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Hebrews 9:1-9: The Imperfect System

Our pastor preached on Hebrews 9:1 – 9 this weekend. The study of Hebrews is so rich, because it is reminding us that Jesus is greater! He is greater than any angel, priest, or covenantal system!

In God’s redemptive story, He called out a family, Abraham’s family, and grew them into a nation. He delivered that nation from slavery under the leadership of Moses. And with them established a covenant.

“I will dwell among the Israelites, and I will be their God.
And they shall know that I am the Lord their God
who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might dwell among them”  

Exodus 29:45–46

God gives Moses specific instructions on how to build a dwelling place for God, the Tabernacle, which becomes the meeting place between God and men. The author of Hebrews gives a brief summary of the tabernacle.

A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lamp stand and the table with its consecrated bread; this was called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a room called the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense and the gold-covered ark of the covenant. This ark contained the gold jar of manna, Aaron’s staff that had budded, and the stone tablets of the covenant. Above the ark were the cherubim of the Glory, overshadowing the atonement cover.

Hebrew 9:2 – 5

God initiated the building of the tabernacle. It was His idea, His design. He gave detailed instructions to Moses. He equipped men with the Spirit of God to have the creativity and skill needed for His intricate design. His design specifically addressed the issue of a holy God living in the midst of unholy people. The tabernacle had heavy curtains surrounding it, and a particularly thick veil separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place where God dwelt. The Israelites could not just walk into God’s presence!

With the tabernacle God established a priestly system, setting apart the tribe of Levi to serve Him as priests. The author of Hebrews reminds us that “the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry.” (Hebrews 9:6) He also emphasizes the conditions under which one could enter the Most Holy Place.

But only the high priest entered the inner room, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins the people had committed in ignorance.

Hebrews 9:7

Note — only the high priest, only once a year, and never without blood! Also notice that last phrase — “sins committed in ignorance.” The author of Hebrews makes a distinction between common human failings for which the compassion, the mercy of God is always available in Christ, and the defiant rejection of Christ’s sacrifice, for which there is no mercy. These same distinctions are made in the Levitical law and reiterated in the book of Numbers (see Leviticus 4 – 5 “unintentional sin”).

“‘But anyone who sins defiantly, whether native-born or foreigner, blasphemes the Lord and must be cut off from the people of Israel. Because they have despised the Lord’s word and broken his commands, they must surely be cut off; their guilt remains on them.’”

Numbers 15:30-31

The author of Hebrews then gets to the point … the tabernacle, the sacrificial system was inadequate, imperfect!

  1. The people lacked free access to God! Man was separated from God by his sin and needed a mediator to approach God.
  2. The “old” system could not decisively deal with sin. Sacrifices had to be made every year; the system did not provide full forgiveness for sins.

And our pastor could have left us hanging right there but he didn’t. He provided a spoiler alert for next week! Christ “entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.” (Hebrews 9:12). When Jesus died the temple veil was torn in two, from top to bottom! There is now no barrier between God and man … anyone may enter the Most Holy Place because the one sacrifice of Christ Himself is enough!

I look forward to next weekend … next sermon … “the better sacrifice” has been made!

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat
where Jesus answers prayer;
there humbly fall before his feet,
for none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea;
with this I venture nigh:
thou callest burdened souls to thee,
and such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
by Satan sorely pressed,
by war without and fears within,
I come to thee for rest.

Be thou my shield and hiding place,
that, sheltered near thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
and tell him thou hast died.

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
to bear the cross and shame,
that guilty sinners, such as I,
might plead thy gracious name!

John Newton, 1779
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