For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. 2 Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, because the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have had consciousness of sins? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year by year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. 5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, "Sacrifice and offering Thou hast not desired, but a body Thou has prepared for me; 6 in whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou hast taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, 'Behold, I have come (in the roll of the book it is written of me) to do Thy will, O God.'" 8 After saying above, "Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin Thou has not desired, nor hast Thou taken pleasure in them" ( which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Thy will." He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. 15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, 16 "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws upon their heart, and upon their mind I will write them," He then says, 17 "And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin.
What Happens When We Turn Our Eyes Upon Jesus?
I would like us to turn our eyes upon Jesus especially in verse 14 of Hebrews 10. We need to remember what happened when Peter turned his eyes on the power and grace of Jesus in Luke 5:8, "When Simon Peter saw [the power of Jesus in the great catch of fish], he fell down at Jesus' feet, saying, 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!'" In other words seeing Jesus clearly causes us to be deeply conscious of our sinfulness and our unworthiness.
This is a wonderful thing. Most of us are in a deadly dream world most of the time when it comes to how seriously we are in trouble with God because of our sin. We worry more about being stopped by a policeman for speeding than we do about the seriousness of sin. But sin is infinitely serious. And God's anger at sinners is the biggest problem in everyone's life, whether we know it or not.
Several times in the book of Hebrews we are warned about the anger of God against those who turn from him in sin. For example, Hebrews 3:10-11, "I was angry with this generation, and said, 'They always go astray in their heart; and they did not know my ways;' as I swore in my wrath, 'They shall not enter my rest.'"
To be blind or oblivious to this wrath of God against sinners is incredibly dangerous, like not being able to smell the gas leak gathering around the pilot light of your water heater, ready to blow your basement to smithereens and burn your house to the ground. It is so dangerous not be aware of the anger of God against those who turn from him in sin. And the reason it is so dangerous is that, if you are blind to this reality of God's wrath, you won't take steps to find a remedy for sin and an escape from God's anger.
So I say again, this is wonderful what happened to Peter when he fell at Jesus' feet and said, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O, Lord." This is not an experience to be avoided, but to be cherished. O that God would do it this morning, as we turn our eyes on Jesus! Because when it happens, the Lord gives relief.
Glimpsing the Lord in Hebrews 10:14
One great glimpse at the Lord Jesus is given in Hebrews 10:14. So let's focus on that verse this morning: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Now let's do some very preliminary clarification of the words themselves. The word "offering" refers to the death of Christ, the offering of his own body in death on the cross. You can see that in verse 10: "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." The "He" who does the perfecting is Jesus Christ. We know this simply by following the line of thought from the previous verse (13) where Christ sat down at the right hand of God and waits there, triumphantly, until all his enemies are put under his feet.
Thirdly, the tenses of the words "perfected" and "sanctified" are extremely important. The NASB says, "He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified. This is not the best translation of the Greek tenses. The translation of "has perfected" or "has made perfect" is good, because the act of perfecting is viewed as complete: He has perfected a group of people by means of his sacrifice for sins. This perfecting is viewed as having been accomplished and finished and completed. It is done "for all time." We'll come back to that awesome reality in a few minutes.
But the translation, "those who are sanctified," at the end of the verse, could also look in English as if the sanctifying is also complete. They "are (now, already) sanctified." But that is not what the tense in the original Greek means. It is the present tense and signifies an ongoing process. So this time the NIV gets it exactly right, not the NASB. The NIV says, "By one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy." "Are being made holy", that's exactly right. The process of sanctifying is continuing now in their lives. So the NIV makes the process idea of the tense much clearer and this is going to be very important in understanding what this verse is teaching. So let's step back now and put the whole verse before us again in its context: "For by one offering [the sacrifice of his own body on the cross] Jesus Christ has perfected for all time those who are being made holy [or: are being sanctified] now progressively in this life."
Repeated Animal Sacrifices Were Not Once-for-All
Up to this verse (14) in chapter 10 the point has been that Christ's death for sin replaces the provision for sin in the Old Testament Law. It's an elaborate argument which we don't have time to look at in detail, but the point is fairly clear and straightforward. The law prescribed repeated animal sacrifices for sin. And the very repetition of the sacrifices showed that they did not perfect the sinners. Nothing decisive and once-for-all happened to deal with sin. Because if they had perfected the people once for all, the sacrifices would have stopped being offered. Verses 1-2: The Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never by the same sacrifices year by year, which they offer continually, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered?
So the point is clear: the prescribed repetition of sacrifices for sin in the Old Testament Law was a built-in testimony to their inadequacy. They did not perfect the people. They did not deal with sin decisively, finally, once for all.
Then the writer refers to Psalm 40 (in verses 5-8) and shows that already in the Old Testament itself, it is plain that the sacrifices and offerings of animals were not God's main plan for dealing with sin, because, as verse 4 says, "It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." God knew that from the beginning when he commanded that bulls and goats be offered. They were "shadows," as verse 1 says. The main plan was always Christ. That is what all the shadows were pointing to. So at the end of verse 9 it says, "He takes away the first in order to establish the second." The first will of God was that there be an age of shadows, a kind of 2,000 year lesson book (historical flannelgraph) to prepare us to understand what Christ really did for us on the cross.
