In eternity we're going to sing on and on and on and it will be never-ending joy, ever-deepening joy. On a dark night like this Maundy Thursday we want to remember how it is that we got such a promise, sinners like us. So let's turn to Hebrews 1:1–4. We'll look again at those verses we saw on Sunday morning. We'll take one phrase tonight and focus on it.
God, after he spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of his nature and upholds all things by the word of his power. When he had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high; having become as much better than angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they.
"When He Had Made Purification of Sins"
Let's consider that phrase in verse 3 for just a few minutes before we eat together the Lord's Supper—"when he had made purification of sins." And let's break it into three parts.
- "He"—there's a person here.
sins"—the problem that he had to deal with.
We'll simply dwell on each of these and then we'll go to the table together.
Let's start with the "He." Never forget that there's a person here. There's a person who's alive, who laid down his life—he loves, he thinks, he feels, he wills, and even today he has a body. That body came down from that cross and when it rose from the tomb, though it had special qualities about it, it was recognized by his followers. They could touch it. It could eat fish to prove that it was not a ghost. So there is a whole person whom we're going to relate to forever and ever. He's alive today. He's at the Father's right hand. He is personal. He promised never to leave us or forsake us. He promised to be with us. He is here in this room right now by his spirit listening to me. He is as close to you as the person next to you. He is real. He is a person. He is a he. He is there.
There are at least seven things said about him in these verses.
1. He Is Real
Don't ever forget that. Cultivate a relationship with this person. Put Jesus at the center of your life. Relate to Jesus. Some of us became Christians through a form of evangelism that was exactly right. It said, "Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus?" That's the right question. Sometimes we take it very lightly, but here's a person and he's alive and he's here and he's in heaven. He can do that. And he's glorious. Let's see how glorious he is because it's the gloriousness of the glory of the person that makes the laying down of his life so spectacularly valuable and assuring.
2. He Created
Through him all things were made.
3. He Is the Radiance of the Father's Glory
So if you want to know the glory, the moral beauty of the glory of the father, read the gospel and behold the person of Jesus because he's the radiance (the streaming out, the effulgence) of the glory of God.
4. He Is the Exact Character or Representation of the Father's Divine Nature
If you've seen me, you've seen the father.
5. He Upholds the Universe
All things—by the word of his power. So today this person is infinitely powerful. He is speaking all the solar system, and all the Milky Way, and all the other galaxies into being, as well as all the molecules and all the wood and brick of this building. He's holding our flesh and hair and skin and lungs and tissue and fingernails in being right now. If he were to stop thinking you into being, you would cease to be. That's how dependent you are on this person.
6. He Sat Down at the Right Hand of the Majesty
And the seating is an enthronement. He is the king of the universe. He's at the right hand of God the Father and he reigns over all government. He reigns over the devil. He reigns over weather. He reigns over heart attacks and cancer and Parkinson's disease. He reigns tonight.
7. Therefore He Is Greater Than the Angels
Sort of sounds like an anticlimax. But the rest of the chapter is devoted to this—to the utter superiority of this person over all other heavenly persons save the Father.
So that's number one—we are dealing tonight with a person. He's alive. He's real and all seven of those facts are true about him. That's the person who made purification.
Let's pick up the sin factor first. It's at the end of the phrase—"made purification of sins." Sin is a reality. It's a power in the world. When you read the book of Romans, you have to come to terms with the fact that sin is not just a little isolated thing we do here and there. It's not just deeds, it's a power. It moves in the heart. It moves in the will. It moves in the world. It takes hold. It's got a grip on every human being. It's an awful thing. Everybody in this room is infected with it.
Some have a remedy at work in their lives that will bring them to glory. Perhaps some tonight don't. But we're all infected, like a disease. And it's lethal. We will all die physically. He has not willed to remove that aspect of the curse. We will all pass through death unless Jesus returns first. So sin is a universal thing, a horrid thing, a disease thing. Hebrews 3:14–19 defines it for us—What is it? How bad is it?
We have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end; while it is said, "Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked me." For who provoked Him when they had heard? Indeed, did not all those who came out of Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did he swear that they should not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? And so we see that they were not able to enter because of unbelief.
There are three things I want you to see here about sin so that you can really come to terms with this.
1. Sin Is Rooted in Unbelief
I want you to feel what sin is. All sin flows from a lack of trust in God. If we had perfect trust in the wisdom and love and power of God, we would not go against him so freely and so often as we do. So there's root unbelief behind sin.
I spoke over at the university last night to a group of 250–300 students. There were some unbelievers there, and one young woman came up afterwards and described her situation to me. She asked me if I thought she was guilty. I told here what I tell almost everybody who asks me that: "probably you were, at least in part." And I said, "The reason I say that to you, rather than making you feel good by saying it was probably all their fault, is because the gospel is not a message that tells us we are not guilty for what we've done. The gospel is a message that tells us there is a guilt remover." If we try to make ourselves feel good by saying, "I wasn't guilty for that. I didn't do anything or I'm not the problem in this relationship," we short-circuit the gospel. The gospel is for people who know how bad they are, who feel bad about it, who know that they had a hand in the messed-up relationship, who know they're making choices that are wrong. And the sane thing is to say to God, "Yes, I'm guilty of that." And to have God answer back, "I have made a provision."
