Some of you won’t know what this is and some of you won’t ever have seen such a thing before. It isn’t that old, but things have changed so rapidly in the last 20 years that it isn’t surprising that you don’t know. This is a 5 ¼ floppy disc for computer memory storage. Although they had different capacities most held about 740kb of memory. This memory stick holds 8 gb. If it was full and you wanted to put all the information that is in this memory stick on 5 ¼ floppies, you would need about 11377 of them. In the area of computer memory things have certainly improved a lot in the last 15 or 20 years. I would not want to go back to this method of storage.
It isn’t only in digital storage that things have improved. There are ways in which many things have improved. When I think of the first pair of cross country skis I owned and the ones I use now, I would not want to go back to the old ones.
Is religion better now than it used to be?
The background of what Christ did is rooted in the Old Testament. Did Christ bring any improvements? Listen to Hebrews 9:11-15.
This morning as we examine this passage, we will be encouraged by how much better things are since Jesus came. As we think about these things, we continue on our journey of Lent in which we are preparing ourselves for the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
In order to understand this passage well, we need to understand the Old Testament and its system. What was Old Testament religion like? What did it teach us? How did it function?
Religion is about a relationship with God and the Old Testament taught us that God desires a relationship with people and that God is accessible. Access to God happened in the Old Testament. He showed Himself to individuals like Adam, Noah and Abraham. God made Himself known to Moses and through Moses to the children of Israel. When they left Egypt, God was present with the people in the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire which accompanied them as they wandered through the wilderness. While in the wilderness, God provided instructions for them to build a tent, which would be the place where they could meet with God. Later when Jerusalem became the capital city of the nation, Solomon built a temple and the people could meet God there. Our text speaks of some of these places where God was accessible when we read in verse 11 of the “tabernacle” and in verse 12 of the “Most Holy Place.”
So one of the important lessons of the Old Testament was that God desires a relationship with the people He has chosen and He has made Himself available to them. This is a wonderful thing to realize that God wants to know us and wants us to know Him. The creator of the universe who is so great and so far above is nevertheless approachable.
And yet, in the Old Testament there were limitations in regard to access to God. God communicated only with certain people, whom He chose like Elijah and Isaiah.
After establishing a relationship with Israel God made it possible for the people of Israel to meet with Him, but only in one place and that was the temple. It is always interesting to read the Psalms which speak of the beauty and glory of Jerusalem and of Zion. We don’t understand these texts because we don’t understand that they speak of the only place where one could meet with God. Even at those places the way to meet with God was met with limitations. The place where God was present with His people was in the Holy of Holies. There was only one person, the high priest, who could go into the Holy of Holies and he could only go once a year. Listen to a few of the instructions regarding access as we find them in Leviticus 16:1-6, "The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord.” This in itself demonstrates the limitations. We read on, “The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die, because I appear in the cloud over the atonement cover. This is how Aaron is to enter the sanctuary area: with a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household."
So from the Old Testament we learn that access to God was possible, but it was very limited.
The reason that access to God was limited was because of sin. When the high priest went into the presence of God in the Most Holy Place, he could not do so before he had offered a sin offering for himself and for the nation. It is sin that prevents us from meeting with God. This is an important lesson which the Old Testament teaches us. It also teaches us that in order to be able to go into God’s presence, there must be a sacrifice for that sin. Because sin is so serious, blood must be shed to cover for sin. In verse 12 we read about “the blood of goats and calves” and in verse 13 we read about “the blood of goats and bulls” and also about “the ashes of a heifer sprinkled.”
Sheep, goats and cattle were killed and burned on the altar as a sacrifice to cover for sin. There were various rituals. We read in Leviticus 16 about the Day of Atonement when the priest offered a sacrifice first for himself and then for the people in order to cover for the sins of the people. But these were not the only sacrifices which were made. Whenever a person had sinned, they were required to bring an animal to the temple and ask the priest to sacrifice that animal in order to cover for their sin. First in the tent in the wilderness and later in the temple in Jerusalem sacrifices were constantly being made for sin. This teaches us that the shedding of blood was necessary in order for sin to be covered. That a death was required to cover sin helps us understand how terrible sin. These are important lessons from the Old Testament.
But we also recognize that there were limitations to the effectiveness of the sacrifices offered in the Old Testament. When it speaks of the blood of animals it is clear that an animal sacrifice cannot completely cover sin. Hughes points out that the animal sacrifices were ineffective because “animals are not moral creatures.” The effect of the animal sacrifices was that the people were made outwardly clean as we read in verse 13. As a result they needed to offer continual sacrifices every time they sinned and every year because the cleansing did not deal with the root of sin in their hearts.
