Hebrews: Nothing But the Blood of Jesus

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I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon, but they didn’t prepare me for the breathtaking sight when we visited the real thing. Every perspective we got as we moved around the rim was beyond description. The pictures were beautiful but they couldn’t do the real thing justice. The writer of Hebrews had set up  two tabernacles in his message – one on earth – a man-made structure with beautiful tapestries and rich gold and silver, and one in heaven: “the greater and more perfect tabernacle . . . not a part of this creation.” He did not attempt to describe it, but I am sure that he could have never adequately portrayed the heavenly dwelling place of God in mere human words.

Likewise, the work of the high priest ministering in the earthly tabernacle was a pale substitute for the work of our Great High Priest ministering in the heavenly tabernacle. The high priest entered the Holy of Holies with animal blood because blood was necessary to purge the sin and make the people clean – “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb 9:22). But why? “The life of a creature [human or animal] is in the blood (Lev 17:11). Blood is synonymous with life – any physician will tell you that when the body runs out of blood the life is drained with it. This is the price of our sin.

Let’s spell this out. In God’s holy covenant only “blood makes atonement for one’s life” (Lev. 17:14). God in His mercy allowed for animals’ blood to stand in for our blood, but its effect was short-lived and only partially cleansing. But God had planned a better way; a way that would atone for sin “once for all” (Heb. 9:12), but it required perfect blood that was only available through a divine and holy being – but there’s a problem.  God can’t die. So His one and only Son became a man – a man with divine blood – that He might atone for humanity’s sin. He hung on a cross and dripped that perfect blood from His broken human body. Then He collected it in a bowl and took it into the heavenly tabernacle into God’s very presence. No other sacrifice would be needed. Jesus had done it all.

The blood of Jesus still stands as the only way to be clean before a holy God. But it is enough. Come, Beloved, and be washed in the perfect blood of Christ.

Hebrews: The Day of Atonement

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“Keep out!” I stood there with my hands on my hips staring at the signs on my brothers’ fort. “Boys only!”  I yelled into the curtained doorway, “I don’t want to go in your fort – it should say ‘Stupid boys only!’”  But the truth is I did. I wanted to go in just because they said I couldn’t. I wanted to go in to show them they were not better than me and they couldn’t shut me out.  But mama said “No. Give the boys their space.” Fine. It was probably full of stupid boy stuff anyway. 

In the center of the people of Israel stood an elaborate tent – a tabernacle, the dwelling place of the Lord God. Not just anyone could enter the tabernacle. Only “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry” (Heb 9:6). Within the tabernacle was another space, and it was even more exclusive than the outer space. “Only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year” (v. 7a). There might as well have been signs saying, “Keep out!” “High Priest only!” Why so particular about who entered and when? Because this was the Holy of Holies, the place where the Lord God dwelt. Admittance was strictly limited and access carried great responsibility. The writer of Hebrews noted that when the high priest entered on the Day of Atonement he was “never without blood which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance” (v. 7b). It was a ritual that had to be followed to the letter with the high priest bathing and putting on his holy garments, presenting the blood of animals first for himself and then again for the sins of the community (see Leviticus 16). The people were declared clean for another year, but they were still kept out of God’s presence. Why? Because, while the sins were atoned for by the blood of the sacrifices, the guilt of their sin remained.  They would never have “a clear conscience.” The memory of their sin would always be with them, like a stain that could never be washed away and no one can enter God’s presence with stains. Something more was needed, something that could do what the blood of goats and bulls could not – make men clean enough for God.

Hebrews: Jesus is Enough

I have great respect and appreciation for my pastor. He preaches the Word of God without compromise. He serves his church wholeheartedly. He has been a blessing to my family in times of need. He encourages me and cares about me. But he can’t save me. He can’t take on my sin and declare me righteous. He can’t bear my burdens and weaknesses. He can be my pastor, but he can’t be my high priest. But Jesus can. 

The author of Hebrews said, “we have a great high priest who has gone through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . .” (4:14). That probably doesn’t mean much to us as twenty-first century Protestants, but context is important. The Jewish people, like all people, were a sinful bunch. God made provision for them through the high priest, who, once a year, entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple, the place where God dwelled and presented a sacrifice for the atonement for them. This was repeated every year because, as we’ll see later, the blood of animals was a temporary solution to an eternal problem.

Jesus is our “great high priest” who didn’t just enter the earthly dwelling place of God, but He went right into heaven, into God’s very presence to present Himself as our sacrifice of atonement. Once. But once was enough. He alone could do that for us because He is the Son of God. Remember that the original readers were Jews who depended on the yearly sacrifice and atonement. They needed to hold firmly to their confidence that what Jesus did for them once was enough to make them righteous – and keep them righteous before God.

What does that mean for you and me? The same thing. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, which He presented personally to His Father, we are righteous. We have to hold firmly to that as our defining truth. Not just in an ethereal way, but in practical ways every day. When we face choices we remember that we have been declared righteous, and we choose accordingly. When the flesh craves something ungodly, we remember that we have been declared righteous and we deny our flesh. When we would react out of anger or fear or discouragement we remember that we have been declared righteous and we respond as a child of God – with peace and trust and hope. Jesus did it all for you, Beloved. Now hold firmly to Him. He is enough.

