March 28, 1997
The Bible tells the story of Jesus: the Messiah of the Old Testament is revealed in the Gospels, preached in Acts, explained in the Epistles, and expected in Revelation. Hebrews fills out this picture by providing an explanation of Christ’s finishing work on the cross. The new covenant that Jesus established offers sinners complete redemption. Alistair Begg directs our focus to how this perfect plan unfolded from the trinitarian work of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alike.
Sermon Transcript: Print
In one of our more recent studies, we acknowledged the fact from Sunday school of old that the whole Bible is a book about Jesus. And in the Old Testament we have Jesus predicted; and in the Gospels, we have Jesus revealed; and then, in the Acts of the Apostles, we have Jesus preached; and in the Epistles, we have Jesus explained; and then, in the book of Revelation, we have Jesus expected.
Now, the reason that I rehearse this again is purposeful, because what I want to suggest to you this evening is that, in one sense, the first eighteen verses of Hebrews chapter 10 explain one word, which just came from our reading in the nineteenth chapter of John’s Gospel. And I’ll come to that in just a moment.
But it’s probably hard for each of us to imagine—it certainly is for me—what the circumstances and atmosphere must have been like in Jerusalem on the day of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, crucifixions were not new to the Jerusalem crowd. But nevertheless, the events that had led up to this particular crucifixion had been making a dramatic impact on the whole city, and there surely wasn’t a resident there who was unaware of what was going on—and certainly not that this Galilean carpenter, Jesus of Nazareth, was to find himself on the center of three Roman gibbets on this particular day. An emotionally charged atmosphere, that doubtless became even more electric in its tension when, in the moment in time when we would expect the sun to be making its most profound impact, the skies were turned to total darkness. And the Gospel writers record for us the fact that from midday—from noon—on this particular day until three in the afternoon, the whole sky turned black, and the city of Jerusalem was engulfed in what must have been a very eerie darkness.
Having had the vantage point of many years, many of us, to read the Gospel records and, further, to read the Epistles, we will find it difficult to recognize the way in which those initial dwellers would have been responding to what was going on. As crowds gathered around—recorded for us, again, by the Gospel writers—hearing snippets and bits and pieces of the proceedings, they would have been forced to wonder at the statements that were being made by the people on these crosses, marveling at the fact that the two men on the outside still had enough energy within them to join with the mocking crowd in hurling abuse at this gentleman in the middle. Wondering, too, at what was meant by such an unusual statement coming from the central cross: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they[’re doing].” And these people would have been well aware of the sounds that came from the crosses, and they would have regarded this as highly irregular.
They would have listened carefully, some of them, to the loud cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And then the buzz would have gone around the group: “He’s calling Elijah.” And people would be nudging one another and passing the news along: “We believe that he’s started calling Elijah.” And people on the circumference who were getting ready to leave may have said to one another, “Hey, don’t go just yet. Let’s hang on and see if Elijah actually comes.” For they really had no notion of what was going on.
And what did they make, I ask you, of the loud cry which ended all of his statements, which presumably rose above the clamor of the crowd, and was audible to the ears of most, and was summarized in one striking word which pierced into the darkness of that day? And the people said to one another as they began to move away, “Tetelestai—why would he say ‘finished’? Why shout ‘finished’?” And some would have said, “Presumably, because that is exactly what he was.” Others would have said, “Maybe it was that he believed that the cruelty that had been impressed upon him so dreadfully was now finished, and with a cry of defiance or a cry of relief, he simply uttered his last.” Some may have taken it to be the moan of defeat. Others may have gone to their homes believing it to have simply been the final word of patient resignation, finally wearied by it all: a trumped-up trial, a horrendous accusation, the cruelty of people who should have known better, and then with one word, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” “Tetelestai. It’s finished.”
But what was it? Well, it was actually a cry of victory. It was a cry of victory. It was the triumphant recognition on the part of Christ that he had actually now fully accomplished the work that he had come to earth to do. And indeed, this one word—I would say, in some regards, the key word in relationship to redemption in the whole of John’s Gospel—this one word summarizes the eighteen verses which begin Hebrews 10. In reverse, of course, the first eighteen verses of Hebrews 10 unpack the significance of this one word. And that is why when, if we have Jesus revealed in the Gospels, and we have him explained in the Epistles, then we can with legitimacy go to one of the Epistles, as we do now, and find the answer there, the explanation there, as to the significance of this one word in Greek—which, of course, turns out to be more than that in English.
So what I want to do is unpack for you the meaning of “finished.”
