The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason, it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins. It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me. With burnt offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased. Then I said, ‘Here I am—it is written about Me in the scroll—I have come to do your will, my God.’”
First, 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. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
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, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First, he says: “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.” Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
(New International Version)
We’ve all felt it! We’ve all dealt with it! We’ve all felt the weight of it dragging us down, belittling us, sapping our energy, leaving us feeling weak, vulnerable, worthless. Guilt! Guilt, shame, remorse… all shades of the same evil that stalks the world stripping people of their joy, their power, their zest for living, loving, and making a difference. I’m convinced we live in a guilt plagued world! People are saddled up with the baggage of past mistakes and the memory of things they’ve done that have disappointed and hurt others – as well as how they have been disappointed and hurt by others.
They drag the anguish of this guilt, on both a conscious and subconscious level, along with them like a ball and chain and it effects every other relationship in their lives. Guilt produces a self-diminishing esteem and feelings of fear, frustration, anxiety, depression, and hopelessness. It hinders intimacy and leads to dysfunctional relationships, ineffective parenting, outbursts of anger, the excusing and embracing of further sin and iniquity, and other symptoms of a destructive lifestyle. Ultimately it leads to selfishness as a protective barrier, to rebellion, to rejection of God’s gift of salvation, and ultimate separation from God. This is why the old covenant and the Law of Moses, while it had its place and purpose, was inferior to God’s ultimate goal and plan for our new covenant relationship with Him in Christ.
I learn from our passage under consideration today that, for the people who lived under the old covenant, with its Law of Moses, its Levitical priesthood, and animal sacrifices, there was a constant and continual remembrance of sin. People were forever being reminded of the mistakes they had made and how often they had transgressed the high and holy standards of God. The whole Hebrew sacrificial system was one continual effort to atone, over and over again, for sin—literally, morning, noon, and night! However, the writer of the book of Hebrews says that, if the Old Covenant had been sufficient for the people, then they would not have had to continually offer their animal sacrifices because they “would no longer have felt guilty for their sins” (verse 2). But then, the Hebrew writer goes on to point out in the rest of that chapter that, as new covenant children of God, we enjoy exactly THAT today; freedom from the continual consciousness of sin… freedom from guilt.
While the old covenant that God made with the Children of Israel had its place and purpose, it was not God’s ultimate desire for His covenant people. He used it to teach humanity about His own holiness, about human frailty, wickedness, and inability to keep God’s law, and about our need for something more—namely, a Savior. If the old covenant and the Law of Moses teaches humanity anything it all, it teaches that the Law cannot save anybody; it can only condemn. It cannot remove sin; it can only remind. It cannot pay the price for anybody’s sin, it can only demand that the price be paid.
And so, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah steps into the world and cries out to heaven and earth, “Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You prepared for Me.” And a little shiver runs down my backbone as I contemplate that thought and the full impact those words fully dawns on me. “With burn offerings and sin offerings You were not pleased…” and so, “Here I am…” (verses 5-7). Oh my… He came to die! And He knew, full well, His purpose in coming to the earth long before going to the cross. And I begin to realize that everything that was meant to be accomplished by every single animal sacrifice that had ever been made in order to atone for anybody and everybody’s sin—from Adam and Eve right up until the moment Jesus breathed His last on the cross—was actually accomplished in the body of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Then the Hebrew writer makes his point: When Jesus said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will,” He “set aside the first to establish the second” (verse 9). Everything that the old covenant and the Law of Moses was meant to accomplish was fulfilled in Christ. Its purpose has been accomplished. It has been set aside. New things, better things, have come. Now, there is no longer a perpetual reminder of sin. Now, we no longer need languish in the guilt and despair of our iniquity. Why, because “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (verse 10). In fact, the writer goes on to say, “For by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (verse 14).
