Christianity 201

April 26, 2020

The Sacrifice Industry

My wife has been busy uploading fresh content each week for the church’s YouTube channel. They aim to have four new elements each week; she does a short devotional video and a song video; and the pastor does a short sermon and one of his pre-lockdown messages which has never been uploaded before is added to their channel.

She asked me if I would consider doing a devotional. It wasn’t something I had ever considered.

I think it’s important not to try to take on the mantle of deep theological exposition, but rather, to begin with (a) what you know or (b) what you’ve experienced.

One passage which has always stood out to me is Hebrews 10: 11-12.

11 Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God  NIV

In other words, these actions had to be performed on a repeated basis, as seen in contrast to Christ’s ‘once for all’ sacrifice.

It’s hard to read this, with its vivid description of priests performing the same sacrifices on a recurring basis and not think of the time Jesus intersected directly with those facilitating worship in the scene we normally call, “Jesus cleanses the temple;” or perhaps a progressive translation might use the header, “Jesus throws a fit.” It’s not pretty. He was truly going up against a “sacrifice industry.”

The story is told in all four gospel accounts. (4 links provided for those who wish to compare.) The synoptics place this toward the end of the story, while John places it in chapter two. Does this mean this happened more than once? Some Bible scholars say yes, others say that John wanted to introduce the story earlier to demonstrate the “clout” or “authority” with which Jesus ministered.

I mentioned in the video I recorded that among the other things we do, my wife and I own a Christian bookstore. Many of these sprang out of what were called ‘Christian supply stores’ with a variety of materials for sale to facilitate worship. Today, the focus is more on books and music, but a few vestiges of those days remain, and one staple for the last 50 years, has been disposable communion cups.

They come in a box of 1,000 which sells for $19.99 U.S. That means that every time a church of 100 people has a communion service, the store made a $2.00 sale. For a church of 50 people, that would be $1.00. Not exactly high finance. [Not that I’m letting the Christian publishing industry off the hook; there are other stories to be told, like VBS which is a multi-million dollar industry just in itself.]

However, what was going on in the temple was closer to robbery. Most people who grew up in the story know this it as “Jesus vs. The Money-changers.” If you’ve ever traveled, you know all about currency exchange. In this case, visitors who came a great distance, and weren’t able to bring a lamb with them would buy one, only after converting their money to temple currency.

But what about the people who lived more locally and were able to bring a lamb with them? Were they equally ripped off?

The lambs were supposed to be without spot, wrinkle or blemish. I recently heard that those in charge would at those lambs and find them to be somewhat lacking. They’d smile and say, “But we have one which is perfect we’ll sell you instead.” I don’t know how much give-and-take happened at this stage, since the families would have chosen their lamb with great care, but eventually, weary from travel and up against a system they couldn’t fight, they would cave in.

But later, the lamb that they bought — which wasn’t deficient — would be sold to someone else.

The spotless lamb of course is a type of Jesus, who was without sin.

[Pardon me for one brief tangent: If you grew up in church you’ve probably heard the phrase ‘without spot, blemish or wrinkle’ used in reference to the church. How does the description switch to us when it’s supposed to be about Him? The answer is that this is what it means when God imputes to us the righteousness of Christ. The phrase occurs in Ephesians 5:27 and is referring to sanctification. We now return to our devotional, in progress.]

So Jesus does what Jesus does, and he clears the temple in what is called a prophetic act. The whole system, or to use the language I’m using today, the whole sacrifice industry is about to come to an end, and (in the synoptic accounts, speaking just later) Jesus says as much when he says, “It is finished.”

And then in the economy of the language used in the Book of Hebrews, we’re reminded that this ended in him sitting “in the place of honor” (NLT) at God’s right hand.


In the video, I said that would normally be the end of the story, but it occurred to me that YouTube being what it is there are people who have never come under the covering of what Jesus did, and I encouraged them to contact the church hosting the video.

Of course, the internet being what it is, there may be people reading this here who have never asked God to include them under the covering of his sacrifice. If that’s the case, use the contact form (lower part of the page) here so we can help you discern the next steps you need to take.

 

 

 

 

June 10, 2018

Only One Sacrifice Could Effect a Momentous Achievement

Deborah (named after the prophetess) is a retired doctor now living in Swansea, Wales; a Christian for over 40 years, and an avid reader of the Bible. This is our first time featuring her writing here. To discover more, click the title below and then look around at some of the other articles.

Focus on Jesus: He is the ultimate sacrifice

“Fix your thoughts on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1)

Hebrews 9:1-10:18

The worship of the old covenant took place in the Tabernacle (and, later, the Temple, which was constructed in a similar way) The sanctuary was divided into two rooms by a heavy curtain. In the outer room, the priests would perform certain duties (such as burning incense and tending the lamps); but they could not enter the inner room, where God was present. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, was the high priest allowed to enter the Most Holy Place – provided he took with him the blood of sacrifice to sprinkle onto the lid of the Ark.

Thus the very nature of Tabernacle worship bore witness to its inadequacy. God was not really approachable; even while living symbolically in the midst of His people, He remained at a distance, and access to His presence was severely restricted. There was an impenetrable barrier between the first and second rooms that no amount of animal sacrifices could break down. This symbolized the real barrier between human beings and God – which was never a physical barrier in a building but an internal, spiritual barrier located in the conscience. And so it could not be removed by the physical rituals of the old covenant.

But the death of Jesus has changed everything!

