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A Better Sacrifice

Date: Apr. 30, 2017

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Hebrews 9:1-28

Key Verse: Hebrews 9:14

“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!”

This morning, I want to tell you a story about bikes. Kids love bikes. They love to ride around, going fast and have some measure of freedom. They pedal, pedal, pedal, going up and down the street. It’s a lot of fun. Now, when I was growing up, I was a little different. I did not want to learn how to ride a bike. When my dad brought it out, I ran in the other direction. I don’t really remember, but I think that I was afraid of getting hurt: you know, falling over and getting scraped up. Well, one day, when I was about ten, I finally got up the nerve to get on the bike and conquer it. I got up on that bike, pushed off and was no longer afraid. I was riding a bike. Early in my bike riding experience, my foot slipped off the pedal, and it was one of those metal pedals with sharp little points on it to keep your feed on them. As my foot slipped, the pedal hit my calf and put a big scrape right on the back of my leg and left a nasty scar. Not too long after that, my parents got me a new bike, because we had to the other one for many years and I pretty much outgrew it. So, they got me this new bike and I am riding up and down the street. Well, one day, I am riding that bike and one of the pedals falls off. Just like that, I lose my balance and fall on one side, sliding about ten feet down the street. I get up, pick up my bike and the pedal, and walk home, about a block way. It hurt bad. I was probably crying the whole time. When I got back home, my dad saw the damage. My whole side was ripped up and bloodied, with the worst part being the side of my knee (when that scabbed over, that wound reminded me of the Himalayas on a relief map). The wound was dirty with gravel mixed with blood. I was possibly one of the worst wounds I have ever had. It wasn’t very deep, but there was quite a bit of blood. It was one of the first times that I had seen quite a bit of blood. I bring this up because of the importance of blood. Our passage today talks quite a bit about blood. It is literally the river of life that flows within our bodies, bringing oxygen to the various parts of our bodies. If there is no blood, there is no life. In the 1987 movie Predator, Arnold Schwarzenegger, the kind of one-liners quipped, “If it bleeds, we can kill it.” Blood is proof of life and proof of the ability to die. In many religions, blood is integral to worship, especially regarding making a sacrifice. However, those sacrifices are a mere shadow of a better sacrifice, the one that Christ made for our sins.

Last week, we heard from Bob about a new covenant. God had given his people a bunch of promises, but they were conditional on people following God’s way. Unfortunately, people didn’t keep up their end of the bargain and that promise, that contract, that covenant, was unfulfilled. But when Jesus came, the great high priest, he helped establish a new covenant that was not contingent on people. It was simply a promise from God, a promise that God would change us to follow his way. It was a promise to forget our sins and be our God, and this new covenant would only come about by this better sacrifice. But before we get into this better sacrifice, I want to step back in time and get a bit of context. So, let’s get into the DeLorean speed up to 88 miles per hour and head back to the time of Moses.

Now, during Moses’ time, God established rules for worship and devised a plan for a place of worship, and our passage today starts off with talking about those rules and that place. It begins, “Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. A tabernacle was set up. In its first room were the lampstand 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. But we cannot discuss these things in detail now.” (1-5) The first earthly sanctuary was called the tabernacle, which is an elaborate tent. The Israelites, at the time, were nomadic. They moved from place to place and needed a sanctuary that could be packed up and moved around, much like how we move around our sound equipment for worship. There were two rooms in the tent. The first room was called the Holy Place, the second was the Most Holy Place, and they were separated by a big curtain. Inside the Most Holy Place was the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant. If you’ve seen Indiana Jones, you might know a bit about it. The ark was one of the holiest items that Israel had. In it, were items that were significant to its nascent history. It contained a jar of manna, which showed God’s provision for his people. When the Israelites were wandering the wilderness, God provided food in the form of manna for forty years. The ark also contained Aaron’s staff that budded, which signified God choosing Aaron’s line to be priests for his people. Lastly, the ark held the two stone tablets that Moses brought down from Mount Sinai, God’s law: the original Ten Commandments. This signified God’s holiness and outlined perfection for his people. Sealing the ark, was a cover called the atonement cover with two cherubim with their wings spread over the cover touching at the tips. It was an elaborate sanctuary with lots of detail and everything had a purpose.

