In these moving lines, it was not David that spoke anticipating his greater Son and Lord as much as the Son of God speaking directly and personally through David as his mouthpiece. It was the Spirit of Christ who spoke through David, Christ himself through his Spirit (1 Pet. 1:11). Psalm 40 is our Savior’s personal testimony of suffering, hope, and salvation. We might have trouble seeing how he could affirm verse 12, but this trouble instantly evaporates when we think of him upon the cross. He became sin for us. On that bloody hill, he was surrounded by innumerable evils, and he took our iniquities upon himself so that they became his. Their burden made it impossible for him to lift his head. He suffered in this way to deliver us from the wrath and curse of God. He obtained complete victory over sin and death. His Father heard his cries because he humbled himself unto death. He now, as he anticipated on the cross with crying hope, proclaims God’s righteousness to us in the great congregation of his church. He announced his coming, glorified his Father through pouring out his soul unto death, and now proclaims gospel righteousness to us this morning. His sacrifice alone takes away our sins, and if we would share in the fruits of his sacrifice and his victory, we must believe upon his name and hold fast to him.
The Old Covenant Shadows Pointed to Him (vv. 1-4)
Not the Good Things (v. 1)
The main truth of these lines is that only Christ’s sacrifice takes away our sins. The law, here the old covenant with its system of sacrifices, priests, and various cleansings, were a shadow of the good things he has now brought with him. The contrast is between the “shadow” and the “very image,” the very substance of what was promised. The old covenant was thoroughly and completely Christ-directed, for without him, it was meaningless. Yet, it could not bring the good things to which it pointed. Those good things are the establishing of perfect righteousness and peace with God through Jesus’ obedience and sacrifice. It includes every other blessing – complete forgiveness of sins, redemption obtained, the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, a conscience assured of cleansing and peace with God, and the Spirit of adoption who bears witness that we are God’s sons and daughters. The sacrifices and priests God ordained pointed the faithful to these things as types or shadows.
No Perfect Conscience (vv. 1-2)
They could not, however, make the worshipper perfect in his conscience toward God. He was outwardly cleansed by his obedient coming to God and offering the required sacrifices. He was legally right, but animal blood could not remove his sins so as to give him firm and unassailable assurance of forgiveness. The repetition of the sacrifices taught the worshipper that these sacrifices were insufficient. God had commanded them, but a better and more perfect sacrifice was coming, as the law bore witness and the prophets make explicit. This is the reason for the negative assessment of the sacrificial system found in the following lines. God commanded them and established the older covenant “because of transgressions” (Gal. 3:19), to impress upon his people the gravity of sin, the inflexibility of his justice, and his gracious provision of a better way. But those sacrifices could not take away sin. Had they been able to bring the worshipper to perfection by cleansing his conscience, would they not have ceased?
There is a glorious truth contained in the last line of verse 2: “no more conscience of sins,” no more “awareness of sin,” a conviction that his sins are fully removed. Let us take in this astounding observation. God’s gracious and loving purpose toward sinners, typified by the old covenant sacrifices and now brought to perfection in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is to settle our consciences in firm peace. God is satisfied. We are forgiven. There is no more condemnation, for Jesus Christ has taken our sins, sheathed the sword of justice that was hanging over us like the sword of Damocles, and brought us near to God by his blood. We are fully cleansed. He “made peace through the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:20). We must not attempt to atone for sins or think that God is not fully favorable with us until we are better people. He is satisfied with us. He sees his Son’s perfect sacrifice, receives his advocacy for us, and has thrown our iniquities into the depths of the sea. He does not hold them against us or remember them. In Christ, we are presented “holy, unblameable, and unreprovable in his sight” (Col. 1:22). Bless God for his mercy! Let us never contemplate for one second turning away from Christ, however strongly the evil one and his worldly tormentors may oppress us. If we leave Christ, we forsake our own mercy (Jonah 2:8).
No Forgetting or Taking Away of Sin (vv. 3-4)
But in the sacrifices prescribed by the law, there was a continual remembrance made of sin. God was pleased to keep his church in anticipation of a better day, a better sacrifice, and a better covenant. Most ardently did Abraham and David long for Christ’s day (John 8:56; Psalm 110:1-4). With increasingly clarity the prophets encouraged the people not to trust in the sacrifices of the old covenant but in the sacrifice of the Servant of the Lord, whose name is “THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS” (Isa. 53; Jer. 23:5). Animal blood cannot satisfy the justice of God, and therefore it cannot cleanse the sinner’s conscience. God’s great covenant promise was a coming day when sin would be taken away, an end of transgression made, and everlasting righteousness and peace established (Dan. 9:24). Without such a sacrifice, God cannot forget our sins, and we must perish in hell forever. God’s great design in the promise of redemption, the legal types in the old covenant, and now in Jesus Christ, is the restoration of perfect fellowship between him and us!
