a Good Friday devotion on Hebrews 10:1-25
Amidst the more familiar Bible readings in Holy Week, especially the Triduum (Thursday through Saturday), Good Friday offers us this rather ‘theological’ passage from the Epistle to the Hebrews. Let’s not let the rich and dense writing style pass us by; there is a beautiful Gospel to behold herein!
Verses 1-4 set up a problem: the Old Covenant sacrifices don’t completely cleanse the priests and people from their sins. The blood of bulls and goats just isn’t enough to cover the depth of human sin. So these sacrifices mainly just end up being reminders of, or memorials to, the sins of the world.
Verses 5-10 describe the solution: a New Covenant sacrifice that will cover the full depth of human sin. Rather than animal blood, a human body is needed for sacrifice (v5). Simply offering the sacrifices is not enough, the priest offering them needs to be, himself, perfectly doing the will of God (v9). Thus we find our only recourse is in the self-offering of Jesus Christ.
Verses 11-18 narrow in on the singularity of this sacrifice. The Old Covenant sacrifices were repeated regularly: some daily, some weekly, some just on annual holidays. Their repetition, though, speaks to their imperfection (v11). Christ’s sacrifice happened only once – it only needed to happen once and it could only have happened once. That single offering is enough to bring to complete forgiveness and holiness those for whom it’s offered (v14). The law and love of God is written onto his people’s hearts and minds (v16). Such a full assurance of forgiveness is highlighted by the lack of repetition (v18).
Verses 19-25 describe our role in all this. Three invitations are spoken to us here: draw near (v22), hold fast (v23), and consider (v24).
- Draw near to God with confidence! Jesus is a perfect high priest; through his blood and his flesh (that is, through his death) a direct relationship is forged between us and God; and through his blood and his flesh in Holy Communion, we are “sprinkled clean from an evil conscience” (v22) and assured of God’s faithfulness to us.
- Hold fast to Christ in hope! The confession of our faith, both formally in reciting our common Creeds and informally as we proclaim what the Lord has done for us as individuals, is a sure faith that need not waver. All flesh is as grass, but “he who promised is faithful” (v23).
- Consider how to stir one another up to love and good works. We all need encouragement in various ways and at various times. We need reminding of the goodness of God. “Not neglecting to meet together” (v25) is certainly one the most important parts of this; as it is in the liturgy of the Word and the Altar that we most directly hear and receive God’s promises. We therefore can be encouraged by one another individually as well as corporately; a need which will only increase as we see the last “Day drawing near” (v25).
There is so much more in this text, not to mention its larger context in the book of Hebrews, but I hope these thoughts suffice to draw out some of the beauty of this letter. Jesus is our perfect Priest. What he has done is perfect and final, and we can put complete and utter trust in that work. It’s simply our part to celebrate him in worship, exercise the faith he has given us, and help others to do the same.