Saturday, 31 January 2015

Something that can never be repeated

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. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Hebrews 10:11-12

Every year in August my wife and I celebrate our wedding anniversary. Not terribly original, you might think - don’t the vast majority of married couples do that? Well, yes, they do. And a very good custom it is too.

But there is something we don’t do: we don’t repeat our wedding ceremony, we don’t actually marry one another again. 

The very idea is ridiculous, of course. And no doubt illegal too. Why? Because there are certain things in life which are simply and literally unrepeatable. Marrying again the person we are already married to is one of them.

Life contains many things that are repeatable, some of them very important, and some which can never be repeated, which are likely to be even more important. The writer of this Letter to the Hebrews is talking about a repeatable event which featured in the life of the Jewish people: animal sacrifice, including the shedding of blood.

Every day of the year animals were slaughtered in the Jerusalem temple and the blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins. This, as you can imagine, required quite a little army of priests to cover all the services - notice those words “day after day” and “again and again”. 

But suppose a new priest appeared who was qualified to offer a once-for-all sacrifice, one which never needed to be repeated? Suppose the blood he offered to God was somehow able to deal with all human sin totally, completely and for ever? Wouldn’t that be something! Wouldn’t that be absolutely sensational good news?

Well, says the writer, that is in fact exactly what has happened! Just pause to take in his words: “...this priest has offered for all time one sacrifice for sins.” 

If you ask who this remarkable priest was, the answer is simple: Jesus Christ. And if you ask what blood it was that he offered, the answer to that is simple too: his own, shed on the cross on the first Good Friday. Jesus is both priest and sacrifice.

This is the staggering claim - this and nothing less - that the first Christians proclaimed when the Christian church was born. What the Jewish sacrificial system had been faithfully anticipating by constant repetition for centuries had come to an end. No more sacrifice! Why? - because there’s no need: a perfect sacrifice has been made for all time. This explains why Jesus, at the very moment he died, cried in triumph “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Repeating those historic sacrifices would be like getting married over and over again to the same person. What would be the point? 

If ever there was good news, this is it. All of us have guilty consciences; as the Bible puts it, we are all “sinners”, aware of bad things we have done throughout our lives. If we ever think about God’s final judgment on us at the end of time - and this is something the Bible tells us we must expect - then this thought is bound to make us feel seriously afraid.

But if the sacrifice made on Christ’s cross really has dealt once and for all with all human sin - well, what better news could there possibly be! All my sins are dealt with, even the ones buried long in my past or deep in my conscience! I needn’t fear the day of judgment! This, of course, is why Christians talk about “the gospel”, a word which simply means “good news”.

If all this seems a bit heavy, a bit “theological”, let me sum it up in a few simple sentences: We are all sinners... We all need saving... We cannot do anything to save ourselves... Jesus has done all that is needed... So all we need do is accept for ourselves what he has done once for all

This is the gospel. Can you say with confidence, Yes, my sins are forever forgiven, and I am at peace with God? I do hope so.

Lord God, thank you for the once-for-all, perfect sacrifice that Jesus offered for me on the cross. Help me to grasp its wonder and to live humbly and gratefully in its peace. Amen.

Is today the day you should ask God to forgive your sins once for all?

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