Out With the Old, In with the New?

“Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance.”  Hebrews 9:15

New Year’s resolutions are so easy to make, and so hard to keep. Old habits die hard.  Old desires still burn within.  Chocolate seems all the more tempting in January than it was in December, especially when you resolve to lose weight.  Many of us make a resolution to start good habits, eating healthy, exercising, and reading the Bible every day.  These are good, life-affecting habits, but all too often we get sidetracked and let our good resolutions fall by the wayside.  I would like to encourage you in one particular good resolution, that of reading the Bible daily.

I love the Word of God.  It is my passion and my calling.  I am both a teacher and a student of the Bible.  I have been reading and studying the Bible for many years, getting up early every morning to spend time in prayer and to soak my spirit in God’s Holy and perfect Word, to study and dig deeper for understanding and nuggets of wisdom and truth.  God’s Word has changed my life – it has changed me from the inside out.  And it will do the same for you, if you don’t give up.

When we determine to read the Bible, we start off well, Genesis and Exodus are exciting books, filled with personal stories and great wonders of God from Creation, the Flood, to the calling of Abraham, and this family that God declares will be a great nation.  Exodus offers us the awesome burning bush of Moses and the plagues that brought freedom for the enslaved Hebrews, the parting of the sea, the people’s wanderings because of their disobedience, and the beauty of the Tabernacle of the Lord.

Then we start on the book of Leviticus, and all of the sudden we are bogged down in the mire of sacrifices and offerings and rules and regulations.  And our resolve weakens.  The book closes and the dust starts to build.  And Satan claps his evil hands in delight.  What is the point of reading this archaic account of sacrifices and things that have no bearing on us as New Testament Christians?  Why do we need to read about dead kings and prophets and people who are so wishy-washy towards God?  But – aren’t we being wishy-washy in giving up on this marvelous book about the God we have claimed our allegiance to?

One reason I love the Old Testament so much is that everything written in those “archaic” books points toward the One who is their perfect fulfillment – Jesus Christ.  For instance, Jesus Christ is the Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (see 1 Corinthians 5:7; John 1:29).  The Old Testament is rich with evidences of Jesus Christ, a subject I will be studying and writing about more in the coming year.

The study of the Old Testament sacrificial system gives us all the more reason to rejoice and celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ.  When we read of the severity of these sacrifices, and consider the weight of the rituals and regulations that the Old Testament Jews had to endure to be in relationship with the Lord God, it should tell us that 1) sin is a serious offense to God, 2) the price that had to be paid to cover man’s sin was extreme, and 3) our salvation came at the highest price – the life and blood of God’s Son.

A passage from the book of Hebrews isthe perfect example of why the study of the Old Testament is vital to understanding our redemption through Jesus Christ.  Look with me at Hebrews 9: 12-14:

He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!”

In these verses we see the juxtaposition of the Old Testament against the New.  Before Christ, the blood of sacrificed animals was an external, or outward, cleansing of the people’s sin, and this only applied to unintentional sin (sins committed in ignorance-see Hebrews 8:7).  Levitical law stated that “If a person sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though he does not know it, he is guilty and will be held responsible” (Lev. 5:17). But the Lord made it clear, there was no provision under the Old Testament sacrificial system for intentional sin.  Listen to Numbers 15:30-31: “But anyone who sins defiantly…blasphemes the Lord, and that person must be cut off from his people. Because he has despised the Lord’s Word and broken his commands… his guilt remains on him.”  That is a chilling thought.  How many of your sins and mine were committed with the full knowledge that we were disobeying God’s Word?  Under the Old Testament law, we would remain forever guilty.

Now look back at Hebrews 9:12-14 and rejoice with me that the blood of Jesus cleanses – “once for all. All sins – intentional and unintentional, every act of rebellion and disobedience, every stumble and fall – is covered by the precious blood of the Lamb of God.  Oh I can hardly keep from shouting (and waking my family at this early hour)!  While the blood of animals cleansed the Jew outwardly and only from unintentional sin, the blood of Christ cleanses all of our sins – and cleanses us from the inside out.  Verse 14 says that Jesus’ blood will “cleanse our conscience from acts that lead to death.” In other words, Jesus blood cleanses us from the guilt of sin and from the desire for sin.  Jesus cleanses us from within, where man’s sinful nature lives, the root of our passions and the impulse that drives our actions.   The blood of animals had no effect on man’s inner nature, on his heart.  But the blood of Jesus Christ changes not just our outward condition, but our very heart, soul and spirit.  When we surrender to this transforming power we will find that our sinful desires are replaced with a passion to know God and to live for Him in all we say, do, and think.

Oh how I love the Word of God.  It shows me who I am, who God is, and the price He paid to redeem me for His own, to change my heart and my life.  My ministry is to encourage you in the study of God’s Holy and Living Word – because it is life and light and nourishment to our very souls.  Don’t give up my fellow Bible student – there are riches waiting for you beyond your wildest imagination.

Holy Father, God of the Living Word – my heart is overwhelmed by the joy of Your salvation and the beauty of Your Holy Word.  Etch it deeply into my heart and let it always be ready on my lips.  Thank You for Your Life-giving Word.  Amen