He Announced His Coming (vv. 5-7)
In the Scriptures that Spoke of Him
Psalm 40 was thus a pivotal development in the history of redemption and of revelation, as well as in the history of the world. Without these lines and the Savior who spoke them, the whole world would continue to lie under the power of the wicked one. A millennium before he came, he spoke, anticipating his coming. He spoke of his coming into the world. So central was his coming that he spoke then of his coming as a present reality and the only hope of sinners. He spoke in the Scriptures. Some foolish men try to drive a wedge between Christ and the Bible, as if one’s faith in Jesus Christ is independent of the truthfulness and reliability of the Scriptures. They do this to avoid combatting critics and to establish a more mystical foundation of faith. It is lazy man’s faith. There is no other clear knowledge of Christ to be found and therefore no solid foundation for faith to be had but in the Scriptures. He is the eternal Word, the promised Mediator, who spoke through the written word. The Bible and Jesus stand or fall together. Otherwise, the Jesus we know is but a chimera of our imagination, a mystical, subjective encounter, without definition or form other than what the individual desires. Praise God that this is not the faith of Jesus! He came opening and reading the Scriptures that he gave through his Spirit speaking through the prophets (Luke 4:17). He came fulfilling all righteousness and being led at every point to obey all that had been written, all that he had spoken. The Old Testament, therefore, is just as much his word as the New (Luke 24:27). God’s power resides in his word to make us perfect for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
When He Came as the Promised Savior
And what did he say? The crux of Psalm 40:6-8 as quoted and interpreted by the Spirit through the apostle, is that God had no pleasure in the old covenant sacrifices. They were commanded, and they served their typical purpose, but they could not take away sin. Did God delight in animal blood? All the prophets unite to say “NO!” They kept the worshipper conscious of his sin and taught him that blood must be shed to atone for his sins, but they could neither satisfy God’s justice nor appease the sinner’s conscience. And thus, the Son of God announced at his coming, “I am the only acceptable sacrifice for sins. I am the Lamb of God. I give my flesh for the life of the world. And in saying this, he announced the arrival of perfection: perfect righteousness, full forgiveness, the end of transgression by my obedience and sufferings, and the opening of heaven to all who repent and believe my gospel.” Thus, all the law and the prophets bore witness to his coming and his great salvation and perfect sacrifice and promised age of redemption (Acts 10:43).
He Gave Himself for Us (vv. 5-10)
In the Body Prepared for Him (v. 5)
That he came “in the body prepared for him” should fill us with wonder. The Hebrew text reads, “My ears you have opened or bored,” but the Septuagint has altered this to the present reading. This change may have occurred retrospectively in the light of the apostle’s text. We should always remember that the Spirit is free to give the fuller sense of his own words, which is the view I take of the difference. “My ears you have opened” is a declaration of submission to the will of his Father. He will come as the obedient Servant of the Lord. The only Savior that can take away our sins must be appointed by the Father, and he must be a willing and worthy sacrifice. The Jews were constantly disobedient, stubborn in the extreme. The apostle under the leading of the Spirit enlarges this to his whole man. The reason his “body” will take away our sins is because he “always does those things that please his Father” (John 8:29). He had an open ear, a submissive will, obedient hands, and a loving heart. Only in this way do we learn how worthy is the sacrifice of the Son of God, how infinitely low he sank to recover us from the miry pit of sins, and how fervently we must cling to him. He gave his flesh for our salvation – his perfectly obedient and consecrated body. In body and soul we are corrupt; in body and soul, the Lamb of God gave himself for us.
In Submission to the Will of His Father (vv. 7,9)
“Behold, I come to do thy will!” What tears and agony of soul his consecration to his Father cost him! His love and our redemption did not come cheaply. His constant temptations and assaults from the evil one, his humiliation and mistreatment at the hands of sinners, his agony in Gethsemane – he did God’s will. This is what we did not, would not, and could never do, for we are born slaves of sin and Satan. Our last thought is to confess, “Thy will, not mine, O God.” It was his first thought, his dominating passion. God had no pleasure in the old covenant sacrifices, but he took infinite pleasure in the obedience of his Son (Phil. 2:9-11). He saw the travail of his soul, and was satisfied (Isa. 53:11). Why did our Savior take such meticulous pains to obey the will of his Father? Why did he refuse the easier way Satan offered to him? Why did he become obedient to such a death as the cross? God takes pleasure in obedience (1 Sam. 15:22), and only an obedient, submissive substitute can take away our sins. In his obedience lies our salvation, all our righteousness before God, a reconciled God and Judge, a loving Father, an open heaven, our constant help and assurance.
