The story is told in Greek mythology of Sisyphus, a conniver so cunning that he bargained his way out of a punishing afterlife. When this master manipulator reneged on his promise to the gods, however, he was condemned to an eternal grind of complete futility and frustration—forever pushing a large boulder to the top of a hill, only for it to roll back to the bottom every time it reached its peak.
The experience of the Old Testament priests was similar in ways, though not nearly as burdensome and not at all meaningless. The writer of Hebrews explained it this way: “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same religious sacrifices, which can never take away sins [emphases added]” (Hebrews 10:11). Day after day, again and again, yet without finality. On the surface, theirs seemed a futile undertaking, the stuff of tragedy, but in God’s grand plan it was not. For each daily ritual exposed the futility of every one of its predecessors as well as all yet to come, in effect silently and steadily proclaiming the universal need for one eternal mediator and one sufficient sacrifice.
Of course, Jesus fulfilled our desperate need as only He could. He came and lived a perfect life, offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice, and He intercedes forever as our perfect priest. Our sins are gone, our punishment departed with them. We have no need to fear, no need to doubt, and every reason to live freely as the permanently purchased people of God. Yet from our position of safety, we soberly reflect on our days of striving outside of Christ, and we remember those who still do. Do you recall trying to be good enough for God through your own effort? Day after day, billions of people still set their shoulder to that boulder. Were there times when you just hoped your good deeds outnumbered your bad ones, so you might eventually prevail in an up-hill battle for righteousness? Again and again, so many still struggle to please God through their own sacrifices, only to see the weight of their wrongs come crashing down on them yet one more time.
For these and for all people, we have a great message of good news—our loving God has already done for us what we cannot do ourselves. Christ surrendered His life as our sacrifice, and He intercedes for us as our high priest. Our eternity does not loom as a boulder so crushingly rolling down upon us; it lives as a tombstone refreshingly rolled away before us. In this certainty, we thank our God, again and again; in this freedom, we share our hope, day after day.
God, your ways are wonderful and your love ever-fresh. Thank you for taking my punishment upon yourself, for delivering me from futility, for setting me free forever. Grace me to share your life with others, and grace others to find new life in you. Amen.
[Click here to read today’s Scripture in Hebrews 10:5-18.]