The Trinity (8); Christ our Priest in His Sacrifice

Christ our Priest

THE DOCTRINE OF THE TRINITY (8)

Christ our Priest in His Sacrifice

For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”          (Hebrews 9:13-14)

…but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (Hebrews 9:26)

In relation to worship and access to God the ancient Hebrew Priest played a pivotal role in the spiritual economy of Israel. While the Prophets and Kings were important the Priest was central. So it is where Christ’s Mediatorial Office is concerned. The Priesthood is central to all his work on behalf of God’s Elect. There are two aspects to the Priesthood of Christ. There is the finished aspect and the constant aspect. The part that is finished is the sacrifice that He offered as the price of our redemption. The part that is continual is his intercession at the Father’s right hand. This necessitates two studies. Therefore this study meditate upon the Priesthood of Christ in His sacrifice for sin.

1: The Preparation

The Son of God took upon himself what the Shorter Catechism calls a “true body and a reasonable soul” in Answer 22. The purpose of the Incarnation of the Son of God as He became the man Jesus Christ was that He, as a man might be our Mediator and in being our Mediator would become our Priest. Therefore the Incarnation was the preparation of the body which the eternal Logos would sacrifice as our Priest:

Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith, Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure.  Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.”  (Hebrews 10:5-7)

While the Priests of ancient times did an important and necessary work it was ever incomplete. This lack of perfection was due to the sinfulness of the men who were mediators. Christ, however, was different and Paul beautifully draws the contrast:

For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this he did once, when he offered up himself.”  (Hebrews 7:26-27)

Those who served in the Priesthood of Aaron were therefore always busy. Their work was never complete because their sacrifices were only types pointing to the great offering. What they did could not, in and of itself, remove sin:

And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;” (Hebrews 10:11-12)

Christ was given a perfect body, in which He died. Prior to death, however, he spent 33 years living as the perfect man for imperfect men and women. He worked out a perfect righteousness on behalf of humanity which qualified him to present himself as the sacrifice for sin.

2: The Priest

Hebrews 9:14 ( at the head of these notes) is remarkable in that it shows Jesus Christ to both a Priest and a sacrifice. Never before had a Priest used his own body as the offering. Paul clearly writes, however, that He “offered himself”. Never was He forced or compelled to die. His crucifixion was not the result of Jewish conspiracies and weak Roman judges. He was in complete control of the events and circumstances. As the Priest He offered His own perfect body. The nearest we come to anyone doing similar was Abraham when he strapped Isaac to the altar and raised the knife. With perfect submission Abraham was willing to present his precious Son. To faithful Abraham it must have felt like he offered himself on that memorable day. Yet Isaac was not Abraham and ultimately God never intended the old man to go through with it. Christ was different, He presented His own body as the Priest the day He died.

3: The Propitiation

Now we come to the reason why Christ had to present His body as our Priest and Mediator. The key word is Propitiation, which appears rarely in the Greek New Testament. It is a most important term; one which differentiates fundamentalist Protestants from liberals in theology. Dr Alan Cairns in his “Dictionary of Theological Terms” defines propitiation:

“The appeasement or turning away of God’s wrath against sinners by means of an atoning sacrifice.”

Therefore the presentation of the offering was designed to turn God’s anger away. The translation of the word in the New Testament has the thought of the blood sprinkled mercy seat. In Hebrews 9:5 the word translated mercy-seat literally means “propitiatory” – the place where the anger of God is appeased. When the publican prayed in the temple he pleaded that God look upon the mercy seat and forgive him of his sins. It is in Romans 3 where this word appears with the English term propitiation for the first time:

Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.” (Romans 3:24-26)

John Owen, the English Puritan preacher and scholar argued that 4 things need to in place for a propitiation to occur; (a) An Offence, (b) A person offended to be pacified, (c ) An offender who has committed the offence, (d) A sacrifice to atone for the offence. In order for Christ propitiate God the guilt of the elect had to be transferred to him just as the sins of Israel were placed upon the head of the scapegoat on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:21). This was Paul meant when he described the Saviour becoming sin for us, although he knew no sin (2nd Corinthians 5:21). It is the doctrine of propitiation that highlights the importance of the blood of Christ and explains why it is so precious. The offering of a sacrifice entailed blood shedding. Christ’s blood was unspeakably precious because he “knew no sin”. It was His sinlessness which qualified Him as the only one who could offer a complete and never repeated sacrifice on Calvary. Without the shedding of His blood there could be no remission, no propitiation, no hope (Hebrews 9:22). Where liberal theology has denied and even been offended by the blood, evangelicals have consistently rejoiced in the blood of Christ as the only means whereby our sin could be atoned.

4: The Purchase

Another important Bible word with respect to Christ’s priestly sacrifice is “redemption”. This is what was accomplished by the propitiation of our Saviour. He redeemed or purchased a people to Himself. Therefore the Church of Christ consists of a redeemed people. This challenges us as to our surrender because we literally belong to Christ having been purchased at a great price:

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?  For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.” (1st Corinthians 6:19-20)

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