The Depth of Our Problem and the Greatness of Our Solution (Hebrews 9:11-28)

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Welcome to Redemption Church's First Pre-Launch Service

Welcome! Thank you all for being here. It’s a huge privilege to be one of the pastors of this new baby church. I couldn’t be happier for us to be worshiping here together tonight. I feel very blessed by the Lord to be at this point and very thankful for all of you who are here and have helped us get here.

Let’s go ahead and jump into the text. If you have a Bible, turn with me to Hebrews chapter 9. If not, you can follow along on the screen. If you don’t have a Bible but want one, there’s a paperback in the back of the pew in front of you.

I don’t have a big intro for you tonight because our text is so long and needs so much context that if I gave it all to you right now you’d forget all about the fact that we even really have a text tonight before we got to the text. 

Hebrews 9:11-28

So let me read for us, starting in Hebrews 9:11:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28)

The Great Solution

So part of the reason I’m thrilled to be here tonight is because of you guys. But part of the reason I’m thrilled to be here tonight is because of this passage—it hits me with a force and reminds me of deep, essential things. If we’re going to really be followers of Jesus, we necessarily have to understand a few things from this passage. In particular, look back at verses 12 and 26. Jesus came and fixed sin. Jesus came and secured for us an eternal redemption. Both of these verses tell us about a purpose. Do you see that? Verse 12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” The “thus” here is the purpose. The whole reason He died was to gain this eternal redemption. This is basic Christianity, right? Even if you’re brand new in a church off the street, you probably have some idea that we’re here because of something to do with Jesus, His blood, and redemption. And in the second half of verse 26, it says, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” In short, He appeared in order to put away sin. So we have Jesus’ purpose repeated twice here—He came to give us redemption and take away our sin. This is the great solution. 

But here’s my fear: because we’re in Texas, where this is all pretty familiar to us, I fear that we hear this solution without remembering much about the problem itself. And when this happens, we end up redefining the problem in our own minds, and when that happens we also redefine the solution. This is solution is a fantastic solution, but you need to hear it clearly—and the more clearly you hear it, as the Bible actually has it, the more powerfully it can work on your hearts and minds and lives. 

This same solution of salvation in Jesus is proclaimed by preachers on TV and homeless guys on the corner and the titles of books in Barnes and Noble and billboards along our highways. But do we understand the depth of this offer of our sin being dealt with in Jesus?

What's the Problem?

When offered redemption for sins, what do we say? “Yeah, there are a few things I’d like to clean up about myself. I’m not perfect. I’m short with my wife and kids sometimes. I even hate my boss sometimes and would like to be forgiven for that.” So in some sense, I think almost all of us have a conception of our sin—but we don’t realize the depth of our sin. Almost every one of us still thinks we, at heart, are good people.

A few months ago I came across an article about a Mexican cartel who had recruited a few young teenagers and turned them into hit men. A couple of these young men had ended up in prison for life in Texas by the time they were 18 or 19. The author of the story gets them to open up a bit, and they tell a very candid story about murdering dozens and dozens of people. This was their job. Day after day, they were killing people. They were living the high life of fancy cars and girls and drugs that is so attractive to so many of us as 16 or 17 year olds. They had everything they wanted as pay for doing these awful things. 

But what most struck me about this article wasn’t even the main point of the article. At a certain point, the reporter asks one of these guys how he dealt with everything in his past now that he was a little bit removed from it. Did he feel guilty? Did he feel weighed down? How was he processing all this? He said something to the effect of, “It’s not really that big of a deal for me to think back on it all because I know that deep down I’m still a good person.”

For us, being on the outside looking in, don’t we all think this guy, if anyone is, is a bad person? We may hate our boss, but we’ve never killed him. We certainly haven’t killed dozens of people. This guy has some real sin and brokenness. We can’t imagine being him or daring to do those things.

But he still thinks he’s a good person. Think about it. In his mind, he knows he’s done those few dozen really awful things. But those aren’t who he is. First, he was just an employee who was forced to do those things. And second, even if he’s murdering a few times a week, the vast majority of his time is still spent doing things that aren’t particularly evil. If he spends an hour on each kill, that means that at least 165 of the 168 hours in his week are filled with him being pretty good. So he thinks he’s basically a good person.

