Sermon by Pastor Tom Brown · Nov 08, 2020 · My Bible Year Series

The words hit Aaron like a ton of bricks. Laid off. His company had stretched the budget to the limits during the pandemic but just couldn’t hold out. And like that he joined the ranks of the unemployed.

His drive home was a foggy daze. Before he could open his mouth as he walked into the kitchen, his wife turned to tell him the dishwasher was broken.

As he sat down with the weight of his frustration, his daughter ran over to jump on his lap and give him a hug. She kissed his check and ran off to find her sister, leaving a dark pool of urine on his pants.

In that moment a question popped into his head – what did I do to deserve this?

Can you relate? There’s a good chance you have wondered at some point in your life if God was punishing you. There’s an even better chance that someone you know will face that question.

What would you say if they asked you?

This morning we are going to find the answer to that question in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews is a book about endurance. It’s about hardship and not quitting.

It’s written to give perspective and courage to battered souls who are tempted to drift away from devotion to God.

At the heart of the letter is the issue of our relation to God.

Are you ready? Let’s read.

The gospel of Hebrews is a logical argument. To understand it, you’ve got to follow each step, you’ve got to let each brick settle firmly into place before you move on to the next one.

The first step is the principle that

1. Sin angers God and brings punishment on the sinner.

Let’s turn back to chapter 3. The writer has just encouraged us to hold fast in our faith. Now he gives a warning by quoting Psalm 95:7-11


7 Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says,
“Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion,
on the day of testing in the wilderness,
9 where your fathers put me to the test
and saw my works for forty years.
10 Therefore I was provoked with that generation,
and said, ‘They always go astray in their heart;
they have not known my ways.’
11 As I swore in my wrath,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Hebrews 3:7-11

The Psalm is a reference to the period of time when the people of Israel were mercifully rescued from oppression and slavery in Egypt, but had not yet settled into a land of their own.

Despite the fact that God had just set them free and despite the constant care and provision of God during that time, the people of Israel constantly demonstrated a spirit of entitlement. They complained and grumbled about their hardships, they constantly doubted the power and goodness of God and continually turned to other options for worship and security.

The word used to summarize the crookedness in their hearts is rebellion.

A rebellion is an open resistance to an established government or ruler. The people of Israel openly resisted God’s authority and rule and the Scripture tells us their rebellion provoked his wrath.

In his anger God pronounced a judgment on the people in verse 10 – ‘They always go astray in their heart; they have not known my ways.’

That judgment came with a punishment – “As I swore in my wrath, ‘They shall not enter my rest.’”

Sin angers God and brings punishment on the sinner.

In the modern world the concept of the wrath of God was something that many people resisted and were unwilling to accept. But in the late modern world of 2020, the depravity of human beings and the rightness of anger directed towards that depravity is easier to accept.

As we come to grips with long histories of oppression and discrimination, as we experience rampant corruption, as we are torn apart by division and conflict, it’s easy to see that we are deeply flawed in our humanity and that anger is a good and right response to our failures.

Progressive people in America feel justified in their wrath towards those they perceive as racists, misogynists and homophobes.

Conservative people in America feel justified in their anger towards criminals, rioters and free loaders.

We can see the rightness of anger directed towards the sins of others, but we don’t always easy to see it as a finger pointing at our own hearts.

Nevertheless, there is a righteous kind of anger that we appreciate, and in the Bible, God demonstrates that anger.

Does that mean that God is like us? That he is affected by moods and may lash out in his emotion, like our parents did to us or we do as parents?

That’s not the picture given to us in the Scriptures.

As J.I. Packer wrote in his book Knowing God: “God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil.”

Sin angers God and brings punishment on the sinner. And that is good and right.

The biblical explanation of our human experience tells us that deep in our conscience, each of us carries an awareness of this truth. Inside each of us, a conscience speaks to us that we are not righteous and that our actions merit judgment.

According to the Scriptures you and I should be punished.

According to the Scriptures you and I deserve wrath.

We all have a share in the resistance against God’s rule and authority, we all share in the crooked bent towards entitlement and self-obsession.

We all experience a hardness in our hearts when our freedom is challenged by a higher authority. And in the depths of our souls we know that the sword of justice hangs over our heads.

It’s natural for us to wonder if we are being punished when hardship piles up on our doorstep.

So as Aaron sits across from the broken dishwasher with a puddle of urine in his lap, his thoughts to turn to the hours he had spent on a particularly stressful day absorbed in pornography. He remembers the time last month he lied to his boss in order to get that extra day off for a long weekend vacation. He remembers like it was yesterday the moment two decades ago when he took advantage of a girl who had had to much to drink at a party. He wonders if his present circumstances are a judgment against his sin. He is terrified that everything he is experiencing is the anger of God and that it is just the beginning.

So what does he do? He does what many of us do in a situation like that and resolves to do better.

He calls his bible study leader to confess his sins, he resolves to read his Bible every day this week and to catch up on his tithe. He considers calling his boss to admit his dishonesty and apologize.

His resolve to do better takes the edge off his fear. But does it help?

Moments of resolve like this are not too far removed from the sacrificial system of the Old Testament described in Hebrews. The Hebrew people practiced a system of animal sacrifices as atonement offerings for sin. If a man or woman sinned against God, an offering of spilled blood was made in the effort to make things right and turn back God’s anger.

Our efforts to make up for our sin and avoid punishment with good works and spiritual resolutions is not too far removed from temple sacrifices.

The problem is that both are useless.

The 2nd step in the logic of Hebrews is that


2. Our sacrifices to God are incapable of making us right with God.

Hebrews 10 tells us four things are sacrifices can never do.

