Posts Tagged 'Holy of Holies'

Jesus as Priest

priest

In all, Jesus Christ fulfills three offices: Prophet, Priest, and King. Last time we took a look at Jesus the last prophet – the prophet like Moses. It’s no wonder our Lord wanted His people to celebrate Communion and to remember His broken Body; broken for you. Not only is Jesus the Law Giver, He is also the Bread of Life – the new Moses. Moses was raised up out of Israel – the fulfillment of God’s promise. Like Moses, Jesus is leading us, His people, into the spiritual promised land.

But not only is Jesus the last prophet, He is also our priest. If the job of the prophet is to speak for God; to deliver the Word of God to the people, then the job of the priest is to provide access to God for the people.  On Mount Sinai, God gave Moses the Law. This was how God’s people of that day were to serve Him – by simply obeying that Law. But there was a caveat. The people couldn’t pick and choose which points of the Law to obey and which ones to ignore: they were to obey all points of the Law. It was an all or nothing proposition. If you wanted to be counted as a child of God, then you were on the hook to keep the whole Law. If you did that, great blessings awaited you. But if you broke just one point of the Law, God would not bless you and you would lose the joy a relationship with Him.

Of course, everybody broke God’s Law. That was by design. It’s not that God was being mean or pulling some kind of cruel prank on His people, it’s that the people were to learn something. God knew all about the weaknesses of His people, and He made special provision for those who broke His Law: a sacrifice could be offered and the relationship restored.

For centuries this was how it worked. Under the Levitical laws, the people of God had access to Him through the sacrifice of sheep, goats, turtledoves, and so on. For now, it was the ritual kept the doors of Heaven open. But when Christ came, everything changed.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:11 – 14 TNIV)

The old way

The “old way” was given by God to His people.

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. (Hebrews 9:1 TNIV)

The first covenant was given at Mount Sinai and was chock full of rules and regulations for worship, and the plans for an earthly sanctuary. How the services were to take place was outlined by the Lord and they were to be conducted in the Tabernacle. The Sanctuary, part of the Tabernacle, had two parts. When the priest entered from the outer court, he would first come into the Holy Place. This Holy Place contained the seven-branched candlestick, which illuminated the room, and a table which contained the “bread of the presence,” twelve loaves of bread which represented the twelve tribes of Israel.

From the Holy Place, once a year the high priest would pass through a veil, and enter the Most Holy Place, or The Holy of Holies. The was the very private room in which the ark of the covenant sat. It was the most holy object of the Jewish faith. And here, once a year, every year, the high priest would sprinkle the sacrificial blood on the lid or the mercy seat of the ark.

That happened once a year, but every day, day in and day out, priests would enter into and work in and around the Holy Place, but the Holy of Holies was the “throne room” of Yahweh. Only the high priest could go into that room; only he could approach the ark of the covenant. But, he could only do this once a year. He couldn’t go in any time he wanted to. And when he entered, he had to bring a bloody sacrifice with him. This blood was offered for his sins and the sins of the people.

On this very special Day of Atonement, the high priest used two goats for a very special ritual.  First, there was the “scapegoat.” Upon this unfortunate animal, all the sins of the people were laid. It was all symbolic, of course, and the goat – this innocent goat – was led out into the wilderness, where he would carry the sins of the people away from the camp.

Second, the other goat became the sacrifice. It was taught that “the life is in the blood,” and this was the central idea of the sacrificial system. This poor animal that had done nothing wrong, had to die so that it’s blood could be taken and sprinkled on the altar and, symbolically, sprinkled on the people. Remember, the life was in the blood – it was in that blood – and God and the people partook of the same life in the sacrificial animal. These two disparate parties were thus brought together, or united, in this manner. Through this blood, they were made one, hence the name of this sacrifice: atonement.

The new way

For generations and generations, this was what happened. From the Tabernacle to the Temple, down through the centuries, these bloody yet meaningful sacrifices took place. The very fact that the Day of Atonement had to be observed every year showed its weakness. The priestly ministry ordained by God didn’t go all the way in meeting the need. It was inadequate. Everything the priests and the high priest did was all external and formal. It was right and proper for the priests and the high priest to do what they did – they were doing what God prescribed be done. It was right and proper that the people participate – they, like the priests, were doing what God told them to do – but it wasn’t enough. The meticulous observation of the law was, as the apostle Paul discovered, empty and altogether unsatisfactory.

If others think they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. (Philippians 3:4 – 6 TNIV)

So, what was the point of it all? The law was to show the people that they needed something more and it served to prefigure a better system found in Jesus Christ. The old way didn’t fail the people; it succeeded in its purpose:

So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. (Galatians 3:24, 25 TNIV)

But then, along came Christ!  When Jesus Christ came, He made the difference. His work on the Cross changed everything. What He did was superior in every way to the old way. The writer to the Hebrews gives a number of contrasts to show why Jesus’ was way superior:

Contrast One: the location.

