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22. The Perfect Sacrifice: The Sacrifice that Perfects (Hebrews 10:1-18)

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January 11, 2009

1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.

5 So when he came into the world, he said, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 6 “Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. 7 “Then I said,Here I am: I have come - it is written of me in the scroll of the book - to do your will, O God.’” 8 When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again - sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy.

15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” 17 then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.1

Introduction

A number of years ago I was speaking at a banquet. I chose encouragement as the subject of my message, and Barnabas as an excellent example of encouragement. Throughout my message I was urged on (encouraged?) by individuals in the audience. Some would comment “on the beat” while others chimed in on the “offbeat.” But there was one woman in particular that stood out. When I reached the main emphasis of my talk she could be heard from the back of the group. It went something like this: “Ohhhhhhhhh.” If I could translate or paraphrase what she meant it was something like this: “I can see it coming. He’s about to tell us what he’s been working up to all this time.” And she was right.

If that woman were in the gathering of Hebrew Christians that first received this epistle, at this point in the reading of Hebrews she would have said, “Ohhhhhhh!” We have now come to the place in the Book of Hebrews where the author is summing up his argument. This is the bottom line, and from here he will begin to spell out how we should apply what he has been teaching.

When we come to Hebrews 10:1-18 we should expect some repetition. After all, when an author concludes his argument he repeats his major points and then underscores where all of this has brought the reader. Thus, much of what we read in our text is not new. Not only does the author repeat significant points he has already made, he also cites Old Testament Scriptures to buttress his argument. Thus, we find another reference to Psalm 110 in our text, and so also to Jeremiah chapter 31. The Old Testament text which is given the greatest prominence on our passage is new to Hebrews. The author cites from Psalm 40 and builds a case on it in Hebrews 10:5-10. The author’s use of Psalm 40 raises several important questions:

How can our author use these words of David and apply them to Jesus, the Messiah?

How do we explain the author’s deviation from the wording of the second line of Psalm 40:6?

What is the unique meaning and contribution of this Old Testament text?

I will tell you up front that verses 5-10 of our text contain a unique contribution to the argument of Hebrews and it is my intention to spend a disproportionate amount of time considering these verses. As the title of this message indicates, I believe that the words of Psalm 40 cited in Hebrews chapter 10 are some of the most beautiful words in the entire Bible. Let us listen carefully to what the Spirit of God is saying to us from Psalm 40, and from the words of our author in this magnificent text.

Prototypes are not Perfection (Hebrews 10:1-4)

1 For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. 2 For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? 3 But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year. 4 For the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.

There is a great difference between a shadow and the reality it reflects. As I was sitting in the pew during the Lord’s Table I was leaning forward in such a way that the ceiling lights cast a shadow of my head on the pew in front of me. As I observed my shadow I was a little troubled. It appeared that my hair was in disarray. My wife Jeannette is out of town helping one of our daughters with a new baby, so I had to get myself ready for church – a risky endeavor indeed. I was fairly confident that my socks were the same color, and that they matched my pants and shoes. But had I forgotten to comb my hair? A hasty look in the bathroom mirror put my mind at rest. The shadow was not reality; my hair was combed. The shadow was not an exact representation of the reality in the same way that Jesus is an exact representation of the Father.2

The Old Testament Law and the Levitical priesthood (with all of its sacrifices) was but a shadow of the “good things to come,” namely the New Covenant as inaugurated by the incarnation and sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus. The Levitical sacrifices were made year after year, and this repetition was evidence of their ineffectiveness. If, the author reasons, these sacrifices were able to perfect those who drew near then they would not have had to be offered over and over again. One offering would have been sufficient. The offerer would have been cleansed of sin and likewise his conscience would have been cleansed as well. There should be no guilty conscience regarding sin where the guilt and penalty of sin has been removed.

As though being ineffective was not bad enough, the Old Testament sacrifices also served as a reminder of past sins, as yet not removed. If I were to get distracted as I was driving and run into a guard rail, there would be some tell-tale evidences of my failure somewhere on my car. Until that damage was repaired, every time I looked at my car I would see the damage and be reminded of my failure. So, too, with the Old Testament sacrifices. Every time a sacrifice was offered (again) I would be reminded of the fact that my sin had not been permanently removed. It would be like getting a monthly credit card statement when I had been unable to make a payment. The statement would not remove my debt, but it would surely remind me that I was in debt.

