“For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” — Hebrews 10:10
A teenage boy, whose mother was away on a visit, found himself with time on his hands. He decided to read a book from the family library. His mother was a devout Christian, so the boy knew there would be a sermon at the beginning and an application at the end of the book, but there would also be some interesting stories in between.
While reading the book, he came across the phrase “the finished work of Christ.” It struck him with unusual power. “The finished work of Christ.”
“Why does the author use this expression?” he asked himself. “Why not say the atoning or the propitiatory work of Christ?” (You see, he knew all the biblical terms, but he did not know the Savior!) Then the words, “It is finished,” flashed into his mind, and he realized afresh that the work of salvation was accomplished.
“If the whole work was finished and the whole debt paid, what is there left for me to do?” He knew the answer and fell to his knees to receive the Savior and full forgiveness for sins. That is how J. Hudson Taylor, founder of the China Inland Mission, was saved.
The tenth chapter of Hebrews emphasizes the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ, in contrast with the imperfect sacrifices that were offered under the Old Covenant. Our Lord’s superior priesthood belongs to a better order–Melchizedek’s and not Aaron’s. It functions on the basis of a better covenant–the New Covenant–and in a better sanctuary, in Heaven. But all of this depends on the better sacrifice, which is the theme of Hebrews chapter ten.
Sin, of course, is man’s greatest problem. No matter what kind of religion a man has, if it cannot deal with sin, it is of no value. By nature, man is a sinner; and by choice, he proves that his nature is sinful. It has well been said, “We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners.”
Why were the Old Covenant sacrifices inferior? After all, they were ordained by the Lord; and they were in force for hundreds of years. While it is true that at times the Jewish people permitted these sacrifices to become empty rituals (Isaiah 1:11-15), it is also true that many sincere people brought their offerings to God and were blessed.
The very nature of the Old Covenant sacrifices made them inferior. The Law was only “a shadow of good things to come” and not the reality itself. The sacrificial system was a type or picture of the work our Lord would accomplish on the cross. This meant that the system was temporary, and therefore could accomplish nothing permanent. The very repetition of the sacrifices day after day, and the Day of Atonement year after year, pointed out the entire system’s weakness.
Animal sacrifices could never completely deal with human guilt. God did promise forgiveness to believing worshipers (Leviticus 4:20, 26, 31, 35), but this was a judicial forgiveness and not the removal of guilt from people’s hearts. People lacked that inward witness of full and final forgiveness. They could not claim, “I have no more consciousness of sins.” If those worshippers had been “once purged [from guilt of sin]” they would never again have had to offer another sacrifice.
So the annual Day of Atonement did not accomplish “remission of sin” but only “reminder of sin.” The annual repetition of the ceremony was evidence that the previous year’s sacrifices had not done the job. True, the nation’s sins were covered; but they were not cleansed. Nor did the people have God’s inward witness of forgiveness and acceptance.
Yes, there was a desperate need for a better sacrifice because the blood of bulls and goats could not take away sins. They could cover sin and postpone judgment; but they could never effect a once-and-for-all redemption. Only the better sacrifice of the Son of God could do that.
What Jesus Christ did on the cross was the best and only sacrifice that could take away our guilt and stay the hand of God’s judgment from us. At just the right time, when we were helpless and unable to save ourselves, Jesus died for us! (Romans 5:6) It is only as we come to the blood-splattered cross that we can find hope and life. God gave His best and only sacrifice. If you are waiting for something else…your waiting is in vain.