“Once and For All”
February 10, 2002
In his sacrifice Christ did for all time what you could never do at all.
I. Cleansed once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-4)
II. Sanctified once and for all (Hebrews 10:5-10)
III. Perfected once and for all (Hebrews 10:11-14)
IV. Forgiven once and for all (Hebrews 10:15-18)
MessageWe live in an impermanent world, where nothing is ever decided once and for all. Until last week, the NFL champions were the Baltimore Ravens. Then they held another Superbowl, and now its the Patriots, and next year it will be someone else. A year ago Enron was one of the darlings of the corporate world - now its just a name the Astros are trying to get off their stadium. A year ago the twin towers were the crown jewel of the New York skyline. Now they are just tragic rubble.
In government little is ever decided once and for all. New presidents bring new policies. The tax laws passed by one Congress are modified by the next. Countries that were once our enemies become friends. The rulings of the Supreme Court arent written in marble but on paper, because nine new Justices ten years later can change what has been said. Even the U.S. Constitution can be amended. Nothing is permanent.
In our own lives not much of what we decide or do is lasting. We hope our marriage commitments are permanent, but marriages fail all around us. Job stability is a thing of the past. And much of what we do has to be done over and over. You get the car working, and a few days later it breaks again. You finish the laundry or the dishes, only to discover that the next pile of laundry or dishes. You pay the bills and find that more and bigger bills have come. You fix the house and the job jar is still full.
Is it any wonder that we long for permanence? I think mostly this is a longing for what we lost when man fell into sin. We desire the eternal rightness and goodness and relationship with God promised in creation. But we live in a broken world where everything is falling apart, and we ourselves are broken and sinful. As a result our efforts and commitments are transient, since even the best is terminated by death.
So we rightly feel like dust in the wind. Where do we go for help? We have to go to God, and more specifically to Jesus. Only in an eternal God do we find a place where things are permanent and decisions and acts are once and for all. God can permanently decree in our lives what we can never make last by our efforts. In particular, what God does for us through Jesus on the cross is eternal. Well see in Hebrews 10:1-18 that in his sacrifice, Christ did for all time what you could never do at all. In his sacrifice Christ did once and for all what you could never do at all.
I. Cleansed once and for all (Hebrews 10:1-4)
The text highlights four things Christ did once and for all through his sacrifice. The first is cleansing. Hebrews 10:1-4 The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming--not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. 2If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. 3But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, 4because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Much of what well see today has already been mentioned by the author of Hebrews to show us Christs greatness. For example, weve already seen that the new covenant replaces the old - but here we learn that the old law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming. A shadow is two dimensional - it is projected on the surface of things but does not penetrate. In the same way the law is two dimensional. It is projected on us externally, but doesnt penetrate to the heart. The new covenant works at the heart level - it is three dimensional, working within us to change us.
In the same way, the sacrifices themselves were two dimensional - merely images of the reality that came with the sacrifice of Christ. They could not, by themselves, apart from faith, bring righteousness to anyone. They couldnt perfect anyone in Gods sight. How does our author prove that? By pointing out that the sacrifices wouldnt have been repeated if they had worked. If the doctor diagnoses an inflamed appendix and takes it out, he wont come back to you a month later and say Its got to come out again Once its gone its gone. But if all he does is prescribe an antibiotic, hes got to keep giving you more and newer antibiotics to try to keep you alive. In the same way sacrifices couldnt remove the problem of human sinfulness, so you had to keep repeating them as the symptoms - sins - reappeared.
If sacrifices like those under the Jewish law had worked, the author says, then people would have been cleansed from sin once and for all, and they would no longer have been troubled by their consciences. This is the way it is for those whose sins are paid for by the sacrifice of Jesus. Our consciences are cleansed once and for all because we are cleansed from the stain and stench of sin. But it cant be done externally. One of Aesops fables is about a raven who saw a Swan and desired the same beautiful plumage. Supposing that the Swan's splendid white color arose from his washing in the water in which he swam, the Raven left the neighborhood where he picked up his living, and took up residence in the lakes and pools. But cleansing his feathers as often as he would, he could not change their color.
