The Cross in Hebrews

• Isa 55:1-9 ESV  

• Ps 37:23-26 ESV  

• Heb 9:23-28 ESV  

• Mark 10:35-45 ESV


The booming popularity of the gay pride parades testifies that we are living in the midst of an unprecedented cultural revolution; but it takes the sort of discernment given to us by the book of Hebrews to recognise that the ultimate goal of this revolution is not political, social or moral but to take our eyes off Jesus as the only one who can deal with guilt and shame (Heb 12:2 ESV etc.).

Only those who consciences have been cleansed by the sacrificial blood of Christ to enjoy intimacy with God can truly distinguish good from evil (Heb 5:14 ESV; Heb 9:14 ESV).

The author of Hebrews establishes this bold claim by contrasting the new covenant (Heb 8:8,13,15 ESV; Heb 9:15 ESV; Heb 10:24 ESV) with the old sacrificial system that “made nothing perfect(Heb 7:29 ESV).

The repeated sacrifice (Heb 7:11,18-19,23 ESV; Heb 10:1,4 ESV) of bulls and goats could never “take away sin(Heb 10:4 ESV) but constantly reminded the convicted conscience (Heb 9:9 ESV) that sin was still blocking fellowship with a holy God (Heb 12:14 ESV). And where there is guilt there is always a fear of death and judgement (Heb 2:14-15 ESV; Heb 10:27 ESV).

The old covenant worshippers were left with what Hebrews calls in one place the “consciousness of sin” and in another a “guilty/evil conscience(Heb 10:2,22 ESV). Hebrews speaks to the struggling inner world of human beings suffering from guilt and shame about the power of Christ’s blood to liberate us from bondage.

Real guilt is about past sins; and “sin” is much more than a “mistake” or “bad choice”. Sin brings a sense of a seemingly unbridgeable distance from God.

Guilt is “entire impotence with God” (P.T. Forsyth). 

Guilt is a negative power that disconnects the human spirit from the Spirit of God, destroys intimacy with the heavenly Father and leaves a sense of impending judgement.

True guilt possesses such depths that no earth bound religion can bring intimacy with “the majesty on high” (Heb 1:3 ESV).

To know peace with God sinners must have access to heaven (Heb 13:20 ESV).

Hebrews teaches us that Jesus gives us this access; “we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places…(Heb 8:1-2 ESV). Jesus is the priest who has provided his people with unlimited access to God in heaven.


One of the reasons Hebrews is such a great book is that it shows a profound understanding of the connection between who Jesus is and what he does, between Incarnation and Atonement.

The power of the sacrifice of Christ hinges on the status of Jesus as the one through whom all things were made, the one worshipped by angels and the enthroned God who rules the universe forever(Heb 1:1-12 ESV)

This exalted understanding of the person of Christ under-girds how he is able to save frail humanity by becoming one of us e.g. “Jesus for a little while was made lower than the angels. Since the children (of God) have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil –”(Heb 2:9,14 ESV)

Jesus enters into our wretched state so we might share in his exalted state; “because he himself has suffered when tempted…. yet without sinning…. he is able to help those who are being tempted….” .(Heb 2:18 ESV; Heb 4:15 ESV)

To deliver us from “lifelong slavery” to “fear of death” (Heb 2:15 ESV)

Jesus entered into our “fleshoffered up prayers and pleadings to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard…” (Heb 5:7 ESV). Having been delivered from the authority of death through resurrection Jesus can liberate us from the terrors of dying.

What we might call the shape of the gospel is extraordinarily clear in Hebrews.

Jesus became as we are that we might become as he is.

The Son of God took on weak mortal humanity to perfect it; “In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that Godshould make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.(Heb 2:10 ESV cf. Heb 5:9 ESV).

This language of perfection is repeated throughout Hebrews, even about us; “by one sacrifice he (Jesus) has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy(Heb 10:14 ESV cf. Heb 10:1 ESV; Heb 12:23 ESV).

The word “perfect” will trigger off unhelpful thoughts in the mind of anyone whose conscience is not clear; I struggled for years to understand how a perfect God could relate to my weaknesses and confusions.

Every time I thought of God’s perfection he seemed a long way away.

Thankfully “perfection” in Hebrews isn’t about ethical blamelessness but about authority to approach God.

The word Hebrews uses “perfect” comes via the Greek Old Testament where it refers to the consecration of priests and their right to draw near to God’s holy presence to present an acceptable sacrifice (Ex 28:41 ESV; Lev 8:33 ESV; Num 3:3 ESV etc.)

As Jesus is the consecrated High Priest to God in heaven (Heb 2:17 ESV; Heb 3:1 ESV etc.) so believers are set apart to share in his uninhibited priestly access to God (Heb 3:1 ESV).

This is our “perfection”.

The key to our entry into this glorious state is the blood sacrifice of the cross.

Hebrews pronounced emphasis on “blood” (20x) has nothing to do with an outdated primitive way of understanding the world but an unrivalled insight into the workings of the guilty conscience.


The sacrifices of the Old Testament involved a threefold movement. Firstly the animal needed to be killed to obtain its blood, then the priest took the blood into a holy place, finally the blood is sprinkled on the altar/mercy seat (Day of Atonement)/congregation before God to purify the people of sin and seal the covenant (Lev 5:9-10; 16 cf. Ex 24).

So Jesus, who is uniquely priest and victim in one, having been crucified “offered himself(Heb 7:27 ESV; Heb 9:14,26 ESV)by means of his own blood” in the “holy placesin the presence of God on our behalf(Heb 9:12, 24 ESV).

Hebrews uniquely testifies that beyond the realm of earthly religion (Heb 9:22 ESV)heavenly things” have been purified “once for all(Heb 7:27 ESV; Heb 9:25-26 ESV) by the blood of Jesus.