A third thing we learn from the Old Testament was that a mediator was needed to stand between God and people. Sin separated them from God and so they could not approach God directly. They needed someone who would make it possible for them to approach God.
God’s grace was demonstrated in that He provided for this need through the priests whom God appointed. We read in verse 11 of our text about the high priest.
The function of the priest was to be a mediator between God and the people. He would represent God to the people and he would offer sacrifices so the people would be able to meet God and so he brought people to God.
Once again, however we see how the role of the mediator was limited. The priest was to act as a mediator between sinful people and a holy God, but the priest was himself a sinner and so needed to have atonement made for his own sin. That is why on the Day of Atonement the high priest needed to offer a sacrifice for his own sin before he could offer a sacrifice for the nation and before he could go to meet with God. Another limitation was that the high priest could only be in one place at one time. This meant that if you lived in Jerusalem, you were able to go to the priest to meet with God whenever you wanted, but what about if you lived in Galilee or across the Jordan River? The other limitation was that the priests died and had to be replaced. When a new person became high priest, he was not always a good representative of God. For example, the sons of Eli were priests, but were so corrupt that God had to punish them for their sin.
So we learn these important lessons from the Old Testament. There is access to God; the way is through the shedding of blood through animal sacrifices which were carried out by the priests who were mediators. But we also learn that there were significant limitations to each of these aspects of religion.
The message of this passage is that Jesus brought a new and better way to God. We see this in the text in a number of ways. In verse 11we read about how Jesus gained access to “a greater and more perfect tabernacle.” Verse 14 encourages us about “how much more” the work of Jesus accomplished than what happened in the Old Testament. Verse 15 describes how Jesus brought a “a new covenant.”
Bruce writes, “Christ has appeared, and in Him the shadows have given way to the perfect and abiding reality.”
In the Old Testament the high priest was the mediator between God and people and verse 11 tells us that Jesus “came as a high priest.” He is the mediator who carries out all the functions of a high priest, but in a better way.
He is a better mediator because He doesn’t need to bring an offering for Himself first. He was without sin and so is able to bring us to God as one who is perfect.
A moment ago I said that Jesus “is” a much better mediator. That word was chosen very deliberately because Jesus was high priest 2000 years ago and He continues as priest today. Jesus is a better mediator because unlike the priests of the Old Testament, He does not die.
Jesus is a better mediator because He has offered a better sacrifice, one that does not need to be repeated year after year. We will look at that a bit more in a moment.
Jesus is a better mediator because He has established a better covenant. He is actually able to bring people to God and it is through Him that we can go directly to God.
He is a better mediator because He entered once for all into the holy place. This means that it has never happened before and will never happen again. Therefore He is able to bring us to a better place, not to meet God in a physical temple in Jerusalem, but to meet Him in the temple of our hearts and eventually in the eternal temple. So in every way possible Jesus is a better mediator to help us to meet God. He actually accomplished what the OT priests could not accomplish.
One of the most powerful messages of Hebrews 9 is that Jesus has brought a much better sacrifice. The Old Testament taught us that a blood sacrifice was needed to cover for sin, but it also showed us that that sacrifice was inadequate. Jesus, however, has provided a better sacrifice because it shared none of the limitations of the animal sacrifices.
Notice how powerfully that theme is contained in these verses. Verse 12 tells us that the sacrifice He brought was once for all. It was a sacrifice that did not need to be repeated year after year and with every sin committed. It was offered once and is effective to cover the sins not only of those who were alive at that time, but also all the sins of the Old Testament people, who had offered animal sacrifices in anticipation of the coming better sacrifice. It also covers our sins completely and we can rest in the knowledge that we are clean by His sacrifice. Once for all means that His sacrifice has provided the blood sacrifice required to cover sin for all eternity.
His sacrifice was better because it was the sacrifice of His own blood. Animals, not being moral beings, could not be a perfect sacrifice. Jesus was a perfect sacrifice because He chose perfection by His sinless life, which made it possible for Him to be the better sacrifice. As a result, we read in verse 12 that He obtained eternal redemption.
Verse 14 tells us that his sacrifice was “unblemished.” The animals which were to be offered could not have any blemish on them, but Jesus offering of Himself was unblemished in every perfection and therefore perfectly complete as a sacrifice. Therefore, verse 15 assures us that the effect of this better sacrifice was that He “died as a ransom to set people free from sins.”
