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. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10.11-14.
As the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote the words that I have been given as this morning’s reading, he was clearly holding one of the best-known of all Old Testament texts at the forefront of his mind. That text was Psalm 110.1: “The LORD says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.'” All Jews accepted this psalm as speaking of the coming Messiah — the Anointed One from the line of David who would fulfil all the promises and purposes of God. But the writer of this letter knows that the Messiah of whom the psalm speaks is none other than Jesus of Nazareth — the one who just thirty years earlier had died on the cross, risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. And the startling truth that the writer has now seen, in the light of Psalm 110.1, is that the Jesus who is now in heaven at the right hand of the Father is a seated Jesus. And he sees that that is very, very important because of what Jesus is and because of what he has done for us.
Human beings have always needed a priest to represent them before God; and the priest has always needed to bring sacrifice. That is a pattern understood in every tribe and nation throughout history and throughout the world, implanted almost in the make-up of fallen humanity … and the Jews knew and understood that well — more fully than most. They had the Aaronic priesthood and the duties of those priests never ceased. There were 18,000 priests in Israel, serving by rota, in the Temple; and day by day, year in, year out, they offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. And what is significant to the writer of this morning’s verses is that those priests never sat down. They remained standing throughout the performance of their temple duties and they had to remain standing because their duties were never done. More sacrifices were always needed, for not one of the sacrifices offered could permanently remove sin or restore purity or cleanse the guilty conscience.
But now, says the writer, we have a priest in Jesus who has offered a perfect sacrifice — his very self — and that sacrifice, once offered and for all, has done what the millions of sacrifices offered in the entire history of the planet were unable to do. It has dealt with sin permanently and completely. And the proof is that Jesus is now a seated priest. There is nothing more for him to do as regards sin. As he said from the cross: “It is finished” (John 19.30). He has, as the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “made perfect forever those who are being made holy”. And the glorious truth I want to take hold of afresh this morning is that that includes me!
Thanks be to God.