The reason for the failure of the Old Testament sacrifices to remove sin is given in verse 4: “the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sins.” Animal blood is not a sufficient sacrifice for sins. It would be like me trying to pay my credit card bill with Monopoly money.

The ineffective nature of the Old Testament sacrifices is not a new revelation. The author of Hebrews is only repeating something that was commonly taught in the Old Testament Scriptures:

Then Samuel said, “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams (1 Samuel 15:22).

16 Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it; you do not desire a burnt sacrifice. 17 The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit – O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject (Psalm 51:16-17).

11 “Of what importance to me are your many sacrifices?” says the Lord. “I am stuffed with burnt sacrifices of rams and the fat from steers. The blood of bulls, lambs, and goats I do not want. 12 When you enter my presence, do you actually think I want this – animals trampling on my courtyards? 13 Do not bring any more meaningless offerings; I consider your incense detestable! You observe new moon festivals, Sabbaths, and convocations, but I cannot tolerate sin-stained celebrations! (Isaiah 1:11-13)

For I delight in faithfulness, not simply in sacrifice; I delight in acknowledging God, not simply in whole burnt offerings (Hosea 6:6).

21 “I absolutely despise your festivals! I get no pleasure from your religious assemblies! 22 Even if you offer me burnt and grain offerings, I will not be satisfied; I will not look with favor on your peace offerings of fattened calves. 23 Take away from me your noisy songs; I don’t want to hear the music of your stringed instruments. 24 Justice must flow like torrents of water, righteous actions like a stream that never dries up” (Amos 5:21-24).

6 With what should I enter the Lord’s presence? With what should I bow before the sovereign God? Should I enter his presence with burnt offerings, with year-old calves? 7 Will the Lord accept a thousand rams, or ten thousand streams of olive oil? Should I give him my firstborn child as payment for my rebellion, my offspring – my own flesh and blood – for my sin? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good, and what the Lord really wants from you: He wants you to promote justice, to be faithful, and to live obediently before your God (Micah 6:6-8).

When Jerusalem was destroyed along with the temple in 70 A.D. the Jews could no longer offer sacrifices as they had formerly done. Hughes points out that they were forced to recognize that their animal sacrifices could not atone for sin:

“It is a fact that at the time of Christ many pious Jews honored the sacrificial system and even offered sacrifices, but realized that those sacrifices could not remove sin. This is why, when the Temple was destroyed and the sacrifices ended, the people so easily adapted. They understood that animal sacrifice was insufficient to obtain forgiveness.”3

The Perfect Sacrifice Perfects (Hebrews 10:5-10)

5 So [Therefore]4 when he came into the world, he said, Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me. 6 “Whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you took no delight in. 7 “Then I said, ‘Here I am: I have come - it is written of me in the scroll of the book - to do your will, O God.’” 8 When he says above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sin-offerings you did not desire nor did you take delight in them” (which are offered according to the law), 9 then he says, “Here I am: I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first to establish the second. 10 By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all (Hebrews 10:5-10).

Verses 1-4 do not contain new revelation in Hebrews, but rather a review and summary of what the author has repeatedly stated in the development of his argument thus far. The essence of verses 1-4 is that the Old Testament Law was a prototype of the good things to come in Jesus, but it was still powerless to perfect, something that only Jesus could do. And so it is (“therefore”—verse 5) that we read of the incarnation of the Second Person of the Godhead, and of His infinitely superior priestly work of atoning for sins once for all.

The emphasis on our Lord’s incarnation is not new, either, for it dominates the first two chapters of this great epistle, particularly 1:1-4 and 2:5-18. There is something new pertaining to our Lord’s incarnation in our text, however. For the first time in Hebrews the author turns the readers’ attention to the prophetic words of David in Psalm 40:6-8a.5

As quoted, it is quite easy to read these words from Psalm 40 as those of the Second Person of the Trinity, spoken in eternity past, expressing His commitment to the incarnation, an earthly ministry (accompanied by much affliction – Hebrews 5:7-8), and to a sacrificial death, the agony of which is beyond human comprehension. It may be more difficult to read these words as applying to David, the human author. We might be benefitted to recall how the words of David in Psalm 22 so aptly describe the suffering of our Lord on the cross of Calvary. David’s description of his own suffering, poetically dramatized, precisely describes the suffering of the Son of David at Calvary.

