Remember the Shiites in Iraq a few years ago? The news media transmitted pictures of pilgrims whipping themselves in rituals designed to address their guilt.
I know Christians who live the same way. They spiritually whip themselves with guilt.
Guilt can be a bad thing. Paul Harvey tells the story of a twelve-year-old boy named Addie, who was asked by his older sister to stay for a party that she was giving, to which some of her school friends were coming.
Addie stayed, but he found himself bored with the games of the high school kids. Finally, one of the older boys casually mentioned to him that he had learned the manual of arms—an army drill, which involved the twirling of a rifle with crisp precision. The only problem was, they needed a gun!
Then Addie remembered that his dad had a .22 rifle. Quickly, he ran to fetch it. After a demonstration by the "military expert", Addie decided he wanted to give it a try.
What followed remained locked in the mind of Addie until the day he died. The eyewitness accounts varied. Some said that after the older boy showed Addie the manual of arms, Addie tried to duplicate his actions. Others said that he was trying to put the rifle away, while one person swore that Addie "took the gun from the older boy...pointed it at one of the girls... and pulled the trigger."
However it occurred, the gun was loaded and in Addie's hands when it was fired. The resulting gunshot killed a young girl named Ruth Merwin.
In the years that followed, this incident was never mentioned by Addie. He went on to have an outstanding career in public service, serving as governor of his home state, and twice being nominated for the presidency of the United States. And there are those who say that had he run against anybody besides a certified world hero (Dwight Eisenhower), he would have won.
Some who knew him well enough to know about that tragic event believed he could never shake the guilt.
This story reminds us that:
People were not built for guilt.
In the excellent book, UNVEILED GLORY, authors Jeff Childers and Fred Aquino offer several points concerning the saving work of the Gospel; I want to offer three:
Here are two verses that reflect this understanding:
9bGod lives fully in Christ. 10And you are fully grown because you belong to Christ, who is over every power and authority…. 15There Christ defeated all powers and forces. He let the whole world see them being led away as prisoners when he celebrated his victory. (Col. 2:9b-10, 15.) CEV
28 In the same way, the Son of Man did not come to be served. He came to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many people"(Matthew 20:28.) NCV
The idea here is that Jesus is the cosmic Lord who defeats the powerful forces of evil and liberates us from the power of sin. We sing songs to celebrate this: “Faith is the Victory” and “The Battle Belongs to the Lord” are two examples.
Paul wrote, For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died (II Cor. 5:14.) NIV. Jesus’ love motivates us to do what he would have us to do, think like he would have us to think, and to live like he would have us to live.
Childers and Aquino write concerning pardon, “The image of salvation as satisfaction widely stresses God's goal of addressing the cosmic effects of sin and restoring the divine order. Justice and salvation are tied together.”
In this blog, we want to look at the pardon of God in Hebrews 9:1-10:18.
I have found interest on occasion observing what theologians and philosophers consider the crucial questions of humanity. One consistent question is this: what can we do about our guilt?
I find it interesting the way the Bible addresses guilt. Early on, God, through word and visual aids, taught people: for you to live, something must die. Go back to Genesis three. Adam and Eve sinned, and what did they try to do? Cover themselves with leaves, the products of their own efforts. But it wasn’t good enough. God provided them with the skins of animals. Innocent blood was shed. For Adam and Eve to live, something had to die. Blood had to be shed.
Thus, begins a pattern throughout scripture. In the Old Testament, it was found in sacrifices such as the burnt offering, the sin offering, the guilt offering, the fellowship offering, the Day of Atonement, and even the Passover. (As the renowned Levitical scholar Jacob Milgrom wrote,) “[In the Bible] Blood is the ritual detergent.”
Under the New Covenant, you had a change. Instead of—for you to live, something must die—it became: for you to live, someone must die. The Son of God shed his life-sustaining liquid on the cross. His blood marked an eternal difference—but what a high price!
