Hebrews 10:11-12 “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.”
Where did the idea behind the Old Testament temple sacrifices come from, these sacrifices the priests of Israel offered? These were commanded by God himself! In the daily worship at the temple God established several kinds of sacrifices for different situations or occassions, but there was one thing they all had in common. They had to be repeated over and over again. None of them was a lasting solution for the problem of sin.
If that is true of the repeated sacrifices which God himself had commanded, what does that say about the ongoing sacrifices of service, or time, or money that people keep on offering to God, day after day after day? If even the repeated sacrifices, which God himself has invented, can’t take away sins, can all the kindnesses of a little nun do any better? Can all the charitable donations of the world’s richest billionaires? Can all the endless peacemaking of the world’s greatest humanitarians? Can all their combined busyness do more than the sacrifices prescribed by God himself?
The answer is obvious. “No, they can’t.” Sometimes Christians have been accused of a “graceless imperialism” when we say that only believers in Jesus will go to heaven. Some people view such claims as a claim that we are better than everyone else in every other religion. But is that what we are really saying? If even the Old Testament sacrifices of God’s chosen people couldn’t make them holy, if our own good deeds and our own charity, repeated day after day after day, can’t attain forgiveness, will those done by anyone else be able to? The answer must be “No.”
Only one thing can take away sins. Only one thing can make people holy. “But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” If we want to be saints, if we want to be holy people, the place to look is not to ourselves. It’s not a matter of trying harder. The place to look is to Jesus and to his perfect sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice does make us holy. It has taken away sins, and we have good reasons to be sure.
First, there is the matter of how many times Jesus offered himself as our sacrifice. He “offered for all time one sacrifice for sins.” His sacrifice was an instant and complete success. “If it aint broke, don’t fix it,” people say. Since Jesus’ sacrifice paid for sin and repaired our relationship with God on the first try, there was no need for him to keep on offering sacrifices to fix it.
We can be all the more certain of this because Jesus has returned home. He “sat down at the right hand of God” in heaven. When Jesus came to earth, he wasn’t coming to stay. He had a job to do, and now his job is done. His work here is finished, and he didn’t stick around as though he would continue to offer sacrfices for sin. He has returned home, not for retirement, but to do his other important work: ruling and protecting us, and preparing our place with him there.
We often hear, “Nobody’s perfect.” Generally we are inclined to agree. If somebody claimed to be perfect, we would think that they are guilty of the height of arrogance. But this is not entirely true. In Jesus, everybody’s perfect. In Jesus you are perfect because by one sacrifice Jesus made us perfect forever. This is how God sees you now. Christians aren’t better than others, but Jesus’ sacrifice has made them saints.