Hebrews 9. Theme: Jesus, priest of the heavenly Tabernacle.
Sermon by Pastor David Williams. Strathalbyn Church of Christ. 21 Nov 2021.
The image and the reality
Do you find it hard to imagine what God is like? When it comes to understanding God and ourselves, we have two problems.
1. We are creatures. We cannot conceive what life and reality are like outside our earth and our universe. By the way, this is one of the big problems with atheism. Even if humanity is ever able to discover how life and the universe came about, God will remain a mystery. Even the best science and philosophy can never discover the reality of God for he is outside our universe. He is by definition not observable. So that is our first problem, we are creatures, he is Creator.
2. Our second problem is that we are creatures who are in rebellion against our Creator. Our every thought, action and desire are tainted with sin. A profoundly blind person will never understand the marvel of a sunset for he cannot see it. We cannot truly understand ourselves or God for we cannot truly see either. Sin blinds us to the truth. We live in ignorance of the truth for we are mere creatures, and we are rebels. Between us and the truth is a chasm we cannot cross.
But God helps us in our ignorance. He has given us earthy images that represent heavenly realities. A girl who has never seen the sea will look at a picture of it and try to imagine it. She will gain some truth from the picture. The sea is blue, it has hills and troughs, ships can float on it. This is all true, but it also falls so far short of truly experiencing the sea - the sound of the breakers, the taste and smell of the salt spray, the joy of sailing through the waves. The reality is far more beautiful, yet at the same time far more terrifying, than she could ever imagine.
Today’s passage is about earthly images that are copies or reflections of heavenly realities. Through these earthly images we get a glimpse of who God is and who we are, and of how Jesus’ death bridged the chasm between us. What would we lose if we tossed out the OT? So much of our understanding of God, of Jesus and of his salvation would be lost to us – it would remain forever a mystery. Do you like watching murder mysteries? Just think what it would be like if you tuned in near the end - just before the detective revealed the murderer. You would feel short changed. There is so much of the story – the characters, the motives, the methods – that would be a mystery to you. So, we ignore the OT at our peril.
Today’s talk will cover
· Images of sacrifice
· The real sacrifice
· Blood sacrifice.
1. Images of sacrifice
In the wilderness, Moses was commanded to make a special tent. The tent or tabernacle was a holy place – a special place set apart for God. Later, God commanded Solomon to build a temple – it had features in common with the tent; both were built according to God’s pattern (Ex 26:30; 1 Ch 28:11-12, 19). God would dwell with his people by being present in a special section of the tent called the holiest of holies. The tent contained some holy objects including the mercy seat. These objects reminded Israel of God’s holiness. It also reminded Israel how unworthy they were to come to God because of their sin. Once a year, blood was sprinkled over the mercy seat to make atonement for sin (Lv 16:14). But this sacrifice was limited. As solemn and awesome as it was, it fell short in two ways. It only gave limited access and was limited in its effect.
Only priests could enter the outside tent (Ex 30:19-21; Nu 18:21-22). Anyone else who tried would be put to death. But in the holiest of holies, only the high priest could enter, and then only once a year. Even Aaron the first high priest was warned that he would be put to death if he tried to enter at any other time (Lev 16:2). But even this access was limited because “the way into the most holy place had not yet been disclosed while the first tent was still standing”, Heb 9:8. The Old covenant system remained in place.
It was like going to the movies and getting as far as the ticket booth and having to be content with just staring at a poster of the film. It fell far short of having an intimate relationship with God.
Animal sacrifices went on day after day in Israel, not just on this special day. You would think that with all the animal sacrifices, this must have cleaned up a lot of guilty consciences. Well not really. To start with even the High Priest needed cleansing before he could ask forgiveness for the sins of others. The High Priest took “blood, which he offers for himself and for the sins of the people”, v7.
And all it did was to cover ritual sins and unintentional sins. Sins like forgetting to wash properly, or accidental sins. It did not deal with intentional sins, wilful sins. The High Priest took “blood, which he offers for … the sins of the people committed in ignorance”, v7.