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. (Hebrews 9:11 TNIV)

The priests did their work here on earth, in a localized place, for a certain group of people. Jesus did His work in the realm of the spirit. It’s true that Jesus was crucified and died on earth for everybody to see, but the work that set man free was all done in the heavenly Temple. His work was a spiritual work that met man’s greatest need. That need is universal – all men everywhere have a need only Jesus could meet. He needed a bigger tabernacle!

Contrast Two: the blood.

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place… (Hebrews 9:12a TNIV)

The priests in the earthly Holy of Holies used the blood of goats and calves. Animals! They used the blood of animals to cleanse human beings. You don’t have to think about it too long before you realize that animal blood was wholly inadequate. Jesus Christ entered the heavenly Most Holy Place by means His own blood, shed on the Cross. His blood is the superior blood; the only blood that could enter Heaven.

Contrast Three: the once-for-all sufficiency of Christ’s work.

he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12b TNIV)

Jesus only needed to die and shed His blood ONE, single time for all men. Eternal redemption, by the way, is not unconditionally obtained, but made available to anybody who by faith claims it.  In most Bibles, the words “for all” are in italics, meaning they were added by the translators; they aren’t present in the original language. This tells us something: it’s all about what Jesus did. The emphasis in this verse is not on our need – which may be real and urgent – but on the finality of Jesus’ work. He entered once and only once into the heavenly Holy of Holies and He obtained eternal redemption. The priests did it continually; they weren’t good enough; their work wasn’t sufficient. Only Christ went in once for all, for all time.

There is a final contrast that relates back to the blood animals and the Blood of Christ.

The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! (Hebrews 9:13, 14 TNIV)

The inherent value of animal blood is essentially zero, but the inherent value of Christ’s blood is incalculable. And yet, this next-to-useless animal blood provided the smallest benefit to sinful man – outward cleanliness. The animal blood put the people in good standing in the community. But the blood of Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the Son of Man, purifies sinful man from the inside out, making him acceptable to God.

And all this brings us to Hebrews 9:15 –

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (TNIV)

Christ is the mediator – the High Priest – of the new covenant. This is an interesting verse that says something quite startling. Christ’s death was for sins committed under the old covenant. Another way to look at the issue is this: those who lived under the old covenant – all the Old Testament saints who took the earthly ritual seriously – were saved because they were looking forward to the coming of the great High Priest. God saved them on credit! The blood of all those animals did nothing for them. But their faith in something greater did.

Jesus Christ is the Great High Priest. That’s a term that may not mean a whole lot to us today, but it should. He did all the work to guarantee our free access to Heaven. His work was so complete, it never needs to be re-done. You can’t do His work. Your pastor or parish priest can’t do His work. Forgiveness of sins and your entrance into Heaven depends on you believing in what Jesus did and trusting that it was enough.

HEBREWS: A New Way

Hebrews10:19—25

As we approach this section of Hebrews chapter 10, the first thing we notice is that the feeling of the letter changes. The author has effectively completed his teaching of doctrine and now he begins his exhortations on the basis of the doctrine. Like any good Bible teacher, he realized that his readers simply being given information wasn’t enoughthey needed to be shown practical ways to apply the things they just learned. If this second part of chapter ten speaks of anything, it must surely speak of privilege and responsibility. Christians are the recipients of manifold blessings they neither deserve nor have earned. Because of that, they have a heavy responsibility to the One who blessed them in His  grace.

1.  A new way, 10:1922

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God …  (verses1922a)

The main predicate in these four verses islet us draw near.Every thing else is secondary to the thought that believers can nowdraw nearto God. This great privilege afforded Christians is a result of the actions of Jesus Christ.

Thanks to the shed blood of Jesus, believers are now able to approach God with confidence. Thisconfidenceis a holy boldness, which is a result of our new relationship with God through Jesus Christ. This is not arrogance or pride in action. Recall the words of the prophet:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy  and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

According to the teacher, we are able toenter the Most Holy Place,” which he uses symbolically as the presence of God. All believers are now able to do something that was at one time limited only to members of the priesthood! All believers can enter into the very presence of Almighty God! This great privilege is made possible, not by the shed blood of animals, but by the shed of blood of our Lord and Savior.

This way of approaching God is described as a “new and living way,” as opposed to the old way, which involved the death of animals. This revolutionary way of approaching God was “opened for us through the curtain, that is his body.” This is a very interesting phrase that needs to be looked at and understood.

When our Lord was on the cross, we read this:

...for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:45)

As Jesus hung bleeding and dying on the Cross, somehow the heavy curtain or veil of the Temple was ripped in two, indicating that the way to God was now open. The word for “veil” is katapetasmatos, meaning “curtain,” but coming from the Greek katapetannumi, meaning “expand.” So this veil was a kind of spiritual “iron curtain” that not only served to separate God from man, but “expanded,” emphasizing the great gulf that exists (and is always growing) between God and man apart from Jesus Christ.

