SUNDAY MORNING SERMON NOTES
T'was the Night Before Christmas - What Really Happened
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Friday, December 24, 2010 - 7:00 p.m.  Sermon #: 1430
Pastor Don Horban

Hebrews 10:1-14 - “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. [2] Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin? [3] But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year. [4] For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. [5] Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, ‘Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; [6] in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.’ [7] Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.' [8] When he said above, "You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), [9] then he added, "Behold, I have come to do your will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. [10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. [11] And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, [13] waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. [14] For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

“When Christ came into the world....” Surely here’s a Christmas text if ever there was one. You have here a marvelous conversation between Father and Son in the Trinity. The Son acknowledges the preparation of a human, physical body that has, in some way we can’t fully grasp, been “prepared” for Him (5).

As the mysteries of this profound text unfold, we will see the reason the Son needs a body. He needs a body because He came, as our text says, to do the Father’s will (7). And doing the Father’s will is going to entail offering His holy life as a sacrifice for your sin and mine. And a divine Spirit Being can’t be “tempted in all points” just as we are. And a divine Spirit Being can’t suffer the pain and misery and limitations of fallen human creatures such as we. And a divine Spirit Being can’t be sacrificed on the cross. You can’t drive nails through a Spirit.

So Christmas is all about one thing - and only one thing. Christmas is the moral necessity of a holy, loving God reaching out to sinful human creatures like ourselves. There is simply nothing else going on in the manger. How desperately we need the Scriptures to train our minds to see things for what they are at Christmas. God is launching His biggest work at Christmas, and how it must grieve His heart that people, even if they don’t deny His work, treat it lightly by making it one of the things we celebrate, rather than the only thing we celebrate.

Here in our text we have words from God the Son before He comes as a baby. Once a baby, He will, like any other baby, be unable to speak any words at all. He will not be able to form the concepts in His mind that He speaks just before coming into this world. So there’s an urgency to hear His words. Once born, the babe won’t comment on His own birth until He grows up into manhood. These are the words He chooses to explain His own birth still yet to come. These are His words the night before Christmas.

1) IN WHAT SEEMS A STRANGE TWIST, OUR TEXT LINKS THE BIRTH OF JESUS WITH THE DEATH OF ANIMALS

Hebrews 10:4 - “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

What can the blood of bulls and goats possibly have to do with the coming of baby Jesus in this world? I get a lot of Christmas cards every year and I’ve seen everything on them from pretty, small town, lamp-lit sidewalks, to secluded woodland snow-scapes, to star-lit scenes from Bethlehem with shepherds and, mistakenly, wise men. But I’ve never opened a card with a butchered goat on the front. Have you?

If you read your Bible at all, especially the Old Testament, you know that it can be a pretty bloody story. There’s an animal slain on every page and this is very upsetting to many people. The death of the animals is more upsetting to most casual readers of the Bible than the sin for which those animals were being sacrificed. In fact, most people are more upset about a traffic ticket than they are about their own sin. Our world is a sin-denying machine. And that’s why thoughtful people should find it stunning that the one celebration most passionately, extensively, and expensively celebrated all over the world - Christmas - is actually all about sin and sacrifice.

2) THE LINK OUR TEXT MAKES BETWEEN THE BIRTH OF JESUS AND THE SYSTEM OF OFFERING RELIGIOUS SACRIFICES IS THIS - THE COMING OF JESUS AS A BABE IN A MANGER WILL BRING ALL OTHER RELIGIOUS SACRIFICES TO AN END

Hebrews 10:8-10 - “When he said above, ‘You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings’ (these are offered according to the law), [9] then he added, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will.’ He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. [10] And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”

“Behold, I have come to do your will,” the Son says. What is that will, and why does it require a human body? The rest of the verses make it crystal clear. They proclaim the logic of Christmas. He came in a body to die - “....through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”(10).

So Jesus was born - that’s Christmas - in order to carry out the Father’s plan and lay down His life - the body, prepared and conceived in the womb of Mary - for our sins. And this event, according to our text, brings all other sacrifices for sin to an end - “He abolishes the first (burnt offerings and sin offerings - 8) in order to establish the second (His own death in a human body on the cross)”(9).

3) WHY DO WE NEED TO HAVE JESUS COME AND OFFER ANOTHER SACRIFICE FOR OUR SINS?

How many sacrifices do we need? Weren’t there already thousands - perhaps millions - of sacrifices offered already in the Bible? And it’s right at this point that we come to the core - ground zero - of the true meaning - the only meaning - of Christmas. You see, incredibly, our text tells us none of those Old Testament sacrifices - not one of them, nor all of them combined - did a thing to remove our sins:

Hebrews 10:4 - “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Underscore that word, “impossible.” It was impossible for those sacrifices to take away sin. It was as impossible for those sacrifices to take away sin as it is for a cow to fly. None of those sacrifices was ever intended to take away sin. It never entered into the mind of God that those sacrifices would take away our sin. All of which makes things very confusing for many people. Didn’t God command those sacrifices in the Old Testament? Weren’t they His idea? What was God thinking?

