We’re looking at the letter to the Hebrews in church at the moment. Today I was leading on Hebrews 8-9.
We began asking: Where do you feel close to God? In the countryside? At church?
Hebrews 8-9 shows us where we can meet God.
Hebrews 8 begins: ‘Here is the main point: We have a High Priest who sat down in the place of honour beside the throne of the majestic God in heaven.’ Jesus as High Priest has been the focus of chapter 5-7. Now the focus is his presence in heaven.
8:2-13 says Jesus isn’t part of the tabernacle system of worship that went with the old covenant. It then contrasts the old and new covenants:
- v. 5: the old was only a copy; Jesus is the real thing
- vv. 7-8: the old was faulty (because it couldn’t change hearts or deal with sin); Jesus does something better and superior
- v. 13: the old is out of date; Jesus brings something new and eternal (7:28)
So what was the old covenant for?Hebrews 9:8 says that the Holy Spirit was revealing something through the old system.
In Hebrews 9:1-10 describes the old tabernacle. We mapped it out on our living floor using video cases and other props that came to hand. The point is the old tabernacle was one big illustration of the inaccessibility of God as a result of sin. Verse 8: ‘By these regulations the Holy Spirit revealed that the entrance to the Most Holy Place was not freely open as long as the Tabernacle and the system it represented were still in use.’ The key idea is ‘not open’. As we talked this through, we felt together the terrifying holiness of God. We realised we were all several steps removed form the symbols of God’s presence. Not able to enter the Most Holy Place; not able to enter the Holy Place; not actually allowed in the court beyond that for Jewish men. We were outsiders, far removed form God. Hebrews says:
- once a year
- one person (the High Priest)
- through the shedding of (a symbol of life poured out in – coming into God’s presence means one way of another)
But in 9:11-15 Jesus enters heaven – the real presence of God, offering his own as a sacrifice. Jesus cleanses us from the impurity of sin (14) and the penalty of sin (15). As a result we can worship God (14) and we receive heaven as an inheritance (15).
Verse 16-17 play on the words ‘covenant’ and ‘will’ which are the same in Greek. The new covenant is Jesus’ last will and testament. Jesus promises an eternal inheritance (9:15). But this, again, requires a . It only becomes ours when Jesus dies.
As we looked at 9:18-23 we reflected again on the persistent and widespread use of in the old covenant. The old tabernacle had to be purified and the heavenly tabernacle needs to be purified. The place itself has to be purified, not just the people, because sin is so contaminating.
The significance of is not in its material properties, but that it represents a life given up in . = . Sin leads to . So purging sin requires a substitute .
Then we come to the key verse: ‘For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf.’ (9:24) Jesus enters ‘now to appear before God on our behalf‘ (see also 8:1). Jesus is in heaven for us, on our behalf. He is our guarantee that the way to God is open.
What is Jesus doing there? Nothing (9:25-28). His work of purification is complete. The job is done. His presence is enough to guarantee that we can follow.
Back in 8:5-6, Hebrews said Jesus was the real way and the better way.
Why is Jesus the real way? (8:5)
= we enter God’s presence in heaven not just an earthly tabernacle
Why is Jesus the better way? (8:6)
= we can enter where we could not enter before
In 9:8 we saw that under the old covenant to way to God was ‘not open’. Compare this then to 10:19-20:’And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the of Jesus. By his , Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.’ Not open becomes open. Now we can come into the Most Holy Place – not just once a year, not just one man. Except that this Most Holy Place is the real thing – the presence of God in heaven. And we come through , but we come through the of Jesus.
The tabernacle was also called the ‘tent of meeting’. It was the one place on earth where you could go to meet God. But it was dangerous, exclusive, limited, complicated. The one man who entered once a year enter with fear. He could not be sure he would be accepted. He even had to ensure sins of ignorance were covered (9:7). But now we not only can come, but we can come boldly (10:20). Now there is a link between earth and heaven, a portal, a way through. Like Jacob’s ladder. And that way is Jesus. He is the meeting point between God and humanity.
‘So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God … let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.’ (4:14, 16) Because Jesus had gone ahead into heaven, we can come ‘boldly’ before God in prayer (4:16 and 10:19).
Where do we go to be close to God?
Jesus – Jesus is our meeting point with God.
At work … In the home … At school … You can be close to God. Maybe work or school feels a million miles away from church … When the pressure’s on at work, you may want to close your eyes, pause for a moment and remember that can meet God in those moments and come before him boldly to find grace and help in time of need. (But that closely eyes may help you remember, but God doesn’t require it. You don’t need to ‘zone in’. God is close through Jesus.)