Hebrews 8-9 - Something to Offer
June 9, 2013 Speaker: Series: Hebrews
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Hebrews 8:1–9:28
[Text: Hebrews 8-9] “Something to Offer”
In the previous section, the pastor told his friends that although the law regulating the old priesthood was weak and useless – it made nothing perfect – a new priest of a better priesthood had come. Jesus is our “better hope…through which we draw near to God” (7:19). Now, the pastor wants them to hear just how it was that Christ removed all the barriers between God and men. By faith in him, even the biggest barrier has been broken down so that you can live out the purpose for which you were made with an eager hope for the future.
[Read Hebrews 8-9 and Pray – Father, give us now the gift of hearing and faith so that we might not look on our sin and despair but look on our Savior and hope. Amen.]
How many products have been marketed with the promise of making life better? Pretty much all of them, right? And how many of them fully deliver on that promise? Pretty much none of them, right? We can talk about anything from pizza pockets (which are apparently the most glorious and exciting of foods if we believe the commercials) to computer operating systems, but they all make promises they ultimately can’t fulfill. And so, they come out with new versions all the time – each one “new and improved” because the old one was lacking in some way. And when the “new” comes, not very many people want the old anymore because we’re all looking for the perfect software that never crashes, the pizza with the perfect sauce, the bathroom tissue that finally – finally – gets the approval of some cartoon bears. We’re used to old things becoming obsolete and new things being shown to be lacking, but what if something new comes and never needs to be replaced because it actually makes good on what it promises?
The priesthood of the old covenant under Moses held out the promise of cleansing for the people of God. On the Day of Atonement, outlined in Leviticus 16, God promised that the blood of the sacrifice would purify His priests and people, even purify the sanctuary itself so that God and His people could be together as He intended in the beginning. This was the day on which God promised to cleanse His worshippers so that they could worship Him in holiness and confidence even though they knew themselves to be sinners.
That was a gracious gift of God. It was Him meeting the need of His people because – although they had fallen short of perfect obedience to Him – they, through this atonement, this ransom paid in the blood of a sacrifice, could stand before him with a clean conscience.
A “conscience” in this context isn’t the little voice in your head that tells you right from wrong. That cricket from Disney’s Pinocchio isn’t what is in view. One writer put it well; in this context, the worshipper’s conscience is “the whole interior self; it reflects upon the relationship of the whole person to God. In the context of the worship of God, it is the smiting, burdened conscience that is in view, which effectively keeps a worshiper from God…It exposes the truth that defilement extends to the heart as well as to the body, and that [defilement puts up a barrier between the worshipper and] the living God.”
When you and I get a glimpse of the “Holy, Holy, Holy” God we sang of at the beginning of the service it isn’t difficult to understand that there is a separation between Him and us. My conscience tells me that I cannot approach him. My conscience tells me that my sin is no small thing and that if it is not removed from me, I will sink beneath its weight, being crushed by my guilt. A guilty conscience made Adam hide from God in the garden. And a guilty conscience has always made people want to hide from God to escape His gaze and His Word, which is “living and active…discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart…(N)o creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:12-13).
But in the Day of Atonement, God was telling His people that He would deal with their guilty consciences and make a way for God and His people to live together in peace. But the Day of Atonement wasn’t the way that would happen – not fully – because that Day came year after year. Year after year the sacrifices had to be repeated for both priest and people because the cleansing wasn’t complete, the purification of the peoples’ consciences wasn’t perfect. And so, that Day and those repeated sacrifices said something better was coming. They were the promise of a cleansing for consciences, but the reality of cleansing hadn’t yet come. The old priests under the old covenant couldn’t do it…
…but the new priest of the new covenant could. When Jesus as both high priest and sacrifice, fulfilling the promises that were made, he opened the way for the purification of consciences, for the removal of every barrier between God and men. Now, by faith in Christ, we can “draw near to God” and worship Him with a clean conscience because when barriers are gone we are restored in him into the service of the living God. That’s what the pastor who first wrote this sermon understood; the old has gone and a new, eternal reality has begun to break through.
Chapters 8-9 belong to the heart of this early-Christian sermon. This is the most important point the pastor is trying make. If we say it another way, the heart of this sermon is the heart of Christianity, the heart of the faith we’ve embraced. If you want to understand what is central according to the Gospel, then this is the place to look.
And what stands out very prominently is this: everything you see here, every action performed, every new reality of the new covenant that has come – the purification of our consciences and the forgiveness of sins; our restoration to the service of God and the hope of a blessed future – has come exclusively through the person of Jesus and his work as high priest.
If you have thought of Christianity as a means by which you can cleanse your conscience, a way to “be better” so that God will like you or accept you, if Christianity is just a system of morals that keep society orderly but work just as well as any other faith, then I am afraid, my friend, that you’ve missed it entirely. Christianity is not about what mankind is able to do in order to please or repay God. If it were, then we would find man and rules at the heart of this early-Christian sermon. But instead we find Christ being held out as our sure hope, him being (in the words of 8:3) the high priest with “something to offer.”
