Grace For The Journey
Remember that the old covenant is not the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible with 39 books in it. The Old Testament contains the old covenant. The old covenant is specifically the Mosaic covenant, the covenant God made with His people through Moses on Mount Sinai. The old covenant includes all the instructions for how God’s people were to worship God – all the stuff we have been reading about, things about Levitical priests and the priesthood, animal sacrifices, the tabernacle, and so on.
In chapter 9 the writer continues to compare and contrast the old covenant with the new covenant. When we read in verse 1 of chapter 9 about the “first covenant,” the author is writing about the old covenant; “first” in relation to the new covenant. He is contrasting the old Mosaic covenant with the new covenant that comes through Jesus Christ. The first is now being replaced by the new covenant, the “second” one.
We will be reading about the old covenant worship system here – the tabernacle and its furnishings. Details about gold, veils, lamp stands, and so on. The writer is calling attention to the glory of it all – Remember . . .
Where he is going. He will be going on to say that
As glorious as that first covenant is, it is nowhere
Near the glory of the covenant that replaces it,
The second covenant, the new covenant.
When I studied the passage, Edgar Allan Poe’s classic work, The Tell-Tale Heart kept coming to mind. It is a book where the author artfully treats the matter of the guilt-ridden conscience. Poe’s book is especially poignant in this regard with the main character – a guy who murdered an older man and hid the body under the very floor where he is later questioned by the police – certain that he can hear his victim’s heart continuing to beat, even though he knows he is dead. All the while he is being questioned, his conscience is at work and the man continues to hear the victim’s heart beating again and again, ringing in his ears, until at last he confesses to the murder.
The conscience, deep within every person, is that part of us that knows the true us. We may dress up ourselves nicely, even clean ourselves up nicely on the outside but it is the conscience on the inside that reveals who we really are, pointing up our guilt and shame. How can the conscience be treated? How can the conscience be cleansed?
It may not seem like it at first reading, but this is precisely what the writer has in mind here in chapter 9 –
The cleansing of the inner man, the
Cleansing of the guilt-ridden conscience.
What he does is in our passage is to say that
– While the old covenant worship system with
All of its glittering gold and the accompanying
Trappings of so much religious ritual is a
Glorious sight to behold – it is insufficient
To cleanse the conscience.
All of the ceremonial washings cannot wash away the deep-seated sin and guilt that plagues our conscience. It is hard not to think of another classic here, Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth, the murderer who continues to rub her hands together in a futile effort to remove an imaginary spot of blood she is certain all can see on her hands.
The writer of Hebrews is dealing with all of that here in chapter 9. Remember . . .
That his overarching theme is to
Demonstrate how Jesus is better
Than the old covenant system.
The words “better” “more” and “greater” occur 25 times in this letter.
Jesus is the mediator of a better covenant than the old.
His sacrifice accomplishes what all the old covenant sacrifices
Could never accomplish – the cleansing of the conscience.
Let’s see how we can be forgiven and enjoy a free conscience . . .
Verses 1-5 state, “Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary. For a tabernacle was prepared the first part, I which was the lampstand and, the table, and the showbread, which is called the sanctuary; a behind the second veil, the part of the tabernacle which is called the Holiest of All, which had the golden censer and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold, in which were the golden pot that had the manna, Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tablets of the covenant; and above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” These opening verses
The Tabernacle; was what the Israelites took with them wherever they traveled. The Tabernacle in the wilderness became the Temple in Jerusalem, set up the same way. This is what the writer is talking about in verses 1-5; the first part of the Tabernacle contained the lamp-stand, table of showbread, and altar of incense which would lead into the second room separated by the curtain there; in the second part of the Tabernacle, behind the second veil was the Holy of Holies in which was found the ark of the covenant – a chest containing the 10 Commandments, the golden pot with manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded. The writer says “of these things we cannot now speak in detail.” By saying this he is saying that his main point is not to go into detail here. You can do that later if you wish – going back to the latter chapters of Exodus and you can read all about those things. Right now, the writer has more pressing matters to teach.
One of the things he is been teaching is . . .
The limitation of this system.
It was a religious system that
Was restricted to a select few.
The outer courtyard of the Tabernacle prevented anyone from seeing all of this glory of the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. Only the Levitical priests and High Priest could enter these rooms. And only the High Priest was able to go into the Holy of Holies, the inner sanctum of the second room. Only one, the high priest could enter, and then only once a year. Everyone else excluded.
It would be like having a clearance card you wear around your neck like a lanyard. At the very outside of the temple, the court of the Gentiles you swipe your card or hold it up to the scanner and you are given clearance into the court of Gentiles. But if you hoped your card would get you into the tabernacle – let alone the inner sanctum, when you swiped your card to enter those two rooms the machine would flash “Access Denied!”
Verse 6 declares, “Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.” Only the Levitical priests were allowed into the first section where they “performed the services” such as changing out the bread of the presence, the lamp oil, and trimming and lighting the lamps. They also burned incense and offered daily offerings.