The inner room and the outer room, each, had their own purpose. As the passage continues, “When everything had been arranged like this, the priests entered regularly into the outer room to carry on their ministry. 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.” (6-7) The outer room, the Holy Place, was the regular place for where the priests worked, but the inner room was very special. Priests never entered the inner room, the Most Holy Place, except once a year. That day was called the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur and was the holiest day of the year. On that day, the high priest and only the high priest atoned for the sins of the entire nation of Israel. Throughout the year, there were many sacrifices for individual people, but the Day of Atonement was the day when a sacrifice was made in honor of the whole nation. It is as important to Jews and Christmas or Easter is to Christians. Even secular Jews go to synagogue for Yom Kippur. At any rate, that sacrifice involved the high priest entering the Most Holy Place. No one was allowed in the Most Holy Place except the high priest and only on the Day of Atonement. Before the priest could go before God and offer the sacrifice for atonement for the nation, he had to, first, offer a sacrifice for his own sins. It was so serious of an issue, that just to be sure, they tied a rope around the high priest before he went it. If God was displeased because the high priest wasn’t properly purified, the high priest could drop dead and the rope was to pull the body out from the Most Holy Place because they weren’t allowed inside the inner room or they, too, would die.

During Solomon’s reign, Israel graduated from worshipping in a tabernacle to worshipping in a temple, but the layout was very much the same. There was an outer room and an inner room divided by a curtain. God had provided the plans for both the tabernacle and the temple and gave those plans with such painstaking detail. However, even with such detail and splendor, the tabernacle and the sacrifices were only a shadow of reality. The passage continues, “The Holy Spirit was showing by this that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle was still functioning. This is an illustration for the present time, indicating that the gifts and sacrifices being offered were not able to clear the conscience of the worshiper. They are only a matter of food and drink and various ceremonial washings—external regulations applying until the time of the new order.” (8-10) The Most Holy Place was the one place on earth, that man could come to God, but regulations only allowed one man to enter that room once a year. If the sacrifices and blood had truly atoned for sins, then the way to God should have been made wide open, but the sacrifices needed to continue. They only provided an external solution to an internal problem. Consciences weren’t cleared and sins weren’t really forgiven.

However, that wasn’t just the end of it. Jesus provides us with a better sacrifice. “But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 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.” (11-12) Since chapter six, we have been hearing that Jesus is the great high priest. He serves as the one to offer sacrifice for the forgiveness of all believers. When he offered that sacrifice, he did not enter in to the temple’s Most Holy Place, he went in to the real, heavenly Most Holy Place. If we skip down to verse 24, we see, “For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.” The human sanctuary was merely a copy of the eternal one in heaven. When I was preparing for this message one commentary compare the difference between the earthly sanctuary and the heavenly one by the example of an Easy-Bake Oven. For those of you who don’t know, an Easy-Bake Oven is a toy that can bake cakes with the glow of a lightbulb. It is intended to get kids interested and familiar with the oven. Unfortunately, the cakes made with the Easy-Bake Oven aren’t very good. The tend to be rather tasteless and not actually done all the way through. I mean, the heating element is just a lightbulb. The earthly sanctuary was just the same way. It offered a copy that mimicked reality, but fell short of it. The sacrifices mimicked the way to redemption, but, in reality, they didn’t really do much.

The passage mentions that Jesus entered a more perfect tabernacle not made with human hands. We live in a time that has lots of technological marvels. The camera on your cell phone is getting better and better with each generation and soon it will rival DSLR’s. The best cameras take great pictures, but those pictures have limits. Have you ever taken a photo where it’s too dark to too bright? In the too dark picture, there are sections with no detail and everything is black. Likewise, in the too bright picture, there is a spot that is blown out and is completely white with no detail. This is due to the limitations of the light sensor used. Even the best cameras have this problem. On the other hand, our eyes don’t have that problem. Our eyes have a higher dynamic range than a camera. We can see in the really dark and the really bright and we can see when it is both. What human hands made cannot rival what God has made, and the same goes for places of worship.

On top of the place of worship, the sacrifice made at that heavenly sanctuary was greater than the ones made at the earthly ones. The passage says, “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.” (12) The high priest offered sacrifices with the blood of goats and calves, but Jesus entered with his own blood. This concept of using blood seems a bit archaic and barbaric to us, but there is a necessity to it. The Bible compare the sacrifice to a will, “In the case of a will, it is necessary to prove the death of the one who made it, because a will is in force only when somebody has died; it never takes effect while the one who made it is living.” (16-17) A will only goes into effect after someone has died and the proof of that person’s death was blood because blood is life.

