March 18, 2018 – Empty & Filled: Once for All

Jeremiah 31:31-34 NIV 

We are wrapping up our series, Empty & Filled: Discovering the Meaning of Power of Lent. I hope that you’ve

learned something about this opportunity to hit the reset button on our relationship with God that we have once

a year. 


It’s interesting to me that Lent often begins around Valentine’s Day. This year it began on Valentine’s Day, the

first time in over 50 years. Valentine’s Day has become so commercialized with the hearts and flowers, chocolate

overflowing the aisles of the grocery store. I certainly took advantage of the sales during the season. I can also

understand the people who say that it’s a made-up holiday, and that we should let our loved ones know how

special they are to us all the time. I actually know people who do this, but the sad truth is that many of us don’t.

Valentine’s Day can be an opportunity and reminder to show the people around us how much we love and care

about them. If this includes chocolate, so much the better. 


Lent is kind of like that too. We should be contemplating and trying to deepen our relationship with God all the

time. While some do, most of us don’t. Lent helps to remind us. It can be a time to consider how much God loves

us and the lengths that Jesus went to help us restore and maintain a relationship with God in a way that was never

possible before. 


Today, our primary scripture passage comes from the book of Hebrews. It is a very interesting book with great

teaching, but it doesn’t seem to get as much attention as other books in the New Testament, so you may not be

as familiar with it. 


The author is anonymous. Some traditions associate it with the Apostle Paul. While the teachings mesh very well

with Paul, the writing style is very different. The best answer is that we really don’t know. In any case, the author

was writing to a Jewish Christian community in crisis. They were suffering persecution. They were concerned that

Jesus hadn’t returned yet. They were feeling ostracized from their home Jewish community where they had some

protections from most of the Roman religious requirements such as participating in community worship of the

Roman gods, which included worship of the emperor. 


They were considering going back to their old way of life, back to their old community. As they were Jewish, the

author refers to the sacrifices that were made daily at the temple in Jerusalem, and he compares them with the

overarching sacrifice that Jesus made. 


Our scripture passage is from Hebrews 10:1-12. I will be reading it out of The VOICE translation, which I found a

lot easier to understand. 


Hebrews 10:1-12 (The VOICE) 

     1We have seen how the law is simply a shadow of the good things to come. Since it is not the perfect  form of  these ultimate realities, the offering year after year of these imperfect sacrifices cannot bring perfection to those who come forward to worship.  2 If they had served this purpose, wouldn’t the repetition of these sacrifices have become unnecessary? If they had worked—and cleansed the worshipers—then one sacrifice would have taken away their consciousness of sin.  3 But these sacrifices actually remind us that we sin again and again, year after year.  4 In the end, the blood of bulls and  of goats is powerless to take away sins.  

     5 So when Jesus came into the world, He said, 

Sacrifices and offerings were not what You wanted, but instead a body that You prepared for Me.
6 Burnt offerings and sin offerings were not what pleased  You.
7 Then I said, “See, I have come to do Your will, God,  as it is inscribed of Me in the scroll of the book.”  

     8 Now when it says that God doesn’t want and takes no real pleasure in sacrifices, burnt offerings, and sin offerings (even though the law calls for them),  9 and follows this with “See, I have come to do Your will,”  He effectively takes away the first—animal sacrifice—in order to establish the second, more perfect sacrifice.  10 By God’s will, we are made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus the Anointed once and for all time. 

     11 In the first covenant, every day every officiating priest stands at his post serving, offering over and over those same sacrifices that can never take away sin.  12 But after [Jesus] stepped up to offer His single sacrifice for sins for all time, He sat down in the position of honor at the right hand of God. 


When I come into my office each day, I move my sign outside that the “Pastor Is In,” if it isn’t frozen, unlock the

door, and turn on the lights. I turn on my computer, then I sit down to begin my work day. That is true for many

people, especially those who work in offices. When I was a billing clerk at a hospital, it would have been practically

impossible for me to do my job unless I was sitting down, unless I was filing paperwork. This is true for clerks,

secretaries, computer programmers, accountants, lawyers, even some artists depending on the medium. It is

certainly true for most pianists and organist. 


However, for much of the world, including people who have more physical jobs, going to work means standing up:

farmers, ranchers, cooks and chefs, wait staff, dancers, factory workers, cleaning professionals, nurses, health

aides, and the list goes on. These are people who stand up to do their work, and when it is done, they sit down. 


When the scripture states that Jesus, “stepped up to offer his single sacrifice for sins for all time,” it is saying that

is when Jesus went to work for all of us. And, when it states, “he sat down in the position of honor at the right

hand of God,” it is saying that his work is finished. Now, he remains there to speak on our behalf for the time



Why is this important? For the original audience of Jewish Christians, it was important because every day Jewish

priests stood up in the temple presenting animal sacrifices on the people’s behalf to repair their relationship with

God. This would prepare the person to be able to come forward to worship God. (Hebrews 10:1) The law required

sacrifices for all kinds of offenses. Sacrifices could also be made to celebrate with God in thanksgiving or in

fellowship. The point is that they were never finished. They had to be repeated over and over. Until… Jesus made

the last necessary sacrifice of himself once and for all time. The author is telling the Jewish Christians, Why would

you want to go back to that? Why would you want to go back to the shadow, the precursor, from the new and

better way? 


Are you familiar with Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave?” Plato wrote this hundreds of years before the book of Hebrews

was written, but its concepts are illuminating. Plato recorded a lesson of his teacher, Socrates. He says to imagine

this scenario. People are kept in a dark cave from birth. They are forced to look at a wall of the cave with a fire

burning behind them. All they ever see is the shadows on the wall created by the light of the fire.  