First of all:


A. They can never take away sins.

Hebrews 10:11

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.

We carry the weight of our sin with us and no matter how many sacrifices we make, we will never be rid of them. They cling to our backs and resist every effort to shake them off.


B. They can never make us pure.

For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.

Hebrews 10:1

The Bible tells us that our good deeds are like filthy rags. Have you ever tried to clean something with a soiled and dirty rag? A dirty rag is useless because it only spreads the dirt around. Our sacrifices, our efforts to do better are dirty rags, unable to make us clean.

Our sacrifices to God can’t take away sins, they can’t make us pure and


C. They can’t ease our conscience

Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?

Hebrews 10:2

Our sacrifices lack the power to take away our sins or cleanse us of their lingering stains, and the haunting memory of guilt remains.

Despite my efforts to bury my sin with offerings to God, it will always rise to the surface. No amount of works or sacrifices can erase that.

Our sacrifices can’t take away sins, they can’t make us pure, they can’t erase our conscience and


D. They don’t please God.

When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law),

Hebrews 10:8

God doesn’t want it when you attempt to make up for your sins with promises to do better and he doesn’t like it when you do it. Our sacrifices can’t take away sins, they can’t make us pure, they can’t ease our conscience and they can’t please God.


E. They are only a reminder of sins.

But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

Hebrews 10:3


F. They must be repeated as often as we sin.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices

Hebrews 10:11

You can never please God, ease your conscience or remove your guilt by human effort.

This is a terrifying position: to live in a universe under the watching eye of a holy God as a sinner completely incapable of covering our sin.

It’s uncomfortable. It’s terrifying. It will ruin your day to think about it.

But it could ruin much more than your day if you don’t. And you’ll never understand the meaning of what comes next if you don’t.

Our sin angers God and brings punishment, and all the spiritual sacrifices we make can’t do a thing to change that.

But the good news is that


3. Jesus offered his body as one all sufficient sacrifice for our sin.

In verses 5-10, Jesus quotes from Psalm 40. The Messianic Psalm recognizes that God is not pleased with offerings and sacrifices. It acknowledges that what God desires is a will yielded to His own. What God desires is trust and obedience. Jesus came to live a life of perfect trust and obedience.

And he came to demonstrate that obedience to the point of offering his own body as a final sacrifice. In the process, Jesus himself experienced the terror of God’s anger. In the garden before he was betrayed, he experienced such an extreme level of stress that his sweat was mingled with blood. Yet he continued to obey and stepped in between you and the anger of God.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:5

What did Jesus’ sacrifice accomplish?


A. The sacrifice of Jesus makes perfect forever those who are in Christ.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Hebrews 10:14

The blood of Christ covers our sins. It washes us pure as snow. It separates our sin from us as far as the east is from the west. It blots out the record of our sins. It opens the way for the Spirit of God to come inside and make us new.

Next Hebrews tells us that


B. The sacrifice of Jesus was perfectly completed and needs no further work.

But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God,

Hebrews 10:12

The one act of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient for all sins and all time. It was sufficient for your sins past, present and future. It does not need your additional effort. It is finished.


C. As a result of the sacrifice of Jesus, God is willing to forgive sins.

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18


D. When God forgives sin, he also forgets sin

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:17-18


E. Where sins are forgotten, no sacrifice is required

Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Hebrews 10:18

So what’s the answer to our question?


God is not punishing you.

For someone living in the temple, this would have been directly relevant. For someone who has grown up with the vivid of imagery of the altar of the temple, the priests in their vestments and the blood of animals – the idea of a final sacrifice to end all sacrifices would have been revolutionary.

We do not have that imagery. For those of us with years of experience in church – we have our own version of a sacrificial system. You and I know what it is to feel that we have blown it and that a holy God must surely be angry with us. We know the cycles of sin and recommitment and offerings of good works.

The person who has given in to temptation to look at pornography and feels tremendous guilt, and thinks, “I must be extra enthusiastic with my faith this week, I must do something to be right with God again.”

Hebrews tells us there is nothing we can do to be right with God. It tells us that only Jesus can do that and he finished the job. If you are in Christ, God has forgiven and forgotten your sin and no sacrifice is required to be right with him.

If Aaron’s Bible study leader understands the gospel, he will not congratulate him on his resolutions to do better. He will walk him through Hebrews 10 and show him that our efforts to make peace with God are just another way we sin, by trusting in ourselves and rebelling against God’s will. He will walk Aaron through repentance and the blessed relief of gospel forgiveness. He will help Aaron see that he can trust the God of the Bible completely and surrender his will. And he will help Aaron walk in the holiness that flows from grace.

So what about hardship? Why do hardships pile up on our doorstep and make us feel like we are being punished.

Chapter 11 of Hebrews shows us that God’s people will always endure hardship.

It shows us that this world is not our home.

It shows us that what matters to God is not your comfort but your faith.

It shows us that faith thrives in environments of resistance and difficulty.

Chapter 12 of Hebrews shows us that God will use hardship to train and shape his people like a father disciplines his children.

Hardship is not a sign of God’s anger, but a sign of God’s loving investment in your life.

So what do we do?

Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Hebrews 4:16


let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,

Hebrews 12:1


A final word about punishment.

Apart from Christ, every minute of life is carrying us forward to the day when God’s anger towards sin will be poured out in its fulness. Apart from Christ every sinner will receive the punishment due their sin.

If you have not yet received Christ, you will experience that punishment.

Come to Christ, abandon your efforts of self-righteousness and trust alone in him.

Tom Brown is the planting pastor of Vintage Faith Church in Wichita. Tom and his wife, Mandy, have worked together in ministry for 18 years and have four children. More about Pastor Tom Brown