Hebrews 9:14

Sermon preached on February 05, 2017 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2017. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at http://www.cantonnewlife.org/.

Unless otherwise noted, quotations are from The Holy Bible: New International Version (NIV). Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Publishing House.

Albert Speer was a confidant Adolf Hitler. He was an architect by training and before the war spent much time with Hitler planning to transform Berlin with through wonderful building projects. During the war he was Reich Minister for Weapons, Munitions, and Armaments. He was a technological genius and is credited with keeping Nazi factories humming until just before the end of World War II. After the war he was one of 22 Nazis that were put on trial in Nuremburg for war crimes. Of the 22, he was the only one that admitted his guilt. He was found guilty and spent 20 years in Spandau prison in Berlin. After he was released he wrote several books. When he finished his final book, he was interviewed on ABC's 'Good Morning, America.' The interviewer asked this question, (R. Kent Hughes, Hebrews Volume 1: An Anchor for the Soul, Preaching the Word; p. 230)

"You have said the guilt can never be forgiven, or shouldn't be. Do you still feel that way?"The look of pathos on Speer's face was wrenching as he responded, "I served a sentence of twenty years, and I could say, 'I'm a free man, my conscience has been cleared by serving the whole time as punishment.' But I can't do that. I still carry the burden of what happened to millions of people during Hitler's lifetime, and I can't get rid of it. This new book is part of my atoning, of clearing my conscience.' The interviewer pressed the point. 'You really don't think you'll be able to clear it totally?' Speer shook his head. 'I don't think it will be possible.'For thirty-five years Speer had accepted complete responsibility for his crime. His writings were filled with contrition and warnings to others to avoid his moral sin. He desperately sought expiation. All to no avail."

No matter how hard he tried he couldn't clear his conscience.

How horrible to be racked with guilt. How horrible to look back on your life and be filled with grief about your past sins. In Pilgrim's Progress John Bunyan described Christian as carrying and being weighed down by a large burden. When Christian met Evangelist he told Evangelist that he was afraid to die. When Evangelist asked him why, Christian replied,

"Because, I fear that this burden that is upon my back will sink me lower than the grave, and I shall fall into Tophet." [hell]

How horrible guilt is. It ruins the past and gives nothing but fear for the future. Guilt can immobilize so that they can't do anything good. But even when it doesn't immobilize someone, out text says that uncleansed consciences are related to acts that lead to death. Our text tells us that we need to have our consciences cleansed and shows us the way to such cleansing. It says:

the blood of Jesus cleanses our consciences from dead works so that we may serve the living God.

Do you want to get rid of your guilt? We've all done things we regret. If you want to get rid of your guilt, you need to be in Jesus. You need to believe in Him and know that only His blood, belief in His atoning death will be able to release your guilt.

Do you want your life to have true meaning, to know assuredly that what you've done, what you've lived for, will have true and lasting value? If you can believe Speer, shortly after the end of World War II he realized that all the years he had been a Nazi, that the talents, effort and energy that he put into the Third Reich had been misguided. He had been wrong. He also realized that nothing he himself could do could take his guilt away. No matter how many times he said he was sorry, no matter how many books he wrote trying to show others the correct way—his guilt always remained.

Some people are like Speer in that they have come to the end of their lives and realized that what they have poured their life into had been wrong. The criminal on the cross was like that. Other people have experienced the same thing. They have poured their effort into acquiring material things and at the end of their lives realized that it's been misguided. They gained much wealth but are unable to enjoy it. (Ecclesiastes 6:2) Or someone worked so hard for material things, gains them, hoards them, and that hoarding harms him. Or he loses it through misfortune and has nothing to leave his children. (Ecclesiastes 5:13-14) Others come to the end of their lives after having chased pleasure, and find that no matter how much they throw themselves at pleasure—that it never truly satisfied. Still others have chased power, whether it's political or some other type of power, and too late realized that it was unfulfilling, meaningless. There are all kinds of dead works that people engage in. Jesus said, (Mark 8:36)

"What good is it for a man
to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?"

Our text tells us that if you want your life, your efforts to have meaning, if you want to have your time here to be of lasting value—you need Jesus. Revelation 14:13 says,

"Then I heard a voice from heaven say,
'Write: Blessed are the dead
who die in the Lord from now on.'
'Yes,'says the Spirit, 'they will rest from their labor,
for their deeds will follow them.' "

How blessed they will be. They will be blessed not because they tried harder than others, not because they were smarter and more worthy, but because they are in Jesus. When in Revelation 7 saw the great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb—they were wearing white robes. The question was, (Revelation 7:13)

"These in white robes—who are they,
and where did they come from?"

