September 16, 2018
It is difficult to determine the most-printed books of all time, but everyone agrees the number one book, with an estimated 5-6 billion printed, is the Bible. If included on the NY Times monthly best-seller list, it would always be number 1. I suppose the reasons they don’t include it are, first it would be redundant, and second, they don’t know whether to include it on the fiction or non-fiction list. Most everyone also agrees the top ten of all time includes John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Most of you have likely read it, or at least heard of it. You may or may not know he wrote it while he was in jail.
You see, John Bunyan was a “Nonconformist preacher” in the 1600s. Some say he was a Baptist, others say he was a Puritan. Regardless, he did not belong to the Church of England, and his church in Bedford, England did not use the Common Book of Prayer. This was against the law, unlawful assembly, and after refusing to cease preaching, he ended up spending 12 years in the Bedford jail. He was married and had four children, the oldest of whom was blind. Think of that – being separated from your family for refusing to cease preaching the Gospel.
Well, during his time in jail, he wrote two important works – The Pilgrim’s Progress and his spiritual autobiography entitled, Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. I always wanted to read Grace Abounding – I’ve had it in my library for some time – but didn’t get to it until the last couple of weeks.
And oh my, the first three-quarters of the book is quite depressing. After marrying his wife, a Christian, Bunyan struggled with his own sin, his flagging faith, and forgiveness offered through Christ for many years. His greatest enemy was his own heart – believing that God would actually forgive such a man as himself. Oh how he struggled. He would latch on to some passage of Scripture for awhile – maybe a few days – before convincing himself he was beyond the reach of God’s grace.
Finally, you reach this paragraph in the book, right near the end, “Now I sunk and fell in my spirit, and was giving up all for lost. But as I was walking up and down my house as a man in a most woeful state, that word of God took hold of my heart, ‘You being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 3:24)….And listening to this heavenly sentence, it was as if I heard spoken to me, ‘Sinner, you think that because of your sins and infirmities I cannot save your soul; but behold, My Son is by Me, and upon Him I look, and not on you, and shall deal with you according to My pleasure with Him.’” One of the most meaningful sentences ever written outside the Bible.
I want you to listen very carefully this morning. Some of you think you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. You think yourself too evil, indeed, the chief of sinners. You think you have somehow committed the unpardonable sin – and you cannot therefore be saved. What Bunyan struggled with was having this thought once in his life, “Christ, be gone if You will.” And he thought Christ did. And maybe you have. Oh, I want to believe – but I haven’t believed rightly. I haven’t believed well. I’m too great a sinner. I’m too inconsistent. I’ve blasphemed in both word and deed. I am forever lost.
I want to say to you this morning that God does look on you for your salvation. He looks on His Son, Jesus Christ, who sits at the Father’s right hand, making intercession by His finished work for sinners such as you. Believe the gospel, and you will most assuredly, definitely and irrevocably be saved.
We are at the final verses of the central doctrine portion of the book of Hebrews. Beginning in chapter 7, the author has been building a solid case of the superiority of Christ – that is, that Jesus and the New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. You see, the Old Covenant consisted of the Law of Moses, the Levitical priesthood, the sacrificial system, the blood animals, to include the Day of Atonement, and the Tabernacle with its furniture.
The New Covenant consisted of the gospel of Jesus, the Melchizedekian priesthood, the sacrifice of Christ, the blood of Christ, the cross of Calvary, and the heavenly tabernacle. Everything about the New Covenant was better – bringing final and eternal forgiveness and hope to His followers. We’ve seen, over and over, the sacrifices of the Old Covenant – the blood of bulls and goats – could never perfect the worshiper – could never take away sin forever. A New Covenant was needed – and Jesus brought it by the sacrifice of Himself.
The final verse we looked at last week read, “By this will [the will and plan of God found in the OT, found in the New] we have been sanctified [or saved] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” Bringing us to our text this morning – Hebrews 10:11-18.
The author here summarizes several key points in the letter to this point. He quotes two OT passages he’s already quoted, weaving them into a great summation of this doctrinal section. We’ll outline the passage according to those OT quotes as the author finally, and once again, offers the superiority of Christ and the New Covenant to the Old Covenant:
- Psalm 110 – The Finished Work of Christ (11-14)
- Jeremiah 31 – The New Covenant of Christ (15-18)
Let’s look at those first four verses to be reminded of the finished work of Christ. Now, I say finished, because this seems to be the author’s main point. I love that truth – Christianity is not spelled d-o. That is, there are not things you do in order to be saved. No, Christianity is spelled d-o-n-e. That is, Christ has done it all already – it is finished, He said. Ours is simply to trust Christ – to believe. Look at verse 11, “Every priest [and by that, he’s referring to the Levitical priests of the Old Covenant] every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
He brings the ultimate futility of the OT system together in this one verse. Notice first, every priest, reminding us there were many priests. In Israel, they were of the house of Levi. And there were many high priests – these were of the family of Aaron. For centuries, they served at the Tabernacle and later the Temple. On and on, through high priest after high priest – their work was never finished. When they died, where they left off, the next one would take over.