Verse 7 declares, “But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance.”
The words, “the second part,” are speaking of the second and final room within the tabernacle, known as the Most Holy Place (Holy of Holies, Holiest of All). It is the room where the items of verses 4 and 5 are described. No one was allowed to enter this room, under sentence of death, with the exception of the consecrated high priest. And even he could only enter “alone once a year.” This was on the Day of Atonement. Even then, there were set restrictions on his entry into this inner room. He was never to come “without blood.”
The shed blood signified that something
Had died in a substitutionary manner
In place of the sin-filled offender.
In this case, it was inclusive of all of the people in Israel, of whom he was not exempt. As it says, “which he offered for himself.”
The high priest of Israel was a sinner. He was born in sin, and he sinned in his life throughout the year. If he came into this room without blood, he would die. This is not because the blood of an animal could actually cover over his sins, but because of the typology which was pointing to Christ’s perfect substitutionary blood, which alone can truly take away sin. And so the high priest first “offered for himself,” and then also “for the people’s sins.”
No person was exempted from this. Leviticus 23, verses 28-32 provides instructions concerning this day are given, “And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God. For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings. It shall be to you a sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your sabbath.”
It can be seen that these instructions come down to a single word for each person in Israel, which is “faith.” A person who did not have faith in what was occurring in the temple in Jerusalem would simply seek other ways to please God and satisfy His righteousness demands. But a person who truly understood his deserved penalty for violating God’s law would be obedient to these precepts on this holiest day of the year. In this, the people acknowledges that their sins were “committed in ignorance.”
In other words, and as an example, King David committed adultery with another man’s wife. He further, then, had that man killed. He knew the law and he knew the penalty for it. But his sin, though understood as such, was regarded as a sin of ignorance because of his heart first having gone astray, and then his remorse over his actions when he was confronted with them. Any person who failed to have this attitude on this most holy of days would not receive atonement, because he failed to acknowledge that his sin was deserving of death. Thus, the blood of the substitute was without meaning to him.
This symbolism follows throughout the Bible. There must be a substitution for the sins people commit. Jesus is that Substitution. It is His blood, and His blood alone, which all of these ordinances and rituals foreshadowed. Without His life in exchange for an individual’s sin, that individual’s life is still under condemnation of that sin and eternal condemnation awaits. Think on this and understand . . .
That you will face God either
On your own merits, or
On those of Jesus Christ.
You will fail on your own;
Or you will prevail in Him.
The phrase, “for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” . . .
Illustrates the depth of
Our sinful depravity.
We often speak of sins of commission and omission (things we know are wrong and we do them anyway and not doing the things we should). We have omitted doing what God has said do. This may seem bad enough but . . .
Our sin is so deep and so pervasive
That we even sin in ignorance.
We do things we do not even
Realize are wrong or that our actions
Note what the writer says in verse about all the glory and majesty of the old covenant, verse 8, “The Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.” The phrase, “the Holy Spirit indicating this…” is one of those golden phrases full of theology. The writer is saying something a powerful truth here about the inspiration of Scripture. All the stuff he has been writing about regarding the temple and service in the temple and all of the teachings of the old covenant in the Old Testament – he is saying that the Holy Spirit is presently indicating what all of that means. Put another way . . .
The Old Testament writings about
The Mosaic Covenant are true
And the Holy Spirit is even now
Showing us what it all means.
Isn’t that great?! What the writer stresses here in verse 8 is this phrase, “that the way into the Holiest of All (or the holy of holies) was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing.” What is He saying?
So long as the old
Covenant Tabernacle –
And later Temple –
There is no way
Anyone was getting
Into the very
Presence of God.
Remember that all of the details of the Jewish Levitical religious system were but copies and shadows of the true reality in heaven. So, if we live only with the copies and shadows, then no one has access to God’s very presence – even the high priest could only enter into the holy of holies just once a year, and that was simply the place where God made His presence known, but it was not a permanent thing! This was all richly symbolic.
Verse 9 states, “It was symbolic for the present time in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered which cannot make him who performed the service perfect in regard to the conscience.” The gifts and sacrifices were temporarily effective in enabling the priest to come before God and act as a mediator, but that was it. They did not have power to cleanse anyone’s conscience. They offered only outward, ceremonial purity.
We have noted before that the offering of animal sacrifices was like paying the minimum monthly payment on a huge credit card debt. The debt gets rolled over each time, but the debt is still there and still requires ultimate payment. Old Testament believers were, in a manner of speaking, living on credit. They were saved by grace through faith just as we are today, but they knew nothing of the satisfaction Jesus Christ would earn through the new covenant such that their hearts could be changed and their conscience cleansed. They lived with an ongoing weight of guilt and conflicted conscience until the next ceremonial cleansing.