We can see how the first portion of this citation nicely conforms to what has already been said in verses 1-4; namely that the Old Testament sacrifices and rituals failed to atone for man’s sins and thus to cleanse man’s guilt-ridden conscience, due to sin. Something different – something better -- was needed, and that something was the sacrificial death of Messiah, made possible by the incarnation and priestly ministry of the Second Person of the Godhead.

Years ago I was driving our children to school Terrace Elementary School, just a few blocks from here. I had done this many times, but on this occasion I noted that a police officer had pulled over one of the parents, just ahead of me. When I entered to little drop-off loop in front of the school I let the kids off and proceeded to go back home. I came to Dorothy Street and made a left-hand turn back towards our house. The police officer (of whose presence I was well aware) signaled for me to pull over. He proceeded to give me a ticket for an “illegal u-turn.” I was amazed. What “u-turn”? The next day I took careful notice of the “no U-turn” sign that was posted, but then watched car after car make the same “left-hand turn” I had made. I decided that this was a ticket I was going to protest. Just days before my court appearance I observed a new sign had been posted, which read, “NO Left Turn.” Needless to say, the judge threw out my ticket, and all others like it. The new sign proved the old sign to be ineffective and overruled by the new one. So, too, with the Old Covenant. It didn’t work, so God provided a New Covenant, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus.

As cited, the Second Person of the Trinity saw in the Scriptures6 the new “job description” of the Messiah, and committed Himself to obediently carry out His mission. In so doing, our author continues, He also indicated that the first (the Old Covenant) would have to be set aside and replaced by the second (the New Covenant). This “will,” set forth in the Scriptures, declared the means by which we have been made holy, through the sacrifice of Christ.

What is problematic about the author’s citation from Hebrews is its variation from what we read in our English Bibles (which represents accurately what is found in the Hebrew Old Testament):

The Author’s Citation

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me (Hebrews 10:5, underscoring mine).

The Text of Psalm 40

Sacrifice and meal offering You have not desired;
My ears You have opened;
Burnt offering and sin offering You have not required (Psalm 40:6, NASB95; emphasis mine).

How in the world could the author’s citation differ so greatly in middle line of Hebrews 10:5 from the words of David as found in the middle line of Psalm 40, verse 6? The answer is both easy and difficult. The easy answer is that the author of Hebrews is not citing from the Hebrew text of Psalm 40, but rather from the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Psalm. He accurately cites the words of Psalm 40:6-8a from the Septuagint. But how did the translators of the Septuagint find it possible, even necessary, to change the statement, “my ears you have dug out” (literally), to “a body you have created for me”?

Various explanations have been offered for this rather unusual variation in translation. One is that creating one’s ears (digging them out, forming them) is really just a small part of the larger task of creating the whole person. Thus, the smaller act (of digging out ears) is really a reference to the larger act of creating a body. Other explanations have been set forth as well.

My intention is not to spend a great deal of time seeking a satisfactory explanation for this variation, but rather to explore its implications. We know that all Scripture is inspired of God and therefore inerrant (Psalm 12:6; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:16-21).7 Thus, if the author cites from Psalm 40 from the translation of the Septuagint as God’s Word, it must be what God intended for us to hear as His Word. While it would have been more difficult to grasp these words of David as the words of God Himself, the translation of the Septuagint makes it easy for the reader to read these words as the words of the Second Person of the Trinity. Thus, God providentially rendered this Psalm in a way that it even more clearly referred to the Messiah.

With this as background material, let us seek to discern what this citation uniquely contributes to the author’s argument. As we have already seen from the Old Testament citations above, there is nothing new about David’s statement that God takes no pleasure in Israel’s ritual sacrifices. The reason why is particularly clear in 1 Samuel chapter 15. God had commanded Saul to annihilate the Amalekites for what they had done to the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt.8 Saul’s obedience was only partial, and thus it was really disobedience.9 When Samuel arrived, Saul claimed to have fully carried out God’s instructions:

12 Then Samuel got up early to meet Saul the next morning. But Samuel was informed, “Saul has gone to Carmel where he is setting up a monument for himself. Then Samuel left and went down to Gilgal.” 13 When Samuel came to him, Saul said to him, “May the Lord bless you! I have done what the Lord said” (1 Samuel 15:12-13, emphasis mine).

Samuel was not impressed. He responded with these (amusing, at least to me) words: “What then is this bleating of the sheep?” (1 Samuel 15:14) Here is where things get very interesting. Saul is not willing to acknowledge his sin, and so he seeks to deny it with this feeble excuse:

Saul said, “They were brought from the Amalekites; the army spared the best of the flocks and cattle to sacrifice to the Lord our God. But everything else we slaughtered” (1 Samuel 15:15).