The contrast between the old sacrificial system and the new couldn’t be stronger. Through “the eternal Spirit(Heb 9:14 ESV) an offering has been presented in heaven, not earth, God’s own Son was offered, not a dumb beast.

The perfectly willing obedient Son who placed himself in solidarity with us (Heb 2:10-11,17-18 ESV; Heb 4:15 ESV) was “offered once to bear the sins of many(Heb 9:28 ESV; from Isa 53:12 LXX). Since the heavens have been cleansed we can spiritually join Jesus there in the worship of his Father (Heb 8:1-2 ESV; Heb 13:15 ESV).

It’s easy to understand why earthly things need cleansing, the world’s always a mess, but why do heavenly things need purification?

The reason isn’t completely clear.

Perhaps the blood of Christ needed to purge away the traces of the angelic rebellion which started in heaven (Rev 12)?

Perhaps “purify” means something like “dedicate” the heavenly sanctuary so that it is made accessible to previously unclean sinners (cf. Ex 29:36 ESV; Lev 8:15 ESV; Rev 21:27 ESV).

Whatever the exact explanation these words ring true;

“As the blood was brought in every vestige of a thought of sin was removed out of God’s presence; the heavens are now clear and bright, and the love of God can shine out in noonday glory.”

A. Murray

This means something wonderful.

If you have asked Jesus to forgive you whenever the heavenly Father looks at your life he is not the least bit focussed on your sin.

To put this another way; the conscience of God has been satisfied/put at peace by the blood of the cross (Heb 13:20 ESV).


Unlike the Old Testament faithful (e.g. Heb 11:13,39-40 ESV) the great privilege of the Christian is  the ability to “draw near to God(Heb 4:16 ESV; Heb 7:19,25 ESV; Heb 10:22 ESV; Heb 11:6 ESV) freed from “the consciousness of sin(Heb 10:2 ESV).

Because of the blood of the cross guilt is no longer a real problem.

As by faith we follow Jesus who passed through the heavens (Heb 4:14 ESV; Heb 7:26 ESV) into “heaven itself” (Heb 9:24 ESV) we have “come to”, as Hebrews 12 tells us, countless angels, a joyful assembly, and a place without fear because of “the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.  

The blood of the murdered Abel cried out from the ground for vengeance (Gen 4:10 ESV), but the blood of the cross speaks to our consciences from heaven about full forgiveness (Heb 10:22 ESV).

The blood of Christ cleanses away troubled memories in the presence of God.

What God has promised to forget we must not remember (Heb 8:12 ESV; Heb 10:16-18 ESV).

If guilt means spiritual impotence the cleansing blood of Christ imparts spiritual boldness.

Through our ascended priestly mediator (Heb 8:6 ESV; Heb 9:15 ESV) heaven is accessible; “we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus…. with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need….” (Heb 4:16 ESV; Heb 10:19 ESV).

Satan’s incapacitating accusations about past sins have been rendered powerless by the blood of Christ

(Heb 2:14-15 ESV).

We can say to the Lord, “I love you.” And unselfconsciously pray, prophesy and testify about Jesus in the presence of others (cf. Heb 11).  In a day when people are crazily obsessed with being proud of themselves, e.g. the social media phenomenon, we are called to declare that only Christ crucified is worthy of our Pride.


If Hebrews’ portrayal of the sacrificial work of Christ heralds an unprecedented religious revolution why is there so much spiritual paralysis and passivity in our churches?

Our core problem cannot be, to quote Hebrews 5:2 ESV, that we are “weak, wayward and ignorant” (Heb 5:2 ESV) because these are the very frailties for which Jesus our heavenly High Priest is interceding (Heb 7:25 ESV; Heb 9:24 ESV).

Neither is our root problem that we are an ethically unholy people.

If moral blamelessness was a prerequisite for the presence of God then many churches in the New Testament would have never experienced the miraculous e.g. Corinth (1 Cor 12:1-14:40 ESV); Galatia (Gal 3:1-6 ESV).  

Any believer who understands that in Jesus we have been set apart from impurity to purity to fellowship with God will move in spiritual authority (Heb 1:3 ESV; Heb 2:11 ESV; Heb 3:1,14 ESV; Heb 6:4,12 ESV; Heb 9:14 ESV; Heb 10:14 ESV; Heb 13:12 ESV).

Our ‘Core’ ‘Root’ Problem

Let me tell you what I think our root problem is.

Feeling they are not good enough to get close to God masses of sincere Christians are suffering from a sort of “spiritual performance anxiety”.

This is just another way of saying guilt is holding back the release of God’s presence in the churches. And underneath guilt lies the deadliest sin of all, unbelief (Heb 4:2 ESV).

You cannot cleanse away unbelief by any human action– by serving the church, praying more, reading the Bible more, giving more, trying harder….the remedy for guilt is to believe in what God has already done for us in Christ (Heb 11:6 ESV).

By faith we draw near to God and enjoy the benefits of the cross (Heb 10:22 ESV).

But, you might be asking, how does faith grow?

As a young Christian this is a question that just about drove me nuts. Thankfully Hebrews has an answer to this question; vs.1let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, vs.2 looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1-2 ESV).

Having believed for us, been tempted for us, suffered for us, shed his blood for us and gone into heaven on our behalf Jesus has once for all dealt with shame and guilt!

If guilt and shame are alive in you – stop looking at yourself, stop trawling over your past, stop comparing yourself to others….come confidently to Christ to find grace, mercy and full forgiveness in time of need. (Heb 4:16 ESV)

He will never fail you(Heb 10:23 ESV) 

MESSAGE DELIVERED: 4th March, 2018 | @ St Marks

Author: Dr. John Yates

MESSAGE YouTube or PODCAST: 4th March. 2018 |       |

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