External cleansing isnt enough - sin has to be cleansed from the depths of our hearts. This is illustrated by the story of a pastor having a tooth filled. The cavity was deep and its treatment had been neglected. Patiently the dentist cleansed out the decayed matter. As he neared the root, it became painful. In jest the pastor said: "Doctor, I came here to get my tooth filled, not to be tortured." The dentist replied: "Before I can fill it I have to get the rottenness out. If I failed to fully take out this impurity, not only would the filling not stay in, but in a short time your peace would turn back into pain. In the same way God, through the sacrifice of Christ, cleanses us fully from impurity, so that there is no need to repeat the once and for all cleansing.
II. Sanctified once and for all (Hebrews 10:5-10)
The second, incredible once and for all thing Christ does for us is to make us holy. Verses 5 to 8: Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; 6with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased. 7Then I said, 'Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll I have come to do your will, O God.' " 8First he said, "Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them" (although the law required them to be made). 9Then he said, "Here I am, I have come to do your will." He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
These verses are a conversation between Jesus and God that the author of Hebrews has found in his Bible in Psalm 40. It is a Psalm of David which the author recognizes as being a prophecy, fulfilled when Christ came into the world. What Christ says to God, in the words of this psalm is: Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. If you read Psalm 40 in your Old Testament or my Hebrew Bible it wont say a body you prepared for me. Youll read something about ears being opened or dug or pierced. The words about the body are found in the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament, the version our author used. In this case the Holy Spirit has affirmed that understanding of the Hebrew text: it was not just about an ear, but about a body, the one Jesus received at the incarnation. It was a body prepared to be a sacrifice, more pleasing to God than any burnt offering.
The implication is that God wasnt really pleased or appeased by the endlessly repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament. He was looking for something more. From those original worshipers, he was looking for a heart attitude of faith in the promises pictured in the sacrifices. Further, God himself was looking forward to a better sacrifice that would really atone for sin - anticipating the reality behind the pictures.
In Psalm 40, God is looking for a volunteer to be this better sacrifice, and Jesus raises his hand and says Here I am--it is written about me in the scroll I have come to do your will, O God. This phrase reminds us of two things about Jesus. First, he is the fulfillment of the prophecies: It is written about me in the scroll. Hundreds and thousands of years before he came, his life, death and resurrection were predicted in detail. The time of his coming is predicted in Daniel, the details of his crucifixion are found in Psalm 22, the meaning of his death and resurrection is clear in Isaiah 53. It all points to Jesus. Jesus said You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me
The second thing we learn about Jesus is that he came to do the Fathers will. No one else can fully do Gods will. You cant and I cant because of sin. But Jesus could, and doing it was his passion. In the Gospel of John Jesus says I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.
Obedience to Gods will, is exactly the sacrifice God wants. Samuel told Saul To obey is better than sacrifice. In the case of Jesus his obedience to Gods will led him to offer himself as the sacrifice God really wanted. In doing so he eliminated the need for all those other sacrifices that could not take away sin. Jesus sets them aside because his sacrifice is the one that works. Verse 10: we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Last week we saw that the blood of Jesus cleanses from sin. Here the emphasis is on the body of Jesus offered for us. We are not dealing with myth or legend - he really went to the cross in a real body and really died there so that we might really receive life and holiness.
We have been made holy through the sacrifice. To be made holy means to be set apart for the service of God. It is the result of cleansing. Everything used in the tabernacle in the service of God had to be cleansed with the blood of a sacrifice before it could be taken into the presence of God. In the same way we had to be made holy before we could enter Gods presence. We had to be cleansed with the blood of a sacrifice, with the blood of Jesus. If you trust in him you have been made holy, set apart for Gods service and certified to stand in his presence.
I heard about a young Christian teacher someplace here in Texas who said that there are two things that all of us have set apart for our own use. Thats our underwear and our toothbrush. Furthermore, we only use these things when they are clean. None of us wants to wear dirty underwear or use a dirty toothbrush. So we wash it, we cleanse it, and only then do we allow it into our presence. In the same way only what has been cleansed and set apart will be allowed into Gods presence.
