The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 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! (verses 13-14)
There was an awful lot of animal sacrifice that went on in Old Testament times. Animals were slaughtered, their blood and ashes sprinkled on those who were ceremonially unclean, all for the purpose of dealing with imperfection and sin. Ceremonially, those taking part in these rituals were cleansed. At least outwardly. But it didn’t fully touch the heart. The “gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper” (verse 9).
Imagine, then, leaving the Tabernacle or Temple and feeling still the effects of a guilty conscience weighing you down. Or, at best, feeling momentary relief, before then having a fresh run-in with sin and failure and ceremonial “dirt” and having to carry it all until the next sacrifice. And then the next, and the next.
We don’t actually know who wrote this letter to the Hebrews. But clearly it was someone who had actual, tangible experience with the Temple rituals. Clearly, they experienced being a worshiper, yet walking away feeling guilty still.
What a relief, then, to discover in the blood of Christ a sacrifice that “goes deep,” that touches the soul, that truly deals with a guilty conscience. This is what the writer says. Through Christ, our conscience is cleansed from “acts that lead to death” (NIV translation).
Some translators give this last phrase the translation “dead works,”implying “useless rituals” that spring from ceremonial religion. That may be the case. But the writer tells us these “acts”require cleansing. When the same phrase is used back in Hebrews 6:1 we’re told these works require “repentance.” It sounds like there’s more than useless ritual at work here – it sounds like sin. That’s the implication of “acts that lead to death.”
Think of your own experience with sin and the guilt that results. Left to our own devices, the stain sinks deep. It lies heavily on the conscience. I think of Lady Macbeth, desperately trying to wash away guilt. “Out, damned spot! Out, I say!” Yet she finds no relief. Shakespeare nailed it.
Oh, the exuberant joy of a cleansed conscience! Christ’s blood completely purges the spot!
But not only does the cleansing go deep. It extends outward to cover all sin for all time.
Christ “has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself” (verse 26). Once for all. Amazingly, all of our sin has been dealt with in one swift blow. All of it cleansed, even before I encounter it. Once for all.
We used to rambunctiously sing a song in youth group for which I never fully appreciated the words because everyone was so involved in the hand-motions. “Deep and Wide,” we’d sing with hands framing off top and bottom, then stretching as wide as possible to encompass a huge expanse. “There’s a fountain flowing Deep and Wide – Hallelujah.”
Now I get it. Yes. That’s it. Deep and Wide. The cleansing flood. Christ’s blood. Deep and Wide. Cleansing our conscience. Once for all. Hallelujah.
Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your sacrifice that effectively reaches deep, right to the depth of my conscience, washing me clean. Thank you. And thank you, that your sacrifice stretches out to all time, cleansing every sin past, present and future.
What freedom. What grace. What a Saviour.
Soak: Reflect on the depth and breadth of the cleansing work of Jesus for you. Soak in it. Allow your conscience to be fully, deeply, completely cleansed. For all time.