However, there is more to it than that. As this passage says, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” (22) The verse says that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. This forgiveness is the forgiveness of sins. We’ve talked about this a number of times, but sins are what separate us from God. Sins are every little action and thought that takes us away from God. Anytime we don’t line up to God’s example, we sin. And sin is serious. Sometimes, we like to make light of our mistakes. We don’t think of them as a big deal, but to God they are a big deal. For each sin, blood must be shed. God set up the sacrifice system to show us how severe our mistakes and complacency really are. They required death to make up for them. Now, that death could be our own or something else’s. The sacrifice system allowed people to atone for their sins by pouring out the blood of an animal. God really wants us to see the severity of our sins. Think of it this way, when you are in school you need to get good grades to graduate, especially in your major area. You need a GPA above a certain amount in your major courses to graduate. Now, what happens if you slack off so much that you fail a major course? Your GPA plummets, right? Then, it is near impossible to get your GPA back up again. One mistake, one failed course can mess up your career. The same is for sin. Even one small sin can mess up your life and blood is required for forgiveness of even the smallest of sins. It is that serious.

Unfortunately, an animal’s sacrifice can only go so far. Our passage says, “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.” (13) An animal sacrifice only cleans the outside and it is one of the reasons that it must be done again and again. There is no changed life because of an animal sacrifice. In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were the most holy group and held to the letter of the law. They were people who would give a tenth of everything they had, even their spices. But everything that they did was just for outward appearances. They were very hypocritical and looked down on anyone who couldn’t do what they could do. Jesus once said of them, “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” (Matthew 23:25-26) Their outside was clean, but their inside was still dirty, but there was nothing that the law could do clean the inside. The animal sacrifices required by the law could only clean the outside. There was power in the blood of goats and bulls, but not enough to make a difference.

Thank God that there is a solution. “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!” (14) Since the blood of animals only had minimal value, a greater sacrifice was needed to cleanse us. People are greater than animals, so the blood of a person has greater power than the blood of an animal. Now, when an animal was sacrificed for sins, it needed to be unblemished. You couldn’t take some diseased animal that you didn’t want and offer it to God. It needed to be the best, perfect, unblemished. The same holds for people. A human sacrifice to God needed to be unblemished to be accepted by God. Unfortunately, with all our sins, there wasn’t a single unblemished person on the planet. What was God to do? Well, God stepped down into a human body and became the perfect sacrifice, unblemished. Jesus led the perfect life without sin to be the sacrificial lamb and atone for our sins. Jesus blood has the power to cleanse not just the outside, but also our entire inside. By Jesus’ blood, he takes every failed course that we have and turns it into a perfect score. Our GPA goes from not making it to perfection. There is no rival, no equal to the power of Jesus’ blood.

The earthly sacrifices had to be offered again and again to wipe the outside clean, but Jesus’ blood does not. “Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood that is not his own. Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But he has appeared once for all at the culmination of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.” (25-26) Only one sacrifice is required for all people for all time. Jesus doesn’t have to die again and again for our sins. “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (27-28) We will all die and face judgement for our sins. Every small thing and secret sin will be brought to light. We can stand before God with the weight of all our sins or we can be forgiven. The is a song, there is a beautiful song that describes how we are forgiven by Crowder. The bridge and second chorus goes,

I could've been six feet under
I could've been lost forever
Yeah I should be in that fire
But now there's fire inside of me
Here I am a dead man walking
No grave gonna hold God's people
All the weight of all our evil
Lifted away forever free
Who could believe, who could believe?

Forgiven! Forgiven!
You love me even when I don't deserve it
Forgiven! I'm Forgiven!
Jesus Your blood makes me innocent
So I will say goodbye to every sin
I am forgiven!

Forgiven by Crowder

Jesus’ blood makes us innocent. We can say goodbye to every sin because we are forgiven. Jesus’ blood is so powerful that, to God, there is not even a drop of sin in our lives. No matter how bad of a thing we have done. No matter how evil we think we are, there is hope for us. We can say goodbye to every sin without limit because of Jesus’ blood. That is something that I am really thankful for. I’ve committed some pretty bad sins, some worthy enough to crush my soul. I stood by as a life was taken, even though I could have prevented it. I did nothing because I was complacent and afraid. I’ve also hurt many people because of my harsh words and tone. My inability to encourage others makes people feel unloved. On top of all that, when I was younger I hated God. My situation sucked in superficial ways, but I blamed God. I was God’s enemy and yet, Jesus poured out his blood for me and I am forgiven. I am cleansed. “Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (15) He sets me free because he is the mediator between the eternal judge and the lowly sinner.

We were separated from God because of our sins. But Christ came to this earth to open the way to eternal life. The true Most Holy Place is now open for us to pass in to. Not only do we get to be in God’s presence, but now we get to be a part of his crew. “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!” (14) Because of Jesus, we get to serve the one who saved us. Our lives have purpose. Where I once hated God because of my situation, I now trust in God despite my situation and can serve him no matter what I am going through. It is no different for each one of us here. We are free to love God and be with God. We are free from condemnation because of Jesus’ blood. That’s some powerful blood.

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Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
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