This created a huge problem for King David. Remember, he plotted the death of Uriah so he could get away with sleeping with Uriah’s wife Bathsheba. He did repent, but under the Old Covenant, there was no solution for his crimes. The Old Covenant had nothing to say about brazen intentional sins like his sins. That is why in his great psalm of confession he cried out, “My sin is ever before me” and “For you will not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it”. Instead threw himself on God’s mercy, “Have mercy on me O God … according to your abundant mercy, blot out my transgressions”, Ps 51:1, 3, 16.
These sacrifices, as they were so limited in effect, could not give peace to guilty consciences but only dealt with minor and ritualistic breaches.
9 … the gifts and sacrifices that the priests offer are not able to cleanse the consciences of the people who bring them. 10 For that old system deals only with food and drink and various cleansing ceremonies—physical regulations that were in effect only until a better system could be established.
They could not bring peace to guilty consciences.
2. The real sacrifice
Into this very limited system, the Messiah appeared_._ He appeared at just the right time – when _a better system could be established,_ v10. That is, he appeared at the right time in history - in the history of salvation. God needed to prepare his way by first creating the Old Covenant system so that Israel would be looking forward to the Messiah and the realities that the Old Covenant was pointing to. Unlike that system, Christ’s sacrifice brought full access to God and it was fully effective.
11 So Christ … has entered that greater, more perfect tent in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. 12 With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever.
Rather than a tent “made by hands”, Jesus went “through the greater, more perfect tent” to the throne room of heaven itself. He entered, not with the make-believe blood of goats, but “with his own blood”. Before this, access was limited to one man for one day – year after year. The High Priest would stand nervously for a few minutes before the mercy seat. But now our great high priest has entered once for all. Having entered, he sat down at God’s right hand, never to leave. Through our High Priest, not just the priests, but all who believe in him have full access to God at any time. And not just into a tent either. For,“God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…”, Eph 2:6,7. Notice it does not say, God will raise us, and God will seat us. No, it has already happened. In faith, that is where we are now. We are already raised, we are already seated with him in the heavenly realms. We have full access to God in Christ.
13 Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. 14 Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a sacrifice without blemish for our sins.
The High Priest first had to plead forgiveness for himself, but Jesus was “without blemish”, v14. The High Priest could only deal with accidental and ceremonial sins – his sacrifice could only cleanse people’s bodies, v13. But Jesus’ sacrifice dealt with all sin – to purify our consciences, v14_._ Unlike the High Priest who had to offer sacrifices again and again, Jesus’ sacrifice was _once for all time_, yet effective for all eternity - _securing our redemption forever_, v12.
The Jews watched the high priest lay his hands on the scapegoat, and then they watched the goat walk away, carrying their sins with them (Lev 16:21-22). Christ however, was the scapegoat who truly carried our sins. Place your guilt on Christ’s head today. Watch him carry it away – never to be seen again. You can live with a clear conscience for Christ has carried your guilt away.
3. Blood sacrifice
How did Jesus accomplish all of this? Through his blood.
Jesus’ sacrifice is very unpopular today.
a. We don’t like death, blood, and violence.
b. An innocent person dying for me seems unfair.
c. It hurts our pride. Surely, I’m not that bad that I deserve death? Even if I am, can’t I save myself?
Many so-called Church leaders condemn the Bible’s teaching. I gather there is a local reading group that loves to read Bishop Spong. Spong said the Bible’s teaching makes God “barbaric”. Steve Chalke called it “Cosmic child abuse. A vengeful Father punishing his Son for an offense he has not even committed." But objections to Christ crucified are not new. It was a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:18-25).
The answer to critics
The response can be put simply in these four arguments:
1. God has to deal with sin.
· As a Holy God, he cannot tolerate sin;
· No King can allow rebellion; and
· In his love & justice he must right wrongs.
2. Sin deserves death
· As pointed out earlier, our sin blinds our judgment. As sinners we cannot judge ourselves, let alone judge God
· We deserve to die. We are in no position to argue. There is something pathetic, even amusing at the rage of those justly condemned in court – raging against the judge who gives them justice. True, some are unjustly condemned. But God never makes that mistake. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? (Gen 18:25). How can we possibly argue against our just sentence?
3. In God’s oneness, the Son took our place.
· God’s anger was fully spent on himself.
· God - Father, Son and Spirit – were all in agreement, and all suffered together.
4. From this we must conclude, God is truly loving, holy and just.
You couldn’t make this up. Who could ever invent such a concept? These truths are truly amazing and give us such hope.
