By Simon ManchesterSunday 20 Dec 2020Christian Growth with Simon Manchester
We’re are on a journey through the letter of Hebrews. This chapter is about the cross of Christ, and it’s not just what he has done for us, it’s what the believer gains by believing in Jesus Christ.
The benefits of his death are real, and I promise you this, if you are a Christian, you will never stop being thankful for the cross, the dimensions, blessings, benefits and the consequences of this death of Jesus for you will never come to an end. You will increasingly experientially be thankful for the cross – I promise you.
Think of a relationship in your life which is extremely difficult; you know the sort of relationship where you have got to be on your toes all the time. Then go to the other end of the spectrum, think of the relationship in your life which is an absolute pleasure, the person is easy, even, uncomplicated and wonderful.
Now multiply that second relationship by a million, and you are getting towards the relationship that Christ has opened up for us to have with Him. The more we get to know the reasons that we have the relationship (and there are a lot of good reasons in Hebrews chapter 9) the more we will appreciate the privileges which we have been so wonderfully given.
I am going to look at it this morning as if we are watching a short film at the front of the church and the film has got five scenes and each of the scenes corresponds to about five verses in the chapter.
This is a photo of the Old Testament Tent or Tabernacle. You know in a documentary you may be staring at an old photograph for quite a long time, and this writer provides a photo of the Old Testament Tent or Tabernacle.
He is trying to make sure that his readers don’t go back into the Old Testament. You know there are a lot of Christian Churches that are going back to the Old Testament. They are setting up a temple and a priesthood and sacrifices – that, of course, is to go backwards. No, the writer wants his readers, all Christian people, to say goodbye to that and go forward to Christ who is the fulfilment of the whole of the Old Testament.
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So he offered himself, the complete sacrifice. He entered into the temple of heaven, and he is the one who is now the only priest we need, he’s the prophet, he’s the king, he’s the one who can provide our needs.
Now to prove the sequence from Tent to Heaven, the writer begins the chapter with the Tent in verses 1 and following. Well look at verse two, a Tabernacle was set up, a Tabernacle or Tent was set up in the middle of the camp of the Israelites. They would meet around it in their thousands and in the middle would be the Tabernacle or the Tent.
We are told in these verses 1-5 that the Tabernacle or Tent had two rooms. There was the Holy Place, and one of the things that were in the Holy Place was the famous Jewish Lampstand. You’ve all seen that Lampstand with seven branches.
And then there was the Holy Place, the Holy of Holies. That is the second room and inside the most Holy Place were the altar and also especially the Ark of the Covenant.
The Ark of the Covenant was a gold covered box. It was not all that big, maybe 1m x .5m x .75m and above it were two cherubim-like angels, their wings nearly touching and that was meant to be a symbol of God himself meeting in their presence. In the box were a number of contents including old bread from the days where they travelling and depending on the Manna, the Staff of Aaron which had budded and there were also the Ten Commandments. So there was the Ark of the Covenant in this particular Holy of Holies.
So what do you make of the fact that he has given us this little snapshot photo in chapter 9 verses 1-5? Are you going to say ‘well that’s just a little piece of weird Old Testament history’?
I want to say to you that this Old Testament Tabernacle says something very clearly and directly and that is that if you want to relate to God, if you want God in your life, it has to be on his terms not on your terms because like it or not, the God of the Bible has restricted access.
If you think you can relate to God as a bloke walking up to a bloke, you are deluded. Even your logic tells you that the God of the universe, the God of the Bible is infinitely powerful and infinitely perfect. It is impossible just to march up as though you and he are equals and the Bible tells us Jews, Christians and Muslims would be reading this Old Testament that you actually will find it impossible to approach him because of his perfection except if you follow his safe procedures.
This is completely foreign to the world we live in because the world that we live in is clueless about the Old Testament and the Scriptures and the Word of God. That’s why the world is so casual, foolish and deluded. Most people in the world think that God is non-existent, disinterested in us, or he is desperate for friends anyway. The advice of the world is if you want to relate to God, just do whatever works. Whatever you make up, that will be fine.
And God says to you – my advice to you is – nothing will work; you will be in complete delusion unless you take seriously what I say about approaching me. And so it’s as if God says to the world today
‘Look you can pretend that all is well,
You can pretend that you relate to me,
You can pretend that you are in contact,
You can pretend that your prayers that are going up (although you have no relationship with me) are fine.
