Our Paschal Lamb
Our Paschal Lamb
Hebrews 10:1-25 & St. John 19:1-37
Last night we sat with Jesus in the Upper Room as he began his Passion by making a new Sacrament of the Passover bread and wine. As he gave them to his disciples, he said, “Take and eat. This is my body, broken for you. This is my blood, poured out for you.” In the Passover meal, it was the lamb that was at the centre of things. It was the lamb that recalled the first Passover, when the firstborn sons of Israel were spared because the people painted the blood of the slain lamb on their doorposts. Jesus now put himself in the place of that lamb and made that remembrance and celebration in the Upper Room the last true Passover. In less than twenty-four hours he would be hanging on a cross dead; he would himself become the perfect, once-and-for-all Passover Lamb. And from that time on, his people would celebrate not the Passover, but the Eucharist—the “Great Thanksgiving in which the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is present in the bread and wine, filling his people with love and grace.
The Passion of our Lord began last night as he instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood. It continues today as we read the Gospel and see him complete his sacrificial mission.
After supper, Jesus went with his disciples to Gethsemane to pray. While they were there, Judas betrayed him to the soldiers of the high priest. During the night, the priests threw together a hasty court and tried Jesus on charges of blasphemy. They found him guilty. But the Jews were ruled by the Romans. They couldn’t execute anyone on their own authority, so they took Jesus to Pilate, the Roman governor. Our Gospel today picks up the story at that point. Pilate, despite finding no fault with Jesus, gave into the demands of the people and handed Jesus over to his soldiers to be abused, beaten, and crucified. The soldiers made a mockery of his kingship. His people refused and rejected his kingship. And Pilate, acknowledging his kingship after a fashion with the placard nailed to the Cross, ignored Jesus’ kingship.
We read in the Gospel how Jesus was forced to carry his own Cross through the streets of the city, how he was crucified on the hill Golgotha, how he suffered on the Cross and ultimately died, gasping the words: “It is finished!” What began in the Upper Room the night before when Jesus took on the role of the Lamb of God was completed at three o’clock Friday afternoon when he took his last breath and died. Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that the great veil in the temple was torn in two at that moment. The heavy curtain that sealed the holy of holies, that sealed the place of God’s holy presence from sinful humanity, was rent. In his sacrifice, through his own body broken and his own blood poured out, Jesus opened the way for restoration between God and man.
But how? That’s where our Epistle today comes in. It takes us back to the Old Covenant. It takes us back to the Law, given through Moses, and it puts that Lat into perspective in light of Jesus. It shows us the shortcomings of the Law and the perfection of the Gospel. Look at Hebrews 10:
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. (Hebrews 10:1)
The Law was a wonderful thing so far as it went, but it didn’t go far enough. It left the people condemned and mired in sin. The very sacrifices made for sin underscored the seriousness of sin and the fact that a better and perfect sacrifice was needed to effectively deal with our sin problem. Hebrews goes on in verse 2:
Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Hebrews 10:2-4)
Consider what a bloody place the temple was. A steady stream of people came on a daily basis, bringing animals with them for sacrifice. A river of blood flowed from the catch-basin of the altar, through the wall, and down the cliff-side into the valley below. Rather than taking away sin, those sacrifices only emphasised the sin of the people while pointing to God’s future provision of a true and perfect sacrifice that would satisfy his holy and just requirements, that would finally deal with our sin problem.
And so the writer of Hebrews points to the coming of the one who would be that perfect sacrifice as he quotes the words of David in Psalm 40. In the words of the Psalmist, Jesus declares that God takes no pleasure in sacrifices and offerings, in burnt offerings and sin offerings. They fall short. But Jesus also declares that he has come to do God’s will, as the Law and Prophets had foretold—as the one whom those imperfect sacrifices of the temple anticipated.
Look at verses 9 and 10:
He does away with the first [that is, the old sacrifices and offerings of the Law] in order to establish the second [his Father’s will]. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
That’s an amazing statement. It was the will of the Father all along, even as he gave instructions for the tabernacle and for the Levite priests, and for the sacrifices and offerings, that one day they would be done away with. Sanctification could not come through the Law. Sanctification—the forgiveness of sins and the conversion of sinners into saints—could only come through “the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” As proof the writer points to the Old Covenant priests and gives us an image of futility. I think of my wife who laments regularly the fact that housework is never done. Before she’s done cleaning the house, it’s already getting dirty again. I think back to my days repairing computers. I could repair and repair all day, but the steady stream of broken computers never ended. And so for the priests in the temple. Look at verse 11:
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.
