Our author now gives his most pertinent reason for the superiority of Christ's priestly sacrifice - its quality of complete obedience to God. The sacrificial offering of Christ, an offering of obedience even unto death, has replaced the ineffective sacrificial rituals of temple worship, and so has effectively and permanently established, for the people of God, a right relationship with God.
v1. With his mind still on the Day of Atonement sacrifices, our author makes the point that the cultic regulations in Leviticus for the tabernacle rites, are not a reality in themselves, but rather prefigure, or foreshadow, Christ's high priestly sacrificial work. Unlike the free grace that flows from Christ's work, the tabernacle rituals cannot save.
v2. Of course, if the Levitical sacrifices did cleanse inwardly, there would be no need to repeat them, but repeated they are.
v3-4. The sacrificial system had only a limited function. It could remind the worshiper that their relationship with God is broken because of sin, but it hasn't the power to restore that relationship.
v5-7. Our writer uses Psalm 40:6-8 to identify the sacrifice that does take away sin. The Psalm teaches that obedience is the sacrifice that God desires, not the spilling of the blood of dumb animals. Blood sacrifices only have worth when done out of devotion toward God. That is, the condition of the heart (attitude) is of more importance than the actual offering. So, in the passage there is a contrast between the sacrifices of dumb animals which unknowingly give their lives, and the sacrifice of a knowing man who gives his life up to God in complete obedience. Passivity is contrasted with submission. The scripture is clearly saying that cultic sacrifices are not pleasing to God. Only a sacrifice of obedience to the will of God is pleasing to him.
v8-9. Our writer now comments on the quote by underlining its salient points. We see that in the priestly sacrifice of Christ (an offering of his life in complete obedience to the will of God, even unto death) a new order is inaugurated which replaces the Levitical cult. In v8 our writer makes the point that the old order has been abolished. In v9 the establishment of a new order is recorded, the sacrificial offering of obedience. The sacrifice pleasing to God involves a total submission to his will. This is the very thing Jesus has done, and having done it, he supersedes the old order of blood sacrifice.
v10. Finally, our author points out that since Jesus knowingly submitted himself to the will of God in perfect obedience, we in turn, in consequence of that perfect offering of obedience, are cleansed of our sin, declared holy, and are able to stand before God as obedient sons. Jesus, in a body made/incarnate for him, a human body, performed the required will of God for a son of God. He fulfilled the divine requirements, which requirements no other son of God (a person in submission to God) has ever fulfilled. In so doing we share in his perfect humanity. In his perfection we are declared perfect. So, it is through the obedience of Christ that we are treated as obedient sons. This, of course, is ours by grace through faith.
In our passage for study we see the writer of Hebrews applying a text from the Psalms to Jesus. Jesus is the faithful child of God who comes into a world of flesh and blood, of limitations, to live out the will of God in perfect obedience. Such obedience is a sacrifice acceptable to God; it is a sacrifice which fulfills, and therefore replaces, the Levitical sacrificial system, a system that could only remind the worshipper of their sin and thus their separation from God. The sacrificial rituals of temple worship did not have the power to restore a person's relationship with God.
Any person who wishes to be a child of God, and stand acceptable before Him, must be a holy person. If we are to claim the right and privilege of an eternal free access into the presence of the living God, we must offer an acceptable sacrifice able to obliterate our sin. Yet, although Bible reading, church attendance, charity ...., are all worthy acts of devotion, they will never guarantee our standing in the sight of God. Repeated forever-and-a-day, they cannot change us from what we are, sinners through and through.
The business end of being an obedient child of God, begins with a recognition of our state of loss and of what Jesus has done for us. It is through Jesus' obedience, through "the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all", that we are "made holy". It is because of "God's mercy" in Christ that we are able to stand obedient in the sight of God. So, first and foremost, we need to recognize that our own sacrifice of obedience is always flawed, compromised; "our righteousness is but filthy rages." It is only because of Jesus' obedience that we are accepted as "holy" children.
Our response to God's amazing kindness toward us in Christ begins with our acceptance of, our reliance on, His mercy.
1. In this passage identify in what ways Christ's priestly role is superior to that of the Levitical priesthood.
2. Why is obedience superior to sacrifice?
3. The obedience of Christ in his sacrificial offering becomes our obedience. Are we then free from obedience? discuss.