The first time I heard Starfield's worship song, "The Saving One," I was receiving communion. As my church family went forward to receive the bread and wine, we were all singing these lyrics in joyful procession: "And Heaven can't contain the glory of the Son, Jesus is the Christ, the saving One. His love has made a way, the grave is overcome. Jesus is the Christ, the saving One." Walking back to my seat, holding the communion elements in my hand, and looking at the joyful faces around me, I was profoundly impressed by the image of Christ's glory bursting out of heaven in triumph over sin and death.
That song has been stuck in my head for months, but it keeps coming back as I read my friend, Elyse Fitzpatrick's book, Comforts from the Cross. The women of my community group are studying this book together and it keeps pointing me back to the majesty of the Son and why it is our love for Jesus that propels us into gospel obedience and, consequently, fruitful lives. The book is shaped as a month-long daily devotional that focuses us on different verses that provide comforting truths. On day 11, Elyse focused on Hebrews 10:14: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Unpacking that verse, Elyse wrote this meditation, which I've excerpted:
The book of Hebrews was written primarily to, well, the Hebrews, people who were familiar with the demands, ceremonies, and sacrifices of the Jewish temple system. In that system offerings and sacrifices had to be made over and over again, since the blood of mere animals, though commanded by the Lord, could only cover sin, never remove it. The blood of bulls and goats could not atone for the sin that permeated the heart of the human lawbreaker. ...
You have got to get an idea of the shock the early believers would have felt upon reading those words. Perfected for all time? How could those words be uttered about anyone? They knew full well the sacrifices required to atone for sin: a young bird, a goat, a bull, a spotless lamb. They were well aware that their sins weren't some minor blemish but were serious enough that a living creature had to suffer and die. This wasn't merely a philosophical or theological persuasion. For their unbelief, warm blood streamed onto sticky stone; because of their covetousness, animals cried out in terror. And for those who lived in Jerusalem, there was the smoke that hung continually over the temple mount. Listen to hear the bleating of the soon-silenced lamb; smell the acrid stench of burning hair and flesh; see the white robes of the high priest darkly stained. They knew their imperfections--they were lawbreakers.
In the the midst of all this, all they could do was hope their efforts were enough to atone for what they'd done, even though they knew it really wasn't enough; the deathly sacrifice would just have to be repeated again and again. Into that bloody, earthy, repetitive system of religion and death came these words: "And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. . . . For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." (Heb. 10:11-12,14)
The early Jewish Christians experienced something that their predecessors had never known: complete freedom from guilt, rest from the law's cruel lash, infinite acceptance before a holy God. Think of their joy and relief. No wonder they turned the world upside down.
Jesus Christ, the ultimate high priest, had accomplished what no other high priest had ever even dared to attempt. On the cross he spilled the blood of God to appease the wrath of God. This blood was so precious, being the very blood of the infinite, incarnate God, that just this one sacrifice was completely sufficient to atone for and bring to perfection all who would believe in it. Just one sacrifice was necessary to perfect them, to perfect you.
In the next daily devotion, Elyse focused on the verse from John 14:15: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments." This is an excerpt from her commentary on it:
Jesus is lovingly stating a fact, but he's also making a precious promise: love will motivate behavior. He completely knows us, even the inmost thoughts of our hearts. He knows of our desire to obey and our shame and sadness because of our failures. But he also knows this: as our love for him grows, our obedience will grow, too.
The key to a godly life is not more and more self-generated effort. Instead, Jesus is saying, "Love me and your obedience will flow naturally from that love." The secret to obedience isn't formulaic steps found in a self-help book. It is a relentless pursuit of love for him. How then do I cultivate the sincerity of love that motivates obedience? By focusing more intently on his love for me than on my love for him, more on his obedience than mine, more on his faithfulness than mine, more on his strengths than mine.
As I read these words, I found myself humming "The Saving One." The joy and awe found in our Savior, whose glory cannot be contained by heaven, but bursts forth into our fallen mess of sin and hopelessness -- this is the Saving One. Amen and amen!