I always crack up reading about the time-worn story of a wealthy woman who was traveling overseas and saw a bracelet she thought was irresistible; she sent her husband this cable: "Have found wonderful bracelet. Price $75,000. May I buy it?"
Her husband promptly wired back this response: "No, price too high." But the cable operator omitted the comma, so the woman received this message: "No price too high." Elated, she purchased the bracelet. When she arrived back home, she was effusive in thanks to her husband. She proudly showed him the bracelet.
Puzzled, he asked her WHY she purchased it. She answered, “You telegrammed me: no price too high.”
Remember, God loved you so much, no price was too high.
Many are growing to love Tim Keller’s writings. A relevant statement from them is this, “Here's the gospel: you're more sinful than you ever dared believe; you're more loved than you ever dared hope.”
Christ Is the Perfect Sacrifice
Look how the Preacher of Hebrews cultivates his thoughts, 11 So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a young cow could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity.
Several years ago, I heard of a fund called “The Conscience Fund.” Perhaps, it is an urban legend, but supposedly, our government maintains this fund now holding over 3 million dollars.
The people who fund it are those who formerly cheated on their income tax. The fund was founded in 1811 when a gentleman sent six bucks. The highest gift has been $14,250 from a person in London.
The best statement I read was from one guy who sent fifty buck—"I can't sleep; my conscience is bothering me. Enclosed you will find a check for fifty dollars. If I still can't sleep, I'll send the balance.”
When I think about that story, I think of Hebrews 9:13-14: The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!
Remember those who could not get over their guilt? Years ago, biblical scholar Leon Morris noted that the word “blood” was found 460 times in the Bible: 362 in the Old Testament and 98 in the New Testament.
What gives? Why so much emphasis on blood?
I think there are several reasons. However, in chapter 17, dealing with how you kill animals for sacrifices or for food, you find a nugget of knowledge. In verse 11, the Lord says, “11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one's life.”
That sentence packs a lot of religious teaching and symbolism. The writer of Hebrews plays off that verse when he writes,“22 In fact, according to the law of Moses, nearly everything was purified with blood. For without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22).
There are churches all around us though that, many years ago, began having trouble believing this. People became so sophisticated that they did not like the idea that blood needed to be shed to save us. There was something so “barbaric” about that a lot of people found it offensive. So you'll hear very little in many churches today about the blood of Christ.
I remember years ago talking with a couple of graduate students who asked the same question, “Why blood? Why did the blood have to be shed to save us?” They were disturbed by that idea and could not buy into it. Something within them desired sophistication so much that they refused to believe blood would be important to God.
One reason for their belief was they held a high view of humanity. It is a view that considers people to “not be that bad.” Oh, there are a few that are bad. But most people are very good. And most of us pretty close to being how we need to be.
So for us to be saved, all that needs to happen is for God to say “I forgive you.” That is it; no one needs to die for us.
Here is the problem with that view. History does illustrate our goodness.
100 years ago, throughout Europe and here in the United States, people in churches began to think, “At last, we're becoming what we were made to be. Man is getting better.”
Then, an event happened that shattered that illusion–World War One. European kinfolk began fighting back and forth and lost a generation of young men. Millions of people died. People became disillusioned; Christians became disillusioned.
But humanity started to pick up steam again and to move on. And people commenced to feel better about themselves. Then World War Two began. Then, the Korean War began. Then Vietnam. Then the Gulf War. Then Afghanistan and the Iraq war.
On top of that you had in the twentieth century the “killing fields” of Cambodia, the tens of millions of murders committed by Stalin, and Hitler…
Last time I checked, blood is still being shed.
I don't think we’re getting better. These are problems humanity had at the very beginning. We all have the impulse to be God. And when we realize we can't do the job, we all have the impulse to try to get better at the job. We all have the impulse solve our sin problems ouselves.
