HEBREWS, PART 12

Easy-Bake Faith or the Real Thing?

Hebrews chapter 9 reminds some people of one of the most famous Christmas presents ever, the Easy-Bake Oven. Generations of little girls have wanted an Easy-Bake Oven so they could bake things just like their mothers. In our politically correct society, we could say little boys wanted one too, but that would probably by lying.

Those Easy-Bake Overs were amazing things. Tiny miniatures of real ovens, except all the cooking was done by a light bulb. It’s incredible that a bulb could actually bake a muffin! The weird thing about that Easy-Bake muffin was that while it looked like the real thing—like the kind of muffin mom would make—and while it was certainly warm, it tasted awful. Bland and kind of gooey, the Easy-Bake muffin was an unsatisfying imitation of the genuine article. The real muffin came from mom’s kitchen, not from a child’s toy.

That brings us to Hebrews 9. The sacrifices and offerings of the Tabernacle and the Temple were like the Easy-Bake muffin; pale imitations of the real thing. Incapable of doing anything substantive for sinful man, the best they could do was point to the need of a perfect, effectual sacrifice, which Christ would offer one day.

1. The Earthly Sanctuary, 9:1—5

The writer to the Hebrews had just spent a chapter discussing the present-day ministry of Jesus Christ as our great High Priest. Now he will move on to show the superiority of New Covenant over the Old.

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. (vs. 1)

The adjective “first” is all by itself in the Greek. The NIV has inserted the word “covenant” to make the sentence readable, and given the context, this could be what the writer was intending to say. There is a thought, though, that since our writer goes all the way back to the Tabernacle (Moses’ day), completely bypassing the great Temple (Solomon’s day), a better word might be “tent” instead of “covenant.” In other words, he is about talk about the first “tent” of God, contrasting it with the new Sanctuary in Heaven.

This first “tent,” the original Tabernacle in the wilderness, was earthly in the sense that it was built using material on earth. So the old covenant, or the old way, had its rules and regulations, and the old sanctuary is described as “earthly,” and temporary. The old tent did, in the course of time, vanish, to be replaced by a succession of Temples.

A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. (vs. 2)

From verses 2 to 7, the writer describes the furniture of the Tabernacle. Modern readers find this section, perhaps, uninteresting. But it was important for our writer to discus such things because he will eventually give us his interpretation of the meaning of the Tabernacle’s layout.

Using your mind’s eye, see the Tabernacle and the Sanctuary spread out in an east to west orientation. The Sanctuary was located in the “Court of Priests,” and was divided into two smaller rooms, separated by a heavy curtain or veil.

The Outer Sanctuary contained certain articles: the lampstand, the table, and the bread. The bread was actually 12 small loaves of bread, representing the 12 tribes of Israel. These were kept on the table all the time as a perpetual memorial and reminder of God’s covenant with His people. They are also believed to be a type of Christ, the Bread of Heaven, to be eaten by the priests, themselves representing all believers. On the opposite side of the room was the lampstand, the only source of light in the Outer Sanctuary. Here is a picture of the justified heart; the inner light, fed by the oil of the Holy Spirit, and the daily Bread of Christ.

The Inner Sanctuary was known as the Holy of Holies or the Holiest of All. Moving behind the veil, the teacher mentions two articles of furniture found here. The first, the golden altar of incense, which represented the congregation’s worship and prayers. This particular altar was cared for by the priests daily; morning and evening they places special incense upon the altar that was kept burning day and night in the presence of God.

The second piece of furniture was the Ark of the Covenant. This was the repository of the golden pot that contained manna, which was to serve as a perpetual reminder of God’s faithfulness. It also contained Aaron’s rod, another reminder that God had specifically chosen Aaron from the tribe of Levi to occupy the priestly office. And the Ark of the Covenant contained the stone tablets, upon which were written the Ten Commandments, a reminder that God was judging His people by His Law, holding them responsible for its observance.

Above the Ark was the Mercy Seat, overshadowed by the cherubim, representations of the highest rank of angelic beings, illustrating that even angels recognize the grace and mercy of God. The Mercy Seat was the place where a propitiatory sacrifice was placed before God as a covering for the sins of Israel. Only when this happened could God continue to dwell among His people.

2. The temporary nature of the earthly sanctuary, 9:6—10

This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. (vs. 9)

The immediate goal of the writer to the Hebrews was to show that the ministry of the earthly priests did not meet the needs of the people, even though they may have carried out their duties exactly as God had instructed them. Everything these holy men did was external and formal, not at all intimate. And they had to practice their various ministrations day in, day out; year after year. Some of their work had to be done daily, some weekly, but the point is that the work had to be done again and again. Clearly, all that was carried on in the Tabernacle had only temporary value; it accomplished nothing of enduring value.

