(A) Introduction

The writer to the Hebrews now begins to look at a vital aspect of the old covenant in order to illuminate further how the new is better. The law of God had to do with human conduct but it also made provision for an Israelite's sin. The most solemn day in the Jewish calendar was the day of atonement when the High Priest entered the inner room of the temple, the holy of holies, and that only once a year, and never without blood, which he offered for himself and for the sins of the people v7. The passage we are looking at deals with how Jesus' work of eternal redemption makes the new covenant more effective than the old.

(B) It gives open access to God

In Leviticus16 we can read the detailed instructions given to Aaron by God through Moses about how to procede on the Day of Atonement. God starts by saying, "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." The High Priest, and only he, could enter within the curtain on just the one day. It was an occasion immensely impressive for its ceremonial. The High Priest was only ever in full regalia for this special day.

Jesus entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. v12. This means that after Jesus had made sacrifice for our sin he entered bodily into heaven, into the presence of God the Father. Matthew reports that after Jesus gave up his spirit: at that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Ch27v51 There was no longer any need for the High Priestly sacrifice year on year. Furthermore Jesus gives all those who believe on him direct access to God. Later the writer says, Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith. Heb10v22.

It is very frustrating to have limited access. In the summer I enjoyed a walking holiday in Wiltshire, England. I could walk freely along the chalk ridges and revel in the splendid views. I did not have access to the lovely manor houses or their attractive gardens. There was one garden I wandered into by accident. I had a glimpse of artificial lakes, green lawns, banks of glorious heathers... I realised that I was trespassing and withdrew. I had no right there. No one can say to a Christian who is in communion with God, "You have no right there".

We no longer have open access to a doctor in Britain. We have to book an appointment. We have to wait days to be seen. There is a reluctance to come out in an emergency. It wasn't always like that. When I was a boy anyone in the village could walk into Dr Wilkerson's surgery and get to see him. If we were on his list we were welcome.

Open access is a great blessing and privilege. Jesus has made it possible for us to approach God as naturally as a child might approach a loving father. We are sons by adoption and God is our Dad. God says to us come closer, the closer the better. It is vital for us to speak directly to both Jesus and God the Father. I heard a testimony on Songs of Praise recently. A young woman had gone wrong. Her marriage broke down and she took to partying - drink, drugs and fellahs- for compensation. It didn't work and she got more and more depressed. Six weeks into a nervous breakdown she contemplated suicide. The women's mother realised that her daughter was in serious trouble and said to her, "Why don't you ask Jesus to help you". The women did not think much of the suggestion! However she was desperate. So feeling very silly she eventually said, "Jesus help me". That is all and that was enough. But she had to speak to Jesus herself. Her mother could not speak on her behalf. No one could. She had to surrender herself to Jesus and then he would intercede for her and arrange access to his Father.

(C) It provides the ultimate redemption

Jesus has obtained eternal redemption for sinners. It think the word with the nearest meaning to 'eternal' is 'ultimate'. Wherever 'eternal' is used in the Bible 'ultimate' can be put in its place and it assists my understanding. 'Redemption' is another word that we do not use much today. It has to do with making a payment to get back what has been forfeited or lost through some inadequacy on our part. See Leviticus25v47and48. If we park our car in an area where parking is prohibited it might be taken away and impounded. The only way to recover the car is to redeem it - pay a penalty to regain possession of it, to set it free.

We forfeit God's goodwill when we fall short of the standard he sets. We actually continually fall short of the standard we set ourselves! Under the old covenant the sinner obtained a limited pardon. The blood of the sacrificial goat was offered up by the High Priest to atone, to pay and make right, for the sins the people had committed in ignorance. v7. According to Numbers15 v30 wilful sins were paid for in another way. 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, that person must surely be cut off; his guilt remains on him. The sacrificial goat does not atone for wilful sin - the wilful sinner's guilt remains on him. That is the sin that troubles us. Forsythe described us as: not even stray sheep, or wandering prodigals merely, we are rebels taken with weapons in our hands.

Jesus has done what goats, lambs, bulls and heifers could never do - secured eternal redemption by his own blood, his own sacrifice. He has paid the price to regain what we lost by our wilful disobedience - God's goodwill and favour. He sets us free from debt and slavery and makes us children of God.

