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Hebrews 9:1-14: The Greater Sacrifice and Our Great High Priest Print E-mail
Sunday, 04 December 2016

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Sacrifice is the only way for humans to come into the presence of God. We noted a few weeks ago that we are all sinners and in need of Godís forgiveness. But our holy God cannot just act like our sins are no big deal. Such an act would compromise His character. Thus, we need a payment for our sins, which can only come through sacrifice. Without it, we will never be able to come into the presence of our holy God.

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The necessity of sacrifice was familiar to the original readers of the book of Hebrews. When God gave the Israelites the law, He gave them instructions for offering sacrifices to atone for sin (see Leviticus). The priests had been offering these sacrifices for years and years. Since some of the readers were eager to go back to this former covenant, it seems that they believed that they still needed these sacrifices to be right with God. But the author of Hebrews writes to help them see that this is an error. Just as the old priesthood is inferior to the new and the old covenant is inferior to the new, so are the old sacrifices inferior to the sacrifice of Christ. He has made a new way into the presence of God and it is now the only way for sinners to approach His throne. The author will argue for the superiority of Christís sacrifice in 9:1-10:18. We will break his argument into three sections that we will cover over the next three weeks. We will begin this morning by comparing the old sacrifices with the new.

Sacrifices under the old covenant (v. 1-10)

The author begins with a lengthy description of sacrifices under the old covenant. He first describes where these sacrifices took place. Look at verses 1-5 with me. The author of Hebrews is reminding us how the tabernacle was set up, which was done as God had instructed Moses (see 8:5). Essentially there were two sections, or two tents. The first section, the outer tent, was where the priests would make daily sacrifices for the sins of the people. In it was the lampstand and the table and the bread of Presence, all articles which played a role in their worship of God. This area was called the Holy Place. The second section was separated by a curtain. Certain articles were in it as well, most notable being the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat, where Godís presence especially dwelled. This area was called the Holy of Holies.

The author goes on to describe how the sacrifices were offered in verses 6-7. Look at those with me. Some important things to note here. First, the author reminds us that while the priests could go into the first section on a daily basis, the Holy of Holies could only be entered once a year. The place where Godís presence especially dwelled could only be accessed one time in a year. And even then it could only be accessed by the high priest and no one else. Second, when the high priest went into the Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he could only go by taking blood. In other words, a sacrifice had to be made in order for his sins and the peopleís sins to be cleansed. Each year the high priest would perform this sacrifice in the Most Holy Place.

As he has done before, the author reminds his readers of these practices so that he can show them that they were only copies and shadows pointing to something greater. Look at verses 8-10. The author identifies two weaknesses of the sacrificial system. First, it did not fully open the way into Godís presence: the way into the holy places is not yet opened. Notice how exclusive the Holy of Holies was: only once a year and only by the high priest. It pointed to the greatness and glory of being in Godís presence and demonstrated the need for sacrifice, but it did not truly provide the way that was needed. Second, the sacrificial system did not perfect the conscience of the worshipper. Through the sacrifices, the people could be ritually and ceremonially clean, as God required, but they could not be truly clean and truly forgiven. These sacrifices were copies and shadows, symbolically pointing to something more. And they were only effective until the time of reformation. So then, the sacrifices under the old covenant pointed to the need for something greater, which the author will now go on to describe.

Sacrifice under the new covenant (v. 11-14)

The author will talk about the superiority of Jesusí sacrifice for the rest of the chapter and the first 18 verses of chapter 10. This morning we will only look at the beginning of his argument. The contrast begins with the location of Jesusí sacrifice. Look at verse 11. As we saw last week, Christ serves at the true tent (8:2), which is not made with hands. He does not serve a copy or a shadow. All of the sacrifices in the tabernacle and temple pointed to His sacrifice through the greater and more perfect tent. As glorious as the Holy of Holies was, it was still just a shadow of this tent, which the author goes on to call the holy places (v. 12). The location of Jesusí sacrifice is superior to those offered under the old covenant.

Second, we see that Jesus did not have to offer His sacrifice year after year. Look at verse 12a. Notice the phrase once for all, something that the author will state repeatedly in his letter. After Jesus made purification for our sins, He did not have to come back and do it again the next year. His sacrifice was forever and thus superior to those under the old covenant.

Third, Jesus did not offer the blood of bulls and goats, but His own blood. Look at verse 12b. All the lambs pointed to the this Lamb. All the offerings were symbolic of this great offering. All the sacrifices prepared us for this One. The other high priests made sacrifices that did not cost them a whole lot. But not Jesus. He is both our priest and our sacrifice, for He offered His own life in our place on the cross. When Jesus died, He was freely giving Himself to pay for our sins. He was perfect and spotless, without blemish (v. 14), meaning He had no sin of His own. Rather, He was laying down His life to pay for all of our sins. And how do I know that the Father accepts His payment for my sins? I know because the Father raised Him from the dead three days later. We needed a perfect sacrifice to bring us into the presence of God and so Jesus became both our priest and our Lamb that was slaughtered. Our Great High Priest made the greatest sacrifice by offering Himself for our salvation.

The author goes on and points out how Jesus sacrifice is greater by what it accomplishes. Look at verses 13-14. Remember what he said about the other sacrifices? They cannot perfect the conscience of the worshipper (v. 9). They only dealt with ritual purity. But through the sacrifice of Christ we can have a purified conscience to serve the living God. What the sacrifices under the old covenant could not do, Jesus has done by offering Himself. We can serve God through faith in Christ with confidence and assurance. Not only that, but as the author alludes to in these verses and will make plain later (see 10:19ff), the holy places have now been opened to all who turn from their sins and believe in the sacrifice of Christ. He has made a way for us to actually dwell in the presence of God, both now and throughout eternity. Through the power of the eternal Spirit (which seems to be a reference to the Holy Spirit), Jesus has secured for us an eternal redemption.

Even now we get to enjoy the good things that have come. Through faith in Christ we are indwelt by the Spirit and we can approach Godís throne, the Holy of Holies, with boldness and confidence. His presence is no longer restricted. It is hard to comprehend the gravity of such a truth. Jesus has sacrificed Himself so that we might live in the presence of God. And One Day, we will enjoy the presence of God free from sin through all eternity. This is why the sacrifice of Christ is superior. It is everything we need to be reconciled to God.

Sacrifice is the only way for humans to come into the presence of God. Because of our sin and Godís holiness, atonement must be made for us to fellowship with our Maker. The author of Hebrews is teaching us in this passage that Jesus, our Great High Priest, has done everything that is necessary for us to dwell with God. His sacrifice is all that we need. The original readers were tempted to go back to the old sacrifices, so the author shows them why Jesusí sacrifice is superior.

All of this leads to the important question for you this morning: do you have a way into Godís presence? If you admit that you are a sinner too, then you know that you need forgiveness. And if you need forgiveness then you need a sacrifice. So what is your sacrifice? Many think that good works will be sacrifice enough. But the Bible teaches that our good works could never pay for our sins, no matter how much good we try to do. The only hope we have is if God provides a sacrifice for us, which is exactly what He has done in sending Jesus. Jesus was born to be our priest and our sacrifice. He was born to save His people from their sins (see Matthew 1:21). Through His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave, He has done just that! If you will turn from your sins and believe in what He has done for you, then you can be forgiven and enjoy the presence of God forever. We celebrate the birth of our Savior, our Great High Priest, this season because we know that He has sacrificed Himself to bring us to God. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 December 2016 )

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