Hebrews 10:11-22
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
March 29, 2024

Some years ago, Oxford University professor and self-professed atheist, Richard Dawkins debated the Christian faith with Oxford University professor and self-professed Christian, John Lennox.

At one point, Dawkins mocked Lennox, saying, “He believes that the creator of the universe, the God who devised the laws of physics…[and] mathematics…could not think of a better way to rid the world of sin than to come to this little speck of cosmic dust and have himself tortured and executed!”  Dawkins went on to call that idea a “profoundly unscientific” one that “doesn’t do justice to the grandeur of the universe.”   He chided Lennox and all Christians for believing in a God who’d suffer for such truly insignificant beings as we.

As crazy as we may be, we do believe that the Supreme Being, out of sheer love, chose to value us beyond our deserving and to send His Son to sacrifice Himself for our sake.  We believe Jesus paid with His own blood the penalty for the evil we did that He might, justly as well as graciously, wipe away our guilt and then perfect our imperfect lives.

Now, some find offensive the idea that such a price had to be paid for sinfulness.  After all, they say, aren’t we – and shouldn’t God be – big enough to forgive and forget, sweep our misdeeds under the rug and move on?

But are there not deeds so heinously evil that it is offensive to just move on from them?  For example, is the evil being committed right now against Black African Christians in Darfur – such as forcing parents to watch their children be burned alive – so insubstantial that it can be cavalierly be put out of mind?

To further appreciate the egregiousness of sin and the difficulty in forgiving it with justice, there is this to consider: The degree of evil in a deed is in part determined by who’s the victim of the deed.  So, while it’s bad to gratuitously kill a moth, it’s far worse to gratuitously kill a human being, and even worse a heroically noble, virtuous one.  Now, if there is a Supreme Being of infinite value who created all that exists, then any crime against any part of creation is a crime against its Creator – and the Most High is the ultimate Victim of the crime.  That means that sins we might nonchalantly dismiss are worse than we supposed.

It’s because the Bible takes sin so seriously that it says there’s no forgiveness without bloodshed.

From the start, God had His people shed blood for sin in a suggestive, symbolic enactment of justice.  God commanded the regular practice of animal sacrifices.  If it did nothing else, this continually repeated practice of blood offerings drove home the heinousness of injustice, cruelty, cold indifference to the needy and dishonoring of the Being worthy of the highest respect.

Righteousness demands that the scales of justice be balanced and thus a penalty be paid.  That’s why God instituted the sacrificial system in which year after year after year blood was shed.  Yet, that it had to be shed year after year after year showed that no one of those offerings, nor all of them together, could suffice for settling decisively and forever the guilt-debt humans owed and for effecting reconciliation with a holy God.

This is the line of logic this chapter of Hebrews follows to reach its crucial assertion: that the blood offering Jesus made in sacrificing Himself accomplished what all previous offerings could not.  Because Jesus was the High Priest of high priests and very God of very God, His offering of Himself was the offering of all offerings:  uniquely sufficient to put the scales of justice in balance.  It alone was enough to fully satisfy righteousness and to secure salvation for all who would receive its grace.  In dying, verse 12 says, Jesus “offered for all time a single sacrifice for sin”, so making any further sacrifices needless.  Moreover, it forever opened the way for all to receive its benefits.  Anyone may be forgiven of their “sins and lawless deeds”, and be “washed [clean] with pure water”.  Anyone may be given confidence to enter “by the blood of Jesus” into the presence of the God who will “put [His] laws in their hearts” and “write them on their minds”.  All this is to say what verse 14 says:  “By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”  In other words, all who trust in the grace of His death have been perfected in their position before God so that the condition of their character and conduct can be perfected through the ongoing work of God’s grace.

In this process of transformation, those who trust it can enjoy the love of the God who both takes them as they are and takes them up into a higher realm of life.  They may not yet be all they should be or all they will be, but they are over time better than they used to be.

By losing His life at Calvary, Jesus won the decisive battle in the war for the redemption of humanity, so that, for all who receive His gratuitous gift, final victory is guaranteed.  Upon seeing His death turning the tide of that war, Jesus “sat down at the right hand of God, and since then has been waiting until his enemies would be made a footstool for his feet”.  All of Jesus’ enemies: evil, sin, death, disease, poverty, violence, loneliness, despair and injustice, will soon be subdued under his heels.

Jesus has put those who trust Him in the perfect position to allow His perfect sacrifice to perfect them despite their imperfect condition.  They just let Him take charge and change them.  Though they remain much of what they once were, He remakes them into a different kind of creation.

Ben Niles’s documentary, Note by Note, follows the making of a Steinway concert piano from the Alaskan forest, through the manufacturer’s shop, to the performing arts hall.  Though the forest wood retains the character it got from its environment and the animals around it, its pieces are reframed into new shapes and assembled in new arrangements, so that mere wood from nature becomes a part of something of a higher realm: a magnificent piano producing beautiful music.

May our faith in Jesus’ death move us to allow His perfect sacrifice to perfect our imperfect selves, that we may be taken into a higher realm and produce the beautiful music of His good news!

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