Once and For All

Most of us like to live a settled life. We like to have a place that we can call home and to which we can safely retreat at the end of a long day. We like to know that we will receive a paycheck on a particular day, and we do not like to guess how much it will be worth. We want to drive a dependable car, and we can become terribly frustrated if the computer network or our Internet connection goes down.

While some might think that this quest for contentedness makes life boring, who wants everything to be unpredictable? Even more important than being content in this life is the matter of having our eternal destiny settled. Some of the upsets of this life may be consequential, but they are only temporary. The worst of them cannot compare to the dangers of an unsettled eternal future.

But we do not need to live in fear of that, if in faith we receive the truth of the all-sufficient work of Jesus Christ, accomplished on the cross. Hebrews 10:11-18 says, “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. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: “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.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”

The truth of this text is plain and simple: Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was a “once and done” act. The context of the book of Hebrews treats the supremacy of Jesus Christ over the ways of the Old Covenant. The author shows how Jesus fulfilled the law, particularly those ceremonial aspects of it. In Hebrews 10 he argues for the ineffectiveness of animal sacrifices for removing sin contrasting it with the effectiveness of Christ’s offering for sin. Here, he argues for the finality of Christ’s offering, the all-sufficient sacrifice that provides, for the believer in Christ, a settled confidence that his or her sin is forgiven.

The finality of Christ’s sacrifice is seen in a number of contrasts with the sacrifices offered under the Levitical law. First, His work is finished. The Old Testament priest stood continuously offering sacrifices. As a pastor, we often think our lives are complicated. But a reading of Leviticus shows just how complicated the work of the priest was. There were some twenty-two different Hebrew terms for sacrifices to be offered, and they each had specific procedures to be observed and significance to be understood. These sacrifices were repeated periodically for both individuals and for the nation of Israel. And so each day brought its share of ongoing work for the priest.

Jesus is described to be seated, indicating that His work is finished. There is nothing more for Him to do in terms of sacrifice. Second, His work is forever. The Levitical priest’s work had to be repeated because it did not have a final effect on sin. Jesus’ one sacrifice stands forever, the final word on the matter of sin. The Day of Atonement was an annual event. Jesus’ atoning death was effective for all time. Third, His work was final in that it achieved its intended outcome: our forgiveness.

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant were not capable of taking away sin. Though established by God as part of the ceremonial law, they were ineffectual in themselves. But the sacrifice of Jesus takes away sin once and for all. His work produces a permanent effect, a cleansing of sin for all time. Because the sacrifice of Christ is final and permanent in its character, those who have faith in Him experience three effects of his work.

First, we have eternal salvation. Many people think salvation is conditional. The author speaks of salvation as being sanctified or set apart to God. Although we usually talk about sanctification being about our growth as Christians, here the term speaks of a past action with an ongoing result, namely, the whole of our salvation in Christ. This salvation is according to God’s will, which goes back to the purpose of Jesus’ taking on human flesh. This salvation is complete and there is nothing that we can add to it.

Second, He will see ultimate victory over His foes. Seated in the place of honour at the right hand of God the Father, He waits for the final culmination of history when Satan and all evil will be judged. This expectation is in fulfillment of Psalm 110. Though all things are not yet fully subjected to Him, the day is coming when every knee will bow and every tongue confesses that Jesus is Lord. Satan was defeated at the cross; he now lives on borrowed time.

Third, we may experience forgiveness of our sins. In abbreviated fashion, the author here quotes the New Covenant announced by the prophet Jeremiah. Particularly emphasized here is Jeremiah 31:34, a promise that God would forgive the sins of his people: “And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more.” This forgiveness is not the oversight of a doting, weak-willed grandparent. Rather, it is grounded in the one final offering of Christ.

Because the sacrificial death of Christ is sufficient to cleanse sin, there is no need for further sacrifice. To say that our sins are remembered no more is to say that they are no longer held against us. The dismissal of charges is possible only because the perfect, final sacrifice for sin was offered in our place, the righteous in the place of the unrighteous so that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.

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