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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 10:30am service, 2003-11-09

Text: Hebrews 9:1-14; 10:10-25

We continue with our series of messages from the book of Hebrews on the theme 'Christ Supreme in Our Lives.' In last week's message, we saw the stark comparison made between the old and the new. The main lesson we learned is that Christ is the Mediator of the New Covenant which is based on better promises than the old one - the most wonderful of which is to be able to know God personally and have a covenant relationship with Him through the Holy Spirit who indwells us from the moment of salvation. But in the same chapter (Chapter 8), the writer of Hebrews also mentioned very briefly that the place where Christ ministers is the true tabernacle in heaven in contrast to the earthly tabernacle that the Israelites were instructed to build by God.

I. The Place Where Atonement Was Made - The Tabernacle (vv.1-5)

Now as we come to chapter 9, the writer returns back to the subject of the Tabernacle, because he is going to introduce a new subject - the atonement that was carried out there by the priests every year for the sins of God's people. This Tabernacle was specially designed by God to be rich in symbolic meaning. It was surrounded by a court, and was itself divided into two rooms - the first was called the sanctuary. The second was called the holiest of all, or the holy of the holies. The entrance to the sanctuary was a curtain which was called the veil. As one enters into it one would see some furniture which according to v.2 consisted of 'the candlestick, and the table, and the shewbread' 

After this there was another curtain which is mentioned in v.3 as the 'second veil'. Going within this veil the high priest would find himself in the holiest place of all. The items in this place are listed in vv.4,5 'Which had the golden censer, and the ark of the covenant overlaid round about with gold, wherein was the golden pot that had manna, and Aaron's rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant; And over it the cherubims of glory shadowing the mercyseat'

These pieces of furniture and the whole structure of the tabernacle as well as the rituals that were performed in them were actually symbolic lessons of the great truths of the New Testament. 

The structure of the Tabernacle served to portray the means whereby communion might be made possible between sinful men and a Holy God. For example, the shewbread that was placed on the golden Table of Shewbread typifies the fact that Christ is the Bread of Life (John 6:35 'And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to Me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.'). He is the one who sustains our live and who gives us eternal life.

And the seven-branched golden candlestick served to remind Israel that God was the source of the light of revelation. It also typifies the fact that Christ is the Light of the world (John 8:12 'Then spake Jesus again unto them, saying, I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.'). Hebrews 10:19,20 tells us that the veil or curtain that separated the sanctuary from the holiest of all symbolised the body of Christ 'Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, His flesh'

It is interesting to note that when Jesus died on the Cross, the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom, indicating that Christ's body has been broken for us so that man can now have free access to God (Mark 15:38 'And the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom.') According to the Jewish historian Josephus, this curtain in the Temple was so strong that several horses could not tear it apart. And yet that was what happened when our Lord Jesus gave up the ghost. Thus we are now able to enjoy the free access to God and have blessed communion with Him.

B. The Method By Which Atonement Was Made - Animal Sacrifice

After briefly describing the tabernacle and its furniture, the Hebrews chapter 9 goes on to describe the services carried out by the priests of Israel. The priests usually served only in the first part of the Tabernacle (the sanctuary), as v.6 says 'Now when these things were thus ordained, the priests went always into the first tabernacle, accomplishing the service of God.' Entrance to the innermost room - the holiest place - was forbidden to all priests, except the high priest. An even he could go in there only once a year - on the Day of Atonment, which falls some time in September or October. V.7 'But into the second went the high priest alone once every year, not without blood, which he offered for himself, and for the errors of the people'

The Day of Atonement was one of the most important occasions of the year in Israel. The main purpose of this institution was the collective atonement of the entire nation, for sins which had been committed unconsciously and had not been atoned for in the other animal sacrifices, for the past year. The prescribed steps that the High priest would take on the Day of Atonement were as follows:

Early in the morning the High priest first bathed himself completely and dressed in a white garment. He slew a bullock at the altar of burnt offering located outside the Tabernacle. This was a sin offering for himself. Then he went into the Most Holy Place with a censer filled with burning coals, so that the smoke would fill the place. He returned to the altar to get the blood of the bullock. 

