Once you have been taught something or done something all of your life, it is difficult to change.
There is a fun video on the web about some men in a shop who created a bicycle where the handlebars turn the opposite direction of the wheel (turn the handle bars right and the wheel goes left). The fellow doing the video showed that it is impossible for anyone who has learned to ride a normal bicycle to ride this new bike. It took the guy many months to learn how to balance and ride the new bike. After had learned to ride the new bike, he went back to the old bike and now he couldn’t do that! The point was that once we learn something, it is very difficult to go in a different direction.
This is a significant insight for us. Jewish believers had been raised all their lives with the sacrificial system. They had learned that the only way to find forgiveness for sin; the only way to be right with God, was to offer the appropriate sacrifices. The gospel was hard for these people to grasp because it was changing the way they had always understood things. This is why the Bible seems to repeat some things again and again. It is hard to accept these new teachings and you have to learn to think differently.
In truth, this is why we are always defining what it means to be a Christian. This is why we lay such a heavy emphasis on the idea of grace. Not only is it a wonderful concept, it is also a concept we have difficulty embracing because we are used to thinking of salvation as something we have to earn (even though we always end up frustrated, uncertain, or totally dejected).
In this morning’s text we return to a theme that has been repeated several times in the book of Hebrews. We left off in our study in Hebrews 13 verse 9. Verse 9 says,
9 Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them.
The strange teaching that hindered the preaching of the gospel was an emphasis on foods and other regulations. So, once again the author contrasts being saved by grace (a gift) and being saved by our own personal achievement (the Law). Following certain laws, eating certain foods, viewing certain days as religious holidays, or anything else like this is an effort to get people to “save themselves”. This is the way the Jews “learned how to ride the bike”. The message of the gospel is quite different.
This reminds us again of the importance of doctrine. We must constantly keep watch over what we believe. Keep all this in mind as we read these words. I have the feeling the author was trying to speak to the Jewish grounded people with a vernacular that was more familiar to them.
The True Atonement
10 We have an altar from which the priests in the Tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 Under the old system, the high priest brought the blood of animals into the Holy Place as a sacrifice for sin, and the bodies of the animals were burned outside the camp. 12 So also Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means of his own blood.
Think about this as if the author is saying, “Look, I know the altar and sacrifices are important to you. We still have an altar . . . in a sense . . . where a sacrifice is offered.” Then he draws an analogy. To get the analogy you have to understand what happened on the Day of Atonement (today it is called Yom Kippur.) This was the one day a year that the Priest made an offering on behalf of the entire nation of Israel. It was a time of confession and sacrifice. You can find all the instructions in Leviticus 16 in your Bible. I am going to quickly summarize what happened on that day.
- First Aaron (The High Priest) had to wear special clothes (Lev. 16:3)
- He had to make a sacrifice of a bull for his own personal sins. He could not serve the Lord until He first was right with God. (16:6)
- He would then go into the most Holy Place or the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctum of the temple) where he would offer incense and the blood from his sacrifice for his sins. The Bible says this is to keep him from dying in the Lord’s presence. (16:11-14)
- Next he had two goats. They cast lots (think draw straws) to assign tasks to goats. The first goat (the one who got the short straw) was slaughtered. His blood was then brought back into the Tabernacle (and later Temple) to purify everything. (16:7;15)
- Then the second goat (the live one) was brought out. The High Priest would put his hands on the goat (a sign of identification) and confess all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. (16:21)
- Then a man chosen for the task would take the goat out into the wilderness as a sign that the sins of the people had been removed. (16:21-22)
- Then the blood and remainder of the animals sacrificed during the ceremony are taken outside the camp where they are burned. (Lev. 16:27)
This is the most holy day in the Jewish faith.
With this background I hope Hebrews 12 makes a little more sense. Like the offerings of the Atonement Day that were taken outside the city, and the goat that led out of the city, Jesus was crucified outside of the city. The blood that He shed served as the payment for our sin. Jesus is our Atonement sacrifice.
The point is that the gospel says Jesus FULFILLED the Law. He did it perfectly, eternally, and representatively. In other words, He fulfilled the Law on behalf of everyone who would follow him. We are no longer people trying to earn our way to Heaven because Jesus has already done so! All the laws and sacrifices were pointing to Him.
We can’t and won’t be able to do anything to earn intimacy with God and life beyond the grave. It is impossible.
This is still hard for us to understand isn’t it? We tell people they need to make their own way, work hard to get ahead, stop depending on government and go out and do something useful. And then in the gospel we seem to say just the opposite: you can’t earn salvation. You must accept what Jesus has provided for you by the sacrifice of His own life.
Let’s say you love someone. Maybe you love them passionately. You do nice things for them. In fact, it brings you joy to do special things and loving things for them.
Now suppose the person you love keeps saying, “What can I do to pay you back?” What if they always wanted to know if you “were even yet?” Would that please you or break your heart? I think it would break your heart. You did not love them so they would have one more obligation to meet in their life. You loved them to love them! There is joy simply in loving. What would increase your joy is watching them enjoy your love.
What if on Christmas morning your children opened their gifts and then said, “What do I owe you?” It would deflate the whole experience wouldn’t it? However, if they took their gift and enjoyed it; if they laughed and smiled and gave you a hug . . . your heart would be filled with joy.
God has extended His grace so that we might be able to live and enjoy the life He gave us. He loved us so we could be in relationship with Him. What pleases Him is when we embrace His grace and step into the new life He provides for us. He is not looking for payback, He is looking for relationship.
How Should We Respond?
13 So let us go out to him, outside the camp, and bear the disgrace he bore. 14 For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. 15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name. 16 And don’t forget to do good and to share with those in need. These are the sacrifices that please God.
I see five implications or responses to the message of the gospel.