Great Differences Between Christ and the Old Testament Priests
The great difference between what Christ did and what the priests of the Old Testament did is summed up briefly in verses 11 and 12: 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.
Notice the contrasts: many priests vs. Christ as our one High Priest; many sacrifices vs. the one sacrifice of himself; repeated offerings vs. one offering for all time; and one you might have missed: notice that (verse 11) "every priest stands daily;" but when Christ has made his single sacrifice he (verse 12) "sat down at the right hand of God."
The sitting of Christ at God's right hand means at least three things here: one is that the work is done. He does not "stand daily" to offer sacrifices for sin. The one sacrifice of himself was perfectly complete.
Second, it means that God is satisfied with the sacrifice. God honors Christ with the seat at his right hand to show how fully he is satisfied with the debt paid for sin. This is a great picture to encourage us that our sins are fully dealt with. Third, it means that Christ, together with his Father, is the sovereign ruler over all his enemies. They will be defeated. That's what verse 13 stresses: He is "waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet." In other words, everything Christ died to accomplish will be accomplished. No enemy can hinder his work in the end. The atonement was utterly complete; the Father was utterly satisfied; and all the enemies will fall utterly before the reigning Christ in heaven.
Two Things That Relate Directly to Your Life
Now we come to our focus in verse 14: "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Turn your eyes upon Jesus here and see two things about Jesus that relate directly to your life today.
1. First notice that Christ has perfected his people, and it is already complete. "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." He "has" done it. And he has done it "for all time." The perfecting of his people is complete and it is complete forever. Does this mean that Christians don't sin? Don't get sick? Don't make mathematical errors in school? That we are already perfect in our behavior and attitudes?
There is one clear reason in this very verse for knowing that is not the case. What is it? It's the last phrase. Who are the people that have been perfected for all time? It is those who "are being sanctified." This is why the tense is so important. Now "those who are being sanctified" are not yet fully sanctified in the sense of committing no more sin. Otherwise they would not need to go on being sanctified. So here we have the shocking combination: the very people who "have been perfected" are the ones who "are being sanctified." Besides, you can also remember from chapters 5 and 6, that these Christians he is writing to are anything but perfect. For example, in 5:11 he says, "You have become dull of hearing." So we may safely say that "perfected" does not mean that we are sinlessly perfect in this life.
Well what does it mean? The answer is given in the next verses (15-18). The writer explains what he means by quoting Jeremiah again on the new covenant, namely, that in the new covenant which Christ has sealed now by his blood, there is total forgiveness for all our sins. Verses 17-18 "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more. Now where there is forgiveness of these things, there is no longer any offering for sin." So he explains the present perfection in terms of forgiveness. Christ's people are perfected now in the sense that God puts away all our sin (9:26), forgives them, and never brings them to mind again as a ground of condemnation. In this sense we stand before him perfect. When he looks on us he does not impute any of our sins against us, past, present or future. He does not count our sins against us.
2. Verse 14 tells us plainly: "By one offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." So notice, secondly, for whom Christ has done this perfecting work on the cross. You can put it provocatively like this: Christ has perfected once and for all those who are being perfected. Or you could say (and the writer does say as much in verse 10): Christ has fully sanctified those who are now being sanctified. Or Christ has fully accomplished and guaranteed the holiness of those who are now being made holy.
What this means is that you can know that you stand perfect in the eyes of your heavenly Father if you are moving away from your present imperfection toward more and more holiness by faith in his future grace. Let me say that again, because it is full of encouragement for imperfect sinners like us, and full of motivation for holiness. This verse means that you can have assurance that you stand perfected and completed in the eyes of your heavenly Father not because you are perfect now, but precisely because you are not perfect now but are "being sanctified", "being made holy", that, by faith in God's promises, you are moving away from your lingering imperfection toward more and more holiness. (See Hebrews 10:32-35; 11:24-26 etc. for examples of how faith in future grace sanctifies.)
Does Your Faith Make You Eager to Make Progress in Holiness?
Last week we asked: does your faith make you eager for the second coming of Christ. Today I ask: does your faith make you eager to forsake sin and make progress in holiness? That is the kind of faith that in the midst of imperfection can look to Christ and say: "You have already perfected me in your sight." This faith says, "Christ, today I have sinned. But I hate my sin. For you have written the law on my heart, and I long to do it. And you are working in me what is pleasing in your sight. And so I hate the sin that I still do, and the sinful thoughts that I contemplate. And in this hatred of my sin, and in my meager advancements in holiness I rejoice that, according to your promise in Hebrews 10:14, I have been perfected for all time by a single offering, your precious self."
This is the true and realistic faith that saves. It is not the boast of the strong. It is the cry of the weak in need of a Savior. I invite you and urge you to be weak enough to trust Christ in this way.