People walk back and forth behind these prisoners creating a variety of shadows, but these people, knowing

nothing else, think the shadows are the real world. They name the things they see and discuss them with each



Consider if one of these prisoners was freed and could look around the cave, see the fire, see the people carrying

things, realize that what she was looking at before were mere shadows of the real thing. Her world and

understanding has been expanded, yet she is still in the cave. What if this person is brought outside? She would

be blinded by the brightness of the sun. Out in the open air she might still contemplating shadows and reflections

in water because they would be easier for her to see until her eyes adjust to the new environment. 


But eventually, she would be able to look at and discern everything in the bright sunshine, maybe even looked

directly at the sun itself. She may be able to contemplate the universe as it really is rather than what she thought

was true when she was a prisoner in the cave. If she went back to her fellow prisoners to tell them what she’s

learned, they probably would dismiss her as crazy and even violently resist if she were too insistent. However,

knowing what she knows, she could never be happy living in the cave. The only way that a prisoner could ever

really understand is by being brought outside into the real world. 


That scenario is kind of what the author is talking about in verse one of our scripture passage. He is talking about

the law. It was not bad, but it was simply a shadow of the good things to come. In chapter 10 and elsewhere in the

book, he references Jeremiah chapter 31, which we read earlier. In the Older Testament there are references that

the law was intended to be temporary. (cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34, Psalm 40) There would be a new covenant that

would allow people to have a deeper and more personal relationship than was possible through the law. 


This is what God says through the prophet in chapter 31: 

This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my

law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be there God, and they will be my people… For I will

forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more. (Jer 31:33-44) 


To be sure, the law was a great improvement over what came before, but it was intended to be temporary. 


We can look at this through the lens of “The Allegory of the Cave.” It is not a perfect parallel, but it can be helpful.

We can think of the prisoners as people who do not know God at all. They see the shadows, but they think that

is the whole of reality. 


Individual prisoners are released, Abraham and his descendants. They are able to know God somewhat.

Abraham’s descendants became the Israelite people, and they are given the law. Through that law they are able to

know more about God. God’s compassion for the poor, the orphan, the alien, the marginalized. They are taught

about morality and mercy through this law, but there is still a separation. People come to worship at the temple


, but they must offer sacrifices for their sins before they can enter. Still God is separated and secluded in the holy

of holies where the high priest only entered once a year. A remoteness still remained. We see closer relationships

with individual humans, but it is rare. 


Then, Jesus arrives. He effectively escorts us outside of the cave. He is the illustration of who God is and how

much he loves us. He does it in a much more personal and relational way, as our friend. He explains what the

law was designed to do, to show compassion, to inspire love for God and neighbor. Yet, the light is so bright, we

still can’t really see. 


When Jesus offers himself as the perfect sacrifice once for all time, another step is taken. We are allowed to

worship with no barrier between God and us because God now considers us holy. Jesus is there to make

intercession for us. So now, we are able to see some, but we’re still looking at reflections. Our eyes haven’t fully

adjusted yet. In churchy talk, we are still being sanctified or transformed by the Holy Spirit. As the Apostle Paul

put it in First Corinthians chapter 13, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then [we will see] face to face.

Now I know in part, but then I shall know as I am known.” (NKJV) 


So we wait for the final revelation. We know that the sun is there, but we still cannot look at it directly. 


In the meantime, we are able to offer a different kind of sacrifice, the sacrifice of praise as mentioned in

Hebrews 13:5. That is what we do through our worship. That is part of why worship is so important. It gives us a

special kind of access to God now, not having to wait for the next full revelation when Christ returns. Jesus draws

us into the full realm of the kingdom of God, of eternity, while we physically continue to live in this temporary

transient world. Through worship we bring the future into the present. (Victor Pfitzner, Abingdon New Testament

Comentaries: Hebrews, 1997) 


Through all of this our sanctification continues. We continue to be transformed, but one of the problems with

humans is that we have a tendency to drift. Lent is an opportunity for course correction. It’s like drifting off

course in a boat and using a compass or GPS to get back on track. 


Before the time of cell phones and GPS I was driving from Omaha, Nebraska to my home in Wichita, Kansas. Our

corporate office was in Omaha, and it was a drive that I made with some regularity. I took the backroads because

it was considerably quicker, and the countryside was beautiful. I always enjoyed this drive. In the little town of

Blue Rapids, Kansas, I was supposed to turn south, but I missed the turn. Things didn’t seem quite right, but I

kept going expecting to see a highway road sign any minute. After many many miles, I finally saw a sign, Highway

9. I was supposed to be on Highway 77! I was expected at the office. I was behind schedule. It was too far to turn

back. I gave up. I went with it until God provided a map for me at a gas station at a crossroads. I figured out where

I was… practically in the middle of Kansas … and what I needed to do to get where I needed to go. I made a

course correction, straight south on Highway 81, which would take me right into Wichita. I made it to the office

with 10 minutes to spare. 


Several years ago a graphic started appearing on the internet, “This year for Lent I’m giving up.” It was meant as a

joke, but like a lot of jokes there can be a lot of truth there. Part of what we do during Lent is realize how helpless

we are on our own. The priests during the temple period could not offer enough sacrifices to take away sins. We

are emptied of our pride and the illusion that we are capable of saving ourselves. They are all shadows on the wall

of the cave. When we realize this, we are filled with gratitude for our great high priest that was able to provide the

sacrifice and pathway to cleanse us and take away our sins for all time. 


Part of being followers of Jesus is to know where you belong in the Great Story of God and celebrate with praise

and thanksgiving about what that means. God is doing what we could never do on our own. God has dealt with

our sins and is continually transforming us. The new covenant has been established, and it has all been achieved

once for all. 





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