We also read that Jesus offered Himself. Someone asked why God would force Jesus to go to the cross, but it is clear that that is not what happened. Jesus offered Himself. He was not, unlike all the animals which were brought, forced onto the altar. He laid His own life on the cross. Therefore the assurance we have is that, as we read in 1 John 1:7, "…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Bruce writes, “He accomplished in reality what Aaron and his successors performed in type by the twofold act of slaying the victim and presenting its blood in the holy of holies.”
Isaac Watts expresses the wonder of this in the following poem:
Not all the blood of beasts
On Jewish altars slain
Could give the guilty conscience peace,
Or wash away the stain:
But Christ, the heavenly Lamb,
Takes all our sins away,
A sacrifice of nobler name
And richer blood than they.”
Hughes says that what Jesus did was:
Inward not outward;
Radical not superficial;
Purifying the conscience, not just the flesh.
So if Jesus was a better mediator bringing a better sacrifice, it should not surprise us that He also provided a better access to God. That better access is described beautifully in verses 14, 15.
First of all Jesus provided a better cleansing which removed that which prevented us from access to God. The text describes sin as “acts that lead to death.” Hughes has a good description of the meaning of that. He says, “They proceed from him who by reason of his sinfulness is dead toward God.” They lead to death because they are as he says, “…essentially sterile and unproductive; they yield no living harvest.” Ultimately they end in death. To summarize he says, “…they proceed from deadness and are accompanied by deadness but also because they end in death.” Jesus has released us from these acts that lead to death so that we are completely free from their death dealing effects.
If we think of release from our sins with the imagery of cleansing in mind we realize that we were utterly prevented from meeting God and knowing God because of the dirtiness of our sin. You may have seen the Swiffer commercials which make dirt look cute and attractive? That is not what sin is like. It is the most disgusting, horrible dirt you can imagine. If we would be embarrassed to kiss someone with morning breath, or invite people over without cleaning our house, we should all be morbidly embarrassed to show our face in this world because of the dirt within us because of sin. If we can understand those images, we can understand how impossible it is for us, with all our dirt and sin to enter God’s holy presence. Jesus has brought a better way by cleansing us from dead works and making us absolutely clean so that we are completely fit to meet with the most holy, pure being in the entire universe. That is why His way of access to God is so much better.
Thus having been cleansed, we have access to God and that access to God allows us to live in a completely new way as those who are able to serve the living God, as we also read in verse 14. This was not possible until we were cleansed on the inside. Dirty people can’t serve the living God. When we are cleansed we become fit to serve Him and we desire to serve Him.
Calvin wrote, “We are not cleansed by Christ, so that we can immerse ourselves continually in fresh dirt, but in order that our purity may serve the glory of God.” Thus the better thing which Jesus has brought is the actual possibility of being able to live a life of service which brings glory to God.
But the good news is that that access is also eternal. The tent of meeting where the priest could enter into the presence of God once a year limited access. When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the temple was torn in two. This powerful symbol assures us that we have access to God for all eternity. It means that when someone dies in Christ, we are assured that they are welcomed into their eternal home. It means that as we age and move from the large home to the apartment and from the apartment to the room at the personal care home and from the personal care home to the coffin, the best house we will ever have is not the large home we have to move out of but the mansion we will move into after the coffin. The greatest blessing of that mansion is not, however that it will be a better home than the best home we have ever lived in, but that it will exist in God’s presence.
It is interesting how Chrysler and GM have produced retro vehicles like the HHR and the PT Cruiser. They are created for the sake of nostalgia. Even though they are made to look like vehicles that used to be, they are actually nothing like them for they all have air conditioning and power steering and all the gadgets that modern vehicles have. The reality is that although we sometimes like to hold on to the old ways for the sake of nostalgia, we all really prefer that which is improved.
How thankful I am that we do not need to go back to the ways of religion that used to be. Jesus has provided a better way than the way of the Old Testament. In fact, Jesus has provided a better way than any other way that exists in the world. It is the way to sins forgiven and access to God that is perfect and eternal.
If you have received this way, I hope you realize what you have and how much better it is? I hope you rejoice in Jesus, because your sins are forgiven, because you have a relationship with God and because of the eternal hope you have. I hope you thank Him regularly for these great gifts and I hope you live your life serving the living God whom you have come to know.
If you have not received the better thing which Jesus has brought, I want to invite you to realize how wonderful His gift is. It is not only better than what was in the Old Testament, it is the best gift ever and I want to invite you to receive it.
In order to receive it, you need to admit that you are a sinner and are disobedient to God. You need to believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and you need to confess that Jesus Christ is the Lord whom you desire to serve.
May we all realize that Jesus is the best because He has given us that which is the best!