The reason why Saul spared the best of the flock, he rationalized, was in order to offer them as sacrifices to God. I don’t believe this was true. I think he saved the best for himself. But even if it were true it would not have been an acceptable reason to disobey God’s clear instructions. And this is what Samuel will tell Saul in the next verses:

17 Samuel said, “Is it not true that when you were insignificant in your own eyes, you became head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord chose you as king over Israel. 18 The Lord sent you on a campaign saying, ‘Go and exterminate those sinful Amalekites! Fight against them until you have destroyed them.’ 19 Why haven’t you obeyed the Lord? Instead you have greedily rushed upon the plunder! You have done what is wrong in the Lord’s estimation.” 20 Then Saul said to Samuel, “But I have obeyed the Lord! I went on the campaign the Lord sent me on. I brought back King Agag of the Amalekites after exterminating the Amalekites. 21 But the army took from the plunder some of the sheep and cattle - the best of what was to be slaughtered - to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.” 22 Then Samuel said, “Does the Lord take pleasure in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as he does in obedience? Certainly, obedience is better than sacrifice; paying attention is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and presumption is like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king” (1 Samuel 15:17-23).

The Old Testament sacrifices could never remove sins, but sacrifices offered by those who are disobedient were offensive to God. Saul’s “sacrifices,” offered in disobedience, were an offense to God.

21 The Lord said to the people of Judah, “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says: ‘You might as well go ahead and add the meat of your burnt offerings to that of the other sacrifices and eat it, too! 22 Consider this: When I spoke to your ancestors after I brought them out of Egypt, I did not merely give them commands about burnt offerings and sacrifices. 23 I also explicitly commanded them: “Obey me. If you do, I will be your God and you will be my people. Live exactly the way I tell you and things will go well with you.” 24 But they did not listen to me or pay any attention to me. They followed the stubborn inclinations of their own wicked hearts. They acted worse and worse instead of better (Jeremiah 7:21-24).

I believe that this is the point at which our text in Hebrews (and in particular the citation from Psalm 40) makes its unique contribution. There is a somewhat parallel passage in Philippians chapter 2:

5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8)

It is clear from Paul’s words in Philippians chapter 2 that our Lord was obedient to the will of the Father – that He take on human flesh and that He die on the cross of Calvary.

But what seems to be even more clear from our author’s citation from Psalm 40:6-8a is that our Lord was willingly – I would even say joyfully obedient to the plan that was yet to be laid out for Him in the Scriptures. In His omniscience, He knew what the Scriptures would say regarding His incarnation and atoning work on the cross of Calvary. But in Psalm 40 I get the impression that our Lord volunteered for this mission, and that He joyfully undertook this mediatorial mission. I think that our author further underscores this fact in chapter 12:

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, we must get rid of every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and run with endurance the race set out for us, 2 keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. For the joy set out for him he endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2, emphasis mine).

There is a great deal of difference between reluctant, teeth-gritted, obedience and joyful obedience. Our Lord’s obedience is of the better – joyful – kind. And here is the point to all of this emphasis on joyful obedience. If sacrifice without obedience displeases God then surely sacrifice accomplished with joyful obedience is pleasing. And this is precisely the kind of sacrifice our Lord has offered.

I have sometimes wondered why God would require animal sacrifices for sin. It occurred to me that animals do not sin. Now I have had some animals which have caused me to question this fact – they seemed to manifest a depravity of their own. But animals cannot sin in the same manner that men do. In this sense, animals offered as sacrifices are “innocent” so far as human sin is concerned. But while we may, in some sense, refer to sacrificial animals as innocent, we dare not call them willing. One day I was taking some garbage to the transfer station not far away, the one that is located by the farm where pork sausage is made. This particular day happened to be when they were slaughtering some of the animals. The sounds were horrible, and difficult to explain to a granddaughter. These animals were headed for slaughter, but not willingly.

Our Lord’s sacrifice was the shedding of human blood, and more than this it was innocent blood. He had no sin of His own to atone for; He took the guilt of our sins upon Himself when He died for men.10 But in addition to His sacrifice being that of innocent human blood it was also a sacrifice that was willingly, joyfully made in obedience to His calling, so that sinners like us could be forgiven and assured of intimate fellowship with God, now and for all eternity. This sets the sacrifice of our Lord above and apart from any other sacrifice ever made. This, my friend, is amazing grace!

