A Sit-Down Salvation
August 5, 1990
My message is based on three texts of Scripture—two from the Old Testament and one from the New Testament. First, Exodus 29:38-39, 42
This is what you are to offer on the altar continually each day: Two lambs a year old. Offer one in the morning and the other at twilight … For the generations to come this burnt offering is to be made continually at the entrance to the tent of meeting before the Lord.
Second, Deuteronomy chapter 10:8
At that time the Lord set apart the tribe of Levi to carry the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord to stand before the Lord to minister and to pronounce blessings in his name, as they still do today.
Third, Hebrews chapter 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.
It is very difficult for us to understand what this last passage is really saying. It’s hard for us after two thousand years to enter in to what the writer to the Hebrews is telling us. It’s hard because we’re a long way from the place to which this Epistle was first written. It’s hard to understand and to grasp the meaning.
For the book of Hebrews was not written to us. It was written to another group of people, in another time, in another land, in another century, in another culture. Hebrews was not written to Gentile Christians like us. The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians, to believers who had been raised in the synagogue, who understood the tabernacle and knew about the temple. It was written to men and women who had been versed in the Old Testament. They knew all about the law of Moses. They knew all about the sacrifices and offering. Those things which to us are strange relics of the past were to them everyday realities. And so it’s hard for us to understand how revolutionary these words in Hebrews 10 really are.
Five Fundamental Contrasts
Hebrews 10:11-12 presents us with a fundamental contrast between the old way and the new way. You could chart it this way:
The Old Way The New Way
The Old Testament The New Testament
The Law of Moses The Way of Jesus Christ
The Priesthood of the Old Covenant The Priesthood of Jesus Christ
In these two verses there are five contrasts between the old way (11) and the new way (12):
The Old Way The New Way
“Every Priest” “But when this priest”
“Offers the same sacrifices” “Offered … one sacrifice”
“Again and again” “Offered for all time”
“Which can never take away sin” “One sacrifice for sins”
“Every priest stands” “This priest … sat down”
The Treadmill of Sacrifice
Even after we read those contrasts, we still don’t understand exactly what the writer means when he says, “Day after day” and “Again and again” every priest offers the same sacrifices. William Barclay, writing in his commentary on the Book of Hebrews (p. 116), explains the sacrificial system of the temple.
Every morning and every evening a male lamb of one year old, without spot and blemish, was offered as a burnt offering. Along with it there was offered a meat offering, which consisted of one tenth of an ephah of fine flour mixed with a quarter of a hin of pure oil. There was also a drink offering, which consisted of a quarter of a hin of wine. Added to that there was the daily meat offering of the High Priest. It consisted of one-tenth of an ephah of fine flour, mixed with oil, and baked in a flat pan. Half was offered in the morning and half in the evening. In addition, there was an offering of incense before these offerings in the morning and after them in the evening. There was a kind of priestly treadmill of sacrifice.
That’s what the writer of Hebrews is talking about when he says “Day after day” and “Again and again.” He’s talking about every day the burnt offerings, every day the meal offerings, every day the drink offering, every day the meal offering of the High Priest, and every day the incense in the morning and the incense in the evening. The whole routine of the men who were priests in the Old Testament was a routine of sacrifice and offering and offering and sacrifice—one after the other, morning, noon and night, day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, year after year, decade after decade, century after century. During the 1500 years from the time of Moses to the time of Christ untold tens of thousands of lambs and goats and bulls were offered on the altar before God to make atonement for the sins of the people. That’s what he means when he says “Day after day” and “Again and again” the same sacrifices were offered.
A Stand-Up Religion
What do we know about the priests? In verse 11 we’re told that every priest “stands” to make his offering. If you read Exodus and Leviticus, you will find a description of the architecture of the ancient tabernacle. You will find great detail concerning the coverings of the rings and of the poles. You will find a description of the brazen altar, of the shewbread, of the candlesticks, of the veil and of the furniture that went inside the Holy of Holies—all described in minute detail. But there is one thing that you will not find described in the furniture of the tabernacle. You will never find a description of a chair. There were no chairs in the tabernacle. That’s because when the priests were standing before God to minister they could never sit down. Why? Because they could never finish with the work of making sacrifices and offerings before God.
Not only that, we are told in verse 11 that they were offering the same sacrifices over and over again, day in and day out, week in and week out, year in and year out. Not only that, we are told that those sacrifices could never take away sin. The Greek word in Hebrew 10:11 for “take away” is really a word which means to strip off, as if you were wearing tight-fitting clothing like a sports uniform. It pictures a uniform that is soaked in sweat so that you have to strip it off at the end of the day. It’s a picture of the sin which entangles us and besets us and seems to wrap around us.
The writer is telling us that though you offered a thousand goats and a thousand bulls and a thousand rams, all the blood of all those animals added together couldn’t take away one sin. Not even one.