And what he offers to those who have nothing but guilty consciences is neither a system of rules to follow nor an all-permissive, anything-goes cheap grace. To those with a guilty conscience – separated from God by sin, rebellion and disobedience – to us Christ offers himself in the new covenant as both sacrifice and high priest.
It can be hard for us to wrap our minds around these concepts since we live so far removed from these things which the first audience would have been so familiar. Priests and sacrifices aren’t really a part of our worship, not in the visible, tangible, elaborate way it was for the Hebrews. It was for this very reason that we went through the introductory sermon series leading us to Hebrews, proper, but that was also a long time ago (Easter!) and Leviticus 16 doesn’t easy remain in the forefront of our minds. And while it would be worthwhile to revisit that word (it is available on the website), if we catch a few things from Hebrews 8-9 then we’ll have enough to go on.
Chapter 8 opens with the pastor getting to “the point.” He’s just finished talking about how Jesus is a high priest like Melchizedek (not like Aaron) because he became a priest by the appointment of God and because he remains a priest forever “by the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). Now, in 8:1-6, he’s setting up what he’ll elaborate on in this section, namely that Jesus is our high priest in heaven (not on earth); he is a minister in the true tent (not the copy of the heavenly places); and he has something to offer – a “ministry that is…more excellent than the old….” He’s now comparing Jesus’ ministry to that of the Levitical priests under the old covenant.
This all leads him to his next point: the old covenant with its ineffective sacrifices and weak priests needed to be replaced with something powerful and effective. So, he looks back to the promise of God from Jeremiah 31 that looked forward to the day when God would do something to change everything. He Himself would establish a new covenant, one in which God said,
“I will put my laws into their minds,
and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people…”
Then would come the day when, God says,
“[all my people] shall know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will be merciful toward their iniquities
and I will remember their sins no more.”
There is promised in this word the reality we’re saying has come in Christ. When God speaks of His law being put into the minds and written on the hearts of His people, He is speaking of the renewal of their whole person as those (8:12 says) who have experienced the mercy of God toward them. That is the idea behind the purification of conscience the pastor gets to in chapter 9. It means God will entirely renew His people in the new covenant. This “new covenant” is the means by which the people of God will finally have all barriers removed, including their guilty consciences, so that they might approach God and serve him.
The point is simple; 8:13 summarizes it. “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.” Now that is language I can understand! But where I’m used to even the “new” being faulty and lacking, the pastor shows in chapter 9 that the new covenant instituted by Christ has become the present hope and the future, eternal hope of those who receive Christ by faith.
9:1-5 speaks of the arrangement of the earthly tent that symbolized the presence of God with his people. But the main point is the two spaces of the tent – the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place –showed visibly that there remained barriers between God and His people; sin still separated them. That’s the point of vv. 6-10. Only once per year and only with the blood of a sacrifice could the high priest alone enter into the earthly presence of God to atone for his own sins and those of the people. But it wasn’t fully effective. The blood he carried behind the veil could not “perfect the consciences of the worshipper.” But the system and the sacrifices and the ministry of high priest after high priest, year after year stood. Verse 10 says, however, that their significance is put on par with laws about “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” In other words, the sacrifices of the old covenant were only effective in cleansing the flesh of the worshipper; they did nothing about their consciences, that is, their whole interior selves. The time for dealing with that barrier came with Jesus when he put on flesh and blood like our flesh and blood; full Divinity and full humanity in one person, one faithful high priest.
Verses 11-14 describe the work of Christ as high priest in contrast with the Levitical priesthood. Like those priest of old, he went into the Holy Places but that is where Christ’s work begins to radically differ. They worshiped in the earthly tent. Jesus went into the more perfect tent not made with human hands. Where they went in with the blood of bulls and goats, Jesus went in with his own blood, shed on the cross. And where they went in year after year, Jesus went in only once for all because his high priestly work was effectual rather than useless. And so, Jesus didn’t just cleanse his people ritually; he cleansed them – he cleansed us – actually and eternally.
The pastor argues it from the lesser to the greater in vv. 13-14. If God was willing to count His people as ritually clean by the sacrifices of the old covenant, “how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.”
Do you hear what kind of love the Father has for you? See the lengths to which Christ your brother was willing to go in order to bring you near to God? Do you understand the power of the Spirit who makes the blood of Christ effective in fully purifying your conscience? By the blood of Christ, your forgiveness has been secured. This is the way the new covenant came and you who are called will receive your eternal inheritance. It isn’t because of your faith, though that is the instrument God uses to bring you near to Himself. It isn’t by being good enough or clever enough or understanding the deepest doctrines. Your salvation has come to you believer, because Christ your high priest died to establish the new covenant.
And when he died, the Gospels tell us, the veil of the temple – the veil that was the visible representation of the separation of sinners from God, eighty feet high and a hand’s breadth thick – the veil was torn from top to bottom as God did through Christ what you and I could never do. He cleansed you who believe so fully that the blood of Christ’s one sacrifice is sufficient to cleanse your conscience eternally.