What scares me most about this story is not that this one murderer is, apparently, so blind. What scares me most is that we might be just as blind, that we might be excusing all sorts of things in ourselves that shouldn’t be. I wonder what outside observers would think of us calling ourselves good people if they had complete transparency into our lives and minds, seeing our actions, our thoughts, and even our motivations. Are we potentially also completely blind to whether or not we’re “good people”? When we hear Jesus’ offer of salvation, how deep is the problem that He’s solving?

The Bible on Our Problem

The broad-strokes story of the Bible is that God is the Author of life. So in the very beginning, it’s just God, just the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s no earth and no sun. There’s not even time or space. God existed independent of all other things, but for some reason He decided to create, everything from the tiniest of particles to the largest of galaxies, from the laws of physics to human beings. So this God is the Author of life in the fullest sense. He defines life. He causes life. He is the Source of all life. What do you think happens when you run from this Source of life? Forget, for the moment, all about the word “sin.” What happens when you’re separated from the Author of life? Inevitably, you die. This is the promise for disobeying God that’s given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:17, and it’s the result that comes, at least eventually, to Adam and Eve and every one of their offspring. The genealogy passage a few chapters later in Genesis 5 may seem boring to us, but it is structured in such a way to show us that this disease of death has spread to all of humanity because all of humanity stood separated from sin. The pattern of this genealogy is “So and so lived so many years, and then he died.” Over and over again, we see “So and so lived so many years, and then he died. And then his son lived so many years, and then he died. And then his son lived so many years, and then he died.” And then he died. They all died. Biblically, the big problem with the world is death. We have separated ourselves from the Author of life, and now we’re all dying. 

So if we defend ourselves as not really being bad people, we’re missing the point. Just like God is the definition and source of all life, He is the definition and source of all goodness. So to stand separated from Him seems, in a very important sense, to be separated from what would make us good people. Just like being separated from Him, the Author of life, means we don’t have life, being separated from Him, the source of good, means we’re not really good. It’s not enough for us to say we do good things or to say we don’t do that many bad things. We are separated from the only Good One. So it’s not just that we do bad things—it’s that we are bad. We do these things because of who we are. As much as we fight them and know better, they still come out of us. To use another biblical metaphor, it’s not just that we live in darkness but that we are ourselves darkness. We promote darkness, but we’re also children of darkness. It’s what we do, but it’s also who we are.

So when we come to our text here in Hebrews 9, we need to hear this with a little desperation. We so often hear this offer of forgiveness of sins that it becomes a small thing to us. In reality, it’s the only solution to what the Bible says is our biggest problem. Forgiveness is not merely an empty proclamation about our hypothetical standing with God. Forgiveness is the way that all of our separation from God is overcome—it’s the way we get back to Him, the source of light and goodness and life.

The Bible's First Solution

However, before we fully get back to our text in Hebrews 9, we need one more piece of context. It’s hard starting so far into a book—I’m sorry. But if I don’t give you all this context, you’ll miss much of what’s going on here in the passage.

Before this solution to our huge problem came in Jesus, God had told certain people about another solution. When Adam and all of his offspring were dying, it was because of the curse God had pronounced when he and Eve had rebelled. But in the same breath that this curse is delivered, God, in Genesis 3:15, promises that eventually one of Eve’s offspring will crush the serpent that tricked them. We don’t find out for sure until much later, but that serpent was in fact Satan—so this promise is that one of Eve’s offspring is going to eventually overcome Satan and reverse the whole curse. 

Much later, in Genesis 12:3, one of Adam and Eve’s descendants gets a promise that falls in line with lifting the curse: “in you all the families of shall be blessed.” Now this man, Abram, isn’t the one who defeats Satan, but he becomes the “father of many nations” (in Hebrew: “Abraham”). And it’s his descendant Moses who, several hundred years later, is used by God to lead a nation Israel out of slavery in Egypt. While Moses is doing this, God makes a covenant with Israel and sets up this sacrificial system that seems quite strange to us now. They have to make a bloody mess of bulls and goats, but these sacrifices are instituted by God as a way to deal with their sins. All nations of the earth were separated from God, but He was going to remove the separation from one certain group of people. This was most truly the case in what we now call the “holy of holies.” God was so separate from them, so holy, that His presence was dangerous to them. His purity might consume them in their impurity if they came too close inappropriately. So He protects His presence from them, limiting their access. He has them make a set of nested areas. He’s in the most protected area, and in that area, only one person, the high priest, can go. And even the high priest can only go in there one time per year, and he better take blood from a sacrifice with him. This one day was the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. There were other sections outside of that with their own rules about who could enter at what times and for what purposes. 