The phrase “that is, his body” is hotly debated. What does it refer to? The natural way to interpret it in the Greek is to associate “his body” with “the veil.” If we take it to mean that, then how do we explain how the body of Jesus separated God from man? Haldman offers this helpful observation:

So long as Christ walked the earth in His beautiful and perfect humanity, He shut men out from God.

Jesus, as the perfect example of how to live, brought only condemnation of sinful man; He demonstrated, while in the flesh, how far from God sinful man really was. His life was a stark and living contrast to life of sinful man. If the “veil” was to become the “way” to God, then it had to destroyed. When the physical body of Jesus was destroyed on the Cross, the way was cleared for sinful man to approach God. His body was destroyed in place of sinful man’s body. The flesh of Jesus was taken out of the way, just like the veil to the Temple was, and offered as a sacrifice so that we could approach God.

The other way to read “that is, his body” is to continue associating “his body” with “the veil,” but to interpret “the veil” with man’s sinfulness, not Christ’s physical body. It is, after all, man’s sin that separates him from God. When Jesus took upon Himself the flesh of man, He eventually bore in that same body, the sins of the world. While He Himself remained sinless, He carried our sins with Him to the Cross. The broken and bleeding Body on the Cross released a power that ripped man’s sinfulness from himself. Because Jesus’ body was destroyed, ours would be saved. He was punished, opening the door for us and we are now free to walk through that door and approach God.

No matter how you interpret this phrase, the point is the same. The thing that once separated us from God has been removed and we therefore have full access into the most holy place.

2. The right way, 10:2225

Thanks to the continued work of Jesus, our Great High Priest, we can approach God. But there is a right way to enter the new way. We are give a series of exhortations to help us do this right.

Let us draw near (vs. 22). We are to come near to God “with a sincere heart,” which is way of saying that the inner life of man must be right with God. Outward gyrations are not what’s important in approaching God; it’s what’s on the inside of man that counts.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

If we would approach God, it must be done sincerely, with a complete dedication to fulfilling the will of God in our lives. A divided or lukewarm heart can never approach God.

Let us hold unswervingly (vs. 23). The great foundational truths of the Word of God must be held and believed so deeply and with such conviction that our entrance into the presence of God will be with absolute confidence. This was the problem with these Hebrew Christians—faith and confidence in the Gospel message had given way to doubt and disbelief. When a Christian gives second place to the Word of God you can be sure they are not spending time in God’s presence because they cannot.

Let us consider, (vs. 24). The final exhortation is to consider others in the Body of Christ. This is a mutual activity in which believers are supposed to be encouraging one another. The word translated “spur” comes from the Greek paroxysmos, which means, oddly enough, “to irritate” or to “to exasperate.” Usually those are negative things, but in the context of this passage, “spur” is a positive thing.

Christians, instead of gossiping and nitpicking each other to death, should be provoking each other to love and good deeds. In other words, we need to take notice of fellow believers, find ways to encourage them and help them where needed. But also, we need be aware of their gifts and talents and find creative ways for them to use those gifts and talents in the performance of “good deeds.”

Verse 25 sounds like another exhortation, but it actually isn’t.

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one anotherand all the more as you see the Day approaching.

“Meeting together” is the most effective way to fulfil our calling as Christians; we perform the previous exhortations within the local church—in the context of “meeting together.” It seems as though some of these Hebrew Christians were not attending services any longer; they had given up meeting with other believers. The fact is, the practice of meeting together is not dispensable but indispensable to our growth in holiness as Christians.

The modern church is plagued with this problem; individuals who call themselves Christians who join a local church then for some reason seldom if ever show up for services. But apparently this is not a modern problem, even the early church suffered with it. However, this is not just a frustrating problem, it’s a very dangerous practice. Moffatt wrote:

Any early Christian who attempted to live like a pious particle without the support of the community ran serious risks in an age when there was no public opinion to support him.

Or to put it another way, where will a Christian find encouragement if not in his church? Christianity is a belief system that reaches out to people, drawing them together. Other events may draw a crowd—sporting events, concerts, movies—but only Christianity brings people together for a distinct purpose: participation in worship, praise, and work. Christianity is not supposed to be a spectator sport! In a culture that sometimes stresses individualism a little too much, we need to understand that believers need each other to strengthen the spiritual bond they share with Jesus Christ. And you cannot do that by yourself or with your family alone or with your circle of Christian friends alone. You need the local church, and the local church needs you. In a sense, the most selfish thing a Christian can do is to stop attending services at their church.

Going to church is not like going to your local garden club meeting or scout meeting. When you go to church, you are being obedient to teachings of Scripture and you are showing your love for Christ. Jesus is the Head of the Church. He is present at church when you are there. Jesus is not the president of your local scout troop or garden club. Jesus is the Head of your church and he wants to have fellowship with you in that context. Naturally you can fellowship with your Lord any time of the night or day; but He wants to fellowship with you in context of fellowship with other believers. The Head of church cannot function without the body. The believer is part of the Body of Christ, which Christ presents to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.(Ephesians 5:27)

(c)  2011 WitzEnd

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