2. There's Disobedience
You see that in verse 18—"those who were disobedient." There's a will of God and we've gone against the will of God and we've disobeyed.
3. God Is Angry with Sin
We are very quick in the 20th century to say that God is a loving God. They were very quick in the 18th century to say that God is an angry God. Sinners in the hands of an angry God. And both of these things are absolutely true. Depending on where you are between the 18th and 20th centuries you need to hear one of those messages or the other. My guess is that most of us live in the 20th century and we have heard very often that God is love, God is love, God is love, and we have not dwelt very long on fact that God is against sin. He is angry at sin. God is angry every day, Psalm 2 says. He is angry every day at sin.
I read a very good article that helped me understand this. It argued that the cross is the outflow of the anger of God—not just of the love of God, but of the anger of God. The cross is the fruit of the wrath of God against sin. Why is that true? The anger that he feels against sin is what brought his Son to suffering and death; but if he had had another way to deal with sin, he would have done it another way. The cross is an expression of two things, not just one thing. A just anger, and an incredible mercy towards sinners. So let's not short-circuit the gospel tonight. Let's reckon with the truth—we're sinners and God is angry at sin. Sin is a great offense against him.
"Had Made Purification"
And now finally we see the gospel in this word "purification." Verse 3, "when he had made purification of sins." I want you to see something in the words "had made" and I want you to see something in the word "purification." The main thing in "had made" is that from the perspective of this writer, and from Christ's having taken his seat at the right hand of God, the work of purifying your sins is totally finished. It is so important to understand this—"had made." Not "is making." Not "will make." Not "at the Lord's table when you eat this he makes purification"—no! He had made it and then he sat down. That's one thing and it's over. The enthronement of Christ is an honor and a tribute to the work and finishedness of that work. I want you to feel that tonight.
The purification that was made was made once for all. Don't think, "I sinned a long time in my life and then I found Christ and I believed and he interposed his blood and he cleaned up the first half of my life. Now I'm living a little bit by faith and still sinning." Don't think that way! The interposition of the blood was 2,000 years ago, never repeated, finished, for all your sins—for the sin that you will commit on your dying day a year from now or 40, 50, 60 years from now. The purification of that sin happened 2,000 years ago. So this is an awesome gospel. Yes it is open to great abuses. Paul had to deal with those abuses, "Oh well, let's sin that grace may abound!" But he was willing to risk it. So was the writer to the Hebrews. Jesus has made purification for sin. It's finished. A decisive thing happened to all your sins at Calvary. It doesn't get repeated at this table.
Let's walk through several texts to see that I'm not just picking out something that I like to emphasize. I'm picking out something to emphasize which this writer to the Hebrews loves with all his heart. I want you to see that. (See also Hebrews 7:26–27, 9:11–12, 9:25–26.)
(I'm going to insert a little parenthesis here that's theologically controversial. I want you to consider it—not to settle it tonight, but to consider. One of the points of Reformed theology is definite atonement. Definite atonement means that when Christ died—the decisive putting away of sin—he did for his own people and not for everybody. It does not mean that he didn't die for everybody in one sense, that is, of making the atonement available to all who believe. But what I'm reading here will simply not make sense if you try to apply it to everybody. Sin has not been put away for everybody. There's not an eternal redemption for everybody. Purification has not been finished for everybody. There is a sweet covenant bond between the bride and the bridegroom by which an effectual work was wrought on Calvary for the bride that is effectual and finished so that the bride is wholly clean.
It's a controversial issue I know and I don't insist that you understand or embrace it entirely. But you'll know where I am and why I love these texts—because I am the bride of Christ—because the covenant he made with me (and not with the world) at the cost of his own blood to make me his bride is very precious. The love that he has for you and me as a covenant people is so precious and it is rooted in a finished, effectual, full, and complete putting away of our sins once for all on the cross, which has not been done for the world. It has been done for the bride. We need to feel the preciousness of that. Otherwise we're going to feel like, "Well, I am forgivable tonight like the world is forgivable, but maybe not much more." Now that is the end of the parenthesis, and I commend your study of it for years to come.)
Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many shall appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin for those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27–28)
You know who I think the "many" are—the bride, you and me, believers.
By this we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Hebrews 10:10)
Your sanctification was purchased fully in the offering of Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God . . . (Hebrews 10:11–12)
One offering. Once for all. For all sin. And it is finished.
By one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. (Hebrews 10:14)
The tenses of the verbs are so important. He has perfected. That's a perfect—he did it, it is finished, and the fruits abide. The next one is a present tense. Those who are being sanctified. So this is the marvel of Hebrews 10:14: all those who by faith have been united to Christ, who have had the holy spirit indwell them, and who are progressively having their sins defeated are perfect people before God now because of the blood of Jesus. Finished. If you are progressively being perfected, you are perfected before the Father. If you are progressively being sanctified and overcoming sins, though not yet perfect in moral form here, that is the evidence of union with Christ. All he achieved is now made over to you by covenant. The Father looks upon you as wholly accepted and perfected in the Beloved. If you can grasp that, if you can live in that triumph, what a life you will live! I commend it to you tonight.