So God was separated from the world, but He wasn’t abandoning it. Instead, He was giving guidelines and creating a way for this separation to be overcome. However, once Jesus comes, the Bible finally tells us that all of these guidelines, the temple and all its rules, were just a charade. They were only symbolic. They weren’t really effective in fixing sin. The blood and rituals of washing and such had an exterior effect, but they never changed the people’s interior—their hearts or minds or souls. In fact, that’s what the author of Hebrews has just explained in the passage right before where we are tonight.

The Real Solution: Purified to Serve

Read with me back in Hebrews 9:11:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

Here’s the bottom line: the whole sacrificial system sanctified externally, but Jesus purifies internally. This symbol offered purification and access to God, but not like the reality does. Even when Israel finished building the great temple in the Old Testament, the “house of the Lord,” Solomon who was king at the time declared that it was not really a house in the sense that it could contain God. Not even the skies (the heavens) or the skies of the skies (the heavens of the heavens) could contain God. But Jesus didn’t enter into this symbolic temple. He entered into the very presence of God. 

Look at this great Trinitarian verse, verse 14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The symbols purified the flesh, but Jesus purifies our conscience. Now “conscience” here doesn’t just mean the part of you that nags you when you do something wrong. He’s using this term here in contrast to all that’s external—he’s using it to say that Jesus is purifying everything in you, even the immaterial parts. He can purify all of you, sanctify all of you, make all of you holy. He can fix you. He can take away whatever dirtiness there is in you. He take away all of your evil and wickedness, even the thoughts and intentions of your heart that those closest to you don’t know about. And He can do all this because He’s in the very presence of the Father. 

So I picture Jesus, after He had become human for us and died and then come back to life and then left the earth in His ascension into God’s presence, and I picture the Father. He enters into this great throne room offering Himself as a sacrifice, and God says to Him something like, “Well done, my Son! Your sacrifice is perfect and pure and powerful. In you I am well pleased.” But I’m somewhat corrected here by the actual text. The Son does all of this by the power of the Eternal Spirit. We cannot leave Him out. This Son of God, who together with the Father created all things when there were no things, pairs Himself permanently and intimately with His creation—by the power of the Spirit. This is the same Spirit that now works in you and me, in the church, and in our humanity. And because He is the “Eternal Spirit,” He can purify us eternally. He can do it permanently, so that we can forever and ever serve the Living God. 

This word “serve” here isn’t the word for a slave. That word appears lots of times in the Bible and the New Testament, but it’s not the word that’s used here. This “serve” is related to worship and drawing near to God. There were priests and priests’ attendants (Levites) whose job it was to serve in the temple. That’s what this word is. They got to come near to God and take part in the sacrifices. So this promise here isn’t just that we’re now duty bound to do God’s will as servants (I’m not rejecting that idea, just saying it’s not what’s being said here)—the promise here is that us being made holy, us being sanctified, is thorough and by the Eternal Spirit so that we are truly enabled to draw near to the presence of the Living God, all because Jesus is in His presence on our behalf.

Now notice that all of this happens because we’re saved from all of our “dead works.” If the problem with the world is that we’re dead and dying, if the problem is that our separation from the Author of life, then everything we do is a “dead work.” Think of this as if God is in one place and you’re in another. If your goal is to get back to Him, then things aren’t going well if we’re not running to Him. Any other direction we go is death. It’s the cause of our death and the result of our death—because in our death we’re blind and confused and disoriented and have no idea where Life is. The author of Hebrews tells us here that all of this is fixed in Jesus. All of the big things, like the hit man’s dozens of murders, and all of the small things like our motivations and consciences can all be purified and remade because of the sacrifice of Jesus as we enter into the presence of the Living God.