No Unemployed Priests
The priest in the Old Testament had very steady employment because he was always offering sacrifices. He was so busy he could never sit down. Here’s the kicker: He had a job which was guaranteed to bring him nothing but frustration, because every time he made a sacrifice it never really took away sin. He had to make another one and he had to make another one and he had to make another one.
So his wife would say to him in the morning, “Honey, what are you going to do?” And he’d say, “Well, I’m going to go up to the tabernacle.” She’d say, “What are you going to do when you get up there?” “Well I think I’m going to offer a lamb.” “What are you going to do after that?” “Well, I think I’m going to offer a couple of goats.” “What about after that?” “Probably do the meal offering.” “What do you think you’ll do after that?” “Well, if the High Priest comes in we’ll probably do a bull.” “What about after that?” “Well, we’ll probably have lunch.” “What are you going to do after lunch?” “Probably do some more goats and maybe pray awhile and sing a few songs and along about sundown we’ll probably do the evening sacrifices—do some lambs, another goat, another bull if they want to—then I’ll be home.” “Will you be home in time for supper?” “Yes, I’ll be home in time for supper.” “What are you going to do tomorrow?” “About the same thing I’m going to do today.” That was the life of a priest in the Old Testament.
It’s the same old thing over and over and over again in accordance with the law of God. It’s not that he’s got a bad job. Far from it. He’s doing exactly what God prescribes and he is following the instructions in Exodus and Leviticus. It’s not his fault. He’s just following orders.
But even though the priests of the Old Testament did their job in accordance with what God had said, it was guaranteed to bring futility and frustration. They would come to the end of their lives and as soon as they would be buried, on that same day, someone would be appointed to take their place because the sacrifices and offerings had to continue because it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin. What a futile job.
Let me put it another way. Let us suppose that you were a priest in the Old Testament. Let us suppose that you lived, not the normal 50 or 60 or 70 years, let us suppose you lived to be 1000 years old. Let us say that from the day you were born to the day you died you offered a lamb in the morning and a lamb in the evening. And along the way you never missed a day and you never missed a lamb. By the day you died you would have lived 365,000 days and you would have offered 730,000 lambs to God. Do you know how many sins you would have forgiven? Not one. Zero. No sins. That’s not much to show for 1000 years of work. Ever, ever, ever working and never, never, never forgiving, not even one sin.
A Messy, Smelly Job
If you took all the bulls and all the goats and all the turtledoves and all the lambs and all the rams and all the other animals that were offered in sacrifice to God, and if you took them and looked at all those sacrifices made over a 1500 year period, it would be a veritable river of blood. Though you had the river of animal blood before you, not one sin could it forgive. Not one. “… because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin.” (Hebrews 10:4)
Can you imagine what kind of life it must have been for priests of the Old Testament? Killing animals for a living. Cutting the throat and spilling the blood and sprinkling it before God. And then taking part of the body and burning it before God every day. Burning one animal after another in an offering and sacrifice before God. Can you imagine what that was like?
Have you ever seen an animal sacrifice? Have you ever seen a goat slaughtered? I saw it when we were in Haiti two weeks ago. It happened about 11:00 in the morning. I was up in the orphanage where we were staying and Nathan Burk was with me. I think I was drinking a Coke and making my notes on the gospel of John.
Suddenly we began to hear the bleating of a goat outside our window. It was not the normal sound that you hear but a frightened bleating—faster and faster and louder and louder. It sounded like an animal in trouble. Nathan looked out the window and said, “They’re going to kill that goat.” I said, “No they’re not.” He said, “Yes, there are.”
I went and looked out, and sure enough, down there by the cactus plant, there were two teenage boys on top of the goat. One of them had a knife and they were about to slaughter that goat. Nate and I being curious types, we walked outside and stood about six feet away. There was blood everywhere. Blood on the cactus. Blood on the goat. Blood on the knife. Blood on the ground. It was awful.
To make matters worse, they couldn’t get the goat killed. That was the horrible part. They had a knife but it wasn’t sharp enough. They had half his throat cut but they couldn’t get him killed, so they had to go inside to get a butcher knife so they could finish the job. Eventually they made a big hole in the goat’s throat and the blood came pouring out. Meanwhile the goat was making a terrible racket. It was one of the most awful scenes I have ever witnessed. At length they found the right thing to cut and the animal went into convulsions and finally died.
That’s what the priest did for a living. One after the other, a goat, a lamb, a ram, a bull. Every day going to work and putting those animals to death. Every night when the priest came home, the smell of death and blood was all over him. The next morning he had to get up and do it all over again because his work was never finished.
The Little Word “But”
With all of that as background, take another look at Hebrews 10:12. What’s the first word of verse 12? It’s the most important verse in the book of Hebrews. What is it? “But.” Circle it. Underline it. Your salvation depends upon that one little word “but.” You are going to heaven because of that little word “but.”
On one side stand the priests doing the will of God day after day; week after week and year after year—killing the animals, making the sacrifices, making the offerings before Almighty God. Their hands are stained with blood. The same thing every day, all the time, and when one of them dies another one would step up to continue the offerings and sacrifices. Always standing, never sitting down because their work was never finished because the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin.