Sacrifices Old and New (Hebrews 10:11-14)

11 And every priest stands day after day serving and offering the same sacrifices again and again - sacrifices that can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 where he is now waiting until his enemies are made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are made holy (Hebrews 10:11-14).

How evident our author makes the contrasts between the sacrifices made under the Old Covenant (the Law) and those made by our Lord, inaugurating the New Covenant:

Under the Old Covenant – Verse 11

Under the New Covenant – Verse 12

The priests remained standing

The Lord Jesus sat down

The priests offered daily

The Lord Jesus offered once

Sacrifices didn’t remove sins

His one sacrifice removed sin, perfecting men for all time11

Verses 12 and 13 are an allusion, once again to Psalm 110:1-2:

1 Here is the Lord’s proclamation to my lord:
“Sit down at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool!”

2 The Lord extends your dominion from Zion.
Rule in the midst of your enemies! (Psalm 110:1-2)

It seems to me that the word “until” in verse 1 is the key. Our author has made a point of the fact that our Lord sat down once He had finished His work of atoning for our sins once for all at Calvary. His saving work was finished. But the word “until” underscores another important truth. Our Lord Jesus is “sitting” so far as His saving work is concerned, but He has yet another work to be done at the time of His Second Coming – that of judging those rebels who rejected Him and His atoning work at Calvary. While He came as the “Suffering Servant,” He will return as the triumphant king, who will tread under foot those who oppose Him. The One who is our Great High Priest is also the same One who is our Triumphant King.

There is a sense, then, in which we can say this: Our Lord is currently “sitting” at the right hand of the Father, but one of these days He is going to “stand up.” When He stands, those who have rejected Him will fall down before Him.12 I was thinking about this in relation to Stephen’s death as described for us in the Book of Acts:

54 When they heard these things, they became furious and ground their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked intently toward heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 “Look!” he said. “I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:54-56, emphasis mine)

I am aware of the commonly held interpretation that our Lord “stood” to honor Stephen as he entered heaven. But suppose that we were to understand our Lord’s “standing” in the light of Psalm 110? Suppose that our Lord was standing in order to assure Stephen that He was soon going to return to the earth to judge those who were His enemies, those who were at this moment seeking to take Stephen’s life.13

The Witness of the Spirit (Hebrews 10:15-18)

15 And the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us, for after saying, 16 “This is the covenant that I will establish with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will inscribe them on their minds,” 17 then he says, “Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.” 18 Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin (Hebrews10:15-18.

Our author has a high view of Scripture. He begins by telling us that God has perfectly revealed Himself in and through the Son (1:1-4), and then cautions us to give careful heed to what He has revealed (2:1-4). He indicates that God’s Word is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, thereby exposing the thoughts and intents of our hearts (4:12-13). In our text he has used the words of Psalm 40 as the words of the Second Person of the Trinity, and now he is so bold as to say that the Holy Spirit witnesses to us in the words of Jeremiah 31.

I find it interesting to observe that the Book of Hebrews does not put a great deal of emphasis on the person and work of the Holy Spirit. This could also be said of the work of the Father. This may be explained by the fact that the author of Hebrews is intent upon exalting the person and work of the Son. We should also recall that it the ministry of the Spirit is to exalt and glorify the Son.

13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:13-14).

You might say that the Holy Spirit is at work through the words of Hebrews, for in these words the Son is exalted and glorified.

Referring to the words of Jeremiah 31 once again the author calls attention to the fact that by means of the New Covenant God will write His laws on the hearts of men. And not only this, He will also deal finally and fully with sin, so that He can say, “Their sins I will remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17, citing Jeremiah 31:34). The “no more” is emphasized once again in verse 18, where the author comments that there is no longer the need for any further offering for sin once complete forgiveness of sins has been achieved.

Conclusion

Reading these words from Jeremiah 31:33 which speak of God writing His law on men’s hearts reminded me of the words of Psalm 40, verse 8:

I delight to do Thy will, O my God;
Thy Law is within my heart (Psalm 40:8, emphasis mine).

It now becomes easy to see how the author can see the relationship between Jeremiah 31 and Psalm 40. Was it the second line of Psalm 40:8 which drew the author’s attention to this psalm? Why, then, did he cease citing the words of this psalm after the first line of verse 8? Why not continue through the second line?