The Real Solution: Inaugurated by Blood

Let’s continue in verse 15:

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 

Let’s pause here briefly. Remember the covenant that I mentioned that God made with Israel through Moses? That’s known as the Old Covenant. Another word for “covenant” is “testament” which is why we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. Now, in English the only other place I regularly hear the word “testament” is when we talk about a “last will and testament.” So “testament” is another word for “covenant,” and “will” is another word for “testament.” The same is true in Greek. So we’re about to come across the word “will” in the passage, and you’re going to wonder why in the world he’s suddenly talking about wills. He’s doing it because it’s the same word he’s been using to talk about the covenant. 

Back to 16:

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 

So he’s pointing out that it’s very convenient that we call this a testament because even the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, was put in place by blood, just like any other will is. A death was required to make it effective, and a death is also required to make this New Covenant effective. This New Covenant has been quoted a chapter or so before this in Hebrews, and in it God promises that He’ll write His laws in our minds and hearts and make us internally new. People under this covenant won’t have to tell their neighbors and siblings to know God because everyone under this covenant will be remade from the inside. But to initiate this covenant, a death was required—which is where Jesus comes in.

The Real Solution: Christ in the Presence of God on Our Behalf

Let’s continue in verse 23: 

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Again he’s continuing to explain why this death of Jesus was necessary. Under the Old Covenant, both people and things were purified by blood so that when the people came into the presence of God they wouldn’t be contaminated and destroyed. All of this happens in the death of Jesus—Heaven itself has been purified by the blood of Jesus. All of this becomes effective, powerful, because of the death of Jesus, because He has entered into the presence of God on our behalf.

One of the favorite expressions of Paul, the guy who wrote about half of the books of the New Testament, is that we are “in Christ.” We are intimately united with Christ. We are paired with Him in a mysterious way, and now because He’s in the presence of the Living God, you and I are in the presence of the Living God. This is the whole point I want you to get tonight. Christ died to purify your conscience from dead works, and now that you’re united to Him by the Eternal Spirit, we can come into the presence of God, serving Him the way we were meant to from the beginning. This Spirit was so powerful that He created the world in the first place, was so powerful that He defeated death by resurrecting Jesus, and is so powerful that He can change you from the inside out.

You know all those little things that you don’t think are so big, those things that you think don’t make you a bad person, but those things that are dead works that separate you from the Living God? He can change all of those. The little lies, the lusts, the desires, the motivations, the secrets—they can all be transformed by the Spirit.

My Hopes for Redemption Church in Light of This Solution

So my hope for Redemption Church from this passage is threefold: it’s for you, it’s for us, and it’s for all of Houston. 

First, for you. This redemption, this putting away of sins, happens only as we come into the presence of God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But if you’re not drawing near in Christ, then you have no forgiveness of sins. Everything else you may do as a part of Redemption Church is a joke. It’s a party trick. It’s a meaningless hobby. Everything other than Jesus is at best a symbol. You need Jesus. So my deep desire is that you will honestly consider whether you are in Christ and drawing near to God. Am I in Him? Am I drawing near to Him? Is everything within me being transformed? Or am I running from Him?

Second, for us. My hope is for this community, that we’d be compelled by this idea of serving in God’s presence because of Jesus Christ. After the service ends in a few minutes, it’s great if you hang out and get to know each other. I’d be very happy to see you get into each other’s lives and share meals and hopes and dreams and laughs. But if we as a community do all of that and never care whether the people around us are drawing near to God in Christ, it’s all worthless. Hebrews is very clear about this. At the beginning of chapter 2 he says that because all of this has happened in Christ, we must pay much closer attention to the things we have heard because otherwise we’re going to drift away from it. He warns in chapter 3 that everyone in the community he’s writing to, that as long as that day is called “today” (and of course, it’s always today), they need to exhort each other because otherwise they’ll be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and will fall away from the Living God. So my hope is that we would be deeply characterized by encouraging each other not to fall away from the Living God. May we press on and draw near, not just in moments like this when we’re officially gathered and reading the word and practicing communion, but even in the rest of our lives, day after day after day.

Third, for Houston. I want us to do all sorts of service and love this area well. But if we don’t remember that their primary need is to come into the presence of Life that they might not die, everything else is a waste. So may we never lose sight of this Son, this One who is the radiance of the glory of God, the One who is the exact imprint of God’s nature, the One who upholds the universe by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t just offer morality or optimism or cultural Christianity. We offer drawing near to God by His very own Son who became like us that we might become like Him.

Praise God for His mercy to us in Christ. Amen.

