Day 314

Once for All

Wisdom Psalm 121:1-8
New Testament Hebrews 9:16-28
Old Testament Ezekiel 17:1-24,18:26-32

Introduction

Once, on 7 January 1978, I stood as the bridegroom at the front of Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) Church in London. The bride, Pippa Hislop, walked down the aisle with her father and joined me at the front of the church. We made our vows to each other before God and we were united in marriage. We left the church as ‘Mr and Mrs Gumbel’. It was a ‘once’ event, but it has had huge implications for our lives. It stemmed from our love for each other and we committed ourselves to love one another until the end of our lives.

Almost four years before that, on 16 February 1974, I had encountered Jesus Christ for the first time. A love relationship began, which has utterly transformed my life. It was another ‘once’ event, but the implications and effect of that ‘once’ event are ongoing and all-encompassing. I experienced God’s love for me and committed myself to love him for ever.

In today’s New Testament passage, the writer of Hebrews speaks of the greatest ‘onceevent of all time. It changed the course of history and has the potential to change all of our lives. Jesus has appeared ‘once for all’ (Hebrews 9:26). ‘Christ was sacrificed once’ (v.28). Jesus entered the Most Holy Place ‘once for all by his own blood’ (v.12). ‘We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all’ (10:10). This ‘once’ event stemmed from God’s great love for us and has huge implications for your life and mine.

Wisdom

Psalm 121:1-8

  1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
   where does my help come from?
  2 My help comes from the Lord,
   the Maker of heaven and earth.

  3 He will not let your foot slip—
   he who watches over you will not slumber;
  4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
   will neither slumber nor sleep.

  5 The Lord watches over you –
   the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
  6 the sun will not harm you by day,
   nor the moon by night.

  7 The Lord will keep you from all harm —
   he will watch over your life;
  8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
   both now and forevermore.

Commentary

God will guard and protect you

Where is the first place you look when you are in trouble or don’t know what to do? Do you look to friends, family or the medical profession? There is nothing wrong in looking for help in all these directions. But the first place the psalmist looks is upwards.

Regret looks back. Fear looks around. Worry looks in. Faith looks up.

The psalmist looks up, ‘I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?’ (v.1). Your help, strength and protection come from the maker of the universe: ‘My strength comes from God, who made heaven, and earth, and mountains’ (v.2, MSG). ‘He will not let your foot slip – he who watches over you will not slumber’ (v.3).

This beautiful psalm speaks of the Lord’s love for you and his protection over your life.

  ‘God’s your Guardian,
   right at your side to protect you...

  God guards you from every evil,
   he guards your very life.
   He guards you when you leave and when you return,
   he guards you now, he guards you always’ (vv.5–8, MSG).

I have sometimes used this psalm as a prayer for our family or friends who are facing difficulties in their lives.

The promise of this psalm is that the Lord will protect you from all ultimate harm. The psalmist could not have known that this is made possible through the ‘once for all’ sacrifice of Jesus, which means that one day he will come ‘to bring salvation for those who are waiting for him’ (Hebrews 9:28).

Prayer

Lord, thank you that you watch over me day and night. Thank you that you watch over my coming and going both now and for evermore.

New Testament

Hebrews 9:16-28

16 In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, 17 because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. 18 This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood...

22 In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.

23 It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence. 25 Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.

Commentary

Jesus sacrificed himself for you

Do you realise how much God loves you? Do you know that Jesus shed his blood so that you could receive total forgiveness? Do you understand that he has already paid the price for every sin you have committed in the past and every sin you will ever commit in the future?

Why was the death of Jesus necessary? The author points out that, both in the case of a will and a covenant (the same Greek word is used for both), they do not come into effect without a death taking place. The death leads to an inheritance for others.

‘The first covenant was not put into effect without blood’ (v.18). He goes on to describe in detail ‘the blood of the \[old\] covenant’ and concludes that ‘without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness’ (vv.19–22).

The writer then makes three statements contrasting the sacrifice of Jesus with the inferior sacrifices under the law:

  1. Jesus was dealing with the real thing

    ‘For Christ didn’t enter the earthly version of the Holy Place; he entered the Place Itself, and offered himself to God as the sacrifice for our sins’ (v.24, MSG).

  2. Jesus’ sacrifice was ‘once, for all

    Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year’ (v.25). Rather, ‘Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever’ (vv.27–28, MSG).

  3. Jesus shed his own blood

    Jesus did not offer ‘blood that is not his own’ (v.25). Unlike the High Priest it was his own blood that was shed (v.12).

No further sacrifice is now required: ‘These animal sacrifices aren’t needed anymore, having served their purpose’ (v.23, MSG). As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, the once for all sacrifice of Jesus was ‘a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’. As Jesus cried out on the cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).

