July 5: The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But 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. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. –Hebrews 10:11-14

I think I read too many health and medical articles online. There are so many warnings about sitting too long with the danger of getting blood clots in your legs, that I have programmed an app on my phone to sound an alarm every 20 minutes when I’m working at my desk. This reminds me to stand up and walk around a bit. It’s an interesting thought that a majority of us now work sitting down and stand up to rest. I suspect the opposite has been true for most of human history.

We see it in the passage copied above. The priest stands daily at his service. He is at work all day, every day offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins. On the one hand, the futility is depressing. His entire life was working for something that didn’t work! On the other hand, it is uplifting because the blood of the sacrifices shadowed or copied the blood that would work: Christ’s precious blood.

So while the priest would stand daily, Christ sat down at the right hand of God. How come? Because He had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins. Think of it: His work is done so He rests. He sat down. This is enormously encouraging to those of us who are tortured and ravaged by sin. We cannot make the sacrifice complete. We cannot improve upon it. Jesus is not standing waiting for us to do our part. He has finished and has sat down at the Right Hand of Majesty!

This is one reason that many of the Reformers no longer continued the Roman mass, in which “priests” offer the sacrifice of Christ again and again. The passage above rules out entirely any notion that the sacrifice of Jesus is somehow repeated at each service.

Christian worship, which is covenant renewal worship, is about events that move forward, in a historical sequence, from a beginning, to a development, to a climax, to the results of that climax. We know where we belong in that history, since for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. –Hebrews 9:23-28

Twenty-something seminary students can be a little hard to take at times. Knowledge puffs up, and all the more so in young men. I remember quite well from my seminary days hearing guys in the student lounge earnestly discussing if God was limited by 1+1=2, or if He knows what time it is since He is timeless. Seriously. That happened, and I bet it’s still happening today.

Speaking of time, God is outside of time, not limited by time, but He has chosen to create time and work within it. The passage above depends on it because there is a day—rather 2 days—of great importance. The first day was the day when Christ entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. The text says there was nothing repeated about it, but He has appeared once for all at the end of the ages.

Interestingly, for the writer of Hebrews, Jesus has already done this, so the end of the ages has past. As I’ve preached from the scriptures many times before, we live in the last days. The present age (9:9) is over, and the Old Covenant with it, and now we live in the time of reformation (9:10), which is the last days or the “end times.”

So we have the first day mentioned: the day Christ once for all entered heaven and the presences of God. The second day is when He will appear a second time. So there was a day in time at the end of the ages when Jesus entered once for all, and there is a day when He will appear a second time. In between these two great days is the last days, the end times, which are our days.

But all this talk about days, and God working in time, is not even close to the main thing. The main thing is God’s work in these days and between them. On the first day, Jesus put an end to all the repeated (therefore incomplete) sacrifices. Instead He appeared in the presence of God on our behalf. This is magnificent! The Greek there literally means He appeared “before God’s face.” Seeing God’s face was such a devastatingly awesome experience that even the angels which flanked God’s presence had to veil their faces (Isa. 6:2). Jesus went before us to do what we will one day do because of the blood which has purified us through and through.

Then He will appear a second day, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him. No more work of atonement will be necessary. When Jesus appears this second time, it will be with one purpose: to transform those who wait on Him so that we become the people God created us to be as citizens of the New Heavens and the New Earth. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. –Hebrews 9:15-22

If you’ve been around me very long you’ve probably heard the story I tell of my childhood friend whose father was a butcher. He actually had a butcher shop separate from any other stores. I loved going in there because he smoked meats and the place smelled wonderful. There were fairly strict rules about going behind the door that was behind the counter, so I didn’t get to go back there for a long time. I was very curious about what I pictured in my mind: big saws that meticulously cut meat at whatever angle or curve the butcher wanted. Sure enough, when I finally got to see it, that’s exactly what was back there.


I also noticed that when the butcher went out front to see customers, he wore a particular apron, but as soon as he went to the back, he put on another one and vice versa. I inquired about this consistent practice and he told me plainly, “The customers don’t want to see any blood. The one I use in the back is blood-soaked, so I keep a perfectly white one for behind the counter.” As I watched him in the back I was a little shocked at how much blood there was. It was amazing really. I can still feel that moment of revelation I had of how the front was a kind of theater to pretend that what was common and real actually wasn’t.


When contemporary people read passages like the one I copied above from Hebrews 9, I don’t think today’s society helps us much. It is true that so much human blood was spilled in the 20th century through war, terrorism, and torture that we find it repugnant. Is the idea that there can be no pardon without bloodshed barbaric? Many think so.


I tend to think that, like the butcher’s two aprons, the only thing that has changed is that we make better theater of it. How much blood is there involved in abortion that we never see? How about land mines or policies that lead to fatherless neighborhoods that inevitably turn violent? I doubt we’re any less primitive than when Hebrews was written, and I don’t think the theater of it all is a good thing.