But his work did not stop there. In fact, the pastor roots our hope not only in the death of Christ, but in his death, resurrection and ascension into the heavenly places, where he still does his work as your high priest in the very presence of God. Vv. 23-28 speak of the crucified and risen Christ purifying the actual heavenly things themselves, appearing in the presence of God on our behalf as both high priest and perfect, once-for-all sacrifice.
It says he “appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.” If God has accepted the blood of Christ and demands nothing more for your cleansing, if Christ has already secured your eternal redemption; if Christ has “put aside” your sin so that it can no longer “accuse or defile,” then you, believer, may draw near to God as you hold fast to Christ by faith. He works now in the presence of God on your behalf, serving you as high priest now just as lovingly and fully as he served you while hanging on the cross.
You who believe take hope and draw near to God now in Christ. And you who do not yet believe hear the warning. If you have not yet believed this Gospel, not resting and receiving Christ alone as he is offered in the Word, then you must hear the pastor in v. 27, who says that it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment. That is a sobering word, echoing the warning of chapter 6 about unbelief. What covering will hide a guilty conscience on that day if Christ and his blood have been cast aside for something other hope or pleasure? So, unbeliever and believer take thought, because although Christ serves in the heavenly places for now, he will not always be there. He will come a second time.
When the high priests of the old covenant went behind the veil into the Most Holy Place on the Day of Atonement, the people waited outside anxiously. Would God accept the priest’s sacrifice for his own sin and theirs or would he drop dead in the presence of God? Their hope was in God’s promises, but it was only when they saw the face of their high priest coming out from the presence of God that they could rest assured God’s mercy had actually been shown. Only then could their consciences be soothed.
The scribe Joshua ben Sira, who was in Jerusalem around 200 BC, watched eagerly for his high priest to appear on the Day of Atonement. This is what he remembered of the moment he saw him come out:
“How glorious he was when the people gathered round him
As he came out of the inner sanctuary!
Like the morning star among the clouds,
Like the moon when it is full;
Like the sun shining upon the temple of the Most High,
And like the rainbow gleaming in glorious clouds;
Like roses in the days of the first fruits,
Like lilies by a spring of water,
Like a green shoot on Lebanon on a summer day;
Like fire and incense in the censer,
Like a vessel of hammered gold adorned
With all kinds of precious stones;
Like an olive tree putting forth its fruits,
And like a cypress towering in the clouds.”
What joy when he saw him, when he believed God’s mercy and forgiveness had been freely given to him! What relief and humble praise he must have given in thanks to God who accepted the death of a sacrifice so that His people could live!
So you, believer – who sees your high priest with the eyes of faith in the heavenly places because he has removed every veil, every barrier between God and you – so you, too, may look with hope and eagerness for the face of your high priest, Jesus. His word assures you cleansing has already been accomplished and assures you that he will come to save you fully. If Joshua ben Sira could rejoice in the work of God then, how much more can we rejoice in the work of God in Christ! He has purified our consciences to serve – that is, truly worship – the living God with your entire self.
This is why we can so freely confess ourselves to be sinners even during worship. Although there remains in this flesh some remnant of sin, it is not counted against us and there is no further sacrifice needed! This is why you and I don’t need to wear the mask of perfection or “having it all together;” that mask is a lie, but the truth is that there is a high priest who died for people who don’t have it all together. This is why this church of Christ is a safe place for sinners – because this is where Christ meets us by His Spirit through His Word to tell us again that he is greater than our consciences and he has made an end to all our sin. And he tell us that though he serves us now in heaven, he is coming again.
So, wait eagerly for him in the sure hope called “faith,” because when he comes again, not to deal with sin because he has dealt with your sin already on the cross and in the heavens, he will come again to save you who look to him in faith, believing that He is enough, that his blood is enough to wash you even of the sin that accuses you most persistently. Watch eagerly believing in Him, trusting that what he says he has done he has done! In Him you are already purified. In Him you may draw near to God at all times and find mercy and grace to help you in time of need.
[Pray – Father, your goodness to us is on full display in this, your Word. This is good news for sinners like us, good news of cleansing and full forgiveness and of a right standing before you won for us by Christ our high priest. Father, may our lives, like the book of Hebrews, keep Christ more and more at the center. May we think less and less on ourselves, thinking on our sin and present circumstances. And may we think more and more on our faithful Savior. And in our joy over what he has done for us, may we be led into your service here and now: worshipping you in humble joy, serving one another in love, taking up the ministry of reconciliation you have given to us and making disciples of this Christ here in our town. Jesus, help us. Continue in your mercy toward us and lead us on in faith so that when you appear our faces will be lifted up as our hope in you has proven true.]
[Benediction, from Hebrews 13:20-21]
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”
 William L. Lane, Hebrews: A Call to Commitment, 118.
 If we believe Josephus; J.W. 5.5.4 §211
 Lane, Hebrews, 126.
 Sirach 50:6-10