On the other side stands one man. His name is Jesus Christ. And between the priests of the Old Testament and Jesus Christ there’s the little word “but.” And that word “but” makes all the difference.
After they had done all the killing they could do, in accordance with the will of God and fulfilling the Old Testament Law, they could never take away sin. “But this one priest when he had made the one offering for sin forever, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12) He did what they could never do. He sat down because his work was finished. One man, one offering, paid for sins forever. He finished it and then he sat down at the right hand of God.
No Bull In Church Today
Did anyone here bring a goat to church this morning? Did anyone park a bull outside the church? Did anyone bring a turtledove with you? Do you know why you didn’t? You didn’t because in that little word “but” we don’t have to do that any more. Did you ever wonder why there’s not an altar down here at the front? We don’t need that anymore. Do you ever wonder why we don’t sacrifice animals? There’s no need for that anymore. “But, this one priest when he had made the one offering”—not of a bull, not of a goat, not of a ram, not of a lamb— “when he had made the one offering”—of his own body on the cross—”for sin, forever.”
Do you remember what he cried from the cross? “It is finished.” What he meant was the work of redemp-tion was done. It is finished. The price has been paid. It is finished. The sacrificial system is finished. No more bulls. No more goats. No more lambs. It is finished and gone forever because when Jesus died it was one for all and once for all—always and forever complete. Finished and done for. So he sat down. His work is done.
Sitting Versus Standing
This is the difference between Christianity and all the other religions of the world. The other religions of the world are stand-up religions. They have to stand up and keep on working. They have to stand up and keep on giving. They have to stand up and keep on praying. They have to stand up and keep on sacrificing. They have to stand up and keep on obeying the man-made rules of a man-made religious leader. They’re stand up religions. But thank God, we don’t have a stand-up religion. Because of Jesus Christ we have a sit-down salvation.
If you want to go to heaven, you can try to go standing up or you can go sitting down. If you try to go standing up you will never make it. You will never be good enough. You’ll never sacrifice enough. You’ll never be perfect enough. If you go sitting down, it’s because you are trusting in what Jesus Christ did on the cross for you. That’s what I mean by a sit-down salvation. Jesus did the standing so you could do the sitting.
Three Eternal Truths
1. Jesus Christ has accomplished in his death what the Old Testament priesthood could never accomplish. The priests were good men. Nothing that I’ve said should be made to appear as if they weren’t good men or in the will of God, because they were. It was God’s will that they offer those sacrifices. But Jesus Christ has done what they could never do. He has accomplished a sit-down salvation.
Sometimes we say that practice makes perfect. That’s true in sports. That’s true in playing the piano. It’s true of most things in life. But practice does not make perfect when it comes to the forgiveness of sins. You’ll never get your sins forgiven just by practicing something over and over and over again—like coming to church, like saying a prayer, like being good, like keeping the Ten Commandments. When it comes to forgiveness, practice does not make perfect
We don’t have to worry about that. Jesus Christ has done it all. He has done everything necessary so that your sins could be immediately forgiven. That’s what a sit-down salvation is all about.
2. There are two things which are wholly incompatible with biblical Christianity. Number one is any form of human priesthood. Number two is any practice of sacrifice for sins. It’s incompatible. We don’t need a human priesthood. We’ve got a High Priest in heaven. If our High Priest in heaven is not enough to take us to heaven, then all the human priests in the world don’t make any difference at all. If He’s enough to take us to heaven, then we don’t need a human priesthood. If His sacrifice is not enough, then sacrificing bulls and goats sure isn’t going to get us there. And if His sacrifice
is enough, then we don’t have to sacrifice anything at all. We just have to believe in what Jesus Christ has already done.
3. Because his work is finished, our salvation is certain. If Jesus is in heaven and we are in Christ, then spiritually where are we? We are already seated with him in heaven. Do you know what that really means? As Jack Wyrtzen says, it means that if you have trusted Jesus Christ, you can be as sure of heaven today as if you had already been there ten thousand years. That’s what it means. Because his work is finished, our salvation is certain.
Are You Sitting or Are You Standing?
If you are not certain about your salvation, the problem is not with Jesus. He’s seated at the right hand of God. His work is finished. If you are not certain, it may be because you have never trusted in Jesus Christ as your Savior. You may be still trying to get to heaven with a stand-up religion. I invite you to trade in your stand-up religion for a sit-down salvation. I invite you to come to Jesus Christ and put your faith in him alone. The moment you do, your sins will be forgiven once and for all and forever. If you’re not sure of your salvation, in Jesus’ name I invite you to come to him and be saved.
I say it again. Jesus has already done the hard part. See his body—it was broken for you. See his blood—it was shed for you. If that is not enough to get us to heaven then nothing we do is going to make any difference. But it is enough. “But this one priest when he had made the one offering for sin forever, he sat down at the right hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12) We don’t have a stand-up religion. We’ve got a sit-down salvation.