Epistle to the Hebrews (10:1-3)   Leave a comment

Epistle to the HebrewsThe old system under the law of Moses was only a shadow, a dim preview of the good things to come, not the good things themselves. The sacrifices under that system were repeated again and again, year after year, but they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship. If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year.” Hebrews 10:1-3

The author of our epistle portrayed in chapter 9 how Jesus’ sacrifice was far better than animal’s sacrifice. We have seen that the old covenant was just a preview of what God intended to do. Now he continues his arguments by extrapolating the reasons. The fact that Jesus’ sacrifice is able to remove sins once for all and requires no further sacrifice are central themes in our epistle. The author wants to make it clear to the Jews that the old covenant is obsolete, that sacrifices and rituals are no longer needed. This implied a major change in a Jewish-Christian daily life. For example, when this Christian saw his neighbors, elders and relatives mobilised for the day of atonement, Yom Kippur, this Jewish Christian logically had nothing to offer as sacrifice and did not see the need to fast for one whole day. Yom Kippur was the holiest day of the year for the Jews because once a year the high priest entered the most holy place.

At the end of Yom Kippur, a Jew hoped that he was forgiven by God after he consecrated himself, confessed his sins and did good to others. Fasting was also a strict requirement and if someone failed to abide to, he was cut off from the community (Leviticus 23:29). Was not a Jewish Christian looked down because he refused to go penitent on this day like everyone did? Was not he considered a betrayer, a non-conformer, an enemy and sinful just because he no longer followed the long established traditions of his forefathers?

We need to understand well what that meant for a Jew at this time to actually stop following the requirements of the old covenant. The author wanted to show to the Hebrews that Jesus’ sacrifice removed their sins so there was no longer the need to go penitent and follow what used to be done on the day of atonement. This shift from the tradition implied persecution from fellow non-christian Hebrews and some of them were returning to their previous traditions. The Hebrew Christians were tempted to compromise with their faith and it is one of the reasons why the author wrote this epistle.  Through this epistle, the author clearly extolled Jesus to the highest leaving no doubt that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah and God Himself. Jesus came to fulfilled the law.

As the author puts it: “they were never able to provide perfect cleansing for those who came to worship.

So why following an imperfect system of purification of sins when you’re aware that you’re already forgiven through what Jesus did? If these long established system could actually forgive sins then why was it necessary to repent again for what was forgiven in the past? Either it was forgiven or it was not. The Jews hoped they were forgiven because they tried their best to denied themselves and went through penitence. But who could say that he has denied himself enough, confessed all his sins, did enough good and deserved to be forgiven? This is the reason why the Jews were still feeling guilty in their conscience.  In their conscience, they knew that the degree of their righteousness depended on their performance to convince God. No one can bargain with God for sin’s forgiveness anyway.  Animal sacrifice could only cover sins and not remove them, so that’s another reason why the Jew’s conscience was still guilty. Even today people offer fruits to their gods, go through penitence, walk long distances, do good works, deprive themselves of pleasures and food to try to obtain God’s favor. But deep down their soul and conscience they know that they are not forgiven by  whatever they did. They still have this burden of guilt haunting them.

This is why the author said:

“If they could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared.But instead, those sacrifices actually reminded them of their sins year after year.”

Our epistle and the new covenant tell us that we are forgiven if we trust in Jesus. It no longer depends on what we do but on what Jesus did. We trust and believe that Jesus dealt with our sins. This is not to say that we no longer have to acknowledge and confess our sins. On the contrary, we’ll boldly go to our High Priest telling Him everything we did because we are convinced that He is faithful and just to forgive us.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.” 1 John 1:9

The Jews did not have the certitude that they were entirely forgiven because their forgiveness depended on their performance. So who could say boldly he was forgiven? But the Christian knows with certitude he is forgiven because this burden to perform is removed. It does not depend on what he does but on what Jesus did. Christians do not claim they have no sins. They do not wait for a special religious day to ask for forgiveness. Though not proud of their sins, gladly and boldly they go to God’s throne by acknowledging their wrong doings. Without a shadow of doubt they know they are forgiven because they know who Jesus is.

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Posted March 23, 2013 by Cedric in Theology

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