September 2, 2018
While the quote may have originated with Christopher Bullock in 1716, it was Benjamin Franklin who made it famous in a letter to a friend in 1789, when he wrote, “Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” We’ve all heard that, right? Nothing in life is certain except death and taxes.
And so, to prepare for certain taxes, we have the tax code. And, to help us understand the tax code and minimize our tax liability, we have tax experts – like CPAs and tax attorneys and H&R Block. Further, while it is said we must pay taxes, the truth is, you can cheat on your taxes. We even joke about it. Perhaps you’ve heard of the guy who anonymously sent a thousand dollars to the IRS with this note, “I’ve cheated on my tax returns, and I can’t sleep. So I’ve sent the enclosed cash. If I still can’t sleep, I’ll send the rest.” Of course, we also remember Jesus was once asked about paying taxes. He asked for a coin, and said, “Whose inscription is this?” To which the people responded, Caesar’s. Jesus then famously replied, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God, that things that are God’s.”
So again, we generally have to pay taxes – and there are people to help us understand that certainty, and books to help us prepare for that certainty. Interestingly, we also have to die – oh, and there is no cheating death. We try to put it off, through diet and exercise, medicine and clean living, and as a result, the average lifespan in our country has increased. Except for the last two years. The last two years, our average lifespan has actually decreased in the US. Why? According to the experts, two reasons: substance abuse and despair.
But death is still inevitable. As a nation, we buried John McCain yesterday and Aretha Franklin the day before. This afternoon, we will bury Robbie Collie, the founder of Freedom Farm Ministries. Because death is inescapable.
And so we have people to help us understand that certainty – perhaps pastors or more mature Christians or evangelists – who remind people, you will die – it is inevitable. And we also have a book that helps us prepare for that certainty. It’s called the Bible. Yes, as Michael reminded us last week – it’s a two thousand year old book – but it’s not just any book. We as followers of Christ understand it to be God’s Word – and therefore, perfect, with timeless truths. To include truths to prepare us for certain, inescapable death.
Well, we’ve been studying the book of Hebrews – one of the books in the Bible. You may know the Bible is composed of sixty-six books, written by some forty different authors, over a period of 1500 years. And quite amazingly – really supernaturally – when brought together in one book called the Bible, there is glorious, beautiful, inerrant truth. The Book is divided between the 39 books of the Old Testament or Covenant, and the 27 books of the New Testament or Covenant.
In our study of Hebrews, the author wrote to Jewish believers to encourage them in their faith – and to remind them there is only hope found in the New Covenant – in Jesus and the gospel He brought. I say hope – because hope is forward-thinking. And in our text today, the author tells us there are actually three inevitable things coming – inescapable things. One is death, the other two? Let’s read the text – Hebrews 9:23-28.
Did you see them? Yes, verse 27 – it is appointed to every person to die once. And after that comes the second: certain, inescapable judgment. And this book has been written to prepare you – not so much for death – but the judgment to follow. The third thing that is certain? Verse 28 – the return, the second coming of Jesus Christ. Oh sure, it’s been two thousand years. And maybe, just maybe, you’re beginning to wonder – is He really coming back? Not only is He coming back, He is coming the second time not to die, not to put away sin – He did that the first time. He’s coming back for those who eagerly await His return. Three things are certain – have you been lulled to sleep?
Well, the author is in the heart of his letter. He’s been writing to encourage persecuted, Jewish believers who were wondering whether this was all worth it. After all, the persecution was increasing – martyrdom seemed to be right around the corner. Maybe we should leave Jesus and Christianity, and return to Moses and Judaism. So he writes to both warn and encourage them. His warning has basically been this – you can’t leave. There’s no salvation found in Judaism – it’s obsolete – there is no sacrifice for sin there. Meaning, if you leave Jesus, there is no hope for you. His encouragement has been this – after all, Jesus is better, in every way. And the New Covenant He brought is better than the Old Covenant. The truth is, everything in the Old Covenant was temporary and typological – pointing to Jesus and the New Covenant to come.
So, for example, last week we saw both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant required a death to be enacted. Because without the shedding of blood – without a death – there could be no forgiveness. Under the Old Covenant, it was the blood of bulls and goats that brought temporary salvation and purification. And under the New Covenant, it was the very death Christ – a better sacrifice, better blood – that brought eternal salvation with an eternal inheritance. Which brings us to the text we just read – here’s the outline:
- A Better Sanctuary (23-24)
- A Better Sacrifice (25-26)
- A Better Hope (27-28)
We’ve seen these truths already – remember, the author plunges the depth of every truth to capture every nuance. So, we’ll move quickly through the first two points – not because they are unimportant, but have been largely covered. We’ll spend some time on the last point as we look at the certainty of death, judgment and the return of Christ.
