If you hold on to something it comes back into fashion, Take That albums that were once embarrassing are back, and tickets for their tour sold out in hours. With toys Lego was almost out of business 5 years ago but now is one of the must have toys for Christmas.
And it isn’t just in music and toys but religious beliefs too, despite its name ‘new age’ ideas and spiritualism are actually a collection of old thought patterns and practices that venerate the natural world. And at this time of year it’s seen in people’s desire to go to a traditional carol service, with carols, an old building, and uncomfortable pews.
Sometimes the old is more attractive than the new.
We’ve seen over the last few weeks in Hebrews that part of their struggle with following Jesus is their gazing back longingly at their former Judaism with its traditions, sacraments, ceremonies, and symbols. Would it be so bad to go back to the Old Covenant, or to incorporate some Old Covenant worship into their worship? To do so would alleviate some of the pressure they‘re under, so why not?
The pastor’s answer is to prove the superiority again of what is theirs in Jesus. He begins by examining in detail the Old Covenant(1-10), outlining the physical structure of the tabernacle(1-5) its sections and curtains, and then looking at the reminders of God’s work and his relationship with Israel in the tabernacle. The tablets of the covenant inscribed with the 10 commandments, Aaron’s staff which budded, the jar with manna in and so on, and then having described the physical structures, symbols and reminders moves on to the worship(6-10).
And what he emphasises is that the Old Covenant and its worship fails in two key ways. Israel were meant to be God’s people (7) “But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.” What is the problem? Access to God. Only one person, one day per year went into the Holy of Holies. Why? Because of sin. (8)The Holy Spirit teaches that the way into God’s presence is closed.
But there is a second problem connected with the first (9)what is it? “gifts and sacrifices which are offered there cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper...” The sacrifices for sin are repeated and therefore temporary, they can’t cleanse from sin, they can’t cleanse consciences – the inward faculty which determined right and wrong.
The Old Covenant was good but it didn’t bring relationship with God and it couldn’t cleanse conscience – sin remained the default mode, but(10) there is hope, what is it? It lasts only until the new order, or until it is reformed. Jesus established that new order, you are new covenant people; the way to relationship with God is open and your conscience has been cleansed.
1. Jesus blood cleanses once for all
How does (11)begin? “But when Christ came...” That for the pastor, and the Hebrews, is the defining moment in history because it utterly transformed the most fundamental thing in all the universe; the relationship between humanity, creation and its creator.
Before Christ came man was cut off from God and could not enjoy intimate relationship with him because of sin, it tainted our conscience and made us predisposed to rebel against God– that is the story of the Old Testament where the faithful stand out because they wait believing that God will make relationship possible one day, and in Jesus God came to solve those problems.
Jesus High Priesthood is far greater than that of the Old Covenant, he ministers in heaven(12) and offered his blood securing our eternal redemption. (14)God the Son offers himself to his Father without blemish through the Spirit and cleanses not just the externals temporarily but our consciences from sin forever – it is no longer inevitable that we will sin, that’s what Jeremiah promised the New covenant would change “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”
What the Old Testament offerings couldn’t do Jesus blood does, our consciences are cleansed, sin is no longer our master we are ransomed, redeemed from slavery to sin, the price is paid and we are free from sins mastery. But do you notice what we are redeemed from and for? (14)We are freed from acts that lead to death to serve the living God. Blood was used to consecrate objects in the temple for worship(20), to set them aside for God’s service. By Jesus blood our consciences are changed so that we long to obey God and we are consecrated, set apart for God’s service.
In Christ the old covenant problem is overcome, sin is no longer your master; we are given a new heart so that we can serve God.
But hang on that poses a question doesn’t it; are we saying that without putting your faith in Jesus it’s impossible to please God? Yes, you may do good things, you may be a nice person but without putting your faith in Jesus you can’t live a life that pleases God, because your conscience is faulty.
We have a grandfather clock in our house, its broken the hands are stuck at 10.15. Twice a day that clock is right and if you walked in at 10.15 and looked at it you may think it worked, but even though it looks right twice a day it is broken. The mechanism is faulty. We may do good things but they are not done to bring God glory, we are a bit like the grandfather clock, and just as the clock needs a new mechanism so it fulfils its designers purpose so we need a new heart so that we fulfil the purpose we were made for; to glorify God and enjoy relationship with him for eternity.
By trusting in Jesus you can have that, you could go out and stubbornly try to do it yourself this week and you may do what is right more than twice a day but the essential problem will remain you won’t be fulfilling the purpose you were made for, only by trusting Jesus can you have a new heart.
If this morning you have trusted Jesus your conscience has been cleansed, your default setting is not pleasing self but pleasing God and you are saved to serve him. How do you do that?
After Christmas we’ll look at Ch12-13, but turn there now and we see how the Hebrews are to serve God, what it means to live with a cleansed conscience:
• (13:1)Keep on loving one another
• (2)show hospitality
• (3)remember those who are suffering
• (4)honour marriage
• (5)be content not greedy
• (6)live godly lives as you see modelled
• (9-10)hold on to the gospel
• (11-14)endure suffering
• (15)praise God
• (16)do good
• (17)submit to your leaders
Do you notice the liberating thing about serving God? It is in the everyday, it isn’t about going to Outer Mongolia as a missionary. It is in the way we open our homes, we care for each other and forgive each other, it affects our marriages and so on and it was what Christ cleanses us and sets us apart for.
2. Christ’s blood opens up access to God
What is a covenant? A binding agreement which provides an established basis for relationship between two parties. The Old Covenant established that we are separated from God because of our sin, but Jesus blood mediates a new covenant. Just as a will comes into effect after the death of the person who made it so this new covenant comes into effect after Jesus death. And the new covenant is superior to the old, it opens up access to God, fulfilling the promise of Jeremiah; “they will all know me, from the least to the greatest.”
Under the old covenant the blood of animals purifies the tabernacles and all its implements, but Jesus blood, a better sacrifice, purifies the heavenly things. That poses a question – why would heavenly things need to be purified?
Some suggest that it’s because Satan goes before God therefore heaven is tainted by sin. But I think context give us the answer (24)Christ enters heaven to do what? “to appear for us in God’s presence.” There has to be cleansing in heaven because we are going there, Christ purifies us by his sacrifice, he opens up the way to a restored relationship with God by purifying the way to heaven for us, he goes before us trailblazing the way. Just as the tabernacle was cleansed so people could approach and worship God so by Christ’s blood heaven is made accessible to us so we can worship God.
How do we know we have access to God? Because Christ appears now in the presence of God for us, his sacrifice once for all accepted, our consciences cleansed and the covenant sealed.
There are three appearing of Christ mentioned here and each points to what he has done for us. In the past Christ appeared (11)to cleanse our conscience, now he appears before God for us(24) opening up the way so we draw near to God, and he will appear(28) again to do what? Not to bear sin because he has done that once for all through his blood but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him, those who have lived by faith.
We have cleansed consciences, re-orientated so that we live for God’s glory, we have access to God by Jesus superior ministry, in the heavenly throne room, and by his blood which is far superior to that offered in the tabernacle and which purifies us and provides forgiveness and access to God whilst we wait for Jesus return.
Live waiting, don’t abandon your faith, don’t drift back to the shadows, to the inadequate, to what can’t cleanse your conscience and open up access to God. We plead a better blood than bulls or goats, the blood of Jesus Christ who offered himself through the Spirit unblemished to God securing our ransom, redemption and sealing the new covenant by which God’s Spirit is poured out into our hearts so that we love and please him and can draw near to God without fear.
(10:19-25)So have confidence to come to God, hold to your faith, spur each other on, meet together.