So, in case you missed it, we just celebrated Resurrection Sunday (Easter), a couple of Sundays ago (unless you’re Orthodox and then you celebrated last Sunday). This is going to sound strange but while I was sitting in Church on Resurrection Sunday, my mind started to wander a bit, and I asked myself, “what, exactly, are we celebrating?” Bear with me a minute because I’m going to ask you to think beyond the obvious with me. The quick answer is that we are celebrating the resurrection of Jesus from the dead right? Rising from the dead is a pretty big deal for sure, but I want to suggest, without diminishing in any way the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, that we are celebrating something more. Think about this for just a minute.
--Elijah raised the son of the Zarephath woman from the dead (2 Kings 17:17-22).
--Elisha raised the son of a Shunammite woman from the dead (2 Kings 4:32-35).
--A man was raised from the dead when he touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:20, 21).
--Jesus raised the son of the widow of Nain from the dead (Lk. 7:11-15).
--Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus from the dead (Lk. 8:41, 42, 49-55).
--Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (Jn. 11:1-44).
--Many saints rose from the dead when Jesus rose from the dead (Matt. 27:50-53).
--Peter raised Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-41).
--Paul raised Eutychus from the dead (Acts 20:9, 10).
I’m pretty sure one resurrection from the dead is no more miraculous than the next, yet we celebrate none of these other resurrections like we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. I will grant you that Jesus is not like any of these other people but remember it’s called Resurrection Sunday, not Jesus day, so the focus is on the resurrection. So, there must be something about the resurrection of Jesus that is different than all the other resurrections we read about in the Bible. Now you know where my mind was wandering to during the church service on Resurrection Sunday. What are we celebrating? Here’s what we’re celebrating on Resurrection Sunday: When Jesus died, He paid the price for our sins that we couldn’t pay, and when He rose from the dead, He conquered death so death can no longer conquer us. Before Resurrection Sunday, we were stuck with our sins and the consequences of those sins which is death. After Resurrection Sunday, we are new creations—sin and death have been wiped away, and we are handed a Clean Slate upon which God will write the new story of our lives. That’s why we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ—the empty tomb is a big deal, but a Clean Slate is personal to those of us who were once dead in our sins but are now alive because we have put our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.
8First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. 10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. 14For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
Honestly, these are some of my favorite verses in all the Bible. This is, in essence, the Gospel message; the Good News. The Book of Hebrews is a literary jewel that uses the revelation of the Old Testament Law like a piece of velum laid over the revelation of the New Testament. By peering through the Old Testament velum, we see how the Old Testament is a foreshadowing of the New Testament and that Jesus fits perfectly into all the foreshadowed elements of the Old Testament—the relationship between Jesus and Moses, the Sabbath-rest for God’s people, Jesus as the great High Priest of the New Testament, the relationship between Jesus and the high priest Melchizedek, worship in earthly tabernacles, and finally our Subject Text that compares the sacrifice of animals with the sacrifice of Christ. The Book of Hebrews shows us that God was always moving toward a way to deal with our sins once and for all to give us a Clean Slate.
8First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. 9Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second.
The quotes in vv. 8 and 9 respectively are found nowhere else in the New Testament. The writer of Hebrews attributes them to Jesus. Jesus may very well have said them at some point, and the gospel writers just didn’t include them in their respective biographies of Jesus. They obviously didn’t include every word Jesus spoke, so it’s not unreasonable to take the writer of Hebrews at his word that Jesus said these things. What’s more important is that the writer of Hebrews once again draws us back to the Old Testament where we can actually find this quote. It is found in Psalm 40:6-8; a Psalm written by David. We can accept that God no longer desires sacrifices and offerings during the New Testament era, but these words were spoken by David during the Old Testament era when sacrifices and offerings were specifically commanded by God. So, what does this quote mean? It means something different in the Old Testament than it does in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, David is saying that sacrifices and offerings are meaningless unless they are offered with the right heart. David is saying that he is prepared to do God’s will because God’s law was written on his heart. In the New Testament, Jesus is saying that sacrifices and offerings are meaningless because they are only a temporary atonement for sins without the power to make the people holy. Therefore, Jesus is willing to do God’s will and be the once-for-all sacrifice and offering that does have the power to make the people holy. And when Jesus becomes the final sacrifice in the Old Testament sacrificial system, He sets aside the first, or the Old Covenant (Testament), dependent on the blood of animals in order to establish the second, or the New Covenant (Testament), dependent on the shedding of His own blood.
