Once, For All.

The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself. For the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever. – Hebrews 7:23-28 ESV

The sacrificial systems of the Jews (and the priests who administered it) was designed to be temporary or impermanent, not only in its duration, but in its efficaciousness. As the author clarifies in chapter ten, “The old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship” (Hebrews 10:1 NLT). Why? “For it is not possible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4 NLT). He goes on to say that God never really wanted and was never pleased or satisfied by the sacrifices that consisted of the blood of bulls and goats – even though they were required by the law of Moses (Hebrews 10:12). They were intended to be a foreshadowing of something far greater to come. The blood offerings were meant to demonstrate the costliness of sin. Which is why the author says, “under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV).

Even the priests who ministered under the old covenant, the covenant of law, were impermanent, hampered by the reality of their own mortality. And as long as they lived, they had to continually offer sacrifices for their own sins before they could come into God’s presence on behalf of the people. Their own susceptibility to sin and vulnerability to death made them less-than-perfect representatives for the people. They couldn’t stop sinning and they couldn’t keep from dying. And eventually, with the destruction of the Jerusalem and the captivity of the people in Babylon, the temple would become non-existent and the priesthood, non-essential.

So back to chapter seven. Jesus is a better high priest. And while there were many priests under the old covenant, there was only one necessary under the new. Jesus was enough. He was sufficient. And the sacrifice He made was a one-time sacrifice, never needing to be repeated. His offering, the spilling of His own blood, completely appeased or propitiated the requirements of a holy God. “He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:27 ESV). His sacrifice was efficacious or effective. It accomplished exactly what was intended, paying the penalty for man’s sin and securing a verdict of “not guilty” from the lips of the Judge of the universe.

Jesus did not need to offer a sacrifice on His own behalf, because He was without sin. And the sacrifice He made was His own life. He was both the priest and the offering. He gave His life so that we might live and never die. Peter tells us, “Christ suffered for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners to bring you safely home to God. He suffered physical death, but he was raised to life in the Spirit” (1 Peter 3:18 NLT). The bulls, goats and lambs that were sacrificed on behalf of the people of Israel died permanent deaths. But Jesus died only to be raised again to life by the power of the Spirit of God. Paul would remind us, “Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault” (Colossians 1:22 NLT). Now that’s a better high priest. He has done what no other priest before Him had ever done. He has reconciled sinful men to a righteous, holy God. He made fellowship with a sinless God possible for sinful people. No more trying to earn our way into God’s good graces. No more striving to keep the law in an attempt to keep God satisfied. “Therefore he is able, once and forever, to save those who come to God through him.” (Hebrews 7:25 NLT). But there’s the rub. We have to come to God through Him. It has to be based on His efforts, not our own. Salvation is the result of the work of Christ, not our human effort. As Jesus told Thomas, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NLT). Jesus is our high priest. He has offered Himself as the perfect, sinless sacrifice. He has paid the debt we owed. And as John so clearly reminds us, “We also know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding so that we may know the true God. We are in union with the one who is true, his Son Jesus the Messiah, who is the true God and eternal life” (1 John 5:20 ISV). We need no other priest. God requires no other sacrifice. There is no debt still owed. Jesus has taken care of our sin problem, once for all.



Advertisements

A Holy Habitat.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. – 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV

During their years spent wandering in the wilderness, the Israelites had the tabernacle, provided for them by God, as the place to offer sacrifices to Him. Within the Holy of Holies, His presence dwelt above the mercy seat which sat on top of the Ark of the Covenant. So holy was this room, that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the High Priest allowed to enter in to make atonement for sin on behalf of the people. Later, during the reign of King Solomon, God’s presence would dwell in the Holy of Holies inside the temple that Solomon had built. After Solomon had dedicated and prayed over the temple, God responded by saying, “I have consecrated this house that you have built, by putting my name there forever. My eyes and my heart will be there for all time” (1 Kings 9:3 ESV). But years later, due to the sins of the people of Israel, God allowed the temple to be destroyed when the Babylonians ransacked the city of Jerusalem. The Holy of Holies was destroyed. The Ark of the Covenant and all the treasures of the temple were stolen. And for all intents and purposes, the people of God no longer enjoyed or were assured of God’s presence in their midst.

To be the people of God, but to have no assurance of the presence of God, would be a difficult condition to endure. To constantly wonder if God was with you, cared for you, or was even aware of your condition, would be disconcerting and discouraging. But God had warned Solomon that if the people refused to obey Him and remain faithful to Him, they would reap the consequences of their unfaithfulness. But He also told him, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14 ESV). They would once again experience His favor and enjoy His presence. But even after God returned to the people to the land after 70 years in exile and even after He provided a way for them to rebuild the temple and restore the city of Jerusalem, they remained obstinate and disobedient – for generations.

Then at just the right time, God sent His Son. God knew He could not count on the faithfulness of men, so He sent His Son to earth as a man, so that He could do what no other man had ever done – live a totally sinless and righteous life, in perfect obedience to God. And it was His sinlessness that qualified Him to act as the substitutionary sacrifice for mankind and to satisfy the righteous justice of a holy God. In His incarnation, Jesus became Emmanuel, “God with us.” He dwelt among us, modeling for us the very life that God expected us to live. And His death on the cross provided a way for us to be made right with God. All that was required was our admission of our own sin and acceptance of His sacrifice on our behalf. And when anyone accepts Jesus as their sin substitute and Savior, they receive the Holy Spirit. The very Spirit of God comes to dwell within them. Which is Paul’s point in the passage for today. God makes our bodies His temple by sending His Spirit to live within us. He sets us apart and designates our bodies as His dwelling place. From that point forward, we no longer belong to ourselves. We become His.

With that incredible fact in mind, Paul asks the Corinthian believers, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” (1 Corinthians 6:15 ESV). Then he answers his own question: “Never!” Obviously, these new believers living in the city of Corinth were struggling with sexual sin. Paul spends a great deal of time dealing with this problem. Theirs was a sexually charged society. Promiscuity and prostitution were not only prevalent, but practiced by just about everyone in their culture. So Paul has to tell them that “the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body” (1 Corinthians 6:13 ESV). They were having to learn that their new relationship with Christ was intended to change everything about them, including their habits. Their bodies were no longer their own, to do with as they saw fit. They now belonged to God. In fact, they were each to view their bodies as the temple of God, housing His Holy Spirit. So they were to flee from sexual immorality. They were to glorify God in their bodies. Why? Because they no longer belonged to themselves. God had paid a high price for their lives. He had sacrificed the life of His own sinless Son in order that they might become His sons and daughters. Peter reminds us of the high price that God paid, and encourages us to live accordingly. “…conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot” (1 Peter 1:17-18 ESV).

Paul would have us remember that God had a purpose for setting us apart as His own and placing His Spirit within us. “God’s will is for you to be holy, so stay away from all sexual sin. Then each of you will control his own body and live in holiness and honor—not in lustful passion like the pagans who do not know God and his ways” (1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 NLT). He goes on and says, “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 NLT). God’s will for us? Holiness. God’s calling for us? Holiness. God’s view of us? A holy habitat for His Spirit.