When Jesus comes again, it will not be ‘to bear sin’ but rather, ‘to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him’ (Hebrews 9:28).

Prayer

Thank you, Lord, for Jesus. Thank you for his once for all sacrifice for me so that I might receive total forgiveness. Help me to remember today that ‘it is finished’.

Old Testament

Ezekiel 17:1-24,18:26-32

17 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 ‘Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable. 3 Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: a great eagle with powerful wings, long feathers and full plumage of varied colours came to Lebanon. Taking hold of the top of a cedar, 4 he broke off its topmost shoot and carried it away to a land of merchants, where he planted it in a city of traders.

5 ‘“He took one of the seedlings of the land and put it in fertile soil. He planted it like a willow by abundant water, 6 and it sprouted and became a low, spreading vine. Its branches turned towards him, but its roots remained under it. So it became a vine and produced branches and put out leafy boughs.

7 ‘“But there was another great eagle with powerful wings and full plumage. The vine now sent out its roots towards him from the plot where it was planted and stretched out its branches to him for water. 8 It had been planted in good soil by abundant water so that it would produce branches, bear fruit and become a splendid vine.”

22 ‘“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish. ‘“I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”’

18
26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offences they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, “The way of the Lord is not just.” Are my ways unjust…? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 ‘Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

Commentary

Make a clean break!

Although Jesus’ death for us was a ‘once’ event, God, in his love, was preparing his people for that event for hundreds of years. He was teaching them about the serious consequences of sin and pointing ahead to a Saviour.

God’s word to his people was through an allegory and parable (17:1). The immediate context of the allegory was the ‘great eagle’ (v.3) of Babylon, taking King Jehoiakim from Judah to Babylon in 597 BC, but its application is far wider.

There are two types of shoots, two types of vines and two types of kingdom. There is the kingdom of this world – human-made, apparently very strong, using all the best resources, appearing to flourish, but that will ultimately shrivel and die and be completely useless. On the other hand, there is the kingdom of God, which, from a very small beginning, against all the odds, will flourish and bear permanent fruit (see Matthew 13:31–32 and Revelation 22).

As we read this passage through the lens of Jesus, we see hints of his ‘once for all’ sacrifice for sin. The ‘shoot’ (Ezekiel 17:22) is the language that the prophet Isaiah uses in what is clearly a messianic passage, foretelling the coming of Jesus (Isaiah 53:2). This is the one who was pierced for our transgressions (v.5) upon whom the Lord laid the iniquity of us all (v.6). He is the one who made the ‘once for all’ sacrifice of himself for our sins.

Ezekiel goes on to say, ‘You die for your own sin, not another’s’ (Ezekiel 18:4, MSG). ‘The soul who sins is the one who will die’ (v.20). Earlier, Ezekiel spoke of corporate responsibility (17:12). Now he speaks of individual responsibility. We will all have to take responsibility for our own lives. You will not be judged for your parents’ or your children’s sins (18:20), but for your own sins.

God loves everyone. He does not want anyone to fall under his judgment: ‘“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?” declares the Sovereign Lord. “Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”’ (v.23).

He concludes this passage, ‘I’ll judge each of you according to the way you live. So turn around! Turn your backs on your rebellious living so that sin won’t drag you down. Clean house… Get a new heart! Get a new spirit!’ (vv.30–31, MSG). The passage then finishes with a final reminder of how that is possible – ‘Repent and live!’ (v.32).

This is the wonderful news. However far you have fallen – whatever mess you’ve made with your life – you can make a clean break with the past. Simply ‘repent’ – turn from the bad ways and turn to Jesus. You receive total forgiveness, a new heart and a new spirit and can enjoy the relationship with God made possible by his once for all sacrifice for your sins.

Prayer

Lord, thank you that I can ‘repent and live’. Thank you that you promise me a new heart and a new spirit. Help me to make a clean break and to enjoy the relationship with God that you have made possible, by your ‘once-for-all’ sacrifice for my sins.

Pippa adds

Psalm 121:7-8 says:

‘The Lord will keep you from all harm – he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and for evermore.’

I have prayed these verses many times for myself, my family and my friends. They are such encouraging and comforting words.

Thought for the Day

Regret looks Back.
Fear looks Around.
Worry looks In.
FAITH looks Up.

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References

Text from The Book of Common Prayer, the rights in which are vested in the Crown, is reproduced by permission of the Crown's Patentee, Cambridge University Press.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

The Bible with Nicky and Pippa Gumbel

  • HOST'S INTRO
  • INTRODUCTION
  • WISDOM BIBLE
  • WISDOM COMMENTARY
  • NEW TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • NEW TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • OLD TESTAMENT BIBLE
  • OLD TESTAMENT COMMENTARY
  • PIPPA ADDS
  • HOST'S OUTRO

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