The elder told John, (verse 14)

"These are they who have come out
of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes
and made them white in the blood of the Lamb."

The works of those who are in Christ are not dead works, they do not lead to death. Through grace they are counted as service to the living God. They are not in vain. As 1 Corinthians 15:58 says,

"Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord,
because you know that
your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

Let's consider some of the truths our text proclaims.

First, it tells us that

the blood of Christ cleanses our consciences.

Verses 12 through 14 contrast the sacrifices of the Old Testament priests with the priestly work of Jesus. It tells us that the blood of Jesus cleanses our consciences in a way that the old covenant could not do. Verse 13 says,

"The blood of goats and bullsand the ashes of a heifer
sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean
sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean."

The Old Testament sacrifices only gave an outward cleansing. The work of Jesus gives a thorough cleansing to our consciences so that we can serve God properly. Verse 14 says,

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit
offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,
so that we may serve the living God!"

Consider the situation in the Old Testament. If you asked an Israelite how he knew his sins were forgiven, that they were washed away, he could say something like,

"Well, an animal died on my behalf. It's blood was shed for me."

But that wouldn't quite be enough, would it? As Hebrews 10:1–4 tells us,

"The law is only a shadow
of the good things that are coming—
not the realities themselves.
For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated
endlessly year after year, make perfect those
who draw near to worship.
If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?
For the worshipers would
have been cleansed once for all,
and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.
But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins,
because it is impossible for the blood
of bulls and goats to take away sins."

But with Christ's blood—it's so different. As we said last week, Christ's blood, the blood of a true human being, the blood of the person of Christ—the God-man, the doctrine which enabled Paul to say to the Ephesian elders, (Acts 20:28)

"Be shepherds of the church of God,
which he bought with his own blood."

Who died for you? It was Christ, the King of Glory. Jesus' blood was so precious—it was almost inconceivable that the Author of Life, (Acts 3:15) that His blood would be shed on our behalf. It was so superior, so far above the blood of brute animals.

His blood, what does it do? It washes away our sin and does away with it forever. His blood gives you Christ's righteousness. The guilt of our sin is gone. You should realize that.
Now this cleansing of our consciences doesn't mean that you never remember your past, that you never think of it, that you never have regret, or that you never mourn because of them.

Even after Paul became a Christian he thought of his past sin. Paul was often mindful of his previous horrific sin. He even wrote about it. In Galatians 1:13 Paul wrote,

"For you have heard of my previous way of life
in Judaism, how intensely I persecuted
the church of God and tried to destroy it."

In 1 Corinthians 15:9 he added,

"For I am the least of the apostles
and do not even deserve to be called an apostle,
because I persecuted the church of God."

Even later, in 1 Timothy 1:15–16 he wrote,

"Here is a trustworthy saying
that deserves full acceptance:
Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—
of whom I am the worst.
But for that very reason
I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners,
Christ Jesus might display
his unlimited patience as an example
for those who would believe on him
and receive eternal life."

But the memory of his guilt didn't immobilize Paul. It didn't lead to works that lead to death. It didn't keep Paul from serving the living God. No, in 1 Timothy Paul used the memory of his past sin to encourage his readers who were great sinners to realize that God's grace was available to them. In 1 Corinthians 15 he used the memory of his past sin to magnify the grace of God and give glory and honor to God for His grace. He followed verse 9 with these words, (1 Corinthians 15:10)

"But by the grace of God I am what I am,
and his grace to me was not without effect.
No, I worked harder than all of them—
yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me."

In Galatians 1 Paul used the thought of his past sin to highlight the divine origin of the gospel and God's purpose and grace in setting him apart from birth and revealing Jesus in Paul so that Paul might preach Him among the Gentiles.

Paul used the thought of His past sin, not to beat himself up, not to despair, not to allow the devil to immobilize him so he would stop serving God—but to rejoice in God's grace to him, God's purpose for him and to hold himself as an example of how God would accept the worst of sinners. Paul used the memory of his past sin in only in a positive way because he knew the blood of Christ has cleansed his conscience.

As a Christian you should realize that you should have a cleansed conscience. R. Kent Hughes writes, (Hebrews Volume 1: An Anchor for the Soul, Preaching the Word; p. 231)

"If you want access to Christ and forgiveness of your sins and a new conscience, prayerfully imagine Christ standing before you. Now extend your hands humbly and lay your sins on the head of Jesus."