You can pretend if you want you’ve flown to the moon, but you haven’t.’
It’s just complete delusion – there is no way to God but the way that he provides. And that’s what this first snapshot in verses 1-5 teaches. It’s very humbling, but it is not hopeless, it’s full of hope.
This is a film of the Old Testament priests doing their job. This is a slightly grainy piece of black & white film. See verse 6 “the Old Testament priests went again and again into the Holy Place”. That’s where the daily sacrifices were offered. But verse 7 “the High Priest went once a year into the Holy of Holies”. This was the major national sacrifice – once a year by one man in the Holy of Holies.
Now there were two problems with the sacrifices, verse 8 “as long as the Old Testament priests were doing their earthly work, it is obvious that Christ’s heavenly work had not come about.
The other problem (verses 9-10) “the Old Testament sacrifices were very limited; they couldn’t reach the conscience, they were just external rituals. God, of course, authorised them. They showed the seriousness of sin – yes they did – but if anybody was conscious of sin with a heavy conscience, these animal sacrifices never really brought deep peace, deep forgiveness or deep peace with God. They were symbols of forgiveness, not providing the forgiveness.
This little piece of historical film in verses 6-10 shows the priests and the High Priest of the Old Covenant doing their work, but it was all just marking time until a real Saviour would come who is Jesus and he would enter the real temple which is heaven.
We need to be careful not to throw out the Old Testament as if it’s all just gory Old Testament history and therefore miss the point that relating to God did, in those days, need those sacrifices and now needs Jesus’ sacrifice. So we must treat God as he tells us to treat him and not treat him as we think he will be happy if we treat him that way.
John Chapman used to tell a story of being at the Morning Tea and having somebody coming towards you with a cup of hot liquid and a big smile on their face and pushing into your hands and saying “I’ve made you some black coffee”.
And you say to yourself “I hate black coffee, but I do like white tea”. And so you say “actually I like white tea” and they say “well never mind I’ve put in 4 sugars for you”. And you say “that’s very sweet of you but if I drink that I will puke”. And the person has come to you with great sincerity and eagerness and goodwill, but they just have not ever asked you what you like and what you want.
The Scriptures say ‘why don’t people, instead of just pretending that they can treat God the way they want to, actually work out what he says about the way he is to be related to’?
And these old verses of 6-10 on the work of the priests tell us that there is a way to approach him and it needs to be God’s way. So that’s the second scene.
This is a film of the work of Jesus. Before we look at it, I want to remind you about tents and temples in the Bible. Does everybody know this? In the days of Moses, he put together a Tent. The Tent was with the people as they travelled through the wilderness. When they got to the Promised Land, they eventually built a Temple under Solomon in Jerusalem. That Temple eventually got bulldozed by the Babylonians. 70 years later they came and they re-built the Temple and then in about the time of Jesus, Herod the King replaced the Temple with a huge Temple – that became the third Temple. In 70AD the third Temple was bulldozed by the Romans.
There was a Tent for the desert, and there were 3 Temples in Jerusalem.
This letter is written before the 3rd Temple was bulldozed but the 3rd Temple, great as it was to look at, was completely redundant because Jesus had come and done his work on the cross.
If you look at verses 11 and 12, you will see Christ entered the Heavenly Temple because he had done his work of shedding his blood on the cross. He entered the Heavenly Temple because he had done his work of shedding his blood on the cross. So his sacrifice fulfilled and superseded all the Old Testament ritual.
His sacrifice was vastly superior to any animal sacrifice because his sacrifice was voluntary, an animal was involuntary.
Christ’s sacrifice was loving – there was no love on the part of the animal.
Christ’s sacrifice was rational – there was no rationality for the animals.
Christ’s sacrifice was successful – the animal sacrifice was symbolic.
So the writer tells us in verse 13 that the animals provided outward answers but verses 14 Jesus delivers inward answers. It’s only faith in Jesus which will bring to you new birth, new life so that you are made new to serve the living God. Do you realise it is essential to turn to Jesus who died if you are to get eternal life? If you want eternal life, you need to put your trust in the one who died, and he will give it to you.
Remember when Peter was preaching on the Day of Pentecost and there were many Jews present? He said when you turn to Christ you will receive forgiveness for your sins and the Holy Spirit, that’s where the new life will begin.