To Take Away Our Sins (vv. 6,8)
Against all the false prophets of a Savior who merely gave a moral example of love or made a show of going through the cross or who designs to make men outwardly better, we learn that he came to take away our sins. If only we could gain a sense of the evil of sin, how it offends God, destroys men and nations, creates havoc and confusion, and murders men by leaving them under Satan’s slavery and delusions, we would never leave the foot of the cross or adopt lower views of the purpose of Christ’s coming into the world. He did not come to make us morally better or to found a new religion. He came to bear away evil, our sins and curse. It is sin that destroyed the old world in a watery grave. It was sin that left the vast majority of the ancient world languishing under tyranny and world empires that crushed men under slavery and constant fear. It was a sinful abuse of the old covenant that deceived most of the Jews to turn their religion into external conformity and ceremonial rituals. Jesus Christ came to abolish sin by his perfect sacrifice. He would not leave us under the dominion of sin but broke its hold over us by becoming sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 6:1-14). Never can we praise and please him sufficiently for this! Yes, we love and adore him, but when love grows cold, it is rekindled only by going back to Calvary. The Son of God laid down his life for us, bore our hell and judgment, suffering untold agonies of body and soul, and stood surety for us before the righteous Judge in heaven. “If you love me,” he said. Will we not love him, immediately turn to him as our only Savior, and cling to him no matter what? There is deliverance from sin in him only. No other name, no other Savior can destroy the sin that will destroy us forever unless we leave the camp of the world and come out to him.
To Consecrate Us to God (v. 10)
By his submission to his Father’s will, his obedience unto death, he has consecrated us to God. His obedience and sacrifice have a far greater power than simply to fill us with sentiment or give us a set of spiritual principles so that we can lead a higher spiritual life. Jesus Christ delivers us from the kingdom of darkness and makes us God’s own possession (Col. 1:13). The “sanctification” set forth here is a definitive (perfect tense verb) setting apart to God. When we believe upon his name and repent of our sins, we are no longer defined by sin. We are no longer Satan’s captives, his dupes and slaves. We are God’s holy ones. The ransom price of our deliverance was his precious blood. This change is sealed by the indwelling Spirit, so that no one can pluck us out of our Father’s hand. The offering of our Savior’s body on the cross changes our entire status, destiny, and relationship with God. His obedient sacrifice alone has this power to change us so dramatically, even to raise us up with him so that we are seated with him in heaven, reign with him, and may draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. We feel much sin still in us, but sin is not our master. Jesus Christ has delivered us. We are the redeemed, blood-washed, and Spirit-filled children of our Father in heaven. When we sin, he remains our heavenly advocate, securing our complete forgiveness (1 John 1:9-2:2).
Our enjoyment of the consecrating power of Christ’s sacrifice grows over time, but we must not allow our present imperfection to blunt the force of the definitive setting apart to God that we currently enjoy. Perhaps we should say it like this. When our children sin, they do not cease being our children. Nor do they become our children after they prove sufficiently faithful to merit a place in the family. God does not view us in this fashion. He views us as already his, already washed, already righteous, already adopted into his family, heirs of heaven, his dwelling place by the Spirit. When Jesus Christ appeared in heaven for us, he presented us to God holy and without blame and impossible to condemn (Col. 1:22)! As it turns out, this becomes the greatest motivation to pursue consecration to Christ, not to win your place in heaven or measure up to him. No, we consider what he has done, his finished work, his perfect work, the place of perfection to which he has brought us. Understanding this clearly, believing him, adoring him for all that he has done for us, we stand amazed at his love. Love leads to obedience. Nothing else but love for Christ, his love apprehended by us and our loving him for his love, is so powerful to change our affections and set us to obeying him with joyful hearts.
Once for All (v. 10)
It is the profound truth of the accomplished nature of redemption that the apostle wanted to stress with the Hebrews. He wrote in effect, “You are thinking about going back to the old forms, the imperfect, shadowy state of things under the law? You want to have your sins remembered constantly and enjoy no peace of conscience or sense of God’s love and favor? Then, by all means, let go of Christ and retreat into the shadows of an obsolete religion and covenant to save your skins.” But let us once take in the truth that Jesus Christ offered himself once for all, for all at once, with his sacrifice never losing any of its power to bring us to God, blot out our sins, and secure an open heaven, and none but a madman would leave him. A man can leave such a Savior only if he never really knew and gave himself to him. The Spirit did not fear that revealing Christ’s finished work would lead them to adopt casual views of discipleship or to hold even more loosely to Christ than they were. No, he knew that the best way to solidify and encourage redeemed hearts is to present more of the unsearchable riches and glory of Christ.
The historically accomplished nature of Christ’s redemption and his setting us apart to God by offering his body on the cross is one of the most important gospel truths. Many divergent forms of the Christian faith do not believe this and make room for further obedience we offer, or rituals we observe, or sacrifices made by a human priest. And then there is also the strong emphasis upon obedience to God that can often be turned into guilt-manipulation on the part of preachers. Believers, however, should not be discouraged by their sins so that they think Christ has not saved them completely or that they must make up a lack in his work. Instead, we must recognize that the reason we can make direct appeal to him and come to the Father in his name to receive forgiveness – on the spot, full, joyful mercy and cleansing – is because his offering is perfect and our status with God secure. Assurance of God’s favor in the finished work of Christ is thus the power beyond all holiness, obedience, and patient endurance of hardship for Christ’s name and kingdom. We are loved, forgiven, cleansed, admitted into heaven, loved, treasured, and indwelled by God. He will not lose us or turn away from us ever. This is because of what Jesus Christ did once for us on the tree. Let us sing and wonder, love and obey, fight and pray. Jesus loves us, and he came to deliver us from sin and make us God’s own possession. Hallelujah, what a Savior!