Hebrew 10:1-18 - Past Shadows And Present Realities
Before we read our text this morning let me share a story that may help us appreciate what we will be reading. Solomon Stoddard(1643-1749) was a minister of a Congregationalist Church in North Hampton, MA. For over 60 years he was the pastor of one of the largest and most influential churches in America.
Stoddard’s influence spread throughout the Connecticut River Valley and he became such a significant figure within the community that even the members of his church would refer to him as the ‘pope of the Connecticut River Valley’. Ironically, Stoddard’s house was built upon a tall hill that overlooked the town below. The people would often speak about how their lives were lived under the shadow of Stoddard’s influence.
Stoddard’s desire to see the people of the Connecticut river valley saved caused some problems because he made some compromises that would become known as ‘half-way Christianity’. These theological compromises pertained to the way that baptism and the LORD’s supper was administered even to unbelievers. (Eventually they called this compromise after the minister: ‘Stoddardianism’.)
When Stoddard was nearing the end of his ministry he hired a young associate pastor who would eventually become the pastor of the church. They had agreed to a timeline as to when this would happen; however, Stoddard passed away rather suddenly and this young minister became the new head pastor.
Perhaps you have heard of this young minister, who was the grandson of Stoddard, his name was Jonathan Edwards. In a very real sense Edwards, who live in the river valley, had lived his whole life under his grandfather’s shadow. When Edward’s became the pastor he began to correct some of the doctrines that had been taught. Edward’s rejected the teachings of ‘Half-way Christianity’ and at the center of His theology was not man but the Sovereign God. Because of this the shadow of Stoddard began to be eclipsed by the brightness of the dawn of a new day.
As a result of these things God was able to do a great work and the First Great Awakening began to shine fourth in the Connecticut River Valley and throughout the land. This revival could even be seen across the Atlantic in England.
Who would have thought that young Edwards would be the instrument that God would use to bring about such a great revival through the bright shining light of the Gospel. This is only a small illustration of what we will see in our text today.
We read in Hebrews 10:1-18 these words,
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. 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? 3 But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. 4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
5 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
8 When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), 9 then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. 10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.
15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,
16 “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,”
17 then he adds,
“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”
Hebrews 10:1-4 gives us seven reasons why the Law would be replaced when Christ came.
First, the Law of God was only a shadow of the good things that were to come. (1)
Secondly, the law was not the true form (1).
Third, the law could never perfect the worshipers who drew near (1).
Fourth, the law could never cleanse the consciences the worshipers (2).
Fifth, the sacrifices were a reminder of sins(3).
Sixth, it is impossible for these sacrifices to take away sins(5).
The Law Was A Shadow Of The Good Things That Were To Come
Our text begins with the words, “The law has but a shadow of the good things to come...”. The Law of God cast a very large shadow before Christ came. The Law of God had a tremendous influence upon every aspect of Jewish life.
Paul describes the influence of the law to Gentiles in Galatians 3:23when he writes, “Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
When Jesus Christ came into the world He also lived under the shadow of the Law like everyone else. This is what Paul says in Galatians 4:4, “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law…”.
No one ever expected that Jesus, who grew up in Galilee and was the son of a carpenter, would one day bring an end to the shadow of the Law that dominated the land. No one would have ever thought this could be done by Jesus at the age of thirty-three. Especially when this would be done by His death on a Roman cross. So unbelievable was this that our text reminds us that there were still many priests and people who lived under the shadow of the Law and did not know that everything had changed. We read in Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”
Nobody thought that Jesus could bring an end to the shadow of the Law and then provide the heavenly realities that were promised to come. What are these promised blessings? After His death Jesus would send the Holy Spirit who would provide real light, real life, real grace, real truth, real redemption, real pardon, real peace, real sanctification, real comfort etc.
The Law was a shadow and it could only point to the realities that were to come through Christ. John speaks of this when he writes, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world…to all who received him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (1:9, 12-13) He also says, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth...For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (14, 16-17)
The Law Was Not The True Form Of The Grace That Is Seen In Christ (1)
The word ‘form’ in Hebrews 10:1 speaks of the fact that the Law was not an exact copy or identical to the good things that are found in Jesus. We see this throughout our text today. For example,
The law limited access into God’s presence; Jesus provides full access.
The law commanded that many animal sacrifices (8); Jesus offered Himself once (10).
The Old Covenant was temporary; the New Covenant is permanent (9).
The priest stands and repeatedly offers sacrifices; Jesus now sits and waits for His enemies to be made a footstool (11-13).
The Old Covenant sacrifices reminded worshipers of their sins; the New Covenant cleanses the consciences of the worshipers and God does not remember their lawless deeds and sins (3,17).
The old covenant sacrifices could not perfect the worshipers; now we have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and God’s laws written on our hearts and in our minds (2,15-16).
The Law Never Perfected The Worshipers (1)
The word ‘perfect’ has the idea of being so complete and perfect in one’s status and standing with God that the believer can approach God with full access. The door of fellowship with the Father is open!
Derek Thomas, a pastor and teacher for Ligonier Ministries, has said that he will often tell his secretary that he is unavailable to meet with anyone while he is studying. The one exception to this is his family. If they come for a visit they are to always be allowed in.
