I make no apologies for being a creature of habit – and a preacher of repetition. There are things which I do just about every day – for example I almost always eat the same breakfast. And I repeat myself in the course of my sermons, saying the same thing again and again, sometimes in different words, but often in exactly the same words. And then – I also repeat the same theme over and over again in different sermons. I realize that “variety is the spice of life,” but sameness also has its perks.
I am in good company when I repeat things. The Bible does the same thing throughout its pages.. For example, try counting, how often “repentance” and God’s coming Kingdom are tied together. Statements like, “Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” – or words similar to those. Colossians 1:14 speaks of Christ – “In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins,” and those words are almost exactly repeated in Ephesians 1:7. And did you know that the “Christian armor” isn’t really Christian, even though it is mentioned in Ephesians 6 and I Thessalonians 5? I say it isn’t Christian armor because their first mention is in Isaiah 59. So I suppose that it ought to be called “the armor of the Saints.” Why are there four gospels instead of just one? There is a great deal of repetition between those gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke and sometimes John. But most of man’s attempts to reduce them to one history of Christ fail, because they are all different.
The Bible uses repetition, reiteration and summary in order to teach and drive the truth into our hearts. Rarely is one swing of the hammer sufficient to drive the nail through the two-by-four. And equally rare does one mention of a truth drive it into the soul of even a regenerated man. It might be instructive to compare how many times it took YOU to hear the gospel before you were converted.
Are you thoroughly acquainted with the material Paul describes in this chapter? Even if you are, IS it impossible for it to be a blessing to you again? Are you sufficiently familiar with this material to be able to intelligently and quietly talk to a Roman Catholic or a Jew about these things? Please bear with me once again in my repetition.
Like my sermons, Old Testament sacrifices were repeated over and over again.
And Paul makes it perfectly clear WHY that was true. If something was 100% perfect, it would never need to be repeated. When Mom fixes your favorite food – when she creates your favorite meal – with all of your favorites in each of the required food groups – After Mom has fixed your favorite meal, and you have eaten until you are full, why does she have to fix another meal for you in a few hours? And why is that you have finally had a really good night’s rest and your dreams were pleasant… You didn’t have to get up during the night; there wasn’t a cat-fight in the back yard – It was a perfect Serta night. Why is it that sixteen hours later, you are just as tired as you were twenty-four hours ago? Things are repeated because they are not sufficiently done the first time – or even the twenty-first time It might have nothing to do with the quality of the mattress or the meal. There are problems IN US which demand a constant replenishing of sleep and food. If I could preach one message on any subject, or any doctrine, in the Bible, and we all could thoroughly grasp it and remember it until we stand in the presence of the Lord, then eventually I should be able to preach myself out of a job. But there are two problems – my ability to communicate, and your ability to receive and retain that communication.
Old Testament sacrifices were repeated by the thousands because they had no lasting efficacy. They fell eternally short of making the souls who offered them perfect. “For the law … can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect.” Have you ever DREAMED about eating your favorite meal – have you ever dreamed about eating anything? Whether you have or not, I guarantee you didn’t wake up stuffed – unless you found your pillow missing. The Old Testament in all its aspects, including its dozens of blood sacrifices, were almost dream-like. They certainly could not do what many people dreamed – and sometimes still dream – they can. If the sacrifice of the goat of the Atonement accomplished what many people hoped, there would be a lot more living goats in this world. But as Paul says in verse 4 – “It is not possible that the blood of pulls and of goats should take away sins.” That was a common Jewish dream.
There is only a small difference between slaughtering a lamb, sprinkling its blood around the brazen altar, then laying the carcass over hot coals, and some people’s observance of communion or the Lord’s supper. Both the Mosaic law and the ordinances of the Lord’s church are proscribed by God in His Word. Both the sacrifices and the ordinances are commanded for obedient saints. Both are pictures or shadows of more important things. And here is the point, both of them have NO ability to wash away sin – none. Just as Paul says here about the blood of bulls and goats, he could have said about the Catholic “mass” or the Campbellite’s baptism. It doesn’t matter how many churches teach such things, or how many times these doctrines are declared in various articles of faith. The ordinances are not “sacraments.” There is no communication of divine grace by such acts of the flesh. Baptism and the Lord’s supper are symbolical, and in a way, so were all the offerings made by Aaron and his sons.