“This is the strongest negative statement Hebrews makes about the Old Testament cultus, and our author employs technical legal terms to assert it. The law prescribed sacrifices that could not ‘take away’ ([Gk:] aphairein) sins; so, when Christ accomplished God’s purpose, the law was ‘abolished’ ([Gk:] anairein). Given the wider theological implications, it is fair to say that Christ totally did away with the first arrangement, the animal sacrifices and everything associated with them—the tabernacle in which they were sacrificed, the priesthood that sacrificed them, and the law-covenant that regulated them. And, hence, this statement is ‘one of the epochal formulations of the NT’.”
10And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
This is technically a continuation of the thought that began in vv. 8-9, but I wanted to treat v. 10 separately because of its tremendous significance. Specifically, it is God’s will that we be holy. The only problem with that is that we constantly trip over our sins and our sinful nature. And no amount of animal sacrifices can fix that. Here is how v. 10 changes everything for those who put their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished two things. First, Jesus’ death, as I said previously, was payment for our sins. Jesus did for us what we could not do for ourselves. But Jesus’ sacrifice accomplished something else as well—Jesus’ holiness was passed on to us. We are holy because our lives are forever connected with Christ so that when God looks at us, He sees only the holiness of Christ. Theologically, holiness means we have a Clean Slate—our sins are no longer held against us. Wait, that’s not strong enough language—our sins will never be held against us because no other sacrifice for our sins will ever be needed again thanks to the once-for-all sacrifice of Jesus.
“So perfect a sacrifice was our Lord’s presentation of his life to God that no repetition of it is either necessary or possible: it was offered ‘once for all.’ The sanctification [to set aside; to make holy] which his people received in consequence is their inward cleansing from sin and their being made fit for the presence of God, so that henceforth they can offer him acceptable worship.”
11Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
Here in vv. 11-13 the writer of Hebrews reminds us of the daily duties of the Old Testament priesthood. The management and administration of the Levitical sacrificial requirements was a prominent function of their daily lives. They repeated the same sacrifices over and over because they could not eliminate sin only cover it temporarily until the next sacrifice was needed. However, as I said previously, Jesus became the quintessential High Priest. He didn’t offer animal sacrifices; He sacrificed Himself. Whereas the Levitical priests were always at the task of repeating the regular sacrifices, when Jesus sacrificed Himself, no additional sacrifice was necessary. As a result, the sacrificial system came to an end and Jesus, our Great High Priest, when He ascended to heaven after His resurrection, sat down at God’s right hand until the time comes for His second coming when all, including those who hate Him and reject Him, will kneel before Him and confess that He is the king of Kings and the lord of Lords and sin’s insidious evil and destruction will come to an end.
“What endless and repeated priestly sacrifices could not do…Jesus accomplished with ‘a single sacrifice’. Having finished his work, he took his seat, the seat of authority ‘at the right hand of God’. The war has been won, and now the mopping up is taking place. The victorious Son is waiting for all his enemies, all the manifestations of sin—disease, poverty, warfare, hunger, loneliness, anger, despair…even the final enemy, death—to ‘be made a footstool for his feet’.”
