, please_ let me pray first!"

        The sentry relented, "O.K. Go on and pray. I'll give ya ten seconds." He fell to his knees and said, "Lord they're gonna kill me. I wanted to get home but you won't let me. I'll see you in a minute. I've lived like a devil and don't deserve anything. When I see You, I don't want you to remember my good deeds any more than my sins. Just remember Jesus Christ. I just want You to see the Blood."

        He fell silent and waited for the bullet. Instead he heard the sentry say quietly, "That's the password - blood. C'mon in." God says the same thing. Here’s the password: the blood of Jesus. Only as we believe in the power of his cleansing blood, in his sacrificial death, and put our confidence in him alone is our sin put away, our record wiped clean. Only then will we be invited in.