Welcome to Redemption Church's First Pre-Launch Service

Welcome! Thank you all for being here. It’s a huge privilege to be one of the pastors of this new baby church. I couldn’t be happier for us to be worshiping here together tonight. I feel very blessed by the Lord to be at this point and very thankful for all of you who are here and have helped us get here.

Let’s go ahead and jump into the text. If you have a Bible, turn with me to Hebrews chapter 9. If not, you can follow along on the screen. If you don’t have a Bible but want one, there’s a paperback in the back of the pew in front of you.

I don’t have a big intro for you tonight because our text is so long and needs so much context that if I gave it all to you right now you’d forget all about the fact that we even really have a text tonight before we got to the text. 

Hebrews 9:11-28

So let me read for us, starting in Hebrews 9:11:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:11-28)

The Great Solution

So part of the reason I’m thrilled to be here tonight is because of you guys. But part of the reason I’m thrilled to be here tonight is because of this passage—it hits me with a force and reminds me of deep, essential things. If we’re going to really be followers of Jesus, we necessarily have to understand a few things from this passage. In particular, look back at verses 12 and 26. Jesus came and fixed sin. Jesus came and secured for us an eternal redemption. Both of these verses tell us about a purpose. Do you see that? Verse 12 says, “He entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption.” The “thus” here is the purpose. The whole reason He died was to gain this eternal redemption. This is basic Christianity, right? Even if you’re brand new in a church off the street, you probably have some idea that we’re here because of something to do with Jesus, His blood, and redemption. And in the second half of verse 26, it says, “But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” In short, He appeared in order to put away sin. So we have Jesus’ purpose repeated twice here—He came to give us redemption and take away our sin. This is the great solution. 

But here’s my fear: because we’re in Texas, where this is all pretty familiar to us, I fear that we hear this solution without remembering much about the problem itself. And when this happens, we end up redefining the problem in our own minds, and when that happens we also redefine the solution. This is solution is a fantastic solution, but you need to hear it clearly—and the more clearly you hear it, as the Bible actually has it, the more powerfully it can work on your hearts and minds and lives. 

This same solution of salvation in Jesus is proclaimed by preachers on TV and homeless guys on the corner and the titles of books in Barnes and Noble and billboards along our highways. But do we understand the depth of this offer of our sin being dealt with in Jesus?

What's the Problem?

When offered redemption for sins, what do we say? “Yeah, there are a few things I’d like to clean up about myself. I’m not perfect. I’m short with my wife and kids sometimes. I even hate my boss sometimes and would like to be forgiven for that.” So in some sense, I think almost all of us have a conception of our sin—but we don’t realize the depth of our sin. Almost every one of us still thinks we, at heart, are good people.

A few months ago I came across an article about a Mexican cartel who had recruited a few young teenagers and turned them into hit men. A couple of these young men had ended up in prison for life in Texas by the time they were 18 or 19. The author of the story gets them to open up a bit, and they tell a very candid story about murdering dozens and dozens of people. This was their job. Day after day, they were killing people. They were living the high life of fancy cars and girls and drugs that is so attractive to so many of us as 16 or 17 year olds. They had everything they wanted as pay for doing these awful things. 

But what most struck me about this article wasn’t even the main point of the article. At a certain point, the reporter asks one of these guys how he dealt with everything in his past now that he was a little bit removed from it. Did he feel guilty? Did he feel weighed down? How was he processing all this? He said something to the effect of, “It’s not really that big of a deal for me to think back on it all because I know that deep down I’m still a good person.”

For us, being on the outside looking in, don’t we all think this guy, if anyone is, is a bad person? We may hate our boss, but we’ve never killed him. We certainly haven’t killed dozens of people. This guy has some real sin and brokenness. We can’t imagine being him or daring to do those things.

But he still thinks he’s a good person. Think about it. In his mind, he knows he’s done those few dozen really awful things. But those aren’t who he is. First, he was just an employee who was forced to do those things. And second, even if he’s murdering a few times a week, the vast majority of his time is still spent doing things that aren’t particularly evil. If he spends an hour on each kill, that means that at least 165 of the 168 hours in his week are filled with him being pretty good. So he thinks he’s basically a good person.