There are people today who believe in a partial pardon. They have sins that they cannot forgive themselves and doubt that God can forgive them either. These folk say that they are not good enough to call themselves Christians; they are not worthy to be baptised and join the church; they are not fit for Christian service. This sort of claptrap casts a slur upon the saving work of Christ. It may be sufficient for run of the mill sinners but it is not sufficient for them. We should all be able to sing:

My sin, O the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more;
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

(D) It purifies the conscience

Under the old covenant because there was only a limited pardon there was but partial cleansing of the conscience v9. The gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshipper. What they did was to make a man ceremonially clean. This permitted him to participate in the worship and service of the LORD. The ashes of the red heifer, for example, were used to cleanse anyone who came into contact with a dead body. See Numbers ch19. The sacrificial system of the old agreement was of little value to anyone with a troubled conscience. It gave no peace. It left guilt ridden sinners striving unsuccessful to appease a demanding God.

The writer to the Hebrews is able to say in triumph: How much more then will the blood of Christ cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death. v14. Christ's finished work, his shed blood, does cleanse our consciences from unease. The price has been paid. The debt is cancelled.

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 guilt away;
A Sacrifice of nobler name,
And richer blood than they.

Yet there are Christian's with troubled consciences. Theie lives somehow displease God and they strive for merit. This makes them very unhappy. Don't be! The essential work has been done. The supreme sacrifice for sin has been made. It was a perfect work and none of us can improve upon it or add to it. We are simply asked to rely upon it and gratefully accept it. Salvation may in some respects be a prize but it is also a gift to accept gracefully and gladly. We are all saved by GRACE. Every single one of us - or we are not saved at all!

(E) It facilitates sanctified service

Jesus offered himself unblemished to God to cleanse our consciences from useless rituals so that we may serve the living God. v14 The old covenant involved many dead works or useless rituals. That is how this bold writer describes the ritual of sprinkling the ashes of the red heifer upon a person who has made contact with a corpse. It only made them outwardly clean.v13. We can only say that the ceremonies of the old dispensation are useless if they have been superseded by something better. The writer describes lovingly the earthly sanctuary of the old covenant. He seems reluctant to leave it - but we cannot discuss these things in detail now.v5. He does leave it, perhaps, with some sense of loss, because under the new covenant the sacrificial work of Jesus cleanses us from all sin. We can stop trying to win God's approval by dead works and begin to serve him properly.

Our service should be the outworking of a new relationship:

    (a) The Christian serves God out of gratitude for all that he has done. We are not trying to pay God back. This is a distinction that is not always easy to make. It has to do with the spirit with which we serve. I give an elderly lady, Phyllis, a lift to church. She does not try to pay me for the lift - of which I am glad. But she does like to make the cakes for the week that I am in charge of the Brockley Cricket Club tea. Phyllis takes pleasure in this and it is a way of saying, "Thank you", for the lifts. If we do not take pleasure in serving God it is likely that we are trying to pay him back!

    (b) The Christian serves to please God. If we love someone then we enjoy pleasing them. I camp on a meadow when I am on holiday in Wiltshire that adjoins a paddock on which some girls keep their horses. In the evenings I sit outside my tent and watch the girls work with their horses. They are there again early in the morning. The horses are fed and watered, groomed, exercised and rubbed down. They take a lot of looking after. But the girls do not mind - it is obvious that they love their horses and look to please them. I hope they love their husbands as well! I am amazed that when some of the young men with whom I play cricket are providing tea - they get no help from their wives or girl friends. Why don't these women try and please the men they love? Jesus said those that love him, obey him. Obedience should not be a chore if we love Jesus. It should be our delight to please him and in doing so please our Father in heaven.

    (c) Our service should reflect shared priorities. If we are devoted to Jesus we should grow more like him and begin to love the things he loved and do the things he did. I once watched a TV programme about a singer who for many years had performed in a glamorous wig. He decided that it was time to dispense with the wig. It may seem a trivial matter to us but it was very important to him. He was apprehensive about his first performance without his wig! It was evident from watching the programme that the man's wife was as much involved in her husband's career and decisions as he was. His priorities were hers too. A camera shot of the woman's face as her husband walked out to face his audience - bald- revealed how much she cared. Her relief at the positive reception he received was tangible. The closer we are to Jesus the more we care about his ongoing work, his reputation - his glory.

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