Sin dealt with once and for all
Our problem is “the handwriting of ordinances.” God has a case against us. Far from being a help, Paul says that “ordinances” are a hindrance. They are not for us but against us. All of the vast machinery of sacrifices and offerings that were such an integral part of the Mosaic Law did not really cancel sin. All it did was cover sin—sweep it under the rug, so to speak (Heb. 10:1–4). Nowhere was this fact more evident than in the elaborate ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). Following is a summary of the “ordinance” of that day of days in the Jewish religious calendar.
1. Ordinances Dealing with Personal Sin (Lev. 16:1–14)
1. The high priest selected a young bullock for a sin offering.
2. He also took a ram for a burnt offering.
3. He washed himself.
4. He put on his holy linen garments.
5. He took two kids of the goats for a sin offering for the congregation.
6. He took a ram for a burnt offering for the congregation.
7. He presented the goats.
8. He cast lots for the goats.
9. He sacrificed his bullock as a sin offering for his personal sin.
10. He took a censer of burning coals.
11. He filled his hands with incense and brought it inside the veil.
12. He took a censer and filled it with live coals off the golden altar.
13. He put the incense on the fire so that the cloud of incense might cover the mercy seat so that he not be killed.
14. He brought the blood of his bullock and sprinkled it before and on the mercy seat.
2. Ordinances Dealing with Public Sin (Lev. 16:15–26)
15. He killed the goat for the people.
16. He went in alone with the blood into the Holy of Holies.
17. He came out and sprinkled the blood on the golden altar in the Holy Place.
18. He took the live goat and laid his hands upon it.
19. He confessed over it all of the sins of the people.
20. He handed the goat over to a “fit” man.
21. The fit man led the goat away into the wilderness.
22. The high priest went back into the tabernacle.
23. He took off his holy linen garments.
24. He washed himself.
25. He put on his garments of glory.
26. He offered his ram as a burnt offering.
27. He offered the people’s ram as a burnt offering.
28. He burnt the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
29. The fit man returned from the wilderness.
30. The fit man washed his clothes.
31. The fit man bathed his flesh.
32. The fit man came into the camp.
3. Ordinances Dealing with Persisting Sin (Lev. 16:27–31)
33. An unknown man took the carcass of the bullock (the high priest’s sin offering) and the carcass of the goat (the people’s sin offering) outside the camp.
34. The unknown man burned the remains of the bullock and the goat, including their skin, flesh, and dung.
35. The unknown man washed his clothes.
36. The unknown man washed his flesh.
37. The unknown man came back into the camp.
38. The people afflicted their souls.
39. The people totally abstained from work.
40. The people were made to recognize that all of this was an unending process—a statute forever.
Such was “the handwriting of ordinances,” elaborate and detailed but most unsatisfactory because it had to be repeated year after year. It was an annual interminable raking up of the sin question. No ordinance could “once and for all” (once for all sin, once for all people, once for all time) take away sin.
John Phillips, Exploring Colossians & Philemon: An Expository Commentary, The John Phillips Commentary Series (Kregel Publications; WORDsearch Corp., 2009), Col 2:14.