The perfect sacrifice. 9:23-28
In our passage for study our writer makes a similar point to 9:11-14, except that here the emphasis is not on the worth of Christ's sacrifice, but on the uniqueness of his priestly offering - Christ needed to offer the sacrifice once only.
v23. Ritual purification, via a blood sacrifice, was performed to cleanse the material tabernacle and its accessories from defilement, and so enable the high priest to enter into the sanctuary and represent the people before the Lord of the universe. Yet, as this sanctuary is only a copy of the spiritual reality, then obviously a far better sacrifice is necessary to effect purification in the spiritual realm.
v24. The earthly sanctuary (tabernacle) is but a model of the spiritual sanctuary. Christ didn't enter the earthly model, but rather, he entered the spiritual reality. Jesus entered the very throne-room of the living God to speak on our behalf. He did this having first made a perfect sacrifice cleansing us from the pollution and defilement of sin. He could not have stood in the heavenly sanctuary on our behalf if he had not first made this perfect sacrifice.
v25. The offering of the atonement sacrifice by the high priest, for the purification of the people of Israel, is but a model of a superior spiritual sacrifice for purification. Christ's sacrifice is the real one, not a token one which has to be offered year after year. Christ's sacrifice was a once-only offering of himself.
v26. If the eternal sacrifice for purification were to be repeatedly offered, it would be necessary for Christ to continually die. Yet, Christ's offering was a once-and-for-all offering of himself, complete and eternal in its effects. He appeared once at the end of the age to cancel and eliminate the effects of sin by the sacrifice of himself (the shedding of his own blood, unlike Aaron who shed the blood of animals) - a perfect sacrifice indeed.
v27-28. We all die and face judgement, yet Christ died and faced our judgement for us and therefore gained us life. He bore the sins (judgement) of the many, Isa.53. So, Christ's perfect high-priestly sacrifice of his own life has purified the people of God. Like the times of old when the people of God waited expectantly for the high priest to come out from the sanctuary and so confirm their right-standing in the sight of God, so too we wait expectantly for Jesus to reappear and so confirm to his people the salvation he has gained for us. In that day he will come, not to deal again with sin, but to bring the long-awaited blessings of etrenal salvation.
Freedom from guilt
The practice of confession is very strong in the Christian church. In confession we tell God all the things we have done wrong and ask him to forgive us. On the basis of the promise of scripture we believe that those who confess their sins are forgiven. So, the confession of sins is an ingrained aspect of Christian piety. We believe that we neglect confession at great risk.
The word "confession" in the New Testament is used in a number of ways. For example, it is often used of confessing our faith in Jesus Christ, Jn.9:22, Matt.8:29, or of our repentance in the face of the gospel, Lk.15:21, 18:13, 19:8 (cf. 1Jn.1:5-10 also best understood as repentance). Yet, what of the daily or weekly confession of our failings?
There is a small passage in James 5:16 which is often used to encourage us in daily confession. "Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." This certainly emphasizes confession, and it is often argued that God should be the focus of this confession. Yet, James is clearly dealing with offense caused within the fellowship of believers and refers to the serious consequences that follow. He is calling for a recognition of wrong behavior, a willingness to admit that wrong to fellow church members and a willingness to turn from it. Note the parallels with Paul's words in first Corinthians 11:30. James' argument is that when we cause offense to our brothers and sisters, thus dividing the unity we have in Christ, the consequences are dramatic and so we need to do something about it.
It is good to remember our frailty and that "but by the grace of God ....", yet there is no value in constantly listing our failings before God, as if their declaration is a necessary first step in our approach to God. The truth is that all our sins, whether past, present and future, are dealt with by Christ. "Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people", Heb.9:28. Christ "appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself", Heb.9:26. There is no stain, blot, sin, evil.... which we might have committed last week which in any way can affect our standing in the sight of God. How good we are, or how compromised we are, has nothing whatsoever to do with our relationship with God. He accepts us as his sons forever, he hears and answers our prayers of faith, all on the basis of our resting on the faithfulness of Christ.
So, a time of confession that serves to remind us of our state of loss before God and of his grace of forgiveness which is now ours in Christ, is good and proper; confession that is nothing more than a listing of daily failings, as if in the listing there is forgiveness, is little more than a good work devoid of God's grace in Christ.
The writer to the Hebrews obviously wants to show us that Christ offered a once-and-for-all perfect sacrifice. What does this sacrifice entail? How does it relate to our practice of confession?
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