The verse concludes with the thought that we have been made holy through the sacrifice of Jesus once for all. The sacrifice was once for all who would be saved, it was once for all time, and it makes us holy once and for all. No repetition is needed. Never again will we be soiled in Gods sight. Oh, we will sin, but the stain of our sin never appears on us because the guilt of our sin has already appeared on Jesus.
III. Perfected once and for all (Hebrews 10:11-14)
So were cleansed once and for all. Were made holy once and for all. Another way to say it is that we are made perfect or righteous once and for all. Hebrews 10: 11 to 14: 11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. 13Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
This is the third time the author has contrasted the endless repetition of the sacrifices by the other priests with the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. This is the second time he has told us that those repeated sacrifices could not take away sin - they were only a faith picture for those who trusted God and who cried to God for forgiveness.
This is also the third time we have heard that Jesus sat down at the right hand of God. He sat down because his work was done. For the Jewish priest, sitting was a luxury never earned, because his offerings were never completed. But Jesus sat down at the right hand of God because he offered for all time one sacrifice. It was once and for all, complete and sufficient. Weve seen all this before - but it is wonderful.
Two things are added here. First, that since that time he waits to make his enemies his footstool. We havent had a lot of focus in this book on the future. Most of it has been on Israels past and what Christ has done for us. But the author knows that the story isnt over yet. He recognizes that some of the good things we have coming to us in Christ will not really be ours until Christ comes back in power. Then he will defeat Satan and all those who do his bidding. They will, some day, be a footstool for his feet, which is a graphic picture of their defeat. What could be more demeaning than being forced to serve as the footstool for your conqueror?
The other thing added here is that we, Christs people are made perfect forever through his sacrifice. We are cleansed, we are made holy, and the third once and for all thing that happens to us is that we are made perfect. Weve talked before about how our author uses this word - its the word he uses where the Apostle Paul would use the word righteous. We are made righteous forever through the sacrifice of Christ.
At the moment you trust Christ you may or may not feel any different - there is not always an emotional response to that newfound trust. As a believer you may not even know when you trusted Christ. In part this is because the holiness we receive at that moment is not just dumped on us, but is gradually built into our lives by the Holy Spirit. But in Gods eyes that moment when you trusted Christ was revolutionary. It was the moment when your record was wiped clean. It was the moment when your name was written in the Lambs book of life. You can compare it to some moment in a book or movie when a life was changed forever. The moment someone won the lottery. The moment someone was found to be not a peasant but a prince. The moment the war ended and peace dawned. The moment the slave was set free.
It was a brand new start, not necessarily in your experience, but definitely in Gods experience of you. Before he had known you from a distance because you were so clearly stained by sin, literally a stench in his nostrils. But when you trusted Christ, the Holy Spirit applied the work of the Sons sacrifice to your life so that you became in his eyes cleansed and holy and perfectly righteous - once and for all. God did not begin at that moment to accumulate against you a new list of sins, a new catalog of unrighteousness. Though not yet perfectly righteous in your daily life, you were made perfectly and permanently righteous in his estimation. He will not undo his work in you. Jesus says to you and to me All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me.
Then he says And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. Your trust in the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus made a once and for all difference in you.
Decision magazine printed the story a few years ago of Bill Eikenbary, who grew up in a Christian home, but drifted away. His dream in life was to be a police officer, and when he became one he set his sights on being a sergeant. A few years later he achieved that, and his ambitions were fulfilled. Soon his job no longer seemed rewarding. He became an alcoholic and sank into depression. He considered suicide more than once. One night he sat at his desk with his service revolver cocked and pressed against his head. He never knew why he didn't pull the trigger.
A few weeks later Bill was patrolling downtown at 2 a.m. He came to a church and walked to the front door. It was unlocked, and he went in. His flashlight beam came upon an open Bible on a communion table. As he read it, the passage from Psalm 143 touched his heart: O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. Verse 8 says Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way, for to you I lift up my soul.
Bill closed his eyes and prayed to Jesus to become his Lord. He said he experienced a cleansing that words cannot describe. All his depression and despair were washed down the drain. The next day he told his wife and she revealed that she had been attending that same church for several weeks. She had given her life to Christ in the same sanctuary Bill had been in only hours earlier.