Now remember, the last statement of verse 22 was, without shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. Therefore, in verses 23 and 24, we read under the Old Covenant, the sacrifices of bulls and goats were needed to cleanse the tabernacle. We saw that last week – Moses took the blood of those sacrifices and sprinkled the tabernacle and the vessels in the tabernacle. So also, our author now says, the blood of a better sacrifice was needed to cleanse the heavenly things – namely, the heavenly tabernacle. In fact, he reminds us the earthly tabernacle was simply a copy of the true tabernacle in heaven. Several thoughts about that:
First, we note again the earthly tabernacle was a type of the heavenly tabernacle. In fact, God told Moses to be sure to have the tabernacle built exactly as it was shown him on Mt. Sinai, when God gave him the Law. Does that mean we’re supposed to see a heavenly tent? Not exactly – but it does mean two things. First, I would suggest every element of the earthly tabernacle in some way represented a heavenly truth. For example, the lampstand likely reminds us Jesus is the light of the world; the table of bread reminds us Jesus is the bread of life. The second way the earthly tabernacle represented the heavenly one was it symbolized the very presence of God. Yes, God is omnipresent, but He was present in a special way above the Ark of the Covenant in the earthly tabernacle, just as He is specially present in heaven.
Another thing we should note about these verses is he says while the earthly tabernacle was cleansed by animal blood, the heavenly tabernacle was cleansed by better sacrifices – actually, just one sacrifice – the sacrifice and blood of Jesus. For, verse 27, Jesus did not present His sacrifice at the earthly tabernacle in the holy place, not even the Temple and the holy place – that was a mere copy of the true, heavenly tabernacle – so Jesus appeared there to offer His sacrifice.
Which leads to the third thing we note – and it’s a bit challenging. Just as the earthly tabernacle needed cleansing, the implication is the heavenly tabernacle where God dwells needed cleansing. What? Does that mean heaven was in some way impure? This has troubled exegetes for centuries – in what way was impure heaven cleansed? There are three basic interpretations. First, some suggest when Satan and his angels rebelled in heaven, and then thrown out of heaven, there was therefore sin in heaven that needed cleansing. Further, Paul talks about the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. So that’s possible – but the sacrifice of Jesus was a sacrifice of atonement for forgiveness, and of course, there is no sacrifice or atonement for Satan and his fallen angels called demons.
Second, some suggest the offering of His sacrifice was not a purification, necessarily, but an inauguration of the New Covenant. As Moses sprinkled blood on the book of the Law, on the people and on the tabernacle at the inauguration of the Old Covenant, so also Jesus offered His sacrifice in the heavenly tabernacle at the inauguration of the New Covenant. Possible.
The third interpretation is rather creative. It suggests what needed to be cleansed was the consciences of the people. That God’s people needed cleansing – salvation – purification – and as a result, God would then dwell with them, in them by His Spirit. We become the Temple of God. I think that’s possible, but the author actually said heavenly things needed to be cleansed. Which interpretation is correct? I’m not sure – in some way the sacrifice of Christ offered in heaven purified a once-defiled heaven, inaugurated a new covenant, purified the people of the New Covenant to make them fit for heaven – I don’t know. I do know by His sacrifice, Jesus appeared in the presence of God.
And don’t miss the last two words of verse 24 – in the presence of God in heaven for us. That’s why He took on flesh and came to earth. That’s what His sacrifice was about – it was for us, His people. In what way? Verse 26 tells us to put away our sin. And I want to remind you as I said last week, sin does matter. We can try to deny or dismiss it, but it does matter. But Jesus did something about it, for us. And then we remember there is a sense in which Jesus’ sacrifice is eternal and His sacrifice intercedes or pleads for us eternally in the presence of God.
Which leads quickly to the second point – the Better Sacrifice in verses 25 and 26. Again, this is a point the author has already made. Yes, the sacrifice of the New Covenant, namely Jesus, is better than the sacrifice of the Old Covenant, namely the blood of animals. Yes, it’s better because it was offered in the heavenly tabernacle as opposed to the earthly tabernacle, which was simply a type. But as he’s said over and over, it’s better because by offering Himself, His sacrifice only had to be offered once.
Verse 25, nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would take not his own blood, but the blood of unblemished animals. You see, he couldn’t take his own blood, because it was blemished. He was himself a sinner and needed to offer the blood of a bull for himself and his family.
But Jesus offered His own perfect life blood. If it wasn’t His own perfect blood, verse 26, He would have needed to suffer often, over and over, since the foundation of the world; but that’s not necessary. Because now, once, at the consummation of the ages – at the end of the ages – Paul calls it at just the right time, the fullness of time – the time to end all ages – He was manifested once by the sacrifice of Himself – and that was eternally good enough. And by doing so, He has put away sin forever. It’s a strong word here which speaks of the total annulment of sin. Sin isn’t just rolled forward to be put on the next year’s sacrifice. Nor was the sin of that year dealt with, and the sin of next year needed a new sacrifice. No, His sacrifice was once for all sin for all time.