“He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but He entered the Most Holy Place once for all by His own blood, so obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:11,12)

What made the difference was the nature of the sacrifice that He offered and the location where He offered it. For He alone was able to enter God’s actual presence in heaven – not once a year, but once for all. And the death that He presented as atonement was not that of an animal but His own. Thus He paid the full redemption price for all God’s people – a price for which nothing in this world would have been sufficient (I Peter 1:18,19).

The animal sacrifices had to be endlessly repeated because they never actually achieved anything. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:4) But Jesus was a willing, rational and morally perfect Victim, and His sacrifice was accepted by God – which is why it will never need to be repeated (Hebrews 10:14). He had to die only once to save everyone!

Only one sacrifice could effect this momentous achievement – but now that it has been made, there is no need to repeat it or add to it. It is ‘the sacrifice to end all sacrifices’; the old system has been abolished at a stroke. The real, heavenly sanctuary has now been cleansed, signifying that God has forgotten our sins and that we shall be welcomed into His presence. We can neither be shamed by them now, nor condemned for them later! So while the repetition of the old covenant sacrifices was a reminder of sin’s continuing dominion (Hebrews 10:3), the repetition of the Lord’s Supper is for us a reminder of sin’s definitive removal.

All Bible quotations are from the NIV

June 26, 2016

The Ministry of Christ as High Priest

Hebrews 7 25

•••by Russell Young

Although all believers have heard of the ministry of Christ as high priest, this ministry is often not well understood even though it is essential for a person’s eternal salvation.  The duty of the high priest is to represent humankind in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices (Heb 8:3) for sins. (Heb 5:1)

The ministry of the high priest was first practiced in the sanctuary of Jewish tabernacle worship and we are told that the earthly sanctuary was a copy of the heavenly sanctuary. (Heb 8:5) It had two sections.  The priests carried on their prescribed ministry in the Holy Place which was the outer room. They carried out the ceremonies and rituals of the earthly tabernacle in accordance with God’s instructions.  They offered animal sacrifices on a daily basis for the sins of the people as they were acknowledged by the confessor; that is, for known sins.

Only the high priest entered the inner room, the Most Holy Place, and only once a year.  His duty was to offer a sacrifice “for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” (Heb 9:7, NIV)

Since the earthly pattern is a copy of that which is practiced in heaven, it can be seen that there are two kinds of sins…those known and those committed in ignorance.  Both kinds need to be addressed before our holy God. The commission of sin is serious business and needs to be recognized as such.  The believer as priest (Rev 1:6) can offer the prayer of confession and repentance before God and like tabernacle worship he needs to do this as he becomes aware.  Paul wrote: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jn 1:9, NIV) Sin separates.  (Isa 59:2) Paul confirmed the hope of the repentant sinner under the New Covenant.  “But if anyone does sin, we have one who speaks to the Father in our defence-Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.  He is our atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 2:1, NIV)

The believer cannot confess and be purified concerning sins about which he is unaware.  It is the role of Christ as high priest to plead his blood for cleansing sins committed through the believer’s ignorance.

The writer of Hebrews has encouraged the believer concerning the power and authority of Christ, “Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” (Heb 7:25, NIV) Christ is able to save completely because he intercedes for the believer in regard to confessed sin and for sins committed in ignorance.

There is condemnation, however, for those who willingly continue to sin. “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that consumes the enemies of God.” (Heb 10:26-27) It is revealed that God will bring his vengeance on those “who have trampled the Son of God under foot, who have treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace.” (Heb 10:29) The believer is to “work out his or her own salvation with fear (terror) and trembling.” (Phil 2:12)

As high priest, Jesus represents his brothers and sisters to the Father.  He is an advocate (1 Jn 2:1) for the person who does not deliberately continue to sin.  An advocate pleads the case of the offending one.  He examines the circumstances of the offense and the position of the law.  Using these, he presents a defence if it can be found.  There is no defence for the person who deliberately or knowingly continues to sin since through his divine power he has been given all that is needed for life and godliness. (2 Peter 1:3)

The ministry of Christ needs to be understood and respected.  His Father, who allowed him to suffer on the cross will not allow his Son to be trampled under foot.  Teaching that promotes the thought that all sin and sinning was addressed at the cross is error and those who live as though sin is no longer of concern to them will one day suffer the wrath of God for their disregard.

Christ came to defeat the work of Satan and to create a holy people. (Heb 12:14, NIV) It is in this matter that Christ as high priest is essential.  The New Covenant is a covenant of the Spirit and not of the law.  Sin is revealed in the believer’s life according to the Spirit’s enlightenment and he reveals sin specifically and individually according to the stage of transformation that he is carrying out in the believer.  Not all sins are revealed at the same time; the believer remains ignorant of some.  Those that are made known however, are to be confessed in order for cleansing to take place and for the believer to gain victory over their practice.  Those about which the believer is unaware will be advocated by Christ as high priest.  Because of this Paul has emphasized the ministry of the Spirit. “And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:4, NIV) The Spirit reveals sin on his schedule.

The high priest of tabernacle worship offered sacrifices and Christ also must offer sacrifices to God.  Paul stated that he was given “the priestly duty of proclaiming the gospel of God, so that the Gentiles might become an offering acceptable to God, sanctified by the Holy Spirit” (Rom 15:16, NIV) The cleansed and transformed believer is the acceptable offering.

The goal of Christ is to keep and to present the transformed sinner to his Father, perfect and holy, as his own brother and sister and his ministries as Spirit and as high priest are essential to that accomplishment.