We've arrived at Article 31 of the 39 official and biblical beliefs of the Church of England. The essential biblical truth it's based on, is the once for all sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. Why does this matter? Well, since everything in the good news of our salvation depends on our reliance on the sufficiency or adequacy of the Cross of Christ done once for all, Article 31 is significant. Let me read it out while you follow it on the screen or on your sermon outline.
Article 31 The offering of Christ made once is the perfect redemption, propitiation and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual. There is no other satisfaction for sin but this alone. Consequently, the sacrifices of masses, in which it was commonly said that the priest offered Christ for the living and dead so as to gain remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits.
Let me very briefly explain. The "offering of Christ" refers to Jesus' one supreme sacrifice on the Cross. "Made once" stresses that it's not made over and over again, but is made once, for all time and for every person, and that the accomplishment of Christ's sacrifice is total. Sufficient for all, effective for God's chosen elect, those who genuinely trust in Christ as their Saviour and Lord. It's "that perfect redemption, propitiation (not precipitation but propitiation – a word used in our Holy Communion services)" meaning the appeasing of God's anger, and "satisfaction for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2.2), both original and actual" – both our sinfulness and our actual sins. It's perfect because by this once for all sacrifice Christ has 1) fully paid the ransom price to set us free 2) has completely appeased the just anger of God and 3) has entirely satisfied both God's righteousness and his love. So, there's no need for, nor any room for, additional sacrifices or for any repetition of his sacrifice. "It is finished", as Jesus cried from the cross, both in the sense of having been done once for all and of being fully completed. Do you see? Isn't that amazing and wonderful?
And since Jesus' sacrifice has been perfectly accomplished, to seek to add to it or to repeat it, is a detraction from and an attack on the sufficiency or adequacy of his sacrifice once made. Any renewed offering of his finished sacrifice would teach that Christ's sacrifice wasn't perfect and complete. This is a major theme in Hebrews, which says that the repetition of the sacrifices in the Temple in Jerusalem reveals they're not final, in contrast to Jesus' sacrifice. So, any additional offerings of Christ in the Roman Catholic Mass contradict the Bible and are blasphemous fables and dangerous deceits. How we need to pray for the reformation of the Roman Catholic Church. Again, why does all this matter? Because this adequacy or sufficiency and finality of the Cross of Christ is central to the gospel, for the gospel declares that on the Cross God has done all that needs to be done. Our part is not to add to Christ's work, which would be spiritually destructive, but rather to gratefully receive it as an utterly undeserved gift, which we can't earn, and to which we can't add anything. There's no other sacrifice that deals with our sin.
Is that clear? Some of you are nodding, hopefully not nodding off, some of you are thinking as clear as mud. Well let's see what Hebrews 10 has to say.
As many of you involved in health care will know treating people is one thing, curing them is something else. And that's the sort of distinction the writer to the Hebrews has in mind when thinking on our spiritual condition - the difference between providing treatment and offering a cure. Old Testament Religion with a capital 'R' made up of rules and rituals, provided only a temporary treatment, whereas authentic Christianity with its life-changing message provides a cure.
1. The shadows of the past which point to the reality of the future v1-4
"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshippers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins."
What's the difference between a treatment and a cure? It's this: the treatment must continually be applied, whereas a cure has a certain finality about it. The daily administration of insulin, for example, can keep the illness under control but it can never be relaxed otherwise the illness takes over.
Now Hebrews is saying something similar about the nature of Old Testament Religion - that all that we find there is but a temporary treatment, keeping in check the spiritual problem of sin and its disastrous effects in terms of our relationship with God and each other.
How do we know it was a mere treatment? Well, for one thing because of the repetitive nature of the Old Testament sacrifices. Had they been verse 1, completely effective or 'perfect', then they wouldn't have had to be repeated. But that they were done year in year out, shows that like shots of insulin for the body they could only provide remedial treatment for the soul.
Or to change the imagery, in verse 1 we're told that God, through the law of Moses, stipulated this elaborate system of animal sacrifices, but this was a shadow of the reality yet to come, not the reality itself. Now a shadow has its own reality, it's not an illusion. So, it is with Old Testament Religion. The Jewish sacrificial system is a shadow or pointer to something better – the treatment's in place until the cure arrives - then the shadow gives way to the reality.
What's more, the fact that these sacrifices had to be repeated would have aggravated the feelings of moral guilt and lack of assurance for the Jewish worshipper. They would've been thinking, 'If these sacrifices could put me in a right relationship with the pure, holy God of the universe, then why do I find myself caught up on the endless treadmill of religious ritual? Doing this over and over again?' Just like the repeated tablets reminds the ailing patient he has a disease and isn't cured, so the repeated sacrifices of bulls and goats reminds the religious Jew that the guilt of his sin hasn't been cured. But at least it spurred some on to hope for a cure and take it when it eventually came. All this blood being shed in the temple underscored the seriousness of sin, that in God's judgement we're deemed worthy of death. It also pointed to a merciful provision – that of a substitutionary sacrifice to take the place of the sinner - and that this was provided by God, not thought up by man, so that God's anger was transferred away from the people onto the animal.
Well, now, says Hebrews, the shadow has given way to the reality, the ultimate substitute and sacrifice for sin has stepped into the breach, so secondly
2. What Was Anticipated In the Past Has Come In the Present
look at Hebrews 10.5-10:
"Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
'Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, "Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book."'
