August 19, 2018
Some of you have perhaps heard the name Bishop John Shelby Spong, especially here in North Carolina. You see, Bishop Spong was born in Charlotte and eventually went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This was deeply disturbing to me, until I found out after seminary in Virginia, he served with the Episcopal Church in Durham. That explains a lot – I feel better. It’s amazing to think Spong was born in the same city, 13 years after BillyGraham.
Why am I bothered that Bishop Spong is a native Carolina son? Well, as a “liberal Christian theologian,” through his teaching and many books, Spong has called for a complete rethinking of the Christian religion. In fact, I would suggest there is nothing in his teaching that is, at all, Christian. Al Mohler, President of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, says that Spong has denied virtually every orthodox Christian doctrine. For example, Spong’s “Twelve Points of Reform,” originally published in 1998, call for the following:
- Theism, as a way of defining God, is dead….most theological God-talk is today meaningless. I want you to understand what he just said. Theism is simply the belief that there is a god who is separate from his creation. Spong says such defining of God as Someone other is dead – meaningless. What does that mean – how can you talk about God in non-God terms?
- Since God can no longer be conceived in theistic terms, it becomes nonsensical to seek to understand Jesus as the incarnation of the theistic deity. So the Christology of the ages is bankrupt. Again – since we can’t think of God in God-terms, Jesus is not God.
- The Biblical story of the perfect and finished creation from which human beings fell into sin is pre-Darwinian mythology and post- Darwinian nonsense.
- The virgin birth [do you see, he systematically dismantles the Christian faith], understood as literal biology, makes Christ’s divinity…impossible.
- The miracle stories of the New Testament can no longer be interpreted in a post-Newtonian world as supernatural events performed by an incarnate deity.
- This one for our time today: The view of the cross as the sacrifice for the sins of the world is a barbarian idea based on primitive concepts of God and must be dismissed. In fact, the next year, 1999, Spong said this image of Jesus as crucified and shedding His blood for our sins is so pervasive “that one can hardly view Christianity apart from it.” He continues, “I would choose to loathe rather than to worship a deity who required the sacrifice of his son.”
- Jesus was raised into the meaning of God. It therefore cannot be a physical resuscitation occurring inside human history.
- The story of the Ascension assumed a three-tiered universe and is therefore not capable of being translated into the concepts of a post- Copernican space age.
- There is no external, objective, revealed standard written in scripture or on tablets of stone that will govern ourethical behavior for all time. In other words, the Bible is not the Word of God.
- Prayer cannot be a request made to a theistic deity to act in human history in a particular way.
- The hope for life after death must be separated forever from the behavior control mentality of reward and punishment. [In fact, he denies hell.] The Church must abandon, therefore, its reliance on guilt as a motivator of behavior.
- All human beings bear God’s image and must be respected for what each person is. Therefore, no external description of one’s being, whether based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation, canproperly be used as the basis for either rejection or discrimination.
I listened to a couple of his talks, available on YouTube, where he suggests Christianity must be liberated from evangelicals. He says people do not need to be born again – this is simply thechurch’s way of keeping people as infants, under the church’s control.
So again, what of all he teaches is Christian? He denies everything Christian. To include, the necessity of the crucifixion, the blood of Christ, the need for salvation, etc. Thankfully, we are not a church who hold Spong’s outright denial of the Christian faith – even though he still wears the pretty collar. Know there are people all over, who one way or another, deny the atonement of Jesus Christ – calling it a myth at best and cosmic child abuse at worst.
So, how important is the crucifixion of Jesus – the shedding of His own blood for the sins of His people? Is that something which needs to berethought – in fact, changed, abandoned? Think about it. We sing lots about the death and blood of Jesus. We did this morning. I talked about this in preparation for Communion a couple months ago. How odd is it that we as Christians talk so much about blood, sing so much about blood, drink a symbol of blood when we observe Communion. Think of these old hymns of the faith:
- What can wash away my sin? Nothing But the Blood of Jesus. Oh! precious is the flow, that makes me white as snow
- There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain
- Are You Washed in the Blood of the Lamb? in the soul-cleansing blood of theLamb
- Redeemed How I Love to Proclaim It, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb
- There is Power in the Blood in the precious blood of the
- My Hope is Built on Nothing Less than Jesus’ blood and
- The Fee Band even has a contemporary Christian song entitled, The Beautiful Blood
Kind of odd. So again, how important is the blood of Christ to our Christian faith? Is it dispensable? Disposable? Unimportant? Outdated? Outmoded? A relic of a mythological or legendary past? A pre-Darwinian barbarian idea?