Bringing us to our third point, which is where I want to focus for the next few minutes. Going back to our introduction, what is, in fact, inevitable? The author lists three inevitable coming truths.
First, verse 27, inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once…stop right there. Now, his point is, as the perfect God-man, Jesus only needed to die once, since men only die once. That’s what the beginning of verse 28 says, so Christ also, having been offered once. That’s the point. But the author makes a well-known, well-accepted truth – one that we all know by history and experience. Every man or woman has an appointment with death. You have an appointment with death. Benjamin Franklin got it right: one thing that is certain is death. Again, we can try to delay it, live more healthy to live longer. Eat right, exercise, get regular check-ups, take the proper meds. But we cannot cheat it – in the end, die you will. Even cryogenics – being frozen when you die to later be brought back to life will not work.
Everyone dies once – again, you have an appointment with death. That’s the thing about funerals – Friday, yesterday, today – they remind us, even though we don’t want to think about it, they remind us that death is the inevitable end of everyone. It is inescapably certain. We don’t talk about it, unless we’re forced to, facing it in someone else, someone we love, or in us.
Which leads to the second inescapable certainty. After death comes not another life, i.e., reincarnation. Not oblivion – that is, non-existence – ceasing to exist – ashes to ashes, dust to dust. No, the author tells us after death comes immediate and certain judgment. Now, there is much I could say about this, but I’ll keep my comments brief. Paul, for example, talks about the judgment seat of Christ. The book of Revelation talks about coming judgments, like the Great White Throne judgment. And most of that seems future.
But obviously, after death, there is some kind of judgment to determine where you go. For example, Jesus said to the thief on the cross, today, you will be with Me in paradise. In Luke 16, we find a poor man, a righteous man, named Lazarus was found in paradise after death, while the rich man, in the same story, unrighteous man, is found in a place of torment. Suffice it to say, immediately following death, there is some judgment to determine those who has been saved by grace through faith in the work of Christ. And they go to heaven. Then, there is, or yet to come, the judgment seat of Christ for believers, who will not be judged for their sin – that was taken care of by Christ. Rather, they will be judged for their works, and will receive reward for works done for Christ. Conversely, those who are not saved face immediate judgment, but it seems that in the future there is a Great White Throne judgment when the books are opened, and they are judged for their works – namely their sin – and their names will not be found in the book of life.
Enough of that. The point is this – when you die, you face immediate judgment, namely, have your sins been forgiven by grace through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ – through His death, burial and resurrection. Listen, two of three certain things are your death, and then, immediate judgment to follow.
And so, again we’ve all likely been to funerals. But have you noticed the difference in the funerals of Christians and others? There is generally a hopelessness, indeed a despair at the funerals of non-believers. But with Christians, while there is appropriate grief, there is also certain hope. Leading to the last certainty, and our blessed hope – verse 27, so Christ also, having been offered once – not many times, once, to bear the sins of many. (1 Peter 2) This is without doubt a reference to Isaiah 53:
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him….
10 But the LORD was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief; If He would render Himself as a guilt offering….
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the booty with the strong; Because He poured out Himself to death, And was numbered with the transgressors; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the transgressors.
I’ve read that passage many times – and it never grows old. This idea of substitutionary atonement comes through clearly – He bore the sins of many – the sins of His people. That same Christ will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin – in other words, He’s not coming to put away sin the second time. No, He’s coming to appear to those, for those who eagerly await His return. Because, this is the third and final certainty. Death is coming. Judgment is coming. But so is Christ. He is coming for us. I know, it’s been two thousand years, and just like Peter said, unbelievers have said and are saying, “where is the promise of His coming?” Come on, all things continue like they have since the Big Bang – there is no God, there is no Christ, there is was no first coming of the Son of God, and there is no second.
My brothers and sisters, don’t let His patience in returning lull you to sleep our cause you to doubt. Will you remember tomorrow, as you go to work or school – death is coming. So is judgment. So is Jesus. He only delays, Peter says, to allow others to believe – so the full number of those to believe will believe. His patience simply means salvation. But just like He promised – His return is certain, and is our blessed hope. Paul says:
11 For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men,
12 instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age,
13 looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus,
14 who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession….
Do you see how this all comes together. He has a people for Himself – for His own possession. Don’t let His delay discourage you nor cause you to doubt or despair. It is certain – Jesus is coming back. Are you ready for certain, inescapable death, judgment, and His return?