November 17, 2015

November 15, 2015 - Hebrews 9:24-28

Theme: The Christian faith is ONE of a kind
1) ONE Final Day
2) ONE Savior

The church year is designed to help us cover a wide variety of topics while staying connected to the main Christian holy days. Although the church year fits within the calendar year, it doesn’t exactly follow it. For us, the beginning of the church year is rapidly approaching. It starts with Advent, which this year is the last Sunday in November, just two weeks away. Every year, as the church calendar comes to an end, we consider the Final Day when our Lord Jesus will return.

It makes sense that as we end the church year, we would consider the End Times. But this time is also appropriate for us because we are the very Christians living near the end. As we mentioned last weekend, there is only one more prophecy that the Lord has yet to fulfill, and that is His second coming. Interesting that the entire church year, is bookended by an Advent. First, the birth of Jesus, and second, His final coming.

In our portion for study today we see how the Holy Spirit employs a certain concept to give us strength as we wait for that Final Day to arrive. In these verses he emphasizes the totality of God’s judgment by showing how our Christian faith is one of a kind. It’s all about One Savior and One Final Day. We ask for the Spirit’s guidance and blessing to be upon our hearts today as we read our text from Hebrews 9:24-28:

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another-- 26 He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. 27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.

Within Christianity there are several different beliefs about the End Times. Some believe that after you die you have second chance through the prayers of loved ones, even though our very text says that men are judged when they die. Others believe that Christ will return to earth at two different times. But one thing that all agree on is that there will be one, final day. The differences lie in what happens before that day. Jesus Himself was pretty clear about this final day in His ministry. When talking about judgment day He said, “But of that day and hour, no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, but My Father only (Matthew 24:36).” It’s quite easy to see, there is only one day; eventually this present world as we know it will pass away.

That prospect alone presents a sad picture for us because we live in a wicked world and we struggle at avoiding that wickedness. I’ve often wondered in hindsight, what would have happened if Christ returned when I was committed that sin? How foolish and reckless to live so dangerously when my eternal relationship with God hangs in the balance. On our own, those are the kinds of thoughts we’d be left with when contemplating the final day.

But there’s more to the story of our lives than our sin. Just as there is one Final Day, so there is one Savior. Because we have a Savior we can follow Jesus’ instructions for that day. Not living in sin or depression because of our failures, but lifting up our heads with confidence and hope because our redemption has arrived (Luke 21:28).
The reason why Jesus is our One Savior is because of His role as our Sacrifice. To the casual observer it would seem that Christ’s humility and death would be on the lesser side of the spectrum of things He did. This was the Man who walked on water, calmed storms, healed diseases, even raised the dead, and almost subdued and empire. So many amazing things yet the way He suffered stands out as the greatest. Because His suffering and death is what made Jesus the Savior.

And we get a hint of the power behind that sacrifice in our text. In contrast to the multitudes of sacrifices in the Old Testament Jesus only had to shed His blood once. That of course, is because none of those lambs, goats, or bulls from the Jewish ceremonies could really atone for anyone. They were pictures of the coming Messiah; visual reminders that life would need to taken and blood would need to be spilled in order for the debt of sin to be paid in full. The animal sacrifices were valuable because they were pictures, but Christ is much more. Christ’s sacrifice is power.

That’s what the writer means when he says at the beginning that Christ has not entered the holy places that are “copies of the true, but into heaven itself.” Literally, the thought is that Christ’s work is not a picture, it is reality. It’s beneficial to bring in the picture of the Old Testament sacrifices to make the connection that they served but it’s just as important to remember the distinction. There were many pictorial sacrifices; but only one real sacrifice. Both were sacrifices, yes, but they were drastically different in effect.

The writer also tells us exactly what Jesus did through His literal sacrifice. Two interesting phrases show us what atonement means for our lives. The first is in v. 26: “…now, at the end of the ages, Jesus has appeared to put away sin by His sacrifice.” “To put away” was used as a legal phrase in Greek culture. Another way of thinking about it would be an annulment of something. Whatever was put away was considered discarded and once it was put way it no longer had any authority or bearing on the person’s life.

That’s what the sacrifice of Jesus does to sin. Because he put sin away, it no longer has any authority in our lives. But in order for that work to be effective, He also had to carry those sins on His own shoulders. Sin doesn’t just disappear on its own, nor is wickedness magically eliminated from the earth. That’s why the Lord will return on the Final Day and judge the world in righteousness. The very thing He will be judging is sin; for God’s holiness demands that He punish sin, or He would no longer be holy.

This judgment was put into motion when Jesus died on the cross. For that’s what He needed to do to claim true victory over sin. The putting away of sin in verse 26 would have meant nothing if Jesus did not also bear that sin as we’re told in verse 28. He had to carry sin and make it become His own, so that we can say that we are free from it. That’s why Paul told the Corinthians that Jesus literally had to become sin for us, even though He Himself never sinned. This is why Isaiah prophesied that Jesus would “bear our sorrows and carry our griefs.”

On its own, the promise to put away our sin means a lot. But without someone to carry that sin for us, it means nothing. This is what makes Jesus’ sacrifice one of a kind, just as there will be one, final Last Day. Sin is now put away from us. God gives us protection from it through faith in Jesus, His Son. But it is still present. We ultimately await a day when sin will be destroyed forever; a day we’re told, when even death itself is hurled into hell.

The one, singular theme of the Bible is that Jesus is the Savior who made this perfect sacrifice for sin. Notice the progression. One theme about One Savior who made One Sacrifice. Our text is perhaps the best example of that theme in the entire Scriptures. Three times in these verses alone, the word “once” is used to talk about Christ’s work. The Greek understanding of this word carries the idea of something so rare that it is the only, single occurrence of it in the entire history of the world. In addition to this, the book of Hebrews uses the phrase “once for all” to describe Jesus’ atonement at three different points, the closest being in verse 12 of chapter 9.

We don’t need anymore evidence to believe that Jesus is the Savior. In fact, there is nothing that could be any clearer that God’s own inspired record; both in the repeated use of the words “once” and “one” and in the singular testimony of the entire Bible.

But these verses leave us with one more thought that’s tacked on to Christ’s victory over sin and death. It’s our theme for today, The Final Day of Judgment. Like that day on the cross, there will be only one day of judgment before God. And all we know about that day is that it could come at any moment, it will come suddenly, and only God knows when it will happen. There’s a natural feeling of fear that comes over us when we think about how sudden and swift the end of this world could be. But with the backdrop of Christ’s sacrifice in view, we should not fear. That’s precisely why the Holy Spirit connects the two thoughts of atonement and judgment together in this section; so that we stay prepared but also that we aren’t overcome with fear. 

Sadly, too many people are living for this world. Too many have an entirely physical focus of life and they think little, if at all, about sin and their Savior’s sacrifice. Truly, if our focus is only about today, we should be terrified on the final day. I encourage you to have the same focus that Paul instructed the Roman Christians to have: And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep; for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed. 12 The night is far spent, the day is at hand. Therefore let us cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light. 13 Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. 14 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts (Romans 13:11-14).

Everything is prepared. The table is set if you will. Jesus says as much in His final Biblical quote, “Surely, I am coming quickly.” You don’t have to fear. We are ready and we are prepared. We have faith that is like no other because it attaches us to the One Savior who made the One sacrifice for the many who couldn’t. Keep your focus on Him. Not just in church. Not just with your fellow Christians. But with all and in all things. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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