In our study of the book of Hebrews, the author is proving Jesus is better. He’s better than the angels, He’s better than Abraham and Joshua, He’s better than Moses and Aaron. The Melchizedekian priesthood is better than the Levitical priesthood. The New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant. The New Testament sacrifice is better than the Old Testament sacrifices.
The heavenly tabernacle is better than the earthly tabernacle. You see, all those OT things were simply types that pointed to their ultimate fulfillment in Christ.
In our text today, he turns his attention to the sacrifice of Jesus – more specifically the blood of Jesus – and how it is infinitely better than the OT blood sacrifices of bulls and goats. Why? Read the text with me – Hebrews9:11-14.
But…stop right there. “But” is a conjunction, tying it to what came before. In the first ten verses of chapter 9, the author talks about the OT or the Old Covenant tabernacle and the divine worship that went on there. Verse 1 said, now even the first or Old Covenant had regulations of divine worship and the earthly sanctuary – that is the Tabernacle. He then went on to talk about the Tabernacle’s two rooms – the Holy Place and the Most HolyPlace; and the furniture that was found in each of them – like the table of showbread, the menorah, the altar of incense, and of course the ark of the covenant
Then he talked about the regulations of divine worship – prescribed in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. First, the priests went into the outer room – the Holy Place – to trim the oil lamps, refresh the incense, and replace the showbread. But, into the inner room – the Most Holy Place – only the high priest went – once a year, and not without blood. And he finished all that with these ominous words in verse 9, “Accordingly both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make the worshiper perfect in conscience.” Wow. All those priests, all those high priests, all that worship, all those sacrifices, all those animals, all that blood – and while sins may be forgiven, while the sinner maybe cleansed – the conscience was never made perfect. That is, it was never cleansed – guilt always remained. We’ll come back to that.
Verse 11, But when Christ appeared…
Do you see? Do you see why there was need for a different sacrifice? Different blood? A New Covenant? So that your conscience could be cleansed. Perfected. Purified. So that forgiveness and cleansing were not just external, but internal, not just temporary but eternal. The sacrifice of Christ, the blood of Christ, the New Covenant – Jesus is infinitely better than the Old Covenant – and infinitely better than anything this world, or world religion has to offer. Let me give you the outline as we spend a minutes here this morning:
- A Better Tabernacle
- A Better Sacrifice
- A Better Salvation
Those ideas are spread throughout the text, but look a better tabernacle found in verse 11. Remember, he just spent the first ten verses talking about the OT tabernacle and its prescribed worship regulations there – concluding with all that not leading to a perfected conscience. But when Christ appeared as a high priest – this has been a theme he has been developing through the book. He introduced the idea of Jesus as our High Priest back in chapter 2:17, “Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God.”
3:1 – Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.
4:14 – For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses…
Chapter 5 introduces the high priesthood of Jesus according to the order of Melchizedek.
6:20 – Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
Chapter 7 explains the high priesthood of Jesus after the order of Melchizedek.
8:1 – Now the main point of what has been said is this: we have such a high priest who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.
9:11 – But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come.
The author of Hebrews develops this high priesthood of Jesus unlike any other. Jesus replaces and fulfills the Old Testament high priests. They no longer exist – they’ve become obsolete. We have a great high priest who accomplished eternally what no other could.
When He appeared as a high priest of the good things to come. Your translation may have it, of the good things that have come. It’s actually difficult to determine which is the best translation – they both have good textual support. But either way, they say the same thing. When Jesus came, bringing the New Covenant, it came with better promises – all the things we’ve been talking about – all the promises that have been fulfilled and will be fulfilled. We don’t have it all yet – it’s yet to come – the new heaven and the new earth. The city whose architect and builder is God. The best is yet to come.