He brought this blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled it on the solid gold Mercy Seat which is the lid of the Ark of Covenant. Now that atonement had been made for his own sins, he was ready to make atonement for the nation. He returned outside to the altar to kill one of the two goats which had been designated for the ritual. Lots were cast to choose the goat. Then he brought the goat's blood into the Most Holy Place and sprinkled it on the Mercy Seat. The remaining blood of the goat was sprinkled on the Tabernacle and its furniture to consecrate them for another year. It was also applied to the head of the second goat. 

The High Priest then laid his hands on the head of the second goat and confessed the sins of the nation. This goat (called the 'scapegoat') was not killed but chased away far into the wilderness, symbolically removing the collective sin of the nation. This scapegoat is also a symbol of Christ who took all our sins away. Finally the High Priest bathed himself completely once again, and changed back into his regular vestments.

Here are some observations that we can make about this whole procedure: The ceremony involving the two goats reminds us that 'as far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us.' (Ps 103:12). Hebrews chapter 9 shows that this Day of Atonement ritual was a foreshadow of the Atonement that Christ made for us as our Great High Priest. vv.11-12 'But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by His own blood He entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us.'

According to this, there are some striking differences between Christ's atonement and the atonement made by the high priests of Israel. Firstly, Christ's atonement does not need to be repeated every year, but was made once and for all. Secondly, Christ did not have to make an atonement for Himself before He could make atonement for His people. And thirdly, Christ did not make the atonement using the blood any animal, but His own blood. 

C. The Efficacy of the Atonement - The Shedding of Blood

This brings us now to the most important feature in the atonement. The feature that gives the atonement its efficacy to remove sin - the shedding of blood. Hebrews 9:13,14 says. 'For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?'

The use of blood is emphasised again in vv.19-22 'For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and of goats, with water, and scarlet wool, and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book, and all the people, Saying, This is the blood of the testament which God hath enjoined unto you. Moreover he sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle, and all the vessels of the ministry. And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.'

The question you may want to ask is: How does blood cleanse a sinner or make an atonement for his sins? To find the answer, let us look at several verses. The first is Genesis 4:9,10 'And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper? And he said, What hast thou done? the voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground.' God said here that the blood that was shed when Cain killed Abel cried out to Him, concerning the sin that Cain had committed when he took his brother's life. Abel's life had been drained out of him as his blood was shed. This makes blood a symbol of life. 

This symbolism of blood for life is confirmed by what God spoke to Noah in Genesis 9:4 'But flesh with the life thereof, which is the blood thereof, shall ye not eat.' And again in Leviticus 17:11 'For the life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.' Therefore it is only because blood stands for life itself that it is able to make atonement for sins. And whenever blood was shed in any animal sacrifice the blood stood for life that is yielded up in death because of sin. 

Now, one outcome of the fact that the shedding of blood was the means for making atonement, is that the Israelites were taught in the Law to treat blood with respect: They were not to slaughter any ox, lamb or goat (animals which are used for sacrifices) without offering the blood at the Tabernacle (17:3-4). They were not to eat blood (17:10,11). And any animal or bird that they had caught by hunting was to be completely drained of its blood, which was to be poured out and buried in the ground (17:13).

D. The Fulfillment of the Atonement

Despite all this, we must realise that the blood of animals like bulls, sheep and goats, are only symbolic of making atonement for man's sin. Hebrews 10:4 puts it plainly: 'For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.' This is because they are only animals, and not men. In reality only the blood of man can atone for man's sin. And all these animal sacrifices were only intended to point to the coming sacrifice of one Man - Jesus Christ. It is His blood which has actually made full atonement for man's sin. When He shed His blood at the cross of Calvary, our Lord Jesus fulfilled what was anticipated by every animal sacrifice that had been made in Israel. Hebrews 9:15 says 'And for this cause He is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.'

And by sacrificing Himself, Jesus not only paid for the sins of all those who were under the Old Testament, but for all those who would later come under the New Testament as well. Hence His sacrifice made complete atonement for sins that had already been done in the past as well as for future sins that had not been committed yet. Heb 10:12-14 'But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.'