Maybe the author wants us to meditate on Psalm 40, and to observe the similarity of these words to those found in Jeremiah 31:33. Or perhaps the author wants us to see beyond this. Maybe he wants us to observe that the entire portion cited in Hebrews 10 is worthy of our attention. As I have reflected on the use of Psalm 40 I have come to an even more surprising conclusion. Psalm 40 tells us that the words of Scripture were written on the heart of our Lord, prompting Him to joyfully embrace His incarnation and atoning work at Calvary. Our Lord therefore has set for us an example of joyful (as opposed to begrudging) obedience. We should respond to our calling (as laid out in the Scriptures) as our Lord did to His.

The omission of Psalm 40:8b in Hebrews 10 may be meant to suggest to the reader that more than the verses cited apply. I am suggesting that this is not just true so far as their application to Messiah is concerned; I am suggesting that all of Psalm 40 applies to the Hebrew Christians to whom the epistle is written. When I consider David’s circumstances and compare them to the circumstances faced by the Hebrews, I see that they are similar:

David experienced circumstances that appeared destructive, and so he cried out to God for deliverance and God heard and answered his petitions. Because of this David saw himself as greatly blessed, along with all those who place their trust in God (Psalm 40:1-3).

The Hebrew Christians had also suffered serious persecution and loss, but God safely brought them through it all. They, too, could agree with David that those who trust in Messiah are greatly blessed (Hebrews 10:32-35).

As a result of David’s earlier deliverance he joyfully proclaimed the good news of God’s righteousness in the great congregation (Psalm 40:8-10).

The Hebrew saints were likewise to faithfully assemble with their fellow-believers, and to seek to be an encouragement to them (Hebrews 10:19-25).

David was once again facing difficulties and danger. He was assured of God’s faithfulness, and so he called out to God for deliverance, trusting Him to be faithful, as He had been in the past (Psalm 40:11-17).

The Hebrews were soon to face serious opposition and persecution – to the point of shedding blood (Hebrews 12:4). They were to persevere, remembering God’s past deliverance in Christ, and assured that He will continue to faithfully deliver them in the future.

And so it is that I am now inclined to believe that the author of Hebrews has cited Psalm 40, not just as a proof text, but as a psalm which greatly impacted Messiah, and which will also encourage and strengthen us in our times of adversity. It’s application to Messiah is merely a sample of its value and importance to us. And, our Lord’s joyful embracing of God’s plan for Him is likewise an example for Christians to joyfully embrace God’s will and purpose for us, one that will likely include suffering:

Now in fact all who want to live godly lives in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Timothy 3:12).

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he gave us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 that is, into an inheritance imperishable, undefiled, and unfading. It is reserved in heaven for you, 5 who by God’s power are protected through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 This brings you great joy, although you may have to suffer for a short time in various trials. 7 Such trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold - gold that is tested by fire, even though it is passing away - and will bring praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).14

One of the contributions of our text for me has been to help put other biblical texts into perspective. When I think of the incarnation, saving work of Christ I think of several biblical texts:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to the disciples, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and became anguished and distressed. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is deeply grieved, even to the point of death. Remain here and stay awake with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 26:36-39).

5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had, 6 who though he existed in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature. 8 He humbled himself, by becoming obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:5-8).

When he had received the sour wine, Jesus said, “It is completed!” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit (John 19:30).

The Book of Hebrews, and particularly our text in Hebrews chapter 10, helps me to better understand and appreciate these other texts. In Matthew 26 we find our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane, and we can identify with His agony as He contemplates what He will soon experience. I do not believe that the physical suffering (as bad as it would be) is paramount in His thinking, but rather the spiritual agony of being forsaken by God in our place. But Hebrews 10 puts this into perspective because it underscores the joyful obedience of our Lord to His calling. This is not to deny the suffering and agony, or the joyful embracing of the work of salvation. It is something like the way a wife looks at child-bearing. There is great joy in bearing a child, but there is also suffering involved. You cannot set the suffering apart from the rejoicing. Both are there.

Our text also gives me helpful insight into Paul’s exhortation in Romans chapter 12:

1 Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice - alive, holy, and pleasing to God - which is your reasonable service. 2 Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God - what is good and well-pleasing and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).

What better example of a sacrifice is there than our Lord? We, like our Lord, are to see our mission in life as being called to offer ourselves as a sacrifice to God. We are to do this joyfully, and in a way that pleases God. And in so doing we will grasp God’s will for our lives.