Notice they would minister daily. This is referring to more than the Day of Atonement, although it includes that. It refers to the daily sin offerings, offered over and over. Time after time the same sacrifices. They were many, and always included blood – the blood of bulls and goats and lambs and calves and on and on. Who knows how much blood actually flowed.
Notice they would also stand daily. That’s important – and is the author’s main point. Back in chapter 9, he’d given us a description of the Tabernacle and all its furnishings – like table of showbread, the altar of incense, the lampstand, the veil, and of course, the Ark of the Covenant. Did you notice one thing missing? There were no seats. You see, the priests never sat down. They refreshed the bread. They trimmed the lamps and kept the oil lamps burning. They refreshed the incense. Once a year, the high priest would enter behind the veil into the Holy of Holies – the Most Holy Place – to offer the blood of the sacrifices on the mercy seat. Oh – there was a seat – the place where God resided. But there was no seat for the priests. They never sat down. They did their work standing, because their work was never finished.
And we remember when the high priest went behind the veil into the Holy of Holies with the blood sacrifice, he did his work quickly. Why? He was in the very awesome, fearful presence of God. He even had bells around the bottom of his robe, and a rope tied around his waist. Why? If he quit moving – doing the work – if the bells stopped ringing, they knew he was likely dead, struck down by God, his work unacceptable. They would drag his dead body out. Again, there was no sitting, there was no resting – those bells better keep ringing.
And even though it was never finished, the sacrifices they offered, the author reminds us, could never take away sins. When they were finished for the day, for the year on the day, there would always be the next day, and the day after that – the next year, and the year after that. And those sacrifices never dealt with sin once and for all.
Enter, the great high priest. Verse 12 – notice the contrast, but He – that is Jesus, having offered one sacrifice – what sacrifice was that? Verse 10 told us, the offering of the body of Jesus Christ – He sacrificed Himself. Having offered one sacrifice – not many. For the sins for all time – meaning His offering was eternally effective. It did deal with sin once and for all – for all His people for all time – past, present and future.
Having done so, verse 12 says, quoting Psalm 110, He sat down at the right hand of God. As we’ve noted before, the right hand is a place of special honor and authority. He sat down, His work was finished, complete. He need stand no longer to sacrifice. He need hang no longer from a cross. He sat down, signifying the completion and effectiveness of His work – never to be repeated. Because it’s not necessary.
Verse 13 says, He sat down, waiting from that time onward, again quoting Psalm 110, until His enemies are made a footstool for His feet. To kneel at someone’s feet, to be a footstool is a symbol of complete defeat for the enemy, complete mastery for the victor.
Now the question at this point is, who are His enemies? Obviously, they include the forces of evil. Further, I Corinthians 15 says the last enemy to be destroyed is death. We sing it – death itself has been struck a death blow. But probably also included in the list of enemies are those who do not repent and believe the gospel. Those who stay in rebellion against God and His right to rule. But Paul tells us there is coming a day when all creation – those in heaven, on earth, and those under the earth – likely referring to Hades, the place of the dead – all will bow to the sovereign God and His right to rule. Everyone will ultimately confess Jesus is Lord – even His enemies. Those who refused to bow will one day bow.
Look at the contrast the author draws in these verses: In the Old Covenant, every priest, many priests stand daily, offering many sacrifices, which could never take away sin. Conversely, under the New Covenant, Jesus was one priest, who offered one sacrifice, and sat down, taking care of all sin for all time. Amazing.
His enemies will most assuredly be made His footstool, for, verse 14, by one offering, He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified – better, being sanctified. This is an incredibly important verse. It’s a good one to memorize. The verb tenses are very important, and tell a story. For by one offering – the offering of Himself, He has perfected. Stop right there. This is a favorite word for this author – the idea of perfection is being made perfect or fit for heaven – for standing in the presence of God, of drawing near.
Now, to this point, he has largely used this word in two ways. First, he uses it to say that Jesus, in His humanity, was perfected – that is, made fit – through His suffering and His obedience to be the perfect His priest. We saw in those verses that it was not that Jesus was imperfect, but through His obedience in suffering, was made the perfect high priest in His humanity.
Another way the author has used it to this point is to suggest the Law, the Old Covenant, made nothing perfect. That’s so important:
7:19 – (for the Law made nothing perfect) – that’s fairly straightforward
9:9 – Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience…
10:1 – For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
Over and over, the author has made this point. The purpose of religion is to do just that, right? To make us perfect – fit – cleansed – for heaven. To draw near to God. But the Old Covenant could not do that. And so a New Covenant was needed, and by one offering He has perfected us for all time. Hallelujah. The word perfected is in the perfect tense – it speaks of a past action with ongoing effect. He has perfected in the past – for all time – that is, with ongoing effect. Forever. Who? Those who are being sanctified – that is, being made holy.