There once was a highly religious, highly faithful Jewish leader, who secretly came to the Lord Jesus, asking for His advice and instruction. There is no reason to think that Nicodemus had failed to maintain the ceremonial laws when it came to his major responsibilities, like the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles and the Atonement. He may have been among the least hypocritical of the Jewish Pharisees. And how old was he? His position demanded that he be over thirty – but let’s say he was forty-two years old. At first his PARENTS made sure of his participation in the Passover and other responsibilities. And then when he became of age, HE made sure that his tithes were paid, so that the morning and evening sacrifice were maintained. He made sure his sons were circumcised and his wife offered the requisite turtle doves when his children were born. For thirty-years he had kept the Passover and participated in the national Day of Atonement. He faithful attended the synagogue or temple, washed his hands, and prayed three times a day. But what did the Saviour say to him? “These things are not sufficient.” “Ye must be born again.” All of Nicodemus’ faith and faithfulness were nothing – like a meal eaten in a dream. “Every priest (from Aaron to Annas) standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But (the man whom Nicodumus came to visit – the Lord Jesus Christ), after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God. From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.”
Christ Jesus made one sacrifice for sin – and it did the job.
Repeating myself, verse 4 says, “It is not possible the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sin.” But then the subject shifts to someone whom Paul expects everyone to know – Christ, the Son of God. He quoted the words of Psalm 40 – “Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.”
Paul was as much lead by the Holy Spirit as David was so many centuries earlier when writing Psalm 40. And the Apostle explains that in those words, Christ was bringing to an end the Old Covenant and establishing the New. “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
We have never been told what happened to Nicodemus after he helped put the body of Christ into Joseph’s tomb. By the time Paul wrote the Book of Hebrews, the body of Nicodemus was probably in his own tomb. Paul had probably known the man; he could have imagined himself writing this letter to that Hebrew. “Nicodemus, when Christ told you, ye must be born again, it was in the light of His upcoming sacrifice. He told you that unless you were born again, you could not see the Kingdom of God, because without that new birth you could never be sanctified – made holy enough to stand before Jehovah. But through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all, you and I, along with thousands of others, have been sanctified – set apart and declared righteous. Now we can see the Kingdom of God.”
The Son of God, whom other scriptures call, “the Lamb of God,” offered the perfect and final sacrifice. “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” Oh, and what a healing it was. It was not a healing from a cold, so that the sufferer could later be taken to the grave by pneumonia. It was a healing of sin, from which the second death could never touch us. “For by one offering Christ hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” “Nicodemus and all you believing Hebrews; Oldfield and all you repentant, believing Gentiles, by the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ, you have been saved once for all – for all time, for all sin, for all glory.” “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” Don’t permit the miserable Devil tell you that
if you don’t keep the law, your salvation – your sanctification – will somehow become null or void. Don’t let some confused preacher or minister tell that Paul was mistaken. “There is therefore now NO condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” And “ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
If you will remember, as Nicodemus was listening to the Lord, he couldn’t grasp the words he was hearing. “How can these things be? How can a man be born when he is old?” Born again? The Lord Jesus explained it one way in John 3, and Paul puts it another way here. Christ Jesus did all that God the Father required – He was obedient in every respect. “I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.” Christ fulfilled every demand of the law – both in His life and in His death. And in His death, He hath “perfected for ever them that are sanctified.”
There are thousands – millions – of people around the world today trusting in yet one more sacrifice of Christ to cleanse them of their sins. For many of them, this sacrifice is a repetition of the sacrifice which was made for their sin last week, or last month, or last year. By the very fact that they are duplicating an act which has been done before, they are testifying to the imperfection of what they are doing. They are saying that they are still unsanctified and unprepared to enter or even see the Kingdom of God.
What these people need – what we all need – is the full and sufficient sacrifice which Christ which He accomplished on Calvary more than 2,000 years ago. When our faith is placed in THAT sacrifice, God imputes our faith to us as righteousness in His sight. And in His divine sovereignty and power, He ignites spiritual life within us – we are born again. And “YE must be born again.”