But back to the passage: you have the contrast of the blood of animals and the blood of Jesus. The blood of animals copies or shadows in very imperfect ways what blood atonement is about. We find that at the heart of the sacrificial system is the self-giving love of God himself. Let there be no mistake: the new covenant spoken of in chapter 8 and extended into chapters 9 and 10 tells us that Jesus’ blood is what enacts this New Covenant. Specific to this chapter is that the covenant can only come into force on the death of the person who made it.

That is remarkable information! The last sentence is a famous line within Christianity. Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. It sets forth a general principle that whenever any pardoning needed to be done, there had to be bloodshed. And now we have to see that the self-giving love of God required His only Son to be broken and spilled out in order for us to be received covenantally and personally into His grace. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the Ark of the Covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.

These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. –Hebrews 9:1-10

When I lived in Orlando, the city was growing by leaps and bounds. At one point I read that 400 people every day were moving to central Florida! Traffic, as you might imagine, was terrible. A massive highway expansion was being built along a route I needed to take quite often and, at one point in the project, a temporary road was built to get traffic around the construction zone. That temporary road was not built to last and was not much more than some asphalt laid down where a bulldozer smoothed off the vegetation. It didn’t last, quickly developed potholes, and wasn’t big enough to handle even a fraction of the traffic. The trees are thick around there, but every now and then as you drove along the temporary road, you could catch a glimpse of the completed sections of the beautiful huge road that was coming in due time.

That’s what the tent(s) of meeting were like. God had a master plan for how the world would be made right. This is what the writer means in verse 10 above by “the time of reformation.” Like that big, beautiful new road that could handle all it needed to, this reformation was coming. In the meantime temporary arrangements had to be made to keep things flowing. Those temporary arrangements were fallible, insufficient, and never meant to do the real work, just like that temporary road.

Interestingly, the writer relates a “first section” tent (the Holy Place) and a “second section” tent (The Most Holy Place) to two “ages”. The first section is “symbolic for the present age,” and he doesn’t mind letting us know that it couldn’t do the job. He says its purpose and activities “cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.”

The “present age” is the time right up to the coming of the Messiah. It was a temporary thing. He wants to make sure that the readers understand that it is not the whole system. You don’t want to cling to anything there because its purpose is finished now that Messiah has come.

What has happened in Jesus is that the main new road has now been opened. Yes, the temporary road is still there, and a few people haven’t realized there is something incomparably better. They are still driving on it. It was not a bad thing and completely needed for a season, but the reformation age has come in Christ Jesus. The New Covenant is established and sins have been fully and finally dealt with. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!

But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second.

For he finds fault with them when he says: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.” In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. –Hebrews 8:6-13

Some of the most dramatic scenery I’ve ever experienced in the American southwest comes as a result of the power of the Colorado River, including the Grand Canyon, Lake Powell (Glen Canyon Dam), and Lake Mead (Hoover Dam). It is the sole source of water for California’s Imperial Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world. These are all very impressive. Several years ago, Kristen and I took a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park. We were wandering around a marshy area near LaPoudre Pass called the Kawuneeche Valley when we saw a sign that said “Headwaters of the Colorado River.” It was hard to imagine that a river as grand as the Colorado began in an uninspiring marsh. There are many creeks, streams, and other rivers flowing into the Colorado to make it what it is.

I think the book of Hebrews is a like that. In the first 2 chapters there was a marshy area with a bustle of Older Testament quotations to point out that Jesus, the Messiah, was God’s one and only Son, and, therefore, superior to the angels who have the law. Another big stream flows into chapter 2 using Psalm 8 to show that Jesus is the truly-human being who has attained the dominion over creation that God intended for us in the beginning. More tributaries flow in with chapters 3-4 as Psalm 95 and the Sabbath rest which still awaits us is brought forward. There’s a huge dam creating a massive lake near the end of chapter 4, where Jesus as high priest begins. Psalm 110 is used to show was how Melchizedek tells us critical information about who Jesus is. This subject continues into chapter 8.

Here in chapter 8, we find the longest bible quote of the whole letter, Jeremiah 31:31-34. It is well-known to most Christians as the “New Covenant.” Of course, we’ve seen for a while that it is older than the Old Covenant, thus they run concurrently. The difference is that the Old was a shadow or copy of the New and the New would be revealed, enacted, and fulfilled when Messiah came. And He did, and it was.

Because the New says I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, obviously the exceeding sinfulness of sin and need for forgiveness would come up. That’s the point. As Jesus has sat down at the right hand of Majesty, so he does as our high priest ensuring that forgiveness is ours. The copy, and shadow, is becoming obsolete and growing old…ready to vanish away because Christ has come pouring out His Spirit. And that’s the gospel.

Come hear it preached and enacted in the Supper this Sunday!