Verse 10 says, “Concerned only with foods and drinks, various washings(literally baptisms),and fleshly ordinances imposed until the time of reformation.” I like that word “reformation!” He is not talking about the Protestant Reformation there. He is talking about the time or the age of the New Covenant. He is simply saying that all of these things in the tabernacle were things that prepared the people for the ultimate washing and cleansing to come through Jesus Christ. Without Christ, the Old Covenant is insufficient and incomplete. But now, the earthly sanctuary is replaced with the heavenly sanctuary.
Verse 11 declares, “But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation.” Not of this creation – not a human copy, an earthly copy – but the real thing. Christ comes as the greater High Priest, from a greater and more perfect Tabernacle, the Tabernacle of heaven itself!
Verse 12 states, “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” As the Great High Priest Jesus Christ enters behind the veil, behind the curtain, and offers a sacrifice not with the blood of goats and calves, but with His own blood. He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained an eternal redemption.
We read something of this before back in Chapter 6 and verses 19 and 20, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” When Jesus died on the cross, He offered Himself as an eternal sacrifice for our sin. The Bible tells us that when that happened something happened to that second veil, the second curtain separating the holy place from the Most Holy Place. What happened that curtain? It was torn from top to bottom (Matthew 27:51a) indicating that God has made a way for full access into His very presence – through Christ Jesus. The holiness of God now available to all who come through Christ. Isn’t that amazing? God makes a way for us to enter into His presence through Jesus Christ.
Verses 13 and 14 declare, “For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies(sets apart)for the purifying(cleansing)of the flesh (just the outward flesh, not the inner man, the conscience), how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot(blemish)to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Note the powerful theological truth here, especially when compared with verse 12 where we read of Christ’s obtaining “eternal redemption:” When the writer says, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit” – that is, with reference to His very nature as eternal spirit – how much more shall the shedding of His blood then bring about an eternal cleansing, an eternal redemption. In other words . . .
Because Christ is eternal,
His one sacrificial act
Has the power to accomplish
An eternal redemption.
This truth provides the basis for understanding of the doctrine of eternal security. A Christian’s redemption is eternal because Christ Himself is eternal. Since the redemption to be secured is eternal, then it requires an offering of one who is Himself, by nature, eternal spirit.
That also means that when we read in verse 14 that Jesus “offered Himself” that we know His death on our behalf is part of an eternal plan. His death was not a mistake, not an accident, but an eternal plan that exists permanently and inseparably in His eternal nature. What a mind-blowing truth!
The last phrase of our text tells us that Christ’s blood is that which can “cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The phrase, “dead works” is evident in the ongoing need of animal sacrifice. The high priest does his work in the holy of holies and no sooner than he completes his work and passes back through the curtain does he find himself sinning and all the people sinning, too.
Religious works are “dead works” because they cannot cleanse the conscience from the guilt and stain of sin. And this impedes our joy. We have no joy in worship because we have guilt-ridden consciences. We know our sin. We know our guilt. And it affects everything. We cannot sing to the Lord and we have no joy as long as we are plagued by guilt. We have hurt the one who loves us. When you are guilty of doing wrong against someone, you cannot celebrate or rejoice. A guilty conscience leads to guilty feet. Sin affects your whole body. When the conscience is overburdened with guilt, worship is impossible.
It is like washing your car. You know you can’t keep your car clean, right? It gets dirty so quickly. You may run in through the car wash and dry it. And on the way home you drive through a puddle, or it begins to rain, or you drive through a construction site. It gets dirty again really quickly. You have got to keep going back to the car wash. It never ends.
The writer of Hebrews is saying that if you are relying on the Old Covenant as a means of perfection, completion, and cleansing your conscience, it never ends. You have got to keep going back again and again and again to wash away the dirt of sin. To carry the analogy a bit further, what you really need is a car wash that can so wash your car that it not only makes it look shiny and new on the outside – but shiny and new on the inside! That’s the new covenant. It changes the heart, you see. It provides and inner, spiritual cleansing and the cleansing of the conscience.
The Mosaic system could never cleanse the conscience, could never grant the peace and joy of a clean conscience. What can wash away my sin? The blood of animal sacrifices? No. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! That’s right! The blood of Jesus. Blood, which indicates the death of the victim, also symbolically represents the giving of life on behalf of another.
That is where the mercy seat, the covering of the Ark of the Covenant comes in. The word for mercy seat means something that propitiates or atones. There was theological significance in that the mercy seat was the part of the Ark that was sprinkled with the blood of sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. In the Book of Romans the Apostle Paul applies the word to the death of Christ. He writes in Romans 3:25, “whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood …” This is why Jesus speaks as He does during that last supper in the Gospels. He takes the cup and says, “This cup is the new covenant (new!) in My blood which is shed for you,” shed for the forgiveness of sin. The hymn’s refrain is the believer’s rejoicing, “What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”
How is your conscience? What did you do last night? What did you see? What thoughts were going on in your head? Is your conscience clean? What of that recurring sin that robs you of joy – you cannot even look at your spouse without feeling the pang of guilt inside. Ah, the beauty of the wonderful truth: “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins, and sinners plunged beneath that flood lose all their guilty stains.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”