As we sit back and ponder over all these things, I think we can't help but exclaim: What a perfect and complete atonement Jesus has made for us! One thing that really shows the wonderful finality of the atonement is the phrase in v.12 'sat down on the right hand of God' Why? Because none of the high priests who served God at the Tabernacle are described at any part of their service as sitting down. 

In fact when one looks at the furniture in the Tabernacle you will notice that one thing is missing - chairs (except for the mercy seat which belongs to God alone). One wonders where the priests would sit in the Tabernacle. But perhaps this is done intentionally to illustrate the fact that the work of the priests in offering up sacrifice after sacrifice of oxen, sheep and goats was never complete. They had to stand all the time as they served God in the Tabernacle (cf Psalm 135:2 'Ye that stand in the house of the LORD, in the courts of the house of our God'). But Christ's work is already done, and complete. That is why He is now seated at the right hand of God, and His present work is not of making atonement anymore, but intercession for us all.

Dearly beloved, as we think of what a wonderful High Priest we have now in Heaven, we must make the fullest use of all the blessings that He has painstakingly procured for us. We must be stirred into action to do three things (notice the series of three 'let us' in vv.22-24).

E. Our Response To The Atonement

You will notice that these three parts of the response are in three directions. The first is regarding God, the second, regarding our self, and the third, regarding others.

Firstly, since Christ has now cleansed us of all our sins and opened up the way for us to enter right into God's holy presence, we must enter in and enjoy the intimate, close fellowship with God. Heb 10:19-22 'Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20 By a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; 21 And having an high priest over the house of God; 22 Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.'

Our grounds for being bold to commune closely with God should always be nothing but the completed atonement of Christ for our sins. Any other ground will be useless - e.g. our own service record of things we have done for God, our Protestant or even B-P heritage. None of these things can ever be sufficient grounds for us to come boldly to God's throne of grace.

Secondly, 'Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;)' (v.23) We must cling tenaciously to the promises of God, especially when sore trials beset us, and when the pressures to conform to the world become too strong for us. This applies to everyone here - our youth who face peer pressure to indulge in worldly pleasure. It applies to adults who compete in the working world to climb up the corporate ladder even by using questionable means that are not glorifying to God.

Dearly beloved, when such temptations and pressures come upon you, please remember that you have been redeemed with the precious blood of Christ. If you are careless in holding fast to the profession of your faith, and take this lightly, you would be insulting the very blood of Christ that bought you and regarding it as having little or no value. This is mentioned in v.29 'Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?'

The third response to the atonement of Christ comes from its corporate nature: 'And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.' (vv.24,25). If we try to live the Christian life on our own, isolated from other Christians, we will soon grow cold and passive. We need each other's prodding and encouragement to press on. We need to keep each other going in this pilgrimage with its trials of faith. Remind yourself that you are not the only sinner whose sins have been atoned for by Christ. There are many others as well beside yourself, and you have a responsibility to help them because you are fellow-partakers with them of the same full atonement.

And as the time of Christ's return draws nearer and nearer we need to do this even more. But there are many Christians today who are spending less time to fellowship with other Christians. They habitually absent themselves from fellowship meetings, prayer meetings, and church camps because of other commitments. Perhaps they assume that coming for worship service alone is sufficient. But in the worship service itself, there is hardly any opportunity for the mutual sharing and encouragement among Christians that is mentioned in these verses, since the primary focus is on worshipping God and hearing His word. 

Thus, in addition to coming for worship, we must spend time in good fellowship with other Christians - not for the purpose of backbiting or small talk, or airing our grievances, but for the purpose of mutual 'provoking unto love and to good works'. The things that we share should have this ultimate goal. This may take the form of a personal testimony that can motivate someone to trust in God, or sharing some needs that can be met - e.g. needs of missionaries on the field, needs of those who are sick, needs of upcoming projects of the body of Christ where more hands are needed. The kind of sharing we should seek to promote is the kind that stirs all of us into godly action - to do things for the glory of the Lord and for the benefit of Christian brethren. 

These are therefore the three appropriate responses we should give to the full and complete atonement that Jesus has wrought for us: Draw near to God, Hold fast to the faith, and give mutual encouragement to press on. May the Lord help us to give these three responses.

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25