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Diocese of Charleston Bible Study + January 11, 2017

Hebrews 10:1-18
Mark 8:30-34

Hebrews 10:1-18 (NKJV)
For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year by year, make those who approach perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? For the worshipers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come—in the volume of the book it is written of Me—to do Your will, O God.'" Previously saying, "Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in them" (which are offered according to the law), then He said, "Behold, I have come to do Your will, O God." He takes away the first that He may establish the second. By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool. For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified. But the Holy Spirit also witnesses to us; for after He had said before, "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them," then He adds, "Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.

Mark 8:30-34 (NKJV)
Then Jesus strictly warned them that they should tell no one about Him. And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He spoke this word openly. Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. But when He had turned around and looked at His disciples, He rebuked Peter, saying, "Get behind Me, Satan! For you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, "Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me."

Commentary 

The Epistle to the Hebrews, ultimately of Pauline origin, is, in fact, an extended meditation or homily on the fulfillment of the Old Covenant in and by Christ. Specifically, Hebrews contains lengthy meditations on the way in which Psalms point to the reality of Jesus identity as the Christ, the Son of God, and as in today's reading, to the sacrifice of Himself which Christ offered to God on our behalf. One common pitfall in understanding Christ and His Sacrifice is our tendency to focus too often on death as part of the act of sacrifice. Certainly, our Lord's life-giving death on the Cross is a proper subject for consideration and the center of our proclamation of the Gospel, and intense focus on the details and nature of the suffering involved in crucifixion and other similar approaches obscure rather revealing the sacrificial nature of this death.

The first point to be made in this regard is that sacrifice did not always entail death. Many of the offerings of the Old Testament, the grain offerings and drink offerings, etc., did not involve killing anything beyond the parts of plants used in their Creation. This was true also of Greco-Roman sacrificial ritual, which frequently involved sacrifices of bulls, goats, pigs and the like, but equally often involved the burning of rice and wheat cakes. What united sacrifice was not death, certainly not the type of death, but rather the fact that what was offered was always prepared as food. The killing of animals was necessary not because sacrifice was 'powered' by death in some way, but because it is necessary for an animal to die for it to be offered as part of a meal.

The sacrifices of the Old Covenant were, in fact, offerings of a meal as hospitality to God by His people. God was invited to join in this meal sometimes as a function of restoring a covenant relationship which had been broken by the peoples' sin, to request forgiveness, other times to celebrate and offer thanks to God, or in times of trouble to request God's help. When the food was offered to God, the best portion was taken and given for God Himself, burnt up along with the prayers of repentance, thanksgiving, or request of the people in the hopes that they would represent an aroma pleasing to the Lord. Of that offering, a portion was that taken and eaten by the priests, another by those who offered the sacrifice and then the rest was distributed to all of the people.

These sacrifices were offered to God by men who were sinful themselves, and all too often as we read the Old Testament were offered for false motives and in wrong belief. They represented, at best, a sort of 'sin management' system. Our God, of course, has no need to eat, and takes no special pleasure in the death of animals or their blood. What God has always desired is repentance and faith from the heart, and sincerity from His people. These things receive God's forgiveness, and the sacrificial system was the resumption of a normal relationship between the people and their God after a breach.

For this reason our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ offered Himself as a sacrifice on our behalf. Only He was fit to serve as our great High Priest and make the offering, being free from sin Himself and therefore able to enter freely into the heavenly Holy of Holies. Likewise, only Christ in His own sinless perfection could be offered as a suitable sacrifice to deal with the problem of sin once and for all, by destroying it and purifying His people. Christ therefore became the Offerer, the Offered, as God the one who receives the sacrifice, and through the Eucharist He is distributed to the faithful as food.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord laid down His life willingly, offering Himself as a sacrifice in order to purify us from sin and set us on the path to holiness that leads ultimately to eternal life in His Kingdom. Let us therefore turn once and for all from the sin and uncleanness from which His death has purified us. Having been washed clean, let us set ourselves apart for holiness and the Lord's service, preserving the innocence to which Christ has restored us. Let us, having made a new beginning in righteousness, continue down the path of salvation and holiness to which our God has called us.

Questions to Ponder

  1. Today's epistle reading from Hebrews makes a distinction between the way in which the Old Testament law managed sin, and the way in which Christ's sacrifice on the Cross destroys sin. How do you approach repentance? Do you find yourself confessing the same sins over and over again? If so, are you making an effort after confessing and receiving absolution to change the way you live your life, to resist and struggle against those sins, or do you return each time to business as usual, causing you to keep repeating the same sinful patterns? Are you strict in judging yourself and committed to drawing closer to Christ, or do you make excuses for yourself?
  2. There is only one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ, and one way under Heaven for people to be saved. God has chosen weakness, and the weak things of this world, for salvation, and our salvation comes through accepting weakness, suffering, and humility. In today's Gospel reading, this idea doesn't sit well with St. Peter, who in his misguided love for Christ and desire for salvation wants to see it happen another way, one more glorious, that didn't involve the Cross. For this he was rebuked in the most stern terms. We cannot 'have salvation our way'. We can love the God Who exists, we can love the Lord Jesus Christ for who He is and what He's done. We cannot change the Christian faith, or the way of salvation, to be something more palatable for us. Do you seek to follow the teachings of the Church regarding prayer, fasting, repentance, and confession completely, or do you pick and choose? Are their parts of the Church's teaching that you ignore, disagree with, or otherwise attempt to excuse yourself from following for whatever reason?
  3. In today's reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews, we are told by the Apostle that Christ's sacrifice serves to make perfect those who are being made holy. This means that our purification and our salvation has a purpose. We have a calling from God to fulfill, and being pure and becoming holy are prerequisites to being able to fulfill that calling. Have you spent time prayerfully considering what it is that God wants you to do with the gifts He has given you in service to His Kingdom? If you have, is this service the focus of your life, and your purpose, or is it more of a hobby, or one more thing to try to juggle along with life's other responsibilities? Do you try to use your gifts to serve God and someone or something else, or do you dedicate your abilities or efforts solely to God?

Questions or Comments? FrStephen@stgeorgecharleston.org

Note from the Author – No rights reserved. If you find anything good, or helpful, or worthwhile in these Bible studies from week to week, feel free to take and use it as you see fit. I do not need credit.


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