They're gone from you. What was pointed to by the Old Testament scapegoat has been fulfilled in Christ. In Leviticus 16:20–22 we read,

"When Aaron has finished making atonement
for the Most Holy Place,
the Tent of Meeting and the altar,
he shall bring forward the live goat.
He is to lay both hands on the head
of the live goat and confess over it
all the wickedness and rebellion
of the Israelites—all their sins—
and put them on the goat's head.
He shall send the goat away into the desert in the care
of a man appointed for the task.
The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place;
and the man shall release it in the desert."

The words of the hymn by Horatius Bonar, I Lay My Sins on Jesus, (1843) express it so well.

"I lay my sins on Jesus The spotless Lamb of God; He bears them all, and frees us From the accursed load: I bring my guilt to Jesus. To wash my crimson stains White in His blood most precious, Till not a stain remains."

Although it doesn't say so in our text, this cleansed conscience seem to be related to our justification. In justification our sins are washed away and Christ's righteousness is given to us. Question 70 of the Westminster Larger Catechism defines justification.

"Justification is an act of God's free grace unto sinners, in which he pardons all their sins, accepts and accounts their persons righteous in his sight; not for any thing wrought in them, or done by them, but only for the perfect obedience and full satisfaction of Christ, by God imputed to them, and received by faith alone."

Because of Christ's work our sins are pardoned and washed away forever. We are given the righteousness of Christ and accepted as righteous in God's sight. If we rightly understand that truth, our consciences are indeed cleansed.

The second thing we see from our text is that a cleansed conscience has tremendous consequences for how we live. A defiled conscience results in works that lead to death.

A cleansed conscience leads to service of the living God.

Our text says,

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ,
who through the eternal Spirit
offered himself unblemished to God,
cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,
so that we may serve the living God!"

Raymond Brown suggests that works that lead to death are, (The Message of Hebrews, The Bible Speaks Today; ed. John R. W. Stott; p. 159)

"works of any kind which belong to the way of corruption and are devoid of true life from God. They probably refer to man's futile attempts to secure by his puny efforts his own present satisfaction and ultimate salvation."

Once someone has their conscience cleansed by the blood of Christ and they realize that all their sins are gone, that Jesus, the spotless Son of God paid for all their sins, once for all, that He entered the heavenly sanctuary for them and that their sins and guilt are gone forever—that person will stop trying to earn their salvation, stop trying to save themselves by the deeds of the law—and will instead rejoice in Jesus and seek to bring glory, honor and praise to God in all they do. Their life will not be about them—but about God and His grace.

Philip E. Hughes writes, (Hebrews, p. 362)

"In the Christian experience everything is 'to the praise of his glorious grace which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved' (Eph. 1:6), and it is unthinkable that the living God could be served by anything but living works, that is, works that spring from the new life in Christ engendered through the dynamic operation of the Holy Spirit in the human heart."

Brownlow North was a great evangelist in Scotland in the 1800's. His biography contains this story. (Brownlow North by K. Moody-Stuart p. 46-47)

"One evening Brownlow North was about to enter the vestry of a church in northern Scotland in which he was going to preach, when a stranger came up to him in a hurried manner and said, 'Here is a letter for you of greatest importance, and you are requested to read it before you preach tonight.' Thinking it might be a request for prayer from some awakened soul, he immediately opened it and found that it contained a detail of some of his sins before he was converted. It concluded with words to this effect, 'How dare you, being conscious of the truth of all of the above, pray and speak to the people this evening, when you are such a vile sinner?' The preacher put the letter in his pocket, entered the pulpit, and after prayer and praise, commenced his address to a very crowded congregation; but before speaking on his text he produced the letter, and informed the people of its contents, and then added, 'All that is here said is true, and it is a correct picture of the degraded sinner that I once was; and oh how wonderful the grace must be that could quicken and raise me up from such a death in trespasses and sins, and make me what I appear before you tonight, a vessel of mercy, one who knows that all his past sins have been cleansed away through the atoning blood of the Lamb of God. It is of His redeeming love that I have now to tell you, and to entreat any here who are not yet reconciled to God to come this night in faith to Jesus, that He may take their sins away and heal them.' "

His conscience had been cleansed and he went on to preach Christ. It should be the same way with you and the work that God has given you to do.

Lastly, if you're not a Christian, if you're not trusting in Christ, know that

all your works, all your best efforts—are leading you to death.

You can't make up for your sins. You can't earn your way into heaven through them. Isaiah 64:6 says,

"All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;
we all shrivel up like a leaf,
and like the wind our sins sweep us away."

You need your sins to be forgiven. You need the righteousness of Christ. You need to wash yourself in His blood. Go to Him for forgiveness today.