When He appeared at the incarnation, having accomplished His work of redemption, He didn’t go to the earthly tabernacle or temple. No, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle. That’s the point of this whole book – everything about Jesus is better as He fulfills the Old Covenant. He entered the perfect tabernacle – what does that mean, and where is it? Well, 4:14 said Jesus passed through the heavens. And we also remember the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle was the special place of God’s presence. So we put that together and we understand that Jesus passed through the heavens – the atmosphere and space to the third heaven, Paul calls it – to the very presence of God. You see, the earthly tabernacle just represented the truer tabernacle in heaven – God’s special presence.
So Jesus passed through the heavens into the dwelling place of God in the true and perfect tabernacle – that is, not made with hands – not a tent of animal skins or made by imperfect people – not of this creation.
No. And there He offered a better sacrifice – and the author focuses on better blood. There is a reason we as Christians sing, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins. Because blood drawn from bulls and goats didn’t ultimately provide atonement. But the blood of Christ did. Look at the various things the author says about this better sacrifice:
Vs 12 – not through the blood of goats and bulls – that’s a reference to the Day of Atonement. We remember on that day, the high priest would first offer the blood of a bull for his own sins and the sins of his family. Then he would offer the blood of a goat for the sins of the people.Barbaric?
Outdated? The Scripture says life is in the blood. And God required the shedding of blood for the forgiveness of sins. Verse 22 will say, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” It’s what God required. There must be a death for there to be forgiveness.
And so, the high priests – notice plural – offered the blood of many – notice plural – bulls and goats. But Jesus entered the heavenly tabernacle not with the blood of animals – but through His own blood. That is, through His own sacrifice – because it was infinitely better.
Not only was the blood better because of its efficacy or effectiveness – but also in verse 12 we see He entered once for all. He only need die once – not the repeated sacrifices of the Old Covenant. And the Old Covenant sacrifice provided forgiveness for that people – that is, the people of Israel – for that year. But it must be repeated the following year. But the blood of Jesus was only offered once for all time – for all people – that is, those living before, then, and after – for those who would believe in Jesus for eternal salvation.
Which brings us to our third point – a better salvation. Again, look at the end of verse 12 – having obtained eternal redemption. This is the first time the author uses that word – but it is familiar to us. To redeem carries with it the idea of buying back. Buying back prisoners of war. Buying back freedom for slaves from the slave market. Jesus did that for us, you see.
We were prisoners of war – held captive by the enemy of our souls to do his will. But Jesus redeemed us – He rescued us. He bought our freedom as prisoners.
But not just as prisoners of war – but we were also slaves to sin. And there was nothing we could do to buy our freedom from sin. So He did it for us – by His blood He purchased our freedom from sin and made us slaves of righteousness.
And please don’t miss that it is an eternal redemption. I have a couple questions for you – first, when Jesus died two thousand years ago, which of your sins did He die for? Second question, when does eternal end? It doesn’t. When Jesus provided our redemption – it was eternal. When we were saved, we were saved for eternity. You need never worry or wonder whether you’ve lost your salvation – Jesus freed you from captivity forever.
Look at verse 13 again, “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer [that’s weird] sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify [or make holy] for the cleansing of the flesh…stop right there. What is this heifer thing? In Numbers 19, instructions are given to offer a red heifer as a sacrifice. The high priest would then take its ashes, burned with cedar and hyssop, mix it with water and use it as a purifying agent. And so, if for example you became ceremonially unclean, you would go to the priest who would sprinkle you with the ashes to cleanse you. But don’t miss – this was simply an external, ceremonial cleansing – and the author combines that with the blood of bulls and goats. All ceremonial, external cleansing. How do I know that? Because of if effectiveness. Yes, it would make you ceremonially clean, and even provide temporary atonement for sin. But it could do nothing for the inside. Remember – these external acts could do nothing for the conscience.