Well, friends the Old Covenant only pointed to this, the New Covenant delivers.
For those of you who like to look at the detail of the text in verse 12 there is a very interesting detail in verse 12 where we are told that Jesus didn’t enter glory with his blood – he didn’t ascend into heaven and take his blood with him as the High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with blood because there is an important distinction – Jesus had shed his blood which means that he could enter into the Holy of Holies.
Now this work of Jesus has massive implications, and I want to mention two this morning.
First of all, let me say something about buildings. If I could put it like this, the most important building in Christianity is heaven. Our buildings are very important. We give thanks for our buildings, and we are grateful for this great “rain shelter”. The most important building and the building we should get excited about is heaven. That is the building that Christ has entered, and that is the building that his people one day will enter and I tell you as you know, that that building will make all our buildings look very, very ordinary.
The building that we have to get excited about is heaven. But the church buildings that we build do say something about the gospel, or they say nothing about the gospel. And it is worth asking what this building, for example, says about the gospel.
You can see that it’s a classic English cruciform building. We have the long centre aisle, and then we have two little chapels at the side, so if you are looking at it from the air, it’s built in the shape of a cross. But as you sit in the pew and as you look forward, if it were not for this lectern behind which I am standing and this platform on which I am standing, what would you be looking at?
Well, the design of the building is that you will look straight to the table behind me or what some would mistakenly think of as an altar. This building had limited helpfulness in communicating the gospel because there will be some who will come and sit in the building and they are looking straight to the table or altar, and they may be drawing wrong conclusions about Christianity and especially if they think the person up the front offering Communion is offering some kind of sacrifice.
So what we have done is to stick in the very middle of your eye-line a platform with a podium because we want people to look to the Bible, to the Scriptures so that people will know exactly what they have come to hear from the Living God. Our buildings say a lot about us.
The second thing is we know that when Jesus died on the cross he tore the curtain down that was in the Temple so that we could have access to God as our Heavenly Father. But do you realise that he also tore down a curtain inside your own heart? So he not only took away the barrier between yourself and God and myself and God but he also reached into our very heart and tore down the curtain of unbelief. So he enables us to repent, and he enables us to have faith, and he gives to us all the blessings that come from his death.
Because God has done this wonderful work through Jesus of tearing down the barrier and tearing down our unbelief, he is obviously a God who relates to us keenly and warmly and lovingly and with the initiative. And I think we ought to be asking ourselves the question, how am I going to grow in responding to that?
Why am I so wayward?
Why am I so reluctant?
Why am I so sneaky?
“Dear God, please help me, if you’ve broken down the barrier so that I am in relationship with you, and if you’ve broken down the unbelief in my own heart, please help me to incline to you and to warm to you and to relate to you and draw near to you.” We must be praying that for ourselves. Otherwise, we have the blessings of relationship with the coldness of bad fellowship. So the death of Jesus brings important consequences.
This is a little brief documentary on “blood”. Verse 16 the writer says there needs to be a death. I think the plain meaning of verses 16 and following is the writer is using the analogy of death bringing the benefits of a Will. Death gets the Will moving. There are many fine commentators who think that the writer is still talking about Covenant here. I think you have to do a lot of summersaults unless you recognise that he has slightly changed his tact, although it’s the same word, and he is talking about do you realise that if a Will is to be distributed and the Estate is to distribute, there needs to be death? So there’s the first thing we need to know if we want to get the blessings, there needs to be a death.
But you will see also if you look at verses 19-22 there needs to be blood because blood is the pouring out of the life, blood is the death that somebody pays.
Friends, if you ask yourself the question why does the church go on about blood such a lot? Why do our hymns talk about blood? Why does the New Testament talk about blood? Sometimes it can seem a very sort of gory and strange and even sadistic discussion. But the point the writer is making is essential and that is blood tells us that something significant has been paid.
We have a wooden cross on the left of the building there. It has been lifted out of the battlefield of World War 1 out of Pozieres in France, and if it were blood-spattered, you wouldn’t walk past it without recognising that somebody had paid a significant price.
Of course to wash somebody of dirt with water is quite cheap but to wash sin with blood is expensive and God has set the price for forgiveness at blood. Somebody must not be set free if you are to be set free. And because Jesus was not set free but died, you can be set free, and blood is essential and that’s, why verse 22 should be one of those verses that we all know off by heart “without blood there is no forgiveness”.