IV. Forgiven once and for all (Hebrews 10:15-18)
When you trust in Christ he cleanses you once and for all. He declares you perfectly righteous and holy in his sight. And finally, maybe most importantly, he forgives you. Hebrews 10:15 to 18. 15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16"This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." 17Then he adds: "Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more." 18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.
These verses hark back to what we studied a few chapters ago, about the new covenant. The author wants us to remember two of the great promises the Holy Spirit made when he inspired that new covenant Scripture. First, dont forget that as one who has been cleansed, made holy and declared righteous you have the immense privilege of having a changed heart, a changed life that starts on the inside and does not depend on external adherence to imposed laws. Instead of putting his laws on stone tablets, they are placed in the very center of the believers being, so that there will be an inner impulse that delights both in knowing his law and doing his will.
The live oak trees outside my window illustrate this inner life every spring. Most trees lose their leaves in the fall, but like some old sinner clinging to his sin, these trees insist on clinging to their leaves through the winter. As I write this they are clothed in dark green leaves, most of them gnarled and cracked. In a few weeks however those leaves will begin to fall, not through the external effects of cold and short days, but through the internal effects of new life. As spring comes the sap begins to flow and the trees begin the process of forming new leaves. The buds of those leaves begin to push from within, and as they do the old cracked leaves can no longer cling - they fall away. Thats what happens when God writes his will on our hearts. The new life withing purges the deadness from our lives. The life of Christ lives in us, allowing us to say with him, I have come to do your will O God.
The second promise the writer of Hebrews mentions, and the final once and for all in this great passage is the promise of forgiveness. He quotes Jeremiah 31:34 I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. Our author adds that where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. Forgiveness is permanent. If it wasnt there would have to be more sacrifices. But there arent: our forgiveness through Christs sacrifice is once and for all.
How could it be otherwise if God doesnt remember our sins anymore? Not that he really forgets them, at least in the sense of knowing about them, but he doesnt remember them against us. A friend of Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, once reminded her of an especially cruel thing that had been done to her years before. But Miss Barton seemed not to recall it. "Don't you remember it?" her friend asked. "No," came the reply, "I distinctly remember forgetting it." God, Im sure, distinctly remembers forgetting our sins as Jesus bore them on the cross.
When the books of a certain Scottish doctor were examined after his death, it was found that a number of accounts were crossed through with a note: "Forgiven __ too poor to pay." But the physician's wife decided that these accounts must be paid in full and she proceeded to sue for the money. When the case came to court the judge asked one question. Is this your husband's handwriting? When she replied it was he responded: "There is no court in the land that can obtain a debt once the word forgiven has been written." Our debt has that word permanently written over it.
Rolls Royce, the great British automaker takes great pride in the reliability of their handcrafted automobiles. An obviously wealthy owner of a Rolls took it to Europe on an extended trip. While traveling in France the car had a mechanical problem. He called the Rolls Royce factory and asked that they send out a mechanic. The company responded in royal fashion. They put a mechanic on a private jet with all the necessary tools and flew him over to France to make the repairs.
The owner was so wealthy that he wasn't at all concerned about the cost. However, after several months he realized he had not received a bill. He directed his secretary to contact the Rolls Royce factory to inquire and received a prompt reply. With typical British aplomb, it said, "We have no recollection or record of any Rolls Royce having ever had a breakdown or being in need of repair anywhere in France."
This is how God treats us when he forgives us of sin. He has no recollection or record of our sin. Sometimes we have a harder time forgiving ourselves than God does. We feel weighed down with the burden of guilt long after God has removed the burden of sin. We need first, to trust in Jesus and find forgiveness, and then we need to trust that God has kept his promise to forgive.
Jesus once said You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. These truths we have been studying are the truths that free us. We have been cleansed. We have been made holy, We have been declared righteous. We have been forgiven. Once and for all. There isnt anything more that we needed. There isnt any way we could have done it ourselves. God did it all, once and for all, through the sacrifice of Jesus.