“Every priest stands day after day ministering and offering the same sacrifices time after time, which can never take away sins. But this man, after offering one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God. He is now waiting until his enemies are made his footstool. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
A few years ago, and still on billboards in at least the southeast, there was an ad campaign called, “Pass It On.” Each ad highlighted a different character virtue in some encouraging, fun, and creative way. One of my favorite commercials features parents who have taken their little boy to a piano concert. They realize the child is missing when the curtain goes up and they see him on stage…at the piano…pecking out Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star. Suddenly, the master pianist walks out on stage, reaches around the boy, and adds his own incredible flourish as everyone cheers. The kid thought himself good, but only when the master filled out his skills did he create something truly masterful. Jesus was the master. We’re the novices. This is what the author explores here. Let’s join him.
It was not easy being a priest under the old covenant. I mean, it could be easy. The position afforded its holders certain advantages over the average Israelite that could be exploited to their own benefit. The sons of the priest Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were infamous for doing this. They would take the best and tastiest parts of the animals offered in sacrifice for themselves rather than letting them actually be offered to God. If the worshipers protested, they would threaten them with violence. They would also take advantage of the various young women who worked in the tabernacle, sleeping with as many of them as they could. They were awful with a capitol A.
But for a priest who actually took the job seriously, it was no small task. For starters, they needed to know the Law. All of it. Inside and out. They needed to know how to apply it in any given situation. More than that, they needed to know all the various rituals of the Law. They needed to know how to offer the various sacrifices properly so they were acceptable so God. There were duties related to the upkeep of the tabernacle itself they had to perform. And, if they did any of this improperly, they were jeopardizing the people’s connection to God. No pressure, right? Done well, it was a big job with a lot of complicating factors.
But they did it. They did it because the people needed to be in a relationship with their God, and they were the ones who knew how to help them do it. They took care of the tabernacle and later the temple. They performed the sacrifices in the right ways so they people could be connected to God. They helped the people understand the Law so they could live it out and walk the path of righteousness in their lives.
And this was all good work. It was necessary work. It was work that brought them at least the perception of God’s favor and blessing. And yet, when it comes to the larger task of helping the people to dwell in a right relationship with God, these priests – however professional they may have seemed or been thought – were never doing more than child’s play in comparison with the real master. Their solemn work was never more than make believe when set alongside the great and true high priest who was yet to come. They performed their role each day with all the confidence of a four-year-old building a blanket fort while yet seeing himself constructing the Biltmore House.
This is all what the author of Hebrews is getting at here in v. 11. These poor priests went to work day after day, doing their jobs with great thoughtfulness and care, never realizing they weren’t really accomplishing what they imagined themselves to be doing. They offered sacrifice after sacrifice and assured the people of God’s favor and blessing, but not once did any of these sacrifices every actually take away the people’s sin. As the author noted back in v. 4: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin.
But then Jesus came. The king entered the picture. The master walked out on stage and started to show the crowd what He could do. He didn’t do this in a way that was intended to embarrass or humiliate the amateurs. He filled out and completed their work so they could better see and understand where they were in relation to where He was. And the distance wasn’t small. Whereas they had been offering sacrifices every day for hundreds of years, He offered one sacrifice one time and accomplished the full version of what they had long been playing at doing. “For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified.” Jesus with one sacrifice did what they hadn’t managed to do with hundreds of thousands of them. He is the master. They were – we are – the novices. And He didn’t do any of this with the showmanship of an egoist. He simply accomplished what only He could do and then sat down to wait for His victory to be made complete.
So, where does this leave us. This leaves us needing to make sure we are signed up for the new covenant and not trying to replicate some aspect of the old in hopes of getting ourselves to God by our own efforts. We won’t succeed in such a task any more than the priests of the old covenant succeeded. We will be doing the same playacting they were doing and accomplishing the same limited successes. Our efforts will never take away the sin of which we so desperately are seeking to rid ourselves. And because of this, we will never make ourselves right with God. Only Jesus, the master, can accomplish that end. We have to trust in Him. If you will trust in Him, you can be made right with God. That’s why He did what He did. Let Him be the master and relax in your proper role as a member of His devoted fanbase. You’ll be glad you did.