14For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
You know what’s interesting about v. 14? I don’t feel perfect or holy! How about you? That’s the beauty of these verses. It doesn’t matter how hard you work to be perfect or holy or whether you feel perfect or holy. Because of Jesus sacrifice, you were made perfect while at the same time you are being made holy. Let’s first look at what it means to be made holy. As I said previously, to be made holy means to be sanctified or set apart. Verse 10 says we were made holy by Jesus’ sacrifice and that is true. But, we are also being made holy every day of our lives. How does that happen? We are being made holy through a life of faithful obedience to Jesus Christ, and we become more holy as we draw closer to Christ each day. Let me tell you a hard truth from personal experience: We are being made holy not through a life of comfort and luxury but through a life of pain and suffering. The 17th-century French archbishop, François Fénelon, wrote, “People find it very hard to believe that God heaps crosses on those he loves out of loving-kindness. ‘Why should he take pleasure in causing us to suffer?’ they ask. ‘Could he not make us good without making us so miserable?’ Yes, doubtless God could do so, for him all things are possible…But though God could save us without crosses, he has not willed to do so, just as he has willed that people should grow up through the weakness and trouble of childhood, instead of being born fully developed.” It is natural for us to avoid pain and suffering, but the most significant sanctification (the process of being made holy), at least in my life, has occurred during the hardest times of my life. And I’m not alone in the belief that pain and suffering is the fertile ground where holiness grows deep roots. Many giants of the faith throughout history believed that “the greater our suffering and pain, the more the sinful flesh is being cut away. Through life’s distressing seasons God gets our attention and points out a better path to maturity and fruitfulness…God lovingly breaks us in order to retrain and reform us.”
Similarly, we are perfect while at the same time we are being made perfect. “Our goal as believers is to live the full life God intended for us. As Paul put it, God’s purpose is that ‘we reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature [the word mature indicates wholeness or completeness of heart], attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ’ (Eph 4:13). What is this but the realization of Jesus’ command in the Beatitudes to ‘be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect (Mt 5:48). The wholeness or maturity God intends for us consists in growing conformity to his Son, Jesus (1 Jn 3:2).”
“On the cross Christ has already made a single offering so that in generation after generation he is continually making holy all who respond in faith. To become perfect did not promise sinless perfection, but it promised believers the full realization of God’s saving purpose.”
15The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.”
Jesus told His disciples that after He left them, He would send the Holy Spirit to be with them as their Comforter and Guide. The Holy Spirit would remind them of all the things Jesus taught and much more. However, as the third person of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Spirit isn’t constrained to remind us of only the things Jesus taught but reminds us of all the things God taught His people from all times and vv. 15-16 is no exception. These verses are an ancient promise given to God’s people through the prophet Jeremiah where it reads, “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts (Jer. 31:33).” However, here in vv. 15-16 the “covenant” being referred to is the new covenant of grace whereby believers are no longer accepted based on their practice of the law but because the law has been fulfilled in Christ and has been credited to believers because their lives are bound up in Christ.
“The argument that Christ’s sacrifice provides definitive perfection for believers is now confirmed through Scripture as the Holy Spirit bears witness through the new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31. This new proclamation of the Spirit in the promise of the new covenant is added to the witness of Jesus Christ…God promises to write his laws on the hearts and minds of his people. This points to an obedience from the heart that was expected under the old covenant, but which now will be accomplished by God.”
17Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
As important as everything else is that we’ve covered, without vv. 17-18 they don’t really mean much. These verses are the real reason why we celebrate Resurrection Sunday! If Jesus suffered, died, was buried, and rose from the dead yet God still held our sins against us then, although the resurrection of Jesus would stand out as a miracle, it really wouldn’t matter to me personally. But that’s not what happened. Instead, vv. 17-18 reiterate the second promise God made to Jeremiah (Jer 31:34). Jeremiah’s prophecy foreshadowed a day when God would provide a way for our sins to be forgiven once and for all without the need for repeated animal sacrifices.