What you see here in Hebrews is the blood of Christ washing away sins. Over and over again the writer quotes God saying, “I am going to clean your conscience.”
I think those who are turned off by the need of the shedding of the Savior's blood are expressing subconsciously an unhappiness at the thought that they can stand before God condemned. They do not want to see themselves as sinners.
Have you ever met somebody and took an instant dislike to him or her? And then you have a mutual friend who says to you, “I don't see why you cannot get along. You two are just alike.”
Bingo! You see your flaws in the other person, and you don't want to see them in yourself. You do a pretty good job of ignoring those.
I think this vision of blood is a betrayal of the fact that we do not like seeing ourselves as we really are. We don't want to feel the need to be forgiven. We want to think there's not much sin within us. But we have to go before the Father, by going to the cross; we have to kneel at the cross, and with a confessional attitude, and an attitude of repentance, we must say, “You, God, are holy and I'm not. I do not deserve the eternal life of heaven. I do not deserve to live with you forever. I need the blood of Jesus.”
This brings to the surface a lot of verses that talk about cleansing of sin, for example I Peter 3 talks about baptism being an appeal for a clean conscience.
Saul is told in Acts 22:16, “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.’”
We can take solace in the fact that we have been saved once and for all. We have been forgiven once and for all. Jesus did not have to die over and over again. At one point in history, on a cross, an act was performed by which he has forgiven us.
Years ago, back when the British soldiers were redcoats, they participated in a parade. A little boy in his father’s shop looked up and said, “Dad, look at those white coats.”
The father said, “Son, those aren’t white coats.” And the son said, “Those are white coats.”
The father kneeled down to where the son was, and he looked up and he saw that the son was viewing those coats through a prism of red glass. That glass, coupled with the sunlight, created an optical illusion. Those coats appeared white.
In a sense, God says, “When I look upon you through the blood of my son, you are white. You are spotless.”
Looking again to Hebrews, 14 For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy (Heb. 10:14.)
We stand before God and perfection, so bloodshed is important. 17 Then he says, “I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”
18 And when sins have been forgiven, there is no need to offer any more sacrifices (Heb. 10:17-18.)
Here’s the result:
You can know you are forgiven;
You can know God has forgotten.
You can enjoy a life free of guilt.
What is the response of a cleansed of people? The Preacher asked these Christians in Hebrews, “Why would you want to leave a group of people who have been freed from sin by the shed blood of Jesus for a group of people who have not? Why would you leave a group of people who have clean consciences to join the group of people who don't?”
Don’t you want to set aside time each Sunday to reflect on this in the Lord’s Supper? For example, aren’t you are applying this when you partake of the grape juice? Aren’t you remembering the work of the blood?
Twice in my life I have been to Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC. The last time was two years ago with my daughter, Abby, and some of members of her class.
On the bed where Abraham Lincoln died was a pillow and on this pillow was a stunning, huge red stain. It was a bloodstain. Now why in the world would somebody keep a pillow stained with blood? Because that was the bloodshed by Abraham Lincoln. He shed it to help free an enslaved people.
There is one who shed his blood 2000 years ago. He did so to free an enslaved people, enslaved by sin, and by it he said, “You are free.”
Back in 1944, Japanese forces were fighting American forces on an island in the Pacific. A Japanese soldier realized the battle was being lost. And so, refusing to surrender, he decided to hide in a cave. He stayed there 22 years. He lived on bugs and other items. Having never heard the war was over, he continued fighting the war. Finally some hunters found him. They told him the war was over. They rescued him. They gave him freedom.
This is a tragic story. Here was a guy living a life that was based upon past sins; he was not even taking advantage of the atonement that was offered for him. The war was over. He was free. The Japanese and the Allied forces were enemies no more. They were friends and allies. But he did not live like it.
I talk with people like that every day. If you are a Christian, you need to know the war with sin is over. There is atonement. You no longer have to be an enemy of Jesus. Reconcile with his forces.