Similarly, Christ’s sacrifice has perfected us once and for all. Because of what Jesus has done we have been adopted into God’s family. We are now sons and daughters who have access to the Father at all times through Jesus Christ (Romans 8:14; Galatians 4:5-7; John 1:12, Eph. 1:3-10).
The Law Could Never Cleanse The Consciences Of The Worshipers (2)
We have just seen that Derek Thomas is a good husband and father because he gives a special status to his family and he grants them special access. Does not the LORD do these things in an even more profound way for you and I? Consider these words from Ephesians 5:25-32, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body.“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
The Sacrifices Were A Reminder Of Sins (3)
The Old Covenant sacrifices were offered daily at the Temple. When these sacrifices were being made they admitted that they had sinned, that they were guilty, and that their condemnation was deserved.
Even as New Testament believers, who have received so much grace, we can spend a lot of time feeling guilty and condemned over your past sins. While we do this we are neglecting to consider what Christ has accomplished for us. Yet, because we are so prone to do this we know the misery it would have been for the worshipers under the old covenant to continually offer these sacrifices and be reminded of their sins and guilt.
It is miserable when we realize that God created us to be good and holy, as He is good and holy, but we have become sinful through and through.
It is miserable to know that, like Adam, we choose to sin instead of choosing to obey God.
It is miserable to believe that our sinful choices grieve God and hurt ourselves.
It is miserable to understand that the God who made us to know and love Him is angry because of our sin.
It is miserable to have nothing to look forward to but the punishment of God for sin.
And it is miserable to realize that there is nothing we can do about our misery; we can do nothing to change ourselves.1
It Was Impossible For Sacrifices Of Animals To Take Away Your Sins (5)
We read in verse 4, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Even though the Law required animal sacrifices, it was inconceivable that any of these offerings could take away our sins. Even the offerings that were given by faithful saints were still not purified, perfected and cleansed by these things. There was no power in these sacrifices to achieve such things.
As we come to the end of these first four verse we are left with the Law’s inability to do these things. We are left with one conclusion, “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins!” Let these words sink into your heart for a moment. The death of all of these countless animals could not take away one sin, one transgression, one iniquity. Yet, despite this this was commanded to be done by the law. If these sacrifices could not help you then none of your righteous works can save you!
Notice that the next verses that we read do not speak of how we should feel about the inability of these sacrifices to perfect, cleanse and forgive people. No, we are told how God felt about these sacrifices. And we are told about what the LORD would do about this.
We read in Hebrews 10:5-7these words, “When Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings, you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, “I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book”.’”
There is so much that is left to be said in this text but let me draw your attention to the words attributed to Jesus in Hebrews 10:7which says, “Then I said, “I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.”
Jesus came to do the will of His Father and to suffer and die for sinners. Philippians 2:6-8 says that we are to consider Jesus ‘who, though He He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’
I have often contrasted the willingness of Jesus to do what He has done with the prophet Jonah who rebelled against the call he was given to go and preach to the wicked city of Nineveh. At the end of the book we discover why he fled from this call. Jonah 4:2 says, “...I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster.” Jonah did not want to go and preach to sinful Nineveh because he knew that if they repented that the LORD would be merciful to them. This made Jonah angry!
Now contrast Jonah with Jesus. Jesus’ came immediately and willingly to “give Himself for our sins to deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.” (Galatians 1:4) Romans 5:6-9 says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us...to justify us...and save us from the wrath of God.”
Jonah ran away because he knew God was gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. And after he had preached to the people of Nineveh he went out of the city and sat under the unrelenting heat of God’s grace that shone down from heaven. He only found contentment when he sat under the small shadow of a plant that God had appointed to grow over him (4:5). The comfort from this small shadow was more tolerable to Jonah than the light of God’s glorious grace that can save wicked sinners who do not know their right hand from their left!
God would not allow Jonah to continue to sit in comfort while he waited to see if Nineveh would be destroyed. So God took the comfort of this plant away from him by appointing a worm to devour the plant. This made Jonah very angry (4:7-10).
But now consider Jesus. He alone is our comfort for He grew up before us as a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground (Is.53:2).Through Christ’s prompt and willing obedience to do His Father’s will even unto death we see how gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster God is.
How gracious is the LORD?
How merciful is the LORD?
How slow is the LORD to respond in anger towards you and I?
How great is the steadfast love of the LORD towards you and I?
How will the LORD make it possible and just for Him to relent from the disaster we deserve?
Hebrews 10:5-7 -The Father sent His Son to die for us.
Hebrews 10:8-10 - sinners can be sanctified through the offering of Jesus Christ once for all.
Hebrews 10:11-14 – Christ’s offering was so efficacious and He now sits at the Father’s right hand.
Hebrews 10:15-18 - the Holy Spirit is now testifying to us saying that because of what has been done by Christ the LORD will remember our sins and our lawless deeds no more.
My friends, if Christ was so willing to come the first time to suffer and die to save sinners, how much more is He ready to obey His Father’s command to return for His church so that we can be with Him forever. Are you prepared for that moment? When the Father gives this command Jesus will not delay. He will not hesitate. Are you ready? Are you trusting in Christ, remembering what He has done for you, and seeking to do His will? We ought not be like Jonah who did not want to preach so that the wicked would not experience the grace and mercy of God.
1Comforting Hearts and Teaching Minds, Starr Meade, p. 20