Day in and day out; bloody day after bloody day; but not one of those animals truly dealt with the sin problem of those who offered them. God intended that the futility of the old system would remind the people of the sinfulness of their sins and point them to the perfect Lamb, the perfect sacrifice to come. In faith they were called to look for their redemption in the One who hadn’t yet come, whom they didn’t know, but whom God had promised.
And in contrast to the endless and futile work of those priests, the writer presents Jesus in verses 12 to 14:
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
And in this the writer of Hebrews takes the sacrifice of Jesus to another level. So far he’s been presented as a perfect sacrifice for sin, but his sacrifice actually goes further. Jesus actually ushers in a New Covenant that goes beyond forgiving sins; the New Covenant is actually about the business of removing sin. The writer quotes a passage from yesterday’s First Lesson from Morning Prayer, from Jeremiah 31:
And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
“This is the covenant that I will make with them
after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
and write them on their minds,”
then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (Hebrews 10:15-18)
Through the work of Jesus, not only are sins truly and fully forgiven, but the Law is put in our hearts and written on our minds. That’s a reference in Old Testament language to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit. In the days of Moses, God presented his people with his Law on tablets of stone—a declaration of what is right and pleasing and what is wrong and displeasing to him. The people could look to those tablets and aspire to live up to God’s holy standard, but the power simply wasn’t in them. Those tablets showed them an impossible ideal of holiness that left them condemned in their sin. But for those who stand cleansed by the blood of Jesus, who have trusted in his perfect sacrifice, the Holy Spirit is given. Through him we are united with Jesus himself and given not only the desire to please God, but the ability to do so.
And so he sums it all in verse 18:
Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.
Offerings and sacrifices for sin are no longer needed when sin has been truly and finally forgiven. God’s people no longer need to make sacrifices for their sins. Jesus has perfectly dealt with them. To continue to make sacrifices for our sins is to blaspheme the work that Jesus completed at the Cross. Now, you and I may not offer bulls and goats in an attempt to appease God, but how often do we try to cover our sins with good works? Brothers and sisters, Jesus has dealt with our sins. Simply trust in what he has done; trust in him as the once-and-for-all, perfect sacrifice for your sins.
The practical application of all this draws us back to the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death and the tearing of the veil in the temple. That veil was there under the Old Covenant to keep sinful men and women out of the holy presence of God. Even those who had made their offerings for sin were still not allowed into the Holy of Holies. There was no way for them to be truly made holy and what is unholy can never enter God’s presence. And yet look at the invitation we have in verses 19 to 22:
Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
So long as we come through Jesus, by trusting in the sacrifice he made at the Cross for the forgiveness of our sins, we have an invitation to enter into the holy presence of God. Jesus clothes us in the long robe of his own righteousness so that when the Father looks at us, he sees only the purity and holiness of his Son. He is our “great high priest” who has offered himself for our sake on the Father’s altar, and it is he who in our Baptism gives us “full assurance of faith” as he sprinkles clean our hearts and washes our bodies, making us clean through and through. Brothers and sisters, that’s where our assurance lies as Christians: in the work of Jesus at the Cross and his application of that work to us by faith in Baptism.
And since we have this assurance, the writer exhorts us in verse 23:
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
Our hope is in this confession that Jesus has dealt with our sins fully and for all time at the Cross. God is faithful to what he has promised, so let us hold fast to the hope that is within us.
And don’t forget that God does not expect us to walk this path alone. Look at verses 24 and 25:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
There is unity in Jesus Christ. He unites each of us to himself, but in doing so he unites us all to each other. Our new life is not new life alone, but new life as part of his covenant community. As we saw last night in Jesus’ example of servanthood: as he has been our servant, we are to be the servant of others: sharing a common life in Jesus, exhorting each other to love and good works, drawing each other back when we stray, sorrowing with each other when we hurt, and rejoicing with each other in the blessings of God.
Let us pray: “Merciful God, you have made all people and hate nothing that you have made, nor do you desire the death of sinners but rather that they should be converted and live: have mercy on all who do not know you or who deny the faith of Christ crucified. Take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt for your Word and bring them home to your fold, blessed Lord, so that we may all become one flock under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for ever and ever. Amen.”