Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil), and set free those who were held in slavery all their lives by their fear of death. For surely his concern is not for angels, but he is concerned for Abraham’s descendants. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people. For since he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted. (Heb 2:14-18 NET)
Now, we will explore a fourth thing Jesus did. Jesus beat sin.
“Therefore he had to be made like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he could become a merciful and faithful high priest in things relating to God, to make atonement for the sins of the people.”
The high priest was an extremely important person in the Old Testament. He was the only person who could come into God’s presence in the Most Holy Place in the Tabernacle. He would go in there once a year in order to make atonement for the sins of the people. The details of this day, known as Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, are recorded in Leviticus 16. This was the holiest day and most important holiday for the Jews. It began with the high priest making atonement for his own sin, and then he would offer a sacrifice to atone for the sins of all the people. He would do this by sacrificing bulls and goats. The intended effect was the forgiveness and purification of the people before YHWH. “For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the LORD from all your sins” (Lev 16:30 ESV).
Now, it’s easy to see why this was such as important day for God’s people. What’s more important than being reconciled to the holy God of the universe?! But the question is…was it sufficient? In other words, did this ritual take care of the people’s sins for good? Or, was it just a picture of something greater that needed to take place?
The author of Hebrews gives many reasons the Old Covenant system was, in fact, anticipatory. Here are four:
- The service of the priests was temporary because of death. “There were many priests under the old system, for death prevented them from remaining in office” (Heb 7:23 NLT).
- The priests themselves were sinners in need of forgiveness. Before they could ever offer sacrifices for the sins of the people, they had to offer sacrifices for their own sins. “…[the high priest] is obligated to offer sacrifice for his own sins just as he does for those of the people” (Heb 5:3 ESV).
- The blood of animals could not actually atone for human sin. “It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb 10:4 NIV).
- The fact that the sacrifices needed to be repeated year after year showed that they were not perfect. If they had brought the people complete forgiveness, then why keep offering them? “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins” (Heb 10:1-2 NIV).
At the end of the day, the Day of Atonement didn’t get the job done. If anything, it was just a constant reminder of the people’s sinfulness! “But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year” (Heb 10:3 NET). They needed something greater.
Enter Jesus. The Messiah is a different kind of high priest. Yes, he was fully human like us. He shared in our flesh and blood so that he could mediate between God and humanity. But he was unlike the Levitical high priests. Jesus…
- has a priesthood that never ends. Because of his resurrection, he defeated death; and because he defeated death, he is able to continually intercede for his people. “…because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them” (Heb 7:24-25 NIV).
- had no need of forgiveness. Therefore, he was able to offer himself as the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the people. “Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself” (Heb 7:26-27 NIV).
- had blood that could actually atone for sin. “…without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness. That is why the Tabernacle and everything in it, which were copies of things in heaven, had to be purified by the blood of animals. But the real things in heaven had to be purified with far better sacrifices than the blood of animals…now, once for all time, [Jesus] has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice” (Heb 9:22-23, 26 NLT).
- offered the perfect sacrifice once and for all. He didn’t need to offer himself repeatedly because his single sacrifice was sufficient to atone for all sin. “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” (Heb 10:11-14 HCSB).
Do you get it? Do you see what Jesus did? Jesus beat our sin! The sin that had separated us from God, stained our conscience with guilt, and guaranteed our judgment and punishment: Jesus defeated it for good! As our great high priest who offered himself as the sacrifice for our sins, he completely and totally did away with our sin for all time. All those who are in Christ are fully forgiven by God. Full stop. No qualifications. There’s no other way to experience this forgiveness. Every other system of atonement will fall short. Jesus is the only one who can beat our sin, and he has.
What then shall we do? The author of Hebrews sums it up well:
“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:19-25 NIV).
Because of Jesus’s work, we have confidence that we can enter God’s presence. We have full assurance. We are cleansed and washed. So let’s hold fast. Let’s spur one another on. Let’s meet together. Let’s encourage one another.
What did Jesus do? He purchased our full forgiveness. Now, we can live accordingly.