THE BLOOD OF CHRIST Hebrews 9
“How 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” (Heb. 9:14).Once cleansed, we can serve.
The focus of Old Testament worship was the blood sacrifice offered on the Day of Atonement (9:1–7), though that repeated sacrifice was unable to cleanse worshipers (vv. 8–10). Christ’s blood, however, cleanses us and brings us forgiveness (vv. 11–22). His one sacrifice brings full salvation (vv. 23–28).
Understanding the Text
“An earthly sanctuary” Heb. 9:1–6. Earlier the writer noted that the tabernacle on earth was a “copy and shadow” of heavenly realities (8:5). Here he suggested that the whole thing was designed with a single focus. The tabernacle was a setting in which the priests might perform their ministries. The most important thing in life is our relationship with God. Establishing and maintaining relationship with God is to be the focus of our efforts as well. “Only the high priest entered the inner room” Heb. 9:7–10. The tabernacle and temple were designed to portray a staged approach to God. An Israelite might enter the outer court, bringing an offering for a priest to sacrifice. An ordinary priest might enter the first room of the structure inside the court. But only the high priest, and that once a year, could enter the inner room of the house of worship, where God’s presence was deemed to rest. This staged entry conveyed a significant message. Though the people of Israel were God’s chosen people, they were not yet cleansed from sin. They had no direct, personal access to God. Even the high priest could not enter the inner room without sacrificial blood, which provided a temporary and symbolic cleansing for him as well as for the people. How different it is for you and me. Through Christ, our High Priest, we have direct access to God—at any time! At any moment in your life you can tune your heart to the Lord, and know that in that moment He is giving full and immediate attention to your need. Hebrews 4:16 assures us that we can come to the throne of grace with confidence—even if we need mercy because we have slipped and sinned! And surely we can come to find grace to help and strengthen us when we feel pressure or have any need. What a privilege it is, to rush unhesitatingly into the presence of God, absolutely sure that He welcomes us! “By His own blood” Heb. 9:11–12. Throughout Scripture blood has unique significance. Blood was shed to provide the animal skins that covered the nakedness of Adam and Eve, for the sacrifices mentioned in Genesis, and in the sacrifices ordained in Old Testament Law. Blood was so significant that God’s people were forbidden to eat or drink it, for Leviticus 17:11 said, “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.” Blood not only represents life, but life poured out in sacrifice. Even more significantly, the blood of Old Testament sacrifices prefigured the ultimate sacrifice to come. The blood that permitted the Israelite to approach God was a vivid metaphor of the blood that would one day be poured out on Calvary; a picture promise of the full redemption to come. Blood. Life, poured out in sacrifice. This is the source, and the promise, of the eternal redemption obtained for us by Jesus Christ. Hebrews reminds us that Old Testament Law required “that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (vv. 16–22). Here an Old Testament priest sprinkles the blood of a sacrificial animal on the horns and at the base of the altar. “The blood of Christ [will] cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death” Heb. 9:14. Each of us, if we look back into our pasts, can easily locate incidents over which we feel both guilt and shame. Such incidents lodge themselves in the human conscience. Lodged there, they have a terrible impact on our present. They remind us of our failures, and so keep us from stepping out to try again. They create a sense of dread and fear of God, who we feel must punish us. At best they lead to frantic self-effort as we try to make up for our past by doing better in the future—effort which can only lead us farther away from a God who insists we abandon self-effort in favor of faith. But the writer of Hebrews tells us that the blood of Christ cleanses the conscience. All the guilt, all the shame, all the scars caused by our sins, is washed away by the forgiveness that flowed with the blood which poured from our Lord. In the blood of Christ we hear the message, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (8:12). When we claim forgiveness by faith, our conscience is purged and cleansed. And with a cleansed conscience, we are at last enabled to “serve the living God.” Perhaps you’ve seen a child’s motorized toy, with its steering wheel fixed, going round and round in a circle. It cannot break out of that circular path. Its direction is fixed. We were like this before Jesus cleansed us. Sin and guilt had fixed the pattern of our lives. Then forgiveness came and filled in the rut which guilt had worn in our personalities. With that cleansing also comes enablement. Our lives change direction. We begin to move toward the goal of righteousness, and as we move, we experience freedom and joy. Don’t live on in the grip of past guilt. Accept God’s Word that the blood of Christ has wiped out your past, and let the Holy Spirit make this real to you. Freed from the grip of your past, you can look ahead with joy, confident that God will enable you to serve Him well.
Once, for All(Heb. 9:23–28)
“Back on the machine, dearie.” The nurse’s voice was cheerful. But even though it was only the machine that kept him alive, he dreaded going into the white, antiseptic-smelling room again. The kidney dialysis machine that kept him alive also reminded him of his fatal illness. He was not free, but bound to return to the machine that purified his blood again and again. Away from it, his sickness quickly took grim hold on his body, and sapped all his strength. That’s just what Hebrews 9 says about the Old Testament system (vv. 6–9). The fact that the sacrifices of atonement had to be constantly repeated meant that the patients were not cured! Sin kept its grip on them, and they were only maintained in fellowship with God by repeated applications of sacrificial blood. The writer of Hebrews shouted the news. Christ “appeared once for all at the end the ages to do away with sin.” In Christ and by His one sacrifice, we are cured. We stand forgiven, cleansed. Possessors of a new and endless life, we are equipped to love and serve our God. The repeated sacrifices of the Old Testament system reminded worshipers of their continuing desperate condition. The one sacrifice of Christ reminds us of His total victory. Don’t let yourself be dragged back into sin by the weight of your past. Because of Jesus, the past has no hold on you anymore! Consider: The blood of Christ has cleansed you from all sin! By one sacrifice Jesus has made you well, and guaranteed victory! We are the lame, called to leap and dance. We are the blind, called to see. We are the deaf who now hear. By the once for all sacrifice of Jesus, we are forgiven, made well, and called to face life rejoicing in the assurance that the victory we need has already been won!
Let Christ’s one sacrifice free you to live confidently, and joyously.
“One Sunday it happened that St. John could not be at church with his friends, for like Elisha, like Jesus, he was taken by the armed men, and held in prison. But God consoled him with a vision: he saw the Christian sacrament that morning not as men see it, but as it is seen in heaven. His spirit went up; he saw the throne of Glory, and the four Cherubim full of eyes in every part, who sleep not, saying Holy, Holy, Holy. And he saw the sacrifice, the Lamb of God: a Lamb standing as though slaughtered; a Lamb alone worthy to open for mankind the blessed promises of God. He saw the Lamb, and then the angels. I saw, he says, and heard the voice of many angels around about the Throne, the number of them ten thousand times ten thousand, and thousands of thousands: saying with a loud voice, Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive the power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing. That is the Christian eucharist. Certainly when we gather here, those that are with us are more than those who stand upon the opposing side. For all heaven is with us when once we lift our hearts up to the Lord, and praise the everlasting Love, the One God in three Persons. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: to whom is ascribed, as is most justly due, all might, dominion, majesty and power, henceforth and forever.”—Austin Farrer