What scares me most about this story is not that this one murderer is, apparently, so blind. What scares me most is that we might be just as blind, that we might be excusing all sorts of things in ourselves that shouldn’t be. I wonder what outside observers would think of us calling ourselves good people if they had complete transparency into our lives and minds, seeing our actions, our thoughts, and even our motivations. Are we potentially also completely blind to whether or not we’re “good people”? When we hear Jesus’ offer of salvation, how deep is the problem that He’s solving?

The Bible on Our Problem

The broad-strokes story of the Bible is that God is the Author of life. So in the very beginning, it’s just God, just the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. There’s no earth and no sun. There’s not even time or space. God existed independent of all other things, but for some reason He decided to create, everything from the tiniest of particles to the largest of galaxies, from the laws of physics to human beings. So this God is the Author of life in the fullest sense. He defines life. He causes life. He is the Source of all life. What do you think happens when you run from this Source of life? Forget, for the moment, all about the word “sin.” What happens when you’re separated from the Author of life? Inevitably, you die. This is the promise for disobeying God that’s given to Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:17, and it’s the result that comes, at least eventually, to Adam and Eve and every one of their offspring. The genealogy passage a few chapters later in Genesis 5 may seem boring to us, but it is structured in such a way to show us that this disease of death has spread to all of humanity because all of humanity stood separated from sin. The pattern of this genealogy is “So and so lived so many years, and then he died.” Over and over again, we see “So and so lived so many years, and then he died. And then his son lived so many years, and then he died. And then his son lived so many years, and then he died.” And then he died. They all died. Biblically, the big problem with the world is death. We have separated ourselves from the Author of life, and now we’re all dying. 

So if we defend ourselves as not really being bad people, we’re missing the point. Just like God is the definition and source of all life, He is the definition and source of all goodness. So to stand separated from Him seems, in a very important sense, to be separated from what would make us good people. Just like being separated from Him, the Author of life, means we don’t have life, being separated from Him, the source of good, means we’re not really good. It’s not enough for us to say we do good things or to say we don’t do that many bad things. We are separated from the only Good One. So it’s not just that we do bad things—it’s that we are bad. We do these things because of who we are. As much as we fight them and know better, they still come out of us. To use another biblical metaphor, it’s not just that we live in darkness but that we are ourselves darkness. We promote darkness, but we’re also children of darkness. It’s what we do, but it’s also who we are.

So when we come to our text here in Hebrews 9, we need to hear this with a little desperation. We so often hear this offer of forgiveness of sins that it becomes a small thing to us. In reality, it’s the only solution to what the Bible says is our biggest problem. Forgiveness is not merely an empty proclamation about our hypothetical standing with God. Forgiveness is the way that all of our separation from God is overcome—it’s the way we get back to Him, the source of light and goodness and life.

The Bible's First Solution

However, before we fully get back to our text in Hebrews 9, we need one more piece of context. It’s hard starting so far into a book—I’m sorry. But if I don’t give you all this context, you’ll miss much of what’s going on here in the passage.

Before this solution to our huge problem came in Jesus, God had told certain people about another solution. When Adam and all of his offspring were dying, it was because of the curse God had pronounced when he and Eve had rebelled. But in the same breath that this curse is delivered, God, in Genesis 3:15, promises that eventually one of Eve’s offspring will crush the serpent that tricked them. We don’t find out for sure until much later, but that serpent was in fact Satan—so this promise is that one of Eve’s offspring is going to eventually overcome Satan and reverse the whole curse. 

Much later, in Genesis 12:3, one of Adam and Eve’s descendants gets a promise that falls in line with lifting the curse: “in you all the families of shall be blessed.” Now this man, Abram, isn’t the one who defeats Satan, but he becomes the “father of many nations” (in Hebrew: “Abraham”). And it’s his descendant Moses who, several hundred years later, is used by God to lead a nation Israel out of slavery in Egypt. While Moses is doing this, God makes a covenant with Israel and sets up this sacrificial system that seems quite strange to us now. They have to make a bloody mess of bulls and goats, but these sacrifices are instituted by God as a way to deal with their sins. All nations of the earth were separated from God, but He was going to remove the separation from one certain group of people. This was most truly the case in what we now call the “holy of holies.” God was so separate from them, so holy, that His presence was dangerous to them. His purity might consume them in their impurity if they came too close inappropriately. So He protects His presence from them, limiting their access. He has them make a set of nested areas. He’s in the most protected area, and in that area, only one person, the high priest, can go. And even the high priest can only go in there one time per year, and he better take blood from a sacrifice with him. This one day was the Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur. There were other sections outside of that with their own rules about who could enter at what times and for what purposes. 

