Christ or Nothing
When Christianity first claimed man’s attention, and asserted its divine origin, there was already in existence a religion of great antiquity and indisputably of divine appointment. Before the foundation of Rome was laid, and centuries before the Trojan War, a people had been brought out of Egypt by God and given a ritual at Mount Sinai by which they might approach Him. Miracles were performed by Moses as a witness that Jehovah had sent him to lead His people out of bondage. Yet miracles, which the Jews were unable to deny, were also done by the apostles of the Lord Jesus—evidence of their divine mission. Which then, of these ways of approaching God—the one inaugurated in the wilderness, the other in an upper room in Jerusalem—were men to follow, and, more particularly, the Jews? God, in His infinite wisdom, was pleased to allow both to exist for a time together in order that the superiority of Christianity over Judaism might be seen and that what the Mosaic ritual pointed to as man’s requirement might be found supplied in the one sacrifice that formed the centre piece of Christian teaching.
Between Judaism and Christianity there were truths in common, as well as a great many related characteristics. Repentance from dead works, faith in God, the doctrine of washings, imposition of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment (see Heb. 6: 1–2) were acknowledged, and taught when the Lord appeared on earth. Both too, spoke of a sanctuary, a sacrifice, and a high priest. The Jews had a physical sanctuary on earth, associated sacrifices, and a priesthood, which by reason of death was transmitted from father to son. The Christian believers spoke of a spiritual sanctuary in the heavenlies, of only one sacrifice, and the unchanging priesthood of the Lord Jesus, who is “always living to intercede” those “who approach by him to God” (Heb. 7: 25).
Now the followers of the Mosaic ritual necessarily took the place of expectants. The sacrifices which were offered up year by year on their behalf proved by their recurrence never to have made the offerers perfect. Such sacrifices told of a want, but also declared their incapacity to meet that want. By contrast, those who took the place of followers of the risen Christ looked back to His sacrifice as all that was needed, and to which no addition could ever be made. It is true that in one sense they were also expectants, but their wait was not for an effective sacrifice. They waited only for salvation to be completed and fully known when the Lord shall appear the second time “without sin” (Heb. 9: 28)—that is, having no more to say to the issue of their sins, having dealt with it all at Calvary.
In the light of this, to turn back from Christianity to Judaism was to take a retrograde step, renouncing the only hope of escaping the wrath to come. There was really no choice for the Jews when once the truth had reached them. If they left Judaism, they confessed by their very act that it could not provide what they needed. If they remained in Judaism, the recurring sacrifices were a constant reminder that it had not procured what they wanted. And if, having embraced Christianity, they later abandoned it, what other divine provision was there which could avail them before the throne of God? None! It was Christ or nothing. This the word of God makes very clear: “For where we sin wilfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth” (and v 29 tells us what sinning wilfully is) “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins” (Heb. 10: 26). Clearly a sacrifice was required, but to reject Christ’s sacrifice was to reject the only sacrifice that could take away sins and to embrace a future of despair. The “blood of bulls and goats [is] incapable of taking away sins” (v4), so to spurn the only sacrifice that could was to shut the door of blessing on oneself. Outside of Christianity, then, there remains nothing for the sinner apart from “a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and heat of fire about to devour the adversaries” (v27). I have either the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ to stand between my soul and the outpouring of God’s wrath, or I have nothing.
With such a choice, the question might arise—is the offering up of Christ sufficient for salvation? In trusting to it, am I trusting that which can actually do what I need? Have I in His death and resurrection an effectual deliverance from a future of divine vengeance? Now if Christ’s sacrifice was rejected, the word was that “there no longer remains any sacrifice for sins” (v26)—a hopeless position. But if, instead, I identify myself with His offering then the Word of God assures me that my blessed portion is “no longer any conscience of sins” (v2)! Without Christ’s death, the worshipper can never be purged; by it he is purged once for all. Imperfection was stamped on the Mosaic ritual, whilst perfection, as to the believer’s standing, is ensured by laying my hands in faith upon the sacrifice of Christ. At the cross the sinner can rest satisfied in the complete and everlasting remission of his sins: “Their sins and their lawlessnesses I will never remember any more” (v17)—no uncertainty, as far as God is concerned, shall cloud the sinner’s prospect. How secure is the basis on which all now rests! The sacrificial ritual, in which man could take part, could never purge the conscience. The one sacrifice—in the offering of which man could take no part—is the only one which can. The priests offered many sacrifices, the Lord Jesus offered up Himself. With forgiveness known in Christ, the Mosaic ritual is rendered obsolete for “where there [is] remission” of sins “[there is] no longer a sacrifice for sin” (v18)—the sacrifices of the law serve no purpose. While the believer is assured, the one contemplating apostasy is thus warned of the foolishness of reverting back to Judaism.
Things are said about Christian worshippers which could never be said of followers of the Mosaic system. Sanctified by God’s will “through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10: 10), by that same offering they are “perfected in perpetuity” (v14), and enabled to enter “into the [holy of] holies by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way which he has dedicated for us through the veil, that is, his flesh” (vs 19, 20). All is traced back to His sacrifice and work, the One in whom the Father is well pleased. All is done for us by a man it is true, but it is the Man Christ Jesus. Sanctified, perfected, forgiven, then boldness to enter the holiest—such is the order of blessing traced out for the Christian believer. Sanctified—set apart for God; perfected—so complete in standing before Him; forgiven—sins remitted, so at rest about them. What could follow these blessings, but the free right of entry into the innermost chamber of the sanctuary? How the Spirit delights to dwell on the perfectness of the sacrifice! Of the sacrifices according to the law, and of the priests that offered them, we learn the hopelessness of trusting to the one, or of looking to the other. “Can never” (v1) is what is said of them; “once for all” (v10) and “forever” (v14, AV) is what is said of the sacrifice of Christ. To him who turns from His sacrifice there remains no more offering for sins; for the one who really and truly is in the good of it, there can be no more remembrance of his iniquities. What need, then, is there of any other sacrifice? It has done all we want. And yet we do not stop there, for it has done far more than we could have thought of. Abel outside the garden of delights offered up a lamb, and “obtained testimony of being righteous” (Heb. 11: 4) yet never re–entered paradise. Outside the gate Jesus died, and the holiest is in consequence opened to the believer for ever. Aaron entered the holiest on earth, and found it an unpeopled place, for men could not enter the presence of the divine Majesty. Believers now enter by faith into the holiest in the heavenlies, and it is their place for evermore. At Sinai, when God spoke, the people retreated from the place assigned them, and stood afar off. Bounds were set round the mount which they were not to overstep, in case death should overtake them (see Exod. 20: 18–21; Deut. 5:5, 23–27). Now we read different language. We are invited to “approach with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, sprinkled as to our hearts from a wicked conscience, and washed as to our body with pure water” (Heb. 10: 22). And as the words of the exhortation remind us of what we are in ourselves, they also disclose to us what that one offering has done for us who believe. Thus where man never was before, there we can be, and what he never could have done for himself, that we are made through the work of the Lord Jesus once for all on the cross. Truly “the law” was only “a shadow of the coming good things” (v1), but “the body” (Col. 2: 17)—the substance—is Christ.