As I was teaching the other day I came to this text in Romans chapter 10, which suddenly came alive in the light of the teaching of Hebrews regarding the New Covenant:

3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart,Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation (Romans 10:3-10).

In Romans chapter 9 Paul has been explaining why so many Jews have rejected the gospel, while a number of Gentiles have come to faith. The reason why many Jews have not come to faith is that God has not chosen every Jew, but only some (Romans 9:6-26). This is also consistent with the past because God often preserved only a small remnant of faithful Jews, through whom He would fulfill His covenant promises (see 9:27-29). Now, in Romans 9:30 Paul gives yet another reason why so many Jews are unbelievers: they have not chosen God. Rather than trust in Jesus, God’s provision for salvation apart from human striving, many Jews have sought to earn righteousness through their own efforts. Gentiles were saved without working for it, while Jews remained unsaved because they were working for it. In short, unbelieving Jews remain lost because they seek salvation by works, rather than by faith in Jesus, the Messiah (9:39-33).

Paul makes it very clear that striving for salvation by keeping the law doesn’t save, while trusting in what Jesus has accomplished at Calvary does:

1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: ”The one who does these things will live by them” (Romans 10:1-5, emphasis mine).

Since striving to keep the Old Covenant cannot save anyone, it is only by means of the New Covenant that people can be saved:

5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart,Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, ”Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame” (Romans 10:5-11).

Men do not attain salvation by means of their own efforts. Men do not need to ascend to heaven, as though doing so would bring Christ down. Neither do men need to ascend into hell, to bring Christ up. Of His own volition our Lord took on humanity and descended to the earth. So, too, it was His joyful obedience to God’s plan for man that prompted Him to give Himself as the Passover Lamb to make atonement for our sins.

It is not man’s striving to attain righteousness that saves him. It is not man’s efforts to bring God near that has done so. This God did on His own initiative, just as we read in Psalm 40. And the good news of the gospel is not far off for those who are being saved. In fulfillment of His promise of a New Covenant God writes His law upon men’s hearts. It is this word that is near the one God has chosen, and thus all that this lost saint needs to do is to receive the gospel God has written on their hearts.

And so I will close, my friend, by asking you this simple question. Whose work will save you? Is it your works, your efforts to keep the Old Testament law, or is it Christ’s New Covenant work? Is it your striving or is it Christ’s shed blood that gains you forgiveness of sins? It is God who saves, God who writes His law on your heart. You do not need to ascend into heaven to bring Christ down for He has already done so. You do not need to raise Christ from the dead, and from eternal punishment. All you must do is to believe that the work of salvation is finished, complete, and to receive it as God’s gracious gift.

If you are a Christian, you can rejoice that your salvation is God’s work, not yours. And you can thank Him for willingly taking on humanity, and for bearing the guilt and punishment for your sins. And you can also follow in His footsteps, imitating His example of joyful obedience to the gracious plans and purposes of God, even if these lead to suffering, and even to death.

Copyright © 2008 by Robert L. Deffinbaugh. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 22 in the series, Near to the Heart of God – A Study of the Book of Hebrews, prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on January 11, 2008. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible.  The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version.  It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts.  The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk).  Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study.  In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others.  It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org

2 Hebrews 1:3.

3 R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews (Wheaton, Illinois:  Crossway Books, 1993), vol. 2, p. 21.

4 I believe the traditional rendering “therefore” better conveys the direct logical link between verses 1-4 (the deficiency of the Law and the Levitical sacrifices) and verses 5-10 (the coming of Messiah and His ultimate sacrifice).

5 I will have more to say later in this lesson regarding the last part of Psalm 40:8, which the author does not cite.

6 These Scriptures would have been known to God, but were yet to be written if this was a commitment made in eternity past, before the creation of the world.

7 See also Hebrews 10:15-17, where the author cites from Jeremiah 31, attributing it to the Holy Spirit, who bears witness in these words of Jeremiah.

8 1 Samuel 15:2-3; Exodus 17:8-16.

9 See my message on 1 Samuel 15 on bible.org:  http://www.bible.org/page.php?page_id=362

10 See 2 Corinthians 5:21.

11 This is true for all who receive the gift of forgiveness through the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus.

12 See Philippians 2:9-11.

13 Compare Revelation 6:9-11 and 2 Thessalonians 1:3-10.

14 See also Hebrews 12:1-13; 1 Peter 4:12-19.

Related Topics: Sacrifice