What we discover when we turn to Hebrews chapter 10 is that Christ was deliberately and freely and in perfect love enduring judgment in our place. He was procuring salvation for us. He was establishing a new covenant. He was making available the chief blessing of the covenant—namely, forgiveness of sins. And the necessity that this would take place is summarized very clearly for us in the opening four verses. Why would it be necessary for this man to die in this way? Well, let me quote the first four verses from Phillips’s paraphrase:
The Law possessed only a dim outline of the benefits Christ would bring and did not actually reproduce them. Consequently it was incapable of perfecting the souls of those who offered their regular annual sacrifices. For if it had, surely the sacrifices would have been discontinued—on the grounds that the worshippers, having been really cleansed, would have had no further consciousness of sin. In practice, however, the sacrifices amounted to an annual reminder of sins; for the blood of bulls and goats cannot really remove the guilt of sin.
So the law was only a shadow. As A. B. Davidson put it, “No repetition of the shadow can add up to the substance.” And the repetition of these sacrifices, as the writer tells us here, simply witnessed to their ineffectiveness—that this annual sacrificial order provided simply an annual reminder that something needed to be done, that another sacrifice needed to be offered. For all of the benefits of the blood of bulls and goats was only insofar as it fixed attention on the Redeemer and the redemption to which it pointed. And so the necessity of a Christ who would die in the place of sinners is made perfectly plain.
Now, what I’d like you to see this evening is simply this: the Trinitarian nature of what happens. If that sounds like a bit of a mouthful: simply that God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit—the triune God—are involved in the great plan of redemption. It may seem to some that that is a fairly esoteric notion, that it is at arms’ length, but I want you to see that it is absolutely imperative. And I want to draw your attention to simply three dimensions.
First of all, that you would notice that what was happening here in this sacrifice was according to the Father’s plan. According to the Father’s plan. If you look at verse 5: “Therefore, when Christ came into the world”—the same phrase as we found in 9:11—“when Christ came into the world, he said:
‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
with burnt offerings and sin offerings
you were not pleased.
Then I said, “Here I am—it is written about me in the scroll—
I have come to do your will, O God.”’”
Repeated again for us in verse 9. The writer picks it up, and he requotes this Old Testament passage: “Then he said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’”
Peter, when he writes to his readers, a scattered Christian group in his day, tells them at the very beginning of it all, in 1 Peter 1:20, Christ “was chosen before the [foundation] of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.” You say, “Well, is that significant?” Well, it is very significant. Because there are a number of people—and some may even be in our company this evening—who view the development of Christian theology something like this: God contrived a plan in the Old Testament, which somehow or another went dreadfully wrong. And then, in recognizing the defect in the system, he came up with a second plan to correct a system that had become faulty. And what the Bible says is, nothing could be further from the truth, but that from all of eternity the Father had chosen out the Son to be the one who would provide an atoning sacrifice for the sins of many.
And so Jesus, in coming, takes, if you like, the words of the psalmist David from Psalm 40—which is what is being quoted here in verse 5—and he gives to these words their ultimate fulfillment. And the point of emphasis that he makes is simply that the ritual offerings were worthless without a corresponding obedience of heart and life. Because if you look at that—“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased”—you read that and you say, “How can this possibly be? If God the Father planned to have all these sin offerings, how can we take Psalm 40 and have Jesus quote it and use it, and then say God wasn’t pleased with this?”
Well, the answer will become apparent. The answer is found in the way in which the prophets confront the people of their day with the issue of sacrifices. Remember, God speaks through the prophet and he says, “I don’t care anymore for your sacrifices. I’m not interested in your burnt offerings, because at the very heart of what I have conceived in relationship to these sacrifices is that they would be an expression of your heart and of your obedience and of your love. And if your heart and your obedience and your love is not there, then don’t bring this stink up my nostrils. I don’t want your stuff! It does nothing.”
That’s the significance of what he is saying. The animal sacrifices of old were nonrational. The animal had no concept of what was going on, except maybe a sense of rising panic. The animal itself was coerced onto that sacrificial altar. But the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ in this body that had been prepared for him was neither coerced nor nonrational, but it was voluntary, and it was in a full awareness, in submission to the Father’s plan.
Now, we don’t have time to go through all of this this evening, and I certainly can’t encourage you to turn to all of this. But let me give you just from John’s Gospel alone, initially, indication of the point that I’m making. Well, actually, let’s start further back. Let’s start in Isaiah 53:10. For it says there, “It was the Lord’s will,” or the Father’s will, “to crush him and cause him to suffer.” So here, six hundred years before Christ, Isaiah prophesies concerning the Suffering Servant who is to come, and he says, “It is in the plan of the Father that this Son of his—that this Suffering Servant—will be crushed and will be the Sin-Bearer.”