Let Us Go to Him. The first response is that we should go to Christ; we should run to Him as our Rescuer and Lord.
If, God forbid, you were caught in a burning building and you had no idea how to get out of the building, what would you do if you saw a fireman? Would you run away? Would you make fun of the fireman? Would you hide? Of course not! You would call out to the fireman. You would run to him or her. You would spare no time getting to the one who could rescue you.
Do you realize how wonderfully blessed we are? We are not waiting for a Redeemer, He has already arrived. We are not wondering how we can be right with God, the way has been provided. We are blessed by God and yet people hide, they scorn, and they run.
Why do people do this? Is it because they don’t understand the danger? Is it because they believe the Creator will not also stand as Judge? Are they so deluded to think they have earned God’s favor because they say nice things about God and occasionally go to church? Do they think if they do some nice things for others that God will overlook their rebellions against Him?
I honestly do not understand why people are unwilling to come to the One who has died for them. They say when you tell people Jesus is the only way to Heaven it is narrow-minded. How can it be narrow-minded when the invitation is made to all people without exception? What if Jesus is telling the truth? (Which I believe He is). I don’t get it. The person who understands the message of the gospel should not delay in coming to Him.
So, what about you? Have you run to the Lord? Are you waiting? Is so, WHAT are you waiting for? If you were bitten by a snake with a deadly venom would you wait on getting help? If the Doctor told you had cancer would you say to the Doctor: “Thanks Doc, I’ll keep that in mind and someday I will come back and we can maybe address this problem?” NO! you would run for the cure. You would not delay. In fact you would be frustrated at any delay in treatment.
You are sick. . . spiritually and eternally sick. You are getting sicker every day as you resist and run from Him. Why are you delaying becoming well? Run to Him!
Let Us Be Willing to Suffer for the Truth. The Bible says we should be willing to “bear the disgrace he bore”. In other words, we should be willing to stand with Him and die with Him if necessary.
There are soldiers who go off to war. They do not want to die but they are willing to die. Why? Because they believe in our country. They want to preserve, defend and protect the Constitution and what it represents. They want to preserve our nation for those whom we love. They are willing to die for the cause of freedom.
If you could save the life of your child by laying down your life most of us would gladly do this. Why wouldn’t we gladly lay down our lives, if necessary, so friends, family, and even strangers might know the gift of eternal life?
But, we say, the Bible is asking a lot. “You are asking me to make the ultimate sacrifice!” Others might be blessed but . . . I will be dead! But here’s the good news: No, you won’t! You will be more alive than you have ever been! Missionary Jim Elliot is famous for a great quote: “He is no fool who gives what He cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
The Bible reminds us that this sacrifice is not really as great as it seems because “this world is not our permanent home, we are looking forward to a home yet to come.” (14) In Philippians 1:21 Paul wrote, “For me to live is Christ, to die is . . . . wait for it . . . . GAIN.” We should be willing to lay down our life for Christ because of what He has already done for us.
Let Us Worship and Praise Him. When a new baby is born to our family they steal our heart immediately. There is an explosion of joy that we never thought was possible. Unless you are completely unfeeling, you stop by the crib of your child dozens of times every day and at the beginning, every hour. You assault total strangers with stories and pictures about your child. You turn every conversation to this blessing. Mothers share their stories of labor. This child has won our heart.
How much more should we honor, love, and even worship the One who made us, Redeemed us, and has prepared a place for us? How much more should we worship the One who wiped the debt of sin off of our personal ledger? How much more should we worship this One who has loved us when everyone else turned away?
The more you truly grasp and understand the message of the gospel, the more vibrantly you will worship. Tears of joy will be a constant companion. You will sing fervently and listen carefully and fully to His Word. Times of quiet will be profound times of wonder that are even deeper than those times when you stood at the doorway looking at your sleeping baby.
Let us Be Loyal. We are to proclaim our allegiance to our Lord. It is a very sad thing when people are more loyal to a sports team than they are to the one who is our final sacrifice of atonement.
We say a pledge of allegiance to the flag and to our country. We pledge allegiance to our spouse in our marriage ceremony. We sign contracts pledging we will fulfill our vows. How very much more should we pledge our allegiance to Him?
We should pledge that we will not run away when the days are hard. We will not deny Him when the opposition is great. We will not turn away from Him even though the challenge is great. Why? Because He is our Lord and we will loyally serve Him for the rest of our days.
Let us Treat Others in the Way Jesus Would. One of the best ways to show our loyalty to Him is to follow His example. One of the best acts of worship is to love others with the love which we have been given.
We are to be kind and generous not because we are trying to earn salvation or because we want public recognition. We are kind, we are generous, we stand up for those who are tossed aside in the world, because that is what Jesus would do.
When we understand the nature of the True Atonement that was made by Christ we should know that all the petty prejudices that control and enslave us should be abandoned for the grace of God. We should love one another as He has loved us. That means looking past the externals, the scars, the weaknesses, and clinging to Him.
The more clearly we see Him the more fully we will love others. He will fill us with His presence and that will have to spill over into the lives of others. We will understand His love and want to love as He does.
What I hope you have seen this morning is two things. First, the more we work at understanding the message of the gospel, the more we will be transformed by it. This is why we rehearse these truths over and over. This is why we dig deep. We want to understand it fully. We know we have to unlearn some of what we believed in the past.
Second, we have learned that those who truly understand the message of the gospel cannot be indifferent to that message. To understand the depth of God’s love to us means we will want to draw as close to that love as we possibly can. We will love Him, serve Him, Honor Him, Worship Him, and die for Him.
And none of these things will be a burden or a chore. They will be our delight. Our joy and yes, even our honor.
©Copyright May 31, 2015 by Rev. Bruce Goettsche