So God was separated from the world, but He wasn’t abandoning it. Instead, He was giving guidelines and creating a way for this separation to be overcome. However, once Jesus comes, the Bible finally tells us that all of these guidelines, the temple and all its rules, were just a charade. They were only symbolic. They weren’t really effective in fixing sin. The blood and rituals of washing and such had an exterior effect, but they never changed the people’s interior—their hearts or minds or souls. In fact, that’s what the author of Hebrews has just explained in the passage right before where we are tonight.

The Real Solution: Purified to Serve

Read with me back in Hebrews 9:11:

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. 13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, 14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God. 

Here’s the bottom line: the whole sacrificial system sanctified externally, but Jesus purifies internally. This symbol offered purification and access to God, but not like the reality does. Even when Israel finished building the great temple in the Old Testament, the “house of the Lord,” Solomon who was king at the time declared that it was not really a house in the sense that it could contain God. Not even the skies (the heavens) or the skies of the skies (the heavens of the heavens) could contain God. But Jesus didn’t enter into this symbolic temple. He entered into the very presence of God. 

Look at this great Trinitarian verse, verse 14: “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The symbols purified the flesh, but Jesus purifies our conscience. Now “conscience” here doesn’t just mean the part of you that nags you when you do something wrong. He’s using this term here in contrast to all that’s external—he’s using it to say that Jesus is purifying everything in you, even the immaterial parts. He can purify all of you, sanctify all of you, make all of you holy. He can fix you. He can take away whatever dirtiness there is in you. He take away all of your evil and wickedness, even the thoughts and intentions of your heart that those closest to you don’t know about. And He can do all this because He’s in the very presence of the Father. 

So I picture Jesus, after He had become human for us and died and then come back to life and then left the earth in His ascension into God’s presence, and I picture the Father. He enters into this great throne room offering Himself as a sacrifice, and God says to Him something like, “Well done, my Son! Your sacrifice is perfect and pure and powerful. In you I am well pleased.” But I’m somewhat corrected here by the actual text. The Son does all of this by the power of the Eternal Spirit. We cannot leave Him out. This Son of God, who together with the Father created all things when there were no things, pairs Himself permanently and intimately with His creation—by the power of the Spirit. This is the same Spirit that now works in you and me, in the church, and in our humanity. And because He is the “Eternal Spirit,” He can purify us eternally. He can do it permanently, so that we can forever and ever serve the Living God. 

This word “serve” here isn’t the word for a slave. That word appears lots of times in the Bible and the New Testament, but it’s not the word that’s used here. This “serve” is related to worship and drawing near to God. There were priests and priests’ attendants (Levites) whose job it was to serve in the temple. That’s what this word is. They got to come near to God and take part in the sacrifices. So this promise here isn’t just that we’re now duty bound to do God’s will as servants (I’m not rejecting that idea, just saying it’s not what’s being said here)—the promise here is that us being made holy, us being sanctified, is thorough and by the Eternal Spirit so that we are truly enabled to draw near to the presence of the Living God, all because Jesus is in His presence on our behalf.

Now notice that all of this happens because we’re saved from all of our “dead works.” If the problem with the world is that we’re dead and dying, if the problem is that our separation from the Author of life, then everything we do is a “dead work.” Think of this as if God is in one place and you’re in another. If your goal is to get back to Him, then things aren’t going well if we’re not running to Him. Any other direction we go is death. It’s the cause of our death and the result of our death—because in our death we’re blind and confused and disoriented and have no idea where Life is. The author of Hebrews tells us here that all of this is fixed in Jesus. All of the big things, like the hit man’s dozens of murders, and all of the small things like our motivations and consciences can all be purified and remade because of the sacrifice of Jesus as we enter into the presence of the Living God.

The Real Solution: Inaugurated by Blood

Let’s continue in verse 15:

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant. 