When Jesus walks onto the stage of human history and when his earthly ministry begins to unfold, it is obvious that he is clear concerning these things. In John chapter 4, remember, when he speaks with the lady at the well, and the disciples have gone off to get lunch, and they come back with a lunch, and suddenly Jesus is not hungry, and they look at one another, and they wonder at what’s going on—and Jesus says in John chapter 4, “My food … is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” “I am here according to the Father’s plan.” John chapter 5: “The very work that the Father has given me to finish.” John chapter 6: “For I have come down from heaven not to do my [own] will but to do the will of him who sent me.” And, of course, in the garden of Gethsemane, as the Gospel writers record it: “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
Why? Because the work of atonement is grounded in the plan of the Father from all of eternity. So that men and women in Bainbridge, Ohio, on this night may have their sins forgiven, may be in a right relationship with God himself—not as a result of human initiative, not as a result of contrived religion, but as a result of a plan in the mind of the Father from all of eternity.
James Denney, the Scottish theologian at the turn of the century, puts it like this: “Atonement”—that is, the sacrifice for sin—“Atonement is not something contrived, as it were, behind the Father’s back; it is the Father’s way of making it possible for the sinful to have fellowship with Him.” Atonement was not contrived behind the Father’s back, as if God the Father looked and it took him by surprise. He says, “I have come to do your will. You have prepared a body for me. You don’t concern yourself with these sacrifices and so on. But it is by your very will,” by the Father’s plan, verse 10, that “we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once [and] for all.”
Secondly, the Father’s plan is paralleled by the Son’s sacrifice. And this is familiar territory to most of us now; a series of striking contrasts have been running through this whole epistle. The writer has been bringing the wonderful truth again and again, for a number of chapters, to bear upon his readers’ minds. In verse 11, he describes the work of the Levitical priests, always on their feet because their work was never done, because the sacrifice they offered could never take away sin. In contrast, in verse 12, the Lord Jesus is seated, because his work has been completed. And because his work has been completed, and because he sits now, waiting for evil finally to be eradicated from the whole world and for his enemies to become his footstool—in this period, verse 14 rules out the possibility of or the necessity for any further offering for sins: “because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
I need no other [sacrifice],
I need no other plea,
It is enough that Jesus died,
And that he died for me.
I need no priest to stand between me and my Father. I need no one to offer up some new sacrifice on my behalf. I need nothing, because of the Father’s plan and because of the Son’s sacrifice.
The work of atonement is unrepeatable by its very nature, and his sacrifice is of unspeakable value. On account of his death upon the cross, we have been accepted in the beloved; we have been forgiven of our sins; we have been ransomed, restored, included in the family of God, granted the Holy Spirit to fill our lives. And it is on this one sacrifice that we take our stand, if we truly believe.
One of the ways to test this is to find whether we ourselves are trying to make little sacrifices so as to make ourselves more acceptable to God: “Well, perhaps if I cut this out for Lent, I may make myself more acceptable. Perhaps if I have a little sacrifice here and another little sacrifice there, perhaps if I forgo this and forgo that, that somehow or another the Father will be more amenably disposed to me.” Is that in anybody’s mind? To the degree that it is, we have not understood the nature of the Father’s plan and the Son’s sacrifice. If we can add one thing to that atoning sacrifice, it is an insufficient sacrifice for sin.
Well, somebody says, “Well, it says in the Bible that we’re supposed to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice.” Good! In fact, it tells that we’re to offer our lips as a sacrifice of praise. It says we should offer our gifts and so on. There are a number of things that we’re to offer as sacrifices—but not in order to attract God’s mercy, but rather as an expression of the fact that we have been laid hold of by God’s mercy.
When you think tonight of the Father’s plan and the Son’s sacrifice, again—and I want to emphasize this—do not think somehow of the Father laying on his Son an ordeal that he was unwilling to bear, as in the “Gethsemane” song in Jesus Christ Superstar. Do not think of the Father laying on his Son an ordeal that he was unwilling to bear. Nor should we think of the Son extracting from the Father a salvation that he was unwilling to bestow. It is true that the Father gave the Son, but it is equally true that the Son gave himself.
John Stott put it masterfully, as always, when he says, “We must[n’t] … speak of God punishing Jesus or of Jesus persuading God …. We must never make Christ the object of God’s punishment or God the object of Christ’s persuasion, for both [Father and Son are] subjects not objects, taking the initiative together to save sinners.” And somehow, in the realm of eternity, in a covenant of redemption, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in context with one another and in perfect fellowship and harmony with one another, determined that this would be the way.