The only question that remains is: “Do I really believe this?” Will I believe it? Will I accept it? Will I allow my heart and life to be transformed by it? Or will I insist on groveling in my guilt? Will I refuse to let go of the sin and rebellion that continually plagues my memory? I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul who, back when he was still Saul of Tarsus, murdered Christians, but who later said: “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Either I believe and accept these things as a reality in my life, or I do not. Either I have “been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ,” or I have not. Either I have been “made perfect forever” or I have not. Either I trust God’s love for me and these promises that He has made to me, or I do not. Either I allow His love and the gift of His Son to wash me, cleanse me, and set me free from the consequences, the guilt, the shame of my transgressions, or I refuse to do so… choosing instead to grovel in my guilt and shame and allow myself to become just another one of Satan’s playthings that he toys with, like a cat does a mouse, and bats around at will. And when other people look down on me with that subtle, accusatory look in their eyes, wanting to heap guilt upon me for things I’ve done in the past, either I allow my heart to succumb to their judgmental attitude or I do not. And when those people in my life to whom I have ascribed a certain measure of respect due to their position or power and prestige seem to take on that elite, patronizing demeanor and speak to me in tones that relegate me to second class citizenship in God’s kingdom because I’m obviously not as “spiritual” as they apparently perceive themselves to be, well, I can either I allow that kind of treatment to send my heart into a tailspin and get down on myself, or I can remember to Whom I belong and the promises that He has made to me — “Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Romans 14:4).
The Hebrew writer continues to admonish and encourage us with another reference to the contrast between the old covenant with its Law of Moses and the new covenant in Christ, saying: “And the Holy Spirit also testifies to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart and on their mind I will write, them,’ He then says, ‘And their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more’” (verses 15-17).
Wow… He Himself says, “their sin and their lawless deeds I will remember no more!” When God forgives, He chooses to forget—insofar as God is capable of “forgetting” anything, I suppose. But what that means is not that He no longer has any awareness of my sin, my rebellion, and the selfish things I’ve done in my life, but rather, that He chooses not to hold those things against me. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24). Because He loves us, He chooses never to bring up any of those evil things we’ve done ever again! I remember the Apostle Peter saying, “…love covers a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8). His promise to you and me is that He will never dig up our sins and shortcomings and throw them back in our face.
“Their sins and their lawless deeds, I will remember no more.” Hummm… so, why do I? Why do I choose to remember? Why do I insist on clinging to my failures and stumbling over what lies behind me? Why do I permit others to remember my sins and hold them against me? Why do I so easily allow my adversary, the evil one—who never seems to forget—to continually dig up my sins and failures and use them to try to dissuade and destroy me?
Oh Lord, My God, I need some help here! Father, I humbly come to You in Jesus’ name seeking strength and sustenance for my soul. I don’t know all the reasons why, perhaps just my own self-doubt, but I seem to be having a hard time accepting Your forgiveness way down deep in my heart. I understand it intellectually, Lord, and I agree with Your word—I know my sins are forgiven and that You remember them no more. But the evil one seems to have no regard for Your promises and seeks to heap guilt upon me. This guilt, Oh Lord, this feeling of extreme unworthiness is, perhaps, good in the sense that it keeps me wholly dependent upon You and Your grace—the blood of Christ to cleanse me, the righteousness of Christ to clothe me—knowing that I have no righteousness or goodness of my own with which to come before You. But when I can’t seem to let go of my sins, when I can’t seem to fully accept the reality of Your forgiveness, when I allow Satan to control me with guilt, then I can’t seem to find the spiritual strength to stand up and allow You to use me to accomplish much of anything. Sometimes, Oh Lord, I feel so beaten down with guilt and shame that I just want to wander off out into the desert, find a hole somewhere, crawl down in it, pull the earth back over me, and just be forgotten. Yet, I’m reminded, even as I speak these words, I’m reminded of the Psalmist who, like me, cried out to You:
Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will lay hold of me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me,
And the light around me will be night,”
Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You.
(Psalm 139:7-12, NASB)
So I thank You for Your love, Oh God, an eternal love that seeks me out and will not let me go. May Your Holy Spirit help me to fully and completely accept Your forgiveness and, in that acceptance, find the strength, the courage, the faith I need to face each new day with the dignity and joy of a redeemed child of God!
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