The author then goes from lesser to the greater argument. Verse 14, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit. Stop again. Who is this eternal Spirit? Most likely the Holy Spirit who descended on Jesus at His baptism, filling Him and enabling Him in His humanity for the work of redemption. This offering was through the eternal Holy Spirit. And, this wasn’t just animal blood – that won’t work, not to cleanse the inside.
No, this was the blood Christ offered through the eternal Spirit. And notice Jesus offered Himself without blemish to God. And we remember all those OT types of animal sacrifices – over and over we’re told the animal must be without blemish. Why? Because they were types of Christ who would offer Himself. How was He without blemish? The author has already told us in a couple of places that Jesus was perfect – without sin. That was necessary. If He was going to be the sacrifice, chapter 4 said He had to be made like us – the God-man to represent us to God and God to us. Further, He had to be without sin – or His sacrifice would be imperfect and therefore unacceptable.
It would be like this. Suppose you and I robbed a bank and killed a teller, a security guard and a bank customer in the process. We are captured, accused, tried, and found guilty. Sentence is then passed. We killed three people – we get the death penalty. Let’s say I really like you, so I say, you know, judge, since I’m going to die anyway, why don’t I die for my friend here? I’ll take his place – let him go. The judge would laugh you out of the courtroom. You can’t die for someone else if you’re both guilty. But Jesus was without blemish – guiltless – and He took our sins and died in our place. That’s why we call it substitutionary atonement.
And having done so, He accomplishes something the blood of animals could never do – He cleaned us from the inside out. He cleansed our consciences. What does that mean? We can have peace – internal peace – eternal peace, real peace because He removed our sin. We need no longer carry theguilt of our sin. Is guilt real? Yes. Important? But as believers in Jesus, your guilt is gone – your conscience has been cleansed. It no longer need accuse you.
You see, there is a reason Christians sing, There is a Fountain Filled with Blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stain. Our consciences have been cleansed.
Perfected. We need no longer carry the guilt of our sin. It has been removed.
There is a reason the Scripture says He buries our sins in the depths of the deepest seas, to be remembered no more. There is a reason the Scripture says our sins are removed as far as the East is from the West. I love that one. He didn’t say as far as the north is from the south. Why? Because that’s measurable. There’s a north pole and a south pole. If I start at Santa’s house and start going south, when do I start going north? When I reach the south pole – about 13,000 miles away. So there is a definable, measureable distance from north to south.
But now, when I start going East, when do I start going West? Never! That’s the point. I know we refer to the Far East, but is it really? What do they call us? The Far West? Doesn’t it depend on which direction you go? It doesn’t make sense. The distance from East to West is immeasurable.
They never actually meet. Our sins are removed that far!
Our consciences are cleansed from dead, lifeless works of selfish sin – and we are freed to serve the living God. I’m done, but listen to me now. You have been eternally saved, consciences cleaned. Sins removed. To serve. So, have you ever thought yourself too broken, too sinful, too unclean, too imperfect to serve God? I could never volunteer for this or that ministry, I’ve been too sinful. And so you find yourself sitting here on Sunday mornings, maybe even involved in some of our other ministries, as a participant, but never a servant. Listen carefully: there is no forgiven saint who was ever so horrible a sinner that he or she cannot serve. Ask Saul, who became Paul. Ask slave trader John Newton who became a pastor and wrote Amazing Grace.
Now, to be clear, and I want to say this gently. We do run background checks on everyone who wants to serve in children’s or youth ministry. Is that because we don’t think you’re good enough if you have some kind of criminal record? No – that’s not the point. We care about children, yes.
But we care about you, too. And we don’t want to unnecessarily and foolishly place you in a position of temptation. Why would we do that? So for example, if you’re that lady who I read about this week who has been convicted of embezzlement four times and owes over a quarter million dollars in restitution? We won’t probably won’t have her count the offering. Listen, there are lots of places to serve. We want to walk with you and encourage you, and hold you accountable. But together, we have been cleansed – forgiven – so that we can serve the living God.
Sermon Text: Redemption Through the Blood of Christ
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.