“Christ forgives completely, so there is no need to confess past sins repeatedly. As believers, we can be confident that the sins we confess and renounce are forgiven and forgotten. Because sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices. God requires no more sacrifices to make people acceptable to him because Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice makes people acceptable.”
Max Lucado is one of my favorite authors, and he captures the spirit or our lesson when he writes,
I was thanking the Father today for his mercy. I began listing the sins he’d forgiven. One by one I thanked God for forgiving my stumbles and tumbles. My motives were pure and my heart was thankful, but my understanding of God was wrong. It was when I used the word remember that it hit me.
“Remember the time I…” I was about to thank God for another act of mercy. But I stopped. Something is wrong. The word remember seemed displaced. It was an off-key note in a sonata, a misspelled word in a poem. It was a baseball game in December. It didn’t fit. “Does he remember?”
Then I remembered. I remembered his words. “And I will remember their sins no more.”
Wow! Now, that is a remarkable promise.
God doesn’t just forgive, he forgets. He erases the board. He destroys the evidence. He burns the micro-film. He clears the computer.
He doesn’t remember my mistakes.
Of course, God doesn’t literally forget our sins. That wouldn’t be possible for an omniscient (all-knowing) God. Instead, what Lucado is trying to say is that we remember our sins and hold them against ourselves even though God has forgiven us and accepts us as being perfect while we are in the process of being made holy. The problem is that many of us just can’t seem to forgive and accept ourselves. “Some saints experience difficulty accepting God’s pardon; often we find it easier to forgive others than to forgive ourselves. We trample God’s grace when we refuse to forgive ourselves after he has forgiven us. C. S. Lewis observed that when we fail to forgive ourselves after Christ has forgiven us, we establish ourselves as a higher judge than God himself—which cannot be…We do well to practice the converse of the Golden Rule: to do unto ourselves as we do to others.”
Look, I know some of you are not too different from me. You have rehearsed your sins and you have them all perfectly memorized. You know all the reasons why God shouldn’t forgive you. I can hear you saying it, “You have no idea the things I’ve done. I have a long list. If you only knew how much and how many times I’ve messed up, you would agree that God would never forgive me.” And you’re right; I don’t know what you’ve done. But you want to know who does know? God knows. God knows about your addiction, your divorce, and your abortion. He knows you cheated on your spouse. He knows you cheated on your test. He knows how much you stole from your employer. He knows all the times you lied. He knows all of it! And do you know what He thinks of your sins? “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8)” and “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:9).” You see, we don’t really celebrate Resurrection Sunday simply because Jesus rose from the dead. As important as that was, we celebrate Resurrection Sunday because God no longer holds our sins against us. We celebrate Resurrection Sunday because we have been given a new life through Christ. We celebrate Resurrection Sunday because God has given us another chance. We celebrate Resurrection Sunday because God has handed us a Clean Slate upon which He will write the new story of our lives in Christ Jesus.
(Audio version: Music--"Hallelujah For The Cross" by: Chris McClarney and "I Am Not Alone" by: Kari Jobe; Music Coordination by: Meagan Seredinski)
 Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews—The Pillar New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2010), 352.
 F. F. Bruce, The Epistle to the Hebrews—The New International Commentary on the New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990), 243.
 Thomas G. Long, Hebrews—Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997), 103.
 Robert J. Edmonson, CJ, & Hal M. Helms, translators & eds., The Complete Fenelon, (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2008), 14.
 Bruce Demarest, Seasons of the Soul: Stages of Spiritual Development, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 43.
 Ibid., 151.
 Thomas D. Lea, Hebrews & James, Holman New Testament Commentary, (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 1999), 184-185.
 O’Brien, Hebrews, 358-359.
 Bruce Barton, Philip Comfort, Grant Osborne, Linda K. Taylor, and Dave Veerman, Life Application New Testament Commentary, (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1040.
 Max Lucado, God Came Near: Chronicles of the Christ, (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1987), 101.
 Demarest, Seasons of the Soul, 106.