Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The Letter to the Hebrews is a book of contrasts: between old and new, shadow and substance, promise and fulfillment, the many and the one. In chapter 9, the contrast is between the many sacrifices offered by the many priests and the once and for all sacrifice offered by the one priest. The sacrifices of the old covenant had to be offered over and over, year after year, and they didn’t cleanse people. They didn’t take away sins. That wasn’t their purpose. They were there to remind people of sin and of the one who would fulfill all the sacrifices and take away sin once and for all.
So the priests would enter in to the tabernacle or temple made with human hands, and offer another blood—the blood of those animals. And there’s a lot of blood. We heard last week that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22). And the old covenant was begun with blood at the foot of Sinai. After Moses had finished speaking all the words of God to the people, he offered sacrifices. And he took part of the blood and threw it on the altar, and the other part and threw it on the people. And he said, this is the blood of the covenant that Yahweh your God has made with you.
But the sacrifices didn’t stop there. They continued, as Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy show us. But now a sacrifice has appeared that is not offered in the earthly tabernacle or temple. That was all, as Paul also says in Colossians, the shadow cast by Christ. This sacrifice is the reality, offered before God in eternity, the pleasing offering of a pure and holy and righteous one on behalf of the many impure and unholy and unrighteous. And He doesn’t bring in another blood, but His own blood, poured out. And it is not a repeated offering, many times. It is once. And it is for all. He is a man, and He can die only once. When He rises from the dead, death is over. No more sacrifice for sin, no more death for sin, no more offerings.
But how does that once-for-all sacrifice benefit us, who live this many hundreds of years after Him? How does His intercession with the Father on our behalf come to us? How does His blood, offered once so long ago, cleanse us? Sometimes we are tempted to think—in spite of knowing better—that He did His work on the cross, and now it’s up to us to take hold of it, to grab on to it, to conjure up enough faith to believe that it is for us.
But anything that depends on us is, by definition, uncertain. And God doesn’t want any uncertainty when it comes to our forgiveness, our eternal life, our salvation. So He doesn’t just leave the sacrifice in the past and say, okay, now believe that thing in the past. He takes that sacrifice, that blood, and He delivers it to us here and now. By His own chosen means, He joins us to Christ’s death and resurrection, and He delivers that once-for-all sacrifice to us. Jesus says, “Take and drink. This is My blood of the new covenant.” Under the old covenant, there was to be absolutely no drinking of blood, ever. God says in Leviticus that it is because the life of the flesh is in the blood (17:9).
But what kind of life is it that is the flesh of those sacrificial animals? Is it eternal life? No, it’s the same kind of corrupted life that we are living now. So in whatever cultures and by whatever myths people think that they can absorb the power of their enemies by drinking their blood, they are actually only drinking more death. So God forbids the drinking of the blood of all those animals and, specifically, the sacrificial animals—until now. Because now we have a sacrifice that is not dead, but alive forever. And that Jesus, the Lamb of God who was slain but is alive forever—now He gives us His life-blood to drink. Eat and you will live. Drink and you will live. It is the opposite of the fruit that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that brought death. This tree, this cross, this fruit, brings eternal life.
Christ, our High Priest, offered His own blood once and for all, and now He gives us that same blood over and over. Because He wants you to know for an undeniable fact that that long-ago sacrifice is for you. Take and drink, this is My blood of the new covenant, shed for you for the forgiveness of sins. And how can there be any doubt? You are drinking the cup that Jesus gives you. The sacrifice must be for you. And so He does not fail to deliver to you here and now what He won once and for all on the cross. One sacrifice, offered once; now it is given and distributed to the many, for the uncountable millions who are joined to Christ and His Body. Once offered, repeatedly delivered, so that you might have absolute certainty in your forgiveness, your salvation, your eternal life in Christ.
And then this same Jesus will appear again, seen by every person. But He will not appear then as a sacrifice, as a the sin-bearer, as the humble offering. He will appear to gather to Himself and save all those who are waiting for Him. And we, who know His voice and have eaten and drunk His body and blood, we do not cower in a corner, afraid of what He might do to us when He comes. We do not wait with anxiety and fear, unsure of what will happen. We wait eagerly, expectantly, hopefully, because we know our Lord. We know His voice. We share His life. And then, on that day, we will say what Isaiah says: Look! This is our God; we have waited for Him that He might save us! This is Yahweh; we have waited for Him. Let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation! (25:9).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 11/9/18