Once for All

(Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:8-18)

Each day the world over, the sun rises and sets. People everywhere awaken and live their routines. These include things we have to do over and over again: eating, breathing, sleeping. We cannot do these once for all time; we cannot store up enough food or rest to last us a lifetime.

Life is filled with repetition. Yet, some days are unique. Once-in-a-lifetime events happen in them: births, graduations, marriages, retirements, victories, defeats, deaths. Some things are only meant to be done once.

Problems arise when we ignore, or try to repeat, things God meant to happen once (Jesus' death, burial and resurrection, for example). Problems can also happen when we fail to repeat what God intended to be done regularly (such as expressions of love and kindness and the Lord's Supper).

As we begin a new millennium, some talk about the need for Christians to redefine the faith, as if the definition that Jesus and the Apostles give us in God's Word is inadequate, antiquated, and incapable of addressing the key issues of changing times. For those seeking redefinition, once was not good enough. Other groups have yet to come to grips with the meaning of the gospel for the first time. They don't yet realize we are saved on the basis of Jesus' death burial and resurrection, not on the basis of repetitive human works alone.

God has accomplished something through His Son Jesus that will last for all time. The book of Hebrews draws special attention to what Christ has done and the benefits of His action for us. His greatest act meets our greatest need. Two passages in Hebrews, 9:11-15; 10:8-18, show us: 1) what Jesus did, 2) how long it lasts, 3) the benefits for us.

What Jesus Did

We learn from the Gospels that Jesus came into the world and shared His life with people. He had a body of real flesh and blood, which allowed Him to "sympathize with our weaknesses" (Hebrews 4:15b). He proved His love through action. He forgave people, healed them, taught them good news and challenged them to clean up their lives and live for God.

At the end of His life, He went to the hill of Golgotha to die on the cross. He allowed Himself to be nailed in place, though He could have called more than 72,000 angels to free Him (Matthew 26:53). He was held there by His love for the Father and for us. He suffered agony and excruciating pain. He shed blood. He died for sins that we commit so that we don't have to die for them ourselves. A faithful handful of followers placed Him in a tomb. A stone was rolled over the entrance and inside it was very, dark, quiet and still.

Three days later God raised Him from the dead. The stone was rolled away. Light entered the tomb, but a greater light came out. He was reunited with those who loved Him. The effects of His actions in those few days will last forever.

After spending several weeks with his disciples, Jesus returned to His home in heaven. Hebrews tells us more about what Jesus did. It says that Jesus "passed through the heavens" (4:14b), and appeared before God on our behalf: " But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation" (9:11).

Jesus appeared in the brilliant and radiant presence of God for us. He gained access to this wonderful presence, "not through the blood of goats and calves, but through His own blood" (9:12a). How many times did He do this? "He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption" (9:12b). Jesus only had to do this once; His single action was good for all of us, for all who ever lived and for all who ever will live. He obtained eternal redemption. To redeem is to "buy back," to "set free," and to "release." God has bought us back through Jesus and set us free from sin. This redemption is eternal, good forever. It does not expire.

There's more. The blood of goats and bulls only led to a "cleansing of the flesh" (9:13b). Jesus offered Himself "through the eternal Spirit...without blemish to God" (9:14b). Because of its purity, His blood can "cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God" (9:14c).

We see that Jesus did several things once for all: 1) He died for us, 2) He was raised to show us God's victory over death, 3) He passed through the heavens to appear in God's radiant presence for us as our high priest of the good things to come, 4) He offered His blood for our redemption, 5) He sat down at God's right hand, and 6) He sent His Holy Spirit to be with us.

Jesus went where we could not go. We were not good enough, or holy enough, to warrant an audience with God; not even close. But as a result of His sacrifice, we are able to come into the very presence of God with Him: "we have confidence to enter the holy place through the blood of Jesus" (10:19b). The requirements are still the same: without sanctification, "no one will see the Lord" (12:14b). But now we can be forgiven, we can be dressed in His righteousness, and we can enter into God's presence because of what Jesus has done for us one time.

How Long It Lasts

Hebrews is a book of contrasts. It likes to show how superior Jesus is in contrast, for example, to angels. It wants to show us how the new covenant is so much better than the old. Hebrews wants to show us how final Jesus' actions are in contrast to the repetitions of the Levitical priests: "And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins" (10:11). Despite the faithful repetition, these offerings will never ever deal with the problem of sin.

Jesus, on the other hand, "having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God" (10:12b). His one sacrifice was good for all time. It is good for all people: "this He did once for all when He offered up Himself" (7:27b). At the end of it, He was able to sit down. His work was done. "For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified" (10:14). The effectiveness of His offering is strong enough to make perfect anyone who will at anytime believe in Him and allow Him to make them holy.

The love Jesus showed, and the saving power of His sacrifice, are good for all time. If He does not return earlier, Jesus’’ sacrifice will be as effective in the year 3000 or 5000 as it is today. Jesus' love and His one sacrifice of Himself for our forgiveness are good for all time until He returns. They possess unlimited power to transform lives. His offer will always be there for anyone obeying Him. The effects for us will last forever.

The Benefits for Us

The benefits of Jesus' sacrifice for us are incredible. Notice from our Hebrews passages just what His actions, once for all time, bring us: 1) eternal redemption (He has bought us back and set us free forever), 2) a clean conscience, 3) the ability to serve the living God, 4) the promise of an eternal inheritance, 5) holiness, 6) perfection, and 7) His laws placed in our hearts and written upon our minds, and 8) God will not remember our sins and lawless deeds once we are forgiven.

When we see the everlasting outcomes of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, ascension and presence at God's right hand, would we ever want to do without them? Why do so many try to do it on their own, ignoring the free gift of God, not seeing for the first time what He has done once for all? Through God's love and grace, may we do our best to help them see. Let's always be faithful in doing those things God has asked us to do daily and weekly; and, while we do, let's be eternally grateful that we need never do, or repeat, those things only He could do on our behalf, once for all!

Paul Birston

February 2001©

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