What the Bible teaches about Jesus’ sacrifice
Colin Buchanan has a great kid’s song called “Big words that end in shun” –
words like salva-shun, resurrect-shun, and revela-shun. Two other words he uses and defines are:
· Substitution - Jesus takes our place.
Unlike the bishop mentioned earlier, Colin is being true to the Bible. The idea of Jesus as our substitute occurs appears in Heb 9:28: “Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many …”. Other references including some that speak of his blood or wounding as our sacrifice are Romans 3:23-25, Isa 53:5f., 2 Cor 5:21, Gal 3:13, Rom 3:23-25 and 1 Pet 2:24.
· Propitiation – God’s anger turned away.
This is even more controversial than substitution. Some say, “how can a loving God get angry?” But propitiation is also a biblical concept and can be simply explained. What loving parent does not get angry when his children suffer at the hands of evil people? Would we really want a God who would ignore the crimes of Pol Pot and Hitler? Don’t we all yearn to see justice done? If we as sinners want this, how much more the holy creator?
Blood is sprinkled on the mercy seat to propitiate – turn away God’s anger – against sin (Lev 16:13-16). This idea is extended to Christ in Hebrews 2:17, “… our merciful and faithful High Priest … made propitiation for the sins of the people”.
We may think, isn’t it good that we don’t live under the old covenant anymore with all those brutal animal sacrifices – so gory, so superstitious even. And gory it was. The Temple in Jerusalem was effectively a slaughterhouse with dozens of sacrifices every day. A trench had to be cut alongside the temple to take the blood away beyond the city walls.
Yet blood is an essential part of Christ’s sacrifice. Like the girl with the painting of the sea – the reality was so much more profound and yet so much more terrible. This will not be news to most of you here in the country, but the slaughter of an animal by a swift stroke through the neck is so sudden and virtually painless. In seconds the animal’s life is gone as the blood flows out. Yet with Christ, the pain and blood flowed for hours. At Gethsemane his sweat became “like great drops of blood”, Lk 22:44. The flogging was so brutal that many did not survive. Add the crown of thorns and Jesus was already in a state of shock from blood loss before the nails were driven into his wrists and feet. For six hours he hung on the cross, bleeding continuously. This was a sacrifice so much more terrible than any of the images that went before it. And yet it was so much more profound.
Blood is mentioned 12 times in this passage. For instance, The High Priest enters … but once a year and never without blood, v7. In other words, everything had to be covered by the blood – for God’s forgiveness and cleansing. So it is for Christ’s blood – everything in our lives needs his cleansing and forgiveness: our thoughts, desires and prayers, our actions and works, our relationships and ministry.
“… without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”, v22. Why is that? Why the focus on blood? Blood is a major theme in both Old and New Testaments. The lamb slain in the Exodus had the blood sprinkled on the door frames so that the angel of death would not slay the first born. So significant was the following Passover meal that the Hebrews were forbidden to eat the blood. For “the Life of a creature is in the blood”, Lev 17:11-14. This served as a reminder to them that the blood of the sacrifice saved their own lives. This pointed to the lamb of God who would truly take away sins and avert God’s wrath by dying in our place – by giving his blood, for our lives.
Purchased with his blood
Consider what a costly sacrifice was made for you and for me. In speaking of the cost, the term most commonly used is not that Jesus gave his “life”, or that he gave “himself”, but that he gave his “blood”. With that cost comes ownership:
you were ransomed … not with perishable things such as silver or gold, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, 1 Pet 1:18-19.
You were bought at a price, do not become slaves of men, 1 Cor 7:23.
Being bought by Christ, what business have we to allow our bodies to be enslaved by anything else? God created us. Jesus purchased us with his blood. We are temples of the Holy Spirit. Our bodies belong to God three times over! How will use your body to glorify and serve God this week?
Thankyou Jesus, our great high priest, that your sacrifice was no sham, no pretence, but the real deal. You really suffered. You really shed your blood. Your death really wiped out my sins. Help me to live for you, for you who died to give me life. Amen.
· Adam, P. (2004). The Majestic Son: Reading Hebrews today. Sydney South: Aquila.
· Stott, J. R. W. (2021). The Cross of Christ. IVP
 Steve Chalke, Alan Mann, The Lost Message of Jesus (Zondervan, 2003) p. 182