When he said above, 'You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings' (these are offered according to the law), then he added, 'Behold, I have come to do your will.' He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Who's being talked about here? Jesus Christ. And Jesus is portrayed as quoting a psalm of David, Psalm 40. Why? Well, King David was a major figure in the Old Testament. He felt the full weight of the inadequacy of that religion. He'd fallen seriously in his adultery with Bathsheba and conspiracy to murder, so his soul was tormented, as yours might be for what you've done. As he became conscience-stricken, God used David to speak prophetically, allowing him to enter into the mind of a future descendant of his, the priest-King, Jesus, the 'I' of verse 7.
So how does Jesus - the 'I'- fulfil these words? In this way: Picture a Jewish worshipper taking a lamb into the temple to be sacrificed. Did that lamb have any thoughts about being sacrificed? Hardly. All it could do was bleat. Now think about the way we sin. We're tempted to make wrong choices. Maybe tempted to go down a route we shouldn't. Or to decide not to do something we know we should. The fact is we choose to sin. At some point the will surrenders to the sinful thought. Sin occurs when that decision is made. And that's one reason why the blood of dumb animals can never be a satisfactory substitute for sin - for animals can't make moral choices, only human beings can. So, if there's to be a substitute made which is a worthy substitute for men and women, it has to be, in David's words, a willing sacrifice, someone who can say, 'I've come to do your will.' What's needed is a perfect human sacrifice. But where's the sinless, willing victim to be had? Certainly not from the majority of the human race, we're the problem which needs the remedy. Well here's the amazing thing - the perfect God himself provides the perfect sacrifice in the person of his perfect Son. 'Behold' says Jesus to his heavenly Father, 'I have come to do your will. The body you've prepared for me, knit together in the Virgin's womb, is to be a sacrifice for the sin of the whole world. This is the sacrifice you've required, not that of a dumb animal but a loving, obedient Son.' So here alone is the cure for sin. God's remedy which totally removes all our moral guilt once and for all. Like a magnet, the dirty iron filings of our sin are drawn into his perfect, sinless body. The wooden altar of the temple is replaced by the wooden altar of the cross. The blood of goats is set aside for the blood of the Son. And the result?
3. What Was Incomplete In Time Is Now Accomplished For All Time v11-18
"And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
'This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds',
then he adds,
'I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.'
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin"
You know what it's like to have endured a long day. Your line manager's been on your back, the kids have been acting up and then later you flop on the sofa and say, 'Thank goodness for that. I haven't been able to sit down all day.' Well, the Old Testament priests also knew that feeling. Day after day the priest had to stand, verse 11, offering one sacrifice after another, repeating the same old ceremonies and rituals over and over. Why did he stand? Because it indicated that more work had to be done. You only sit down for a rest after you've done the work. So here's another visual reminder that what Old Testament religion offered was a treatment not a cure, you still had to keep taking the tablets. But not so with Jesus - verse 12 "But when Christ or this priest had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God." His sacrificing work is a finished work - v14 "by a single offering, by one sacrifice he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified or made holy."
By "perfected" he doesn't mean that followers of Jesus are morally perfect in the here and now for he also talks about them being "made holy". Rather it's the idea that the sacrifice is complete, attaining its true goal for God's people – of being brought into friendship with God. Why is this so important? Well, because it offers certainty which ritualistic religion can't offer.
You see, as someone's said, ritualistic, rule-based religion is the religion of the Wizard of Oz. You know the story. Dorothy finds herself surrounded by brainless, heartless, spineless people - scarecrow, tin man and lion. When Dorothy gets to the Emerald City, the Wizard says to her what many people think God says to us. Each of them comes to the Wizard with a need. His response? He will help after they demonstrate their worthiness. 'Bring me the witch's broom' he says 'then I will help you.' So they do after discovering some remarkable things about themselves. They discover they can do it all without the help of the Wizard. Which is good because they discover the Wizard isn't a Wizard and can't help them. But he tells them that they already have all that they need if only they realised it. Then Dorothy discovers it was all a bad dream, her home was right where it had always been.
The moral of the Wizard of Oz? Everything you need you already have. If you look down deep enough there's nothing you can't do. It's the 'God helps those who help themselves' line. It's the idea that God started it and we must finish it. Prayer then becomes a token, (the real strength is 'down here' within, not 'up there' with God). Holy Communion becomes a ritual (the true hero is you and what you're doing, not him and what he's done). Your faith is strong as long as you're strong. Your life is good so long as you're good. But there's the rub - we're not good, we're not always strong and so we're not always secure. DIY religion isn't very helpful for those who are useless at DIY, whose life shelves are crooked. I can't carry my sin, it wears me out. I need someone who'll carry it for me, better still bury it. And so do you. And his name is Jesus.
Our best efforts are never enough but Christ's death is more than enough. Notice that in verse 13? From that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. There's now no more to be accomplished - except the Second Coming. Sure it's a work to be proclaimed, it's a message to be believed and worked through, but it doesn't have to be completed by any additions from us. Maybe you're here and not yet a Christian. You may go to church, but you don't know Jesus and the forgiveness he brings and guilt is your constant companion. If so all that can change. Or maybe you're a Christian but your assurance is lacking. You've let things slip, you've done something which troubles you. Well, there's only one you're to come to and confess, not me, but Jesus, and then hear the words of verse 17, "I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more." Not that God ignores your sins, but he's dealt with them. God offers you the cure not just the treatment.