We know exactly what He was thinking. He was thinking about Bethlehem. He was thinking about Jesus. He was thinking about Christmas. God did everything He could to prepare the world for Jesus. That’s why He ordained, not just one empty Old Testament sacrifice, but millions of them - and not just for a few weeks or months of religious observance, but for 2000 years of devout observance. Our text says the very repetition of all those sacrifices was proof they didn’t take away sin:

Hebrews 10:1-2 - “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. [2] Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sin?”

The writer says that if the sacrifices had worked to remove sin they wouldn’t have needed repeating over and over again. Nothing was “made perfect”(1) by those sacrifices. The people came back, along with the priest himself, again and again, because they knew they continued to carry the weight of their own guilt and sin.

That’s what those sacrifices were for. They weren’t to remove sin, but to remind of sin - Hebrews 10:3 - “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year.” Why does the writer say “a reminder of sin every year?” Because by far the most prominent and well known sacrifice in all the Old Testament was the Day of Atonement. This was the time when all Israel came together and centered all her religious passion and obedience around the offering made by the High Priest on behalf of himself and the people.

But the people didn’t just offer sacrifices on the Day of Atonement. Every time they sinned, whenever they sinned, they brought a sacrifice. Then what sin were they remembering on the Day of Atonement? The same ones. That was the whole point. Those sins were only symbolically overlooked. They were still there. The sins were not removed. And the people were to remember that those sins were not removed.

What does all this ancient history have to do with the people who shop for Christmas turkeys at Sobey’s? And why should we take the time to ponder all this on Christmas Eve? Because people - people right here in Newmarket - and some people right here in this room - still think they can either ignore their sin or somehow come to terms with God apart from Jesus Christ. And it can’t be done.

And God, I believe, in His providence, has placed Christmas so prominently on all our calendars - even though so distorted by so many - to keep the main issue of His heart in front of as many people as possible. Christmas is meant to shove the issue of human sin in our face. And it’s meant to push the truth that religious passion and religious devotion that misses Jesus, misses God’s forgiveness. Our world needs to hear that.

4) AT BETHLEHEM GOD THE SON TOOK ON A FULLY HUMAN BODY AND THE NAME “JESUS” TO OFFER THE ONE SACRIFICE FOR SIN THAT WOULD TRULY MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN OUR LIVES THROUGH FAITH IN HIM

Hebrews 10:11-14 - “And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. [12] But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, [13] waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. [14] For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.”

What marvelous Christmas words of promise. Jesus, the One born in Bethlehem, by the sacrifice of His body on the cross “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified”(14). Does that mean Christians no longer sin? No, it doesn’t mean that. Does it mean they don’t feel the pain of their sin when they fail the Lord? No, it doesn’t mean that either.

Here’s what it does mean. There is a perfection - a completely accomplished perfection - that I rest in and live my life out of. I see the seriousness of my sin because it cost Jesus His life. Yet I still rest in grace because when I sin I know Jesus intercedes on my behalf. As I trust in Him I am clothed in an absolutely complete and perfect sacrifice. I can move on. I don’t carry the weight of my own sin day after day. God’s just wrath against my sin terminated in the death of Christ Jesus on the cross. That’s why that sacrifice is never repeated. It is remembered, but it is never, ever repeated.

I live in divine joy and freedom. In fact, in language that is the exact opposite of the reminders of sin in the Old Testament sacrifices, the Bible says God doesn’t remember my sin because of the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. I am still on the way. I am, as verse 14 says, still “being sanctified.” But there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

But how do we know this all works? How can we be so sure? Read the whole Old Testament forwards and backwards and you’ll never find a faithful priest who sits down in the holy place. They stand. They always stand. They work in rotation because they can’t sit down. They are a picture of ongoing, unfinished work, a two thousand year reminder of incompleteness.

The seated Christ means His sacrifice fulfilled what the others only pictured. The seated Christ Jesus also means Father God was pleased with the sacrifice of His Son. He gives Jesus the seat at His own right hand of power and prominence and rulership. And finally, the seated Christ Jesus means all of my enemies will ultimately be defeated. Christ is seated “....until His enemies should be made a footstool for His feet”(14). There are no other battles to fight, no other enemies left to deal with.

No wonder, as the writer of our text ponders the emptiness and hopelessness of all religious exercise apart from Jesus Christ, he says all those empty reminders of sin were just a blazing, global bill-board pointing to “the good things to come”(10:1). I can’t think of a better way to define Christmas than the arrival of the “good things to come in Christ Jesus.” I guess that’s what the angels were singing about that starry night.