The Father’s plan, the Son’s sacrifice, and finally, just a word on the Spirit’s testimony. That’s there in verse 15: “The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this.” The Holy Spirit is the one member of the Trinity that applies the truths of Christ to our lives. That’s what Jesus promised. He was going to go away. He would send the Holy Spirit, who would be with us and who would be in us, and who would take the things of the Lord Jesus Christ and make them real to us in our lives, so that when we talked about this strange experience of knowing God in an intimate way, that it would be something far beyond a mathematical formula, that it would be something beyond some kind of religious externalism, but it would be a reality in our experience—an inexplicable reality to those who do not know Christ, for the natural man and woman does not receive the things of the Spirit, because they’re foolishness to them, and they think that the believer is describing some algebraic formula of theology. But once their eyes would be opened, once they would understand the sacrifice of Calvary, once they would be redeemed by God’s Spirit, once they would be made members of the family, then all would be new. And the Spirit of God comes, and he testifies to this truth here in Hebrews 10.
And what does he do? How does the Spirit of God testify? He testifies through the Word of God—through the written Word of God. What does he say to us in our day? He says what he has said within this book, and he reminds his readers of the wonder of the sacrifice. He says, “Do you want an encouragement in relationship to these things? Get ahold of this: the covenant that God has made with us after that time is one in which he put his law in our hearts; he writes these things on our minds.” And then he adds—and what an addition!—“Their sins and [their] lawless acts I will remember no more.”
You see, under the old covenant, there was this constant reminder of sins! Constant reminder of the fact that they could not be freed from these sins. Under the new covenant, there is this wonderful reminder of the sacrifice for sin—planned by the Father, procured by the Son, and applied by the Holy Spirit.
That’s why Jesus said when he took the cup, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” And for some of us, only in the last few weeks, the lights have begun to go on in relationship to that phrase. Why is it so amazing?
The hymn writer says,
It is a thing most wonderful,
Almost too wonderful to be,
That God’s own Son should come from heav’n
And die to save a child like me.
And yet I know that it is true;
He chose a poor and humble lot,
And wept, and toiled, and mourned, and died,
For love of those who loved him not.
Isn’t that the truth?
I sometimes think about the cross,
And shut my eyes, and try to see
The cruel nails and crown of thorns,
And Jesus crucified for me.
I cannot tell how he could love
A child so weak and full of sin;
His love must be most wonderful
If he could die my love to win.
And yet I want to love thee, Lord:
O light the flame within my heart,
And I will love you more and more,
Until I see you as you are.
And from the cross, he cried one final word: “It’s finished.” The Father’s plan, the Son’s sacrifice, the Spirit’s testimony.
And the invitation that he extends to this Table is an invitation to those who have come to trust in that sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ. And therefore, on his behalf, we extend that very same invitation, as in a moment or two we’ll share around this Table.
Let us bow in a moment of prayer. Let us all pray:
O gracious God our Father, “Help me to understand it, help me to take it in, what it meant for thee, the Holy One, to bear away my sin.” Forgive my superficiality. Forgive the triteness with which we can take such immense truth upon our lips. Be pleased to use these moments round your Table to set our hearts on fire afresh with love for the one who, as John said, is the Lamb of God, who bears away the sin of the world. Amen.
 See Matthew 27:45; Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44–45.
 Luke 23:34 (KJV).
 Matthew 27:46; Mark 15:34 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 27:47; Mark 15:35 (NIV 1984).
 See John 19:30.
 John 19:30 (NIV 1984).
 A. B. Davidson, quoted in Geoffrey B. Wilson, New Testament Commentaries, vol. 2, Philippians to Hebrews and Revelation (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2005), 410.
 See, for instance, Amos 5:21–27; Isaiah 1:10–17.
 John 4:34 (NIV 1984).
 John 5:36 (NIV 1984).
 John 6:38 (NIV 1984).
 Matthew 26:39 (NIV 1984).
 James Denney, The Death of Christ: Its Place and Interpretation in the New Testament (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1903), 213.
 E. E. Hewitt, “My Faith Has Found a Resting Place” (1890).
 See Ephesians 1:6.
 See Romans 12:1.
 See Hebrews 13:15.
 John Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2006), 151.
 See 1 Corinthians 2:14.
 Hebrews 10:16 (paraphrased).
 Hebrews 10:17 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 22:20; 1 Corinthians 11:25 (NIV 1984).
 William Walsham How, “It Is a Thing Most Wonderful” (1872). Language modernized and stanzas rearranged.
 Katherine A. M. Kelly, “Give Me a Sight, O Savior” (1944). Lyrics lightly altered.
 See John 1:29.
Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.