So get that. This is a great verse. Jesus, by His one offering, has perfected, made fit to draw to near to God forever – for all time – those who are currently being sanctified. We aren’t fully sanctified yet. Well, actually we are, because God doesn’t look at us, He looks at His Son – and sees perfection. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places right now, such that we are positionally perfect. But, we are being practically – in practice – we are being made holy so that our practice matches our position.
So what does that mean? It means, there is a sense in which you have been saved – past tense; you are being saved – present tense; and you will be saved – future. We could say it this way – you have been justified – sins removed and declared righteous – perfected; you are being sanctified – made more holy day by day; and you will be glorified in the future perfectly, so that your practice perfectly matches your position.
And so are you beyond the reach of God’s grace? No. His grace justified you in the past, and is sanctifying you now. You say, but I’m not very perfect – of course not! You won’t be until you are glorified. But for now, take joy in the ongoing process of sanctification. By His Holy Spirit, He is at work in you, making you more like His Son.
Okay, quickly, point two – Jeremiah 31 – The New Covenant of Christ is verses 15-18. Verse 15, and the Holy Spirit also testifies to us, for after saying…then the end of verse 16 says, He, that is the Holy Spirit then says. Don’t miss that the Holy Spirit is the Person of the Trinity who inspired God’s written Word. (II Peter 1:20-21)
What did the Holy Spirit say? Verse 16, This is the New Covenant that I will make with them – right out of Jeremiah 31, after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them. We talked about this already. Before, the Law of God was written on external tablets of stone, by which people had no ability to obey. But now, He also promised His Holy Spirit within them, next to the law of Christ written on their hearts, internally, by whom they would obey. They would have new hearts, the indwelling presence of the Spirit, and the law within. Everything would be new.
And then He says, verse 17, And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. I find that interesting. Under the New Covenant – brought by Jesus through His sacrificial death – God will no longer remember the sins of His people. Which means, I would suggest, this was the problem with the Old Covenant. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin – meaning, they would always be held to our account. But through the one sacrifice of the Son of God, our sins would no longer be remembered – that is, they would no longer be held to our account. The point? No one is beyond the reach of God’s grace – because through the sacrifice of Jesus, your sins are remembered no more.
Therefore, verse 18 – and this is the conclusion of the matter – where there is forgiveness of these things – namely, sins and lawless deeds, there is no longer any offering for sin. Don’t miss what he’s saying here. Not only does he mean that Jesus only need die once – because His work is eternally effective. But he also means, you don’t have to keep offering sacrifices, even penance for sins once forgiven. Yes, ask for forgiveness for new sins, to restore your fellowship with other people, that is, those sinned against. Ask forgiveness to restore your fellowship with God – because, the relationship – He as your God, you as His child – is always intact. Because, those sins have been forever forgiven.
I ask people, when Jesus died, which sins did He die for? They say, all of them. So, when you asked Jesus to forgive you of your sins, which sins then did He forgive? All of them. Then why do we continue to confess? Simply to restore fellowship – never relationship. You see, if tomorrow’s sins aren’t forgiven unless you confess, then if you sin on the way home – lose your temper with the kids in the back seat, or other drivers – and die in a car accident, you’re in trouble.
And that’s how some of you live. Are all my sins forgiven? Yes. Have I sinned in such a way that I’m no longer forgiven? No. Does this lead to living however you want – sin it up? No. Because of our love for our Father because of His love for us; because of His law written on our hearts and the presence of the Holy Spirit, we live joy-filled lives of obedience.
John Bunyan, for years saw himself beyond the reach of God’s grace. For years, though he prayed and studied the Bible, he saw his fate as worse than dogs – he thought, at least when they die, that’s it for them. But not me. There is a life after death, and in the life to come, there’s no way God could forgive me – I’ve gone too far, I’ve been too evil. Then, near the end of his autobiography, he found Christ, or better, Christ found him. Sinner, I don’t look at you, I look to My right and see My Son.
And so, the last words of His spiritual autobiography, after yet another period of doubt, that last words read, “Christ was a precious Christ to my soul that night; I could scarce lie in my bed for joy, and peace, and triumph, through Christ….Hebrews 12: 22, 23, was a blessed scripture to me for many days together after this. The words are these: Ye are come to mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven; and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the Mediator of the New Covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speak better things than that of Abel. Through this blessed sentence the Lord led me over and over, first to this word, and then to that; and showed me wonderful glory in every one of them. These words also have oft since that time, been great refreshment to my spirit. Blessed be God for having mercy on me.”