Having said that, we should understand that these priests took their duties seriously and carried them out to the letter of God’s instructions. They had such an awesome respect for the holiness of God, they dared not stray from His Word. We wonder if the modern Church of Jesus Christ has the same perspective on God’s holiness. Do we, as individuals or as congregations, stand in complete awe of God’s perfection? Do we see the horrible nature of our imperfection and impurity before Him? Many church historians have noted that over the centuries, the Church in general has never risen above its basic, collective concept of God. Perhaps, if we had a proper concept of God’s holiness, our culture would look drastically different.

The details of the priestly functions came from the very heart and mind of God, but God left out a very important detail:

The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still standing. (vs. 8)

Again, we see the utter temporary nature of the Tabernacle, which itself means “tent,” a temporary place to live. It wasn’t until Jesus came that the whole truth of the Holy of Holies was made known. The whole Levitical system was to prefigure the better system found in Jesus. Interestingly, the old system, though limited in what it could do, wasn’t really a failure at all; it did exactly what God intended for it to do.

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:24)

The eye is quicker than the ear. God knew this, and that’s why He used the language of symbols to teach His people deep spiritual truths they couldn’t have grasped otherwise.

3. Why Christ is better, 9:11—14

When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. (vs. 11)

The NIV has translated verse 11 in a way slightly differently that older versions of Scripture, and it more accurately reflects what the writer has in mind to teach his readers.

While it is undeniably true that believers have so much to look forward to, even now—TODAY—we are children of God and we should rejoice in all that we are in Christ. Jesus Christ is ministering as our great High Priest TODAY, in a sanctuary located in Heaven.

The Levitical priest entered an earthly Tabernacle; Jesus a heavenly one. They offered the blood of animals; Jesus His own blood. They entered many times, He once. They could offer no permanent cure for man’s spiritual problems; He obtained eternal redemption.

The blood of animals offered under the Old Covenant cleansed one outwardly, but the blood of Christ has infinitely greater power than that. Jesus Christ willingly submitted to the death of the cross; He was both the High Priest and the offering. Because He Himself was sinless, Jesus had no need to offer a sacrifice for Himself. He death made atonement for His people.  His blood cleanses us inwardly.

so that we may serve the living God! (vs. 14)

All that Christ did for us had a distinct purpose! We are made clean in Him so that we may serve God. Here is a magnificent, practical reality of our salvation and Christ’s work. In our own strength, we could no more serve God than we could save ourselves! Before Christ, all our work merely led to death. Thanks to the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we may now serve God.

4. Mediator of a New Covenant, 9:15—28

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. (vs. 15)

Jesus Christ secured eternal forgiveness of sin. He became the mediator of a new covenant on the basis of giving His life as a ransom to set captive free from their sin. Christ’s death was the price paid to liberate prisoners of the spirit. The old covenant had no such provision; it did not remove offences against God in reality. Real cleansing from the guilt of sin could not be accomplished by the shed blood of animals, only by blood of Jesus.

The purpose of this new covenant is exciting for those under it: it provides an eternal inheritance. Thanks to the work of Jesus Christ, sin can no longer keep God’s blessings from His people.

In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living. This is why even the first covenant was not put into effect without blood. (vs. 16—18)

The writer continues his line of reasoning: Where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be verified. A will take effect only at the death of the one who made it. The old covenant was not ratified except by the life blood that signified a life had been given.

When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people. He said, “This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.” In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies. In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. (vs. 19—22)

It may not seem like it at first reading, but these verses are the very heart of the Gospel! “Blood” is referred to 12 times in this chapter alone—more than in any other entire book of the New Testament, equalled only by the entire book of Revelation. This emphasis on blood shows how much God thought of His people: they were worth the sacrifice of His only Son!

The “blood of Christ” refers not only to the literal blood Jesus shed on the Cross, it designates the atoning death of Christ. “Atonement” is a marvelous word that refers to the basis and process by which people once separated from God are now one with God! At the Last Supper, Jesus instituted the New Covenant:

This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. (Matthew 26:28)

Jesus Christ, the sinless, perfect Son of God died as a “sin-bearer” so that we might live live as righteous children of God and become healed.

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:24)

There is an important word in this ninth chapter of Hebrews. It occurs 5 times, and it echoes down through the corridor of time for all to hear:

But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. (verses 26—28)

The word is ONCE. Christ’s work is a completed work. Unlike the earthly high priests who had a lifetime of work ahead of him, Jesus did His work one time, for all people. He didn’t have suffer more than once. He didn’t have to die more than one time. Christ’s work did not need to be repeated. It is final because it is perfect. It’s perfection is obvious because it has never been repeated. ONCE.

Jesus Christ appeared ONCE in the flesh. The Incarnation was the embodiment in visible form of the One who has lived from all eternity. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to Earth to do a series of very simple, yet profound things:

  • He put away sin. He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay, I needed Someone to wash away my sins… Jesus was that Someone!

  • He sacrificed Himself. He accomplished the forgiveness of sin not by His teaching, not by His miracles, but by His death.

ONE sacrifice, ONE purpose, by ONE Son of God for ALL people.

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