Summary of the Text
To understand any written document one must understand the purpose for which it was written. Sometimes this is stated overtly, as in the Preamble to The Constitution; sometimes it is obvious from the title, as in John Wooden’s Call Me Coach; usually it is found in the body of the text itself. Hebrews 1:1-4 clearly states the author’s purpose for this letter which is the supremacy of Jesus Christ in all matters. This letter is about him and him alone. He is the final word. It is written primarily to Jewish believers who are undergoing persecution, possibly in Nero’s Rome, and are tempted to retreat to their old, established religion, Second Temple Judaism (Not unlike us older folk who long for the “good old days” of 1950s America).
The writer states, unequivocally, that there is no turning back. What Christ has done surpasses and supplants all that had made up Jewish life for the last 1400 years. The old system, of law, sin, priest, temple, blood sacrifice, is erased by the perfect life, death, resurrection, and advocacy of Christ.
“Finality” would be a great title for this sermon; “Once and For All” is a close second. Christ has completed what the ancient rituals of Temple sacrifice and priest leadership only hinted at. The old ways of atoning for sin were only weak copies of what God desired and planned in order to create a holy people for himself. Our five verses here clearly state this new reality.
Christ’s entrance into heaven after his resurrection underscores the death of the old rituals in two ways. First, he actually enters into the very presence of God on our behalf. It is not like entering the temple, a temporary, man-made structure in which God chose to dwell. (The reality of the Temple’s inadequacy was clearly seen at its destruction in 70 AD.)
Second, Christ’s heavenly entrance was a one-time event, unlike the yearly priestly visitation to the Holy of Holies. A new paradigm in man’s relationship with God has begun.
The word “once” summarizes Christ’s achievements. (v. 26) Once, he has done away with sin through his sacrificial death. (v. 27) Once we will all die to face judgement. (v. 28a) Once, again, Christ took away the wrath of sin by his death. Humans are creature of habit, beings who enjoy repetition and ritual which often leads to comfort and complacency. The rut of religious rituals can deaden our awareness of our sin and separation from God, and the reality of death and judgement. Christ has shattered these rituals and covered over the ruts.
(v. 28b) Christ will return again to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. Eager anticipation should be the hallmark of the believer. Maranatha (Come, our Lord)!
Ideas and themes to be explored
- Develop the idea of how a “sacrificial system” for salvation could become ritualistic, devoid of meaning, and become “works” oriented. Perhaps we create our own 21st century versions of the temple system without Christ.
- Develop the idea of how God, through Christ, interrupts history. People tend to see history as cyclical, not linear. Christ’s incarnation, life, death, resurrection, and ascension are one-time events, never to be duplicated.
- All earthly religions, including modern secular humanism, become self-serving and ritualistic. What does this look like in the Western world? How is Christ the answer?
Contemporary angle to preaching
- In between Christ’s first and second coming, he is presently in God’s presence “for us” (v.24). How do you interpret this phrase? Why would he do this? Is there some need on our part? Develop the idea of an advocate, an attorney, a “corner-man”, a representative, an agent.
- Build on the parallel lives lived by people and Christ. People are destined to die once and then face judgement. Christ was destined to die once and thereby bring redemption.
Bud Thoreen was raised in Southern California and has a BA from Wheaton College and an Mdiv. from Fuller Seminary. He spent nearly 10 years as an Area Director for Young Life. Retired after 37 years as a remodeling contractor, he now works for FaithQuest Missions, engaging believers in what God is doing around the world. He spent 40+ years as an elder, teacher, part-time preacher at Irvine Presbyterian Church. You can contact Bud at [email protected]
As John Preston, the Puritan, lay dying, friends asked him if he was afraid of death. “No,” he whispered, “I shall change my place, but I shall not change my company.” As if to say, I shall leave my friends, but not my Friend, for he will never leave me.
Quoted in J.I. Packer, Growing In Christ.
The good man’s past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven. The bad man’s past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why, at the end of all things, when the sun rises here and the twilight turns to blackness down there, The Blessed will say, “We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,” and the Lost, “We were always in Hell.” And both will speak truly.
C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
A ‘spiritual life’ consists in that range of activities in which people cooperatively interact with God, and with the spiritual order driving from God’s personality and action….Spirituality is a matter of another reality. It is absolutely indispensable to keep before us the fact that it is not a “commitment” and it is not a “life-style,” even though a commitment and a life-style will come from it.”
Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines
“Most people think little about what matters most and think very much about what matters least.”
John Piper, sermon on Heb 9:28
A dear friend once was in charge of all IRS operations in southern California. He retired and began his own business helping clients who had issues with the IRS. I became one of his clients seeking help with a huge tax bill, some of it legit, some of it debatable. He represented me in my fight over how much to pay. I could not do it myself. He knew the system and the language. Eventually we reached a just settlement. Christ does one better. Not only does he know the language and system, the judgement and its penalty, but he takes upon himself both on our behalf.
Bud Thoreen, retired contractor
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Hebrews 8:1 & 2