Let’s pause here briefly. Remember the covenant that I mentioned that God made with Israel through Moses? That’s known as the Old Covenant. Another word for “covenant” is “testament” which is why we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. Now, in English the only other place I regularly hear the word “testament” is when we talk about a “last will and testament.” So “testament” is another word for “covenant,” and “will” is another word for “testament.” The same is true in Greek. So we’re about to come across the word “will” in the passage, and you’re going to wonder why in the world he’s suddenly talking about wills. He’s doing it because it’s the same word he’s been using to talk about the covenant. 

Back to 16:

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. 

So he’s pointing out that it’s very convenient that we call this a testament because even the Old Covenant, the Old Testament, was put in place by blood, just like any other will is. A death was required to make it effective, and a death is also required to make this New Covenant effective. This New Covenant has been quoted a chapter or so before this in Hebrews, and in it God promises that He’ll write His laws in our minds and hearts and make us internally new. People under this covenant won’t have to tell their neighbors and siblings to know God because everyone under this covenant will be remade from the inside. But to initiate this covenant, a death was required—which is where Jesus comes in.

The Real Solution: Christ in the Presence of God on Our Behalf

Let’s continue in verse 23: 

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

Again he’s continuing to explain why this death of Jesus was necessary. Under the Old Covenant, both people and things were purified by blood so that when the people came into the presence of God they wouldn’t be contaminated and destroyed. All of this happens in the death of Jesus—Heaven itself has been purified by the blood of Jesus. All of this becomes effective, powerful, because of the death of Jesus, because He has entered into the presence of God on our behalf.

One of the favorite expressions of Paul, the guy who wrote about half of the books of the New Testament, is that we are “in Christ.” We are intimately united with Christ. We are paired with Him in a mysterious way, and now because He’s in the presence of the Living God, you and I are in the presence of the Living God. This is the whole point I want you to get tonight. Christ died to purify your conscience from dead works, and now that you’re united to Him by the Eternal Spirit, we can come into the presence of God, serving Him the way we were meant to from the beginning. This Spirit was so powerful that He created the world in the first place, was so powerful that He defeated death by resurrecting Jesus, and is so powerful that He can change you from the inside out.

You know all those little things that you don’t think are so big, those things that you think don’t make you a bad person, but those things that are dead works that separate you from the Living God? He can change all of those. The little lies, the lusts, the desires, the motivations, the secrets—they can all be transformed by the Spirit.

My Hopes for Redemption Church in Light of This Solution

So my hope for Redemption Church from this passage is threefold: it’s for you, it’s for us, and it’s for all of Houston. 

First, for you. This redemption, this putting away of sins, happens only as we come into the presence of God by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But if you’re not drawing near in Christ, then you have no forgiveness of sins. Everything else you may do as a part of Redemption Church is a joke. It’s a party trick. It’s a meaningless hobby. Everything other than Jesus is at best a symbol. You need Jesus. So my deep desire is that you will honestly consider whether you are in Christ and drawing near to God. Am I in Him? Am I drawing near to Him? Is everything within me being transformed? Or am I running from Him?

Second, for us. My hope is for this community, that we’d be compelled by this idea of serving in God’s presence because of Jesus Christ. After the service ends in a few minutes, it’s great if you hang out and get to know each other. I’d be very happy to see you get into each other’s lives and share meals and hopes and dreams and laughs. But if we as a community do all of that and never care whether the people around us are drawing near to God in Christ, it’s all worthless. Hebrews is very clear about this. At the beginning of chapter 2 he says that because all of this has happened in Christ, we must pay much closer attention to the things we have heard because otherwise we’re going to drift away from it. He warns in chapter 3 that everyone in the community he’s writing to, that as long as that day is called “today” (and of course, it’s always today), they need to exhort each other because otherwise they’ll be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin and will fall away from the Living God. So my hope is that we would be deeply characterized by encouraging each other not to fall away from the Living God. May we press on and draw near, not just in moments like this when we’re officially gathered and reading the word and practicing communion, but even in the rest of our lives, day after day after day.

Third, for Houston. I want us to do all sorts of service and love this area well. But if we don’t remember that their primary need is to come into the presence of Life that they might not die, everything else is a waste. So may we never lose sight of this Son, this One who is the radiance of the glory of God, the One who is the exact imprint of God’s nature, the One who upholds the universe by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3). We don’t just offer morality or optimism or cultural Christianity. We offer drawing near to God by His very own Son who became like us that we might become like Him.

Praise God for His mercy to us in Christ. Amen.