But because the blood of Jesus has been shed, there is great forgiveness, real and wonderful forgiveness and you must preach this to yourself because many of you, I know, find it difficult to believe in forgiveness. So there is still a part of you which is working in some kind of moral gymnasium to get God to relate to you but the forgiveness does it all, and you must preach it to yourself in all its freedom and all its fullness and all its power.
Imagine God was to look at you and say ‘no forgiveness for you. Sorry we’ve checked our resources, and we don’t have forgiveness for you – it’s been withheld – there’s none for you’. It would be a devastating thing to hear, isn’t it?
But the Bible says the exact opposite; the Bible says that because Jesus died there is full and free forgiveness forever.
A man called Craig Sherborne wrote an Essay which was called “Unforgiven”, and it related to the fact that he married a girl who subsequently discovered that she had breast cancer. As the breast cancer got more significant, he lost courage, and like a coward, he ran away, and he left her. And when eventually he was contacted and told that she had died there was a note attached to the message which said: “You are to send no flowers and you are not to be at my funeral”.
So the word from the grave was “No Forgiveness – No Forgiveness Forever”.
But the word from the grave of the Lord Jesus (if I could put it like that) says:
- Forgiveness – absolutely
- Free – at Christ’s expense
- Full – covering everything, past present and future
- And forever.
So it doesn’t matter what you have said and what you have done and where you have been, it can be forgiven when a person turns to Christ and takes hold of the forgiveness which he died to bring, and we need to preach that to ourselves.
This is a preview of what is to come. We’ve looked at the:
- Scene 1 – Still Photo of the Tent
- Scene 2 – Grainy Film of the Priest
- Scene 3 – Film of Jesus Dying on the Cross and entering up into the real heavenly temple
- Scene 4 – Brief Documentary on the Blood and the importance of Blood
- Scene 5 – Preview of what is to come
Now we come to the last section, a preview of still what is to come and you’ll see it in verses 27-28 that Jesus Christ will one day be seen. Back in verses 23-24 “He now appears in heaven” – verses 25-26 “He once appeared on the earth” but 27-28 “He will one day appear and be seen”.
So he appeared on the earth and died, he now appears in glory and intercedes for us and one day appear and he will bring with him salvation. Everything we’ve been waiting for will come when we see him face to face. When you believe that his death, which is in the past, was for you, his salvation which is in future is for you. The death is behind you, the judgment is behind you and the salvation and the future is in front of you.
I think that’s a massive burden. I think it would be better if you and I this week ask the Lord to help us to grasp the significance of what Christ has done more deeply – that it would penetrate us more wonderfully – that it would flow from us more helpfully. I think a lot of our fellowship would be blessed if we were grasping what Christ has done for us and therefore who we are. A lot of the fellowship in this Church is plainly too selfish – ‘people who come and go’. ‘It’s me; it’s private’.
But the death of Christ for us has brought us great blessings, tremendous fellowship and we are part of the very precious family. We need to illustrate and demonstrate, and I think it would be good if we prayed on a regular basis that God would help us to grasp the depth, height, length and breadth of this love of Christ which has been shown to us at the cross.
Do you realise friends, we are the only people in the world who have a Good News message for the world?
- The Atheist has no real message for the world
- The push-over God believer has no real message for the world because the push-over God believer is as corrupt as we are.
- The unapproachable God has no message for the world with the unapproachable God except ‘do your best and hope for the best’.
But the Bible-believing, Gospel grasping, Christ trusting believer has a message for the world which outlasts the world, is better than anything you will hear in the world and it all goes back to what Jesus has done for us himself.
Let’s pray, let’s bow our heads.
Heavenly Father, we give you thanks this morning for communicating to us under the Old Covenant, and especially under the New Covenant. We thank you for sending your Son into the world and for all the blessings that come from his death on the cross.
We pray together Father that where we fail to grasp the significance and the reality and the weight and the value and the treasure, you would help us to grasp it more and more.
We pray that you would save us from being those who value and treasure unworthy things. Help us to value and to demonstrate and to communicate the great riches of Christ.
We ask it for his sake and in his name and that we might be a faithful and fruitful people – Amen.